Wow is all I can say about one of the most intense and fascinating experiences of my life!
Recent circumstances in my life made me realize even more how we spend our time here is even more valuable! This race has always fascinated me from reading about it, so after some procrastination and with some coaxing from my BFF Sara, I signed up.
I knew deep in my soul that this day was to be all about the mental side of the sport and not the results (isn’t it always?). My sign up date of May 15 was a warning signal as I knew the time to prepare properly would not be the most optimal. In addition, the time I took off for swimming after I cranked my shoulder on the Wisconsin ice assured me that I needed a strong swim just to get out of the water with the energy to tackle the 3 mountains that lay ahead.
An added bonus was flying into Paris and hanging out a few days to watch the final stage of the Tour De France come into Paris. After 3 weeks of torture, these guys were flying into town and ready to get into the after party! For those of you that followed the race, you know it was a real show stopper that came along with heaps of drama and especially EMOTION! (Along with some broken dreams and broken bodies)
A quick train to Grenoble, then rent a car for the drive to our accommodation in the village. What a great view we had every morning upon waking! So quiet and the air (although thin) was soooo clean!!
So back to the race. The organisers suggested that you ride to the start.(about 25km/14 miles) However, the day before, we decided to drive down from our flat instead of ride our bikes. This would be a good decision until my mate Tony found out his cycling shoes he left out to wear for our original plan to ride were still back at the flat. No worries, one of our Sherpas for the day, Alex, (a young Aussie buck I used to coach) offered to go back, get the shoes, and meet Tony at the bottom of the 1st climb so he would have them for the rest of the day. Tony would have to ride the first 35km in his running shoes/ (his other pair was waiting for him at T2
OK, calm and cool prevails straight from the start!
The vibe and electricity prior to the swim lifted me 15 feet off the ground! The path to get here was a challenge (as with anything putting you out of your comfort zone), but the different Nationalities and mutual trepidation put me in a weird sense of peace. The sun was shining and I was ready to celebrate my health today by having a party in France!!!
I’m not the strongest swimmer I could be since I’ve never really incorporated heaps of swim training in my schedule. (until 3 weeks out LOL) Even though I’ve posted some strong swims in my day, swimming was never a top priority. This 15C swim would require cold water resilience as well as some good training. Not having much of both, my internal language at that point was stay steady and think: “Swimming in Hawaii!!” It worked until the last 400m of the swim when a bit of cold kicked into my feet (Btw, no foot booties, nor hand gloves were allowed in the race, so heaps of warm cream and body glide to attempt a protective coating was slathered on)
When they started letting athletes in the water, Tony and I were warming up and made our cattle procession into the water. Despite the cold, I had faith in my cold water shower training to get through the initial shock. The deep water starting line was still about 75m away when the gun went off. Like I’ve stated in a past post, it’s been a few years since I’ve been in a big start, but no better time than now to get it goin’! It was on for over 1400 people!
Once I started swimming and getting my stroke on, I felt good. I thrive on putting myself in “different” situations and this was the first situation of the day. During the cool swim, I stopped about 6 times to not only “reset” but to look up at the Alps, appreciate my gifts in life and embrace the ability to deal with all the $hit we deal with in life. Finally got to the finish and had a small (but very strong) Frenchman assist/pull me out of the water like I was a wet rat!
After a super sloooooow transition getting out of the wettie and putting some warm gear on, I was onto the next chapter
They told us in the race program not to go full balls in the first 25km of the bike as it was it was mostly downhill. I saw Tony and we chatted for a few before I went out to seek glory for the day. I knew I was back in France when that familiar burn in the legs started and happens with a 1 hour (plus) climb. It’s been soooo long since I’ve been in some good mountains and fortunately, I was (somewhat) prepped through a few sessions on the computrainer at my pain cave in HB.
Coming up to the 2nd climb, there was a 8% 4km wall to get the legs going for the next mountain.
Just before the 2nd climb of the day, I stopped for a bathroom break and to check the aid station out. I knew I was back in the French Alps when in addition to the usual energy bars, cookies, fruit, and gels, they had some nice ham and cheese plates out for those wanting some savory aid! It was at this stop that we pick up our special needs bag. This is a bag with our number placed on it and we drop off before the start. We can put anything from comfort food, to warm gear etc. so I had an isotonic caffeinated mix to put in my bottle. Perfect timing!
