Friday, July 1, 2011

Ironman France

more Video and pictures WILL follow:

facebook photos: swim

The experience of participating in a first Ironman isn't necessarily about the specific race; but the journey to get there. With this journey, I was able to know more about my abilities and acquire a great training friend. My best friend and racing partner, Danny McFee, is the reason why I raced an Ironman. It all started about a year ago after completing the Hong Kong Standard Charter Marathon. Danny was getting tired of running, and decided to get a bike. I went longer on the runs and participated in ultra marathons. When I came back from Vietnam Ultra, we went to a local bike shop and I bought my first time-trial bike. I really didn't have a clue about bikes, so somehow within the few minutes looking at several bikes the Cervelo caught my eye and it looked cool. I'll admit in hindsight, buying it turned out to be a good choice, but not necessarily the best choice for an amateur doing hilly routes. Hong Kong is full of hills, steep and short. A lot of people were adamant about using a road bike for this course, but after plunking down a load of cash, my thoughts about getting a road bike wasn't high on the list. I felt a lot better when Danny bought his Cervelo and decided to race with it as well. The biggest challenge for me was the swim. As you know from my blog, my swimming is really weak. I was initially very concerned about making the cut-off time once I realized I had to complete within 2 hour and 20 minutes. Luckily, training with Ginny from 3rd move using Total Immersion techniques helped tremendously.

One day out of the blue, Danny texted me and said, we should really think about doing an Ironman. I replied that it needed to be some great destination where we can vacation after a long hard day. He mentioned Brazil and I thought it was too far. Within 5 minutes, I texted him back and told him I already signed up for Ironman France - Nice. I didn't bother to look at the course or know anything about the history. It just seemed like the right place to go. Later, it dawned on me that the course is considered tough for the bike leg. 1100m altitude with over 2600m of total climbing. I'm thinking, whatever comes up must come down. With that out of the way, over the course of several weeks, I registered for a couple half Ironman. I never had second thoughts, but I was becoming a little concerned about cycling with my Cervelo P3.

Once I landed in Nice, the weather was perfect and pleasantly cool. Unfortnately, each day closer to the race, the temperature incrementally became hotter. The registration was simple and fluid. The registration area was very close to the Promenade and within 5 minutes walk to the swim start line. I didn't go crazy on the product binging, but did walk away with a nice long IRONMAN bento-box, and Skins tri-suit + compression calves. I wanted to feel comfortable for this race; so since this race was going to be hot, I wanted to try the compression suit which had a zipper in the front and pouch in the back unlike my current club tri-suit.

The last few weeks before the race, I really took it easy. I mainly concentrated on the swim and bike. Before coming to Nice, I stopped over in Dubai and only did a 9km run. It was so bloody hot, that I noticed some blood pressure issues in my hands as they seemed very stiff after the run, similarly to my blowup after the HKSCM where I went into heat exhaustion. With that in mind, I would only run an easy 5km in Nice before the race. Danny and I did 80km on the bike and road some of the course to a little town which had a grade steepness of less than average of 4 percent. The total swim preparation was probably less than 600m in total. I felt ready!

Morning Check
I left 4:30AM in the morning and headed toward the bike racks with my bike pump in hand. The current inner tube tires will slowly leak air (by design) after 7 hours which was a big mistake that I learned from my Ironman Singapore 70.3 race. Knowing your equipment is very important if you want to reduce unnecessary problems. I met Danny inside the bike transition and told him I needed to return my bike pump. By the time I came back, they were already closing the swim warmup. I headed down the ramp and ensuring that my swimcap was on properly that it ripped over my head. It really wasn't a good start since I was experimenting with my new camera. Well, I placed the ripped swim cap on my head and then placed my camera head band over it. With little time for replacement, I had to make due.
Danny found me at the beach and we took pictures. I prefer to be next to the inner course edge as Danny prefers the outer. The human washing machine doesn't bother me as I know I'll be at the back and my thoughts are the further I'm away from the line, the longer my swim!

