Daniel & Jean-Claude Besse

Natation Vélo Course

News: Compétitions

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.
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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?

Position

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).

Confidence

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…

Power

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.

Preparations

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.

Swim

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.

Bike

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.

Run

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!

3 comments
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.
A+,
Simon

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

 

Swim

Bike

Run

Other

Total

Nb training

71

81

80

21

253

/week

2.8

3.2

3.2

0.8

10.1

Moving time

55h04

159h56

76h39

14h06

305h47

/week

2h12

6h23

3h03

33'

12h13

Distance

207.3

3904.4

994.2

77.3

5183.3

/week

8.3

156.2

39.8

3.1

207.3

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
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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Ironman 70.3 Barcelona

Ça monte tu dis ?

Après la période printanière de courses sur route, arrive enfin la saison de triathlon. Pour une fois, notre saison n’a été planifiée concrètement que sur le tard, sachant que nous voulions faire un ironman complet aux alentours de juillet voire fin juin mais sans plus de détails jusqu’à février-mars. Peu de pression, la licence pro nous permet des inscriptions de dernière minute et la possibilité d’adapter notre programme à toute éventualité. L’idée est toutefois de profiter de cette licence pour faire deux 70.3 officiels de préparation avant cela ; et le premier a eu lieu le week-end dernier à Barcelone (suivront 70.3 Rapperswil-Jona la semaine prochaine et ironman Frankfurt le 30 juin).

Vendredi en fin d’après-midi, nous volons vers Barcelone, vélos paquetés avec sagex, néoprènes et autres affaires de compétition comme protection. Nous sommes en catégorie light avec un seul bagage en cabine à côté ; le weekend est de toute façon court et ne contient pas d’autre activité que la course en elle-même. Musique dans les oreilles et dodo. Une fois atterris à El Prat, nous faisons tous deux la même remarque : pas vu passer les sandwichs et chocolats Swiss. Qu’importe, le sommeil y est plus important, et galettes de riz et maïs remplissent les trous du sac à dos pour l’attente des valises et du bus qui nous mène vers Callela. D’ailleurs sur place, nos esprits sont très vifs à avoir repéré un restaurant italien pour le souper quand notre chère hôte AirBnB nous guide sur les 200m qui nous séparent du logement. Un coup d’œil bienveillant dans les valises suffira pourtant pour ce soir, il est déjà tard et la panse repue, nous fonçons dans notre lit.

Au réveil du samedi, nous nous occupons des vélos ainsi que des achats de nourriture supplémentaires. La météo est comme elle le sera tout le weekend, fraîche et humide, route mouillée mais sans pluie le matin, tandis que quelques beaux mais courts orages éclatent l’après-midi. Vers 10h nous nous élançons sur un repérage du parcours vélo. Ce n’est le même que sur l’ironman complet d’octobre que sur quelques kilomètres au départ avant de dévier dans les vallées et parcs forestier sur la droite de St-Paul. A voir le profil sur la carte et les zigzags fréquents, le parcours risque bien d’être plus compliqué qu’originalement pensé. Trois bosses à faire sur un tracé quasiment jamais plat. La première (et troisième aussi du coup) en aller-retour avec une boucle au milieu pour passer la plus élevée. Nous prévoyons aujourd’hui de gravir cette première bosse (sommet au kilomètre 20) puis de revenir au départ et retrouver notre programme manger-dormir. Si le début dans un vallon est fort sympathique et presque bucolique, l’attitude change sur la deuxième partie. D’un faux-plat montant ou nous dépassons groupes de cyclistes les uns après les autres, cela devient subitement une montée de col presque avec deux français, l’air très pro, qui nous dépassent et nous font transpirer la moindre sous notre pull Rushteam longues manches. Ouais, ben, si ça c’était la facile, faudra y mettre les watts demain, et adapter la gestion pour pousser dans les montées parce que les descentes ne le permettront pas tout le temps.


Daniel à la reconnaissance du samedi

À fond mon gars

Rien de spécial à signaler au briefing du soir. Même en pro, on s’habitue vite aux prouesses de Paul Kaye, et aux slides qui défilent avec plus d’avertissements sur les mauvaises prévisions météorologiques que sur ce qui m’intéresse vraiment. Le truc, c’est justement que t’es pro: quand tu te lèves le dimanche matin, tu sais ce que tu as à faire. 5h, ça semble au final même pas si tôt et le temps est largement suffisant pour rejoindre la transition à pied et finir les derniers préparatifs. On croise aux vélos ainsi que dans la tente de transition, un certain Jan van Berkel (revenant de blessure) ; Jean-Claude lui aurait piqué sa place la veille avec ses sacs, dossard 30 ou 33 qui sait. On sent alors une certaine nervosité dans l’échange :

  • Vous prenez un gilet ou des manches ?
  • Quoi ? Non, pas le temps pour ça
  • Mais vous avez vu la météo
  • Ouais, fait froid mais pas tant que ça… et c’est une course
  • Vous savez, je dois m’entraîner demain encore moi !

Alors qu’il s’assied sur le banc à côté et sors visiblement l’app météo sur son natel, nous partons de notre côté sans plus mot direction le parcours course à pied pour un mini-trot. Dix minutes plus tard, après avoir réfléchis chacun pour soi un moment, on se regarde et dit avec Jean-Claude : « Tu crois qu’il est juste pas sûr de lui ? ».  Qui sait, la seule conclusion du moment est que les pros sont au final comme les autres, stressés, incertains, et impatients que les esprits puissent se défouler sur les quelques heures de course devant nous.

