Friday, August 07, 2009

Alpe d'Huez Long Course Triathlon

The day started OK although not a great night's sleep. Breakfast and then a drive down to Sam's Hotel to pick him up on the way to the swim start. The race was starting at a very leisurely 9:30 so not too bad and much better than the usual early Malaysian race starts.

We were all set up and feeling very relaxed with plenty of time. I decided not to wear the arm warmers that Sid and Seb had bought me for Father's Day as it was looking like a hot day was ahead of us. However, the daunting prospect of an ice-cold swim was still there. I had my wetsuit, neoprene hoody that Chantal had kindly lent me and my windsurfing booties.

We bumped into the king of triathlon coaches Brett Sutton and had a chat with him. He gave us some invaluable tips such as get in the water very early to avoid hyper-ventilating because of the shock of the cold. He warned us to take things very carefully leaving T1 as it was a short but steep climb where many racers overcook it. Equally to hold back on the first two climbs and only attack the Alpe d'Huez climb when we were down to the last 6 switchbacks (and only if we felt strong at that point). As for the run, he said not to worry about that, you can't go out too fast as the altitude and lack of oxygen would be a natural pacing mechanism. Wow, what great input for a race we were otherwise racing blind.

Just a note here, Brett had bought the TBB team over from Switzerland the day before the race but get this, they had to ride there and believe me it's a long way and the Alps are in between. Their reward for doing well in the race was to ride back home THE VERY NEXT DAY but the "flat way" - there is no flat way but what he meant was if they did badly he'd take them back via every mountain he could find. A tough man but boy, does he get the results.

Back to the race, we had a pitiful briefing and Mr Chan was much missed at this point. Into the water and to my surprise not too cold at all (about 17 degrees). The gun went and that's when it all went wrong. Every time I tried to swim with any degree of effort I just couldn't breath not even breast stroke. I had to stop about 10 times and it wasn't until about 1.5k into the swim that I could actually get into rhythm albeit a slow one.

This was probably the 2nd worst swim of my life, the worst being when I almost died. Into T1 and came across Sam who was out about a minute ahead of me and we left T1 together. I was soon into a nice rhythm and loving the rolling hills. Eventually we came across the first climb and I started ascending it well. It was about 15k long and pretty steep but doable.

At one point there was a load of shouting behind me as a draft official gave a few riders a penalty. They were right behind me so I can only assume they were "drafting" me but this was a steep slow climb so to get a penalty was not only harsh it was bloody stupid. But then the madness got worse, the draft marshall came along side me and black carded me too (a penalty to be taken on the run). I have no idea what he said or what it was for as he barked at me in French, there wasn't a rider within 50m ahead of me, I can only assume it was because he thought I was allowing these guys to draft off me - we were probably doing 12kph so go figure. This is my first ever draft penalty and I saw no point in arguing with him and since my race had taken a nasty turn a few minutes before I knew surviving the race was going to be the order of the day and a few minutes draft penalty wasn't going to make the slightest bit of difference.

So, there I was 4K from the top of the climb and all of a sudden people I'd caught up were riding away from me, energy sapped and then my stomach cramped - the pain was debilitating but worse than that food and water clearly weren't being digested - oh deary, deary me! I was in big trouble.

Somehow I got over the top did some good descending and then onto the next climb which wasn't as steep but was a real struggle without food and water getting into the system. It was also VERY VERY HOT!

At some stage on the second ascent Sam caught me up, he was looking strong and happy (I wasn't looking or feeling either). He rode off with my best wishes for a good race and I continued on my little journey of misery. I'd long since decided that assuming I made it to the base of the Alpe d'Huez climb that I'd stop at our chalet (literally it was 20m from the road). I got a huge cheer from the Deal Tri Club, Chantal, Indie, Kofi and of course Shilpa, Sid and Seb. It was very short lived though as I came to a stop and told them I was off for a shower.

