Ironman Vichy 2018 Race Report

 Thinking about starting to train

In 2016, I finished my first Ironman in Cozumel with a finish time of 11:43. I took all of 2017 off from training to focus on Interviewed so by Christmas I was itching to start training again. When Lanae and Danny brought up registering for Ironman Vichy it was an easy sell.

With 8 months to go until race day, I figured I’d wait until February and then start a serious training plan. Nope… when people asked how training was going, my guilty response was “I’m easing back into it.”

 Actually training

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On May 1 it hit me: I had less than 4 months until race day, so I finally got off my ass. The plan was to average 10 hours a week for the next four months and I came pretty close:

Month 2016 Cozumel 2018 Vichy
T-4 18 28
T-3 40 32
T-2 34 54
T-1 28 33
Total 120 147

My full-year training stats were also pretty similar except for swimming.

2016 2018 YTD
Swim 77,913yd 39,739yd
Bike 2,006mi 1,840mi
Run 576mi 577mi

Surprisingly, if you’d asked me a few minutes ago, I would have guessed that I trained way less for Vichy than for Cozumel. Huh. Strava keeping me honest.

 Austin vs San Francisco training

People often ask how Austin compares to SF. When it comes to training the answer is: heat and aero.

Most of our training from May-August was in 90-100 degree temps. That meant much slower times… typically a minute/mile slower on the run for me. When I did get to run in 60-70 degree weather, I was amazed at how much faster I was (more on that later).

As for aero, while SF/Marin had unbelievably gorgeous scenery and climbs, the roads weren’t aero-friendly. I’d guess less than 25% of my mileage in SF was in aero vs 80% of my Austin mileage. As a result I was a lot more comfortable and efficient on my tri bike this time around.

 Packing mishaps

We decided to ship the bikes ahead of us via BikeFlights since we wouldn’t be coming straight back to the US after the race. The day before pickup we set up all the bike boxes in the kitchen and started to go to work.

Then I dropped my seat post clamp down my seat tube.

Shit.

I could hear it rattling around down by the bottom bracket so I tipped the bike upside down and shook it around a bunch. The noise stopped but nothing came out.

Lots of shaking ensued… nothing.

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The next morning I had to ship my bike to France even though it was unrideable, so I went down to Austin Tri Cyclist and they got on the phone with Argon in Canada to see if they could overnight the missing part.

Danny suggested that I hedge my bets by ordering an endoscope off Amazon so that we could fish around inside the bike once we got to France. It was a great idea, so I bought this one.

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The flight to Paris was comfortable and the 4-hour drive down to Vichy was uneventful if stressful: no sleep + stick shift + big SUV on tiny French roads.

On Thursday I began reassembling my bike and found that only half of the missing part had arrive from Argon by Fedex.

Shit.

We busted out the endoscope and spent an hour learning how to use it and get it to bend where we wanted it to inside my bike frame. After many false positives, we finally found the clamp wedged inside the right chain stay.

That led to another hour of Lanae and me practicing with the claw while Danny and Christine rotated the bike in various directions. I think we were all kind of in shock when we finally pressed the plunger on the claw and dropped the seat post clamp out onto the floor… it actually worked!

 A few days in Vichy

Our first trip in Vichy was to Carrefour to stock up on cheese, veggies, and meat plus some $15 fans for the house (no AC). The next morning we also hit up a corner bakery for some fresh bread and that set the pattern for the rest of the trip.

The fresh bread and pastries are unbelievably good and all of our best meals were at home. We tried several restaurants, too, but the meals were wholly forgettable. The smell of fresh baguettes toasting at the house, though… I’m hungry.

Since we were already jet-lagged, we opted to wake up at 4am each morning. That meant that by Saturday, we were already up and out for a practice run when the 70.3 swim started at 6:45am. Even though the weather had been in the 80-90s earlier in the week and the race had never been wetsuit-legal in past years, a storm front had moved in and dumped enough cold water to make wetsuits legal. I don’t think we saw anyone in the water without a wetsuit on Saturday.

After checking in our bikes, I decided to buy a used sleeveless wetsuit for $80. Lanae did too, but Danny and Christine decided not to. I think they ended up being two out of the 8 or so people in the whole race without a wetsuit.

I crawled in bed at 8:30 and set my alarm for 4:30am. Feeling predictably wired and unlikely to fall asleep naturally, I took an Ambien and waited 15 minutes for it to kick in. Nothing. That’s unusual.

A waited a few more minutes and weighed the tradeoffs of running a race sleep-deprived vs doubling up on Ambien, which might mean feeling groggy. I opted for feeling groggy and popped a second Ambien at 8:50.

 Race day

I woke up at 4:30 feeling great, ate some bread, drank a non-diet Coke, and headed over to the race start with the crew.

My mood going into the race was… calm… less anxious than Cozumel. I didn’t expect to be particularly fast, but my swimming was feeling more natural because of a swim lesson I’d gotten in July where I learned how to produce power from my lats instead of my shoulders. On the bike I thought I’d lost some FTP since SF, but was still faster in aero because of all the time out on Ronald Reagan. Lastly, the run has always been my strength and I felt even stronger than in SF because of all the endurance runs I’d done in the heat.

