Life in Seattle during tax season was stressful. Trying to learn a new job, make friends in a new city, date in a new culture, train in the dark, live within my means, it was a lot. I hardly slept, I gained a ton of weight, I drank daily, cried frequently, and doubted myself regularly. But April 18th came and went and I had the promise of a full time job, new friends and training partners, great weather, and a miracle weight loss pill. Seriously, things had really turned around – even if I was still having housing problems and night sweats.
I had been thinking about Ecuador 70.3 with my coach/friend Kelly the end of July but travel warnings were high and logistics tricky, so I shifted gears to Whistler 70.3, same timeframe. I headed east for almost 3 weeks of vacation with the family, training with Charlotte friends, and shipping my belongings back to Seattle. I returned to the PNW ready for summer fun and out of the blue Kelly suggested a trip to France for either a 70.3 or 140.6. I’m sure she thought I’d go for the 70.3 and we could just alternate sherpa-ing for one another. After some quick internet research we secured accommodations and were watching flights while she loaded up my training volume to see if I could realistically go for the full distance. And I searched for some race reports to scout the course. Learnings: wetsuit swim, “fast” bike, flat hot run. Bingo! This was my race.
But hold on. This meant I had to swim. I can count on one hand how many times I swam between Ironman Chattanooga and tax day. (For the uninformed, that’s September 28, 2015, to April 18, 2016). Seriously, 5 swims. Naturally I ran right out and bought (luckily at a Timex team discount) the best wetsuit on the market – made especially for women w curves. Thank you Blue Seventy! And then there’s the whole I suck at climbing hills thing, so I swapped out my cassette and derailleur for some pansy sizes so I could actually ride places like Orcas Island and Whistler BC, even if I did still only average 13-14mph, at least I wasn’t walking up the hills. [Okay, I walked up a few, on Orcas. You just try it and see if you don’t.]
Just in case you weren’t keeping up – I’m saying that I registered on June 27 for an Ironman on August 28. In the 8 weeks leading up to the actual registration I had been training 11-14 hours/week so I’m not a total moron – and you can be certain that my coach wouldn’t let me do anything completely idiotic. Last year I went from fat lazy Euro-tripping girl to Ironwoman in 100 days, but I was unemployed and road tripping and focused primarily on my training. This year I had to navigate an 8-5 job schedule, a ton of summer weekend travel plans, and a personal priority of building my social network in this city that I desperately wanted to call home. But it seemed to be working out alright – some solo workouts, some with friends, lots of early mornings at the hot outdoor pool in Kirkland, lots of sweaty lunch runs, a couple exasperating rides on Ironman courses in Coeur d’alene, Whistler, and Boulder, and some confidence boosting open water swims in the beautiful lakes that make Seattle such amazing training ground.
Before I knew it, summer was winding down and it was time to catch my flight to Europe. A whole bunch of other stuff was going on and distracting me but I had pretty much nailed my training and was as fit as I could be given my limited lead time. Kelly and I were ready to crush this race and show all the Europeans what’s up. We had big goals and high hopes. Travels went flawlessly, bikes unpacked, jet lag averted (as best as possible), and French roads navigated. As soon as we arrived in Vichy we parked near a public swim area on the lake and tried to go for a swim. The adorable French lifeguards informed us that was not possible as the water was barely knee deep in the permissable “swim area.” So we started out to run a loop around the lake instead, stopping at the race venue to get some tickets to the local pool and scouting out the swim start/transition area. It was a nice area with tree lined paths along the water, but good Lord, it was hot. Like 97 degrees hot, not a cloud in the sky. At 5:30 in the afternoon we were dry mouthed and sweat soaked. Hmm… this was not good. It took some doing but we made it to the sweet outdoor pool and a cute French guy sweet talked a coach into letting us share a lane with his team practicing after public hours. Me and 50m pools do not really get along, but this one was pretty cool and I suffered thru about 1000m before Kelly decided to give me some pointers on my stroke which magically changed everything. Gee, great timing. A local woman chatted us up and informed us that it was highly likely the water temp would rise to non-wetsuit legal temps before the weekend. Not good news. Eventually we made it to the countryside Chateau that would be our home for 5 nights and the lovely Dutch couple that runs the B&B served us a fabulous dinner and we tucked in for the night.
Thursday. 3 more sleeps. All the carbs. Time to ride the bikes. 5 miles in I realize the reason I feel so shaky and anxious is because my headset is not screwed down correctly, like not even close. I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself. I managed to get back in one piece but while going in and out of the chateau in search of a tool to fix it, I fell hard down the steps in my cleats, severely bruising my left hip. So now I’m freaked out and want a mechanic to check the bike over and also in a lot of pain and wondering how that might affect my race as well. But for now, back to the pool we go. Coach does a lot of workouts during taper, so apparently now I do too. We have trouble navigating the weird European public pool locker room protocol and get smacked around a bit by aggressive men in tiny swimsuits. Then on to packet pickup where hardly anyone speaks English and we can’t figure out when athlete’s meeting is, where a mechanic is, or why there are no chips in our packets. I couldn’t even negotiate an appointment at the massage tent. It was hot as balls and we were getting cranky so we left to go drive the bike course. Beautiful French countryside and cute hay bale sculptures welcoming Ironman racers awaited us, as did hot sun, hot wind, and bumpy roads. Our favorite section was near the end of the loop on the nicely paved rolling hills thru the only tree covered area before the descent back into town. Couldn’t figure out where special needs would be located and begrudged being routed over speed bumps but overall, it looked nice and doable, just very open to the elements. We parked near the Opera house to run the only part of the course we’d missed the previous day, did a 30 minute shake out then enjoyed some quiche at an outdoor cafe in the park because we were too early for dinner which apparently starts at 7:30 lol. Then I took a unisom to make sure I got some rest.
