On 25th August 2019 I took part in Ironman Vichy. This was my 4th Ironman, and I’m so proud to have finished. It was a personal worst for me, but the Ironman I am most proud of. I will go into details below about how it went, but it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I wrote a blog last week about my nervousness leading up to Ironman Vichy. I put my goals out there, and always think it’s good to have a target. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, you aren’t always going to hit your target, but that’s ok. The only target I hit, and the most important one, was to finish. If you want to see what my goals were, take a look HERE, I also linked in my blogs for my previous three Ironman.
Our Vichy trip
For our Vichy trip we decided to fly to Lyon, and hire a car. It was then a two hour drive to get to our holiday home, which was in Vichy. We booked through airbnb and got a lovely 6 bed home, with a huge garden, just 15 minute drive from the Ironman village.
The days leading up to Ironman village were spent exploring Vichy. The town centre is quirky, and along the river Allier there are lots of little cafes, many of which have crazy golf. We spent a lot of time playing in the park, on the beach and crazy golf.
Ironman Registration and Expo
I’m always so excited and nervous before a big event like this. I like to go to the expo as soon as possible to get everything sorted. As always at Ironman the expo was really slick.
To get through registration you have to go through the shop. I always like to get a new visor and tee (the tee always has the Ironman logo made up of the names of those taking part). I also decided to get a vest as I liked it. Both my kids got a new tee as well.
The registration was actually really easy. Straight in to pick up my bib, then the customary bag. As part of entry you always get a new rucksack for Ironman at registration.
I also registered both my kids for Ironkids, and they were given a lovely drifit top as part of entry, and Kirsty was entered into Irongirl (a 5k race just for women). She got a drifit tee and a tub of moisturiser as part of registration.
Race Brief and Pasta Party
Ironman always put on a good spread for the pasta party. It is included for participants, and family are able to join for a fee. As it was 25 euro a person we decided I would go alone and my family went to McDonald’s. The food was good, but the race brief was not as good as usual. The issue was the language. In the previous three I’ve been at we have had Paul Kaye there, giving out lots of motivation. It is done in French followed by English. The problem was the person doing English had such a thick French accent it was really hard to understand him, so a lot was lost in transition. Still a good experience, and they go through slides which are basically the athlete booklet.
On Saturday it was time to rack our bikes, and drop off our bags. It is really important to get everything you need in your bags. Once you have dropped off your bags you don’t get to go back to add anything in the morning, so I did this #flatlay in advance and made sure I added anything I had forgotten. For those that don’t know, you get three bags. The clear street bag you take with you on race morning, for you to take your swim stuff and put your normal clothes in. The blue bag is for your bike stuff, at T1 you take out your bike gear and out your swim gear in it. At T2 you pick up your red run bag, which has your run gear in it, and you out your bike stuff into it.
I had hired a bike, so I picked it up in the expo, and took it straight to racking. It’s not the most ideal having a bike you aren’t used to, but it suits me. Then I dropped off my bags, and that was it, ready for the morning.
First up for our Iron Family was Kirsty with Iron Girl. She was nervous as she hasn’t been running a lot, and although it was a 18:00 start, it was still 33 degrees.
I was so proud to see Kirsty finish, she did such a fantastic job. It was a great atmosphere for Kirsty, and it is lovely for her to have the Ironman experience.
Whilst I was taking part in the Ironman, my children took part in their second Ironkids. I was sad not to be able to watch them, as I did at Ironman Kalmar. However, it was good for them to both have a race whilst I was competing. For their age group it was a 400 metre run, and they got to finish under the Ironman archway as well.
Parents weren’t allowed to run with their kids, so Benjamin ran with Amelie. I so wish I was there to see them finish. I’m so proud of our Iron Family.
On race morning I woke up early to get to the start. Transition opened at 05:30 so you can check your bike over. I arrived to put my nutrition on my bike, and drop off my street gear bag.
When we arrived the organisers were announcing that the water temperature was 22 degrees and it was wetsuit legal. I entered Vichy as it was often a non wetsuit swim, and I wanted to embrace my nervousness by intentionally entering an event that I knew was likely to be non wetsuit. I’m still glad I was allowed to wear mine.
Swim – 1:48:55
At Ironman Vichy they have moved to a rolling start to make a safer and more enjoyable swim experience. They have also moved to a one lap swim, removing the aussie exit.
It was a long anxious wait, and I watched the sunrise. The first swimmers jumped in the water at 06:30, I seeded myself towards the back, and expected to be able to swim between 1:30 and 1:35. Gradually I watched people jump into the water, until it was my turn, at around 07:10. I received the countdown then jumped into the water. It was fresh and felt great, I started my swim, my adrenalin was through the roof, I felt great, I was doing it.
Then something unexpected happened. After about 50 / 100 metres I had what must have been a panic attack. I have never experienced anything like this before (does anyone have any experience of this in the water?). My heart rate was so high, I couldn’t seem to swim without taking in water, to the extent that I had to stop, before I even got to the first turning. One of the kayaks came and asked if I was ok, and I gave him a thumbs up. After floating for what felt like forever, but probably was about 1, I tried again. After a minute I stopped again, I just couldn’t control my breathing. I felt terrible.
