The full story
I could barely swim a few months ago and hadn’t run in almost 10 years. Before that, maybe a dozen times for the sake of it… Yet, I recently participated in my first triathlon, the half ironman of Aix en Provence. I shared bits and pieces of this first challenge here, as well as additional elements of context.
Just two days after completing this achievement, happy with the experience but willing to do much better, I got in touch with a coach, Christophe Llamas. I simply searched on Google. I was looking for someone with the right mindset, attitude, discipline, and knowledge in nutrition & training. I felt this when I looked at his profile, and our first interactions confirmed my impressions.
The goal was to train for the full Ironman in Nice that will take place on the 16th of June, 2024. But first, we had to set intermediary milestones, and the first one was the Half Ironman of Cervia in Italy. For the people unfamiliar with the discipline, the Half Ironman is a 1.9km swim followed by a 90km ride and finally a 21km run.
Christophe trained me on nutrition with clear and simple recommendations without making me feel miserable (something I have noticed with athletes following an insanely strict diet) and how to fuel my body before, during, and after training or a race. I lost about 5kg while gaining strength over the past 4 months. Without reaching my optimum athlete weight, I could hopefully still lose 3 to 4 kg over the next few months. He coached me in person at the swimming pool once a week in June and July, correcting my initial posture in the water in order for me to be able to swim over a long period of time without feeling tired. I will have to work hard on my technique and swim a lot over the next few months. He explained to me how our muscle fibers function and why it was critical to train most of the time in the endurance zone. He has been sending me a weekly schedule with clear instructions.
In July and August, I trained more and more in uphills, both in running and cycling. It was honestly challenging, but again, I really enjoyed the struggle and I think it helped me reach new highs.
When, on the second week of August, I looked at the race schedule for the half Ironman in Italy, I figured it was on Sunday afternoon, which didn’t allow me to get back home before Monday. So, I asked Christophe whether he thought I could switch and participate in the full version instead, happening on Saturday morning… For the people unfamiliar with the distances, the full Ironman is a 3.8km swim followed by a 180km ride and finally a 42km run. He said: if you follow my instructions, you’ll be ready.
The instructions were: chill swim for the first 400m not to break your engine, bike at 140bpm, and even if you feel good and want to push, don’t do it. Run at a pace of 5:45 min per km. Drink every 10 to 15 minutes, Gel at least every 40 to 45 minutes. Don’t wait for your body to tell you what it needs, or it will be too late.
On Wednesday, I had to be in Geneva in the evening, and I had a board meeting on Thursday in Paris. I drove up from Aix en Provence to Geneva on Wednesday morning, took the first train to Paris on Thursday morning, went back in the afternoon, and then drove down to Cervia, where I arrived at around 10 p.m. I didn’t sleep very well that night… The next day, on Friday, I registered for the race and prepared everything for the next morning. And then I opened the note that my family had written to me… My eldest son, who likes to joke around, wrote this…
I slept about 6 hours, woke up at 5 in the morning, prepared my pre-race cake and drink, and headed to the transition zone in order to check the pressure of my tires and put my bottles and gels in place. I was feeling good, really happy to be here, and ready to both comply with the plan and cope with the unexpected. In pleasure and pain.
I started the swim like we had planned, slowly (Not that I am fast…), and then started to speed up a bit. At some point, I felt pain in my back, and that’s when I realized that Jellyfish were joining the party. Fortunately, they just scratched my neck. It was obviously unpleasant, but it’s always better than on your feet or your hands…
1 hour and 13 minutes later, I was out of the water, positioned in 910th overall. I transitioned in about 9 minutes towards the ride. Quite slow, I admit… I didn’t prepare for them enough, lost time finding my bag and gearing up. As someone told me: “…you shouldn’t stop for coffee during the transitions…” // I took some fresh water and one gel.
Trying to be in the most aerodynamic position, following the plan which was to stay at 140 beats per minute the whole time, the ride went pretty smoothly except maybe when the two bottles in the back on my saddle slipped down when their cage lost its position (poorly screwed, my fault…) - I found a way to approximately place it back and kept on going. The headwinds during the last 30km were like a punch in the face after an easy first 150km at 34.5 kilometers per hour on average. About 5 hours and 17 minutes later, I had managed to find my way up to the 473rd position, I was back in the transition zone, gearing up for the run. // In total, I took about 3.5 liters of water with nutrients and about 10 gels, more or less.
After putting my shoes on, my cap, and my light backpack filled with one liter of water full of nutrients and about 8 gels, I went for the marathon. I had never run more than 22km. The plan was to run in 5 min 45 sec per km. I mean, it was quite hypothetical at this stage. I felt very good, the course was beautiful, and the first 22km went very smoothly at an average pace closer to 5:20 per kilometer, but then I felt a bit tired and decided to change my way of running to give my legs a break, which worked for about 10km. Then came the last lap, during which I was really suffering. My legs were just giving up. But Christophe had warned me: Your legs will be on fire for the last 10km, don’t think about it. Drink, eat, and push towards the end. // In total, I took about 2 to 3 liters of water (half of it with nutrients) and 7 gels.
I finished my first marathon in 3 hours and 48 minutes, passed the finish line after 10 hours, 33 minutes, and 35 seconds, up to the 427th overall position (the goal was less than 12 hours) - I went back to my apartment shortly after calling my family and my coach.
When I was done putting everything in my bags and the bike in my car, it was about 7:30 in the evening, and I was ready to relax and get some sleep before driving back to France the next morning. However, for about 4 hours straight, even after closing the windows and turning up the volume of Netflix, the only thing I could hear was, “ Congratulations - Name - You’re an Ironman! ” - It was the hardest part of the day I think, and it’s only when midnight hit the clock that the mic dropped. Note to myself: don’t get a room too close to the finish line next time…
I felt proud and grateful after passing the finish line. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better race, and it gave me the motivation to keep pushing. So I am going to keep training for the 2024 Ironman in Nice.
No dream is too big, and no dreamer too small.
Believe in Yourself !