International Triathlon de Deauville – Olympic M distance – 4 June 2016
by Deidre D.
This race was one of the few “bucket list” races I had left to do in France before my assignment ends in Paris. I’d registered for it a few months ago only to be placed on a waitlist. I received an unexpected last minute entry from the wait list late in May and wasn’t quite prepared for the swim and bike distances. I’ve had to take a more casual approach to training and racing for the last few years given my work travel schedule, which means I’ve been largely able to maintain my running fitness (you can always find somewhere to run even if on a hotel treadmill) but the cycling and swimming have been a challenge. Needless to say, this race played only to my weaknesses. I can count on six fingers the number of rides I’ve done this year beyond 10k, all which were flat, and I knew that averaging only one swim per week for the last couple of months wouldn’t quite suffice to have a speedy ocean swim. Fortunately the Quiberon camp gave me confidence to know I would survive the chilly choppy water.
I arrived by train the night before. It’s a direct, 2-hour bike-friendly train ride from Paris and I was relieved to not have to dismantle my bike. The start time of the race wasn’t until a respectable 10am on Saturday and fortunately we were allowed to register the morning of the race. I arrived at transition 1.5 hours early and registration went relatively smoothly. I keep forgetting that race bibs in France don’t normally have holes already punched into them. I frantically searched for someone with pins/pen/ stapler and eventually found a spectator with a knife who kindly helped me attach my bib to my race belt. Transition was neatly organized with boxes that we had to put everything into. I’d left my helmet on my handlebars and my runners outside of the box, but it had all been “mysteriously” placed inside the box during my swim. There was a gasp when they announced the water temp of 14.1o. I smiled smugly knowing that Quiberon was colder and totally manageable.
Amazingly, there were no line-ups at the port-a-potties. This, to me, is a sign of a well-organized race and was much appreciated. Nothing more nerve-wracking than standing in a long line up wondering if you’re going to miss a warm-up or, worse, the swim start.
There seemed to be very few women compared to men competing in this race, which is the case with many of the races I’ve done in France. Hopefully the proportion continues to increase as more active women take on this amazing sport.
I had plenty of time to get used to the water. I ran in knowing that it’s easiest to just get the cold out of the way asap. After swimming a few metres, I was surprised at how choppy it was. I expected the bike course to be hilly, but not the swim! The swells felt like tidal waves although this was more attributable to my lack of ocean swimming rather than how big they actually were. Sighting would be a challenge. I tried to find an obvious point on land that I could sight with to get back to shore – I chose a group of white tents. The swim consisted of two 750m loops with a beach run in between (I think you call that Australian style here?). And I may have peed in my wetsuit…the warmth felt divine.
The race started on the beach where we had to seed ourselves into one of three categories (confirmed, intermediate or beginner). I forgot which category I was in and so I placed myself at the back of the confirmed group, hoping I could find some fast feet off which to draft and also wanting to get started asap. There was a large crowd of spectators there to see us off.
I knew it would be a rough go when the race organizers choose Highway to Hell as our sendoff song.
I started swimming towards the first buoy and wondered why everybody was going to its left instead of its right. It then dawned on me that we were going clock-wise rather than counter clock-wise which is the direction I thought I’d read on the website, but was probably changed and announced at the pre-race briefing that I’d missed the day before. Somehow I’d also missed that we had just headed to the buoy on the left rather than the one on the right.
Choppy swims like this one make it useful to be able to breathe bilaterally. While swimming parallel to the shore it was better to breathe on the right to avoid getting a mouthful of water from the incoming waves. I did get knocked about a bit by not only the waves but other swimmers, yet only once did I have to adjust my goggles as a result.
On the way back to shore I realized my sighting plan (the white tents) was no longer applicable and there seemed to be white tents everywhere. So, not being able to see perfectly without my glasses, I just followed the pack. I caution that the pack doesn’t always know where to go. I followed the pack in a similarly swell-y swim in Auckland which led us all to a man standing in a canoe wearing a tent-like yellow raincoat that looked remarkably like a buoy. This time the pack led me a little to the left of the marked exit which was perhaps a good swim strategy. It likely saves a bit of time swimming directly to shore and then running the sideways bit along the beach rather than swimming the longer distance diagonally from the buoy. The exit was maybe 200m in deep, soft sand, and then it was time for another swim of the triangle. I don’t know why as it never happens in training, but I often gulp air (or maybe swallow water) during race swims which leaves me feeling bloated by the end until about 15 minutes into the bike and unfortunately it happened during this race, making it especially difficult to run out of the water.
