Daniel & Jean-Claude Besse

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Challenge Roth

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There are races that come with big expectations. Road to Roth is one of those journeys. After facing the myth that was Patrouille des Glaciers not long ago, Challenge Roth was a big one in the bucket list. Known to be fast. With a stacked field of pros ready to send it. Grosses Kino.

While Daniel was impressed of my swim abilities in the last training, I wasn’t really. I swam a lot less this year than usual, and it is showing a little. My bike performance in training was good, and while I couldn’t really show it in Rappi (mostly due to running a long run a week before, knowingly prioritizing the marathon in Roth to Rappi), I felt confident about it. And I have finally the mileage build-up that was lacking at other long distance to conclude with a great marathon.

The heat predicted isn’t really frightening me. I’ve heat-trained this season, and Rappi in the exact same conditions went very well for my standards.

Final preps

We arrive with Jamie on Thursday evening. Briefing done remotely in the car. No supertuck allowed, and Jan Frodeno asks whether ‘we will forbid riding fast now? … seems a bit ridiculous’. The mentals games are on, and for sure the race will be fast from the gun.

Our fantastic hosts, Johannes and Anne, welcome us to the small and welcoming city of Roth. They did everything, from giving tips on the course, telling stories of the race history, cooking the perfect carbo-loading meals, to sending their kids Ines and Yann as volunteers on race day. I was told Roth lives for the Challenge, and it shows!

Our hosts, and the surprise sign on race morning.

I still do a little jog, some pre-race kilometers on the bike, and rack the weapon in T1, close to the swim start. One last sleep, and we’re off!


On race morning, the temperature is still a little chilly, but surely ramping up. 31 degrees forecast for the afternoon. Swimskin swim, neoprenes only allowed for the AG. The water is warmer than the air, and feels nice to me (some will later complain it was too cold…).

I get to the start line in-between Maurice Clavel and Sam Long, relatively far to the center of the canal. As soon as the gun goes, I sprint to the front, but notice that Maurice is much faster, and on the right, some supersonic beam has gapped the whole pack by the 50m-mark already. Jan is unsurprisingly trying to put his stamp on the race. Maurice will rejoin him roughly 200m later, I squeeze in in front of Sam, but no way I can hold these feet. I’m already lactic, we’re barely 5min in a 8h+ race. Lots of people around, I try to get in a group that swims my pace. It takes me a while to recover from the starting effort. I’m not feeling super fresh. Around the turn-boy we have a decent delay on Maurice/Jan, and the first pack behind them. I start to find it easy, almost a tiny bit slow. I try to overtake once but will not manage to up the pace, and reset myself to the back of the second group. Sam, nicely recognizable with his pink cap, is always on my feet or those next to me. Another guy is a lot more annoying and continuously drags his hands on my ankles. I kick a bit more for a while, which he somehow takes as an opportunity to come even closer? I guess my (unvoluntary) Achille’s heel in his teeth was also noticed by him, as it seems to slow down his touching (seriously, how close do you want to be? foot-to-teeth is likely hands way up to the knees or so…).

Towards the later parts of the swim a boat catches up to us. That’s a sign we’re getting chicked by Fenella Langridge and Rebecca Clarke. Our group splits into followers and others. I was maybe not as easy as I thought, since I’m rather in the slow ones then. I catch a glimpse of Jamie on the sides of the canal just before the exit.

Swim exit from the canal.

Quick look at the watch, over 55min. Not great, but also not a huge amount of lost time on the planning.


After a smooth transition where I overtake the women again, we climb on the bike side-by-side with Sam Long. The bridge is packed and after putting on my shoes I decide to ride for a bit in the group of 5 that is behind Sam. The pace is clearly too fast for me for the 180km, but possibly I can make up some time now?

First km on the bike.

The course is fast, but not flat either. Rolling hills which I need to push through to stay with the group. 300-340W seems to be the norm sometimes, and not the exception. After 17km, 265W avg, on the third climb, I decide that I should restrict my excursions to FTP and let them go. I almost regret it when I see that two others have also dropped off a few kilometers later and they ride just slightly faster than me. Sam on the other hand has upped the pace and gets quickly out of sight.

Until km 32 I ride alone. Fast roads towards the south. As someone comes from behind I pick their pace and we slowly reach the hill of Greding. We have a good power on the long drag uphill that follows the short steep part. We reach one of the two that went off ahead. Jesse. He’ll be close to me until the finish line…


Solarerberg approaches now. The right turn in Hipoltstein and the legendary sight of barriers that suddenly disappear and leave space to a mass of people only. Where the road goes is unclear. I’m at 360W, smiling, my ears’ tinnitus hurting a little, almost bumping into a photograph sitting down (how should I know I’m deviating from the centerline?). Jamie is shouting to my ears from 1m, but I missed her. So crazy. So worth experiencing. I watched the Alpe d’Huez etappe last week and thought about Solarerberg.

End of Solarerberg.

Towards the end of lap 1 a group catches us from behind. Clearly not all legally drafting here as some overtake me freewheeling while I put 240W, but most doing their best to sit at 12m roughly. I stick with them. As we overtake many relays that just started their bike, the placement is not always easy. Second, or often third column, being very careful about people jumping out of their line to try and get a ticket for the pro-train… The rhythm gets again wild, sometimes someone attacks and tries to leave alone, but most respond and follow, sometimes nobody wants to really take the lead or push through some of the tighter sections of AG/relays. I sit towards the back. Some efforts here and there to not get dropped, but also more relaxed that I know I respect the rules easily when a motorbike comes by. Even though they seem to care more about someone opening a gel, and where they will put the trash, than measuring the distances between riders.

Fast course.

I make a bit of a surge around Hipoltstein, both at the entry and exit of it. Some of the more tired people drop off. But we’re easily 5-6 reaching T2 together. Time to run! I take the last few kilometers very easy to refuel a little, while some seem to push to get the Garmin jsut above 40km/h average…



After T2, we start with a steep downhill kilometer in sub-3’30 pace. Three people talking next to me: ‘How do you feel?’ ‘I’m good. Thanks for the ride together.’ ‘My quads are destroyed.’

And here I am, next to them, painstakingly following with side stitches. The extra fuel at the end of the bike, combined with more fluid from my T2 bottle, and the downhill was too much. I need to slow down. And not to their 4min/km pace slightly uphill, but more than that. I let them go, but promise to myself that they’re not actually better than me (ok, except maybe Ondrej, who’s yellow suit is almost disappearing already…).

I reach the canal, with the thought of giving up very briefly passing through my mind. But no way, I need to do this right! An aid station extra, finally some real flat sections, and I cross Patrick Lange in 3rd. Time to count, since I have no clue where I stand. I dare to guess around 18th. But the gaps are big, with nobody in-between. And so as I see the pillars of the canal locks, where the u-turn should be, with still only 9 people in the other direction, I start thinking: ‘Could I be much better placed?’

Indeed, soon I recognize the yellow suit of Ondrej, the orange of Jesse, and the pink of Nadal. All biked with me. I’m 12th. Really!? km 5, and I’m making plans on how to move to top 10… (also last look on the watch, what’s the point of aiming at a time when you can play the prize money?)

Km12. Gimme more water.

I slowly catch Nadal, then overtake someone who’s walking at the aid station, and bit by bit reduce my gap on Jesse. By km 17 I overtake him. We’re still along this very long dirt path on the canal. Lots of sun, but completely flat and straight. Many aid stations, which are always good. Tons of water to dump on myself. By now I’m 9th, with almost no hope to bridge ahead of me. I just need to hold. Easier said than done when there’s 25km by 31 degrees to run, with pressure from 3 concurrents in the 90s behind me…

A little after the half-marathon mark Jesse is back on my feet, and briefly ahead of me. Jamie hands me the last gel and shout ‘9th!’. I actually know I’m 10th there, but will move back to 9th, no other way…

I make a surge on km 25, and get a small gap again. I really can’t believe it. Johannes gives me time gaps, that I know by heart already. Coming back to Roth is a steep hill, but I expected it, since it is half of the start kilometer backwards. Once through the market place, where I cross Magnus Dietlev on his way to victory. The speaker says ‘can you imagine having 10km gap on top-10?’ … well thanks, I’d like to see you out there.

Km30. Hang on the 9th place.

At km33 is the killer climb to Büchenbach, just after an aid-station. Head down, biting my teeth, and griding through. It doesn’t really flatten, but waves up and down to the village. And smells of merguez are prominent. One lap round the puddle, Maurice is definitely in as much pain as me, and we go back. Hard to let it roll down by km38. Oh well, soon the pain is over.

Entry into Roth again, Johannes says that the front is too far, but behind is still below 90s to Nadal. Can’t take it easy. But won’t let it come down either. I rarely digged this deep. The flowers handed onto the entry to the packed finish stadium make me realize: top 10 in Roth!!!

Finish line.
Swim: 55'20
Bike: 4h27'46
Run: 2h53'57
Total: 8h20'14


I spend a while to cool down, find Jamie again, get dinner with our hosts, go to the podium and fist-bump many of the best in this sport. An orange Rushteam tshirt in the middle of the world elite. Surreal. That was three weeks ago, and I’m still on a high. Couldn’t sleep properly for a full week, have not recovered completely yet. Drained out. But soooo happy. ‘Career achievement’ check. Onto the next one?

Podium. Anne Haug, Fenella Langridge, Judith Corachán (missing), Laura Sidall, Rebecca Clarke, Magda Nieuwoudt, Svenja Thoes (missing), Maja Betz, Caro Lehrieder. Nadal Juan Bautista, Jean-Claude Besse, Maurice Clavel, Ondrej Kubo, Sam Long, Robert Kallin, Bradley Weiss, Reinaldo Colucci, Patrick Lange, Magnus Dietlev.

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Patrouille des Glaciers 2022

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5 months ago I was lying in bed with a cast on a freshly broken hand. And 4 months ago spending a snowy Christmas watching the family on skis from the roller in Davos. My PdG training couldn’t have started worse. And yet I was about to get ready. Not with anywhere close to the “recommended” 60k elevation gain over the winter season (barely a quarter of that), but a good general endurance, and the confidence that I could reach that mythical finish line in Verbier.

2 weeks ago, as Daniel got a Covid infection, the doubts started creeping in again. Our team would make in to the start line, but not without last minute wonders. The weather being also one of those.

