It’s the last week before the Ironman 70.3 race in Les Sables d’Olonne in France. I’ve been in town for a week to explore the Ironman bike route and adjust to the slight temperature difference with back home in the Netherlands. The first autumn storm Francis has just passed and the waves are pretty high! They are about 3-4 meters high and if this will be on race day, it will be an extra challenge!
I’ve explored the bike route a few times. Twice the full lap and a few times the shorter lap or just a bit more than that. It’s good and gives me the confidence to know what’s behind the bend so I know if I can keep pushing during the descent or that I should take it a bit easier. In the last couple of weeks, I certainly have the feeling that I’m a lot stronger than last year. My yearly SMA triathlon test showed that as well and the easiness of cycling fast proves that to me personally. All the many hours of training, very low heart rate sessions, tempo, brick, and double brick sessions all made me get strong and fast! Arriving in town two weeks before the race is about right for me to explore the route and adjust my body. Unfortunately, there isn’t that much interesting in town, it’s a bit boring, but I’ve been to some beaches nearby a few times and had some relaxing walks in the area. Well, that’s a taper week, isn’t it!
The last few things I had to arrange for the registration was to pay and print out my Triathlon France 1-day license and get some new tires. Paying for the license wasn’t the issue, but staying in an apartment without a printer makes printing out a PDF a bit more difficult. Luckily the local library had a corner with internet computers and the possibility to print. The local bike shop ‘Les Cycles des Olonne‘ was able to order a few Continental GP5000 tires with next day delivery (never forgetting brand new tires at home again).
During the week, more and more triathletes were arriving in Les Sables d’Olonne and were exploring the bike route, running over the boulevard, and just relaxing on the beach or strolling in town.
On Wednesday the first signs of the Ironman race were noticeable. Barriers, tents, and more were being set up on location. Forbidden parking signs were put up and roadblocks were advised in advance.
The high waves of earlier in the week were completely gone and the sea was pretty flat. That would make the swim a lot easier. However, in the Athletes Guide, they informed about the starting times. At 07:10 hrs the men Pro’s would start, followed by the women Pro’s and then the age groupers. They made a whole schedule what time which Age Group would start and then within the group a rolling start was planned. The start of my Age Group was planned for 07:40 hrs, meaning this would be one of the last groups to start actually. High tide was at about 07:15 hrs and this would mean that the tide was really going to fall down about when I was going to start… Great forecast to have an increasing current in the channel against us!
Friday 4 September: Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne weekend was officially opened!
After a quick last early morning bike ride, I arrived at the registration in the late morning. All Corona precautions were stated numerous times in the event’s Athletes Guide and emails and with a mouth mask and hand sanitizer at the entrance, I could enter the building. All the volunteers were sitting behind transparent screens for safety precautions with little openings for paperwork and to receive my stuff. The whole process went pretty easy actually and without any issues. In and out within a few minutes. No queues, no busy or crowded areas, and all felt safe. After quickly checking whether I had all the necessary stuff (enough transition bags, start number, and stickers sheet) I went home to start preparing my gear.
Along the way, and after checking the finish line 😀 I went through the Ironman Expo. Looked at some gear, bought some new elastic shoelaces 🙂 and checked the Ironman clothes. Unfortunately, Ironman had no 2020 event t-shirt! One thing that I’ve bought at every Ironman race so far, is the event t-shirt with all the athlete’s names on the back. So not for this event. Too bad! Probably due to the Corona and uncertainty for a long time whether the event would go through or would be canceled, and that Ironman didn’t want to print (invest) so many event t-shirts in case the event wouldn’t go through. Understandable but still unfortunate.
After the bike ride, I experienced some issues with my Garmin Fenix 3 smartwatch. It wouldn’t properly work anymore. The screen was blinking and turning off after a few seconds. I knew the battery was almost full so that wasn’t the issue. Searching on the internet opened many similar topics all having issues with blicking screens and no real help from Garmin. Ok, this was annoying! I use my watch to keep track of my heart rate during the race. Without everything would be just guessing and would not make me feel happy. Trying to reboot a few times, trying to hard reset a few times, but this all didn’t resolve the issue.