Ironpeople swim practice
Friday: 2 more sleeps. After official word from the race organizers that short a minor miracle, the water was indeed not going to be wetsuit legal, I decided to investigate skinsuit options from the vendors in the village. Ironically, most of them were still peddling wetsuits and were ill-prepared to make some quick cash off last minute too hot temps via skinsuit purchases. Introduce Skinfit. Not exorbitantly priced, helpful staff, and a fire engine red suit in just my size, so let’s just add that to my over-budget Ironman expenditures for the summer. Naturally, back to the pool we go. Admittedly it did feel pretty slick, and boosted my confidence a little. There were a ton of Iron-people getting in workouts and the energy was buzzing in the heat. Afterwards we stopped at the Decathlon sporting goods store to see about a bike mechanic and they swore there was a tent at the race venue but took pity on me and let me bring my bike inside for a quick check anyways. One twist on the cable adjuster and he said I was good – not super reassuring but oh well. Then we drove across the street and parked at the hippodrome (hippodrome ˈhɪpədrəʊm/noun: hippodrome; plural noun: hippodromes 1. a theatre or concert hall. “the Birmingham Hippodrome” 2. (in ancient Greece or Rome) a stadium for chariot or horse races.) and started running. Not long after, a little old French man in a golf cart chased us down and made it clear (in French) that we had to get out of the stable area – that there was no cut thru to the running path. On our way out several other gentlemen emphasized our trespassing and directed us to the exit – Message received! We ended up at the venue and were scouting out the swim buoys when a very nice English speaking race staffer appeared to show us the swim entry/first exit/re-entry/final exit situation and confirm that the water was already at not-wetsuit legal temps. Well shit. The uncontrollable. But hey, running at an 8:30 pace in 97 degrees doesn’t feel hard, so there’s that. Tried to go to the grocery but it was closed for siesta so we picked up some goodies at the bakery next door and had an only half-intelligible conversation with the baker about his bread and our race. We enjoyed yet another quiche on the lawn back at the chateau before a super short ride to make sure my bike felt okay. Showered up and headed back to town for the Pro Athlete meeting which turned out to be quite dramatic. Apparently WTC defers to French regulation rules which are different than the worldwide Ironman standards on some very key issues, namely in this non-wetsuit legal situation, what you can wear under a swimskin. I was wanting clarification on whether or not you can run shirtless but this conversation took a serious turn towards the ridiculous as people discussed getting naked in transition and what constitutes “underwear.” Final ruling as they started tearing down the Ironman banners adorning the meeting room: ONE LAYER ONLY – with the exception that women can wear sports bras. Hmpf. Heads spinning, nerves strung out, emotions running high. At least I finally found out where we can park lol. Stopped at a fancy grocery for dinner supplies and continued to stress out over a nice home cooked meal before starting on the gear bag organization. More unisom for sure.
Saturday. Big day. Chill day. Because of the 70.3 taking place we couldn’t drop off our bikes til 4pm so we had all day to do our last shake out bike ride and prep our gear before heading into town again. I really loved our country ride this day and it gave me happy thoughts for the big ride ahead. Email from the race director saying miracles do happen, but not the one I was really hoping for. It still wasn’t wetsuit legal, BUT the French had acquiesced and were letting competitors were TWO layers for the swim – a trisuit under a swimskin was allowed. Big relief for Kelly, and saved me the embarrassment of getting naked in transition to put on shorts. So carry on then, phew. Eat, drink, organize bags, eat, drink, reorganize bags, eat, drink some more. Eventually we head into town to rack our bikes and drop transition bags. It’s not super clear how the run ins and outs will work but we get the general idea (I still screwed up run out from T2 on race day but there was a lovely metal fence to stop me in my tracks). The volunteers were great but it wasn’t the language barrier that hindered our comprehension – people just didn’t know where things were located – namely morning clothes drop off and specials needs bags drop off. Hopefully it would be obvious in the morning, you know, in the dark, with announcements in French, lol. I wasn’t thrilled with my rack position – far from the bike out and far from the pumps for race morning. After watching Kelly stand in line forEVER at Whistler I was really anxious about pumping my tires in the morning since my pump broke on the plane trip. Nothing to do about it though, so back to the chateau for more eating and hydrating and organizing. I braided my hair, got in the boots one last time, watched Inside Out and IM’d endlessly with Tom til the upstairs neighbors finally turned down their music enough for me to fall asleep.
I had spent remarkably little time mentally preparing for this race. I felt physically ready, aside from the bruised hip and sore arms from my very recently updated swim stroke technique. I slept decently, overcame jetlag, was sufficiently carbed and hydrated. I had goals naturally, that had been discussed with my coach, and there was concern about the heat wave, so adjustments for possible temps in the high 90s would have to be made. I have been distracted and since I have done this before I guess I wasn’t as anxious, but in retrospect I could have devoted more time to the mental run through and game plan.
Sunday. Race Day. To be found in detail here