In August 2014 I completed my first triathlon, the Aurland Xtreme Triathlon, a half distance triathlon with extreme conditions. Since those Norwegian race conditions are hard to compare with any other triathlon I found it difficult to evaluate where I stood in the competitive triathlon field. After some thoughts and doubts I decided in November to go for my first full IRONMAN race. Looking at all the available races I quickly made up my mind. I would go for a challenging race with tons of history. At that time I still thought IRONMAN France was a great choice for a first full distance race...
I broke down my training in 6 days of the week, with 3 days 2 sessions per day and 3 days 1 session per day. Since I was still dealing with a calf injury resulting from the NY Marathon I had to very slowly build up my running. Two months out to the race I took part in the Cannes International Triathlon, a half triathlon with 2.000 meters elevation in the bike course, the perfect test for Nice. If you are interested to analyze my training in detail I suggest to check out my Strava or Garmin account. Overall there are 4 training elements that make my preparation slightly different from others.
1. Diet: No Meat + Limited Processed Foods
Thanks to my girlfriend (she owns the best, 100% organic raw food & juice bar in Amsterdam, The Cold Pressed Juicery) and all the knowledge out there I decided 3 months ago to stop eating meat. If you are still in doubt watch this documentary and you are most probably convinced that meat is bad for humanity overall. Most of my meals I try to stick to the Mediterranean Diet, tons of veggies, fruits, olive oil, cereals, fish and some red wine, dairy products.
Due to my calf injury I discovered the wonderful world of yoga. However, I take yoga very practical. I use it to stretch my entire body and it absolutely works. The best part, you don't have to go to a class at 7AM and you don't have to catch sweat from your neighbour. You can do this al alone in your bedroom. There is one free online class specifically designed for athletes I take at least 3 times a week. You can find it here
I LOVE TO LIFT WEIGHTS. Three times a week I hit the gym. I focus on core and upper body. My favorite exercise is to squat. It builds up strength in the area you need it most during the marathon.
Another 'soft' training element that can make a positive impact on your results. Take this simple. The week before the race take every night 30 minutes in bed, visualize the entire race and feel how you want to feel on race day. How you line up for the start, how your first strokes feel, the way you take the first buoy etc etc. After months training your body is ready, now you need to sync your mind with that. Focus on these 30 minutes, switch of your phone and feel the positive race sensations.
The IRONMAN France takes place end of June, which guarantees high twenties/low thirties degrees Celcius steaming heat. As a Dutch man I knew I had to prepare well for this so I decided to visit the South of France one week earlier to acclimatize to hot race conditions and to spend some quality time with family.
Overall I felt good that week final week, eating lots of salty foods and pastas, drinking liters of water per day, making sure the body was fully loaded with nutrition and liquid. On Thursday I went to register at the expo and on Saturday I checked in my bike. I felt confident and relaxed, but I knew that would be different on race morning.
On Saturday morning my girlfriend arrived and together we went to check in my bike
I woke up at 4AM to have breakfast in the room. Never change a winning diet. My suit case was packed with my favorite granola and the day before I bought some soy yoghurt. Around 5.15AM I woke up the girlfriend (she must really love me :)) and we left the hotel for start.
And then it hit me. This is it. The moment I trained for. My stomach turned around. I felt tensed and insecure. I put on my wet suit and slowly walked to the start. Once I arrived at start I quickly dove in the ocean for a 200 meters swim. This warm up helped, the tension disappeared. I felt ready.
During my long swim training sessions I was able to swim just under 1 hour for the 3.8 kilometers. With this in mind I decided to line up at the fastest swim section. IRONMAN France is unique in the way that all 2.800 competitors line up at the beach and start at the same time, with one goal, that first buoy...3,2,1 BAM!!! of we went. The first 10 minutes was a full washing machine. Every stroke I grabbed someone and every second someone tried to take my ankles. This is just a matter of experience. The more you deal with this situation the more you relax and realize this is a temporary situation, at the end you will find room to swim. I finished the swim in 1.04 hours and it took me 300 meters more...
For sure my weak spot in this race. With 2.000 meters of elevation you have an advantage of being light. Weighting 85 kilos is normal, but to compare Alberto Contador weights 61 kilos. And that makes a huge difference in climbing capacity. The first 20 kilometers are flat out, you bike to the airport, take a turn to the right and bike direction HILLS. The first 500 meters climbing are the steepest of the course with an average 12% gradient. At kilometer 50 the long climb direction Col de l'Ecre starts. This is a 19km climb with an average gradient of about 5%. Not bad, but during this climb I was taken over by many French mountain goats. My strategy was to keep a steady pace and get fresh bottles at every service point. My biggest fear that day was to become dehydrated. At the top of the Col de l'Ecre it continues with a beautiful ride to the next climb at 100 kilometers, another 5km climb and than we were off to descent. What a beautiful and not difficult descent. It was getting warmer at that time of the day so being able to descent for over 35km was great. With just under 6 hours bike time I got off the bike and was ready to run that marathon. Temperatures rose to 30 degrees...
The run started with a struggle. Heavy legs of all the climbing and a stomach that started to work against me. The course is a 4 lap run on the main boulevard running from center Nice to the airport and back. It took me a complete lap, around 10km, to get into some kind of rhythm. I eventually had to stop for a bathroom break. Overall I was able to keep a steady pace. Every station (4 per 10km) I slowed down to empty 2 water cups on top of my head and drink 2 cups of energy drink. I even used the showers on the course to keep cool. And that was a very good idea. At the end over 550 participants did not finish. My marathon time 3.50 with a total finish time of 11.06 hours. Not bad for a first race :)