At no point had I considered that I wouldn’t get through the swim, I had been so anxious and put so much pressure on myself, but it was based on time. So 5 minutes into the start of the swim, I was facing a DNF, I couldn’t believe it. I managed to control my breathing and just took it very steady. It was now just about getting through the swim.
As I got into the swim I felt more comfortable, as I got into a stride I knew I would finish. The distance isn’t an issue for me, so I just kept swimming. I swam wide the whole time to stay away from everyone else, and just concentrated on my own swim. Towards the end I felt better, and so began to pick up the pace.
The scariest thing, to not feel in control in the water. I genuinely thought I wasn’t going to be able to do the swim, and it took all my willpower to calm down and keep going. I’m not sure if I just put to much pressure on myself. I know I’ve not trained enough to improve my speed, but I have never had any issues in the water, so did not expect this.
Considering my awful start, the swim time wasn’t to bad for me. I would have liked to have been 15 or 20 minutes faster, realistically the best I could hope for would have been 10 minutes better. Usually I feel dizzy as I exit the water, but I felt absolutely fine this time. Perhaps because I did not push as much.
T1 – 8:34
I felt good going into T1. Obviously disappointed with my swim, not what I wanted, but I was feeling confident going onto the bike. I had a quick toilet stop, and I didn’t take too long to get bike ready. It was easy to find my bike as there weren’t many left, and I was off.
Bike – 8:05:42
I entered Vichy with the promise of a flat and fast bike course. However, in its 5th year the course was changed to a more scenic and challenging route. Before I started I had spoken to a couple of people that had done the half, and they said it was the most challenging route they had done, so I was expecting it to be tough. The course was one mini loop before 3 large laps, then off to the finish.
The start of the course before we joined the main laps was a little uneven and grainy. The road surfaces weren’t terrible, but it wasn’t the smoothest of roads. Once we joined the the main lap it got busier. I know I’m not the quickest, but my bike did feel heavy. It’s funny, it’s the first time I have hired a bike that isn’t as good as my own (since I upgraded to bike). I have often wondered if it would make much difference having a decent bike, especially as I would be the same motor. The main difference obviously comes from the training, the more you put in, the quicker you will be. But I must say, I certainly wasn’t getting to and maintaining speeds as easily as the bike I have at home. It probably wouldn’t have made a significant difference for me, but right from the start I wasn’t as fast as usual.
The hills were long and tough. I know there are many out there that aren’t to bothered by inclines, but I find them difficult. I battled through the first incline thinking it would be made up on the downhill. However, when we hit the downhill the course was technical, like the big brother to the box hill zigzag. It was hard to get any real pace on the decline as they were often short, or zig zag, with some so high overlooking cliff edges. I didn’t witness anyone going down these particularly fast (I’m sure many did nearer the front). In fact I often passed people on the downhill, but my max speed was 31 miles per hour, which is nothing when there are long sections that I was cycling 6 – 9 miles per hour.
Very quickly it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to hit any of my targets on the bike. The course was just harder than I expected. On the first lap I reevaluated from a 6 – 6:30 hour bike, and hoped for a 7:30. I thought that I could make some time on the decline later on, but it wasn’t enough. After about 60k I also got the same pain in my toes and feet as I did in Hamburg. This eased at times, but lasted post of the course, it feels like my toes are swollen and on fire (does anyone know how to prevent this, or is it just lack of longer miles).
The support around the course was pretty good. There were long scenic sections of the course with the odd marshal here and there. But there were pockets, like the lap split point, that were awesome, full of spectators cheering you on. In fact on the first lap I didn’t even realise this was the split point because there were so many cheers I did not take it in.
The aid stations were good too. There were two stations on each main lap. As the day went on I found that one of the stations began to give out warm coke and water, it was so hot with very little shade. Each station I took two bottles of water (because I didn’t like the energy drink) and a bottle of coke that I drank before leaving the drop zone. The aid stations are long and all set out the same way. In these sections it is a place for you to drop rubbish, which I think is a great idea. If you drop rubbish anywhere else you can be disqualified. There are referees riding on motorcycles constantly around the course to make sure everyone follows the rules.
Dispute my lack of distance training on the bike (which I’m not proud of, and would love to have more time to train), I didn’t tire to much. I wasn’t as fast as I wanted, but my endurance was good. I would expect the heat to have had an impact too. It reached 35 degrees, and I spent 12 hours in the heat. During the bike I didn’t feel it slow me too much, but I was finding that the two bottles of water were not lasting, and on the last lap we missed the final aid station because it was after the lap split. The heat was beating down on my back and I could feel my hands and arms burning.
I am really happy that I did not get a puncture or any mechanical issues. The course was hard enough, I saw a few people fixing punctures and I felt for them. There were also mechanics on motorcycles who were stopping to assist, which was good to see on course.
The final lap was a little more lonely, as I knew I would be near the back, but I still managed to overtake a few as I was going. I am stronger on the flat and decline, where I overtook people. On the incline I still overtook a few but I was overtaken by more.
