Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 Ironman France - Race Report

This report is long overdue but I'm finally getting off my butt to get it out there. I think the main reason for the delay is that I am still trying to figure out for myself exactly what happened that day. The photos and race results tell me that I swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran a marathon in 13 hours and 46 minutes. I do of course recall much about the day but there are countless things that don't seem to add up. My training was a fraction of the volume that numerous "experts" say is essential for the "just aiming to finish" lot and I didn't have a single physical issue (cramping, bonking, nausea, gastronomic-intestinal issues, over-heating, etc.) come up the whole race other than the basic stress of swimming, biking and running.  I'm just saying yo...WTF!!?  I'm half disappointed that 10 years from now I can't say, "On my first Ironman I lost a finger to a shark, crashed my bike into an old lady in a wheelchair and crawled to finish the marathon with poo stained legs."--ROCK STAR!  My mental picture of what it would take to finish an Ironman was built on numerous bits and pieces but all stemmed from something amazing I saw on television when I was 16: Mark Allen and Dave Scott's historic race in Kona Hawaii.

I know this is a bit corny since that race also spawned more than half of the triathletes on the planet not to mention I didn't exactly run out to by Speedos back then.  A seed was planted nevertheless and then last year I finally got around to giving it a try.  I'm getting away from the point.  What I'm trying to express here is the mental concept I had of this challenge leading into the race.  

The NBC Sports 2010 Ironman World Championship Special (in particular the opening segment) was deeply stuck in my head.  Imagine not being able to get the following sentence out of your thoughts for months: "Ironman is, the single toughest event you will put your body through, in your life."  I had all of these images of bike crashes, collapses and ambulances in my head and I think it took me quite a while to overcome all of that and find a way to believe in the possibility of the achievement.


Here's a glance at my average weekly training (in hours and minutes) over the 30 weeks prior to race day (excluding the final taper week):

Swimming (Pool): 0:58
Swimming (Open Water): 0:44
The bulk of my pool swims tended to consist of 100m repeats focused on technique. Open water swims were targeted at improving confidence and endurance.

Golden Beach, Hong Kong
Bike (Indoor): 0:57
Bike (Road): 2:27
Trainer work was usually a 50/50 mix of big gear mashing intervals and zone 2 100rpm spinning. Road cycling was a 50/50 mix of zone 2 spinning and  3 - 4K climbs at 10%+ gradient.

Running: 2:03
Most of my running was on moderate rolling terrain but occasionally I would head up into the mountains to break up the routine and build a bit of leg strength.

Average hours per week training: 7:09
Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong
Some other possibly relevant stats (30 weeks prior to race):
Resting Heart Rate: 46
Sleep: 35 hours / week
Work: 45 hours / week
Commute: 10 hours / week
Longest Run: 2 hours 19 minutes
Longest Swim: 3,800 meters
Longest Bike: 5 hours 17 minutes
Nutrition: Non-existent. I ate and drank whatever I felt like eating and drinking. In the end this turned out to be a 50/50 mix of relatively healthy home-cooked Chinese food (always with steamed fish) and lamb kebabs, pizza, burgers, fries, beer, wine, etc.)

Now, put this history in front of anyone that knows anything about triathlon and they will tell you that it looks like a dreamer preparing for an olympic or maybe half Ironman distance race. Fortunately for me, there is more to Ironman than swim bike run. I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching the race course and preparing myself mentally for the challenge. I read almost every blog/race report I could find, downloaded and studied the Garmin GPS data for the bike course from athletes similar to myself (weight, build, previous race times), generated and meticulously studied an elevation profile with gradient detail I created in Google Earth, reviewed hours of course footage on YouTube, spent who-knows-how-many-hours visualizing swim start/T1/T2/broken goggles/pain management/flat tires/.../.../..., and sought out and picked the brains of experienced mentors.  Don't get me wrong though. I stand behind the possibly famous quote of unknown origin "You cannot will your way to the finish line."  Within that tiny 7 hours of weekly training I put in a lot of quality work and there were numerous sessions where I practically buried myself.

