Bon jour and Ciao!
It's been two weeks filled will crepes, gelato, baguettes and croissants. Europe was wonderful. The highlights: Michelangelo's David, the picturesque villages of Cinque Terre, the canals of Venice and, of course, Ironman in Nice with my family.
So let's get down to business. Ironman France was tough. It was my fourth Ironman and the hardest race I have ever done. It was different than any North American race -- very organized, very professional, and very hilly. My Garmin recorded 8,309 feet over 108 miles on the bike. Sheesh!
Here's my take on things...
Registration: The Europeans have it down. Everything was smoothly run and efficiently. Most of the instructions were printed in an athlete guide, which eliminated the need to explain things to individual athletes and bottleneck the ques. This is probably due to the various languages of all the international athletes. There was no weigh in. Also, the swim caps were already in the athlete bags with the numbers written on them. Like I said, streamlined.
At the bike drop off, officials took a quick computer photo of you and your bike, which they then pulled up when you picked up your bike at the end of the race as a security measure. It was awesome.
Bike and run bags were placed on hanging racks near the transition area the day before the race. When you ran up to T1 and T2, you just reached for you bag and switched shoes in the open lane. Changing tents were only used by athletes who were completely disrobing.
Bike: In this race, with the monstrous French Alps climbs, I was passed by probably 2,000 cyclists. However, when you get passed by people named Pierre, Konstantine, Thierry and Marcel it's almost amusing. I LOVED reading the names of the athletes from around the world. "Way to go, Lohreee!" they would say to me as they passed by.
The course was very Tour de France-esque. Between long climbs next to campgrounds and circled round abouts, there would be charming towns and single-lane streets lined with locals cheering and encouraging the racers. "Allez! Allez!" the villagers would shout, while waving their arms overhead to music streaming from the open shuttered windows. There was even a mountaintop fire station with firemen who turned their hose on for cyclists who needed a cool down.
While the ascents were challenging, the descents were equally difficult. The course was filled with hairpin turns with signs "Very Dangeroux!!" I passed several wrecks, and heard one directly behind me when a rider didn't slow down enough to make a tight turn. And that weird European siren sound still haunts me.
Mile 15 had a 10 percent climb where many of the riders were zig zagging the street to make it up the hill. The road was one-lane and crowded, but the climb was short - 500 meters. Miles 35-75 were agonizingly uphill and seemed never ending. The climbing ended at mile 75, and then I was white knuckling those curvy downhill mountain roads until about mile 100. (I kept my Garmin on miles instead of kilometers so I could mentally keep track of where I was.)
**An aside, while there were aid stations every 20 kilometers, there was not ONE Porta Potty for the entire 140K bike! I just don't get it.
Run: Coming into T2, I was beat. The weather was hot and I was worried about how I would battle my core temperature. I avoid running and training in the afternoon heat. Nice was prepared, however. Every 1.7 kilometers on the beachfront avenue, an overhead shower was set up with 4 shower heads streaming cold water onto the racers. The coolness of the water gave me a jolt of energy as if someone unexpectedly threw ice water on my face. It literally took my breath away, and helped keep me moving. Those showers saved me.
The run was a four loop affair. After each six-kilometer loop, volunteers placed a scrunchee on your arm. The first one was white, then lap two was black, then blue for the third lap. The pros: I was motivated to get those dang bands and I could visually see who was ahead and behind me by looking at their wrists. The cons: You had to keep heading back to the finish line over and over and over again - only to turn around!!! Finishers were being announced and congratulated every time I made that 180 degree turn back out for another loop. "Supear, Jacque! You ah an Ironmen!" they would be annoucing. So aggravating when you still had loops to do!
Again, I only saw ONE Porta Potty on the run course. Really? Europeans must do things differently. But I passed more runners than passed me during this stretch, so I considered the run a success.
Finish Line: The Europeans still allow athletes to bring their families across the finish line with them. This is totally fun and make your family feel part of your day.
Precautions: If you are an athlete who has a strict race diet and routine (like most of us do), be prepared for change. I packed light and could not find a bottle of Ensure at any grocery store. Peanut butter is scarce. And bread comes mostly in baguette style loaves. There is plenty of carbo loading spaghetti and margherita pizzas in Nice, but yogurt and power gels and even milk tastes different. I saw an assortment of energy gels discarded on the road which were packaged in mini tubes, similar to the tubes of Neosporin. Hmm? Come prepared with your own energy bars if you are not ready to try something new on race day. Also Coke is served at each aid station, which I found surprisingly delicious.
There were only 187 women athletes out of 2,600 racers in Nice. If you are a woman who is not a strong cyclist, your morale may be tested here. Be prepared to be passed by strong male climbers. On a positive note, the late sunsets in Nice give you plenty of time to finish in daylight, rather than darkness. My time of 13:45 (13th in my AG) at 7:30pm was not even close to 9:30pm nightfall.
Post Race: I give two thumbs up to the race organizers, once again, who staffed over 30 massage therapists at the finish line. They also had warm pasta, chicken soup, fruit and drinks at the athlete village. It was fast, easy and uncrowded ... that could also be because of my late finish. The medals were substantial, and the finisher shirts were tech fabric and collared. The backpacks are high quality and something I will keep and use. Nice touch, IMFR.
Overall, the adventure in France was great. Give it a shot if you're considering it. Use Tri Sport Express to ship your bike and try a home exchange or home rental to keep things convenient and comfortable for your stay. And if you're going to the beach, no need to pack a bikini top. ;)
And don't forget, when you're done with the race, reward yourself with a warm Nutella crepe.
It doesn't get any better than that!
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