Comme dirait Jean-Claude, moqueur de la pub ironman sur l’enveloppe des dossards (« If you made it till here, just take one step further, then another… » sur un fond de départ natation depuis une plage; JC: « and then at some point, swim »), la course commence par de la natation. Pour moi, ça a tabassé la moindre mais pas trop jusqu’à la première bouée ; un peu plus de peine à trouver le bon rythme et pris de l’eau complet dans l’œil gauche (satané sel, on m’avait prédit un choc d’eau froide, elle est bonne mais le sel ça pique et ça n’a pas bon goût), rien de plus. Virage de 90° à droite et depuis là, je suis un groupe de deux dans les bulles des celui de gauche. Ils font un peu de zigzag-sandwich (s’écartent, je rejoins un peu par le milieu, puis se resserrent et m’enferment) qui nous laisserait un peu de marge de progrès, mais avancent malgré tout pas si mal. Et au moins je suis fixé jusqu’à la sortie de l’eau.


Jean-Claude à la reconnaissance du samedi

Bien sur les barres, quand on peut y être

On m’annonce alors 8e et je passe pour une fois une bonne transition jusqu’à mon vélo avec même le temps de rincer la bouche avec une bouteille d’eau. Là, j’entends le speaker annoncer Jean-Claude et Jan sortir ensemble de l’eau ; petite surprise, j’ai pas mal d’avance, non pas que je m’attende forcément à la tenir. Top 10 ce serait parfait, top 15 plus réaliste, j’aurais très certainement des fusées qui me passent à vélo. Une bonne transition sur ironman n’est toutefois pas encore pour aujourd’hui. L’élastique de ma chaussure gauche a lâché et en tournant, elle se coince bizarrement sur le cadre. Je m’arrête complet au moment de monter dessus et la remet en place à la main. Voilà alors que je sors le scratch velcro de sa boucle en faisant la manœuvre. Je le remettrais quelques hectomètres plus loin en roulant. Mais j’ai vraiment perdu l’habitude et l’assurance pour faire ça smooth (devant là où tout le public s’était amassé en plus).

Bref, c’est parti et plutôt pas si mal. La première partie avec position aéro interdite ne me plaît pas trop (et n’est pas respectée des deux autres sortis avec moi), mais une fois sur la principale, je peux foncer. Les jambes et la position sont là. Les sensations bonnes. Et l’envie de pousser aussi. Avec le temps, la peur de devoir gérer un semi c’est gentiment estompée, maintenant je veux juste être aussi bon que les autres autours de moi. Dans la première montée, j’ai bien l’impression de l’être par ailleurs. Je dépasse un autre concurrent mais sinon ne croise pas grand monte jusque dans la descente derrière. Un groupe se forme alors, entre celui qui freine trop devant (plus que moi) et ceux qui sont un peu fous derrière (plus tard je verrais un vélo devant un buisson et un photographe descendre de sa moto dans le talus derrière). Tout derrière, je mange une barre sous les yeux d’une moto (arbitre ou photo ? pas sûr). Je tiens sans trop de problèmes le rythme jusque dans le prochain village où un trou se forme en milieu de groupe. Je dépasse les deux derniers lâchés mais ne reviendrai jamais sur les autres qui s’engagent encore plus vite que moins dans l’approche de la deuxième montée. Véritable col, je ferais celle-là seul au monde, avec des regards fréquents sur mon compteur pour les kilomètres (combien avant le sommet ?) et les watts/vitesse (sérieux ?! 440W pour 17km/m, ça donne pas l’impression de monter autant).

Le début de la descente derrière est très mauvais. On a été avertis, mais les inundable aux milieux de racines et dans les virages, je m’en serai passé. La tête de mort au spray avant un virage dont on ne voit pas la sortie est aussi une méthode de signalisation bien intéressante. Heureusement, on nous a dit également que dès qu’on change de route pour la principale, c’est tout bon. Et là, ça fonce. Faux-plat descendant interminable où je me fais plaisir. J’ai l’impression d’être super bien en position et de pouvoir malgré tout appuyer correctement sur les pédales. Traversée de village à plus de 50km/h en passant les gendarmes couchés marqué 40km/h sur les barres et levant un peu le poids de la selle. Quelques habitants devant leur maison et des policiers aux gilets jaune, je me verrais presque dans un grand tour cycliste.

Sur le retour, Thomas Huwiler me reprend et si je peux m’accrocher un moment, je dois finir par laisser partir dans la montée. Le groupe que j’ai aperçu pas loin derrière sur l’aller-retour pour traverser l’autoroute ne me rejoindra pourtant pas ; j’avance toujours bien. Le seul souci à signaler est que j’ai pris ma boisson à la légère. Je n’ai pas pris de gourde à 60km, sûr que j’avais encore de l’iso devant, pour remarquer le contraire pas loin après. Pas trop grave par cette météo fraîche, mais à ne pas répéter.