I think my general approach to Ironman training can best be summarized as flexible and focused. I trained as much as could within the hours of free time available and always attacked my weaknesses.  I only decide what my morning workout will be the night before.  I'll usually first define what I need to work on most and then plan the duration and intensity. Whether its swim, bike or run, I always set my gear out before hitting the sack.  Its harder to talk your self out of a workout when your stuff is there looking you in the eye (this is of course assuming that I even make it to the point of having open eyes).

I'd say there are 3 distinct voices in my head that are in constant dialogue throughout long training days or races:

-"Mike Tyson": This is the animal that wants to sprint all-out all the time, vomit, and then do it again.
-"R2D2": this is my body's CPU that gives me serious feedback concerning injury, fatigue, energy, temperature, etc.
-"Henry (as in Kissinger)": This *$#@er is a master negotiator and chameleon.  He starts smooth talking before the race start and doesn't give up until I finish or DNF.  His primary mission is to convince me that modifying my objectives--pacing, strategy, nutrition--is the wise thing to do. 

Fortunately, not one of these voices holds controlling shares in ME, Inc.  I have to live with these dudes from time to time but I hold the steering wheel.  My first Ironman was, I think, without crisis significantly due to my successful extraction of meaningful information from these three amigos and simultaneous dismissal of their bullshit (Yes even R2D2 is full of crap occasionally).

Off to Europe

The family and I left Hong Kong for the UK nearly 2 weeks in advance of race day.  This was part of a complex arrangement that I had reached with my wife in order to integrate vacation and racing.  Traveling with a bike, a 2 year old and the early symptoms of the flu is of course challenging so I'll leave out the details and just summarize it as 15 hours of suck.  By the time we finally reached Nottingham it was clear that I did in fact have the flu.  I wasn't overly concerned though as I had nearly 2 weeks to recover and I figured as long as I  kept my lungs clear of snot (thereby avoiding a secondary respiratory infection) I would be in good shape come race day.  The flu and the cold rainy English weather were perhaps blessings in disguise as they forced me to rest, get plenty of sleep and recover from jet lag.  After a week in the UK it was time to head to France and I was feeling much better.

Nice, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France

Ahhhh the French Riviera in June.  The weather was just how I like it for racing, hot and not too humid.  This was my second time in France but first trip to Nice.  As this is a race report and not a holiday story I will leave out detail on the sights, smells and wonders of southern France.  Suffice it to say though that I absolutely love the place, loathe most of the service/help but would definitely go back again and again if my bank account would give me permission.

We checked into a small Service apartment about 2 kilometers away from the swim start called HiPark Residences.  The room was a "studio" and only had a pull-out sofa bed.  It wasn't the most comfortable for sleeping but otherwise the place was great and full of triathletes (as I suspect most hotels in Nice were at the time).  We had an outdoor balcony which I quickly converted into a bike maintenance zone.  We arrived late on Wednesday night and so we hit the pillow as quickly as possible.

JoggerJoel and I worked out a schedule for the days prior to the race so that we could ensure a healthy balance of family/training time.  Actually the only training we really intended to do was a recon of the first climb on the bike course, a bit of easy swimming and a short run.  By the looks of the schedule below it would appear that we were try to kill ourselves in training before the race but it was more less just blocked-off time where we could get away from the family for a bit and focus our minds on the race. (In case either of our wives read this [they won't], please note that this blocked-off pre-race time is important!!)
(Click to Expand)

We roughly followed the schedule.  Here is a short summary of the key points:

-Registration:  Smooth and well organized process.  Hats off to Triangle Events for their meticulous attention to detail!

-Bike course recon:  We went a bit longer than planned and ended up cycling for around 3 hours and 40 minutes on Thursday morning.  We kept it VERY light though and were cycling like grandpas. In hindsight I think we should have cut this half.  This is the same thing I said about my pre-70.3 Singapore ride.  It seems I don't learn.

