Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ironman France Race Report

Try as I might to keep this simple it will be very long. I'll try to keep a similar form to shorter race reports because even though it's a pretty epic distance in the end it's just a triathlon.

Ironman France June 23rd Finish Time 15hours 20 minutes

Pre-Race Night and Race Morning
The last thing to do was check my bike between 6-7 pm. I had been on my own the whole day resting while my family went to Monaco and Eze to play. My husband came back to go with me for moral support to check my bike.

Funny story. I have the new profile design aeroHC bottle. It's great. It's also not for sale in Europe yet. I know this because in the 2-days before the race people were stopping me and asking in whatever language they spoke, "what is that? where did you get it?" People who asked included random racers, the bike mechanics in the shop that checked the bike and they guys working the Cervelo booth (who ran out of their booth as I walked by to ask me). This little bottle got some major attention. Anyway were I might normally leave the empty bottle on the night before I was nervous it would walk away so I kept it with me until race time and even thought about what I would do if it was stolen before I got to it. I covered it with a towel during the swim. Bizarre,  right? 

That's me racking my bike the night before. The have a schedule and my group of numbers 100-600 was the last group. My aero bottle is safely hidden in my bag over my shoulder. I was going to leave it on the bike but when another racer noticed it and asked about it ... I got skittish and just kept it with me. All the bikes were covered by those yellow PowerBar rain covers. I hadn't picked mine up so Marc had to go run through the expo and get mine. He got two and I brought the extra home ... why ... I have no idea.
Back to the boring details. I slept okay the night before.

Different from shorter distances where what you eat the night and morning of a race isn't critical when you're going to race for over 12 hours those foods and those calories will come into play. In fact starting from before I left I was pretty intensely focused on what I was eating. When I'm busy I tend not to eat and also I wasn't exercising (taper) so I wasn't hungry. It took a very academic approach to make sure I was eating my meals.

My coach,  my doctor and my husband were all wanting me to make sure I got sufficient calories in the 3-4 days before the race. It seemed nutty when I packed but actually worked out very well that I brought a significant amount of the food I ate with me to from the states. I had packed about 15 Luna Bars and 10 packs of mac-n-cheese for me and the kids in case we had trouble finding food that they would eat. I don't eat mac-n-cheese but the Luna bars were my saving grace on the travel day because I didn't have to stress about airport food. Also in the days before the race I was adding one after every meal to make sure I was getting extra or at least sufficient calories.

I'm trying to remember if I talked about this before the race or not. Why was I so stressed  about eating before the race? Well a full-sized person carries about 2000 calories of convertible energy in their muscles and liver. Apparently,  I'm not quite full-sized at 110 pounds on race day (the estimate is based on somebody at 150-160 lbs). During the race I was expected to burn between 5000 - 7000 calories. The most you can replenish while exercising is around 200-225 calories an hour. So (15*225) = 3375 that's the max of what I could take in during the race. If I have the full glucose stores of 2000 + 3375 that puts me at 5375.  As I learned at St. A's if you run out of glucose stores your body stops moving forward pretty dramatically. And it was my goal to avoid that at all costs.

Which means - 2 dinners  the night before one early and one right before bed. I brought the Luna bars with me from the states and the oatmeal (dry, packed in my bike box) but I bought the pasta, and sauce and eggs in France. I made pasta like before every race just made extra and ate two servings. The only difference is that where at home I cook and season my own meat to add to the sauce I could not find chopped meat in Nice so I used premade Barilla Bolinnaise sauce. Which was fine.

Have pedialyte will travel. This is powder I brought from home and added to botttled water. I drank and cooked with only bottled water before the race. France has good water but with only 3-days to adjust I was overly cautious.
Then I had 2 alarms - one at 3 and one at 4:15. At 3 the plan was eat a Luna bar and drink some pedialyte. The point of this early snack is just to try to digest more calories before the race. Then at 4:15 a double serving of oatmeal, hard boiled egg, banana, coffee and more pedialyte. That was the plan. But I was really nervous and my stomach was edgy so it worked out into half a Luna bar and about 3/4 of the oatmeal.

Then it was out the door with my husband to the start of the race. It was about a 10 minute walk in the dark to transition. I did have a panic attack half-way there that I hadn't packed socks in my bag ... false alarm a quick check revealed I did pack socks.

