le gendarme rit dans le gendarmerie

Ironman France

Training has been mixed this year. My husband deployed to Afghanistan in March, which meant I could be as selfish as I liked with regards to training, as there was no-one else making (justifiable) demands on my free time. On the other hand, there was no-one else to shop, cook, clean or help with the myriad logistics of balancing two jobs, demanding students and ironman training. I knew my swimming had improved significantly and that I was running faster, but my biking was a bit unknown.

Thankfully the French aviation authority called off their strike and we got to Nice (with the bike, which not everyone managed – poor Meldy) with no hassle. On Friday I managed to rip two rather large holes in the leg of my wetsuit, but after a lot of phone calls and messages trying to get hold of a spare, my husband did an excellent patch job using an old chip strap and a lot of Black Witch. I swam to the Teas of Nice boat, strolled around the market, ate a lot of French cake, racked my bike and stayed up late to finish the book I was reading.

Our apartment was a 5 minute walk from one end of transition, which made it only 15 minutes to the other end. Transition didn’t open till 5am, which is quite late for an IM – I don’t see the necessity in getting there any earlier, but they often open at 4am. Being there when transition opened meant no queuing for the (still clean!) portaloos – hurrah! However, this was offset by the longest queue in history to get down to the beach for the start.

The swim was unbelievable. You expect an IM swim to be fairly physical in the first 400m or so, but this was something else; 2500 or so swimmers in such a small piece of sea. I never found clear water – every 10th stroke would catch neoprene, not water.  Thankfully, almost everyone around me recognised that there was nowhere any of us could go and that intentionally beating each other up was counter-productive, although I did get dunked at one turn buoy which was a bit rude. For most of the swim back to the shore, I was happily looking at the rainbow I could see every time I breathed to my left and trying to decide whether this boded well or not. Then I realised it was the light refracting off the water inside my goggles and decided I was an idiot. Out of the first loop and there were way too many people on the section of beach that housed the timing mat to call it a “run”, but round we all went for the second loop and it was much the same for another 35 minutes. I knew I was swimming very much within myself and that my swim split wasn’t really representative of what I could do, but there was nowhere to go, so I resigned myself to a longer soak in the brine.

Swim: 1:11:44

I think I would have to rate the queue to get up the steps into transition as one of the more surreal moments I’ve experienced in triathlon. Whose ridiculous idea was that? Thankfully, everyone seemed quite calm and there was no pointless shoving, so I took the opportunity to get my wetsuit half off, then accidently grabbed the red run bag, but apart from that T1 went quickly and to plan (T1 5:55).

Once on the bike though, my Garmin had a funny turn. It took ages to boot up and when it eventually did, it had managed to reset itself, forgetting the display screens I like to see and flatly refused to pair with my HR monitor. I stopped and tried to readjust the chest strap in case that was why, but there seemed to be nothing doing. I’d almost become reconciled to the idea of riding by feel, when mercifully it burst into life shortly after we started the climb. I can only assume it was the protracted salt water bath that upset it.

I did quite a lot of overtaking and it seemed most of the people coming past me were the motorbike gendarmes. Every time one went by I said a silly little tongue twister; “le gendarme rit dans le gendarmerie”. It means “the policeman laughs in the police station”, so it’s nonsense, but if you don’t articulate it right (in French), you’re speaking even greater nonsense and it’s fun to say it quickly. (When I say “fun”, this should be taken in the context of an ironman race, where perceptions can alter somewhat from the socially acceptable norm). I saw quite a lot of referees too, but only one who did anything about all the drafting and littering going on across the entire mountain and even he only gave a warning. Also, for the first time ever, I peed on my bike. I’m not sure the fact you can smell your own pee-stench for the rest of the day makes up for the time saved though, but I am at least now qualified to make that call.

I absolutely loved the bike course. The climbing was nice and steady and never got too steep and the views were amazing – it was so cool to look down at the sea, knowing you’d climbed all that way on your bike. The flat bit at the top was a good opportunity to push on a bit and at the out and back section I saw fellow pirates Golden Boots and Orange Cannon; most of the guys around me were French and not very friendly so it was nice to see some smiles! Then came that wonderful long, swooping downhill. I kept up the effort on the descent – it was never so steep that I span out – and covered a lot of it at north of 30mph which was fantastic fun. Early on a girl called Mandy came past me (firmly lodging the Barry Manilow lyrics in my head) taking the corners incredibly quickly. Fair play, I thought, I can’t descend that fast, I’ll have to let her go. A few corners later, I passed Mandy picking herself and her bike up off the road, so on further reflection, I don’t think Mandy can descend that fast either. I didn’t see her again but I did see a couple of other people on the tarmac, many scraped knees and elbows, several ambulances and a lot more policemen (“le gendarme rit dans le gendarmerie”). I pretended to be a professional cyclist for a while and then it started to rain. I am incredibly thankful to have been down off that mountain before the heavens opened, as within 30 seconds I was completely soaked, but never got cold. The roads did get very slippery though and I almost lost it twice on corners with a lot of road paint, which meant I rode the flat section back towards Nice in a full-on monsoon and a surfeit of circulating adrenaline.

