Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ironman France-Nice 2012

Birthday dinner at the port
I arrived in Nice on Monday before the race, giving me just enough time to get to the apartment, deposit my belongings, crack a bottle of wine, and sign up for IM Lake Tahoe. Looking back, it's a good thing Tahoe opened before I raced France, because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to bring myself to sign up for another one the day after the race! It was my birthday when I got in, so after getting settled, the girls and I went for dinner at a restaurant on the nearby port. Pizza, salade niçoise, and wine - lots of rosé - made for a nice first evening!

In the week leading up to the race, we did a few swims, bikes, and runs to stay loose, get to know the course, and see the sights. The guy who ran the bar downstairs thought we were pretty hilarious since we were always coming or going in our workout clothes - it must have looked pretty nutty since everyone else spent most of the day relaxing and trying to stay cool. Our runs were limited to the Promenade and the area around the port, which was plenty. It was HOT, with an intense sun and a lot more humidity than we were used to, so we just kept our fingers crossed for cloud cover and a sea breeze on race day!

Look at that blue water!
The swimming was incredible - the rock beach was a little painful on the feet, but the water was a perfect temperature and floating felt effortless. We swam a couple of times, and spent some time on the beach - just enough to enjoy it without getting sunburned! 

The highlight of the week's training was definitely the cycling. We did a short ride out to the airport and back on the first day just to make sure we'd put out bikes together correctly. Turns out traveling with a bike isn't all that bad (other than the actual transportation of the bike box from location to location), and putting it back together was pretty easy. Special props to Stephen for taking my bike apart and packing it so carefully in the box!

The best ride was on Wednesday, when we made our way along the coast to Monaco. The roads were all very well maintained, and while there were some hills, the grade felt really easy. From Nice, we passed through Villefranche sur Mer, went out to the lighthouse at Cap Ferrat, through Beaulieau and Èze sur Mer, Cap d'Ail, and into Monte Carlo. It was super fun riding through the tunnels and along the gorgeous turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, though it was a little unnerving navigating the tunnels and roundabouts (and roundabouts IN tunnels!) in Monte Carlo. Space is limited in such a small country, so the roads are often under the high rise apartment buildings. We passed by the casino and all the fancy cars parked out front (Bentley, Rolls, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche, Porsche, Porsche...), and sat in front of the massive yachts at the port to have some lunch and a crepe. After lunch, while trying to take a shortcut to avoid the traffic and tunnels, we climbed up above the city to a much prettier-looking area on the hill. Turns out it wasn't a shortcut at all, but we did get to see a great view of the city as well as the royal palace and changing of the guard - definitely worth the extra mileage and climbing! The rest of the way back was more of the same, and I managed to take some good photos of us on the road. Such a great ride!

We did another short ride, about 20 miles, along the course on Friday that went along the promenade and through the flat section along the river. It was good to spin the legs and work out the kinks. Katya got a little crash out of her system that left us all shaken, but fortunately only some bruising for her - a lucky landing in the grass saved her from worse!

Breakfast from the boulangerie
The rest of the week saw us eating large quantities of baked goods from the amazing bakery on the corner (butter or almond croissants, baguettes, pain au chocolat, brioche au sucre or aux raisins, pan bagnat, and the most wonderful walnut raisin and apricot hazelnut breads), breakfasting on our cute little terrace, tasting different favors of gelato (my favorite was called Bounty - like coconut stracciatella), and drinking cold rosé. I had no idea there were so many kinds of rosé, but it definitely dominated the market shelves in Nice - a refreshing drink on a hot afternoon. We also made a couple of trips to the local bike shop and the expo for check-in and some last minute necessities. The expo was pretty big and had lots of stuff, but we kept purchases to a minimum, with hats, water bottles, and mugs. Since there were less than 200 women competing, the options were rather limited in terms of apparel.