Course de bulldozer

Voilà déjà Callela qui approche et la transition course à pied. Je prends mon sac au moment où Thomas quitte la tente pour ses 21km, selon sa forme soit il court un bout plus vite que moi, soit je l’aurais. L’idée n’est pourtant pas trop de se fixer sur lui, et après un kilomètre en 3’25 à le suivre des yeux de loin, je prends la sage décision de me fixer dans mon rythme. Je ne suis pas pour autant fixé sur un tempo particulier mais plus sur les sensations. Je ne regarde la montre qu’à 5, 10 et 15km (17’30, 36’30, 54’45). Les sensations ne sont pas excellentes au début, avec le tendon d’Achille gauche douillet et la cuisse droite aux bord de la crampe avec la tendance à tendre le bas de dos. Je peux malgré tout emmener un bon rythme et ai du plaisir à courir avec un peu plus de spectateurs autours.  La cuisse finira également par se détendre gentiment, et, après un passage un peu plus difficile énergétiquement parlant, j’ai même l’impression d’augmenter le rythme au fur et à mesure des kilomètres. Le style n’y était probablement pas, les pieds rasant les sols et un pas lourd ; la technique bulldozer quoi, c’est pas forcément beau mais tant que ça avance, on n'en demande pas beaucoup plus.

Après 1h17 pour mon semi, je rejoins l’arrivée content. 12e pro est tout à fait dans ce que j’avais prévu. Mes temps natation et course sont plutôt bon. Et même si mon vélo est « lent », le parcours ne se prêtait pas aux 40km/h de moyenne que je voudrais bien atteindre sur ironman. Mais Frankfurt étant plat, qui sait, peut-être que ce n’est que partie remise.

PS : et oui, ça fait quelque part un peu bizarre d’aller seul avec Jean-Claude à une compétition comme ça, vaguer en ville le soir ou le lendemain à l’aéroport sans trop savoir quoi faire et n’avoir d’encouragement quasiment uniquement de gens qui lisent (plus ou moins bien) ton nom sur le dossard.



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SOLA Stafette

Samedi 02 mai 2019, 8h00. Le départ de la 46e édition de la SOLA est donné à Irchelpark, et sans le savoir nos efforts de la journée rendus vains par un léger oubli de notre première coureuse, celui de prendre un témoin avec elle. Oubli dont l’équipe se rendra compte au moment du passage à Daniel sur la deuxième étape, affrontant Tade sur 14km. Alors qu’il arrive à ne perdre qu’une dizaine de seconde sur le marathonien vedette, je suis encore tranquille à la maison au petit-déjeuner. Ma journée ne commence qu’à 13h23 d’après notre plan, pour la 9e étape que je connais bien.

Tout d’abord il me faut aller laisser un vélo à Zumikon, revenir en bus sur le zoo, et m’échauffer sous une météo relativement maussade. La légère grêle s’arrête bien vite, et la pluie est encore bien fine autour de midi. Les whatsapp s’enchaînent, notre équipe s’en sort pour l’instant très bien face à l’imposante armada des Brownsche Spaziergänger XXXS. Reste à tenir les cadors à l’écart sur l’après-midi, une tâche s’annonçant difficile malgré les 5min d’avance du matin. Je suis engagé face à Fabian Anrig, qui m’a tout de même battu sur l’étape 9 à chaque édition précédente, ainsi que plus récemment de presque une minute à Uster sur 10km.

Peu importe, sur un jour tout est possible. Je dépose mes affaires dans le camion, enfile les Nike 4% recousues pour essayer d’éviter les cloques, et fait le point de la situation avec les collègues du TVO. Possible sous les 40min ? Je ne sais pas, c’était le plan à Rubén, mais il me paraît très (trop) ambitieux. Je ferai de mon mieux…

Une fois dans les blocs, je souhaite une bonne course aux autres, ainsi que Fabian, et attend sagement mon coureur. Une bonne minute qu’Urs Schönenberger (vainqueur de l’étape précédente) est arrivé, Fabian a déjà reçu son témoin également et couru quelques 300-400m, que je reçois le témoin de Marco et attaque gaiement mon pensum en 6e position.


Passage de témoin et top départ.

Après quelques centaines de mètres Rubén est le long du parcours, 1’12 à essayer de conserver. Rapidement je remonte en 3e place, l’étape est vallonnée mais pas très dure jusque vers le km 9. La tête baissée et sans vraiment compter les forces restantes, je pars presque faux dans un virage pourtant bien indiqué. Rester concentré. Trop de distance devant malheureusement, pas possible de tenir Fabian à vue. Je m’efforce donc de passer les bosses bien mais sans trop forcer, et de relancer fort derrière. Ce qui m’avait paru dur les années passées. Mais là tout va bien, les jambes répondent présentes et semblent voler sur les routes forestières. Je reconnais les passages d’un côté à l’autre de la route, et sais ainsi évaluer l’effort restant sans trop réfléchir, ni jamais regarder la montre.


Premier kilomètre.

Petite descente un peu plus tranquille vers le km 4, en laissant bien dérouler. Fabian en vue dans la clairière. Pas pris grand-chose, ou même perdu un poil. S’il me fallait de la motivation, en voilà. TV Oerlikon, on tiendra un instant de plus ! Ça remonte derrière, mais c’est progressif. Désormais une moto me suit, et je vois le 3e placé (de l’après-midi) peu devant, perdant du terrain rapidement. Rester serein, dans mon allure. Je ne joue pas directement contre lui. Km 7, petite descente, serions-nous en approche de l’arrivée. Non je confonds, il reste le ravito évidemment, suivi de la partie plus raide. Il me semble être suivi, mais ça doit être la moto. On ne joue pas la place, mais le temps devant. Donc feu gaz sans s’occuper de regarder derrière. Rien pris au ravito, j’aime décidemment bien ce temps frais et couvert. Pas de pollens ni de grosse chaleur. Mental au beau fixe.