The swim exit was another 100m or so in the deep sand. My Garmin registered over 1900m for the swim. Although maybe 100m of this is likely do to my sighting issues, at least 300m was the beach running. A really nice touch were the fresh water showers located at the entrance to transition, allowing us to get at least the sand off our feet and salt off our heads.
The bike transition went smoothly and I managed to execute my newly acquired bike-mounting skills without any problems (thanks Quiberon camp). I even put my bike shoes on the right pedals this time, unlike at Versailles where I rode with my shoes on the wrong feet.
I was mentally prepared for The Hill right off the bat, only 2km into the race. Fortunately the whole 1km isn’t a 15% grade, but a good portion of it was. I was happy to have a granny gear and rode it most of the way up, even standing for part of it. What I hadn’t expected were the other hills. There were really no flats on this 42k course other than false flats, and at least two other big notable hills, one at 17k and one at 33k. I went into my granny gear and spun my way up them knowing that, with my lack of bike fitness, powering up would probably lead to a miserable run. I thought of the superstars that would be doing the half ironman distance the following day, relieved I wasn’t doing it myself.
The route, although incredibly scenic, certainly hadn’t been cleaned and was very pebbly. I saw at least one rider every few km changing a flat and several “route déformée” signs. I spent most of the ride trying to determine at what point on the course would I just ride on my rims rather than changing my flat, given I take an unreasonably long time to change them. Fortunately I didn’t get any flats despite noticing a couple of nicks in my tires the night before. The views from the last hill down to the sea were spectacular.
I always feel such relief getting to the run part of the course. I know that the rest of the race is solely up to me and I won’t have any bike mechanical issues and (hopefully) won’t get kicked in the face. The flat, 2-loop seaside run next to the celebrity-named change houses felt great and I managed to pass quite a few people before the finish. However, the fenced off corridor given for us to run was a bit narrow in places, making it difficult to pass. I also didn’t love passing right beside the finish line to start the second loop – it’s always a bit defeating to see others finishing when you still have 5k to run. I also realized that the run would be longer than 10k given the first loop clocked in at 5.4k. Indeed the 10k run was actually 10.8k.
I had forgotten to bring my hand-held bottle to sip my sports drink from so instead I sipped a bit of coke at each of the aid stations. I knew that if this got me through my Ironman Canada marathon it would get me through this 10k (I mean, 10.8k) as well, as it did. All the aid stations seemed well stocked with bananas, sports drink, water and coke.
Our names were printed on our bibs and occasionally I would hear someone say – go Deidre! I hadn’t expected anyone I knew to be spectating and was surprised that someone was pronouncing my name correctly. Usually the French pronounce it like “Dead”. Afterwards, checking WhatsApp, I realized it was Alex! One of the great things of being part of a tri club is finding others you know in a race either spectating or participating. Huge kudos to her for being one of the superstars that completed the L distance the following day.
The finish line was an elevated ramp near the beach with pom-pom-clad cheerleaders at the top. The bling was lovely and is now hanging off my computer screen as I type. The post-race food was your typical post-race fare in France, with oranges, watermelon, bananas, bread, ham and chocolate.
My 3h09 finish time is my slowest-ever olympic distance race, but given the difficult swim and bike and my current fitness level, I’m happy with the result. I was grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this super scenic course and finishing mid-pack was a bonus. I’d recommend the race to others but would suggest some ocean swimming and bike hill repeats beforehand.
- ocean swim
- 10am start time
- easy to get to Deauville from Paris without dismantling bike
- sufficient number of port-a-potties in transition
- race-day registration allowed
- freshwater showers at transition entry following swim
- scenic bike course
- scenic flat run course along the beach
- spectator-friendly swim and run
- nice medal and finishers t-shirt
- fun place to celebrate afterwards
- ocean swim
- sign up early, fills up fast
- very hilly bike course
- high risk of flat tire
- narrow run course in places
- running right next to the finish line to begin 2nd loop
- run course longer than the advertised 10k