Packing was a nightmare. Everything I thought I would need was packed, plus other stuff I might need, plus the stuff I probably won’t need but might as well take just in case and then there was the stuff I won’t need but could take under the guise of ‘better take it incase the wife wants it’. There was so much stuff in the boot I am surprised the front wheels where still on the floor.
On Saturday we were up at silly o’ clock (5.30am) on the road by 6.30am and got to the tunnel just in time for final check in time. The drive through France was a breeze thanks to; Gloria (the nickname for our Sat Nav), the wife’s choice of music from the ipod and the cruise control function on the car.
After catching up with Sam and Lee – we were shown to our room which was one of the three new bedrooms overlooking the new, fully heated 25 metre pool. In fact there was a swim session going on as we unpacked and set up the bikes. Within 30 minutes of arriving I was in the pool having a swim to stretch out after the journey.
Following this we introduced ourselves to the other athletes, which was weird, meeting people for the first time as they sat semi clad in the hot tub. Intro’s over and within minutes we were happily chatting away over events done, events planned, good performances, bad performances etc
And that was the start of what I hope are some good, long lasting friendships; Paul (who was there with his partner, Francis and two children) was one of the most entertaining people I have met. Pulling out some classic one liner’s all week that left me in hysterics. Iain who was more quiet than Paul but someone who also enjoyed a laugh and boy was he a strong triathlete, who just kept pushing for every session.
Mark, my coach, was there with his wife Claire, plus our hosts Sam and Lee and that was the start of some fun times and some excellent training sessions.
After a lovely three course meal it was an early night after the long day of travelling and we had a run session set for 8am on Sunday!
Sunday went like this: 8 am run technique session coached by Mark – Paul had me in hysterics within 10 minutes of the session, followed by breakfast, set up of bikes and then a 2 hrs 30 min group ride, back for lunch and a relaxing afternoon with an optional easy swim.
Food was in abundance, as were the laughs, the teasing, the joking, the mickey taking, the tips and stories from Mark and Claire’s experiences of all the events Mark had done. How many times do you get to talk to someone who has completed a double and a triple ironman distance event over a lovely meal?
And that set the scene and the pace for the days to follow; an early morning session pre-breakfast – usually a swim in the heated pool, a ride or run after breakfast until lunch and then either a run or swim or on one day a sports massage or time in the hot tub in the afternoon/evening.
There were some special sessions – my three favourites were:
An out and back run of 90 mins. So 45 mins one way at a steady pace, turn around at 45 mins and run back at the same pace. If you are pacing correctly you return to the same place you started, within the same time. Easy, until you realize you cannot use your Garmin to pace yourself, you have to do it on feel.
Then you realize you are going to be running along an old railway line on the most picturesque route (the tracks aren’t there anymore), crossing bridges where the railway used to travel. Mark was cycling between me and Iain (who as a true athlete had shot off at a significantly faster pace) offering us gels or drinks.
The best part for me was a) covering over 16K b) all at just over my half marathon pace c) returning back to the start with 7 seconds difference. Now that is pacing!
The second favourite session was a tempo ride back from the lake. We rode to a lake (circa 1 hour 55 mins) as a group at an easy pace, after meeting the ladies and having a picnic we did a tempo ride back. This basically meant riding hard, into a head wind in a line drafting off of each other. Concentration was key because as soon as your mind lapsed a gap of 6 – 8 inches developed over the bike in front and you had to up the effort to get back on their wheel. It was intense but you couldn’t help feeling like the GB time trial team. What followed this session, when we got home – a run off the bike. Three laps of a route just under 1K in distance, each one getting quicker. The first one I did in 4 mins 39 secs, the second in 4 mins 20 secs and the third in 4 mins 1 sec. Not only was I pleased with the ride, but the run off the bike and pacing myself to get faster each time shows I am finally starting to master this pacing lark!
The third key session for me was a 20 x 100 metre timed swim set with 10 seconds rest between each 100. Mark was timing each 100 so I can see the pace I went off at and what average pace I held. Very interesting.