Se forcer dans la montée plus serrée et raide, elle n’est pas longue, et si on a juste de quoi relancer derrière c’est gagné. Re-aperçu Fabian pas si loin devant dans les équipes lentes. Moi aussi je commence à dépasser souvent, et ça me vaut quelques encouragements. Jamais de problèmes, les routes sont larges. La fin approche, le moment de jeter les dernières forces dans un kilomètre en descente, effectué en 2’53. 11km100 et un peu plus de 200m de déniv, je trouve Nina Brenn pour donner le relais, et stoppe la montre en 38’50.


Descente vers l'arrivée d'étape.

De la peine à croire ma Garmin. C’est bien 3min plus vite que mon record sur le parcours (couru 3x en 2e étape il est vrai), moins d’une minute plus lent que le record de Chrigi ! Cela sera le 2e meilleur temps de la journée, mais quelques 44s de reprises sur Fabian, mes rêves ne faisaient pas mieux.

A peine le temps de prendre des nouveaux habits chez Jamie, ainsi que mon sac dans le camion transport, que je pars prendre le train pour Egg, rejoindre Daniel, Sophie, Jost, Philippe, Adi, et autres coureurs de l’étape 11. Et oui, mon labo aussi fait la SOLA, et il faut le représenter aussi. J’ai une petite heure pour enfiler deux gels et une gourde d’iso, changer de t-shirt, et re-partir de plus belle. TVO1 a déjà perdu un peu plus de 3min sur une longue étape, c’est dur de voir Armin prêt comptant les secondes s’égrainant lentement.

A venir, une montée sèche sur Pfannenstiel dès le premier kilomètre. Tommy en supporter annonce 40min de retard sur la tête. Oui enfin je compte faire remonter un peu mon équipe mais pas autant… Je défile à côté de beaucoup de concurrents dans la montée, mais remarque que les jambes sont un peu plus défiantes lorsqu’il vient le moment de relancer dans les portions moins raides. Ça côte jusqu’au 6e, qu’il paraît. Les kilomètres défilent, un poil plus lentement que le matin, mais tout de même ça avance bien. Je bois un poil au deux ravitos, et tente de reprendre une jolie foulée dans la longue descente qui m’attend.

Inattendu, c’est le petit chemin naviguant parmi racines et escaliers le long d’un ruisseau. Pas la meilleure situation pour descendre tombeaux ouverts, mais on fait avec (et avec de fréquents ‘Achtung links’ aussi). Une petite bosse sèche sur la fin, et l’entrée dans Zumikon avec 50min48 à la montre, soit à peine plus que prévu (50min estimées).

Je pars chercher mes habits, et retrouve quelques coureurs du TV à la tête un peu dépitée. Je pose la question attendue : « on est passé 2e total ?». Pire, disqualifiés à cause du témoin de ce matin. Et l’équipe 2, qui pouvait viser un podium, s’est trompée de chemin. Fin de parcours pour les espoirs du team. Je suis tout de même satisfait de ma forme démontrée aujourd’hui, bien meilleure course que cet hiver sur route j’ai l’impression.

Reste à rentrer sur Irchel à vélo, détrempés par une averse de pluie et grêle. A attendre grelottant notre finisher et passer la ligne en 2e position, mais ne pas être classés. A se réchauffer aussi bein que possible sous la douche. A féliciter nos concurrents au podium. A partager bières et souper avec les collègues. A se dire que malgré tout on a bien pris du plaisir. Et à espérer un meilleur résultat l’année prochaine.


Une des table du souper...



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Championnats suisses de 10km Uster

Samedi 23 mars avaient lieu les championnats suisses de 10km sur route à Uster, auxquels nous nous sommes présentés avec Daniel. En néo-locaux, c’est un trajet à vélo qui nous amène au départ par un temps beau et relativement chaud pour la saison. Pendant que les femmes élites courent, nous saluons les connaissances romandes ayant fait le voyage ainsi que alémaniques accompagnant nos entraînements ces temps. Place ensuite à un petit échauffement et rejoindre le peloton massif mais rapide (bloc à sub 36:00).


Stratégie ?

Une fois le coup de pistolet donné, la tension se transforme en quelques poussettes et beaucoup de départs trop rapides. La route n’est pas super large pour la densité. Étant parti en 3e ligne, je commence à zigzaguer pour remonter quelques places avant de réaliser que ça ne sert à rien d’investir des forces à ce moment-là. Le groupe s’étire assez vite, et c’est légèrement sous les 3’10 que le premier kilomètre est franchi. Les avant-postes se détachent déjà malgré tout, Daniel semble intercalé, Fabienne en seule femme invitée chez les hommes élites emmène un solide paquet. Je m’efforce de laisser un peu de distance, et me réjouit de prendre mon propre rythme dès le 2e kilomètre.