-Easy swim:  First attempt was cut short after JoggerJoel and I saw bright yellowish greenish jellyfish about 400m out from shore.  We chickenshitted it back to shore and went for a bite to eat.  I went back for a swim by myself the day before the race and managed to get in a relaxed 1,000 meters without any jellyfish problems.  I knew I needed a confidence building swim so, at that point, even if I saw jellyfish I was going to swim on through.  Lucky I didn't find one.

-Short run:  JoggerJoel and I went out for a 5K run on the promenade and, as expected whenever not running alone, went unnecessarily fast. We ran a 24:49 5K (a minute per kilometer faster than our target marathon pace).  Oh well.  We felt good and went our separate ways for family time.

-Official Carbo-Loading Dinner:  I managed to fill up on pasta quite quickly as we were among the first in line. After about 15 minutes from the start of the dinner the queue was a few hundred meters long and I'm guessing the wait for refills was around 40 minutes. The food was so-so but I wasn't really expecting fantastic pasta when it was being prepared in bulk for over 2,000 hungry triathletes.

-Race Expo:  I made a couple of trips to the Expo and was pleased to see that it was much bigger than those at 70.3s I'd been to in the past.  I stocked up on a bit of IM bling and CO2 cartridges (mine were confiscated at the Hong Kong airport). I entered a contest at the Compressport booth where I would win free compression gear if I most closely guessed my finish time.  Somewhere they have a photo of me standing there with an iPad showing 12:45 (I was being optimistic). The bike mechanics were also there and I had them re-install my front tubular as I noticed it was a millimeter or so off-center.

Equipment Inventory

Street-Wear Bag:
-Flip Flops
-Mobile Phone
-Bottle of Water
-€50 (post-race beer money)

Bike Bag:
-Sleeveless Dragon's jersey
(In the jersey pockets: 8 Gu Chomps, 8 Gu Roctanes, Mini bike pump)
-Moeben sleeves (to stay cool and avoid sunburn)
-Race Belt w/ number
-Small bottle of water

Run Bag:
-Running Shoes: Zoot Ultra Kalani
-Spibelt loaded with: 2 Gu Chomps, Ibuprofen, Salt tabs

Bike Set-up:
-Cervelo P3
-Hydration: Speedfill + Xlab cage on aero bars
-Gearing: SRAM Red 172.5/50-34/26
-Wheels: FFWD F9R
-Bento box: Multi tool, valve wrench, CO2 valve, salt tabs, tire levers, tubular tape, Nuun Tablets.
-Spare tire strapped on seat-post under seat
-Mavic Tri Race shoes clipped in and suspended with rubber bands

Swim Set-up:
-Goggles: Zoggs Predator Flex (Love these!!)
-Wetsuit: Orca Alpha (Super flexible fast suit)
-Covered all exposed skin in BodyGlide (to avoid rash and jelly fish)
-2XU Tri Shorts underneath a Champion System one-piece tri-suit. (My club tri-suit has zero bike padding so I went with a bit extra)

Day Before The Race:

Although the plan was to do little if anything I ended up spending quite a bit of time on feet shopping and touring around town with my family.  Bike check-in was a breeze and extremely well organized.  I immediately strapped my time chip to my ankle so as not to forget the next day.  Race Number marking the day before the race was a bit silly as it washed off in the shower that night.  Am I to extrapolate that showering is not a standard French practice?

In the end it was very chilled out day.  I got in a relaxed swim at the beach and had an scrumptious albeit risky dinner: mushroom risotto, raw oysters and beer.  I would not recommend eating raw anything the day before an Ironman but I chose to be stupid and got lucky.  I was in bed and passed out by 9:30pm.

Race Morning:

My Alarm went off at 3:45.  I am sure of this because I was wide awake looking at my phone when it went off.  I was only up for a few minutes before the alarm however and was happy to have had a solid sleep.  I had two cups of coffee, 500ml of Nuun enhanced water, dropped weight in the bathroom, kissed my wife and daughter and then headed out the door for the 2K stroll to the start line.

