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Ironman Nice - Race Report

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

So that’s it, Ironman Nice has been completed, and now it’s time to tell you just how it all went, so read, enjoy, and then decide to do something to REALLY challenge yourself this year ;-)


Ironman France, Nice, June 27th 2010


Hands down, this was is the hardest, most gruelling, relentless race I’ve ever competed in, but it’s also the greatest. I’ll kick things off by telling you the lead up to the race:


I eventually flew out to Nice on the Thursday, after being sat on the runway for 3 1/2 hours due to a strike in France. Upon arrival, I got to the hotel (in the centre of Nice), unpacked a few things, built my bike, then went off to meet my buddy Sam Wait at the Ironman Expo to register, sign the waiver and get our transition bags, race numbers etc..


After looking round the expo, we headed off to have a look at the start along the Prom Des Anglais, right on the beach. Already the whole place seemed to be buzzing, with hundreds of soon to be Ironman athletes wondering around, swimming in the beautiful sea, cycling, running, and soaking up the sun. The organisers were in the process of constructing the finish line, stands, transition tents and bike racks, and I got massively excited picturing myself crossing the line at the end of the race.

Getting hungry, I headed back to the hotel via a butchers and fresh veg shop, then cooked up fresh chicken breast and steamed potato ¬†on the George Foreman grill and vegetable steamer that I’d packed in my suitcase in order to ensure my diet remained clean. After happily watching Italy crash out of the world cup, I headed out for an easy 30 minute run with a few 60 second bursts of pace, then headed back, showered and into bed.


I was up at 6am the next day, steaming more potato, and some eggs as well, then headed off to the beach for a swim around 7 with Sam. The sea was immense. Warm, blue and a pleasure to swim in. A far cry from Weymouth Beach in April when I began this seasons open water swim training. Part of my bike had been damaged in transit, so I took that to the Shimano bike mechanics at the Expo, who sorted it out for me. After a bit of sunshine and a lot more chicken, rice and potato, I headed off to meet my girlfriend who was flying in that morning, before later heading out for an easy spin on the bike with Sam along the prom. Then it was more chicken, more rice, more eggs, then bed.


On Saturday morning I’d planned to get up early and head out for a swim, but woke up at 5.30, and decided that an extra couple of hours sleep would do me better than half hour in the water, so went back to sleep. I headed out with my girlfriend to the Expo, bought some new tires for my bike, fitted them, left her on the beach and then headed back to the hotel to pack my transition bags, do some final checks on the bike, and ensure all my nutrition was sorted and ready for the morning. By now I’ve got pretty excited, and am getting the standard random giggles whenever I think about what I’m about to do the following day. It gets to 5.45 and it’s time to head off to check in my bike and transition bags. The nerves start to set in a little now, not so much about the race, but whether my knee, which had been in poor form for the last 3-4 weeks, would do it’s job on the day. Anyway, checking in was smooth and stress free, and took little time, which left me loads of time to cook and eat before getting an early night.

However, I ended up watching Ghana beat USA in the World Cup on TV, so bed didn’t end up as early as I’d hoped! After tossing and turning, I finally got to sleep, and 4 hours later was up at 3.30am, cooking and eating skinless steamed potato, steamed rice, grilled chicken, steamed eggs and half a small slice of pineapple as a treat. What a breakfast. It was so dry that every mouthful needed to be flushed with a big gulp of water, and even then it wasn’t fun! Still, it was going to do the job, and do it well, so I forced it down (well, most of it). I had a quick shower to wake myself up properly, necked an energy drink while getting dressed, grabbed my stuff and headed out, excited, and ready to get stuck into some serious work.

After leaving my girlfriend at the entrance to the bike park, I headed in, pumped my tires, attached all my food and drink to the bike, queued for half hour for the toilets, got the wetsuit on, and headed down to the beach with 2500 other people.


I wasn’t too excited about the swim start. I’d raced in Bolton last year and that wasn’t too fun, but there was just 1500 people there. 2500 people in the sea was set to be a nasty encounter, with punches, kicks pushes, slaps, and people pulling you down and swimming over you. Still, I decided to get right in amongst it and hammer it out any way I could. The atmosphere was already electric, and as soon as it hit 6.30am, the race began. We piled into the sea, and the carnage began. Arms flying, head getting whacked, kicked in the face, pulled under, swallowing water, it all happened. Do you stop? Not even if you wanted to. Stop and you’ll get swum over, probably concussed, and may not come back up until you get dragged out. Not an option. To be fair though, I quite enjoyed the swim! Most of the time swimming for 70 minutes gets pretty dull, but when you’re constantly having to avoid being hit, it makes it a little more interesting to say the least, and time passes nicely. I swam pretty well, and had no problems. More than I can say for the owners of the dozens of empty swim hats and goggles I saw floating and sinking in the sea, some right at the very start!

