June 12, 2002
Runner's Web Special Report
Ironman France, held in Gérardmer, France, on 22 June 2002. Race conditions: Swim, smooth, warm lake, great visibility, nice course. Bike, very (VERY) hilly ride, three loops, total climbing 2828m or 9191ft, temperature 25-31C, little or no wind. Run, three loops, minor hill, some running in town, half exposed to direct sunlight, temperature 31-35C (bit cooler in the woods), no wind.
Paul, swim 1:05, bike 7:52 (yep, that slow!), run, managed about 20 km, at the 12 hour mark, the marshall’s suggested perhaps I should stop since I had all the classic dehydration symptoms and was heading for a medical tent incident (which I wanted to avoid).
Rudy, swim 1:00, bike 6:58 (pretty fast guy, maybe too fast), run, managed about 30 km, then at 12:30 mark he had a close encounter with the bottom of his stomach, and the medical people felt the best way for him to finish the course was in an ambulance
Rudy and I would like to thank all our support crew: Lynn, Joan, Sharon, and Rick who helped us through the build up and on the day, and of course, we have to give a special Congratulations to Miriam Nicholson who finished this toughest of races, even though it was her very first Ironman. Well done Miriam, you did great.
Pre-Race: We arrived on Thursday evening (race was on Saturday) after a drive from the Channel Tunnel to Gérardmer. The weather was very nice, high 20’s, and our campground was right beside the swim start (Ramberchamp campground for anyone interested in next year), with most of the campers also being people doing the race. We missed the pasta dinner, but had a nice campground meal and a good night’s sleep.
On Friday morning we met up with Rick Hellard at the race pack pickup point and he was great, giving us a run down of the course and some background information. Before the race briefing Rick took us in his van and we drove the run course (the wooded/hilly section anyway), which was great. Then, after the race briefing we took our van and drove the ride course (or what we thought was the course, it wasn’t fully marked, nor very clear in their maps). The course was very impressive, with three major climbs in each loop, but some very nice, fast and smooth downhills that looked like they’d be fun the next day. Half way around we stopped and had a picnic lunch at the top of the second major climb and enjoyed the great view and pleasant weather. As usual, the weather the day before the race was perfect for racing (just like Lanzarote!!!). Friday night Rick, Sharon and Miriam dropped by to see us just before we were ready to crash, and we enjoyed some additional hydration with them while Rudy and I told Miriam horror stories of past races, to help her prepare (little did we know what was in store for us then!!!!).
Friday night we had a decent sleep, with reveille at 0500 to have a small breakfast before heading over to be marked and a last check on the bike. The mood around the lake was pretty subdued, with everyone aware the course was going to be hard, and, with a brilliant, clear blue sky, the weather was foreboding too.
As we prepared for the swim Rudy and I donned our de rigeur Canadian outfits for the day, featuring a cool Canada Flag tie that Joan had found for us, which we wore with our wet suits as we milled about waiting for the start. It was good to break the tension and help us relax.
The swim start was well organised, entering the water on the run, and self seeding by time panels so people could avoid being in the wrong place at the beginning. At the gun, we tried to run into the water, but, since there were rather large rocks on the beach, not sand, everyone sort of picked their way gingerly into the lake before they started swimming.
Paul: My swim went very well, considering I’d done no open water preparation, and had been doing all my training in a 17m pool in the health club in London. I swam about 10 times to get ready for the race, so I consider myself to have gotten away with this one I felt strong throughout the swim, had a good draft almost all the way, and never felt pushed or overloaded all the way. When I came out I still felt good, I hadn’t swallowed too much lake water, and I was ready to ride.
Rudy: Paul and I met Mark Allen in the milling about before the race, and we shook his hand. That was pretty cool. I felt it was a bit of a quick start, goggles worked really well, no fogging, clear as glass all the way through the swim. It was a little congested, one guy grabbed me by the arm and shoulder, dragged me back a bit, so I swam up behind him again, and returned the favour, much to his surprise. He came up sputtering and coughing, and I just swam off. That was very pleasing for me. Other than that, it was pretty easy, very comfortable. One point on the way back we were swimming into the sun and got a bit off line, but nothing major, and we rejoined the pack easily.
Rudy: Even during the first loop I felt the whole world was passing me, and I realised it was mainly because my swim time was quite good and a lot of good cyclists were passing by. The first loop went really well, felt very comfortable, drank a whole bottle of E-Load, 1.5 bottles in the Jet Stream, ate banana’s, pretzels, and 1 gel (ate one per loop). Second loop was a bit slower, still people passing me, which I thought would have stopped by now, so I thought I was losing ground at that stage. On the third loop, second climb the first category H guy that I saw came by (that was my category). On the second climb of the third loop I stopped and ate my Mars bar and drank a whole water bottle of Coke to get me through the last 30km. The next 10km went nicely because it was mostly downhill, next 5 km was fairly flat and ok, the next 10km was gradual false flat climbing, then the last 5km of climbing was like 2 by Blacks, or Yellow Lake in Penticton. Finally, the last 4-5 km was downhill into town.