 Swim

It was chilly out: 45°F (7°C) vs the norm of 55; I was glad to be wearing my newly-acquired sleeveless wetsuit.

My Cozumel swim time had been 90 minutes so I seeded myself into the middle of the 90-100 minute group at Vichy, shuffled toward the start line, and jumped in feet-first (didn’t want to risk getting water up my goggles).

The race course is a two-lap Australian exit with straight out and backs. The canal has permanent buoys every 10 meters in the water for the crew boats. With those little buoys plus the larger Ironman buoys, I had all the sighting points I could wish for. I’ve never swum so straight in my life.

One of the rules of triathlon is: don’t try anything new on race day. I broke that rule with my wetsuit: I’d never swum in a sleeveless wetsuit before and certainly not that one.

I loved it.

I’ve had three wetsuits over the years including a blueseventy Fusion, but I avoid wearing them. I know I’m faster with one on, but I hate that little bit of resistance I feel in the shoulders and consequently prefer races that aren’t wetsuit-legal. With my cheap sleeveless wetsuit, I found the best of both worlds.

We swam out 50 yards from the score to the middle of the canal and rounded the first turn buoy to begin the first of four 850m straightaways. Visibility was around 3 feet because of all the silt kicked up by the rain, so I couldn’t see other swimmers until they were in touching distance.

My plan had been to swim the boat buoy line all the way, so I put my head down and got in the groove. Over the course of the race I must have grazed 10 of the small buoys with my arm — I was that close.

The first 1800 meters felt good, I was passing people, managed to get around some agro kickers without getting hit, and mostly had free space around me. A few people came up on my feet, but a quick switch from 2-beat to hard flutter-kicking let them know I wasn’t friendly and they moved off. As I came out of the water for the Australian exit my watch showed 40:44. Damn. I was set up for my fastest race pace ever… could I really swim a 1 hour 20 minute?

The second lap felt comfortable; a little too comfortable. I could have gone harder without fatiguing.

Swim time: 01:24:18. Still happy with that.

Position: 138 of 160 in M35-39

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 T1

There were no wetsuit strippers at this race, so I ran into the changing tent with my wetsuit around my waist and got it off quick.

I hopped into my bibs and then the struggle began.

Wanting to be aero, I’d opted to race in a seriously tight, long-sleeve jersey. Given that I’m narrow-framed, it wasn’t particularly restrictive around the torso, but the arm holes were cut for a skeleton. I got one wet arm through, wrestled for a while to get my other arm through, and ended up with the rest of the jersey rolled into a knot behind my back that I couldn’t reach. Another racer (thank you, stranger) saw me struggling and reached out and pulled down on the back of jersey so I could finally get it on.

At this point I had a choice to make… I was cold, air temp was high 50s, and I wanted to wear my jacket until it warmed up. On the other hand, I knew that French race officials are strict and my jacket would have covered my race number, which was pinned to my jersey (no race belt). I decided to compromise: hold my jacket in my hand until I was out on the course and then put it on. If that sounds dumb, it was.

I found my bike and got underway, jacket fluttering in the wind from one hand.

T1 time: 00:09:07. So slow.

 Bike

My Garmin bike computer is set as an extended display of my Garmin watch, so I turned it on as soon as we were out of chute traffic so see what my watts were. It showed 3 watts.

Uggh.

My Vector 3 pedals had been finicky for the last month and I procrastinated too long on sending them back for a warranty replacement. New batteries and recalibrating hadn’t worked consistently, but some days it did; today was not one of those days. I guess this bike would be heart rate and perceived effort only. Not the end of the world.

Besides, I had other things to worry about, like the jacket I was still holding in my hand. I started trying to put it on as other riders blew past me. After two minutes of sitting up wrestling with it, I gave up. It was starting to warm up anyway so I tucked the jacket in a ball between my aero bars and starting looking for a place to throw it away without getting DQ’d for intentional littering.

With that settled, I started to think, “I should probably eat something. Oh, right. I have a Coke bottle between my legs.” No, not a bike bottle with Coke in it; a Coke bottle. I unscrewed the cap and it promptly exploded half of its contents. Oh well, I’d be sticky sooner or later, anyway. I drank the rest of the bottle. Mmmm… delicious caffeine.

Since I didn’t have watts to go by and the weather was so much cooler than what I’d trained in, I decided to ride at heart rate range 140-150, which seemed safe. I settled into aero and got to work passing people.

Since I’m a slow swimmer relative to my bike and run, I always start off at the back of the pack and advance the whole race. It’s pretty rare for someone to be a slower swimmer but a faster bike/run than me. As a result, most of the bikes I was riding with were road bikes. As the day went on, the nearby bikes got more aero, wheels got deeper.