Les places se remettent à jour quelque peu avant de stabiliser vers le 4-5e kilomètre. Il fait effectivement déjà trop chaud à mon goût, sans être super dérangeant non plus. Mes jambes manquent un peu de pep pour les relances par contre. Un effet du long run progressif le dimanche précédent ?


Daniel / Jean-Claude

Après 7-8 kilomètres je remets un léger coup d’accélérateur, le record personnel pourrait se faire, mais limite limite. Pas regardé souvent la montre. Dans la dernière ligne droite aucune réponse du moteur, malgré l’impression d’avoir encore de l’énergie en réserve.

Je franchis l’arrivée et stoppe la montre à 32:51, soit à la seconde près le même temps qu’en 2018 à Oberriet (ou plutôt, que mon souvenir. Mon record se trouvait être 32:53). Satisfait du chrono et de la gestion, mais déçu de ne pas être allé autant au bout de l’effort que l’an passé. Sur les résultats, mon chrono net se trouve être une seconde meilleur, satisfaction !

Daniel a lui une minute d’avance, aussi un record personnel, avec une gestion de course moins affinée (toute la stratégie déjà investie à Payerne ?). Et tous les deux se trouvent sous la limite pour les championnats du monde de cross ;).



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Camp TVO et 10km Payerne

Camp du TVO à Fuerteventura  

Sur à peu près le même principe que l’an dernier à Lanzarote, j’ai participé cette année à nouveau au camp de février du TVO ; destination Fuerteventura pour une dizaine de jours axés principalement sur la course à pied. Pas question pour autant pour moi de ne faire que de la course à pied ; je finis par connaître au fil des années mon tendon d’Achille délicat et mon corps tout simplement pas habitué à courir tous les jours et encore moins deux fois par jour. Ainsi, je prends mon vélo (enfin mes vélos, le contre-la-montre pour moi et le route que je prête à Manuel avec qui je partage la chambre) et compte rouler de manière régulière. Mon programme au jour-le-jour est simple : 7h30 entraînement de course à jeun (souvent rythmé), suivi d’un copieux déjeuner au buffet. Puis vers 11h ou midi, un tour à vélo entre 50 et 100km (souvent sans trop forcer). Le diner se fait alors plutôt léger comme pique-nique en chambre, parfois pas avant 16h. Ensuite, selon les jours une séance de renforcement, de natation, ou de chaise-longue pour passer le temps avant le souper. Une bière terminera alors la journée et permettra de clore les discussions du jour ou de peaufiner le programme du lendemain.


Entraînement sur piste au soleil.

Belle allonge, bonnes sensations.

Course en groupe.

Tout aussi simple est le but pour moi dans ce camp : suivre le plus possible les autres sur les entraînements. En course, derrière les Chrigi, Manuel, et Sami, il me faut parfois pousser la machine, mais les jambes répondent toujours ou presque à merveille. J’ai l’impression de fatiguer lorsque le footing dépasse l’heure, voire l’heure vingt, tandis que j’ai des sensations excellentes sur les intervalles plus courts, comme par exemple sur les deux séances sur piste où les tours défilent plus que mes jambes ne veulent le croire (« quoi ? déjà fini » est un si beau feeling). Quant à vélo, c’est moi le pro sur le papier et par conséquent celui qui est censé prendre le vent ; et vent, il y a ! Les deux premiers jours, celui-ci nous mène d’ailleurs la vie dure au point où je reste parfois en dehors des barres pour garder l’assurance de maîtriser ma machine. A mon plus grand plaisir, plus les jours avancent et plus la raison pour laquelle je reste les bras écartés est de faire du drafting pour mes collègues. Mentalement, là réside mon plus grand palier : je n’ai pas hésité à prendre les contre-la-montre comme vélo pour une semaine et ai tout du long apprécié ce choix ainsi que la position et le feeling sur les barres. Les faux-plats de cette île des Canaries ainsi que son vent nous ont tous les jours donnés l’occasion d’avoir au minimum une section rapide pour goûter aux joies de la vitesse ; 75km/h que j’ai aperçu au maximum en position aérodynamique, quelque chose que je n’aurais pas osé il y a quelques années encore.


Tour à vélo.

Bref, mis à part une petite chute lors d’un échauffement à pied (mal réveillé ?!) qui me vaudra un peu de sang dans les mains, un camp sans soucis et qu’avec du plaisir. Je supporte désormais également plus facilement cette charge, sans ressentir trop de pression d’en faire toujours plus, et peux ainsi tenir sans avoir de gros faible physiquement (ou maladie qui ressort) ou devoir trop faire de repos en rentrant.


Gainage sur synthétique pour finir la journée.

10km Payerne

Pour confirmer cela, je me suis ainsi mis en tête de participer aux 10km de Payerne, une semaine après mon retour seulement. Pas de gros objectif de temps (battre le PB sera pour les championnats suisses le 23 mars à Uster), mais quand même l’envie de tourner autour des 32’ et prendre par l’occasion une revanche sur Schlumpf. L’idée n’est toutefois pas de faire de tapering juste pour cela ; la semaine est par conséquent encore assez chargée sportivement (notamment, séries sur route mardi, rouleau mercredi, séries sur piste vendredi et 80km de vélo samedi). Si tu crains que les jambes ne soient pas là, et bien, tu n’as qu’à compenser par la tactique et suivre intelligemment Fabienne et son pace-maker ; et les poser à la fin naturellement !


Départ dans le peloton.