Music blaring, athletes clapping, fans cheering! What a rush. The countdown began and I now felt part of the biggest triathlon franchise sport in history and I was making my own history in the French Rivera! In the first 100m my googles got knocked off. Luckily, I trained before in these conditions, so I didn't panic and patiently waited for a good time to remove the water. The first leg of the swim was approximately 2400 meters. I made a quick estimation of 1 hour for the first and 30 minutes for the second. When I exited the water, the announcer said; "we've just went over an hour". It seemed like I was on target. But the moment I hit the water, my legs started to spasm. Luckily, wet-suits are awesome to keep the legs afloat if you have no leg power. The second segment, I had a little navigation issue, but the lifeguards were quick to point the way. Also, in a few locations the water change temperature and was certainly noticeable, it was certainly an interesting feeling. Exiting the water required extra effort as I stumbled up to the exit ramps with the help of the volunteer. I trotted under the shower overhead to slip my arms out of my wet suit sleeves. As always, I passed a couple of people to the bike rack.

Hills are my friend. I'm light and I brought my TT bike - cervelo P3 (my only bike). It'll take approximately 25km to hit the first hill. My garmin showed 17% grade. There were a few who had to disembark on their bike and walk up. It would be another 15km of light undulating hills to the next small town which I reccee with Danny. The difference on race day would be that we would not be drinking any beer and would have to haul 140km before any rest. The ride was going well and easily passing the weaker riders. Since after 40km was unknown territory, I knew whatever small decent would quickly turn into longer and steeper ascents. Each rider I saw within 50m was a target to catch up to them. Then up the first of many long uphills, I met Danny after 50km. "You must have flew up here", said Danny. We spoke about the swim and he exited around 10minutes before me. We didn't even hit the harder section, so I was actually feeling good about first part of three. Between 70-90km, the grade is averaging 6% and with switchbacks allowing you to see the riders above you and below the riders behind. This is also where I saw the name 'GUNTER' on a rider and thought.. FACEBOOK! Snap. I yelled out his name and said JOGGGERJOEL. In addition this area is absolutely has fantastic views of Nice. I'd recommend this route if you happen to look for a cycling tour vacation, or better yet, participate in an Ironman France - Nice! Once we reached 100km and 1100m altitude, the rest and fun began. Some people pulled over to get their 'special needs' bag. I'm thinking, my special need is going downhill without hitting the brakes! I also wanted to minimize my overall time, so I kept on riding and pushing the pedals passing cyclists on the down hills. With a lot of air in your face, we were faced with one more incline. The legs were getting used to light riding, but I kept on pushing knowing that I must be pulling more away from Danny. There is a section where thr route is out and back allowing you to see riders in a 10km span. The weird part of this section is that you think its going down but actually a small incline. I couldn't keep over 29km, but coming back was easier. Right before exiting the out-and-back route, I saw Danny again. I calculated the time and estimated a lead of 20-25 minute lead. Now with less than 50km left, the road becomes much more twisty. The road became very busy with cars and cyclists. I seem to spend a few times on the wrong side of the road, is it perhaps being in Hong Kong too long? Well, a motocycle pulls next to me and shows a yellow flag. I knew it couldn't be because of drafting. He said its because you were riding on the wrong side of the road. Bad luck! I would come to find out that this would cost me 5 minutes in the penalty box. I finally reached to the last 30km where its basically flat, but I couldn't push mysef to do anything greater than 31km/hr. Also, I figured why should I kill myself on the last 30 when I have a marathon to go.

I estimated my run time to be around 4:00-4:15. With the heat and multiple walks through the aid station, it would be a little longer. It would require 4 loops to the airport and back. First 10km was under an hour. I was happy about that! Approximately 8km into the run, I saw Danny again and shouted at each other. 20km I was still around 2 hours. My estimated time was pretty accurate. 30km I seemed to hit the aid station too much downing cola, water, bananas and crackers. My last time coming from the airport, I ran into Danny for the last time and told him I estimated 13:15. He still had 25-30minutes more to run. The last km, I was full of energy, well not necessarily my legs; but in less than 8 minutes, I could call myself an IRONMAN finisher! The last stretch of blue mats with a cheering crowds, cheerleaders, fans, family fueled my final strtch to the finish line. I gave a big high five to the announcer and walked my daughter through the finishing line. My goal for 2011 was completed successfully!

I hope you enjoyed my journey of almost 21 months from not exercising to completing an Ironman. This is really not the end, but just the beginning. Feel free to drop by or add me on facebook to follow my adventures. Thanks for your interest!

- JoggerJoel