Ironman Vichy – 27th August 2017 by Anna

Race report IM Vichy

You’ll need a cup of tea for this lengthy one..

First long distance Ironman.
First race with no booze the night before.
First race with no makeup on.
A whole new experience.

Well I never get nervous about races as I always just think they are one training session less to do. But not in this case. In the weeks approaching my first Ironman, I was becoming increasingly vexed. I was having nightmares and beginning to grind my teeth at night. The final days before, I was really scared, which is not like me and was making me extremely ratty. I was fearful of the swim, having completely lost my nerve of seeing and being around large fish, namely big pike, in open water swimming, I was almost sick with worry at the possibility of having to quit the race in the swim!

We arrived in Vichy, central France, the Wednesday before, and stayed in a campsite alongside the river Allier, one mile upstream from where the ironman base was. As soon as I could, I peered nervously into the huge river, (the size of the Colarado to me) and was instantly relieved to see flowing, murky green depths, muddy, silty and not at all crystal clear. Instantly all my anxiety left. Thankfully it was going to be a very murky swim.

I trained right up until two days before the race on Sunday, keeping it short but throwing in race pace on the bike for small sections. I rode ten miles on the bike route on the Thursday then had Friday and Saturday off, although we were still cycling daily to and fro, to the ironman venue on the family mountain bikes 2/3 miles a day.
I found a handy ‘buoyed off’ children’s ‘beach area’ over on the opposite bank from the campsite and had a training swim in there with no wetsuit. Completely murky and warm, and didn’t see a thing. All race anxieties now over.

I spent the few days before, watching the ironman event preparations grow in size at the huge water sports centre down river. It was quite amazing. But I was more astounded at the feeling I now had, was that it felt like ‘just another race’.
Registration really then brought home that it was Ironman, as it was fully set up, loud, with large crowds, huge M dots on everything, even down to the paper water cups, expensive bikes everywhere and booming music. The expo village contained scores of Tri shops with tonnes of merchandise and food stands everywhere.
I located the VIP area for Andy and the boys, as I’d bought that for him for being daddy-day-care for the event.

I still didn’t feel nervous. Although it was quite big, with all the glitz and glam of an IM branded event, it actually felt just ok. With registration to do, bike racking, faffing with transition bags x 3, briefing and wandering around trying to locate different points, it was all the normal things we are used to. Just in a different venue and with gorgeous weather and temperatures of up to 34’c. Far nicer than our stupid weather at home, standing on the banks of freezing cold lakes and rivers, waiting to climb in with a wetsuit, in anticipation on the impending hammer blow of cold on your skull as soon as you put your face in.

Back to sunny Vichy. On Friday morning I attended the ‘Tour of Transition’ which was useful as it was a network mesh of channels and shutes you had to memorise, and you had three bags for streetwear, bike bag, run bag…
Wetsuit/non-wet suit, nutrition, socks, kit, sun cream, stuff…
Transition was huge. With the bike racks disappearing into infinity like a Pink Floyd album cover.

Briefing was on the Friday evening when we attended the Pasta Party, which was free pasta food and most of the athletes attending. It was big. There was no briefing talker, just two massive screens either end to read. (Although I would have been perfectly happy to stand up with the mic and do it for them 😂.)

Saturday morning I got up at 0600hrs to watch my racing champ friend Ross Welton compete in the 70.3. (He did well but had been suffering from a bug from three days before so sensibly pulled out midway on the run, but was really pleased with his bike time). Katie Keeble, his beautiful racing champion fiancée was doing the full with me on the Sunday.
I wanted to watch his 70.3 rolling swim start. It was nerve wracking to watch, with athletes being called forward in threes with a beeper going ‘beep-beep-beep-PEEEEP’ and in they went, with the crowds of athletes moving steadily forwards.

Saturday pm I spent arranging kit, stickers, nutrition and bags. Had half hour nap. Then we returned to venue at 5.30pm and I racked bike. Each bike was photographed, scanned for any power assisting motor, and triple checked against athletes numbers at three different zones. Security was good. (We worked out about £3,000,000.00 worth of bikes in there overnight) and then I said goodbye to my bike bag and run bag.

Early night. No wine.

So race day arrived for me. I had a good night’s sleep and we got up at 0430hrs. Drove calmly up to the venue in darkness.
Transition was bustling busy in the dark. Lots of nervousness in the air. Athletes doing strange things to get themselves calm and ready. Got my tyres inflated (we were advised to let them down the night before due to the heat). Heard two tyres explode like rockets.
It was then announced over the PA that water temp was 25.7’c, so declared a non wet suit race. Fine by me, hate the trapped constriction of the damned thing anyway.