Et qui a un plan l’exécute ! Après un échauffement avec Matthieu, David et Estelle, et quelques allonges je suis prêt et pour une fois pas stressé pour deux sous sur la ligne ; sans point d’élite, je suis en troisième ligne (derrière plusieurs dames et hommes qui poussent), sans me faire de soucis ou avoir l’envie de forcer. Les choses se décantent alors rapidement et les yeux fixés sur Fabienne (heureusement elle est grande et reconnaissable), je prends rapidement mon rythme. Ça semble trop facile quand je me prends à réfléchir à ma respiration avant même le premier kilomètre. 3’10 au panneau, c’est pourtant parfais. Sur la ligne droite de la plus grande route, j’estime alors être dans un troisième groupe et vers la 30e place ; qu’importe, le chronomètre ne se trompe sûrement pas et j’ai meilleur temps de faire une course progressive plutôt que de forcer maintenant. Sans trop le vouloir, je passe malgré moi devant le groupe et me retrouve à tirer un bon kilomètre dans ce qui me semble être une course d’attente (mais une fois encore, « attendre » à 3’10/km ça me va). 6’20 au 2e kilomètre, je retourne me cacher une fois le virage à gauche fait pour suivre le long de la rivière et attaquer le vent de face. 9’37 au 3e, ça se ressent tout de suite. Les relances sont là par contre pour Andreas Kaempf (servant de lièvre pour Fabienne) et, au fil des hectomètres, le groupe se réduit au vue d’œil pour ne finir que lui, elle, et moi au passage du 5km en 16’02. Je cours alors en parallèle à côté d’un des deux depuis un moment, ayant toujours l’impression de dérouler. Dans la tête, je me dis alors que c’est un peu lent pour un 32’ puisque je m’attends à ce que les kils 6 à 8 soient les plus venteux et m’occupe à réfléchir à quand est-ce que je pourrais bien attaquer pour les poser. Aucune de mes intentions ne transpire pourtant (contrairement à moi) et je me cache à nouveau derrière pour profiter de l’aspiration. Je suis bien (trop bien ?) ; voir les autres concurrents qu’on rattrape sans cesse ne fait qu’aider un mental déjà au beau fixe. 22’30 au 7e kilomètre, on n’est pas si mal en fait. Si passer devant ne serait probablement pas facile à ce moment, derrière je suis plus qu’à l’aise. Enfin, jusqu’au panneau du 8e. Alors, Andreas sort un petit encouragement en Suisse-allemand et se retire subitement de côté laissant Fabienne dans le vent. Ni une ni deux, je dépasse et remets un petit coup d’accélération, non sans jeter un coup d’œil pour être sûr qu’elle suive. Rendre ce qu’ils m’ont aidé serait sympa et la prendre avec moi pourrait permettre qu’elle relance à son tour ensuite si je cale. Un kilomètre bien dur s’en suit avant qu’on ne rejoigne Maxime Fluri et que, comme espéré, Fabienne en remette une couche. Je m’accroche alors tout comme Maxime et arrive même à faire une dernière accélération au finish pour m’imposer contre eux deux. 32’02 selon Datasport… après qu’ils ne me prennent dans leur mini-bus et fixe un temps arbitraire à la main « un poil plus rapide que Fabienne » puisque je n’ai pas pris le départ dans leur software. Pas de record personnel pour moi ni pour elle, juste une bonne indication que celui-ci peut, voire ceux-ci peuvent, tomber le 23 mars prochain.


Dernière ligne droite pour le finish.

8e overall et 3e M20, je suis surpris presque mais ça confirme que bien gérer le tempo aide énormément et qu’on a fait que de dépasser dès le 2e kilomètre. Le seul point qui me gêne est que j’ai toujours cette impression, après une course gérée selon le plan, de ne pas avoir suffisamment essayé d’aller chercher plus ; cette sensation de ne pas avoir su souffrir. Reste juste à ne pas lui donner trop de poids avant les championnats suisses, car c’est la recette pour exploser au deux-tiers.



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Ironman Barcelona

People are often quoted saying “never again” at the finish line of an Ironman. Zurich 2018 was somewhat different for me, straight ahead claiming I wanted to race another one in the same season. Not that Zurich was terrible, but it wasn’t at the level I wished it to be, and I had at heart the desire to show something better. It didn’t take long to have Daniel on board, and after briefly considering Emilia-Romagna and Wales we settled onto Barcelona early October.

Barcelona is one of the fastest course ever, and also the second biggest Ironman race in terms of participation. Only downside, there might be a lot of drafting (though it isn’t always obvious how it will turn out among the PROs in front).

From one IM to another

Barcelona being just over 2 months after Zurich, it leaves times for recovery, a (relatively long) hard block of training, and tapering. Thus not just riding on the fitness wave, but also potentially improving it. I felt like the small interruptions with holidays, military and conference in June prevented to show full potential at the end of July. The stomach pain on the day was also unfortunate, but those are things you might have to deal with at an Ironman.

Off we went and trained, with 2hrs on the week following the Ironman, but already 10+ in the next ones. Uster triathlon was great, and after a tough block (with two days off work) the following week-end, it was rather tired and doubtful that I joined the start line in Murten.

Remained a few long rides, one or two key sessions on the track, and time for tapering. Times goes by quickly. I tell everyone before the race that I am way better prepared, but doubt when Daniel says I should aim for 8h50-8h45. Only race performance is a true indicator of your shape.