Right, the last easy solution was to buy a new one. Not knowing stores in France, let alone in Les Sables d’Olonne, this was another internet search. Finally, I found a shop on the other side of the city that would have a Garmin Fenix 6 in the shop. Even with a small discount. After buying it and coming back home, it was time to set it up. Spending the next couple of hours setting everything up, interfacing all the sensors, I hoped it would work without any issues.
On Saturday morning I had my last easy run and in the late afternoon, it was time to bring my bike to the transition area for check-in. Due to the Corona precautions, no transition bags were placed on Red/Blue bag racks but were both placed next to the bike. That meant that during the transition, the change from swim to bike and from bike to run would take place at your bike. The rest of the day was very relaxing and trying to do a proper carb loading (pancakes, plates of pasta) and went to bed pretty early.
Sunday 6 September: at 02:00 hrs my alarm went off for my last pasta meal. About half an hour later I was back to sleep again. At 05:00 hrs my alarm went off again. Time to really wake up and get ready!
Putting the last things in my backpack and walking to the transition zone. Many other athletes were on the route as well, some already went to the swim start. It was still dark and unfortunately, it was also dark in the transition area. No street lights so everybody was using their phones to see something. Some had a headlight so I guess they knew there were no lights in this transition area. Something to remember for the next race!
Pumping up my tires, filling up, and placing the water bottles on my bike. Setting up my bike shoes with the elastic bands for a flying mount. Putting all the necessary items in my Blue (swim to bike) and Red (bike to run) transition bags for quick changes. The rest went into my backpack to drop off in the streetwear bag at the swim start. A quick walk along the harbor to the swim start area and just in time to see the men Pro’s start. It looks so easy when you see Pro’s swimming…
Then it was time to get ready myself. My Sailfish One wetsuit, oiling up my lower legs for a quick wetsuit removal and dropping off my backpack. About 15 minutes before the planned start, I drunk my Nutrid Kerosine energy drink as recommended by Nutrid. Everybody was still wearing their mouth masks until the very last moment before entering the queue to the water. That was a bit unhandy, trying to undo your mouth mask and fiddling with the swim cap but nothing to worry about. The start was a rolling start in the age group so pretty smooth queue to the swim start line.
And then I was off in the water! It wasn’t too deep here yet but after a few dolphin moves, I continued in freestyle stroke and going fast. I was quite nicely heading off and overtaking other swimmers along the way in the direction of the turning buoys at the end of the pier. As usual at the turning buoys, it was busy and I was trying to stay a bit away from that and keeping my stroke. That worked out pretty well.
And then the long stretch along the other side of the pier towards the marina. After not too long I felt a few rolling waves and then I felt the current. The current of the changing tide that was against us… Immediately, I felt that my speed dropped and I saw other athletes struggling to swim. As before, I tried to stay a bit away from the busy stream of athletes and that was a good decision. After a bit of fighting the water, I found my rhythm and picked up my speed again. Then the last part towards the jetty where everybody came together. It was busy and there wasn’t that much space but staying a little on the outside I managed to dodge most of the chaos.
Out of the water, pressing my watch to start the transition time. While running over the jetty to the transition area I was undoing my upper part of the wetsuit and along the way taking off and putting on my watch.
Yes, being lefthanded, and therefore having my watch on my right wrist, I can’t access the start and lap buttons while the watch is under the wetsuit, so I have the watch on top of my wetsuit. Normally the run to the transition zone is long enough to take the watch off, get out of the arms of the wet suit, and putting the watch on again. This time no issue as well.
Undoing the rest of my wetsuit at my bike, putting on my helmet and start number, and running off the to bike start line. Just after the bike line doing a perfectly performed flying mount and off I was! Transition 1, from swim to bike, took me 3:02.
In the next few hundred meters, I was putting my feet in my bike shoes, and then it was time to hammer on the bike. Just out of the marina area there was a huge bump in the road surface and before I knew my saddle bidon was flying through the air! I wasn’t the only one since I saw many other athletes having to brake, turn, pick up the bottle, and continue again. Same for me!