Paul: This was a very hard ride. I was quite concerned about the heat, and had my main objective of the day set, that was, to avoid the medical tent. In the heat that we had, I knew that would be my biggest obstacle. I felt good all through the first loop, and I too was passed by many people during the ride. I really enjoyed the descents, getting up to some good speed as we wound our way down. Max speed for the day was just under 80 km/hr, reached on the first big descent. I was eating the power bars provided by the race (I had trained with them), plus a gel or two per lap, and I was drinking the Peereton drink (again, I had trained with it so I was used to it). Also, they had great COLD water at each aid station on the bike, so I poured that over me all day to keep cool. By lap two I stared to pass a few people on the climbs, but I was still holding back and pacing myself. Then, I was hit by a really bad bout of sciatic nerve trouble in my right butt cheek. Ouch, it was really tender, shooting pains into my butt, but not down my leg. I stood a bit to try and shake it off, but it was screaming at me by the time I came down the last hill into town after the second lap. It was so bad I stopped in the transition area and stretched and worked on it a bit, while talking to Rick, Sharon and Lynn who were there encouraging me. I wasn’t feeling too bad about the heat, but I was very worried about the sciatic flaring up, so I was in quite a quandary about continuing. Everyone was very good, giving me space to think it over, and after about 20 minutes of stretch and mulling it over, I decided to continue, but at a slower pace. The last lap was about the same as the other two in terms of difficulty, and, thankfully, the stretching worked and the sciatic problem went away until the very last climb. As I reached the last 15 km I hooked up with a guy from the UK named Darren who was suffering a bit, but moving at close to my pace. It was his first Ironman so I stayed alongside him for the last hour or so and talked with him, to help us both work our way home. It was a good distraction for both of us.
Paul: I had a nice transition, although the tent was stinking hot, and I exited alongside Darren again and we both started running feeling really good. I was very pleased at how strong I still felt, my legs were great, no problems in the back or neck, and I was chugging along passing may people although I was only running a slow, steady Ironman shuffle. Great, I though, I can make it, if only I can keep the fluids up. Because, and a big because, this was, the temperature was brutal, there was little shade, and I was sweating very heavily to deal with the heat. My stomach was ok, but not fully settled, and I was able to drink and keep gels going in along the way. I covered the first loop running most of the way, and still felt great going out on the second loop. However, by this time I was very concerned about the heat, so I decided to walk in all the open, hot areas, and met up with Miriam who was wisely doing the same. We walked through the hottest part of town, and I said to her, if I could just stay feeling like I was at that moment, I’d walk the rest of the way and I could make it. Just after I said that, we turned a corner and I had a major league woozy spell, and had to sit down in the shade. Crap! Miriam went ahead, and told the staff at the next aid station that I needed help. I got up after a couple of minutes and wobbled my way to the station, where they had me sit in the shade, drink more fluids and compose myself. At that point I though I might still be able to make it, so I carried on, but, the heat in the rest of town was just stifling and I was getting worse as I went back through the transition area and back out for my second loop. At this point I saw Rudy, or, well, you could say I saw someone who looked a bit like Rudy, but I wasn’t really sure, because, it was more like the Ghost of Rudy that I say. His eyes were sunken into his head, he as a mass of water and sweat, he had lost his hearing and he couldn’t speak. And, I was dumb enough to ask his advice if I should continue! Duh! Anyway, we carried on our separate ways, and I wobbled over to the side of the road, sat down, and a marshal came by (after a couple of ambulances had passed). He discussed how I felt and after I described my symptoms he said I could continue and he’d have me picked up by ambulance eventually, or I could call it a day, so I did. I wandered back to the transition zone (about a km away), found Lynn and Sharon and Rick, and packed it in. Done, dusted and once again, humbled by the heat. I was happy to have made it to the 12 hour mark (3 hours further than Lanzarote), and although I felt crappy for a few hours afterwards, I avoided the medical tent (just), and do not regret starting, doing, and stopping this race.