My husband stayed by my side until I lost him after I came out of transition and headed to the beach.

This is the racers heading down to the swim. My hubby never saw me and I didn't see him but we must have come close because I recognize one of guys standing by the wall. I stood by him for a while before I went to sit down on the rocks.
THE SWIM 2.4 miles / 3.8 kilometers - 1h28minutes
It was very cloudy and I said a little prayer that it didn't rain. I'm not terribly religious but I was doing my share of praying working up to this race. Going up and down the mountains in the rain was my worst possible situation.

The swim is organized in corrals by time so i found 1:25+ and stayed there. It was all the way to the left of the group of swimmers. I did a quick warm up in the water and then sat on the rocks to rest since it was going to be a long day.

All around me were people discussing in every possible language about the swim course. The point of question do we go between the two buoys in the middle or do we have to swim to the left. Nobody knew and there was no announcement but I didn't worry since I knew there would be thousands of people in front of me to follow.

Before long enough competitors had gathered on the beach so that I was in the middle of the pack so I stood up and walked to the back. I didn't want to get caught up in a crush of people going in. When I stood the man next to me said to me, " You have beautiful perfect feet."  Um okay, nice to meet you,  weird french foot fetish man.

There was allegedly a pro-start 5 minutes before the mass start. My husband says he saw it. I didn't. There wasn't a cannon or anything so when the first and only cannon was for the whole group I was a little surprised.
In the back I found 2 American girls from California and Oregon prepping to start also. I hung with them and chatted a bit. Then the canon went off and the racers plunged into the water. It was maybe 20 whole seconds till I was in the water.  I did my now-famous Nice-beach slide-flop into the water and I was off. I concentrated on really starting slow. Really Really Slow.

I had no trouble finding clear water. In fact I was alone enough that I was looking for arms and feet to be sure I was on track. The buoys were so far out that they were hard to see from in the water unless you sighted from the top of a wave.

The water was very calm but there were very gentle rollers. Eventually I got to the first buoy then the next and turned right. Between these two buoys I met a pink jellyfish. Seriously - this is very funny. Here in the tropics where I live the waters are infested seasonally with jellyfish and I hardly ever get stung. Everyone I  swim with gets stung and I'm always the lucky one. Then I fly 5000 miles to swim in the Mediterranean Sea and meet a giant pink blob of Jellyfish. What are the odds?  I began to turn to rotate and I saw the pink. The water is very clear and I was wearing new goggles so I could really see it.  It was about the size of a cantelope. I tried to move my hand away but I still got my two small fingers on my right hand. Hurt a lot but not so much that I stopped. I swam along thinking ... Really a jellyfish ... Here? But whatever.

I swam toward shore in a group. We could see the tents onshore and eventually the swim turn-around arch. Then we were all redirected by a helper on a surfboard because we were all going the wrong way. We needed to go around a buoy to the left. Oops. Okay off we swam.

Then toward the arch on shore. At this point I started feeling queasy. I think the salt water in my mouth and the rolling waves was a hard combo for me. You can hear the roar of the waves over the rocks as you approach the shore it is a bizarre noise not at all like the sound of waves breaking on sand. There is a screaching from the rocks rubbing together I think.

I swam right up onto the rocks just like I had practiced. When suddenly out of nowhere a strong volunteer pulled me by my up onto the mats. I walked a few steps and then gagged and threw up about a cup of sea water. Gross, I know. I wondered if my day was already over but then I realized that having tossed my cookies I felt much better so I plunged right back in. During the turnaround I heard the announcer say it was one hour into the race. Since my head was already muddled from the swim I was suddenly worried.  I figured that there must have been a current and since I was focused on going slowly to keep my endurance up that I had gone too slow.
I'm in there somewhere.

I had forgotten that the first loop is significantly longer than the second so I swam the second loop thinking I was on pace for a 2hr swim. That made me sad and so I focused on enjoying the swim. I said to myself,  "I'm actually doing my Ironman swim right now". After I rounded the last buoy I paused to throw up a little in the water. It's so gross. I totally need to do a better job of swimming with my mouth closed. Or now I realize I may have just been seasick. Apparently that happens to some people in long swims even in lakes. (that would have been good to know before the race). Anyway, right after that I realized I was almost finished and for the first time of the day I realized I was actually going to complete this swim. I was elated. It may sound silly but I was never actually confident even after all my swim training that I could do this whole swim.

