France was my first ironman and so i've got quite a bit to say so apologies for the length of this!
Background - I just wanted to fill people in on my build up to this race because I always had a bit of doubt in my mind about race day and I want to motivate those people thinking of doing any sort of triathlon or ironman to just give it a go. Sunday was my first ever triathlon race. Ever. Until October 2009 i had only ever ran 2 half marathons,i hadn't swam since i first learnt as a child and hadn't used a bike other than a mountain bike to commute occasionally. I trained by myself (no club,coach) following the 36 week plan and using the TI DVD to improve my swim technique. I dont want to big up my first ironman but rather just encourage those thinking about doing one to chase the dream and do one. With that done, on to the race....
We arrived in France on the Wednesday before and got settled, very hot, not too windy, a lot of compression socks, shaved legs, expensive bikes and some very athletic looking competitors.
SWIM - Up at 4am, usual breakfast, bit of motivational music and some time spent picturing the day ahead, was well nourished and hydrated from the past few days. Pump tyres up, stretch off and queue for portaloos until transition area closes at 6am, then make my way down to the beach start. At this point most people are already lined up so i wait at the back of the 1hr22+ swim area to get ready for a steady swim of about 90minutes without too much contact until the gun goes. 6.30am gun goes off and into the water and start moving up the field. The swim is densely packed right the way round and have to fight to move up and around every buoy. Back on to the beach after the 2.4km lap in 48:17 and start the second lap, just as busy as the first lap and finish in 27:50 for the 1.4km. Total swim time; 1:16:07, 21st in AG, 1244 OA.
T1 - bit dizzy out of the swim, have a powerbar bar and some water, suncream on and off to get the bike, exit the bike park in 8:35.
BIKE: Quite simply the most amazing 112miles i have ever ridden, incredibly scenery, beautiful villages, brilliant support at several points and very helpful volunteers at the aid stations. Set out after the swim at about 17mph, hamstrings are a bit twitchy and its a long hilly ride ahead. The first 12miles are relatively flat with bit of a tailwind, get down on the bars and take it nice and gently, overtaken by a lot of tri/TT bikes and HED/Zipp wheels. Then hit a 500m 10% hill, manage to overtake a few riders and notice some more walking up. The next section is marked as flat but has a definite incline on it of 1-2%, got my bike legs now and feeling charged so start to move up a few places. Hit a fast and straight downhill and again overtaken by the riders i just overtook. After this hit the monstrous 20km climb to Col de l'Ecre, not too steep but incredibly long, climb nearly 1000m over this section. I ride a Gianty Defy 3 which has 3 cogs up front, had a lot of gears to play with and steadily overtake a lot of bikes on this section (i tried to ride as many hills in training as possible as i knew the ride in France was hilly, it came through at this point). Very short flat section at the top before quite a long downhill, pretty straight so overtaken a lot here. After this hit the second major climb of 10km, feels a lot shorter than the last and get up fairly quickly and after this the last 30-40miles are all downhill back to Nice until you hit the 5mile flat before the run. The downhill was quite tight at points for long sections and i think having the Defy really helped, again managed to overtake a lot of the better, stiffer bike on the tight steep turns but lost places on the straights. The bike was incredibly beautiful and the second half of the course is incredibly fast, I think riding slightly harder on the first half really paid off as you can sit back and enjoy the downhill past halfway. Looking at my training before the race with hilly rides (80miles with 1500m climbing) i would average around 14-15mph so i aimed for a 7-8hr bike. Anyway on race day i finished in 6:19:33, still 21st in AG and 1256th OA and was absolutely stoked, never thought i would finish that fast and still not sure how.
T2 - bit quicker, suncream and run shoes, out in 5:23.
RUN - This consists of 4 out and back laps of the beach front which is curved so you can always see where you are aiming for (which made it psychology quite hard). I started by only stopping to walk the aid stations, drink the flat coke, bit of water and move on. At about mile 4 i stopped to walk, i was hurting and it was incredibly hot, i gave myself 2 minutes and thought if i didnt start running again i never would so got back to it and only stopped at the aid stations for water and coke. I was coming in at about 1 hour for each 10k lap. My girlfriend was as the loop point near the start so i made the effort to smile and wave everytime i went past her (think it helped us both!). Continued the run and walk the aid station strategy and started overtaking people steadily from the 2nd lap. When i hit the final lap, here i realised i could potentially go sub 12 and got very excited and ran through all the aid stations, just grabbing water to cool me off as i went. I came through the finish line with a 4:14:37 run and absolutely over the moon (i would later be very annoyed, i was overtaken literally metres from the finishline and it completely ruined my finishers photo, the guy blocks me from the cameraman, I was pretty angry at this as it made no difference where he came but my girlfriend told me people had done it to each other all day - must be a European thing maybe??). Overall time 12:04:15, 15th in AG and 964th OA.
After the race: Got changed and showered, enjoyed a McDonalds and cheered the last finishers in, watched the fireworks and went to bed. Not too sore the day after, had an easy day on the beach dipping in and out of the sea and pretty loose today - i'm amazed at how comfortable i feel all things considered. Sunday was the most incredible and enjoyable day of my life and I've never felt the as elated as when i hit that finishing stretch, I never really felt down/too tired/ in pain and can't wait to find my next race, i really feel like this is the beginning of a long and enjoyable race career. Whilst this is definitely jumping the gun and getting a bit ahead of myself I have one more year left in the 18-24 AG and 3rd place was only 70 minutes in front of me on race day (1st place was about 90mins ahead). I've only had 8 months in the sport and been self coached/trained, and I really feel that a whole 12 months with some club/coached work could really put me up there in contention if i've manged this already in a short period by myself.
Anyway, thank you for reading this far and I'm very sorry for the length, the next one will definitely be shorter! Finally, to anyone thinking of doing an IM go for it, you won't regret it and anyone thinking of doing IM France do it, it's an incredible race.