Glacier and lack of snow

I’ll pass over the lead up to the race though, there’s enough to say on the course itself: Start at 23h45 on Saturday evening, next to Zermatt’s train station, barely after the stop of the rain. The snow being far away up in the mountains, we run with an old pair of trainers through the village, and quickly leave the civilization to climb the valley on a jeep road. Daniel is setting the pace in front. And while I say “ok but not faster” when he asks for feedback, Nico goes for a more optimistic “you can overtake and catch the first team if you want”. Needless to say, we were soon in second position of our wave, running uphill, or fast walking when the slope turned steep, in a little muddy dark path. As a tiny downhill arrived, I notice something bump on my left calf, ask Nico if he saw something fall, but assume it’s a rock. Until 50 m later, when I can’t find our gps tracker. “STOP!” We come back, spend 30 s looking for it in the dark with headlamps with no success, and decide to continue our route without. Daniel is not super happy, and makes sure we pass again the ~10 teams who overtook us then. It’s still a long race, no need to worry.

The start in Zermatt.

As we reach 7 km, at Oberstafel, we are asked to get into our ski boots. Daniel announces to the official that we lost our tracker. And he makes a phone call while we are setting up our stuff. As we would be ready to go, the official receives a return call, where it is explained that they can still track us, and we likely did not lose it. I look carefully at my material again, and indeed found the tracker, who simply slipped from my left shoulder down to the hip. Saved! Let’s go…

The start of the glacier is full of rocks, and the fresh 2-3 cm of snow are barely enough to make them slippery but not to ski onto them. We even have to cross a 5 cm high water stream, which we do without much hesitation but hoping that our feet stay dry before we target 3700 m elevation and the coldest point of the course. We exchange sporadic words. But it’s mostly “just keep going”. The race will be long, so there’s no need to stress and sweat here, but we also want to keep progressing steadily to get there…

As we reach the real glacier, 2 to 4 tracks are prepared in the snow, with little posts indicating the way. The real skimo part starts. Not too technical yet. Daniel is still setting the pace, I and Nico simply following. Soon enough Schoenbiel arrives, and looks like a portal into the high mountains. A stream of headlamps ahead, the first stars pointing just above Tête Blanche. A few military helpers checking that our knots are correct. We will be on rope until Bertol. I put my camelbak, who was taped to my back but fell down, inside the backpack. It will quickly freeze and I won’t have anything to drink for the next 3 hours.

Technical skills start here, at least for me. Daniel is overtaking teams from the previous wave left and right, making kick turns in the slope, switching tracks as needed. I’m doing all that, while dealing with the rope getting stuck on a track indicator, below my or the neighboring teams’ skis, and trying to adjust the pace to keep the balance between tension in the rope in front and behind me. A few mistakes, and maybe slight non-ideal adjustments in my bindings, lead to my left ski turning to descent modes 4 or 5 times. Annoying. Every time it involves shouting to tell Daniel to stop, removing the ski, turning the binding, putting the boot back in, getting started again, and quite likely restarting the overtake maneuver. But we’re making steady progress.

Stockji is the next checkpoint. Ski on the back, a steep couloir to climb (usually the route goes around, but there was no path without crevasses this year). The military helper guides us to the far left staircase in the snow, still empty, and off we go. Step after step, looking once down to the valley with the halo of Zermatt already far away, and lots of tiny headlamps along the glacier. Mostly concentrated ahead though, both poles in one hand and the rope in the other. As we put the skis back at 3000 m, we are advised to “cloth up now, the wind will pick up as you reach the summit”. We put on a wind stopper. There is still 600 m to climb. Not nothing. Especially at this altitude. The pace drops a little. I don’t have much time to evaluate where the summit would be, since the kick turn densify, and with it my needs to have the rope under control. Too bad the elastic along it were not allowed this year.

Suddenly the slope weakens, and as I look up a halo appears just behind a pass. Tête Blanche clearly visible in front of a starry sky on the left. A tent with sanitary. Medical people analyzing our faces to decide whether we’re good to go or should do a warm-up break. We remove the skins. Close the shoes properly to ski (another error here, should have prepared it properly at Oberstafel, and not have to remove gloves here by -25 C). Daniel helps Nico close his backpack and jacket, since his hands are frozen. Not sure we even said anything, but in a concerted look we just started skiing. Waiting here is freezing for no good reason. Everybody around is shivering cold but somehow prefers to stop for bouillon rather than moving on.

The start of the descent is just a straight line, at very little slope. Straight ahead. Easy peazy. A good meter or two of rope in the hands in front of me as safety. As the path turns slightly right, the end of the descent is already in sight. Teams in front of us make plenty of turns. Daniel takes the right decision to go almost straight, braking in V-shape, much easier for us behind. Nico get the rope in between the legs. But as he shouts quickly, and I relay that to Daniel while releasing the slack, nothing ensues. We entangle our rope with a pole of a competitor, but once again deal with it quickly and release ourselves. Time to go up briefly again. Hands still half-frozen, but functioning well enough to put the skins on. Jacket below the windstopper, and beard, turned white from the frosted sweat. Bertol is splendid in the night. We don’t have much time to admire though. Time to descend some more. Much more difficult conditions here. A narrow start, frozen, gliding sideways, followed by an open track with lots of bumps, stones, and frozen patches. A little minesweeper game, with blue flags indicating the right path, red ones dangerous places, and yellow ones checkpoints to reach. In the darkest night one can imagine. With a small headlamp illuminating the few meters in front of you. At 25-30 km/h. Of course at some point we all went through a stone. One was way bigger than expected though. My skis get stuck on it, I roll face down to the snow patch behind, before salto-ing and ending my path face down the slope, feet upwards, on my back, and with a single pole in hand. I quickly realize that nothing happened, that my skis are still here, and that Daniel went also down but standing up already. I shout to Nico following us that he should get my pole if possible, stand up, remove the snow from myself, and get ready to go. Single big fall of the day, and I’m just ready to continue.

As the snow is lacking, we have to remove the skis once for 200 m, and then follow a single track down, which avoids many (but by far not all) of the rocks. We reach the final point of the descent around the glacier tunnel, and from there on walk down a good 3 km to Arolla. Nico realizes he broke a ski, and has 1 cm gap between one metal edge and the ski itself. We will see in Arolla what we can do.

Mixing with the small PdG

We reach the checkpoint a little before 6 am. While Nico enquires for a replacement ski (which will be refused, it would have had to come from one private helper), I get the opportunity to down 0.5 l of coke. Half frozen, but who am I to complain, mine is completely frozen?

The part on the ski slopes of Arolla is steep, we knew that from our training. But it was icy on top of it. So we zig-zag our way up, Daniel in front, me on the elastic behind but not really using it. Nico first on the elastic but soon enough ahead on his own. He’ll take some blurry pictures. Remove his underpants. Enjoy the track. We follow slightly slower. Daniel is less fast but still steady. The headlamps not needed any longer. Lots of team from the small PdG around us.

As we reach Riedmatten basis checkpoint, we get the first direct sunlight. In the couloir, the first team overtakes us. They have professional support at the changing point. We’re taking our time to do things right. The descent is so steep that fixed ropes are installed. One can basically only slow down their slide by gripping onto them. As we reach the bottom I find Nico but not Daniel. We’re almost unsure if he went somehow ahead through another path. But no, I can see him mid-couloir. He just almost lost his ski, and some official came to help him. At the bottom, I need a little break to re-fix my boots. We’re at Pas du Chat. Almost certain to reach the finish line. A lot slower than anticipated due to the conditions, but still confident. Even if we have to remove the skis twice in the descent, and lose a lot of time walking instead of skiing downhill.

Struggles to the finish

Along the Lac des Dix, the track is prepared, but at a side slope that I find really annoying. Some teams manage to skate that. I find it near impossible. My skis seem to glide also far less than those of Dani and Nico. And mentally I just struggle to keep up. I can drink again, with melted camelbak, and try to at least catch up on nutrition a little. It seems to never end though. Second and last official aid station in La Barme. Chocolate, oranges, coke, bouillon. Let’s go. I’m struggling to see how I’ll make it up, but I guess it step by step. Being (or at least thinking to be) the weakest here, I accept the offer of Nico to get pulled on the elastic rope. Daniel fixes himself behind me, but I’m not sure how much he gets pulled vs doing the effort but following without thinking. I get tracked up by Nico who does a 30 min effort like I couldn’t imagine. The least I can do then is push mentally the couloir de la Rosablanche.

The thing is, which I didn’t realize, while I’m on the way to getting better, Daniel is entering his crisis moment. He asks to sit down where we remove the skis. Not feeling well. We start soon on one of the two stair tracks. At this time of the day, it’s a long wait. Left step, right step, little break. Left step, right step, little break. Someone is hurting mid-way up, there are probably 50 people in between, but what do you want to do? Overtaking is impossible here, unless you’re a pro team and the helpers make a free side for you… There’s a little rest station at the middle point that most people avoid. Daniel sits down briefly, and gets Schweppes from a spectator. The military staff refuses to offer their Rivella. It’s private and not an official aid station. Daniel’s not looking good.  But at this point you’re also not dictating the pace. Just get in the line and walk.

As we reach finally the top, Nico gets his skis ready at the end of the changing zone before coming back to us. Daniel is sitting again. Head in the hands. Looking a little pale. He says his heart is beating hard. He’s tired. I ask if I should request coke from someone. He first refuses, says he’s feeling dizzy and not empty. I see a spectator give coke to their team before they leave. I ask and receive one of their extra bottle. Daniel accepts this time. We get a sip each with Nico and shove the rest 400 ml to him. My rational thinking is then, we need to get him to a better place, either by skiing down where the lower altitude and increased oxygen will make him feel better, or if he really can’t any more by asking a medical staff for help. No panic, there are at least one helicopter continuously picking up people, so we’re at a good place to get support. But also no reason to stay here.

Daniel chooses to continue. I can see in his eyes that it is more of a mental drive than a feeling better from the 5 min rest. But it’s ok. He’s anyways skiing down better than me. And we barely have 150 m of elevation left. A last bite of the teeth.

From the col de la Chaux we soon reach the ski slopes of Verbier. Schuss to la Chaux itself, where a military person tells us that the “slope is ending here”. Upon my and the neighboring team’s surprises, he also adds that we will be able to put the skis on again, but while it was only 3 times for the Wednesday race, it may be 6 or more times today… Indeed we had a lot of on and off bits, with more stones than snow. Careful skiing to avoid injuries here. And crossing Verbier to the finish line with a lot of people around. We made it!

Finish in Verbier.


For those who asked: the PdG is emotionally comparable to a first Ironman, not really knowing what to expect, but conscious that you’re tackling a challenge. Not everything is smooth on first try, and you have to deal with ups and downs along the way. It’s probably trickier on the nutritional level, especially if you don’t have support people along the way. It is similarly challenging on the energy / heart rate side of things, with sleep perturbed the next day from being too excited still. It is much less demanding on the muscle compared to the physical toll of the marathon pounding steps. It is an experience worth living!