I had a super sweet descent down Col d’Ornon hitting speeds of 50+ mph! Great memories of past adventures returned bringing a HUGE smile to my face! No time to be fearful here, just lovin the flow of the road ahead.
Well, the Alpe D’Huez lay ahead and after she was tackled, a hilly 21km (13 miles) off road run at the ski station in the clouds. For those that are not familiar with the AlpeD’Huez, it’s a mountain in France on which many battles of the Tour De France have been fought. The fabled climb has 21 switchbacks which descend in order as you get near the ski village. The steepest and hardest part of the climb lay in the first 5KM. It was just coming through this part when I felt the wheel shift and a loud “ping” happened. It’s been a while, but I know that sound and secretly hoped my thoughts weren’t true. I looked down between my legs at the wheel and yep, sure nuff, a spoke on the wheel had broken! I rode another 200meters or so before I dismounted to double check. Yep, a drive side spoke snapped and the wheel was wobbling and rubbing on the brakes each turn. I released the quick release to accommodate the side to side wobble, but it was still rubbing a bit. I did my best to minimize the friction, got back on and continued the climb. About another 1km there was a moto-official on the side of the road. I stopped and asked in my “perfect” French for a 5mm allen key so I may loosen the brake cable completely. Hard to believe, but she did not have one.
Back on the bike and I just focused on my leg turnover and putting a few watts in to the pedals. Another couple switchbacks went by and I was in the “zone’. I put out of my brain the wheel rub and rode the pain train to the top!
BTW, for the past almost 6 hours, I passed a good many people on and in between the climbs who outswam me at the start of the day. I Love the bike and today was definitely a mental test.
In T2, I racked my bike, put the runners and my cap on and was ready to rock a solid run! This was my territory (after cycling) and even though I was fatigued, I was looking forward to the fun ahead. The first 2km strategy would be just to get my run legs going. I kept the pace just below my race pace and was getting ready to work on negative splitting as the laps went by ( 3 X 7km laps with a HUGE hill in the middle)
I was wondering also about something I needed not only for the first part of the run, but the remainder as well and that was OXYGEN!! Where was it? I felt the altitude for sure and it was like trying to breath hard through a straw!. I mentally and physically prepared to alter/slow my pace. Then it happened! Like my spoke snapping earlier, my left hamstring did the same. Not so much a snap as it was a big cramp causing me to stop. I attempted the release it and once it felt better started to run again.
Guess what? I couldn’t run and barely could walk as I realized this was more than just a “cramp”. I could not believe this and refused to believe it. Where the top of the hamstring attaches to my pelvis felt like it was being ripped off (just like taking the meat off a chicken wing with yer teeth) But here it was, a pulled muscle to test my mental fortitude. (have I not been tested enough in this lifetime? Haha)
My supporters there (Alex and my BFF Sara) were cheering me on and I managed a smile to them as I explained what was going on. I continued and I felt the day start to enter another mode (disappointment) I also found out at this point my mate Tony did not make the bike cut-off and was pulled from the race. However, he went onto the run to finish his day despite not getting an official result. What a way to mentally deal with that news and move forward. Tony is a long time Lover of ultra distance races w/13 Ironman’s under his belt. Today was a test for him as well.
Well, I shuffled, walked, and ran (when I could manage it) and started to “leg go” of negativity and enjoy the moment. The spectators were awesome as well as the fellow competitors that day. Such energy!
As someone who has dealt with other setbacks in life, I just shrugged the shoulders, said “CE LA VIE”, and did my best to enjoy the rest of this journey. I came across the finish line in under 10 hours (9:50) and was greeted by that special person in my life, Sara. She knew I was not the “Joyful Jake” I usually am, but I managed a small smile.
I was pretty shagged and definitely ready to sit down and stop moving, LOL. After a small recuperation period, I ate a small bowl of pasta and after some chatting, started to hobble back to the hotel room.
I experienced so many emotions throughout the day. I was happy to fight (and slay) the Dragon that was sent to conquer me. I’m soooo grateful to all those (you know who you are) that have supported me near and far as well as tackling one of the toughest races in the WORLD!
I’m thankful for my health and the spirit I’ve been gifted to go on this incredible journey.
Now it was time to relax and enjoy my next 8 days in Europe traveling around with Sara, laughing, visiting a mate in Italy, and eating some great food and having some beautiful wine.