Out on the town 
Ironwomen can still party!
The evening of the 21st was Fête de la Musique (for summer solstice) with bands and DJs all over the city (and all of France), so after some moules frites near the port, we met up with the rest of the Ironchattes for wine and cheese, and then hit the town to check out the festivities. We caught lots of good music and the streets were full of people - so glad it was a few days before the race so we could participate! A bunch of us ended up going for wine and dessert at an outdoor cafe (tarte au fruit de bois, mascarpone, and a HUGE meringue). Afterward, Katya, Andie and I walked back to our place through raves (seriously!) and the alleys of the Vielle Ville. We arrived at the bar downstairs to find that Super Dave had missed the last train to Monaco and was waiting for us to get home, so we had a drink and listened to the really bad (and really LOUD) rock band playing in the street outside our apartment. We felt for the little old lady who lived right above all the commotion - it was 1:00am before they stopped playing!

Just some of the Ironchattes at the pasta party
Friday night, most of the group went to the pasta feed, and man am I glad we went! The one in Canada wasn't great, and we spent a LONG time listening to race regulations while eating blah food. This one was set up almost like a discotheque, with a cool seating area, a huge bar (serving mostly water), and a fabulous spread of fruit, pasta, cheese, salad and other goodies. There was a short pre-race presentation, but none of the boring stuff from the previous IMs I've done. Afterward, I made my way to the airport (successfully, on city busses, with the help of one really obnoxious triathlete from Marseille) to pick up Stephen (yay!). His flight got in pretty late, so we headed straight back to the apartment, had a snack on our terrace, and went to bed.

Race prep
Ironchattes, checking in!
The day before the race was spent mostly getting ready and trying to stay off our feet. We prepped our transition and special needs bags, froze water bottles, and checked our bikes in to the transition area. It seemed like a mess when we got there, but they were very organized, with different check in times depending on your race number. Fortunately, we didn't have to bring out stuff until 6:00pm, which gave us more time to get ready, but it also meant we weren't done until late. We checked in our bikes (helmets attached to head, race number on, security tag checked, photo taken with bike, tire pressure lowered), then dropped off our transition bags and got body marked. By the time we were done it was 7:30, so we nixed the idea of making dinner and found an awesome Italian restaurant in the Old Town. I had the most delicious fresh spaghetti with shrimp and arrabiata sauce, Stephen and Andie had roast duck and duck with pasta and honey balsamic sauce, and Katya had saffron seafood risotto. Everything was great! We toasted the upcoming race with a glass of wine/beer, and the triathletes at the next table looked at us like we had two heads. But seriously, if one glass of wine was going to ruin the race, that would mean there were much bigger things to worry about!

Race morning
Me and my support crew!
The alarm went off at 4:00am, and I was definitely not excited to get up, but I dragged myself out of bed and started making oatmeal. Note to self: if you're in a hurry, make it in the microwave instead of on the stove! It took way longer than I planned, which left me shoveling oatmeal in my face with just a few minutes before we had to leave. We packed up our special needs bags and walked to the tram which would take us to the transition area. Once we were there, we pumped up tires, put on sunscreen and Body Glide, then I snuck a good luck kiss from Stephen, and got ready to head down to the water. 

Swim - 1:18:52 
I was surprisingly calm the entire time, even walking onto the beach. I danced to the music, watched the crowd, and just enjoyed the moment. I walked down to the water with Andie and Dino, and we found our spots to line up for the swim start. I was a little concerned looking at the buoys out on the water because I couldn't tell for the life of me where we were supposed to swim. I knew there was a clockwise loop followed by a smaller counterclockwise loop, but the buoys didn't seem to indicate that at all. After chatting with some others after the race, it seems they all felt the same way, but I figured the kayaks would at least point us in the right direction. FloRida's "Good Feeling" was the perfect song to start to, and would be my theme for the day. They announced 30 seconds to go, I found my spot in the lineup, braced for a beating in the swim start, and we were off!

And we're off!
Rather than looking for feet to draft off of, I tried to find a good calm spot in the water, and I managed it for most of the swim. I did latch onto a couple of people here and there, but they seemed to be zigzagging, so I spent most of the swim on my own. I know it's not the right thing to do, but I put my sighting at the mercy of the swimmers in front of me - not because I didn't want to sight myself, but because the swells made it impossible to see the buoys! I have only two complaints about this race, and this is one of them - there really need to be more buoys!!! But the beautiful water and the extra buoyancy made the swim a really nice start to the race. I did have some issues with my swim cap sliding back, but I swallowed a limited amount of saltwater, avoided getting clobbered on the turns, and missed the huge jellyfish unlike some of our less fortunate teammates (though I did see a basketball-sized purple and white creature somewhere along the last loop). Coming out of the water was a challenge, but they did have mats to cover up the rocky beach and volunteers to help pull us up from the rocky ledge. I had hoped to complete the swim in 1:15, but given the issue with the buoys, I'm happy with the 1:18. It's one minute faster than the MUCH easier (and better marked) swim in Canada, and I also feel like I could have swum harder, so I know that 1:15 was well within reach.