I remember being fairly relaxed and loose during the walk to the beach and probably had a smile tattooed on my face.  I was taking things slowly and trying not to think too much about the specifics of the upcoming swim and instead focus more on how cool it was that I was there in Nice and about to have an awesome day of triathlon in gorgeous terrain.  As I came closer toward the promenade I saw that there were several night clubs still in operation and their drunken patrons were wandering all over the place.

I reached the transition area at 5:15 and ran through my final gear checks.  With a borrowed pump I inflated my tires to 145psi, added Nuun tablets to my water bottles, connected my Garmin 310XT to the bike and turned it on (I decided not to take it on the swim since I would have a clear idea of my swim time from the official clock after exiting the water) and gave the bike a general bounce and shake test to make sure everything was firm and in place.  I stopped by and had a chat with JoggerJoel as he was making his final preparations and then headed off to drop off my street wear bag at the collection point.  At that point I couldn't help but to think more about the upcoming swim because I was done with all of the morning preparation and standing there in my bare feet with nothing but wetsuit, goggles and swim cap.  Breath in, breathe out, stretch the neck, stretch the arms.  Time check: 5:45.  I headed down to the water for a warm up swim.

As I was warming up I remember being surprised at how relaxed I was. Most of the other competitors had steely expressions or appeared to be forcing themselves into calm.  I was just having a blast and loving the perfect weather with a cheesy grin on my face.

After 10 minutes of easy swimming I headed back to shore so that I could get a decent starting spot.  On the way I ran into JoggerJoel again and he was looking just as excited as I was.  All the work and wait was behind us and now were finally there and about to see for ourselves what all this Ironman business is about.

They organized different zones based on expected finish times as a means to ease congestion.  Hoping to avoid the washing machine I lined up on the left side in the 1:18-ish crowd.  The announcer was screaming into the microphone half in French and half in English and doing a pretty good job of getting everyone excited.  I remember the last 5 minutes before the start vanishing in a flash.

3, 2, 1 . . .

 Swim-Mediterranean Sea (3.8K)

Photo By: Bene Altshul
The swim course consisted of two loops.  The first loop clockwise at 2.4K, then a short land exit and reentry for the final counter-clockwise loop of 1.4K.

Contrary to rumors I heard about extremely physical swims in European Ironman racing, I found this one to be the most peaceful of any swim start I'd ever done (not many of course).  Perhaps the painful stones we had to walk over had everyone moving slowly and easily into the water.  I remember reading about the stones from other race reports and thinking to myself that these guys were just moaning wimps.  I take it all back.  Those damn stones hurt like hell to walk on.  They are smooth and mostly flat so its not a problem of jagged edges but they protrude in every which way and its impossible to find a comfortable angle for any step.  Another reason why I think this was a calm start is probably because I am comparing it to shorter races that have a higher percentage of novices in the field.  I think kicking and flailing increases exponentially when you have newbies all over the place.
Photo By: Bene Altshul

Once I was out on in the water I had no problems quickly getting into a rhythm. I jumped on the feet of a guy in front of me and stuck with him to the first buoy.  I had swimmers to my left and right and our little group seemed to be passing a good number of others.  I remember smiling quite a bit during the first kilometer or so because it was such a gorgeous swim.  I'd rotate to breathe and see the sun rising over the mountains set against a cloudless blue sky and then turn back into into insanely clear water where I could see bodies swimming all around me.  The buoys were spaced out quite far from each other so sighting was a challenge.  I managed to get lucky on the first lap and held a reasonably straight line.