Anyway, my swim split was 1h12m which I was happy enough with, and after slipping out of my wetsuit, grabbing my transition bag and getting ready, I legged it out, got my bike and headed off, feeling fresh, happy and ready to bang it. The bike leg starts off flat, fast and easy, so I was able to stay aero for the first 20km and hit some good speeds at a high cadence. You then hit the first hill, a 500m climb up a steep incline. We’d been warned about this as being a tough hill, but to be honest it was nothing even compared to Abbotsbury hill. The hardest bit was trying not to crash into the hundred other people climbing it at the same time.

A while into the bike, and there’s an epic 20km climb, which isn’t made any easier by 30+ degree heat. This was intense and the climb seemed to go on forever. There were people stopping on the side of the road, falling off, bikes breaking and ambulances with lights flashing. Never a good sign. The good thing was that at the top of this climb you knew that you’d done the hardest art of the course. I’d felt strong the whole way for the first 49 miles, but at mile 50, I had the worst most painful, horrific cramps I have ever experienced. Not just in one place, but in both sets of quads, both sets of hamstrings, both glutes and both sets of abductors. I hoped that I;d be able to shake these off, but despite taking on plenty of water, loads of energy drink and salt sticks, it wouldn’t go. Every now and again my legs would literally stop working due to the involuntary contractions, with quads fighting hamstrings and hip flexors fighting my glutes for the right to take me down. I kept having to slow, almost to a stop, and it for the first time it crossed my mind that it was possible I wouldn’t actually be able to complete the race. This is when mind over body takes over. It’s just cramp I told myself, and despite the absolute agony that caused me to occasionally let out some sort of an ‘arrrgghhh’ sound, just a minor setback. I could still move, so I could still bang it out, and even if it meant slowing considerably, stopping was never an option. Anyway, there were a couple of fun descents, some nice flat roads and the a nasty 12km climb, which again, went on, and on, and on. The landscape and scenery was immense, among the best I’ve ever seen, but when you looked over the edge of the 2-3ft high wall lining the road, you saw a shear drop down the mountain. best to stay away from there given the cramp situation!

After this last big climb the bike was largely easy. The cramps were still horrendous and frequent, but the remainder of the course was downhill, and flat at the bottom. The descents were amazing. Flying down a mountain at 30-35mph on a bike, round 180 degree bends, past shear drops, was an awesome sensation. Not so awesome for those who came off. I must have seen the ambulances go by around 10 times during the bike course. There were people with bust bikes all over the place having fallen off. Couldn’t help but just feel glad I was in one piece!

My bike split ended up at 5h57m, which although I was aiming for 5h30m, I was pleased with due tot he situation with my legs. I entered transition, someone racked my bike, then I grabbed my bag and hobbled off to get into my run gear. By now the day was intensely hot, up to around 35 degrees, and the run didn’t look fun. It’s flat, yes, but utterly relentless and extremely hard with no respite from the intense sun. My legs were still fully cramped, and so just moving was an effort, but I started the run relatively brightly. As the cramps worsened and the heat intensified, my speed dropped. The course involved 4 laps of running up the prom for just over 3 miles, then back to collect a coloured wristband, until you’d collected all 3 bands and were finally allowed to finish on your last lap after 26.2 miles of pain. The thousands of onlookers in the crowd that lined the streets were fantastic, and every time you’d start to walk, you’d just here ALLEZ! ALLEZ! and would have to get your ass back up and at least try to run, cramp or no cramp.

The run went on for what seemed like an eternity, when in fact it was around 4h16m. Severely unimpressive, and a far cry from the 3h30m I wanted to hit. But bearing in mind my legs had been in a severely damaged state for around 7 hours by the end of the race, I was happy enough to come home in 11h39m.

The sweet end

The sweet end

Upon crossing the finish line, you get what you’ve been picturing every time you thought about skipping a training session, every time yo feel at all down during the race, and every time you thought about just giving up; that golden Ironman medal. The thing that tells the world that you’ve just swam 2.4 miles, cycled 112 miles, then run a 26.2 mile marathon at the end of it, and that reminds you of what you’ve achieved, and that you can accomplish just about anything you set your mind to, so long as you’re willing to commit, sacrifice, and stop at nothing to achieve what you set out to. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is simply the word extra. Extra will power, extra motivation, extra effort, extra attitude and extra determination to succeed. The accomplishment of the 2000+ people who managed to finish this race, and in fact the race itself, is truly extraordinary.

Next stop = Ironman UK in Bolton, August 1st 2010. Yep, 5 weeks after Nice!

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