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Ironman Thun

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Back on the long distance, a little more than two years after my great time in Kalmar 2019. After a good performance on Rapperswil, by far my record on the course, I want to have a great race in Thun as well, in front of a lot of known spectators. Temperatures are finally warmer than expected even a week before the race, and close to the ideal or even slightly above for me.

Little nervousness for once in the tapering week. I feel ready. We still discuss the fine-tuning of the nutrition plan, the time objectives by simulating the course on bestbikesplit, etc. 8:50 is my objective, with 52 min of swimming, 4:50-55 of cycling, 2:55-3h for the marathon.

On race morning, the sun is still hidden behind the mountains, and the air is warming up nicely, as we get into the line-up. The water is pleasant at 18.4 C. The course hardly distinguishable with my tinted glasses. I will learn moreover after the finish that it misses the buoys of turns, the boat bringing them being broken down. The buoys placed are only the small directional ones, and on a 3km-course instead of 3.8 km.

The start is given without a gun shot (also in the broken down boat?), with the announcer announcing 'go, go' only. As the ground remains very shallow for a long distance, I start doing the dolphin jumps that PA taught us 15 years ago. And now, after 100 m of running, I am in the lead of the Ironman. STOP THE COUNT. Surreal. To my left and to my right, two spikes with fast swimmers form, and later catch up with me. On other Ironman, I sometimes have trouble keeping up with the bubbles in the first group, especially after 100 m of over-speed, but I'm glad to have a bit of a margin this time. I see Jan van Berkel, Daniel, a few others, and then hang on to 10th place. The pace is just right for me to keep up while gliding. I often look ahead to make sure no gaps are forming. The red balloon of the leading kayak always stays at 15 m, no worries. The group does not really stretch, it seems that nobody tries to escape. At the second buoy I take a big hit in my goggles, which will give me a black eye, but I even have time to put them back to avoid losing my contact lenses. In the end, I am almost better off at the back of the group than fighting for the front rows... My watch rings after 2.5 km and we are already turning into the marina. I try to overtake 2-3 people but I quickly realize that it would cost me too much effort. I leave the water in the first pack (39 min), in front of a harbor full of spectators, it gives me adrenaline to get on the bike!

Working on the aero lately, happy with the results.

After a smooth transition, I'm at the mount line just in time to see Jan right behind Daniel. Not my best bike climb, and in the next turn it's Joe Skipper in my wheel. Phil was right, when a week before he asked me if I would come out between the two. But he probably didn't think they would be that close... Two short kilometers of flat, with a peak of 336 W and 49.2 km/h behind Joe, and I tell myself I'd better let the group go. Ruedi Wild is still chasing, but I soon find myself with Daniel only. The course is demanding, with very few real flats afterwards, but the slopes are rarely more than 6%. It stays rolling. Sometimes I pass in front, sometimes I follow Daniel at a legal distance, but that gives a mental boost and a slight draft benefit anyway. Nice pavement, easy descents, the kilometers go by. But the computer also indicates that we are rather optimistic. Ronnie Schildknecht and a group of 4 catch up with us just before the long climb, kilometer 42, but I refuse to do more than 300 W on 18 min. It seems to me that Daniel would have tried, but almost too late, and once the gap is made it's impossible. They disappear very quickly on the horizon. At the highest point, after 62 km, my powermeter shows 264 W average, which is much more than my expected average of 240 to 250 W. The descent allows me to recover well, and to arrive already at the end of the first lap. 2h25, 254 W. Still in good shape. Daniela Ryf doesn't seem to be far, but there's a huge gap in front. It's crazy how fast PRO athletes ride.

One of the rare flat section.

A French guy passes us, he makes the gap in the climb, but does not go down very fast. So I start a chase and bring Daniel back on him too. We can take advantage of his rhythm. On the fast descent, I unfortunately leave a few meters that I have to make up for. Daniel seems confident at 90 km/h (my 84.4 km/h were enough for me). At kilometer 124 Daniela catches up with us, barely faster than us. Especially on the climbs. The flats are easy to follow. A referee bike, a photographer, the video for Facebook live, and the race director car behind. Alone but well accompanied. We stay with her until the end. Sometimes a little less power on the downhill, sometimes I have to hang on when it goes up steeply. I concentrate on eating my gels well, and drinking my drinks charged with sugar. Not a lot of total fluid intake actually, but the cool morning (according to the Garmin, 10 C when I got on the bike, 23 C at the end) almost makes me need to pee more than drink. Looking forward to the marathon. Rarely did I get off the bike so fresh on an ironman. Last straight line, Daniela prepares some gels with 2 km to go. I take the opportunity to overtake (after waving to the motorbike that was blocking in the middle of the road...). 4h47, 249 W. The group effect was well worth it.

Climbing behind Daniel and Daniela.

After a moderately good transition, I start the marathon next to Daniel. Our ambitions are not exactly the same though, and I start on very high bases. Too high maybe. I tell myself I need to slow down a bit. And another part of me tells me that I never really tried the same thing on a full distance as I did in Rappi, which then led to my best race in a very long time. Let's try something in between. Why not aim for 2:50-55? There are a lot of people on the course again, which is nice. I'm doing well. I feel really good. Ronnie in my sight, and I catch him without any problem after 8 km. Passage through town, back to the stadium. A good third done in 57 minutes. Now I just have to hold on.

Flying on the first part.

And holding on will be hard. Indeed, from the halfway point, my thigh muscles harden, the steps become harder, the heat more prominent, the energy is missing. Maybe the training miles are missing too. Anyway, I quickly gave up the goal of getting closer to 2h50 and instead hoped to stay under 3h. I grit my teeth. My steps are getting smaller. I take a pee break (my first ever in a race!), and then walk one or two aid-stations to eat a few more gels than planned. I pass Jamie who seems to be almost on top of me (one lap behind)! I have to hang on. And that's why the Thun course is tough: small curves, tight roads, gravel, wooden bridges not 100% stable. But it is also exhilarating: more noise than in Zurich, the landscape changes quickly, quite a lot of shade, very frequent refreshment stands. You can go from one place to another. Without thinking that I still have 10 km to suffer. Nicole seems to smile, why not me? Daniel seems to run, a little in pain too, but he will get to this line. The faster the better. PA encourages me to go for the 8h30. I'm not really thinking about a time, especially since the swim was so short. But I am still well within my estimates, even if we add 13 min for the lack of distance. Come on JC, "bring ihn hei". I seem to have forgotten how much you have to want it, this finish line. And then it's coming. 8:33, at the end of my reserves. 3h03 of marathon, limiting the damage. Super happy!

Hanging on to the finish line.

The others arrive one after the other, Daniel a little bit bothered by his Achilles heel but who finishes under 9 hours anyway, Jamie who goes for the amateur victory and the Kona slot, Nicole and Thibaud finishers with a smile! When is the next one?

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Half marathon Swiss championships

Le texte original est ci-dessous. Cliquez ici pour une version en français.

Mid-September when it slowly became clear that no triathlon race was likely to happen this year, I told Daniel that I needed a race or two in order to be mentally sane when going into off-season. My eyes were set on the Marathon de Lausanne, planned to take place on October 25.

Sessions on the Affoltern track were going well despite the little amount of running I’ve done this year until July. I registered for the half-marathon Swiss championships as well. A week before might not be super-ideal, but if I finish not too destroyed it’s ok, and there’s the non-zero chance that one or both may suffer from corona-related consequences.

The TVO team before the start.

On such a short notice, my preparation consists of two long runs only, one of 28 km progressive along the lake Léman, the second of 36 km steady the week after. Both feel ok but not super great, yet I’m quite confident that I can aim for 1h12 on the half and below 2h35 on the marathon. A week before the first race my shin splints start to get tense again, likely a sign that I’m now running a lot on little background volume.

The TV Oerlikon bahnchallenge shows that my speed is not quite there yet, it’s a lot of fun though. Combined with wearing chic shoes a whole day after that my legs took a real beating, and I am a bit less confident at the start line in Belp than two weeks before.

I thus decide to take the kilometers one by one, starting at a comfortable pace. While Michèle Gantner and Nicola Spirig started very fast on the first kilometer, they fade out very soon, and I am left with a small group containing training partners Donnino and Luca, as well as Martina Strähl as first woman (dethroned from her swiss record the day before by Fabienne Schlumpf). She’s pushing a nice pace until km7 roughly, which should bring us around 1h11. Feels relatively easy so far, I’m staying hidden.

First kilometer of a fast race.

It would turn out too fast for her as well, and as the group splits up with people trying to bridge the previous little group or fading, I’m taking some turns to the front but aim mostly at keeping the pace constant. At half-point in 35’40 (10km in 33’48), I’m still thinking I could push a little to get the 1h11, my goal B. Not much later I would be alone with Luca though, and uncontrollably losing seconds on the target pace. It feels like the winds is picking up, and I’m struggling a little.

Luca dragging me along.

By km 17 I have to let him go as well, and I have the far-from-ideal thoughts that I’d better finish nice than destroyed to run a better marathon the week later. As I now know, this wasn’t justified as it would get canceled a few days before the date (not without me going through a low-carb phase though).

Final stretch.

I cross the finish line, which seems to have placed just a little too far, in 1h12:33, wanting just a little more. There will be other tries.

Special mention to ckr for his last race, Ruben for holding his fast starting pace, Donnino for being able to negative split, Luca for running 17 km with me, Jamie for her amazing PB, and all the supporters who came along the course.

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TDFO 2020

Si la saison des courses est on ne peut plus incertaine, il en est une qui tient à cœur à tout bon triathlète de la région lausannoise, et qui a pu avoir lieu : le TDFO. Après l’annulation successive des camps d’entraînements du Rushteam, l’allégement du lock-down en Suisse fût le signe d’espoir que le comité pris comme feu vert pour l’organisation d’une nouvelle édition de la réputée balade cycliste.

C’est ainsi qu’à une petite semaine du départ, je reçois la notice WhatsApp et décide d’installer en 4e vitesse les roues carbones sur le vélo de contre-la-montre. Si on fait l’effort de rentrer à Lausanne, au moins que ça soit pour rouler en conditions proche de celles de triathlon.

Posé. Peut-être un peu trop... (toutes les photos par Sébastien).