Bike: 5:50:05

Into T2, racked my bike, started to run towards the bags and immediately slipped on the sodden carpet, so I decided it was a case of More Haste, Less Speed and took it slightly steadier. Unfortunately I had no way of drying my feet; I bike without socks on and I knew putting wet feet into dry socks for a marathon in was not going to end well but what can you do? (T2 3:19)

And so, for the run.  It was a particular sadist who thought up the run course. The Nice bay is curved, so from one turnaround, the other is very clearly visible across the water. The enormous hotels produce an illusion similar to that in Las Vegas, making distance perception even more complicated. Anyway – it’s a long way and it looks a long way too and we had to run 4 laps. Laps 1 and 2 passed without too much hassle, although I started too quickly and by half way knew I was going to pay the price. Then my heart rate monitor decided it had done enough for the day and from then on I had to run by pace, which was suboptimal for both moral and exertion. What got me through was being a Pirate; the cheers from the Pirate supporter crew, David’s IM groupies, other Pirates on the course (especially Prince Siegfried) and ordinary supporters who like the kit because it’s different and you go “arrgghh”. But by lap 3 I was starting to suffer. I held off the Coke until the start of lap 4, but I did discover a new kind of nectar – orange segments. I’d never tried them before on an IM run, but now they became a reward for continuing to run while my right foot developed a significant hot spot and my Garmin reported slower and slower mile splits. It was at this point that my husband told me I was 3rd in my AG but 4th was only 2 minutes behind. Two minutes is nothing when you have 6 miles to run, but walking when you’re in an AG podium place is not an option. I decided if she overtook me and I had nothing left I could walk at that point, but I don’t think I really believed myself, because somehow I managed to extend that gap. Finally I turned around at the far end and there were only 3 miles between me and a nice sit down. I’d love to say I found the strength and energy to pick up the pace, but frankly that would be a lie, I only found the energy and strength to keep running at approximately the same pace, which will have to be good enough under the circumstances.

I passed the Pirate supporters for the last time (looking incredibly relived I would imagine) and then a girl who looked about my age over took me. (Everyone looks about your age at this stage in an IM, which is to say we all look 15 years older than we are). I couldn’t see her number, but I had to know if she was my age group or not. If this was 4th, having run me down, I was willing to scrape together anything I had in order to contest a sprint finish for 3rd, but I really needed to know if it was necessary or not. So I put on the tiniest spurt to get ahead and look round at her number, in what David’s supporter-extraordinaire-and-IM-groupie Andy later described as a move about as subtle as a battleship in the Gobi. The trouble was, I couldn’t focus on the small(er) print of her AG and her number was close enough that I really had no idea if she was or she wasn’t. She laughed and said “don’t worry, I’m heaps older than you” but I wasn’t sure whether to believe her or not. In all honesty, had it come down to a 100m dash, I suspect she would have won so it’s a good job she was telling the truth, and all I had to muster up the last little bit of energy for, was a jump across the line.

Thanks to Huw Fairclough
Thanks to Huw Fairclough

Run: 3:35:43

Total: 10:46:46

I felt a wee bit wobbly after I’d finished and really rather hot, so I had a lie down for a bit whilst two nice French boys massaged my legs. I was sufficiently revived by a shower and croque monsieur to do my bit cheering in the finishers until the fireworks.

There were only two Kona slots in my age group, so I got another perspex bookend and the experience of roll-down. Very few female slots rolled at all and none came out of their allocated AGs, so I won’t be going back to Kona this year. That’s okay though – I have other exciting things planned. Watch this space!

As always, I owe several thank yous so would the following people please stand and accept your plaudits:

Dawn for the offer of an emergency wetsuit loan; Huw Fairclough for the photos and cheering on an increasingly grumpy-looking stranger; Andrea, Meldy & Matt for being superb (and quiet) housemates and caterers; my Buccaneer Teammates for the daily craic and inspiration; Adam for mentoring, advice, insults, encouragement and a “Go Get ‘Em Champ” text; and above all, James, who takes supporting to a new stratosphere.

Go Pirates!

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