But I did! And when I came out - again with the help of a strong volunteer who sort of flung me up the beach. I think he was so used to the bigger guys that my smallness caught him by surprise. Or maybe I was the only one surprised by him flinging me up the beach. I took a few steps under the bridge turned around saw 1:30 on the clock and I was surprise, shocked and thrilled.


Sadly there is no photo of me in my euphoric state running out of the swim. Bummer.

T1 - 11:34
I ran up the ramp, turned and ran up more ramp and I was in transition. I grabbed my bag and headed into the girls only tent!

I hadn't seen him yet but he saw me. Those brave enough to swim and bike in their tri shorts just changed outside the tent. Not me ... full change from the waste down :-)
Where I spent forever getting ready. Not sure what took so long. There are no helpers in the tent - just us girls. So take your own wetsuit off - put on bike shorts with lots of lube. Put on arm warmers, gloves, helmet, glasses, socks and shoes oh and sunscreen.

Then I headed out and heard my husband shout my name!
This is what took so long - posing for the photo. Just kidding.

Oh yes! Seeing family during the race is such a lift.

My age group clearly had lots of fast swimmers :-)
He took my picture and off I went.
I'm on my way! I think my hubby did a pretty good job documenting the morning - don't you. It's not really his thing so I'm especially impressed.
 THE BIKE - 112 miles / 180 kilometers 7:57:20 
Okay I'm not going to bore you with almost 8 hours of details. For a lot of reasons including I would be lying if I said I remembered it all.

The bike was of course the section of this ride that I worked hardest on trying to prepare for. This route is known as being a very challenging course because there is about 1800 meters of climbing. Do the math ... Thats 6000 feet. Since I live in a totally flat state training for this took some thinking. Most of my trainer sessions in the garage were on very high resistance and one a week I did a trainer session on the Computrainer. The really, really, really good news is that it worked. While I didn't set any speed records I was prepared for the climbing sections of this course. I just pedaled and pedaled and climbed my way up. My gearing was appropriate and I never felt I couldn't do it.

It is also the most beautiful bike course I've ever ridden.  You go through small mountain villages, past fields of lavender and through I think two kind of forest areas. I saw goats and horses along the way.

Now onto things I didn't expect and/or wasn't prepared for. It was cold and windy as we went up. I was freezing and also really happy that I didn't have any  deep aero wheels because even without I was being blown around a little bit. More experienced local riders around me actually had jackets on that they took off farther into the course when it was warmer.

The roads up and down tended to be around the outside of the mountains so the vistas were beautiful overlooks of mountain valleys. Also they were curvy and the most protection we had from going over the edge and plummeting into the valley was a stone wall about 2 feet high. At points not even that. Descending was something I had no way to prepare for and I was honestly not very good at it at all. I probably could have taken at least a half hour probably closer to an hour off my time if I was not such a chicken and could descend worth a crap.

That being said about 40k into the race I passed an accident so severe that a helicopter was on the scene. I found out later that the man died. We also passed several abandoned mangled bikes which was good for perspective. See if you crash on the course and need medical attention what happens is that they take you away and leave your bike on the course. I assume somebody comes along and gets it but I don't know. So the whole day on the bike course was filled with emergency sirens and motorcycles zooming by to get to the scene of the accident. If you think too much about it - it will definitely rattle you. From that point on I was fine descending slowly at my pace and using caution. There were lots of times where I was honestly scared. Others like hairpin turns I just didn't know how to navigate quickly. So I just did the best I could.

There aren't many women in this race so one fun thing is that as I went through the small villages and past volunteers there were lots of shouts for "ah voila une femme! Allez  les femmes!" Look - a woman- go women! It was fun.

Also fun is that there were local cyclists out riding on the same route (putting me to shame just flying up and down the mountain). They loved it when I was passing men going up the mountain and would cheer me and tease the men. That was also fun. At one point we went past a group which could have been the actual Lotto team prepping for the Tour de France which was coming to Nice just days after the Ironman. It could also have just been guys wearing those jerseys. Who knows.  But all through about a 6 mile climb they would leapfrog me cheering me on and ridiculing the guys I was passing which was hysterical. Of course at the summit the 50 or so guys I had passed going up just immediately zoomed passed me in about 5 minutes. Oh well.