Exiting the water after 2.4K I was feeling really strong and dove in for the final lap.  The short shuffle out of the water spiked my heart rate a bit but I managed to get it back to what I'm guessing was the upper end of zone 2 after 100m or so of slower pace. I had much more trouble on the 2nd lap with sighting and I ended up following a pack that veered off course on the way back to shore.  I think what happened is I got into a hypnotic state where I was just thinking about swimming technique and breathing without paying too much attention to my direction.  Once I realized I was off course I adjusted my line and noticed that I was also near the front of a huge chase pack and could swim more or less alone if I could get myself over and in front of it.  This pumped me up a bit and I dug in and swam hard toward the swim finish.  With 300 meters to go I increased my kick to get the blood flowing in my legs in preparation for the bike.

I climbed out of the water and before I had even thought to unzip my wetsuit, the swimmer behind me yanked my strap down and then jogged in front of me saying something in French.  I assumed he was asking me to return the favor so I obliged. Nice!  I stripped the top of my wetsuit down to the waist and jogged into transition.

Swim time:  1:27:15


I reminded myself here to take it easy and that my goal for the race was to finish and gain experience at the distance.  I stripped the wetsuit off, put on my bike jersey, sunscreen, arm sleeves, gloves, sun glasses, helmet and then jogged over to my bike.  Heading out of transition I saw my wife and daughter on the other side of the fence and they were shouting, "go dada go!"  I was soooo happy that they managed to find me amidst the endless stream of competitors and also pleased that the swim time forecast I gave to them was almost spot-on.  After blowing kisses I was on my way to a very long day in the saddle.

T1 Time: 0:06:42

Bike - Alpes-Côte d'Azur (180K)

"The bike circuit of the IRONMAN France - Nice will cross 17 towns and villages of the inland area of Nice, including Gordon, the ‘most beautiful village‘ of France."

Check out's 3D tour of the course:

Following some advice I picked up in a few books and forums I only sipped small amounts of water for the first 20 minutes on the bike.  After that my nutrition plan was as follows:

  • alternate taking Gu gel and Gu chomps every 20 minutes
  • follow gels/chomps with a couple of mouthfuls of either Nuun enhanced water or pure water (I had my Speedfil full with 1.2 liters of Nuun water and fresh water in a standard bottle mounted to the aero bars--target was to maintain intake of 65 - 70% Nuun water for electrolytes and 30 - 35% pure water.  The Speedfil was easily refilled with water and Nuun tablets at aid stations and the bottle on my aero bars was chucked into the collection zone and replaced with a full one.)
  • Aside from always drinking something following nutrition intake I planned on sipping small amounts of fluids whenever I felt like it.
  • I wanted my last solid nutrition to be taken with no less than 30 minutes to go before reaching T2 and I would also significantly decrease (but not cut out) fluid intake--the goal being to minimize the content in my gut that would swish around on the run and cause cramping.

I'll jump the gun here and say that I stuck to the above plan and it worked exactly as I had hoped.  I only deviated once and grabbed what I thought was water but turned out to be coke.  The sugar was a nice surprise and didn't give me any trouble.

The first 20 kilometers of the bike went by in a blur.  Had I presence of mind I might have glanced around at the scenery along the Promenade des Anglais but instead I was entirely focused on settling down after the swim and finding a comfortable rhythm on the bike.  I was also forcing myself to take my effort level down a notch or two as this would be a ride taking me into "uncharted" length/duration and I wanted to have plenty of oomph in reserve in case it was needed.

Around the 20K mark I started the first and steepest of all the day’s climbs up the Côte de la Condamine.  Fortunately the steepest section was only 500m in duration so I managed to power through it rather quickly and then revert to previous average speed of around 28kph.  On through to about the 50K mark was a gentle ascent through the Côte de Gattières and gradual departure from the urban city. 