Now these were just the favourite sessions, others sessions included more leisurely rides with the group to a coffee shop and one with the wife which was nice. A 10 mile time trial as a chain gang, again an intense ride. The last full day was also great fun as we did a sprint and super sprint triathlon.
Tri Topia run the sprint triathlon for guests most weeks and there is a leader board in the lounge for everyone’s times and they are coded by age group – so you can try and get a good time for your age irrespective of who you are racing on the day. But better than that, Mark worked out a handicap system, so based on our swim, bike and run performances in the week, he worked out what time difference we should have for the start of the race so we should technically finish together and hence end up racing at the end.
Needless to say as the ‘Iron boy’, having not done an Ironman like the others (and being the slowest) I started first, before Paul and Iain and Mark also took part. I was going for a finish time of 46.32 which was my age group’s leading time.
My swim was terrible, the ladies watched the event, with cameras at the ready, and as I started first everyone was cheering me on. So I went off like Alistair Brownlee – problem is I am no Alistair Brownlee. So the swim was a disaster.
To make up time I rushed through transition and cocked that up as well so had it all to do on the bike and run. The bike course I had ridden at a leisurely 11.30 secs earlier in the day so I was hoping for 10 mins per lap.
The bike course was a crappy one, some climbs that break your rhythm, some gravel so you cannot make up time on the descents, but after 50% or so there is a nice gradual descent where you can get the power on.
I did the two laps in under 20 mins and that included the transition so pleased with that and was off on the run, which was one lap of the bike course. And now I did feel like Alistair. I felt good off the bike, got into a fast pace (for me) and just went for it. There was no one around me and rather than work out if I would get caught and where, I just focused on the run, my pace, my stride, my cadence, my arms, my breathing (as Mark had taught me in the run sessions all week).
I just pushed and pushed and pushed. As I turned the corner on the road to the Gitte, I glanced behind and saw no one. ‘The race win is in the bag’ I thought. Then I caught a glimpse of Iain, going like the clappers hot on my tail. I couldn’t speed up as I was going as fast as I could. We turned the final corner and I could hear him breathing behind me. As we approached the finished the ladies were shouting and cheering with the wife screaming ‘Iains coming, speed up he’s going to catch you’. I found something from somewhere and crossed the line less than 2 seconds in front of Iain.
My finish time was 3rd for my age group – but I won the race! I know it was only a fun race, I know I had a huge head start, but that’s not the point! The handicap system meant we all finished together but we didn’t because I was faster than Mark thought I would be. And that, my friends, is because I am improving.
Iain, being the legend he is, won the race on everyone’s actual times and shot to first place in the Tri Topia leader board in a time that Lee thinks will be hard to beat this year. Well done Iain.
The race was so much fun we decided to do another, but shorter one, in the afternoon which the wife and Claire also took part in. This one was hard going after the sprint earlier in the day. The swim was 4 lengths, the ride one lap of the previous bike route and the run one loop of the short, under 1K loop, around the Gitte.
This was also handicapped with everyone starting at different times. A good solid performance by all meant I was second to last! The swim was OK, four lengths meant it was over before I knew it, the bike leg was OK probably my fastest one as I was used to the course, the run was very hard. As it was under 1K the assumption was I could go out fast and hang on. This assumption was wrong!
I did the run in 4.01 which is the same as the fastest lap for this loop I did off the bike a few days earlier so I was pleased with that. But it wasn’t a consistent pace, I went off faster and flagged at the end.
The heavens then opened so we dashed for the hot tub and chillaxed until the rain stopped.
Over the week I trained for just over 20 hours, split roughly as 3 hrs for swimming, 13 hrs on the bike and 4 hrs running.
A lot of the training focused on technique which was key for me and I have lots of thoughts to go away with.
We drove back Saturday, I shared the driving with the wife so I could have a snooze in the car, as I have a 150K sportive to do the next day!
Thanks for reading.