Vendredi soir, la petite équipe se retrouve donc devant DPD à Bussigny pour un prologue modifié. Un peu plus long, toujours très plat. Si l’on n’entend pas la ruche des rouleaux d’échauffement sur le parking de départ, il ne faut pas s’y méprendre pour autant : il y a quelques gros diesels aussi ailleurs que dans les 40 tonnes qui sillonnent toujours la route du Moulin du Choc en ce début de soirée. Après un petit échauffement/repérage rapide, viennent les premiers départs. Étant placé presque tout à la fin, je pars alors que Philip a déjà bouclé un tour de son pensum (sur 2). Malgré quelques mésaventures avec son vélo, il semble tenir la forme. Je peine à clipper un poil au départ, et me lance ensuite à une bonne allure, tentant de poser la queue de mon nouveau casque profilé entre les omoplates, le tout en maintenant une puissance proche de ma FTP. Le trafic ne s’atténuant que trop faiblement à mon goût n'empêche toutefois pas de bonnes sensations sur mon effort. Après une boucle, premier check au passage : je dois être plus ou moins dans les temps de Phil. Lorsque je croise Daniel à nouveau la distance semble être légèrement plus grande, quelques secondes de reprises ? Sur le retour mes jambes s’essoufflent quelque peu, et à l’arrivée on me donne quelques malheureuses 4 secondes de retard sur Phil, une petite dizaine devant Daniel. Satisfait, même si parfois j’ai l’impression que j’aurai pu tenir le rythme plus longtemps, indiquant qu’il en restait un peu dans le réservoir…

Paraît que Chris Froome a appelé, sa potence était jalouse.

Samedi matin, l’étape reine en montagne se profile. Un peloton conséquent prend la route direction Apples-Ballens-Bière, où malgré la dé-neutralisation déjà passée les conversations vont bon train et personne de pose d’attaque. Ça ne devrait tarder, le petit creux sur Saubraz donne toujours une bonne occasion. Et c’est le maillot jaune sur les épaules de Phil qui se pointe à l’avant, forçant Josué et David à rouler pour combler le trou. Après la cuvette, les attardés (dont moi qui discutait de l’influence du lock-down sur le nombre de clients en physiothérapie avec Estelle) profitent de leur vitesse pour faire passer dans le rouge quelques-uns des athlètes. Les tempéraments se calment assez vite toutefois, et un groupe assez grand se rapproche de Bassins où les attaques se font attendre. Josué entreprend la stratégie de la montée au train asphyxiant, Philip semble faire du yoyo mais ne craque pas. Giorgio, Thierry, Enrico, et David sont encore là, mais l’accélération de ce dernier semble plus être le dernier souffle pour aller montrer le maillot qu’une attaque sévère en vue de prendre les devants. On se retrouve à quatre ensuite vers mi-montée, avec Philip bien accroché mais dans le dur, qui avouera à la fin de l’étape avoir profité du fait qu’il n’y avait aucune attaque sèche, lui qui préfère le rythme au train. Mauvaise tactique donc de l’équipe Rushteam. Josué pioche quelque peu, pas dans son meilleur jour, et on part à deux avec Daniel sur les derniers contreforts. Sur le replat au sommet une troupe de vaches (dont certains observateurs indiqueront qu’elles portaient un médaillon Magicrème) nous fait ralentir ne serait-ce qu’un poil et Philip revient dans la roue. Le jeu d’équipe s’inverse alors. Moi qui comptait rouler pour le laisser en chasse-patates décide de leur laisser se partager l’effort dans la combe des Amburnex. Josué est en poursuivant mais je ne le vois pas. Je passe mon temps dans les roulettes, « à compter les pâquerettes » (612 pour les curieux, soit quasi exactement une pâquerette pour deux bouses de vaches). Reste une petite bosse sur le Marchairuz, que j’attaque à 880 watts avant de finir autour des 400w sur le dernier virage, et la descente sur Bière. Daniel passe le col en tête toutefois, et s’élance confiant sur ses prolongateurs, comme si ces avant-bras étaient restés collés malgré le compteur approchant les 70km/h. En grand descendeur que je suis, je serre mes petites fesses et me penche sur mon guidon pour tenter de rester au contact, chose bien difficile. Je limite les dégâts sur la première partie, et rejoins même Daniel sur l’épingle alors qu’il est bloqué par un petit groupe de motards. Il me reprend toutefois une quinzaine de secondes sur la deuxième moitié. Ma descente est bonne, signe de progrès, mais pas encore parfaite.  Arrivé au fond, virage à gauche ralenti par une voiture, et j’aperçois Phil qui vient presque de boucher ses 40s du passage au col. Le presque est important, car un petit à-coup à 600w sur mes barres de contre-la-montre alors qu’il est en vélo de route me permet de conserver une longueur d’avance sur la ligne d’arrivée.

À la Migros de Bière, les cocas sont dévalisés à midi, et si le temps est encore au beau, les nuages noirs de l’horizon n’inspirent guère confiance. Daniel s’élance en premier sur le contre-la-montre de côte de l’après-midi alors que le vent se lève. Deuxième depuis la fin, je profite d’être sur mon Speedmax pour remonter pas mal de positions sur la première moitié vent de face au pied du Jura. Un peu trop peut-être, mais tant pis. En tournant à L’Isle c’est une file de Rushtistes qui s’aligne devant moi et que je me promets de reprendre. Virage sur Châtel, les premières gouttes se font sentir. Je croise David et Estelle qui renoncent à la montée. Je pense alors que ça n’est pas trop grave, car la vitesse est de toute façon réduite et les risques ainsi minimisés. D’autant plus que si Daniel est monté en premier, il nous faut alors faire de même. La pluie s’intensifie, les lunettes s’embrument, les orages tonnent à l’horizon. Puis viennent les éclairs, toujours à distance mais pas très rassurants. Les gouttes deviennent plus fortes, tient, il grêle désormais. Impossible de voir le compteur, et à peine la route devant. Sur mon 39x25 il s’agit plus d’appuyer assez fort sur les pédales pour rester debout que de jauger mon effort. Le temps ou les performances ne comptent plus, il est désormais question de finir. D’atteindre cette ligne d’arrivée virtuelle où Daniel attend tremblotant dans le froid que quelqu’un le rejoigne. Car en course, on peut se faire croire qu’elle indique une délivrance, et le chaud confort d’avoir fini son pensum sous la pluie. La montée traîne en longueur, il reste le passage « des Toblerones » (dont j’attends toujours l’explication du nom, au moins dans le Toblerone ça redescend après chaque raidillon…). Une fois au sommet, la prise des temps sera négligée, et échangée pour un chocolat chaud et une tarte aux fraises (priorités…). Les valeureux combattants se disant que c’est une étape « dont on se souviendra », digne de faire partie du manuel d’histoire des jeunes triathlètes suisses. Autre occupation : la lecture du radar MétéoSuisse. Oui parce qu’en fait de l’Auberge de Châtel, il reste 30km de descente avant d’atteindre la douche chaude de la maison à Ecublens. 30km sous la pluie, et un vent tempétueux, mais heureusement hors compétition et ainsi parcourus sans prise de risque aucune.

Le samedi sera célébré au petit resto Japonais de Morges. On y discute alors de ma prise du maillot jaune, confirmée par une photo de screenshot du directeur technique comportant autant de pixels que de survivants de l’étape, ainsi que de la tactique du lendemain des perspectives de carrière de chacun.

Classe la formation.

La nuit de repos était bien méritée. Enfin pour presque tous, une nouvelle recrue MétéoSuisse a dû passer la nuit à re-programmer un serveur de simulation pour garantir aucune goutte le lendemain. Une histoire de radar n’ayant pas la bonne inclinaison négative pour voir du crachin basse altitude en voudra autrement, et c’est sous une pluie fine qu’une bien maigre équipe s’élance le dimanche matin direction Les Clées. Si le nombre de participants est faible, leur vitesse est élevée, et à la pause déneutralisation c’est un vote quasi unanime pour faire l’étape originale et non un raccourci. Hier on pouvait se permettre de compter les pâquerettes, mais aujourd’hui on n’est pas là pour cueillir des marguerites. Les bons de sortie se font un peu plus présents, signe non trompeur de la fatigue qui s’installe. Toutefois c’est assez groupé que l’on rejoint la seule difficulté de la matinée. Josué et Enrico font le forcing, alors que Philip lâche un poil de terrain. Sur la descente annoncée dangereuse, il me reprend toutefois et fait crisser un peu les pneus pour rejoindre la tête. Si je suis décroché au fond, et tente de revenir, ils m’attendent car la portion était ‘neutralisée’. Un peu désolé d’avoir empêché Jo de faire un petit trou sur Phil, mais l’on se dirige sans autre attaque à cinq sur l’arrivée aux casernes de Chamblon. Le futur grimpeur de l’Everest en remet une, mais Daniel ira régler le sprint d’une aisance impressionnante. Le contre-la-montre final de l’après-midi promet.

Rien à redire. C'est propre.

Je pars dernier, en tant que porteur du maillot jaune pour quelques secondes. Mais à une minute d’écart, Daniel est trop loin pour faire vraiment des pointages. Il me semble bien rouler sur le plat, mais entre l’élan coupé à La Sarraz et à Cossonay, ainsi que les jambes mettant de moins en moins de force sur les pédales, je cale sur la fin, et laisse la victoire filer à Daniel qui remporte aussi l’étape. Phil se glisse entre nous deux, démontrant une fois de plus son meilleur aérodynamisme.

En résumé, très content d’avoir pu tester la forme sur le vélo en 3 jours avec les amis. Je roule bien seul, progresse (bien que gentiment) dans les descentes, et surtout soutient mieux des charges répétées par rapport aux autres éditions. Merci Séb pour l’accompagnement voiture, et Phil pour l’organisation !

1 comment
Super bien écrit ce récit!
par Jo the 10-08-2020 at 17:25

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Ironman Kalmar, new IM PB

Frankfurt’s rebound

Following the disappointment of Ironman Frankfurt, I wrote (https://besse.info/news/658-Ironman-Frankfurt-2019) ‘I’m not sure what comes next. Maybe another attempt later this year, at a colder place. Maybe not. I need a few days to digest.’ I was in France already, for the “Ecole de Physique des Houches” for the full month of July. Trying to process what just happened and how I would recover from it.

I recovered well, muscularly speaking at least. And I let Matthieu tempt me into a cycling race on the following Sunday. 135km with 5 alpine passes. A chilly rainy morning. Skipping breakfast to spend the day in good company (but barely exchange a single word). Maybe I needed that. I enjoyed it at least. Later Philip sent messages asking why I would start a new training bloc, if there was the option to go to the next one in Europe (well after Zürich, whose registration deadline was missed already): Kalmar. You may have never heard about it, but it is one of the flattest, and fastest, Ironman around. Known for its spectators, and cool windy conditions. I like my Ironmans like my dad like its coffee… cold!