I didn’t get anywhere near the time I wanted, but it was a tough day. In 35 degrees heat and 6,300 feet of elevation, I am happy to finish. I had no doubt that I was comfortably within the cut off, and was outside my goals, so I just wanted to get to the end. When I hit the final lap split to take the exit to the finish it was a very different scene to every other lap, and most people had already left. It seemed to take forever to get to the finish line, but I was glad to get off my bike.
T2 – 12:49
After 8 hours on the bike it was a struggle to get off. When I dismounted I could immediately feel the pain in my lower back. It was a real struggle to get my bike to transition, I took it really steady, at this point I knew I would be on for my 4th Ironman finish. I took my time to drink some water as I was feeling dehydrated, and I was struggling to walk upright. I went to the toilet and applied some more lubrication, before walking to the run exit. This wasn’t going to be easy.
Run – 4:20:04
I started the run knowing I would need a sub 4 just to match my slowest Ironman finish. I was not prepared to push myself at this point, I just wanted to get to the end in one piece. The first 2k was agony. I took it very slow trying to get my body used to moving again. After the first 2k my body got used to the pain, and I was able to pick up the pace. I decided to try and gradually get my average pace down to 10 min mile. Once I got into my rhythm I was able to hold pace between 9 and 10 min miles, and I was more than happy with this.
After about 3k I saw my family for the first time. I was a bit of an emotional mess seeing them, but it was lovely to see them having fun. I gave them all a cuddle, then was on my way again. I became a little emotional as I left, everything hurt, and when you have been moving for 11 hours it’s hard to control.
The route was great on the run. It was basically flat apart from two bridges we cross over the river. We then go through the park and into the town centre, before heading back over the bridge to the finish. You pass through the finish, taking a detour before the finish line. Shortly after there are three barriers for you to pick up your bands. At the end of the first lap you pick up your first, so on the start of your 4th lap you pick up your third band, knowing you are on your way to the finish.
On the second lap I felt so much better. I had got over my back issues, and I was just running. It’s crazy how your body works, despite swimming 2.4 miles, and cycling 112 miles, my body recovered to allow me to sustain a steady pace. I didn’t try pushing more, nor did I want to. I wanted to just keep it going until the finish line. When I saw my family on the second lap I was able to engage a bit more, and told them I would be about 3 hours to the finish.
I actually began to enjoy the run. The spectators were fantastic, some great cheering, lots of Allez Allez Allez. There were aid stations every 1.5 miles, with the same fantastic set up you come to expect at Ironman. I walked every single aid station, and followed the same routine. First I got hosed down on my back with cold water, then I took a cup of water (although I got a shock a few times by getting sparking instead of still). I then picked up coke or redbull, and occasionally a banana or orange. Finally a bit more water. This was a good set up for me, with lots of support at aid stations. I decided to take time at the aid stations to keep hydration levels up, it was hot and I was feeling it.
Despite the heat, and the long day, I kept up the pace, and the 10 min mile average. The good thing about being a stronger runner in a Triathlon is that I spent the run overtaking t is deceptive as not only did I overtake lots of runners who were on the same lap as me, but in the early laps I spent time overtaking runners who were on later laps. I had a few that I ran with for a while, but mostly people were starting to struggle after such a long hot day. I have so much respect for anyone who takes on an Ironman, and there were so many great Ironman out there.
It began to get dark on my final lap, and it was hard to see in the park, but the crowd support remained amazing throughout. I kept my run strong right to the end, and on the last 5k I picked up the pace again and shouted encouragement to everyone I passed. I neared the end and I could hear the constant chime of “You are an Ironman” and I knew I was close. On the final 1k many people were walking, probably to save themselves for a strong finish. I picked up the pace again, almost to a sprint, and the finish line was electric. I was full of energy coming over the finish and the crowd support was just wonderful, then I heard it “PAUL… You are an Ironman”.
The finish was amazing. I was not feeling great, so couldn’t stomach any food, but there was a good spread. Instead I went and got my bags, and found my family to leave. I was done, 4 time Ironman finisher and very happy.
No matter how the event went, for me this is what it is about. The training gets you so far, it’s the determination that gets you to the finish. I had a terrible start, a tough cycle, and at any point I could have given up. People ask why I do it, and it’s simple, because I want to. It is a challenge of endurance, something I want to do, so I do it.
I don’t want anyone to think I take this challenge lightly, because I don’t. There are lots of people out there who don’t think they can take on this challenge, and I’m telling you now, you are wrong, you can, you can do it. But put the training in, be confident that you can complete each discipline in the desired cut off before you even consider it. I don’t think you need to dedicate your life to the training like some do. But it depends on your starting point, and your general endurance. It also depends on what you are after, to finish, or for Kona.
It is possible to strike the right balance with family. I want to train more, I know I am capable of much more, but it will take a lot of training. I have a difficult job, and I spend the time I have at home with my family. I choose to spend my time with family, rather than train as I should. That does not mean I can’t take on any challenge I want. So remember that the next time someone tells you what you can’t do.
Next up it’s time for the sub 4 #funbus to take on some fantastic events, who is with me?