T1: 8:05 
We ran through a series of showers on our way out of the water, but I missed most of them because I was really frustrated with how slow the guys in front of me were going, and I only caught the last one. I ran up the ramp, grabbed my bag, and pulled off to the side to get ready. I didn't change shorts, so I quickly put on my helmet, sunglasses, shoes, tri top, race belt, and chamois cream (Dave Zabriskie literally saved my ass at this race!), grabbed my nutrition, and I was off to get my bike at the far end of the transition area. It was nice not to have to run with my bike, but in hindsight I should have waited to put on my bike shoes until I got to my bike - it was so far! Again, all the guys running with their bikes were super slow through transition, which was frustrating until I realized I could cross over to the other side and avoid the obstacles. So much faster! I grabbed my bike and headed for the hills.

Bike - 7:34:38 
Ouch, right? That's a long time to be on a bike! Honestly, though, this was probably the best bike ride I've ever been on -not the fastest, but definitely the best. The ride started with a flat section of about 20km along the Promenade and then up the river from the airport. Most of this section was spent jockeying for position and trying not to get flattened by the slower swimmers who were trying to make up time.

Grasse - just one of many beautiful towns along the way!
Things didn't really calm down until we got to the first hill at 20km -  a nasty kicker at a high grade. I had to stand for most of it and there were actually people walking their bikes up it (really?!?). It took a few minutes to recover, but the next section was a false flat/easy grade, so it wasn't too bad. I did feel like my hamstrings and calves were not wanting to cooperate, as they were kind of tight and not letting my legs spin as fast as I wanted to. Fortunately, that went away before we got to the big hill, and I was able to spin up pretty easily. Don't get me wrong, it was hot, and it was a tough hill that I was happy to be done with, but I never thought it was super hard. It really helped that they scenery was some of the most beautiful I've ever seen - little towns like Vence and Grasse, nestled in the hills, kept me oohing and ahhing the whole ride.

Gourdon, on the way up Col de l'Ecre
At the top of the main climb, we had our special needs bags, so I collected my still-frozen (thankfully!) water bottles, my cold Snickers, and my Fritos and I was off through the pretty little valley that led farther into the hills. This leads me to my other complaint about the race. At this point, I had asked at every aid station if there was a toilet anywhere - "un toilette, s'il vous plait?" - and the answer was always no. Fortunately, the aid station just after special needs pointed me to the restaurant about 100m down the road and told me to ask them. The woman who owned the place was really nice, and I thanked her profusely as I got back on my bike and headed down the road. 

View from the top - see that little road down there? We did that.
This section was followed by some amazing descents and other, smaller climbs that really weren't so bad. I loved that they marked the road with how many km to the top of each climb, allowing me to break them up in my head.  The only time I got annoyed on the bike was on the little out and back at about 100km. The ride seemed to be taking a really freaking long time at this point since the hills were front loaded, and this flattish section into a headwind did not make me happy. I couldn't believe there were still 50 miles to go! But it was good to see teammates on this section, and I felt a lot better after turning off and making another screaming descent. The km to go signs started getting less and less, and both my legs and my stomach were still feeling good.

While the "technical" descents were nothing worse than what I'm used to in Marin, I'm really glad that I've gotten more comfortable with descending. This ride would have been SO much slower in a previous year, mostly for that reason. I felt comfortable until I came across a guy sprawled across the road with an ambulance next to him. Fortunately, it was almost the bottom of the descent, so it didn't affect me too much. I felt great for the last ten miles - in fact, I didn't even want to throw my bike when I got to transition! I think I finally managed to connect with my bike, and I'm actually excited about riding more this fall. Crazy, right? I think she's earned a name, too: Colette, for making Col de l'Ecre seem like a little hill!