So there I was, riding mostly within the Chamonix valley (as running was made harder with the slopes and swimming pretty much impossible without any pool nearby). Confident that biking is what I need to do most anyway. And cumulating 15hrs+ over the two weeks following Frankfurt. Not quite the typical recovery program, but I can afford it, thanks to having stopped early in the marathon. It was still a lot for my body though, and I was not in great shape when coming back to Zürich to watch the Ironman. 4 weeks went by relatively quickly and I was back home, though with a tense muscle on the right leg from some downhill trail running.

The short road to Kalmar

Then started what I called “the short road to Kalmar”. 3 weeks, the first two training, the last one tapering. One long jog at marathon pace over slightly above 32km. Rainy, drenched, no problem whatsoever (felt too easy). A bit of a swim focus for a few days. Mostly to convince myself that I was still able to swim. Two long rides (one from Zürich to Lausanne with 36km/h average, the second from Lausanne to Bern with 4x10min fast). And that’s pretty much it. I am less nervous than before Frankfurt. The weather forecast shows potential rain, but otherwise close to 20°C. All is set to go well (though as people say, anything can happen).

Having organized a flight to Copenhagen, we still wonder for a bit whether we rent a car for the 4hrs drive, or take the slightly faster train. I push for the second option, as more relaxing. Turns out destiny had planned another sort of travel: Swiss somehow booked 2 bikes on the return flight only, and a single one on the way to the race. ‘We have to check if we have enough space’. (I better hope so). I decide to pack my stuff in a big black sports bag, to which Daniel jokes at the airport, it may be a bomb. Then on the train from Denmark to Sweden, he claims to see the CIA agent from Homeland. And when we jump off to change train in Lund we learn that all trains northbound are canceled, as one station burnt down along the tracks. A bit stranded, and stuck on a non-responsive Swedish hotline, a fellow competitor tells us that replacement buses take no bikes with them. The car rental is the only option other than 3hrs taxi.

And thus we get on a coast road trip to Kalmar. 2 days before the Ironman. Music blasting to the Swedish radio hits. When we arrive there our local agent Sarah informs us how our room works, and gives a short briefing on the city surroundings (true James Bond’s style). Happy to have her take some part of the organization. Our room couldn’t be closer to everything (just cross the road to the start line, 200m from finish and 300m from transition).

A city living for its Ironman

City of Kalmar
The day before in Kalmar.

Pretty soon one thing is obvious: Kalmar is all-in for the coming Ironman. It might not be a big town, with a single Italian restaurant in the city center, but they planned huge tribune close to the finish line, music is getting ready, flags hung up along the main street as well as high up on the castle, shops open longer (and from 5am on race day), and plenty of yellow bags running around. We should go to our registration, as it closes in two hours. Skip the queue next to the AWA line (not even in the AWA line, sorry I’m a PRO). Come back and mount the bike. Grab a pizza (‘I can eat a ton of it’).

Not much on the plan for the day before the race. A short bike ride of about an hour to check the setup, and get the legs rolling (and wonder why the pedals stop working, and the Garmin freezes, all things you’d rather have the day before). Seems to have a good road surface, long straight lines and only tiny up/down gradients. The wind is blowing already noticeably, though as I expected Daniel claims it is “nothing to get out of the bars for”.

PRO briefing is done in barely 20min. Bikes checked-in with the bags. Time for a last nap and cooking the pasta for dinner. Tomorrow is the day. While I slept well and was relaxed the day before, the last night I only managed to get a 22h30-2h30 sleep before waking up every twenty minutes to check my watch and wonder if I’ll miss my start.

World-fastest swim

The swim in the Baltic see is an interesting one, and being so close to everything we have plenty of time to walk a bit along the harbor to see the final buoys being installed. As soon as we walk in the ramp the harbor starts to fill with spectators. The water is at a nice 19°C, not as salty as the Mediterranean. We have a few minutes to do some sprints before getting out. I look around (as I pee in my wetsuit), rarely seen such a packed swim start. Frankfurt comes close to give the same “surrounded” feeling. We get to the line with 3min to spare, and Breggren starts actually moving forward. One meter, two, five, Paul says something on the speaker, but there are no line nor kayak, and the motor boat does not dare coming close. Ten meter now, another athlete calls him out as everyone else (me included) joins his level. He decides to swim a little. Seconds later all PROs are 30m beyond the start and the organisers have no other choice but to fire the cannon and declare the games open.

As usual it is all out, going far in the see. I find myself again watching some feet disappear, slightly too fast for me, and hanging onto a next pair. Out and back, with current from the side. There is a bit of action in my group and I decide to not lead this time (I think I could have at some point). We get close to the harbor again. In a little altercation at the buoy I lose my swim cap (which I had placed above the goggles this time around, with another cap below). We are along the walls of the city, and as the currents and competitors push me I almost crash in the concrete a few times. Reaction? Push back a little, and do not worry too much. But it is a nice feeling to almost see feet in your head every time you breathe to the left for 200m. Later along the castle the water is more shallow, and the group extends a little. Less collisions, time to prepare to ride. Total time slightly below 49min (missing 130m on my watch). The first is far away with a world-fastest IM swim (course can make a lot, I know). Daniel gets second out of the water.

As the ramp ends up straight into T1, one needs to be fast to remove the wetsuit. But I did not race short distance and Junior leagues for nothing…

Fast windy bike

Bike reco Kalmar
Bike (course reco the day before).

Onto the bike as first of my group, it doesn’t last super long until the Öland bridge arrives. 40m climb to get to the top, a descent onto see level again, and about 5k in the crosswinds. I’ve seen people nearly crash their bike, and don’t feel confident on the bars there. As soon as we turn South onto the island it is less of a safety concern as the wind is head on. Strong but consistent. Riding 250W I manage, depending on whether a small forest yields some protection or not, between 32 and 37km/h. Not quite the 38+ I envisaged. I should stay head down, well positioned on the bike. And keep pushing. I stand once or twice but it doesn’t really help. I will be able to relax once we turn back … but that's not for another 45km. I feel like most of my group has passed me, and ride alone for a good while. Miles still go by quite fast. Speed does not increase. I start extrapolating to 180km, and clearly that is above 5hrs. Keep believing (and stay within reasonable power outputs)!

At some point the road turns left and we head inwards. A little climb, and a wind ¾ back. It feels weird to have so much sailing effect in the wheels. As usual there are here and there a small family, or a retiree with a frying pan and a wooden stick to cheer you on. Another left turn and we start the northbound fraction of the course. I consciously drop the watts for a while to recover, and yet a quick sight to the Garmin shows 45km/h. A little later a group of 3 catches up with me, and I think “now would be the time to hang on”. Still they are a bit fast. But a 4th is sort of slowly getting dropped by them and riding my pace. You’ll be my guide for the next kilometers. We’re at the 80km mark, and I am riding 240W behind this guy at 47km/h on a flat road. It really was just the wind. Extrapolating now is a whole other story, and 4h50 should be easily doable. I take more time to stretch and get out of the bars now that the apparent wind is very small.

On the second island crossing the wind is more noticeable. Both because the direction is 2/3 front now, but also because the wind is slowly picking up as the day progresses. The second bridge passage is also strong in crosswinds, especially the descent on Kalmar side. I wonder how the disc wheel people are doing it. Two thirds of the course are done by the time we ride again close to transition, and only the inland loop is waiting. After the first 15km that we had seen the day before, the course heads onto slightly smaller roads with more turns (and speedbumps in 30km/h zones, that I jumped on with 46km/h). By km 140 my tempo guy is standing and stretching and I take the lead. We have not always been very equal in efforts, and the distance varied between 10 and 40m, but it’s still 60km that we’re together. The flats are still flat but slightly less (if it makes sense), the straight are slightly shorter before comes a turn. The headwind on the way back, for the last 30km, is just as present as before.

Bike J-1 in Kalmar
On the bike course J-1.

We approach transition, all seems good to rock the marathon. 4h41 on the saddle.

You never know if you never try

As I enter T2 I see the orange dress of Daniel waiting next to the bags. It relaxes me. A bit sad to hear that he has to stop, but happy to see he’s clever enough to not even start running. Your time will come. Now it’s on me. Shoes in, gels packed, sugary drink in hand. Very happy to consciously let the running visor in the bag as the day is cloudy. Let’s go!

Daniel starts to run next to me. He wants to exchange a few words on the way to his white street bag. I am just too happy to run, and only tell him: ‘too fast’ (though I’m giving the pace). 4min/km, or a few seconds below. And I feel good. After the few out-and-backs in town, and heading out north, I start wondering if I am risking it all at that pace. Maybe, but “you never know if you never try”. Lots of people around the course, wind in the back, passing a few PROs that exploded (and the single AG that caught me on the bike). Km 7 is here before I can think about settling in a proper pace. A local triathlon club has installed a 10m long red carpet, balloons over the road, and a huge speaker blasting “ta, ta tada, ta tada tada tada, … I’m an albatroaz!” It’s true what they said, Swedes are encouraging everyone, not just people they know.

Marathon Kalmar
On the marathon.

The euphoria never lasts forever though. And the hard thing is, the return path to the city is against the wind, with more slight up/down underpasses, and with less people. I start feeling my right leg. Maybe starting on a 2h50 pace was indeed too fast. But now it’s too late. Time to hold, and find some salt…

What remains stays on the same track. Probably slowing down as the marathon progresses, though I looked at my watch once only (km 10, 39’27). Increasing pain and tenseness in the right leg, increasing the asymmetry of my running because of it. And causing blister and knee pain on the third lap. I won’t make it to the 8h30 despite my initial fast pace (or maybe because of it). But I’ll get pretty damn close!

Marathonn Kalmar
Keep running.

I am super proud to close in 8h32, with a 2h58 marathon. There wasn’t more in the tank for the last kilometers. 34 to 42 was a fight, despite the last music station claiming the “sun is shining, and so are you”. Sarah is directly with me for a medal and a coke, another volunteer brings me to medical for my blisters, and after a little to eat, a short massage, a bike checkout, a kebab, a look at my whastapps, …, I start to realize at the finish line party what a day it really was. I’ve long claimed 8h30 was a dream, and while I technically haven’t reached it, I convinced myself I can aim higher on a perfect day. But that is a story for another time…

Finish line Kalmar
Finish line with Sarah helping out.
1 comment
je t'offre volontiers un café froid ce week-end !!
par PA the 25-08-2019 at 22:17

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What it takes to be an ironman pro?

— A look at our bike weakness

Frankfurt and Kalmar DNFs

Jean-Claude already went into the details of our disappointment at IM Frankfurt which was supposed to be our main objective this year. It was a hell of a furnace and I totally agree with him: being a pro is also being able to try and say, “Today was not my day; I will try another one later”.  And while we are not full-time pro triathletes, and deciding to race Kalmar meant more investment than for others (like taking vacations from our 100% job), I am still convinced we took the right decision of not finishing in 9 hours or more on the last day of June.