So there were no porta potties on the course - just stop and pee in the wilderness. Also special needs was on an incline. I had this vision of stopping to stretch and eat my snickers and go to the bathroom in special needs. No such luck. Stop, fill the bottles with help from two volunteers. Inquire about bathroom - told nope. And then off I went. It was on a hill (hellooooooo who planned that?).  So I got one of those fancy push starts like the do in the Tour de France. I climbed on the bike and the guy ran with me till I could go. That was way fun.

My high point was when I reached the top of the Col d'Ecre. It meant that I had completed most of the climbing. At that point I was confident I would finish.

That confidence faced as I realized how slowly I was descending.  One was so scary I was totally in the middle of the road just praying that there wasn't a strong breeze. So I lost a lot of time there.

As the afternoon went on I had only one moment of darkness. At around 80 miles in I became sure that I wouldn’t make the cutoff even after all this work. My butt hut, my toes were cramping and I needed to pee. Luckily I realized this feeling for what it was (a dark spot and a calorie shortage)  and pulled over to pee, stretch - reapply chamois creme and stretch my toes.  I also ate a GU and refilled my aero bottle.

After that I felt much better and I just tried to pick up the pace and try to make the cutoff. As it turned out I wasn't as close as I thought I was but it was good that I went ahead and pushed.
what in the world is in my mouth? I had gum at the start so this must be at the beginning I have no idea what that is. Clearly I did not see the photographer because I would have kept my mouth shut like a lady :-)

As I got closer I was trying to figure out how close I was. My Garmin wasn't reliable for total mileage because several times it had lost the satelite in the mountains. So it only showed around 100 miles even at the finish. Every 10 kilometers they had painted the remaining kilometers in the road so I was zooming along trying to do the math and figure out my remaining time. It was fairly funny since my mind was all muddled and math isn't my strong point anyway.

I knew I was close - when I passed the airport. Then I finished. I wanted to kiss the guy at the dismount line - but I didn't. He congratulated me (and all the riders) with "you have completed something very hard" it was true and I admit that I'm proud of myself.

T2 - 12:39 
Different from US races there is no bike hand-off in France. Just a gigantic regular old transition. Maybe I took a nap I'm not sure what took so long.  I did see my family which was AWESOME!

Seriously all I did was change my pants and shoes ... How could that take 12 minutes?
I got to give my family a kiss. I'll admit making it through the bike was a true high!
Ready to Run!
THE MARATHON - 26.2 Miles / 43 kilometers 5 hours 29 minutes
that's me on the right. I'm either just starting or have just finished my first loop - who knows?

It still seems crazy even though I've done it. I felt really pretty good when I started and if I hadn't had to stop to pee my first mile would have been like 10:30 pace. My intention was to stay below a 12min/mile pace for the race. My mantra was just keep moving forward. Run, jog walk with purpose just keep going.

The course naturally broke itself into 3 mile sections because it was a 6 mile loop.  I would think - just get there to the turnaround and then walk a bit or take a Gu or whatever. Then just make it to the wristband. It wasn't bad at all.

After each loop you got a "chouchou" which is like a hair scrunchy. You wore it on your arm or wrist. Green first loop, yellow second loop, red third loop then finish line. I celebrated each of these chouchous like mini finish lines. They each felt like a victory. I saw my family at all but one loop. Which for my family is amazing support and dedication to my race.

After the second or maybe third loop my watch battery died.  I handed off my watch and my hat to my husband on the sidelines.
This is me just starting - I can tell because I have no chouchous on my wrist. I was thrilled to be starting the marathon ... or rather just thrilled to be off the bike!

The Ironman marathon seems totally different than a stand-alone marathon. I know obvious statement but it just was. I could tell from the start that it was mentally and physically different. Physically  the fatigue is so great at the start that it's different. Also my stomach was very sensitive from the start. And of course my brain was mush. Luckily my marathon fueling is pretty automatic. I took coke and water at the rest stops and later crackers and I gu'd about every 45 minutes.