It felt like I was riding under-powered, but I stuck to the 140-150 heart rate plan. I stayed aero the whole time except for aid stations, sharp turns, and climbs. A bunch of people would pass me on each climb because I was intent on conserving energy. Then I would leap frog them again on the descents.

Pinning my race number to my jersey proved problematic. The first pin ripped out a few miles in, so I tucked it under to reduce flapping. 50 miles later a second pin ripped so then the bib was just flapping completely loose. I gingerly undid the remaining two pins while reaching behind my back and tucked the race number in my pocket. I’m glad I kept it because at mile 80 a referee pulled up next to me on a motorcycle and said, “Where’s your bib?” In English. I moment of panic seized me. I reached back into my jersey pocket and dug around until I felt something. I pulled it out: a Bloks wrapper. I stuffed it into my mouth to avoid littering in front of the ref and stuck my hand back in my jersey. I felt something bigger this time and pulled it out: a Stinger waffle wrapper. I stuffed that in my mouth, too. At this point I have red and yellow confetti sticking out of my mouth flapping my nose. I reached back a third time and pulled out the race number and showed the ripped corners to the ref. He nodded and rode off. Whew.

The nutrition plan I’d practiced in Texas was to drink two bottle of liquid per hour (200 cals x 5.5 hours) plus Stinger waffles and Bloks (100 cals x 5.5 hours). At the first aid station I grabbed a bottle of Enervit (shitty Gatorade) and a second bottle of Coke. I downed those plus a pack of Bloks over the next 15 miles. So far so good. But when I hit the next aid station I realized I wasn’t at all thirsty. In fact, I kinda had to pee. At mile 30. I tried to stick with my 2 bottle plan but it fell apart pretty quick and I ended up having to pee 6 times on the bike. 6! I’d only packed 450 cals of waffles and 300 cals of Bloks (750 cals total). I ended up grabbing an extra Gu and two bananas from the aid stations for a total of 950 cals of solid fuel plus whatever I got liquid… I didn’t keep track. I started to feel pretty queezy around mile 60 so I didn’t try to force down more solid food and just drank coke and Enervit when I felt like it. I suspect I was somewhat under-fed heading into T2.

Bike time: 05:41:50. Slow, considering this was a relatively easy bike course.
Position: 107 of 160 in M35-39

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 T2

Nothing of note in T2. Once again thought about how much time I was losing doing full kit changes.

T2 time: 00:06:09. So slow.

 Run

In Cozumel my back was so locked up and painful by the end of the bike that I couldn’t stand up straight for the first mile of the run. I expected to feel the same way at Vichy, but instead I felt shockingly great as I trotted out of transition. I checked my watch and saw that my pace was 7:30, heart rate 155. I knew there was no way I could hold that pace for the whole run because my best 13.1 standalone had been at a 7:40 pace, so I slowed down to 8:30. I told myself if I still felt strong at the halfway mark, I’d up the pace to 8:00 for the second half.

At mile 6 as I ran through the stands to finish lap 1 of 4, they were playing a soccer stadium anthem, hundreds of spectators clapping in time… it was intense. I got that same rush of emotions that I felt when I crossed the finish line in Cozumel but I still had 19 miles to go.

For the first 16 miles I ran continuously at a steady 8:30 pace, grabbing water or coke at each aid station plus a fruit of some kind: banana, orange, or watermelon. Several people passed me and I felt the urge to go chase them, but I thought better of it: just run my own race. I thought I’d be able to hold that 8:30 pace through to the finish, but I hit a wall at mile 21 and my pace dropped into the 9s then 10s; my quads were burning and legs felt so heavy.

At mile 23 I told myself that what’s left is just an easy 3-mile run from my house to Valburn so I got back down into the 8s. I finished strong and got to shoot my Mom and Dad a wild grin as I ran through the stands for the fourth and final time.

I looked up at the arch and saw my finish time of 11:04 and felt elated. I didn’t have my watch configured to show elapsed time so up to that point my mental math had been that I’d finish with the same time as Cozumel (11:45).

Run time: 3:43:00.
Total time: 11:04:23.

Position: 78 of 160 in M35-39

Mom and Dad, thank you for traveling out to our races to cheer for us — it means so much to see you there. Danny, Lanae, and Christine, I’m proud of you and love training and racing with you.

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 Lessons learned for next time

Swim: Seed with the 1:20 group.

Transitions: Keep shopping for tri suits until I find one that doesn’t chafe so I can save 5 minutes of transition time (I’ve tried 2XU, Kiwami, and Wattie).

Bike: Rigorously test my race gear setup weeks before the race so I can have a solid power plan. Take more food with me and load the bike with Coke in a bottle. Bring cold weather gear to “warm” races including arm warmers. Take pictures of my bike as I’m disassembling it.

Run: Walk the aid stations throughout the race instead of just at the end. Test out my triathlon mode watch fields before race day.

 Next race

St. George 70.3 will be my next big race in May 2019. My goal is to break into the top 25% for my division, which means I’ll need to beat 5:26:00.

 
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