70.3 Ironman World Championships – Nice
It’s been a week and I’m still struggling to take off the pink wrist band; I don’t want it to be over.
It seems like a dream. Never did I or anyone expect me to qualify, never did we think I’d end up at a world event for Ironman.
My mind is still blown.
Particularly when I found myself registering at the same time as Alistair Brownlee and checking in my kit with Lucy Charles-Barclay.
For the record, they were just as amazed to be registering with me.
If you make it to the start line you’ve done bloody well; no injury, no mess ups with registration, your kit is ready to go, there is nothing left to do but race your best race with that all important smile on your face.
It was a stressful Thursday getting to Nice. I was not in a good mood. I was nervous, stressed, ratty with imminent girly stuff and struggling to get excited about the whole thing. In fact, quite the opposite of excited. Poor Hugo.
Once the pink band (stereotypical) pink for women and blue for men – “if you know, you know”) was fastened to my wrist, I began to relax. I collected my first round of Ironman paraphernalia (the free stuff) and joined the queue to take the photograph of the moment.
After we dropped said paraphernalia at our hotel (basic but brilliant) we then marched, with fellow competitors (identified by the trusty wristband), the half hour walk to the briefing.
As with many briefings, they’re often to reassure you of the information you’ve already devoured in the athlete’s guide. However, we also began to comprehend the scale of the event – there were so many people there!
We clocked up almost 10k of walking, and by the time we had picked up some takeaway pizza slices (we even considered Deliveroo!) it was 10pm when we got back to the hotel. I’d love to say I collapsed in a heap and fell soundly asleep, but those nerves and that apprehension are sleep thieves and my usual 7 to 8 hours was sadly down to 5 or 6.
The last bit of training on Friday morning took me along the congested Promenade des Anglais (where I did bump into Buzz guest Michelle who was sadly suffering with a poorly timed cold). On the way to the promenade I avoided the main avenue with the tram line (and was quite proud of my navigating skills!), however for the return journey I opted for the more direct route and ended up having to negotiate crowds and avoid being run down by a tram or car, which led to the inevitable consequence (for a clumsy clot like myself) of falling off my bike when hitting a small curb.
“Tu t’es fais mal?”
Nah, just the ego. Just the ego.
Turns out I did bruise my legs and ankles but nothing that I couldn’t shake off for race day, and the following ten minute pre-race day run to get the legs going. Honestly! If anything, it oddly had a calming effect on me.
One of the first to check-in my bike (I wanted to get back to the hotel to rest up) there weren’t many swish bikes to drool over, yet every bike was to be photographed prior to being racked which made my lovely little road bike feel very special.
Organising kit into the bags, collecting the time chip, and moving between the two transition areas (well organised in terms of the course route and enabling the men to rack their bikes the following afternoon whilst the women’s race was finishing) was all fairly exhausting and once done, I felt an enormous wave of relief and remember finally announcing to Hugo that I now really was excited.
So much so, I caved and brought a cap and a t-shirt in the Ironman village. Hugo refused to wear a ‘Support Crew’ t-shirt; spoil sport.
I hope everyone had racked their bikes by about 5pm, for an enormous storm rolled in soaking our bikes. I was glad I had opted to bag my bike shoes rather than leave them attached to my bike. A meatball and pasta dinner next to the hotel, an early yet even more sleep deprived night’s sleep and it was finally race day.
Training is the hard bit, race day is to showcase your hard work.
The Nice triathlon encapsulated everything I love about triathlon. (Maybe not the MC trying to liven the crowd as if at a party on Ibiza at 3am and not the few thousand nervous triathletes about to start one of their biggest races at the crack of dawn.)
“Unique, Historique, Légendaire” was the event’s slogan. Take from that what you will, but for me it was pretty unique, I’ll never forget it and I felt like a total legend crossing that finish line.
The 1.9 km swim was in the bluest of waters, marginally cooled by the previous night’s storm (wetsuit allowed for amateurs) but still lovely and warm, salty and buoyant and much to my relief, calm. A shame then that I took a slightly wide birth at the far end of the course, but I am going to put that down to wanting to stay in the water for longer!
I had heard at Ironman events they help take off your wetsuit. We were not treated to that service at Rapperswil therefore it came as surprise when a young man wanted to whip off my wetsuit for me. I started by insisting I could do it myself but eventually gave in to his demands that I sit down, and ‘whoosssh’ off it came in a flash. Awesome!
The bike course was amazing. Yes, a technical course and there was a climb (90km and 1500m of climbing) up the Col de Vence, but it was nothing different to everything I had been cycling all summer. If anything, dare I say it, much easier than many rides over the summer! (Maybe I should have gone harder…!) The Olympic triathlon at Passy two weeks previously had felt awful and it was so reassuring to feel energy in my legs. The views were stunning and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and spending time on my bike. I struggled to stomach food and worried for the run, but forced myself to eat, concentrating on relaxing and staying calm (as I could. I’m making out I was just out for a jolly little ride. I did work hard – you’ve only got to look at my Strava statistics to see!)
My descending has improved massively this summer (I think from just spending time in the saddle) and the 21km from the Col de Vence was epic. Sadly I came across one accident, an Asian girl sprawled across the road who was already being attended to, but you can’t help but cycle a fraction more cautiously, and with a small amount of sorrow in your heart. (I was lucky to meet someone later who told me she was a Chinese girl who had broken her shoulder and wrist but was OK.)
Safety is ALWAYS first.
As I approached transition, I heard Hugo’s voice shouting manically. He was probably very relieved to finally cheer on someone he knew.
Out on the run and I started at a pace I knew I wouldn’t maintain, but so what! It felt good and I just wanted to keep it going for as long as I could.
Turned out to be only 2 kilometers. I then focused on running as strongly as I could between aid stations and then taking the time to refuel and reset for the next few kilometers. The salt marks on my clothes were very distinct and I felt hot. At times it was a battle between just wanting to finish but also aware that a sub 2 hour half marathon was in my grasp. How good it would it be to not only finish having done a solid performance at the world championships, but also get a personal best? I dug deep, told myself I had this and to stop whatever was stopping me. I went for it.
I may have finished running like Phoebe from ‘Friends’ but the sense of achievement and the sheer joy (? I’m not sure I can truly identify what I felt) that flooded through me as I crossed the line was like nothing I’d felt at any other race. I’d done it. From the build up of feeling pretty emotional and overwhelmed, to then feeling excited and then incredibly nervous, to focusing so hard on doing the best race I could and then finishing strongly – I was so happy!
I was then awarded the most ridiculous medal (I mean, I had chafe on my neck and this bad boy was not helping matters). It is huge, with world championships plastered right across it. There was more paraphernalia to collect (I shouldn’t have bothered with the previous day’s purchases!) and somehow I missed the massages (gutted!) but Millie and Tom from Morzine had found Hugo and they were all waiting to receive a salty and sweaty hug.
To those who have an Ironman tattoo, the matching his and hers tattoo, the t-shirt, the t-shirt and cap, the t-shirt, the cap and the tattoo, to those still wearing their wristband – wear them with pride, wear them for as long as you want, there’s no right or wrong, cool or geeky, just be proud, own it, only you know what it’s taken you to get there.
Note: In 2016 I came to Nice to run the Nice-Cannes marathon. I collapsed at kilometer 24 in Antibes. I feel it important for me to record that it brought back some negative memories whilst in Nice (and Antibes where we spent a couple of nights after the triathlon) and that I feel fate had a big part to play in getting me to Nice for another event, to smash it and to abandon any sense of failure I may still have had.