Airport
Airport selfie #chillin'withmymuffin.

On Thursday the travel is a bit rough (good thing we opted for an early flight), with over 7hrs delay. I am happy Daniel keeps the mood “chill”, we’ll make it to race location (Calella, roughly 60km north east of Barcelona along the coast) and did not plan anything else anyways.

Lead up

On Friday we mount the bikes (first time with the TTs), and get to test them on the first and last 20k of the course. My legs are just rolling, the pace is steady fast, and Daniel tells me to keep quiet when I ask whether we should do some race pace intervals. Turns out we were riding close to race pace already – it felt so easy.

After a quick PRO briefing we are joined by the support team (Nadine, Gianna & Jamie). Remains a few carbo-loaded meals, a short jog on Saturday morning with a few race pace (and faster) strides, as well as dropping the bikes and bags in transition on Saturday afternoon.

Before race jog
Before race legs shake out.
Bike drop
Bike drop.

On race morning we are greeted with lightnings, stormy rain, big waves and the likes. Not the ideal conditions, but it is supposed to calm down by the time we get out of the water, and at least it’s not super hot like the last two ironmans. Apart from a last minute need-to-find-a-charger emergency all is good.

Morning
Race morning shower.

Swim

Let me introduce the salty washing machine: 81 PROs, beach start, sun barely rising at the horizon through heavy clouds, and waves climbing to the spectators’ feet along the shore. Contrary to rough conditions on the bike, this doesn’t bother me here (rather opposite, I was keeping fingers crossed the swim would be kept as planned). Once the gun goes, it’s a few meters of running until getting knocked down by the first wave, and swam over by the guy behind me. Boom, boom, let’s get this fight started.


Swim start video.

Until the first buoy it’s bumpy to say the least. I also lose my googles thanks to someone’s misplaced foot. After the right turn I re-settle but after looking ahead the first group is gone already, and I find myself pacing the second pack (a huge one by the way).

The rest of the swim is rather uneventful and boring. Waves so high you don’t see the next buoy on most of the sightings (but often trust the foam ten-twenty meters ahead of the lone guy in-between packs). The water being relatively shallow, and us swimming along the coast means it won’t get better at any point. Not worth fighting it, just go with the flow. One concurrent always tries to go past me, but fails. I wonder if I should let him pass or not. On the other hand I am not really getting tired at that pace.

Only question: which one is the buoy at which we need to turn around? Very often I don’t see the next one before having done half of the in-between buoys distance, guess I’ll just trust Ironman for putting different ones there as they promised (they did).

Once out of the water a quick glance at the watch shows 53min. Could be better, but not so bad. I guess the distance to the first pack is bigger than usual. A quick run through showers to get the salt off, pack the suit with some gels (on top of the on-bike ones), and eat one biberli already.

Bike

Once on the bike and the shoes fixed, we have a first three-kilometer stretch in the city of Calella where aerobars are forbidden, due to the road being narrow and bumpy. Out of that portion and onto the coast road, I get passed by a few people, despite my Garmin showing above 280W. Calm down, JC. The plan is to take the bike easy. I might lose a few minutes, but will more than make that up in the run. 250-260W it is, slightly ambitious but if I don’t burn too many matches it should go smoothly (and since it’s mainly pancake flat not burning matches should be easier than in Zurich).

Another few people pass by, all way too eager to make up lost time in the swim; I don’t try to stay with them. Some rolling hills in the first part, that changes a bit from the very flat announced course. I do not regret that. I still mostly feel like I am waiting for things to happen. Kilometers go by quickly - we’re talking about 38km/h average. The road is clear and wide, fully closed to traffic. At some point I see people in the other direction already; it must be the first of the two new “climbs”. I meet Daniel right before a sign that say “U-turn 500m”. Not so much delay then! Turns out - as I confirmed by looking at the GPS on the second round - that sign was 1.6km away from the actual U-turn…

Aero is key
Aero is key.

Semi-highway back and forth, before attacking the actual highway for the second climb. Power goes slightly up to 280W, the pace stays steady at around 30km/h for most of what a Swiss athlete cannot seriously call a climb. Again the U-turn is just randomly along the road, and no official nor timing mat seem to be checking that people actually go up to there. Weird.

For the second time I meet Daniel, as well as the first two women slowly but surely closing the gap behind me.

I still ride completely alone, and this from km20, until the 65km mark. There a media motor bike catches up, and sure enough while staying next to me or slightly behind he doesn’t point his camera towards me. That can only mean one thing: Laura Philipps is tagging on to my pace. No change of plan on my side, still aiming at 250W. Not long later another PRO man passes in front, at which point I realize we are 5 with the first two women (not sure who brought who back onto me). An official on the motorbike is also there, but rather making space for the media and making sure no one draft Laura and Yvonne than giving cards it seems. People are fair, and ride at 10-12m in general (except at the rare roundabouts). The pace is a bit less steady, as I will realize later the leading guy has gotten carded already and trying to gain some time before stopping at the penalty tent.

We are already reaching half-way, and I keep eating as much as possible. No bonking today! Daniel seems to be in a tighter more crowded pack with many of the people who passed me in the first 20k, and gains distance quickly. Doesn’t seem like he has much choice, whereas we do.