Also as a result of the 4 loops from the start I could see those who were on their final loops. A lot of runners were having a very hard time. On each loop there were people throwing up and people stopped in the medic tent. I saw one person just collapse and sit down leaning on a light pole. The medics came and put him on a stretcher and to be honest he didn't look good he might have been unconscious.  I didn't want to be that guy. So I was careful to keep,drinking water and taking my Gu even though I didn't feel hungry. The salty crackers were much better.

I was amazed that I was able to keep jogging- shuffling as long as I did. When the sun went down the moon rose and it was pink! It was incredibly beautiful.

This is the end of my second loop because I already have the green chouchou. I love this picture because that's my son Jack's hand reaching out to give me "five. You can see the sun is setting but it doesn't get dark until after 9. I'm about to get me second chouchou. You can also tell that the course was a lot less crowded than when I started. Welcome to the back of the pack :-)

Also, we ran by two beach restaurants one called the Florida Beach and another the Miami Beach. Those cracked me up each time.

Like with all long races I made friends along the way and we cheered each other on. Of course, with no watch I did panic toward the end that I was maybe only doing a 16  or even a 20 minute mile and I wouldn't make it. But it was just my crazy brain - I made it with 40 minutes to spare!

The finish line. Oh my goodness. There is nothing like it. First where I had been turning left for another loop I got to go right under the sign for finish line. Then I saw my family which was amazing.

My kids wanted to run with me but in the US you get disqualified for that so I didn't do it. There is a horrible video my husband and step-daughter each took of me rejecting my kids. I won't share that with you - in fact I have to remember to try and delete all copies of that video. Hopefully they will recover from this rejection by their crazy mom.

It might have been okay but who knows. At the time I was like - hey I may only do this once I want it to be official.

Then into the chute with cheerleaders and crazy cheering on each side. I was insanely emotional. Happy and tears in my eyes and trying to smile but not really able. It makes for a funny photo.
Here are the cute cheerleaders. I'm totally screwing up the photo for the guy behind me. Sorry. Notice how I'm losing the battle to smile.
Trying to smile a little more. I was really happy - really.
I think I'm clapping for myself while I mess up that other guys photo.
Don't worry I didn't steal these photos - well not really. I pre-ordered them so apparently I have to wait for a link to really download them. So I did grab them today for here but of course I bought them. Even if I look like crap I have to have them!

And then it was done.

I did not go to the medic tent :-) I did get my finishers shirt. They only had xs which luckily fits because I would have been very sad. They also had a place to engrave your medal but you needed 13 euros cash. Um hello ... I didn't just do a 140 mile race with extra euros in my pocket are you serious?

I also got some food. My coach had told my husband directly to make sure he had something for me to eat after. But I knew that in my husband's mind that meant go straight to a restaurant. So I made sure to eat in the athlete tent. Chicken, pizza and soup. They also had beer but I wasn't ready yet.Then I found my family. I talked my way in to have my husband help with my bike and bags. Then we chilled for a few minutes to see the fireworks at 10:30. That's when the race ends. The kids really loved it.

That's my step-daughter on the right. And that's one totally exhausted Amy on the left. That's my soup cup between us.

And lastly we did the long slow walk back to the apartment. We stopped at a restaurant near the apartment for dinner. Everything was closing - it almost 11 on a Sunday night.

So funny story as I'm asking if a restaurant is open another patron sees the medal and he thinks I won the race. He was a little drunk. I tried to straighten him out that I just finished - not won. But he didn't get it. He took his photo with me and everything. Other more sober patrons were chuckling. But luckily with all the hubbub the restaurant happily agreed to stay open and feed me and another couple bought me a drink. It was nice.

Back in the apartment my hubby had a mini bottle of the champagne (Roderer Pink) that we had served at our wedding to celebrate my accomplishment. It was very nice. Also he bought it before so clearly he was more confident than I was that I could finish. That felt good too.

I then took 2 ibuprofen and fell asleep. zzzzzzz.


  1. Way to go Amy! You are an Ironman!

  2. wow wow wow FANTASTIC go amy! a wonderful, inspiring report! All the hard work pays off.

  3. Thank you guys! Edson I can't wait to cheer you on as you become an Ironman!