Ready to run!
Something I did really well on the bike was nutrition and hydration. I didn't have a specific strategy on the food other than to eat as much as I could. As far as hydration went, I had six bottles of Skratch mix (3 on my bike, 3 in special needs) and two extra packets in my pocket. My goal was to drink one every hour, which I pretty much stuck to, even stopping to mix the last packet at the last aid station so I wouldn't miss out on the hydration for the last section. I ended up drinking 7 bottles (560 cal) because I accidentally dropped one about 20 miles in. I supplemented with sips of water and a little bit of Coke from the aid stations. Lots of water also went on my head to keep me cool. In terms of food, I ate 8 Nutter Butters (480 cal), 2 big Fig Newtons (200 cal), a Snickers Almond (240 cal), about 1.5 bananas (120 cal), and a bunch of Fritos (200 cal) - about 1800 calories including the Skratch mix. MUCH better than I've managed in previous IMs, and no stomach issues. This set the stage for my best IM run yet!

T2 - 9:46 
While I wasn't totally desperate to get off my bike, I was very excited to lose the cycling shoes. Those things hurt! Fortunately, I didn't have the issues this time around that I had in Canada (my time was 22 minutes slower, but I felt good getting off the bike, even after 3000 feet of extra climbing!). I had a couple of hot spots on my toes, but I didn't feel like my feet were falling apart. I took those off immediately and ran for my bag. Shoes, ponytail (OMG, what a matted mess!), visor, nutrition, sunscreen, tutu (of course!), and I was off! 

Run - 4:45:44
On my way out of transition!
The run course consists of 4 flat loops along the Promenade des Anglais. This seems like it should be easy, and in some ways it is, but it's also hot, humid, sunny, and almost too flat. We were lucky that it was only in the 80's instead of the 90's they've had in previous years, but for a San Francisco weather wimp, it was hot (despite the heat training)! The best part about the course was seeing people - spectators and teammates - multiple times. Seeing others heading in helped push me along, and encouraging others also helped pump me up. Add in moral support from Stephen and Megan twice per lap, and it really made for a decent run, mentally speaking.

Just going for a little run along the Mediterranean...
I knew from the start that I wasn't going to think about mileage at all, just laps. Coming out of transition, I knew that I had about 4:50 for the marathon if I was going to come in under 14 hours. Just over 1 hour per lap. The first lap was good, but I knew after a mile or two that I wasn't going to be able to eat the Honey Stinger chews I had brought with me. Also, they were chaffing the crap out of my back, making my pockets bounce up and down. I gave those to Stephen at some point, and I switched to a combo of water, Coke, and little pieces of crackers.  I developed a pattern at each aid station - wet arms and head in shower to help cool off, drink a few sips of water, eat a small piece of cracker (really small, like 1/8 of a cracker), drink a few sips of Coke, wash down with a few more sips of water. I also kept a small bottle of water with me so I could take tiny sips and so I could cool off my hands between water stops ( this helped a lot!). My main goal was to avoid getting all bloated like I did in Canada, and I think it worked. Rather than guzzling water, I just sipped at it, and it didn't overfill my stomach. The water diluted the Coke just enough to allow it to digest and the bits of cracker kept me from getting too hungry. I was disappointed that they didn't have ice, but that honestly might have saved me - I wasn't inclined to chug the warm water and Coke like I would have been if it had been colder. 
To the finish!!!
  • Lap 1: Comfortable, and the legs feel good, but it's crazy hot on the way back with the wind at our backs. Loving the tutu - I really couldn't get enough of the cheers in all languages, but honestly, nothing is better than "Allez, Zhenniferrr! Allez le tutu!!!" (so much cuter in French!!!). The crowd near the finishline/turnaround was amazing, and really gave a good boost on each lap. Lap 1 done, black chouchou on the wrist. 
  • Lap 2: Hot feet! Stomach starting to act up from the heat and bouncing, afraid to try the port-a-potty for fear that the smell will make me sick. Slight breakdown upon seeing Stephen, but he does a good job of convincing me that I'm running well and that I should just use the bathroom and keep it up! Light blue chouchou on the wrist. 
  • Lap 3: Steel myself for the stench and finally use the port-a-potty, feel better, make friends with a photographer who runs with me for a good mile, carrying all of his equipment! I was so excited to be on the last lap that I was practically dancing when I gathered my dark blue chouchou from the volunteer I had passed by on the previous two laps. She was equally excited to be handing them out! 
  • Lap 4: Determination sets in. 1:10 left to complete the final lap. I WILL DO A SUB 14:00!!! In any marathon, this is where I would fall apart. The distance gets to your head even if the legs feel great. I didn't allow myself to celebrate or despair until I got to the 40km mark. 1.2 miles to go. With about half a mile left, Stephen ran alongside the course, telling me it was in the bag. I threw him my water bottle and did my best to pick it up for a strong finish. I was kind of bummed about the woman in front of me, whose daughter and husband had jumped out to cross with her. I'm not sure if I just didn't have it in me to beat her, or if it didn't occur to me at the time, but she was totally in my way for the finish line picture. No matter though, because not only was my run 25 minutes faster than last year, my finish time was...

