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Race Reports 2011

Ironman France / Nice - Mike Billups (June 2011)

This was my first Ironman Event and my second go at the distance. The first one was Forestman with a starting line up of 150. This race had a field of 2500! There was no comparison in terms of scale of the event and I felt it would be a wholly different experience.
My flight arrived early Friday morning at Nice and I managed to get my way into town by bus, and then an arduous walk of nearly a mile to get to my hotel whilst dragging behind me a very heavy bike box. (I know mine was heavy, because the kind lady at BA check in charged me an extra £40 for it and said I was just 100grams short of the maximum 32 Kg, in which case she would have made me take something out.). It was nearly midday by now and very hot and humid! I was surprised by how hot. .By the time I arrived at the hotel reception I fear I must have been a pitiful sight of overheated exhaustion. In the still air of the reception I started erupting into a watery sweating fever. To the receptionists dismay it was fairly cascading from my forehead and dripping all over their carpet and the registration form that she had handed me. I sensed that she didn’t much fancy my chances come race day.
Later in the day, after I had unpacked and assembled the bike and got myself sorted out I was greeted by another lady at the hotel who came up to me and said “Ah, you are Iron Man, I would love to have a picture with you and put on my face book.” She was at least 6ft tall, a strikingly beautiful slim blond woman who was all smiles and niceness. (I found out later that she was the owner of the hotel.) I did try and point out that I hadn’t actually done the race yet, but she did not seem worried by that trifling detail. So, a few minutes later she nabbed me when I was heading out for a meet up with James West for a light spin on the bike. She had me posing arm in arm with her outside the hotel sign. Things like this just do not happen to me in Fleet!
Friday evening was spent at “the pasta party” which was in a huge exhibition hall. With an echoey sound system of live announcements of the event that lay ahead and then a display of the race brief of what we had to do on Saturday. For me it was all a bit daunting. Everybody seemed to be veterans of this type of thing and there was not an ounce of body fat visible on anyone. They were all ripped bodies of triathlon perfection. Every second person I chatted with seemed to have made it to Kona at some time or another. One unassuming English guy I got talking to turned out to be an ex English international swimmer who expected to do the swim in just over 50 minutes and he wasn’t at all showy off about it.
On Saturday we had to pack our bike bag and run bag and deposit them and the bike at the transition area. This again, I found quite a stressful procedure, as once you had handed over your bags you were not allowed to touch them until the race itself. Had I forgotten something? Was everything I would need in there?
After all that was done and dealt with there really was not much to do except worry about what lay ahead. The swim buoys were not yet set out, so the course would only be seen for the first time on race morning. I chatted to several competitors who had seemed to have done a very comprehensive job of reccieing the bike course and the more I heard there stories the more scary it all sounded. The doubts were creeping in. Would I survive all these climbs? Was I fit enough? These were all thoughts going through my head. I guess it is all just pre race nerves, but I generally find that just before a race is not a good time for me. The remainder of the day was spent as restfully as possible and an early night. .
I rose early on race morning to consume my cereal and then shower and get ready. To reduce my stress levels I got to the start early and waited for the transition to open at 5.00am. Once in, it was simply a matter of checking out my bike and putting the energy drink on board and strapping on my Garmin. A quick visit to the portaloo before a queue had formed and then I had time on my hands to try and chill out and watch everybody else flapping and getting ready. James managed to see me in the melee and when the time was near, we donned our wetsuits and handed in our swim bags to head off for the beach. This was it!
The sound system was blasting out some loud techno music, whilst some extrovert French guy with a microphone was shouting out and doing a very good job of ramping up the atmosphere to a fever pitch. I thought this was not a good idea to further excite 25000 race charged swimmers, but there you go.
Before I knew it the countdown had finished and we were off. I was about five deep in from the front and as we stumbled in from the rocky shore I was faced with trying to swim into countless bodies and feet. It was absolute mayhem. I did my best to try and actually swim, but there was not much water to grab hold of. Instead I got feet and a couple of times a hand hold on somebody shoulder that I launched myself over. It was seemingly like this for quite some time and I only just managed to stave off a panic attack and stop myself from hyperventilating. Maybe it was after 20 minutes, but eventually I managed to get enough clear water to actually get some kind of rhythm going. I was still getting whacked and kicked on a regular basis, but I was what you could term swimming. As to which direction I was heading was another problem as I could not see a whole lot and most of my attempts to have a proper peek at where the buoys might be usually resulted in my goggles being knocked off and attempts to be swum over from behind. I settled on basically keeping my head down and just trying to follow the greatest splashing in front of me and hoping that they were going in vaguely the right direction. Before I knew it we were scrambling back onshore for a quick run around to much cheering from the crowds and back in again for a 2nd smaller loop. It was still busy, but it had become a far less stressful swim and was not long before I was out of the water for the last time and a fairly long run in to transition. I managed to find my bike bag ok and after a quick change and application of sun cream I found myself running out with my bike. A few peddles in and with a fair buzz of spectators cheering I managed to check my watch and it was 7.40am, so 1 hr 10 mins after the start. Not too bad. There I was cycling along The Promenade des Anglais in glorious sunshine with the temperature 80f, I suddenly felt fantastic! This was what triathlons should feel like, this felt like fun! I was transformed into a happy relaxed state and looking forward to enjoying what the day would bring.