Wandered to the ‘swim start’ chute with 1200 others. You could choose your swim time. I chose 90 mins, hoping for an hour and a half.
Excited now. No time for fear or backing out. I meet two girls, next to me. Hester and beautiful Amy Hinton. Hester doing this as her first ever Tri and Amy doing her first ironman with me. We chat to try to suppress the anxiety and also Amy’s tears. Big event for all three of us, and a year in the planning and training.
Athletes starting to move forward now. The first lot in, the beepers start..finally now I’m knotted inside with anxiety. Too late. Here now. Just get swim over with. This is it.
Heart rate has gone up now just reliving this experience. It was horrible. Soon I’m six lots away from the down hill ramp to the pontoon. Now three, now two. Now we three and one other are being ushered in. Now we are walking on the wet carpeted pontoon. Crowds are cheering us on. The darkness towards the east is thinning now, hues of blue where there was black. Feel sick, no time, ‘Beep-beep-beep-PEEEEP’, the two lots in front of us jump in, then the line before me. Now it’s us. Move forward. ‘Beep-beep-beep-PEEEEEEP! Hold nose, goggles with other hand. Jump! Splash, into dark water, straight up, kick and go. Can’t see. We are in. This is it. Go!
Try to get space, being hit, kicked, go! Swim! Get the pace, find your stroke, kicked again, move over, now punched from behind, swim and kick hard – stay away from me! Kick hard. Try to breathe, swallow water, waves and splashing there every time I try to breathe, just swim, try to relax, I’m in, this is it. pummelled again from men behind, stay away from me! I kick harder. Try to sight and find a clear path. Keep swimming. Try to pray Hail Marys, forget and get punched again, swim, pause for a minute, tread water, sight and then kick off again. Whole swim was like this, it was like being stuck in a dream, not ending, just wait for next blow, keep trying to breathe. Impossible to get smooth stroke with being clouted so much. Horrible. Just horrid. As I got more and more hit I became cross, big powerful men trying to swim over me, through me. Why didn’t they start in a faster wave than this if they were so fast now? I thought. Equally a few times I was met with a wall of men kicking in a line in front of me, I needed to get past them as there were no gaps, so several times I had to swim sideways and out and around them all to get out to be able to swim clear. Must have lost ten minutes in repeating this. More lessons learnt. Stay well away on the outside. Or get to the outside far earlier.
Two funny things happened. A young black lad was in front of me, he was about 12 feet ahead, but his legs were so long that they were kicking my face! I kept dropping back further, but then they were still kicking me! I then had an image that he was like those striped circus stilt-walkers with incredibly long material legs trailing behind him! It made me smile inside.
The second moment was when I glimpsed two race marshalls on a boat trawling up and back along the swim line. Remember the guy from Jaws? ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat..’? Well my oh my, there he was, steely faced, piloting his boat up and down the swimmers, with a whistle clamped into the side of his grimaced teeth instead of a cigar….
The turn buoys are so far away you cannot even sight from them, so I used distant landmarks instead.
Part one (1900m) of the swim finally comes to an end, helped out of the water to a roaring crowd, hear “Hello mummy!” And glimpse my little boys on the VIP pontoon waving at me, feel emotional, Andy poised with camera phone shouting WELL DONE, I wither when I remember I have not a scrap of eye makeup, (you may laugh, but will wholeheartedly agree when you see the pictures) I run 50m down the matting and then leap into the water again off the other pontoon for Part 2 (1900m)

Felt strong now and warmed up. More spread out so was able to find clear water and swim. This was loooooong. Felt like there was no end. Couldn’t see end marker buoys for ten minutes, finally they are yellow dots on the horizon, slowly, so slowly they approach. Finally round, then swim with the river current back. Can begin to hear the huge PA system again as we approach. Last 800m seem an eternity. Nothing nice to say about this swim. Just took so long. Do not attempt this swim if you haven’t trained enough. I trained up to 16 hours a week with all three disciplines towards the end, but I still don’t feel it was enough. Swim train as much as you can if you decide to do this event. I’m a weak swimmer and only learnt front crawl in 2014, and I’m improving slowly, but many people are fortunate to have been swimming all their life. Do not underestimate this swim.

Swim: 2.4 miles – non wet suit – 1hr 51mins

Finally clamber out on legs of jelly to a roaring crowd again, run out grinning and head back up to ‘Swim Out’ and then I’m running to get bike bag. Grab, jog to the change tent, change into bike shoes, race belt on, drink power shake, eat half peanut butter sandwich whilst applying sun cream, hat on, give my empty bike bag with swim stuff to marshalls and run back to find bike. Usually only 4/5 bikes left to choose from in my races, quite pleased to see about 70-80 left this time!

Grab bike, jog to ‘Bike Out’ with the other half of sandwich in my mouth, roaring crowd, mount bike and set off to huge crowd support. Out of Vichy town and out into the rolling French countryside. Beautiful. Swim over, now for two laps of 56 miles.