Race-day on Kalmar
Early morning race-day wake-up in Kalmar.

So, then came logically the question of why Kalmar. The famous spectators? The great swim and run course for supporters? The fast course? No, we wanted one in Europa (less travel), not too hot, and not too late because the form was there already with Frankfurt’s preparation. Left on the list were Kalmar and Barcelona, with an advantage for Kalmar due to being earlier. And so we did our short transition from Germany to Sweden. Well, saying it went without troubles would be lying; Jean-Claude had to go to France for work for one month with complex training possibilities while I did not run at all and spent a few evenings at the physiotherapy for an inflamed Achilles tendon. Alright, Kalmar may be fast, but may also not be anything for me. Health is still the priority over an ironman and it is not THE race of my life that I have to finish at all costs. So yes, DNF is again an option. However, it also means I have more possibilities to try myself out and make a good training out of it. Jean-Claude will detail the race I guess, for me this was just an introduction to my point of today: How pro are we actually?

Race-day on Kalmar
Pre-start selfie in a refreshing atmosphere.

Barely pro by the numbers

If we follow the guideline of the Swiss triathlon federation, anyone in the 10% of the top-level worldwide athletes can ask for a professional license. So yeah, good for us, they only go by competition results, because with a 100% job (PhD in physics at ETH for J-C and microelectronics engineering at ACP for me) and no links to a national team or any structure from the federation, we would be pretty chanceless otherwise. Let’s see: an ironman winner in the 7h45 leaves us an 8h31:30 finish. Tight, very tight but not unachievable. Breaking it down:

  • Swim: 45’-48’ x 1.1 = 49’30-53’ (1’18-1’23 /100m)
  • Bike: 4h05’-4h10’ x 1.1 = 4h29’30-4h35’ (39.3-40 km/h)
  • Run 2h45’-2h50’ x 1.1 = 3h01’30-3h07’ (4’18-4’25 /km)

Compared to my typical time, the swim "cut-off" is quite easy to achieve (48’-50’ with wetsuit, 50-52’ without). The run one is doable if not too tired from the bike (at least on a good day, already did sub-3h in Barcelona, and 3h10’ or less has always been the goal even if not always achieved). But the bike is a whole different story, I started my ironman races considering a 4h50’ as too optimistic, more or less planning for a sub-9h with the 30’ on 8h30’ lost almost entirely on the bike. 40kmh on the bike was what I was looking for on an Olympic event and to hold the same on 4.5 times the distance and then run a marathon was an idea very far from me.

Bike frontal position
Frontal bike video one week before Kalmar.

Since then however, I have got Powertap P1 pedals with power, a Velocomp aeropod to analyze my position on the full event length, and an opportunity in Kalmar to compromise a bit my marathon if it has to happen, because anyway I will have to decide in T2 if I put the shoes on or not. And there it was, just like that, dreaming of 4h30 and making my thoughts on whether it will one day become a thing for me and not only for those extraterrestrial überbikers.

I did it

If there should be a single reason why I am happy I did travel to Sweden this week-end is that now I can confidently say that it is doable. After a freaking fast swim in 45’ and leading the first pack in the water, I did a 39.4km/h bike in 4h32’ on a flat and windy course. Sure, the conditions were there to perform great and it might not be the same on any course I will take part, but I did pace my race alone and was well into 40km/h average up to 140km and still very close to it when we include the last part with front wind and a lot of turns on smaller roads. Also, this time no one (me included) can put my performance on the group effect or on drafting. I was basically leading the first pack during more than half of the swim (with one athlete more than a minute ahead, the one who made the times so fast by forcing everyone to take a scandalous head-start on the start line by taking advantage of the fact that there was no line, no kayak, or no one saying anything when he started swimming before the gun). Then the bike resumed to me being passed by a lot of people too fast for me up to kilometer 30-40, sometimes trying to keep up with them but giving up when I saw my power numbers going up to 320W. Riding with another guy and a referee from 37 to 50 and then dropping him and finishing my ride all alone. Yeah, no drafting, barely any pacing from someone and a well-regulated pro race if everyone experienced the same (a big if).

What did I do?


Most of my thinking goes then to what changed or what I did differently such that it was made possible. I think personally that we have to go back a little and explain part of this in comparison to previous years and not directly trying to isolate this race. One thing we changed with Jean-Claude is position on the TT bike; once or twice in bigger steps (such as when we changed bike), a lot more times in ever-so-slight steps that the difference is almost imperceptible and the impact more-so unsure with all the sayings and contraries one can read on aerodynamics. The end result is nevertheless undeniably present and no one can deny that our position noticeably improved on the long term. My elbows got a lot narrower and lower than at the beginning and allowed me to have a tucked position with the head completely or almost completely hidden in the aero-shade of the back. I often have to think about it to hold the position but when I do it is quite nice.

Bike position pictures (pictures from Kalmar are finisherpix previews).


I was almost going to merge this point with the precedent about position, but somehow this is sometimes the (hardly-learned) difference between a nice position on a roller or in wind-tunnel and an aero position on an ironman. Öland, the island in front of Kalmar where the first 120k loop takes place, was windy Saturday; at least for our Swiss standards with Jean-Claude. A few years ago, I would have probably left the aerobars for the safer feeling in the drop-out position relatively often. This time, I just pushed more watts in the two main crosswind sections of around km 50 and 90, partly because I feel more in control when I can push on the pedals and partly because I knew tailwind sections would follow and allow me to relax a little. The point of a good position is to ride it. In Klamar, the only time I didn’t felt like riding it safely was for the very short descent of the bridge on the way back around km 115. Ideally, I would have had a bigger gear for this portion to be able to push and mentally feel safer; once in 180km is not a big deal though. À propos material, Kalmar is the typical course where I would have had a bigger chain ring and dropped the small one and the front derailleur if I had to optimize everything…


It seems up to now that I am putting everything on position and course, but in the end I still pushed some watts and it does come down to this. 273W normalized and 268W average to name it, not nothing in my opinion. And for once (maybe because of my mentality of not worrying about the marathon too much), I did not fear to push more on some portions and modulate them depending on tail-, cross-, or headwinds. If you ask me now, I have the impression that I almost went out too fast at the beginning and allowed myself too many portions over my wattage and speed goals. Some effort modulation is good when there is wind, climbs, or other course particularities, but it can cost you something in the end if exaggerated.

Room for improvement

Power, power, power. It is improving for us but surely not to the professional level. Boris Stein (who took the win and passed me on the bike) has reportedly said before the race that he planned to push around 350W to catch up on the faster swimmers and then go on with 320W. If the time difference is huge on the bike, the difference in power numbers is as well. This means just one thing, training; more and better.

There is another pattern however that came up both in Frankfurt and Kalmar: I get tired after 4 hours of riding. With me being more used to do long rides with the TT in training, the fatigue towards the end of the bike portion doesn’t show up all too much in the time, but it is a very clear felling for me that translates into me getting bored of the aggressive aero position and have more and more the tendency to get out of the aerobars on every small climb or curve to stretch and change the stress on the legs muscles. I am not yet 100% sure what it is exactly, I suspect simply muscle fatigue and boredom of the regular effort without changes in the position; some may come from energy levels and nutrition as well though. If I don’t have a straight solution for this, the end effect is very clear in that I spend too much effort in the end of the ride to keep up the pace at a critical time just before the marathon. Until now, this turned out better than it seems as the massive change in muscles being used from biking to running made for a better-than-expected feeling at the beginning of the marathon. I would still consider this a problem that would be nice to fix. This pattern was up to now purely based on feeling, but it is also clearly recognizable on the wasted watts plot by the aeropod.

Velocomp Isaac wasted watts
Wasted watts export from Velocomp's Isaac software for the bike in Frankfurt. I get more and more tired and out of aerobars with the duration of the ride.

What now?

One of the reasons of this post is to vent about not being able to race Kalmar and answer all the people who congratulated me and told me not to be upset about not finishing. While I find it very nice and thoughtful, I must say I did not find it too hard on myself to give up in T2. I took the decision fully conscious that it would probably mean that I am not going to finish an ironman this year, but prioritizing the recovery of my Achilles tendon made much more sense at the moment, just like not forcing an overheat on my poor body made perfect sense in Frankfurt. I love racing ironman (I wouldn’t for the money as I am a pro spending to race), but ironman is not everything and none of those two was a race I had to finish so bad that I would put the result over my health. So first and foremost, get healthy and running pain free again.

Nevertheless, running 1.6km with Jean-Claude after a 10 minutes break in T2 felt nice and I even felt like I could talk although the pace he set at the start of his marathon was way too fast in my opinion (targeting 2h50’ or below). Therefore I believe that this tiredness at the end of the bike is still somewhat linked to the bike position and, if I can solve it, running a 3 hours marathon after biking a 4h35’ or the like is possible. It is easy to say it like that without having done it, but this is my key outcome from Kalmar and I am very happy to have done the travel there to have confirmed this. Very happy, I am of course for Jean-Claude as well, who seriously put into danger my record time from Barcelona and got oh-so close to 8h30’, which he always told me was a long term goal but probably not achievable that soon for him. Every couple of minutes now is a matter of details, and we still have a lot of those to tune in perfectly. Somehow it also means taking more risks as we are clearly racing to the fastest time our condition allows rather than racing to finish. If that’s what it takes to race pro, I will continue like that (well, without injuries…) because I like feeling like a pro and shooting for the best.

Links to activities

And because there is nothing better than checking by yourself instead of trusting someone relating his impressions, here my data for both races in Frankfurt and Kalmar. Any comments or analysis welcome!

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Ironman Frankfurt 2019

The heat awaiting us in Frankfurt this year was probably as big as my excitement for competing against the strongest field of any non-Kona race. And with the winners of the last 5 Ironman World Championships, that means a lot.


We travel to Frankfurt with Jamie and Daniel on Friday morning, just in time for the PRO briefing. After that we eat a big pasta portion, as part of our carbo-loading that follows the carbo-depletion on the beginning of the week. I am somewhat less nervous than before my first experience in Frankfurt in 2017, but still looking forward to the starting gun. The temperature feels ok, but that is because Friday is a good 10 degrees colder than the forecast for race day. We get our bags and bib numbers at the expo, I buy a very thin full cap (I typically prefer visors but plan to put ice below it this time). There’s a lot of ‘do you want to chat with our PRO?’ kinda stand, to which I am always tempted to reply ‘yeah but do they want to chat with me?’. Gold bracelet means a few funny looks from age groupers that are trying to figure out how the PROs do it. As Sarah True was saying, ‘we’re just winging it with a bit more confidence, because for a PRO DNF is an option’ … And I thought not for me.