The usual hordes of bike specialists started passing me, but I have become used to this by now and felt completely untroubled. After about 20 Km of easy flat stuff we came to the first proper climb with a 12% hill of some 500yards. Even this felt enjoyable as there were a fair few supporters lining both sides of the street shouting encouragement and “allez allez!” James came past me at the base of this hill and we exchanged a few pleasantries until he went off into the distance. I was taking in as much fluid as possible along the route as it was soon hotting up. There was a seriously long fairly constant climb from about the 50Km mark for a good 20Km I didn’t seem to get above the 7 mph mark for this entire time, but I was holding my own, so spirits were still high. The views were absolutely beautiful and quite breathtaking in places. We passed through several small villages that all had a good turn out of people shouting encouragement. The French people really seem to know how to treat there cyclists. I remember going through one village that had the atmosphere of a street party and there was music blaring out of large speakers to the song of Gloria Gaynors “I will Survive”. It was inspiring stuff.
The last 30 or 40 Km was basically all down hill, which was just as well as I was fairly tiring by then. It was absolutely joyous flying down these winding descents with stunning scenery to take in. I had a big grin on my face all the way down.
Well after all that fun it was soon time to dismount and get on with the serious bit of doing the run. By this time of the day my bike computer had shown a temperature of 101.3f and I swear it felt like it was getting hotter when out on the run. I started off quite encouragingly and did the first mile in 8.10. Ah, calm down, I told myself slow down a bit and just pace yourself. It wasn’t long into the run before I didn’t have a choice in the matter and the act of just keeping moving was becoming a hard one. There were people suffering everywhere and a large number walking. I think I passed James somewhere along the first of the four loops and we exchanged a few encouraging words. I could see he was suffering, as we all were. At some point I felt the need to go for a pee and my stomach was not feeling great, so I though a loo stop would be a good idea. I did not see any, so I just carried on till back at the start/finish area where I thought there would be lots. There were none. I asked the marshal ”toilets please” and he pointed back up the run course and said 2 Km on the left. It turned out that there were just two lots of three portaloos along the whole run course for 2500 runners with dodgy stomachs. Not very impressive. I came along to the first of these three and there appeared to be a queue. I saw one guy go into one and almost immediately walk out again. I decided to take my chances and went in. It was like a scene out of the Trainspotting movie. All I can say is that whoever had been in there before must have been in a very bad way indeed. I held my nose and just went for the pee option.
I was surviving along the route by doing the best running pace I could and then walking through the aid stations while taking on as much energy drink and water as my stomach could cope with and then running through the showers the other side which gave a temporary feeling of instant relief from the heat and humidity.
By my third lap it was becoming a case of just trying to keep running to the next aid station and trying to keep moving without slowing to a walk. Lots of people were walking and I saw a couple of people literally fall over with exhaustion or the heat. At one point a runner to the side of me came to an abrupt halt and started throwing up. A guy behind him had to take quick avoiding action not to collide with him and I heard him exclaim in a quite posh English voice “Good God!”. I can laugh about it now
Well, I didn‘t think I was going to be able to make it round without coming to a grinding halt, but somehow I managed to keep going with a form of running. I was absolutely exhausted! The turnaround point at the start/finish area was really quite something in terms of crowd support and I got several shouts of “Come on Farnham” or “Looking good Michael” I don’t think I was, but it was nice hearing the words. It was quite emotional and I had to fight back tears at the last turnaround. On my last lap out I am sure I remember seeing bikes still coming in. The poor souls, they really were going to have a long day.
I had not really been clock watching at any point in the run, but knew I was doing quite well. At the very last turnaround point with just over 5Km to go I could see the timing board which told me that I had approx 31 minutes to go before the 12 hour mark. I gave it my best shot, but just could not up the pace, so to try and get quicker I ran through all the last aid stations. Alas, I just missed out on this magic time, but I could not have tried any harder. The last bit up the final shoot to the finish was all a bit of a blur, but I had done it. I had finished! I think it is the most tired I have ever felt, but completely elated at what I had just done. I proudly received my medal and then headed out to collect my stuff and bike. I was really not feeling particularly well at this point and finding it quite hard to walk and steer the bike back along the road. I fear I might have been staggering a bit in the manner of a tired drunk. I came across an ambulance vehicle with some medics standing outside and decided that maybe I should get myself checked out. Lucky I did, because I found I was becoming a bit dizzy and with a sudden urge to lie down, before I fell over. Well, I ended up in the medic tent on a drip and felt almost instantly better afterwards. So much so that I enjoyed a couple of celebratory beers later in the evening. It had been a top event!

Mike Billups