Then came the monster climb of over 20 kilometers up the Col de L’Ecre to a summit elevation of 1,120m above the sea that I had climbed out of not so long before.  Not far into the climb JoggerJoel came flying up from behind.  I figured I had a 10-minute lead on him coming out of the swim and was shocked that he had managed to devour that well before the halfway point.  I knew that he would catch and pass me but didn’t expect it so soon.  We chatted a bit about the swim and then he carried on up the climb at a pace I couldn’t hang with.  Part of me wanted to dig down and go with him and I probably could have, at that reasonably moderate gradient (ranging from 2 – 7%), managed to stick with him to the top; however, I would have been risking my entire race by nearly destroying my legs in the process.  Once again I was reminding myself to adhere to my own plan and carefully spend my energy in a way that I felt would get me to the finish line.  The sun was starting to make its presence known as I kept hammering up the mountain at around 10kph.  Glancing down I saw that my kit was heavily salt stained and this served as a good reminder to stay on top of my salt and electrolyte intake. Up, up, up, up, up--seemingly endless climbing.  I recall at one point another rider said while passing me, "Enough of this shit already!"  I couldn't have agreed more.  My feet were starting to go numb but it was probably more of a general nuisance than pain.  Later during the bike ride the numbness increased to the point where I couldn't feel much from my feet at all.  I kept my legs turning over but couldn't help to wonder if I would see black and blue stumps where my feet used to be come the end of the bike leg.

At last I reached to the top of Col de L'Ecre and was ready to start recovering position against the countless riders that passed me on the way up.  Over the next 40 or so kilometers I cranked it up to an average speed of 32kph.  I had no HR monitor but I would guess I was probably in high zone 2 or low zone 3.  I remember questioning whether I should ease off the pace and be conservative but decided that it was basically "free speed" since my legs were feeling great at +/- 100rpm. In the end this was the section of the bike that I enjoyed the most.  I was down in my aero bars flying past numerous competitors at nearly double their speed and at the same time not really pushing myself very hard.  From this point until the end of the bike leg it was rare that anyone passed me.  It seemed that most people were using the relative flats at the top as recovery from the climb as were I had gas in the tank and was dying to get back to speed.  This all comes down to body weight.  A competitive climber typically weighs no more than their height in inches x2.  Applied to myself I would need to weigh 144lbs (65Kg) in order to be optimally competitive at climbing--yeah right!!  2010 Ironman World Champion Chris (Macca) McCormack had a few things to say about Ironman Nice in his book "I'm Here to Win" that made me feel a lot better about having stepped up to the challenge and how I fared against the Alps:

"I also know which races to avoid because I'm just not suited to them.  For example, the French guys are phenomenal climbers and very strong bikers.  So I have to look at courses and be selective.  Take Ironman Nice . . . please.  They'd have to pay me a hell of a lot of money to go there because I just can't climb with these little guys.  It's just physics.  I weigh 170 pounds.  These guys are 130 pounds.  They get on the bike and bounce up these fifteen-mile climbs.  They put minutes into you and you're just trying to survive."

A quote from USAT Tri Coach Lorie Tucker who raced 2011 IM France (13 hours 44 minutes--beat me by a nose!): 

" In this race, with the monstrous French Alps climbs, I was passed by probably 2,000 cyclists.  However, when you get passed by people named Pierre, Konstantine, Thierry and Marcel it's almost amusing."

Cheers Lorie.  I wholeheartedly agree that it was ALMOST amusing. 

 After 100 kilometers I started into the last of the significant climbs up the Côte de Saint Pons.  It is a 7 kilometer climb and while it was not pleasant to be going up again, psychologically it was easier than the big climb since I had ripping descents to look forward to shortly after the summit.  Somewhere more than halfway through the bike course (possibly after the second big climb but I can't remember exactly) there was a fire station crew that brought out their hoses to cool off dying riders.  As I approached they were gesturing thumbs up or thumbs down (as in spray or no spray) and I launched my fat thumb high in the air.  Seconds later I was drenched head to toe in cool water--niiiiiiiice!  On to the descents. 

