Race Morning, 4am! I like to be at transition at least 1.5 hours before the race start, so 5am for IM France.
I jumped in the shower then had a bowl of cereal and a large cup of coffee, a bowl of coffee actually.
I applied sun cream all over and put my race kit on before heading down to the race start.
After a once over of transition and pumping my tyres up, I had one last glance around the area to sight were my bike and transition bags were, each row at IM France was numbered to make it easier when running from the swim/ off the bike.
I rejoined my family waiting by the swim start, put my wetsuit on and stood to one side to listen to my pre race song on my iPod, ‘Til I Collapse’ by Eminem, great words for IM motivation and words that I have used as a mantra throughout all of my races, I then said my goodbyes and headed for the beach.
IM France was a mass beach start, I was very nervous on the start line and usually I would put myself towards the back of the swim pack as I do not like mass starts at all, but this time I put myself in the first, 55 minute pen, next to the pro’s.
At 6:25am the gun went for the pro start and the commentator started to count down to the age group start, finally the 10 second count down came and I was physically shaking, the gun went and 2700 competitors ran into the Mediterranean, the first 250 meters was a brawl for space, like a load of sardines in a washing machine.
We were swimming a clockwise, 2 lap course with an Australian exit after the first lap so I immediately headed for the right hand side of the course to ensure I was as close to the buoys as possible, avoiding swimming any extra distance, usually this area is chocker with athletes trying to achieve the same goal but it was empty! Perfect for me, I do not like swimming close to people or even drafting at the risk of taking a punch or kick, I am a fast but nervous swimmer, I exited the water in 1 hour and 43 seconds, not an IM swim PB but an ok time.
I ran up the beach and into transition, the transition area was very long, I ran towards the transition bags whilst taking my wetsuit off down to my waist, the IM staff were very efficient and were ready with my bag as I ran towards them, a great help!
I took the bag, put my helmet on whilst stamping my wetsuit off the rest of the way and then put my bike shoes on; I dropped my transition bag off and ran to collect my bike, in total the transition area was around 1km in length so I exited in 4 minutes 28 second and was onto the bike course.
The first 20k of the bike was pretty flat leading away from the town; the course then started to undulate and at around 23k I hit the first big climb, the climb was of gradual gradient but was 22k long, my gear issue did not help, I got out of my saddle and my chain came off immediately, from then on my cadence was very low as any attempt at an attack would result in the chain coming off.
The climb distance was marked on the road and counted down to the summit; I did not like knowing that I still had 20k uphill to go but I powered through, so many athletes passed me on the climb, highly frustrating as it was purely down to the mechanics of the bike but I knew I would pick them all off on the descents and when I got onto the run.
My nutrition went well throughout the bike, I usually take in an SIS carb gel every 30 minutes and a Cliff bar every 2 hours, however during the race I could not stomach the cliff bar so just stuck with gels (I put all of my gels into a 500ml water bottle and mark each with a marker, this saves having to carry them all or attached them to the bike), I take these gels along with around 750ml of water or sports drink every hour and sips of coke throughout.
I reached the top of the first climb and was in my small chain ring, I shifted normally into my big chain ring to start the descent not remembering I had issues and due to the alignment being off the derailleur was touching the spokes on my wheel, I heard the pinging and immediately shifted the gears up, luckily I avoided forcing my derailleur into the spokes again!
The course continued on with 2 further climbs, one of 16k the other of around 8k, the in-between being very undulating and had some stunning views of the South of France coastline.
At around 120k we started to descend, the decent was extremely technical, more technical than I have ever experienced before, my hands hovered over the brakes the entire time and although I was riding at high speeds, I was not going as fast as I was planning, it didn’t help that at around 155k it started to rain, torrential rain, my speed therefore slowed to a near snail pace to avoid coming off, in that final 25k I seen around 10 guys come off their bikes when cornering too fast.
All in the bike course was tough, with long climbs and very technical, wet descents.
I came into T2 with a bike time of 6:02, 30 minutes slower than planned but an acceptable time considering the course and bike issues I had, I exited T2 in around 4 minutes and started on the run feeling great, I thought that all of the issues I had encountered in the week leading up to the race may have had an adverse effect on my performance but it had almost taken my mind off the actual race.
This was the first IM racing to heart rate, the first 10k of the run I felt really strong and my pace was around 4:35 minutes per kilometre, although my heart rate was lower than my race HR, I tried to pick it up but the faster pace did not sit well with my legs, I started to get slight twinges in my quads so I dropped back down to avoid cramping.
The rain that had started on the bike continued for the first 20k of my run, the cloud cover and coolness of the rain was a really big help.
My nutrition plan runs throughout my whole race, so I continued to take on an SIS gel every 30 minutes, along with sips of water and energy drink at every aid station for the first half of the race, I saved any caffeine intake for the second half.
I picked my special needs bag up at around 23k, it contained a can of red bull and a tube of jelly babies, I downed the red bull straight away and the jelly babies were to eat every 2k.
Just after the special needs pickup up a women ran past me, her pace was just faster than me and she looked strong so I held onto her pace, running just behind her, we continued this onto the final 10k were she stopped at an aid station and I carried on through.
The final 8k I was fighting against quad cramp, the aid stations were every 2.7k and I had no option but to slow at each to throw water onto my legs, it kept the cramp at bay.
By this stage the sun had come back out and it was heating up, but I felt strong. With 5k to go I changed my watch option to the total race time view and I was at 10:22, this really spurred me on and I picked up the pace, I ran onto the final 2k straight which was lined with thousands of spectators, the roar of the audience really pushed me though and I sprinted into the finishers shoot and over the finish line in 10:45, a new PB with 22 minutes off my previous, that being on a flat course also!
Elated, I looked down at my watch to see my marathon time, 3:34!! I was in tears at this achievement as I knew that without the issues I had encountered in the week leading up to this race I could of easily came in under my planned 10:30 time and I immediately could not wait to get to my next race to see what I could do! Bring on IM Sweden!
I met my family outside and spent the rest of the day chilling and enjoyed a nice MacDonald’s!