Rudy: Yeah, let me see, the no no no…oh, this is a hard story to tell. On the bike, in the second last climb, I had a few leg cramps so I took it easy on the last climb hoping I would not have any cramps on the run. I ate some salt tablets because I’d used up all my eload. I took 2 salt tablets in the transition and took my time changing. But, even when I was putting my socks on my toes were starting to cramp, so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I came out of the tent testing my legs to see if there were any cramps or no. I could only shuffle along for about 100m before I got some major leg cramps. So, I walked to try and get rid of them, but they wouldn’t go away, so I took 4 more tablets of salt to see if that would work. Eventually, the cramps receded, I walked a bit more, and then ran and walked through the first loop. By this time I had lost hearing in my left ear (by the 10km point), but I wasn’t concerned because this had happened in Hawaii before. In the shade and on the hills I had to start walking on the up hills, but I ran the down hills, trying to shake out the cramps. By this point my back, neck and arms were all tied up in knots, and my digestive system was all messed up and my stomach felt like crap. Into the second loop through town was brutally hot, and when I got to a water station I was having trouble even drinking water, I tried to eat pretzels which I was carrying, but they were not able to settle my stomach. Back out into the woods, walked the up hills, ran the down hills, stopping at an artesian well to dip my head in and cool off, and made it to the far turn around and was still running ok. There was a sharp short climb after the turn around and I found it really, really difficult, even though I was just walking. Even after that on the long slow grade to the top I was spending a lot of effort just trying to walk. I thought I could run the downhill into town, but no way, I had to walk the downhill too. It wasn’t looking too good for the third loop. Back into the heat of the town I met Joan and I tried to tell her I wanted to sit down, but she couldn’t hear my voice, and I couldn’t hear here because I’d lost the hearing in both ears, so it was a pretty useless conversation. I stopped where Rick, Lynn and Sharon were, and they joked with me, Rick offered me his hat, I tried to tell them something, but when they heard my voice their expression changed and I could tell they through I was in really bad shape. I tried to tell them that Paul was considering dropping out, but I’m not sure the message got through. I went through the transition area and back along the hottest part of the street, still not walking, trying to get around the hot corner to reach the shade (I kept telling myself). I could see the aid station coming up only 200m away and a kid came up with a sponge, I soaked myself, but I could also see a comfortable wall to sit on. Finally, I was going to sit down. It took a while but I threw up BIG time. What a mess. The kid came over and offered me another sponge, I waved him away, hung my head between my knees and the medical people came over. The marshal came over (he could speak English), he asked the question, “Well?”, my answer was, “I’m going to quit.”. I’d never thrown up in a race before, I’d never given up in a race before, I’d never had an ambulance ride to the finishing/medical tent before, I’d never had such tender loving care wrapped in swaddling clothes before (well, maybe from my mom), finally, in the medical tent the got me off the stretcher onto the examining table, the Dr came by, sorted out the language problem, hands me over to one of the interns/nurses, the guy asks me a few questions, takes my vital statistics asks me what’s wrong. Well, I have a few cramps I say, he replies, So? I think about this, he says “Maybe you want to continue?”, I thought about it, No. Ok, you can go over to the massage table he says, you are done, just like that. No IV, no follow up, get out. I guess I wasn’t near enough death or something like that for them. I waited for about a half an hour for a massage, but never got one because it was full of people. I just left, and was wandering back to pick up my bike when I met up with Joan, Paul, Lynn, Rick and Sharon. I dropped off my chip, watched a few finishers, picked up my bike, and wobbled back to the campground.
Rudy: The next morning my hearing was back, although my voice was still very crackly. I was willing to go back out then and do the last 12 km, but, it was time to move on. Great race, highly recommended, lots of fun, tough course. After one week of camping and climbing and mountain air, I feel human again and am heading back with Joan. I even managed to run and ride again. I signed up for Collingwood Half Ironman because I won a free entry their earlier this year, and, besides Paul and I have a break 5 hour bet on the race.
Paul: My only regret is that I couldn’t manage the fluid situation well enough to continue, since my legs felt great, I know I had enough strength and stamina left to finish. I recovered a bit quicker than Rudy, but we were both a bit rough around the edges for a couple of days. I have signed up for Half Ironman UK in Wales in September, which is a hilly race, but, it will be cool, probably raining, and just what the Dr ordered for me!
It’s hard for both of us to describe how much climbing there is in 2828m, but we’ll give it a try. From the Ottawa River to the top of Champlain lookout is roughly 400m of climbing. So, it would be roughly equivalent to climbing from Harvey’s in Hull, to the lookout 7 times. The steepness was about 5-7% throughout, and the climbs were all very long, none shorter than 5km, so the length of time spent climbing is also a factor in how hard the ride is. All the climbs have switchbacks in them to ease the gradient for the cars, and, on race day, all the climbs were in full sun, so very hot.
The false flats or gradual gradients leading to the first and third climbs made them even harder, creating about 20km of uphill grinding, somewhat like the last 20km on the Lake Placid loop.
The mental factor of three loops is not to be underestimated too, it’s a difficult grind heading out knowing what you have to deal with each time.
Everyone we met who had done Lanzarote said France was harder (and we agree). Everyone we met who had done Hawaii said France was harder (and Rudy agrees), and Everyone we met who had done IMC or IMUSA said France was harder, and we agree).
Ouch. This one hurt. Maybe IM South Africa will be easier (Rudy), or, IM Antarctica (Paul).