This is one of the approximately 3 French phrases I picked up last week while in Nice for IM France; it means “very good”. But, from start to finish, everything about my trip to France, including the race, was better than very good–it was amazing! For a first long day back in the office, a 5th place finish and Kona spot was a welcome reward!
The second I stepped off the plane in France, I was met at the airport by my homestay host and contact at Aquasphere, Lindsay, who whisked me away to her gorgeous villa in the hills just South of Nice. As an added bonus, her husband, Simon, is an avid cyclist who not only took me on guided rides of the course, but also drove me around the entire course so I could preview it before the race. Oh yeah, did I mention he is also a gourmet chef?! The meals were so good that I started joking that it must be a conspiracy plan to fatten me up that he’d designed with Alexadra Louison, the adorable and very tiny French pixie who won last year’s race; ) With that sort of 5 star treatment, the days flew by, and before I knew it, it was time for race day.
I had a lot of both nervous energy and excitement heading into this race. Fortunately, I had Coach Paul to keep me in check with a smart race plan, full of process (or pr-O-cess, as the Canadians say) goals. Rather than focusing on times, places, or Hawaii slots–the outcomes by which we all usually judge races, my objectives were based around things that I could totally control. Things like finding a good draft on the swim (big guys that don’t kick), not letting myself go above certain HR zones on the climbs, maintaining good run technique (elbows in, shoulders forward–no more flauntin’ the goods), and staying on top of nutrition and hydration. My mantra for the race was: “conservative, smart, and strong”.
Conservative–Because, in terms of timing, this was maybe a little early. . .I knew I was not the fittest I’ve ever been. Yet. I was looking for a solid day, one which I could learn from, gain fitness and confidence for races later in the season. This meant that I needed to stay in control, rather than going for an earth shattering performance. Big Picture.
Smart–Because it’s important to control what you can control & eliminating mistakes–proper pacing, nutrition, equipment.
Strong–Because a good day depends on staying tough out there from start to finish. And, anything can happen in Ironman!
I went in with the attitude that if I followed the plan, checked off all of the objective goals we’d identified, then the day would play out how it was supposed to. So, on race morning, I headed to the water nervous, but with a huge smile–just a big day of training.
The swim start was rough–this year there were 1,000 more competitors then when I raced two years ago. While I was glad to have so many friends out there (I consider anyone helping me get to that swim finish a buddy; ), it made for rough going, especially for the first 1,000 yards. I got dunked, kicked, and at one point, someone even grabbed my hand like they were giving a handshake before pulling me under. Brutal. I just zenned out as best I could, reminding myself that we were all just trying to get to that swim exit!
I got out just in front of Laurent Jalabert, the former Tour d’ France rider. . .trust me, it didn’t take him long to fly by me like I was standing still. Even the motorcade seemed to be having difficulty keeping up! Luckily, I was cruising along myself, mostly passing lots of people, occassionally being passed, but keeping things totally under control. After the first flat and fast 10k, the climbing began. I knew we had 21 km of almost constant climbing, some parts steeper than others, but always up. I watched some of the guys take off, I love climbing, love working, and multiple times had to resist the urge to push it. I was checking my HR constantly, keeping it right where it was supposed to be, not taking any chances.
Although I have many IM races left to do, I can’t imagine a more spectacular bike course. We climbed through beautiful historic villages, getting amazing crowd support the entire way. At mile 70, we reached the highest point on the course, and I was feeling good, but pleased about the fact that we had some serious downhill coming. For a triathlon course, this one is quite technical. If you’re planning on racing this one, 2 words of advice: Road Bike! My Orbea Diva handled the screaming downhills & hairpin turns no problem, and before I knew it I was back to sea level, cruising back to town along the Promenade d’ Anglais with views of the Mediterranean.
I came off the bike feeling solid, but definitely not fresh. It was quite hot, and even though I’d been conservative on the ride, as my friend Dean put it, “there’s no way to do that ride easy”. I set off on a very controlled pace, with a four loop out and back course there were plenty of spectators and opportunities to see other athletes. I finished the first two loops feeling great energy -wise, but the quads were definitely starting to go. At the start of the third loop, the legs were no longer starting to go, they’d went. . . By the last 5k, I was running with a gait not unlike what I imagine P am Reed looks like in the last few miles of Badwater: )
After last year’s struggles with chronic fatigue, crossing the finish line of this race will always remain one of my happiest moments. While I know there is a lot of work still to be done, this race was a great stepping stone for me. I owe many thanks to Andy, my family, friends, and sponsors–K-Swiss, Aquasphere, Vida Tea, LifeSport, Orbea, TechnoSweat, B&L, Clif Bar–thank you all for your love & support.