Daniel bike
Daniel starting his second lap.

On the start of the second lap Yvonne lets some gap build up, which I bridge in two hard fought kilometers, but otherwise I am just tagging onto their pace without gaining much aero advantage. In the aid station and start of the climb the pace is relatively slow, I move up to second position in the pack, but decide not to take the lead. I am still on plan for 4h45, better run a great marathon than dig into the sugar reserves now.

At the top Laura notices Yvonne in pain 100m back, and decides to put 300W in the descent. Chopfedammi-***! I push to stay with (partly out of the bars sadly as not super confident at 60km/h), then need to brake as the motos don’t really know where to stay, sprint again to regain speed. Not ideal, thus I decide to let a little gap build up and smoothly get back into the wagons at the final turn (the train decreased in size to 3 though).

Once at the final U-turn I am very confident on my energy reserves. A bit less about the rain drops that start falling. Laura pushes hard again, after having recovered for 20km behind the other guy. I stay with them, but the rain that falls more and more heavily starts to bother me. They are very cautious in the turns, but push really strong in the straight lines along the train tracks. At some point around km155-160 I let go. I am on my own again, just wishing the rain would stop and I can switch to running.

Bike end
Going into T2.

The rain will stop eventually, but not before a heavy 5 minutes where riding 47km/h on the bars with back wind is not super reassuring to me. I feel like I lost a bit my will to push, and the watts (as well as my average time on the bars) drop until reaching transition. No biggie, the last 3k are again treated with caution out of the bars, and 4h48 for 181.5km is where the computer stops.

Run

In transition I take a bit more time than usual, eating half a honey waffle, packing all the gels in the trisuit (since no personal aid is allowed contrary to Zurich), and drinking my own iso mixture. A 3-hour marathon is the plan, and that should take us at 8h45 or just above.

The first steps are very reassuring as the legs feel great, and the very cushioned 4% shoes bounce nicely in the packed sand. I was worried in the days leading to the race that this road in-between transition and finish would not give back, losing energy by slipping; turns out it’s very enjoyable. Gianna asks if I am doing well. She’ll just get a quick sign, but yes all is good (I add ‘for the moment’ nevertheless). First kilometer already, sub 4min, let’s slow down the pace.

After the second kilometer also below 4 minutes, I finally settle into a pace that seems very controlled, at around 4’05/km. The first part along the beach is nicely running through spectators, with some shadows, and the sun partly hiding behind clouds. After a small out and back, we go below the train tracks to a long stretch towards Santa Susanna. I realize after the race that it is probably only 1.5km, but feels much longer due to it being exposed, fully straight, and without any spectator.

Anyways soon later I reach the 10k mark in a flattering 40’09. My Garmin shows slightly less distance, and consistently so over the marathon (to finish in 41.9km). The race hasn’t started yet. It’s a bit like Lucerne, by 10k it should sound like a joke. I smile when I hear Jamie saying “great pace” (I know!). My left foot is already dripping blood since the kilometer marker 8, but oh well – it’s a problem for post-race JC (in-a-race JC couldn’t care less about post-race JC’s worries).

Run
Smiling in the run.

After one of three laps I tell myself that I am on a good track. We’re above one third of the marathon, and yet I still keep myself from running faster; running in a controlled way. The speaker announces my name, along some “keeps flying” comment. It’s true that I catch a lot of concurrents in the process.

Not much to say for the next bit. Still on track with one gel about every 5km, iso every second aid station, and as much water as possible to throw on myself and rinse down the sugars. The sun comes out briefly, before hiding again. Second 10km in 41min, half marathon just below 1h26.

Daniel run
Daniel moving just as fast.

From then on the feeling of flying slowly dies off, and keeping a roughly constant pace is costing more and more energy and mental dedication. But it is far from the fight an IM has been before. In fact nothing could stop me now, as long as I stay clever and keep eating until the very end. I ask the supporters to tell me something (“what did Melanie do?”). Need to think of something else than my quads hardening.

Km 30 arrives relatively fast, and once again I just lost 1min to the previous ten kilometers (42min). For the first time I switch the watch to total time, 8h45 should be doable. It becomes slowly but surely difficult to keep the stride length, the feet stay a bit longer in contact with the ground, but the pace never goes above 4’30/km. Try to enjoy the final stretch if you can!

And enjoy I did. It doesn’t matter at what rank I finish (23rd), I showed I can run a sub 3hrs marathon after pushing above 240W for close to 5hrs. That’s all I wanted. A PB in 8h42 is just a bonus (or a logical consequence if you want). What a final point to the season 2018…


Finish video.

Post-race

First of all: super proud of Daniel, whom I meet after the finish line. Clocking a sub 8h30 is a long term goal I announced a few times already (as well as a 2h30 marathon - alone), and while he tries to tone it down to drafting-aided, he showed it’s in our potential.

After a brief stop to the medical tent - now it’s post-race JC suffering from heavily bleeding feet speaking. He’s not regretting pre-race JC’s choice of shoes though; the sole was just great during. He just wished the laces were put on tighter. – after said red-cross stop, it is time for shower, massage, a few bites of sandwich without real appetite, and sharing impressions with supporters.

In the next few days sleeping and eating habits are still shaken by the adrenaline, but I am really proud of the performance. No next goal for the moment, it’s time for a well-deserved off-season break.

 



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