I'm not a very experienced descender so I was aiming to stay conservative with my speed in order to avoid going over a cliff but I was pleased to discover that most of the journey down was not very technical and I could could stay close to full speed.  Nevertheless, I started to see wrecks and bails on the hairpin turns.  There were also a few people that appeared to have abandoned the race entirely and were usually flat on their backs under a tree with their discarded bikes somewhere in the vicinity.  As I started to get further into the downhill section my neck and upper spine were beginning to give me trouble.  I felt what I can only describe as electric pulses firing off and it seemed that I had pinched a nerve somehow.  As with my numb feet this wasn't a debilitating issue but caused me a good deal of discomfort.  I tried to stretch it out as much as possible but had to keep my head tilted upward to maximize vision on the road.  With about 40 kilometers left to go my bladder had reached its capacity thus presenting me with a dilemma.  I could either stop and piss and lose about 5 minutes of time or try what I had never succeeded in doing in training rides: "on-bike evacuation."  I went for the latter.  On a mild straight decline I stopped pedaling and tried to relax as much as possible. Finally I unleashed a piss storm from hell at 25kph.  Mid-stream I glanced over my shoulder and saw that there was a guy riding behind me about 100 meters back that had also stopped pedaling.  I figured he saw the trail I was leaving behind and was either attempting to do the same or just giving me a bit of privacy. 5 pounds lighter and feeling good again I refocused my attention on the ride and kept turning the pedals toward Nice.  After about an hour of flying downhill I rejoined the same road we took on the way out and was cruising the flats toward the finish at a comfortable 28kph.

I was trying to maintain a heightened sense of vigilance in the final section of the bike leg.  Apparently this is where a lot of mistakes are made or crashes occur.  After having been in the saddle for over 6 hours its easy to let the fatigue get the better of you and in an instant you can wake up in a ditch wondering what the hell happened.  Its also time to focus on the legs and spend a bit of time stretching the calves and shaking out the aches and pains before the run.  Coming back onto the Promenade des Anglais was awesome.  I was stoked to almost have the bike leg behind me and could not wait to start running.  I removed my arm coolers and gloves on the fly to save time in transition.  Despite my love for cycling I was pretty much sick of my bike at that point.  I slid my feet out of my shoes well before the dismount line and then hopped off the bike to see if my feet were going to cooperate.  

Bike Time: 7:20:21

After a couple of minutes of walking through transition the blood started to return to my toes and I could at last feel my feet again.  I followed the same plan in transition as with T1 and tried to be timely but not rushed.  I ditched the bike helmet and jersey and slid on my running shoes and visor.  I squirted a gob of sunscreen in my hand and started my jog out to the run course.

T2 Time: 0:07:25 

Run (42.2K)

The run course is a 4 lap out and back along the promenade with aid stations located every 1.7 kilometers.  My plan was to walk all of the aid stations.  I was quite specific with the rules I gave myself on this.  I would start my walk only after my foot crossed the first table and then would promptly resume running on the first step after the last table.  I knew that not defining this in advance would lead to all kinds of extended unnecessary walking thanks to the voices in my head mentioned earlier.

I set off aiming for 6:15 kilometer splits but as usual misjudged the first couple and was running around 5:45.  Eventually I settled into the low 6s and started chugging my way along from aid station to aid station.  In the graph below you can see my switch to walking clearly.  The yellow represents cadence (data gathered from a Garmin foot-pod) and the green is running pace (The elevation line is misleading as the variance isn't shown.  It was a pancake flat course):
(Click to Expand)

It was quite warm out (25°C/77°F) as I was starting out the run just before 3pm but I seemed to be handling it well.  After completing the 10 kilometers and not having any cramping issues I knew that I would be in good shape for the whole run and would just have to deal with general fatigue and sore feet.

There isn't much that I can report about the run as it was executed precisely to plan.  At 17K I stopped at a portable toilet and had to wait behind one person for my turn, drained the lizard and then was back out on the run.  On each of the 4 laps I saw JoggerJoel on the other side of the course and we slapped hands on the pass. At first we were trying to calculate the time between us but eventually it became pointless math since he was running strong and holding onto his 30 minute lead.

