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Tuesday
Jul312018

IM France (24.07.18)

Ironman France was something of a bucket-list race for me. The course has changed since the original 1982 Nice Triathlon (won 10x by Mark Allen) but originally the event was THE race in the calendar alongside Kona in terms of stature and prestige. The race director is a two time winner of the race in 1988 and 1992 and while I'm no historian of the sport, and nor do I know him personally other than meeting him at the race, I feel that races like Nice are a cornerstone and bedrock of triathlon. They exist and continue over the years because of the passion that people have for the sport and I wanted to experience the event for myself.

I arrived in Nice ten days before the race as I'd wanted to ride the bike course a couple of times beforehand. It's hilly, it's technical, it is spectacular and like no other bike course that I've raced before. I've been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time riding in the mountains over the past few years, but it is very different to race on such roads. Due to the climbs, the descents and even the flatter / rolling sections are on winding roads; your effort, heart rate and power numbers will be hugely varied if compared to a flatter course with a less technical profile.  I felt that there would be some considerable advantage to knowing the bike course in order to try and optimise efforts on the climbs and have confidence through some of the twists and turns that make up 140km of the course. The other 40km are 20km of prime timetrial material out of and into tranisition. I rode the course twice during the build up to the race and I definitely feel that his served me well. I was able to work the climbs hard with the knowledge of how long I would be climbing for and the type of terrain that I would be on after the ascent - would it be a descent that would allow me to recover the legs for a short while? Or a flatter section that would require continued effort? I also had a more detailed nutrition plan than I would normally that reflected the changes in course profile. 

The bike 'plan'Typically my nutrition plan is to drink all of my bike calories at regular intervals throughout the 180km. I carry concentrated CHO in my bottles which I dilute with water from the aid stations.  For Nice I felt that it would be more difficult to drink with the increased efforts on the hills and through the more technical sections and descents. Therefore, I planned to also use gels for calories and I timed these to 'kick in' for the key climbs. I felt that there was a lot to remember with regards to which aid stations I needed to pick up additional fluid at and which ones I could pass straight through, when I needed to take a gel, how long I would be climbing for and so on. To help with this, I stuck a list of key reminders onto my front water bottle that I could refer to throughout the bike course. For future reference, I'd suggest not using an ink pen that will 'bleed' when you slosh water over it when trying to refill your water bottle. This will keep it far more readable and you'll be less likely to be trying to decipher it when you should be focussing on the corner ahead of you... besides that close call, the list served me well and I'd use it again for a similar course or recommend trying it yourself. Even on a less complicated course, it would serve to break the 180km down into sections in your mind and remind you to fuel consistently.   

Basically, that was my plan for the bike. Fueling was going to be key, to work the climbs hard and to attack the rolling sections where it would be easy to gain/lose time if you weren't focussed. I'm no downhill demon, but I was able to use the little bit of course knowledge that I had to descend with more speed and confidence. Despite clocking the female bike course record, I'm also certain that there is more time to be gained with better knowledge of the course.  

The back end of the bike course has about 40min of descending followed by 20km of timetrial back into transition. This allows the legs some recovery (it's relative!) and historically, leads to some fast marathon times on this course. This would normally be great, but this year saw some of the strongest of the women's runners in the sport all rock up at Nice! Typically Melissa Hauschildt, Carrie Lester and Lisa Roberts will all be ~3h or <3h runners for the 42.2km and so in my mind, there would be some serious running to be done in the marathon, regardless of the race positions coming off the bike. Since I was able to pass into 1st position during the final kilometers of the bike course I was especially mindful of the quality of athlete / runner chasing me down. I shot out of transition with 3.51, 4.02, 4.04, 4.03 which is roughly 2h50 marathon pace splits. Things calmed down in km 5-10 (average 4.12/km) and from then on I was very much focussed on fueling well and keeping myself cool as I thought that I might very well need to 'race' during the later stages of the marathon.  As it worked out, the fueling was necessary (of course) but I was not required to respond to the other women running up to me or passing me.  

It was quite a surprise to find out that I'd broken the bike course and the overall course record. I knew that my swim had been below average and thought that my bike split had missed Tina Deckers' record time. In the final kilometers I was quite 'content' to stay focussed on keeping the run going, not coming undone in the heat and the wind. By 39km, I was just happy to be nearly at the finish line, with no knowledge of being close to the course record. Had I known perhaps I would have picked the pace up a bit sooner and not spent quite so much time doing high-fives up the finishing chute and crossed the line a bit earlier! Still, the records were a pleasant surprise bonus on top of the win.

All in all, a good day for me and definitely one for the memory bank. Overall: 09:11:39. Swim: 01:04:10, Bike: 05:03:45, Run: 02:56:45. It's been five weeks now since the race, I'm back into the swing of training and looking forward to the next race at Ironman Kalmar in Sweden. It will be 'last chance saloon' race for any women wishing to qualify for Kona so I'm expecting a number of changes to the start list between now and then. In the mean time, I'll focus on my own training and see if I can put myself on the start line in good shape for a race.  I hope your season is progressing well and you are enjoying training and racing in this unprecedented amount of European sunshine!  

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