I'd caught Sam on the descent and he rode by again at this point still looking in tip top form. So there I was, in my chalet in the middle of a race. I had a shower, washed my hair (twice, you've got to get a nice shine haven't you?). Sat down, drank loads of water and ate a yoghurt. That's where I remained for about an hour or so before I felt able to contemplate the mega climb of the Alpe. Had I not stopped there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have made the first switchback. Now though I felt I'd at least make it to T2. SPOT THE CHANGE OF CLOTHES - difficult to miss really but I thought I'd make a statement.

I actually enjoyed the climb even in my weakened state. An hour 28 minutes later I was at the top and very satisfied. There was just a little case of half marathon at 1850m altitude to do now. Hilly and off road for much of it was the order of the day and I was a mess. There was much walking and only a little running, it was a misery I'd experienced many times before in Ironmans where my preparation had let me down. The reason for my current state was without doubt poor preparation so I only had myself to blame.

After the first lap of three I came across the penalty section, you had to run down the road about 100m and back TWICE. This was not only a time penalty but an extra bit of punishment too. The lady manning the penalty zone was an absolute delight though which was nice and at this point I didn't care about the time or the injustice, do it with dignity and a smile I thought.

One lap later I came across the marshall that had given me the penalty in the first place now manning the penalty zone. "Put your number at the front and on straight otherwise I'll disqualify you" he said. I was one of the last runners so a bit of sympathy would have been appreciated. Anyway I straightened my number and shuffled by calling him a TOSSER hoping he'd get the message but not quite knowing the meaning.

Another lap later, 1K to go and I was in full flight, just wanting to bring this nightmare to an end. Chris, who'd finished about 3 hours earlier came and ran with me but refused to cross the finishing line holding hands!!! I finished, got my T-Shirt (no medal for this race) and collapsed on a bench and had a little sob - I was spent!

Sam had an awesome day (all except the last k). He finished 5th in his age-group and missed 4th by only a few seconds.

POSTSCIPT: So my thoughts on this race are fairly straightforward: -

It is not as hard as an Ironman but still needs to be respected and specific focused training undertaken. At least you should if you want to enjoy it. I neither gave it the respect that it deserved or did enough race specific training. The failings were all preparation related and I only have myself to blame. A list of my shortcomings for this race are: -
1. Failed to hydrate and eat correctly prior to the race (I was in holiday mode - to many pizzas and not enough super hydration)
2. Didn't "unload" (No.2s)fully the morning of the race. Partly as I'd forgotten to bring my psyllium husk power for the requisite "clear out" - take it 36 hours before a race and it works wonders believe me. As a result the stomach cramps hit in full force.
3. Didn't hydrate enough during the race (despite Sam's repeated warnings of severe dehydration in these dry, hot and windy conditions). I thought I was on top of it but as it was so dry the sweat just evaporated, unlike Malaysia where it pours down your body and off the end of the handlebars.
4. Didn't do at least one wetsuit swim prior to the race (and it should have been a cold wetsuit swim but anything would have been better than nothing).
5. Should have gotten a few rides in before the race to work out what the correct effort level, heart rate and cadence should have been.
6. Should have taken salt with me for consumption during the race.
There are a few more little preparation issues but you get the gist...

Would I do this race again?

Well, what kept me going to the finish line was the thought that if I didn't finish it then I would HAVE TOO do it again. By that I mean feeling the need to exorcise the ghosts, deal with unfinished business so to speak (a bit like my take on Marathon Des Sables). However, I did finish it so now I have the "choice" and YES I would go back and do it again, especially if a bunch of buddies were going to be there too - after all, what's the fun in suffering alone.


Ishsal said...

i could feel your pain just reading about it. well done man!

Mel said...

Great report Simon, love the bit about the shower. But you did finish, sounds like a race I will never even contemplate! Congratulations, now have a well deserved holiday.

yipwt said...

how is going up a climb at 12kph drafting?...but awesome race you had...

waiting for more pics :)

Brybrarobry said...

Great race report. You got my juices flowing now. Thanks for the link.