I'd say there were two main factors that motivated me to keep running throughout the marathon: Crowd support and the ridiculous amount of other competitors that were seemingly walking the entire run leg.  Constantly throughout the run we were cheered by name (printed on our race number).  Allez Daniel! Courage Daniel!  With all of the that support I can't quite grasp how some people chose to lollygag it. Random stat: over 200 competitors had run times in excess of 5 hours 45 minutes.  Granted some of that lot were fighting their way through every step and couldn't have gone faster if their life depended upon it but I bet the majority were just being slackers (if it is even fair to call an Ironman a slacker).

At the turn-around point of the final lap I knew I had it locked down and was feeling in control.  My feet were killing me and I was starting to struggle with holding pace but knowing that I had just one 5K stretch to go until the finish helped keep me charged up.  As I veered into the finishing chute I saw my family on the side cheering me on.  It was here that I made the biggest mistake of the whole race by not picking up my daughter to carry her across the finish. It seems that this is one of those rules that is clearly stated but rarely followed or enforced.  I just didn't want to end up with a DQ after a very long day carving out my first Ironman.  In the future I am definitely taking my daughter across the line--even if it gets me a DQ.

I came through the finish and was slammed with a wave of relief.  Finally I could STOP!  A volunteer placed the finishers medal around my neck and then I followed the flow of others out to collect my street wear bag and the all-important finishers shirt.  

Run Time: 4:45:04

Final Overall Race Time: 13:46:47


I dug out my mobile phone and called my wife and with a bit of creative navigation we found each other in swarm of people near the finish line.  Amazingly we also ran into JoggerJoel and his family and we made arrangements to eat dinner together and would rendezvous at JoggerJoel's hotel later.  I had some time to myself before meeting up with everyone again and went straight a cold beer at a nearby cafe.  After 2 beers, everyone had arrived and was ready for dinner so we ditched the bikes at JoggerJoel's hotel and went to a restaurant at the adjacent hotel. It was at this point when things went a bit crazy.  I remember ordering a rack of lamb and a beer and then excusing myself to go to the restroom.  Then the next minute I am vomiting everything in my stomach (which I guess was only 2 beers).  I returned to the table and excused myself from dinner then walked across the street to the grass covered center divider and collapsed on my back.  I remained there for the entire dinner and at some point JoggerJoel joined me as well.  I was officially destroyed.

After a solid night of sleep I was back on my feet the next day and starting my family time with excursions in and around Nice.  I was surprised at how well I was moving around and remember thinking that the pain was less than that experienced after half Ironman races.

It took quite some time for me to see the full scope of that race's impact on my body.  I am writing this now close to 2 months after the race and have had a difficult time in returning to normal training.  I took 5 days off of training after race day and had a plan of gradually getting back into a speed-oriented routine to prepare for various local sprint races.  To make a long story short, I went too fast too soon and am now paying for it.   I still know next to nothing about Ironman recovery but I learned the following the hard way:

-Suppressed Immune System:  I've come down with every bug in the air from A to Z since the race and I'm guessing that a better approach to post-race nutrition, sleep and training volume would have solved this.

-Tendons and ligaments:  Although muscularly I felt fine to return to relatively high intensity training, I think my tendons and ligaments were on a different program.  Since the race I am dealing with all kinds of injuries that I haven't faced since my novice runner days.  I have a very tight right ITB that is giving me some knee trouble and a swollen left achilles tendon that has put a stop to my running.  I know how to work these issues out and will soon come around them but I think that all of this crap could have been circumvented through a more intelligent approach to race recovery.

Translating the entire experience into grade school marks:

Preparation: C
Execution: A
Recovery: F
Final Grade: C 

So I passed.  That, at the end of the day, was the whole idea.  Yet, honestly I lack catharsis.  I've checked this box in the lifetime accomplishments list but I still have much more to do with Ironman.  I don't think I will be satisfied until I've had a race where I took calculated risks and came through the line on the last fumes of consciousness.  Such a performance may not even land me a Kona spot and I think (I'm not sure yet) I would be okay with that as long as that race on that day was a masterpiece.

See you again soon Ironman.

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