This race hold a special place in my heart. I grew up listening to my Dad regale stories of his time as a domestique for Tom Simpson in the Tour De France. The climbs he described and the tales of suffering on such, held an aura of fascination for me as a child.
Expecting the lake water to be its usual sub 15 degrees I chose a short dry land warm up and then jumped in and headed to the rocks on the opposite side of the lake to wait for the gun to go off. Mistake, should have warmed up, the water was nearer 17 this year & I wasn't prepared (am I ever?!) for the fast start.
Since I broke my collar bone for the 2nd time last summer, I dislike swimming in wetsuits... my shoulder always feel restricted and with an already reduced range of motion i struggle to get a high elbow catch on this side & my feel for the water is reduced. The new BlueSeventy Helix does a good job of improving my buoyancy and the thin arm panels allow some feel for the water... But ideally I'd chop the arms off... as my arms ache a bit in the first half of the swim.
I found it near on impossible to get a rhythm to start with - but this is often the case, especially with a mass start (not the luxury of a pro only start).. Being an 'asthmatic' ( I use the term lightly as my Doc has me down as such, but its mild compared to what I used to see turn up in A&E on a night shift).
Some people climb better out of the saddle, some like to sit and grind. Usually its heavier riders than prefer the grind and the lighter ones like to stand more. I do a bit of both.
You never feel on the last of the 21 hair pins of the Alpe D'Huez that you will be able to run 22km over hilly terrain at an altitude of over 1800m. I knew that I could having done it in previous years... the prospect, even for Pros still daunts, but you trust in the fact that your legs will come good or that it will be a sufferfest. I had caught Celine Scharer on the lower slopes of the Alp - the TeamTBBer Swiss National who led the whole field out of the swim today. Carrie Lester and Mary Beth Ellis were still up ahead... I didnt really know where, and Lisbeth Kristensen was 3 minutes behind me having a super race coming back from pregnancy.
Climbing the Alps the balls of my feet were burning... Being mostly out of the saddle (due to saddle slipping down) the power was transferred to the pedals through the ball of my foot & the slight friction each time was after 4 + hours very painful. I had chosen not to wear socks.. more out of habit than anything else, and Talc on the soles was long gone.
I ignored this, but coming of the bike into T2 I winced in pain as my feet hit the grass. This was going to be a painful run & again, I cursed myself for not putting socks in my transition kit on either bike or run. (You can get away with it on a normal Half Ironman race but this one is different).
From the start, I didnt feel good on the run. My stomach revolted from its melting pot of mars bars, bananas and lukewarm electrolyte drink insufficiently diluted with water and cramps ensued. I did some diaphragmatic breathing - breathing out more Co2 in little bursts... which usually helps, but not on this occasion and I longed for some buscopan (which is my saviour for stomach cramps... hadn't packed it this tim and not available en France).. so I jogged on hoping it would pass. Feet were still burning and there was no repsite from the cramps which were now making me nauseas. I took on some water & then felt like I would be sick - coming onto the 2nd lap I stopped by the side of the course and was sick.. wretching and horrid. It was at this point that I thought that running another 14k was going be very difficult. With retrospect I can look at the situation and think - stop dramatising and get on with it. What goes through your head when you're in a race is different as your running on your limits and rationaliy often doesn't stand a chance.
Things add up to - your feet are hurting and blistered, you're being sick, you've punctured so you're already behind.. you're 4th in a race in which you came 3rd last year.. how can I be doing worse... surely you're fitter this year. How embarrassing... people will think i'm not progressing as an athlete.
What other people think? I'm sure many will share these sentiment if they are having a bad day.
Internal Dialogue with Self. I've done all this training, sacrificed x amount of things, and i'm running a far slower pace than i'm capable of. People will look at my times and think what a poor show. The brain starts to accumulate negativity and before you know it you feel even more crap.
In 2009 after serving aforementioned penalty at the top of Alpe D'Huez .. I was feeling sorry for myself, having come off the bike in 2nd and dropping to 4th. Jodie Swallow had a storming race and passed me on one of the run laps.. I mumbled some negative words to her as she ran pass all Jodie in race mode, complete with horns on the head & froth at the mouth... she said:
"Just shut up Tam. Put your head down and run". I had been told. These words and the manner in which they were delivered stick with me. So after wrenching at the side of the road.. I turned back on the course and started walking back to the apartments where we were staying... I'd decided it was game over. 4th just wasn't good enough. (FFS Tam!)
At this point I saw a friend James Peet, himself a damn good AG athlete who has competed in Kona. I had thought he was a lap ahead of me, but it turns out he was behind. He threw a big can of TTFU at me and told me to get back on it. 4th is still a pay day and 5th was way back. I thought fine, shuffle.. you may feel better now you've been sick. And that was it... I took the metaphorical bit between the teeth and ran. Got some coke down me (Coke on the run has saved many a race).. and the last 7k lap was a damn sight faster than my previous two... putting paid to my thoughts that my lack of run training due to injury had reduced my endurance.
So that was my day. As usual lessons learnt and so many variables to consider. 4th place is a bitter pill - but Alexander Loiuson (France) is a superb runner (weighs 38kg!) and there was no holding here of in the condition I was in. It often makes me laugh or smirk at myself writing reports after the race because with hindsight perceptions change dramatically. I had felt I was running really slowly... embarrassingly slowly, but onlookers would say that when they saw me I looked good. Turns out that when I was running I wasn't doing to bad. As the 1.36 for the 22k will tell ya. Hey ho.
After the race, the top 5 were drug tested. A laborious process which was made worse by there being only one doctor to do the urine testing. Sitting around post race with no sustenance (apart from the allocated water) getting cold (after getting sunburned) is a recipe for immune system weakening.. and sure enough the next day I was full of cold, which developed into a chest infection over the course of the following week. No amount of raw garlic and red wine was killing this bug.
Please don't be put off my my trials and tribulations. This is one epic race and the sense of acheivement after completion, no matter what the time will stay with you for life.
After recovering from the chest infection, I have been training in the Pyreenees as guests of Ian and Julie Wright of Pyrenees Mulitsport.
It has been truly incredible riding in a new part of the world for me, but unfortunately enjoyment was limited by contracting Campylobacter infection from (probably) an infected local water source. 4 of the house were affected - and this wasn't your typical 24-48hour bug. We were knocked out for 5 days, with more time needed to regain strength and appetite. (Those of you who think i'm too skinny already.. well dont look now!)
Hoping to be on the start line for Gerardmer XL Triathlon on 1st September. Another hard mountaineous 1/2 Ironman in France with a festival atmosphere and some shit-hot prize money. Coach says a training day. Come what may i'll be pre-empting that negative mindset when the pain sets in!
Just Because Something Isn't Happening for You Right Now, Doesn't Mean It Will Never Happen... Persist.