Average at 18mph for first lap, route is mostly flat and fast. Amy passes me grinning and shouting “THIS IS IT BEAUTIFUL! – we are here!!”. Wonderful support from all the French villages, quite emotional to see all ages come out to cheer on the athletes. Loved seeing the Charolais herds and the donkeys, the whispering Lime tree avenues and hay stores. Riders start to spread out and I overtake a lot, both men and women. (Reassuring for me as my swim is so slow, I usually start to claw my way back up the rankings through the bike and run.)
I drink constantly, and eat every twenty mins from my bike bag supply of peanuts, walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts with loads of salt, also five pieces of home made flap jack. Begin to get pounding headache which I know was due to the heat and possibly too much water. Approach end of first lap and all the pros go whizzing and whirring past us at the end of their second lap. (They are not human by the way).
Begin to slow on my second lap as it’s warming up to 32’c, keep pushing on. I meet Katherine, who overtakes me and we chat a bit. She’s got blood all over her. She was struck so hard on her nose in the swim she had to find a Marshall and hold onto their canoe for a bit. They asked if she wanted to stop “‘No way!’ I said”… and she’s carried on with a nose that keeps bleeding. Sadly also her friend quit the swim after only 500m, she got hit so much in the washing machine of people, it scared her to death. I was sorry. This had been my fear too.

Soon approaching 80 miles, 90, and then 100 miles, only 12 to go! Slightly bothered about the impending full marathon after doing all this, and in this heat…
Finally roll into Vichy and back to cheering crowds lining the course at the venue. Delighted to see Andy and the boys waiting at ‘Bike in’, under the arch, off the bike, then run (yes run) to bike racks.

Bike: 112 miles – 6hrs 35 mins

Rack bike, then dash to bag area to grab run bag. Then into the change area tent. Trainers on, whizz race belt round to the front, take out my plait and decide on a pony tail with my run hat. Sunglasses, apply sun cream, run socks then hand my bag to marshalls and run!
Pass Andy and kiss the boys, nearly done. Just have to run for another four + hours!

Onto the marathon. It was hard. 4 laps around the Vichy town to make up 26 miles, and up and down both sides of the huge river with bridges either end. 32’c now. Huge crowd support all the way round. Hester the girl from the swim start, puffs passed me and says “First Tri – never again.. 70.3s for me from now on (half Ironman)…..”.
Pain. Everything hurts. Just four laps. Then just three laps, then feeling despondent at ‘just two laps’. Really painful. Everything inside me screaming to stop. I try a walk/run strategy for one minute. Start to run again, body screams NO. So I push it on and don’t attempt to try that again. Body is better to keep running. Ran all of it apart from drink stops where I dropped to an agonising walk. Just too hard to get it started again for my liking. Plod plod, plod plod, keep running, pain, push through, keep pushing, “Allez Ana! Bravo! Bravo!”, spectators cheer all the time, they look for your name then delightedly call it out, spurring you on, pain, keep pushing it, keep pushing. Everything hurts. I have to finish this. Think of my family, all my sponsors, my friends, my Tri club, and beautiful Marianne Rooprai and her charity, its worth it for her, and all the people with Spinal paralysis that they help, worth every agonising step. You think of this. You think of all the things dear to you when you are scraping your empty barrel of endurance capability. You think of a lot of things. I began to hallucinate on the last couple of laps, seeing faces in the stones and gravel on the endless paths in front of me. The pain. This hurts. I just want to stop. To sleep. Everyone shut up, everyone leave me alone. I need to stop this. Keep running, plod, plod, plod, plod.
On each lap you run round the inside of the ironman stadium, before running out again and collecting your wristband, when you get three, you have one last lap which brings you in to the finish. You don’t think about the lucky ones finishing, you don’t even see them, because the crowds are roaring at you as you run round the arena, “You’ve GOT this! You’ll do it! Come on Anna! Allez Allez!!!” Banging the sides, ring bells, blowing horns, cheering you on.
Collect each band, soon I have three. Last lap and it’s getting dark. Hear the booming speakers and announcers from across the river, just four miles to go. I hurt so much, but still manage to smile at the supporters, always manage a smile, nearly there just the bridge now, down the hill, into the arena, I hear the music, oh NO! I get Spice Girls ‘girl power’ as my finishing song, too bad, in I go, everyone roaring, walk the last circuit high-fiving the outreached hands, this is it. I’ve done it. Over the finish line. I am an ironman.
It’s over.

Would I do this again? Never say never, but this is a seriously long race. I prefer endurance events but not this is long.
As a venue for ironman, this is perfect. Drivable for family, good river swim, hugely supported run route and chiefly flat bike route, but, extremely hot.
Hardest thing I’ve done? No. Just long. If you can do each distance at each discipline, you will definitely put them all together. How much training you do will reflect your result. There’s no getting away from that. Yes you need mind power to get you through it for sure, but you absolutely need physical power too. You can have the strongest mind in the world, but your body can and will fail you on this event. I entered this in the wish to finish it, before the cut off time of 16 hours. I did it in 13 hours 38 minutes. If I gave up smoking and drinking wine I might have gone faster. If I hadn’t chosen a hot location too, this might have helped. But I did what I did and achieved what I wanted to achieve. I raised a lovely amount of money in the process.
Thank you to all of my dear friends who sponsored me. I’ve tried to thank you all individually but one or two have been anonymous, I thank you here now.

I thank all my dearest friends for helping me with the children during training sessions, my Triathlon Club for the wealth of support and encouragement, my mother for the early and late childcare slots and most of all my ever supportive husband Andrew Jermain, who always tries his hardest to do things right to help me through it.

It’s over.

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