A laughably large amount of food.

Then with the full support crew present we get a ridiculously large dinner (the kind that would make Lionel Sanders proud), and one last long night of sleep. On Saturday after an easy morning we bring our bags to T2 at Mainkai, bike the first portion of the course backwards towards T1 at Langner Waldsee and drop the gear off there as well. A quick one kilometer swim by 25 degrees water and 35 degrees air temperature. I am ready, as much as I could be. But the mercury supposedly rising a bit more on the following day is a bit frightening. Feet are hurting on the warm sand. Even the shade is sweating hot. Time to go back to the hotel.


On race day, after a quick shuttle ride, the official water temperature is announced at 25.2 C. No wetsuit allowed, as anticipated. We arrange a pump to get the tires ready, fix the last nutrition on the bike, check the gear bag, and soon move towards the start line. After getting the swimskin on and a short warm up, it’s time to get to the line. My plan was to probably let Frodo/Lange get away, and stay with hopefully a fast second group with Kienle. I get on the first line, and wait for the gun. The public is already on fire, almost closing off the way into the lake, until an official pushes them around. People on the sand, in the water, on boats, everywhere. I love Frankfurt.

As soon as the gun goes the PRO race is underway at an incredible pace. Competitors passing me on the run into the water, and an unbearable speed for 200 m to the first buoy (going straight). One pair of feet could be ok, but slightly too fast, and the next guys on my right seem more at my tempo. It’s still mostly straight out without looking much, we’ll settle and adjust on the way back. As we turn though, I realize that I have only one person next to me, and I’m almost left to set the pace. Not a good sign. Or maybe just swimming fast? It’s so hard to tell, the sun is blinding us. All the way back of this first 1500 m loop is against the rising sun, with no way to see where I am going. I end up in the shade once (strange!), look up, and realize a buoy is literally a meter in front of me. Oops, go around… Positive sign is I should still be on the straight track.

I then lead a large group towards the australian exit, hopefully the second. Swimming straight out until I can stand, because it’s impossible to find that arch, and no kayak is waiting for us (I knew I should be able swim in the first pack). Out, and back in, I notice I lost my right contact lens, but one is just as good as two no worries. An athlete swims a slightly bit faster on the right, so I get on his feet. The first group seems far away already, not very reassuring. Impossible to really say where I stand. From there on he gets lost, and I push the pace of my pack with many hands rubbing my feet. Stupid guys, couldn’t you swim fast in front of me instead?

Start of the second lap after the australian exit.

Another color of cap in the water, could it be a woman catching me up already? No, there’s a beard. We’re on the final stretch and getting ready to get out of the lake, as the sun climbs up continuously. On the sand, quick look at the clock which says 54 min something. Was hoping for a 52, but I might have started it a bit early. Nah a little slow, but whatever, the Ironman is still long to complain about 1-2 minutes. In T1 Kienle is long gone however, turns out there was no break in the first pack (except for two individuals including Frodeno), not the best race tactic for me. I really should be swimming faster. On the positive side the women are close to exiting the water only after I take my bike, Imo and Sarah didn’t make up much more than 2-3 min on my time.


Onto the bike it is. As we reach the semi-highway leading back towards the city center, many of the people who swam with me pass me and form a small group. I push 280 W but see the gap forming. The quads are hurting a bit already, not super good. I thus decide to settle down to a more reasonable 250-260 W. Before reaching Frankfurt I loose visual contact already, and eat my first gel. The pace is ok, the road smooth and fast, the spectators encouraging. But boy I never felt that alone. About 30 km without seeing anyone. Just me, and a large empty road. From the first aid station it’s always water on me, iso in the front bottle, and more water on me if I manage to be fast enough. The pavé section is much more rough than I remembered, but nothing moves. I lost one bar before that already, that was the extra one. But let’s keep it in mind in case I need to pick up a gel somewhere.

The way out goes pretty fast, and by km 55 the first cyclists start to pass me again. Together with Imo tucked in behind another PRO male. I can finally pace myself to someone. They are riding fast however. Especially pedaling much stronger in the descents than I typically do. Uphills are not so hard though. After close to 20 km with their pace I decide to let go, and settle in my own pace again. Drinking very often (about 1 l/h of iso), eating every 30 km, and getting as much water as possible on the body to cool down. Starting from km 90 I also keep one water bottle at all times with me, just to spray myself 2-3 times in-between every aid station. Heartbreak hill is magic.

First Heartbreak hill.

The wind slowly picks up though. And it feels always against us. I start to feel the heat, and actively look for every bystander with a garden hose to ride against. I get less concentrated and more out of the bars. And then I also feel something strange in the left eye. My contact lens has dried up and is detaching. Shit that’s the only one left. I turn my helmet visor up to access the lens, but don’t really know how to wet it again. I try putting it in my mouth with a bit a water, and then pick it in my finger and try to place it in the eye again. Another aid station comes up, I have to hurry before losing one more fluid opportunity. In the process the visor falls off, and the lens gets lost in the wind. We’re on plan B (ie ride km 120-185 by memory). It’s a good thing it’s my second lap. I will go back to non-astigmatism lenses from now on, as the new batch seem to get lost easily (despite correcting my vision slightly better than the standard myopic ones).

Aero ride.

Not much to say otherwise. I am a bit more careful, get more often out of the bars (but mostly due to fatigue, not vision), push less watts on the pedals, and don’t fear too much riding 65 km/h without seeing very clear much further away than my aerobars (don’t worry, I can still see big features like other cyclists – I was happy to know the turns however). Sarah and Skye overtake me towards the end of the bike ride, together with the first AG. I am slowly dying of heat oppression. My thoughts oscillate between giving up by T2 or enjoying the start of something other than biking.


I take a little bit more time in T2 to get the things right. Many gels in the pockets, sunglasses and full cap, shoes correctly on (as the feet will get soaking wet through ice and sponges). I start running. Maybe it’s not that bad. The 700 extra meters of shadow are definitely welcome, despite us laughing about it before. At all aid stations I take (minimum) shower, salty water, iso (2 cups often), 2 cups water, 2 cups ice, 2 sponges. Sometimes also a gel, or a banana piece. A salt stick once. Despite all that, I just cannot keep my body cold. Everything dries super quickly, and the heat is just oppressing. I’m not feeling well. I don’t need to look at the watch to know that. The concrete is hot, heat accumulates.

You can feel the heat just looking at pictures.

Gianna gets me a pair of correcting glasses (I know, not allowed). I get some time to think. At this first lap's pace, and slowing down slightly, I could finish in a 3h30 marathon, with a heat shock, far away from my plan, not winning anything, well above 9 hours. Or I could take the PRO decision of staying healthy, recovering faster, and concentrating on the next one. There’s no slot to go take, I’m too far away. There’s no PB to make, the conditions are too harsh. There’s no first one to finish.

And that’s why I took the decision which was not an option until it was the only logical one: DNF.

At an aid station a volunteer sees me and says: “Der braucht Wasser nee. Es ist doch klar er ist am überheissen.”. And I can’t help but think he’s right. By the next time I meet Jamie, km 16, I tell here to come to the aid station 100 m further down, and stop. Long cold shower. Tears is the eyes. It’s obvious that I should stop, but forcing myself to do so is mentally very hard. Stopping while being technically able to continue is not something I do.

I sit in the shade, and then get into the red cross tent next to the aid station, since I’m also coughing quite bad (from the effort, cold drinks, ozone, or a mix of it all). Nothing bad, just 30 min to relax. At this point it’s clear I won’t see the finish line. I just can’t look at people in the eyes saying it yet.

We walk to the athlete’s area, meet Robin who came to support as well as the rest of the family. Daniel was lost on the tracker, and gave up also about one lap after me. We never liked the heat, and the 38 degrees are just too much for us to handle. I didn’t want it bad enough to finish like Sarah (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnTUBuxlK1s).

I’m not sure what comes next. Maybe another attempt later this year, at a colder place. Maybe not. I need a few days to digest. A huge thanks to anyone who came to support, sent messages, or shared some of the trainings: you have been amazing!

Salut JC,
C'est toujours un plaisir de lire tes CR ! Même si celui-ci ne se finit pas par une happy ending, ne dit-on pas que l'on apprend toujours plus dans la difficulté et les défaites ?
Sinon, franchement bravo pour la course. Malgré les conditions plus que compliquées (Pourquoi les distances n'ont elles pas été réduites par l'orga comme à Nice où il faisait pourtant moins chaud ?!?), je suis persuadé que tu as (et Daniel aussi) pris la bonne décision. La plus difficile à prendre. Mais celle dont tu pourras te nourrir pour la suite et pendant ton prochain défi que j'ai hâte de suivre ! (D'ailleurs, pour être sûr de ne pas avoir trop chaud ... IR Wales !!! 15 Septembre !!! Une course au frais avec un vélo pour costaud ... Je dis ça, je ne dis rien !)
Tout de bon pour la récup et bien sûr pour la suite.

par Simon the 05-07-2019 at 11:59
"Pourquoi les distances n'ont elles pas été réduites par l'orga comme à Nice où il faisait pourtant moins chaud"

C'est très discutable. Pour nous, ça ne nous convient pas bien, mais je ne suis pas convaincu que ce soit une raison suffisante pour forcer l'organisation à changer l'épreuve. D'autres athlètes seraient probablement déçus (comme à Nice, ou ici en Allemand pour Frankfurt https://pushing-limits.de/triathlon/till-bloggt-hitzefrei-langdistanz-ist-kein-kasperle-theater/) et nous-mêmes, on pourrait l'entraîner ou adapter notre effort.

Cela dit, c'est la même chose pour la néoprène ou les températures froides de l'eau (que je préféreraient nettement), mais là on joue à fond la sécurité parce que c'est de la natation.

par Daniel the 05-07-2019 at 16:47
Ca doit être tellement difficile de participer à un Ironman dans de telles conditions et tellement frustrant de ne pas franchir la ligne d'arrivée après tous ces efforts... :-( Je souhaite que lors du prochain Ironman tu puisses arriver au bout de ta course et que tu en tires un énorme plaisir ! BRAVO pour votre magnifique parcours à Daniel et toi, vous êtes deux très beaux champions !
par nibel64 the 23-07-2019 at 13:57

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Tapering has begun

Today (Thursday) was a rest day. The first in a while, and, contrasting with the last few, not directly before or after a race. I suffered on the hard run on Friday with 6x6 min tempo, died somewhere in Thurgau on Saturday morning’s long ride, passed with colors the 6x6 min on the aerobars on Sunday, and breezed through the 4x3 km on the track on Tuesday. (A few swims completed the last training block, but Ironmen don’t really talk about swimming, right?) After a few easier trainings yesterday, the tapering has now really begun. It leaves you with that odd feeling of being tired, feeling the legs recover slowly from the accumulated charge, as well as another voice in the head hinting that you should have done more. But, with Frankfurt Ironman coming in 10 days, how much did I really do?

