Ironman France 2014 Race report


I completed ironman Wales in a time of 13:20, after about 3 months of training. I knew with more training I could go faster, and set myself the ambitious challenge of knocking off 3hrs and 20 mins to go sub 10hrs.  I promised myself in Wales that I would never have to do it again, but I found myself booked into Ironman France less than a month later. 

Over the winter, training went slowly to start with, as it was too icy to swim or bike outside, so I focused mostly on running. I purchased a turbo trainer to train on my bike indoors although this got less use than I anticipated. I also realized that I would need to get a job while continuing my application to join the army, so I began a 5-week intensive personal training course in London with the hope that it would go hand in hand with my training.

The spring came and I was now a qualified but jobless PT so I began training my most important client- me. I started biking when it was warm enough but soon started having problems with my back and neck, then my hip and knee.  I changed everything on my bike setup to try and fix these problems but it turns out after studying some bike fit videos that my £400 beauty was too big for me and this was probably the cause of all the problems. I carried on biking but wrecked my knee with only 2 months to go. I couldn’t even walk up stairs let alone train any more. I decided then that I would have to rest for a couple of weeks, start looking for a new bike, and start focussing on my swim as the lake became just about bearable in a wetsuit.

The knee gradually got better but still has not quite fully recovered. Luckily Dad came to the rescue and put up a substantial amount of money for a second hand time trial bike. What a beauty though, a Specialised shiv, with an integrated fuel system.  I took 8 mins of my PB for a 20 mile loop around Norfolk and a wave of relief as the pain in my knee became more manageable and the possibility of going sub 10 was still possible. A week in Scotland biking up some big hills on the new speed machine was great training for the monster climbs that would come in the Alps. The last few weeks went well and I gradually tapered off in the week before flying out on the 24th of June.

Race Week

After carrying my bike and equipment up 4 flights of stairs to the apartment, I realized that I would need all the time possible to acclimatize to the heat. I unpacked my bike only to find that the rear derailleur had been snapped off in transport and would need to be fixed at a bike shop. There went my plan to go and check out some of the bike course on the first day. A friendly triathlon shop reattached it that afternoon so I could go for a bike the next day.  Time for a swim instead. But the red flag was up on the beach as the wind had picked up and made the sea too rough to practice in. Hmm. We awoke to thunder and lightning on day two with it chucking it down. Looks like I wouldn’t be biking today either.

DAY 3 dawned, it was sunny and I managed to get in a good bike and readjust all my gearing. Then a swim and a short 3 mile run along the promenade des anglais, to get a feel for the heat. The next day was check in. I packed all my transition bags, filled up the water bottles on the bike and strapped some brownies to the top tube before going to racking. This wasn’t like wales; people weren’t here to just complete the course, they were here to race.

Race day

Woke up and looked at my watch- 3:59am, and then the alarm went off. It looked like I was ready to race.  A brownie, scrambled eggs on toast, jam and toast , followed by a few pan au chocolate, and a handful of dates. Down to the transition area. The Promenade was already packed with athletes and spectators. Into my wetsuit and goggles on.  Dropped off my street wear bag and walked to the beach for a quick warm up swim, only to step on a huge piece of glass on the road. Luckily the hardened skin from a year of blisters stopped it from being anything serious. Glass out and put it on top of a lamp post nearby, while warning others to watch out for their own feet.

The Swim

Into the water for a nervous pee and quick swim. I line myself up on the beach in the 1hr 06 swim time area, alongside the other 2,700 athletes. This was ambitious since my best time in the lake had been 1:12, but I hoped the extra buoyancy and current would shave off an extra 6 mins. The pros set off and the 5 min warning went out to the rest of us. 30 seconds. Holy shit, you had better get in the zone Tom. I hit the start on my stop watch and then we were off. The start of the Wales swim would be described as a tranquil frolic compared to this swim start. Bodies piled in on top of each other. I put my head down and tried to swim out of the frenzy but there was no chance. Remember the scene in Titanic when people are in the water drowning each other to save themselves? Well it was like that, except instead of Kate Winslet it was some of the most muscular endurance athletes in Europe.

Ten seconds in, elbow to the face and left goggle filled with water. A gasp for breath resulted in a gulp of over seasoned Mediterranean. 1 minute in and I had to keep my head out of the water to try and see through the stinging salt. I tried to move left and get clear of the swarm or writhing bodies still battling it out but no escape, right, same story there. Couldn’t go under it, couldn’t go over it, have to go through it, “we’re not scared”. It turns out that the people behind me could go over it, as someone yanked me back by my ankle and tried to swim over me. A firm kick sent them back again but did not deter others from trying to do the same. After the first km the field began to thin out and I could start getting into a rhythm. I was feeling pretty shaken up, my arms felt tired from the first ten minutes of rugby,  my eyes were stinging  and I thought  I might be sick from the all the sea water I had swallowed. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”.  Out of the water onto the beach. I glanced at my watch, 35 mins.  Need to pick up the pace.  A quick run and dive straight back in for the second loop. The second lap was less eventful and I found myself in clear water for most of the way. Out on the beach and watch read 1:12 (overall rank 1082). Oh well, time to make it up on the bike. But what was this? 1000 other athletes were trying to get up the stairs to transition and blocking my way. After 3 minutes to get up 20 stairs I was into the transition area. Sprinting into T1, Issy saw me and came for a chat, while I rushed my wetsuit off and my bike shoes and helmet on. T1 6:45. Not great but it would have been slow for everyone.

The bike

Onto the bike and I accelerated out from the mounting line while people faffed around trying to slide their feet into the already clipped in shoes. Is that actually quicker? Thud, a great big speed bump caught me unaware 200 meters in, and my water bottle popped straight out of the holder. Fuck. Brake. Shit . Angry French men shouting at me while a helpful spectator grabs my bottle and hands it to me. Both eyes open Tom, concentrate.  Off I went downing as much off the loose bottle as I could in case it should happen again, as well as to wash the salt out of my mouth.

Pass the airport as the sun came out, on to the flat part of the course for 18km or so at a nice steady pace. Then the first bit of climbing after a sharp left turn with a gradient of 12%. I was glad I had practiced this the other day as I knew to drop straight down to the small ring and spin my way up while others struggled and one person even had to walk . Then it was gradual climbing and flats until the 40km marker where it turned into descending. The climbing was fine and I gained as many as I lost. The flats were good and the descents were great as I kept pedalling in the aero position to pick off others happy to coast down the hills and corner in the upright position. Then the main course of the bike, the col de lecre, with 20km of steady climbing varying between 2% and 7% gradient. I settled into my 2nd lowest gear and spun my way up taking  places  on the long ascent. Training in Scotland had paid off.  Signs on the road marked out the distance to the summit 6,5,4km left.

I could feel my legs starting to tire. Thankfully the clouds came in and it began to drizzle giving me continued strength to carry on up 3km, 2km,  1km to go and I had to change down to my lowest gear to keep my cadence up. Eventually we reached the peak, and what a great feeling it was to know that I had 1200meters of potential energy. The next 20km of the course was mostly flat with a bit of descending and climbing and used this opportunity to eat and hydrate as much as I could before the big descents. At one point my rear tyre skidded out on a corner where the road was wet and I let out