13:57:05!!! (grrr...if that woman and her kid hadn't been there, I could've had a 13:56!)

Celebrating with some well deserved refreshment
Afterward, I collected my medal, then went to the med tent to see if I could get some ice to put on my neck. I figured they wouldnt give it to me, so I told them my knee hurt and I needed some ice. They made me sit in the tent for 5 minutes, which was plenty - it was hot in there, and making me feel queasy, so I bolted ASAP and went across the street to collect my finisher shirt and dry clothes. While I was there, I saw Tracey, so we went to check out the finish line food and get a beer. The food was less than spectacular and the beer was unfortunate, so I dumped most of it and went to find Stephen. While I was looking, I saw Andie finish, so I jumped up and down and cheered for her then went to the finish to find her. We gathered her shirt and bag and then went to cheer with the others on the course. Eventually, Stephen met up with us and helped the volunteers cheer for the last finishers while we drank a beer and waited for Katya to come in.

IM Finishers!
Megan (a couple of beers in, bless her heart!) had gone out on the last lap with her, and they were running at a good clip on the way out. Unfortunately, it wasn't sustainable, so Katya didn't make the time cutoff, but she and Megan did make some friends out on the course. We watched the fireworks at the cutoff time, and worried that they had stopped somewhere on the course. Finally, we saw a pink tutu coming down the road...volunteers stayed out to hand out water, even as they broke down the stations, and Megan was carrying a whole bottle of Coke that they had given to Katya and her new friend John (a British guy about twice her height). I ran ahead, through the half deconstructed finish area, blue mats bunched up and rolled everywhere, to get to the finish line before them and take a photo. I somehow managed the sprint without tripping or collapsing and caught a great photo of them just as they crossed the line. One of the volunteers gave them a medal, and they even got a finisher shirt - so cool, and we were all so happy for them to finish! 

Stephen was awesome after the race - he got Katya's bike and bags so she could go get her finisher stuff, and he carried them back to the house too (ugh, what a walk after all that!). Back home, we chowed on some leftovers from the previous night, showered, and then hit the hay. Surprisingly, I slept really well - much better than after previous IMs. I didn't want to get up, but knew I would regret it if I stayed home on my last day in Nice!

Off to Italy for the afternoon
After breakfast, we headed out to Èze, a beautiful village overlooking the Mediterranean. We had lunch a little cafe overlooking the hills, and then coffee and a tasty nectarine tart in the main square. The girls went back to Nice, and then Stephen and I walked down the Nietszche trail to the coast and took a train to Ventimiglia to have some gelato in Italy. We came back for the Heroes Night to share race stories and watch the awards presentation (unfortunately, VERY focused on the pros and not very exciting). It was good to catch up with everyone, but we had to cut the party short to go home and pack. We shared a bottle of champagne to toast a fun week and a successful race.  In the morning, we cleaned up and said goodbye to our beautiful apartment. I was sad to leave Nice, but Stephen and I went on to Amsterdam and Belgium for beer, frites and Le Tour de France, so I can't really complain! Can't wait to go back to Nice, and I'm excited for IM Tahoe!!!
Toasting an epic Ironman experience!