The numbers

If I were to put the 170 days of 2019 elapsed by now, it would look like this:

My (rough) hours repartition of 2019.

Now we’re not here to talk Quantum Physics (nor my 8-hours-a-day sleep quality), so let’s zoom in the triathlon numbers:

2019 stats







Nb training












Moving time
























12 hours a week is probably on the low side if you were to ask anyone for an Ironman training plan. Let alone starting as a PRO. But that’s as much as I can put with other commitments. Compared to other years, it fits in quite nicely with the last 4 years since we moved to Zürich (except bike mileage in 2016, which was surprisingly low). As for my debut in Frankfurt 2 years ago, as well as in Zürich, I get just over 4’000km on the bike in before the start of the race, or per week about half of the 300 km that Ironman suggests to “bring all athletes over the finish line safely (not guaranteed)”. Well I’m hoping to do better than merely that…

What awaits

Frankfurt being historically always European Championships means you can only await a massively deep PRO field at the start on the shore of the Langener Waldsee. And a quick look at the first part of the 59 registered doesn’t disappoint:

Nice starting list you got there!

Having our name next to the 1-2-3 German combo, that represents all Kona victories in the last 5 years, is simply an honor.

Of course, in ten days, when the gun will go off, the race won’t be any different. Except that there will be this special electric feeling so particular of Frankfurt, getting to line up many of the best athletes against each other. There in the pack I will be, and I look forward to that moment. The current tapering will stretch off slowly for another week, some of it while avoiding carbo-hydrates, a later portion just gorging on as much as possible. The travel to Frankfurt, the briefing, the check-in, will all be moments reminding you that you’re in this. And then you get “placed” in the hands of the speaker. The gun going off is really a relief. You are simply starting for a “long day in the office”, one where (hopefully) you can show all the efforts of the year (and before). Just picking up the pay-offs. It’s always hard to think about it that way, but so helpful. Because going full distance is not about what has to be done on D-day, but during all the lead up to the start line.

This is now done. Almost nothing will change in my fitness in the next couple of days. I just need to be clever, and do the job.

Thank you, best training partner!

The race

A little preview, based on my memories of 2017:

Before sunrise, we will sit silent at a last real meal for the day (or maybe for a couple), already mentally in the race. Take the shuttle to the lake and T1, worry about forgetting something, what if xy goes wrong?, check anxiously whether the bikes survived the night (as if all of the other days they can but not now), put on the swimskin (likely, the water temperature being too warm for PROs already to wear a wetsuit - the heat wave of 32-34 C announced for next week likely confirming that), and sorta waiting for the start without needing much warm up.

Once the start is given, it’s a first few hundreds a bit too fast (can’t really avoid, those PROs are so fast I sometimes feel last in the water), before settling in the right pace. While Daniel will likely hang on to the leading group, it is rather unrealistic for me (I maybe could, but the huge extra effort is probably not worth it). There is an Australian exit after about one third of the way, where suddenly there is noise, familiar voices, and a blood rush to the legs again. Gets you out of the steady-pace, but I like it. You feel in the middle of something big ; a quick look back shows close to 3k people in that lake. I just hope there will be a fast-ish second group I can tag along, instead of making my own pace as in Barcelona and Rapperswil. That would help drafting a bit, and orienting with other people. Potentially fast women may catch me at this point?

Once out of the water the second time, and onto the bike after a sandy climb, it’s a fast stretch on a semi-highway towards the city center. Men PROs exiting the water with me always start way too fast for me (and trust me, I’ve tried on 70.3, 300 W is clearly not enough). My Ironman tempo will be close to the last Barcelona race (242 W avg, 254 W NP), maybe just slightly more aggressive. Climbs controlled, they are relatively short and not super steep. Hydrate more and eat better is something I try to remind myself every time (and still fail here and there). Two loops, with extra detour where the 2017 course used to take it short, adding up to 185 km (instead of 176 km back then). It will be tricky to beat my time, but I believe my position is much better now. Just trust the training process. In case of down times, or doubts, eat!

Once off the bike, which I often look forward to, it’s time to run. Not too fast, just a steady slower-than-the-easy-3k on track this week, yet somewhat hard after tens of kilometers. That’s the fine line to aim for, which should stay at around 4’05-4’15 /km if all goes well. Heat management potentially, the marathon being run in the warmest hours of the day. 4 loops, lots of people around, much more time and occasions to see our beloved supporters. The finish line getting closer. Trying to enjoy, or make it shorter to get it over with. Whatever brings you over the line. Fingers crossed, I'm excited!

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Ironman 70.3 Rapperswil-Jona

Two weeks between two halfs is enough. This is at least the bet we did with Jean-Claude this year in planning our preparation towards Ironman Frankfurt. Our reasoning was that, worst case, the second one might not be perfect but it would have us do two long efforts and brick days we would not be able to reproduce at that level in our usual training. And just like that we ended with a short transition between Barcelona and Rapperswil. A few days easy (but not completely off), a week-end primarily focused on biking, a last interval on track on Tuesday, and finally a short carbo-loading would fill two weeks that went by faster than we thought. Except for a little cough caught in the last few days and the temperature predictions being way too warm for my taste, I feel ready and recovered. Seeing me eating, some would say I have the racing-potbelly, but I see it as having the fuel required to perform well; all in all, it is just a matter of confidence.

Rapperswil is close enough for us to go by train on race day. Our bikes are in transition since Saturday afternoon and the race briefing. We only have to pump the tires one last time, check that everything is ready, and joke with friends to release the tension (it’s great to race close to home). Comes then the time for a little jog along the run course, before putting on the sleeves of our trisuit and all of our wetsuit, which are respectively S and M-Tall: you never get too compressed in those and at least slightly smaller ones tend to fit better. By the time we’re done, it’s 15 minutes to go-time. We wish the colleagues good luck and leave for a swim warm-up in the lido as we were refused access to the lake. The pool is so crowded that we limit ourselves to two out-and-backs and a small pee stop (yeah, sorry, but in the two categories of triathletes, I’m in the one that pees in the wetsuit, not the one that lies about it). The actual temperature of the lake will therefore be a surprise till the very last minute, but I don’t really care or stress about the cold anyway.

Pre-start vibes with Hervé.

And there would not have been a reason to worry. For a second after jumping in, the water feels refreshing and I seamlessly forget about its temperature as soon as I start turning my arms. As pros, we have to swim to our start line a bit ahead on the course compared to the rolling waves of amateurs. No time too spare or wait once there though. The speaker leaves us to the orders of the starter even before all have joined the line stretched by two boats. It is only a matter of seconds before we are freed and start the fight for the best draft. I have the impression to be a bit too much on the left and hesitate somewhat between following the guy on my right or the one even more left (which seems faster). Eventually, it won’t matter much as they rejoin on the first straight and I try my best to keep up with the last feet of this group all the rest of the swim. I neither feel my sore throat nor any fatigued muscles, all is well for now (and although I didn’t know during, I am very well placed, not much behind the lead, and with Manuel Küng next to me).

Bike Daniel
Start of the second lap.

Jumping on the bike is another story however. Well, to be precise, jumping on it and the transition itself went quite well this time, and I can start the bike without troubles just behind Andy Böcherer and other überbikers. It’s afterwards that the difference in biking levels gets obvious. I will be rather on my own all of the bike course and won’t see these guys for long. The legs also don’t feel quite as well as in Barcelona, which means it will sooner than hoped get to the point where it is a mental game oscillating between “push more watts” (watching the numbers from the P1 pedals and complaining internally when they drop below 300 on the flat) and “get more aero” (thinking of the small Velocomp Aeropod device and the analysis of its data that will come later). With the accumulation of kilometers, this gets more and more difficult as the coughing starts to catch me again. My solution is to force myself to drink more to get rid of it; not sure whether it really helps, but it seems the best I can do at this time. I also hear my back wheel slightly touching the brakes when I get up in the climbs (and will find the quick release open while checking out the bike in the afternoon, was it already loose during the race?).  All in all, I close the bike portion maybe one minute slower than last year. Not too bad considering the bad sensations, but not the improvement I thought I could demonstrate here.

Run J-C
Jean-Claude on the run.

The story repeats itself on the run. I start at a reasonable pace (not way too fast like in Barcelona), but can feel straight ahead that this is not as easy as it is supposed to be. Having drunk so much on the second half of the bike and with the heat of this first summer day of 2019, I get a lot of trouble in breathing. After 2k only, I feel stitches and get very tense in my whole body. Thankfully this feeling fades as Fabian Dutli overtakes me and I can just take him as my pace-maker. Sometimes it feels easier, sometimes it really hurts, but I am decided not to leave him a centimeter because the pace would seriously drop if I had to go alone. This will go on until km 11, with water, ice, or iso at every aid-station and a gel at km 7 (second one in my pocket is for km 14). At the aid-station on km 11, he stops to better grab some stuff while I simply keep the exact same pace. Again, I am on my own (at least for the pace, two or three athletes overtake me, but I can make it up by gaining another one or two places). The very last kilometers are a real fight. Thankfully, no one gets close enough to dispute my 13th place in the PRO category and I can roll to the finish line in what feels like the most ugly running technique ever (and mine can be quite bad).

Run Daniel
Daniel on the run.

4h05 is shown on the clock: exactly the goal I set myself before the race. Thinking about my feelings during this whole race, I ask myself how it is possible. Sure, it was far from unreachable as a goal, but somehow it is weird to feel bad and achieve it anyway. Then I think of the Daniela Ryf or Ronnie Schildknecht left behind me and I start to convince myself I did well anyway. Don’t let these feelings get hard on yourself; sure, it would have been better and more reassuring to have a great race. But this was a good one! In the long run, I will always prefer a good result with bad sensations to its inverse.

Now, this was the last race before Frankfurt at the end of the month. Until then awaits us some recovery for maybe 4-5 days (again active, not nothing), followed by a good 10 days to 2 weeks of load and some longer sessions, bringing us to the gradual tapering of around 2 weeks before the 30th of June. I will need to define my goal more precisely (currently hesitating between 8h30, or 4h30=40km/h bike) and analyze more precisely the data from the power meter and aeropod to see if the recent focus on aero really pays of as much as I think it does. Numbers will follow, and who knows, maybe more changes and improvements. You never stop learning.

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