Unfortunately, my bad luck wasn’t over yet! Just after the saddle bidon event, the lid of my handlebars bidon flew off! Spilling all the energy drink over the front of my bike and having to make the same maneuver: brake, turn, pick up, screw on the lid, and continue again. I still can’t understand why this was happening. In the morning, I know 100% sure that the lid was screwed on properly. Without doubt. I’ve never had any issue with this bidon so this still stays unexplainable for me. The unfortunate result was that I had less energy drink. And since I am completely self-reliant, I don’t take the energy drinks from the aid stations. At least I wasn’t planning for that. Having only one full saddle bidon of 750ml and an aero bidon of 500ml, this wouldn’t be a lot for 90 km biking.
Anyway, after these two unfortunate events, my cycling could finally start! The first part of the bike route I knew pretty well and was quite flat. After realizing that I had pressed too often on my watch, I was fiddling around with my watch and starting another triathlon workout (this is why my bike route is split into two sections on Strava 😉 )
After not too long, I felt that it was costing me quite some energy to keep the speed and power I was planning. Quickly realizing that I didn’t have the best legs today… Still trying to do my best and give my 100% I was trying to hammer through and overtake as many as possible. Since the swim start of my age group was one of the last groups, I was able to overtake many earlier started athletes, which was a good motivation for me. Of course, all these other age group athletes were no real competition for me but it was still a great feeling.
Some athletes were overtaking me as well and a few I saw a couple of times on the bike route, either me overtaking them or them overtaking me. Especially on the short climbs, I was pacing my speed and not trying to kill myself but on the descents, I kept on pushing and riding with a higher speed than others that were stopping rotating their legs. And sort of knowing the bike route gave me an advantage on where to keep pushing without creating a dangerous situation and where to keep my hands at my brakes to adjust speed in tighter corners or tricky road surface areas. The road surface was actually pretty good (for French standards for sure) with smooth asphalt and only some speed bumps in the roads in the passing towns. But most of these bumps were marked with spray paint well in advantage by the Ironman team. Ah, and sometimes a bit of gravel in the corners outside of the towns.
During the last 15 minutes on the bike, I was starting to feel a bit tired, next to the feeling that I really had to do a toilet pit-stop! In the last few hundred meters of the bike route, getting my feet out of my shoes, placing them on top of the shoes, and keep on pushing on. Right before the bike finish line, I jumped off and ran into the transition zone to park my bike.
Helmet off, running shoes on, cap and sunnies on and ready! Well almost, the quick toilet pit-stop along the way, and then running to the run exit and start the run! The transition 2 from bike to run took me (with the pit-stop) a bit longer 3:38.
The first part of the run went well. I had another athlete just in front of me and also running a nice pace. The first 2.5 km I ran an average of 4:15/1km but I couldn’t continue this speed, unfortunately. The same reason as on the bike, I just didn’t have the great legs today! Just before coming on the boulevard, there was a 300m section over the beach. Luckily it wasn’t high water so the beach was pretty wide and not overly soft. The other athlete that I had just in front of me, in the beginning, couldn’t keep up and I didn’t see him the rest of the race. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep my fast speed of 4:15 anymore as well and the rest of the run my speed was between 4:23 and 4:48/1km. Not bad, not great either!
The Nutrid Kerosine RS+ energy drink in the flex bidon did work out very well. During previous triathlons, I always had stomach issues during the run and had to do a toilet pit-stop (number 2!). This time only the number 1 after the bike and no issues with my stomach at all! Very happy about that! During the run, I took some little sips of the concentrated energy drink just before every aid station and I flushed it down with a bit of water from the aid station. This worked well and I had just enough for the whole run.
I completed the run in 1 hour 36 minutes and 51 seconds with an average run speed of 4:36/1km. Not the time I was hoping for, that was below 1:30:00 but still a faster run time than every other Ironman race I’ve done so far!
The total time of the Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne was 4 hours 50 minutes and 19 seconds.
This resulted in rank 18 in my Age Group of 135 athletes, and rank 210 Overall of 1,218 athletes. Directly after finishing the race I wasn’t happy how it went! I didn’t feel strong and couldn’t give the power that I know I have in me. After a while, I started to realize that rank 18 is actually my best ever rank in an Ironman 70.3 race! And knowing that I can do better, I can be faster, I know that the future is bright! I’ll be back, stronger and faster!