Natureman Triathlon – 2k/90K/20k – Verdon, France – 2 October 2016
by Alexandra Messenger
There are some races that affect you and are priceless and worth several weeks of training for a few minutes of unforgettable images with scenery for which only nature has the secret…
Natureman is one of the end of season races. Aurelie, at that time in the early stage of her pregnancy, suggested the idea of a post-birth race to the group a few weeks after Alex got back from the 4th edition of Natureman with positive feedback.
At that time, I was new to the club and still trying to figure out how to confirm the plan I was targeting for 2016 of completing a HiM…. Imagining racing beside the “superwomen” while I was still falling off my bike during simple brick sessions or in Longchamps or even worse – not managing to change gears in easy climbs was still a challenge …..
3 HiMs later and after 3000 km of biking, I registered in June being motivated by Vince, one of my club ride buddy. The 3* of us ended up organizing the trip all together sharing the logistics to go to this remote village of the Var “Salles-sur-Verdon” with the common point of participating to our fourth half distance ….
*Alex and Farid was also part of the trip too but they organized themselves differently.
The pre-race day….the moment of doubt…..
The day before the race we took the train from Paris to get to the registration by the afternoon…
Challenge #1: the car rental…. we initially rented an extra large Kangoo to easily put our 3 bikes and most importantly our 3 bikes fitted for the morning after…. On the spot the situation was different and we got a Scenic and had to spend time “rubiscubing” with our bikes. We finally find the optimal way to put our beloved race partners… no need to say I was breaking balls with the care to take with my brand new bike …..
1 hour and half later we are in Salles-sur-Verdon retrieving our bibs….We are surrounded by serious athletes and for most of them pro: Hervé Faure, Jeanne Collonge….
Challenge #2: Getting food…. We packed very lightly weight for this trip and brought the bare minimum Paris …and for some of us ….no food ….it was another challenge finding something we likex for the breakfast in a “huit à huit “ small grocery shop (I haven’t seen this shop brand for a while ). Aurélie could not find her typical Gerblet and settled for bread and rest of the pasta party we would prepare for the evening…..
Challenge #3: route recognition or the rise of awareness….
Most serious competitors come a while before the race to scope out the course or even to train 2 or 3 times on the race spot some weeks before the race….we discovered a bit of what we will finally have to cope with ….or enjoy during the race:
The swim – No need to say that the breaking ball lady I am, suggested strongly to my buddies to have a look at the swim and transition area down a steep hill…with complaints they finally agreed to the visit, as we not only witnessed a blue turquoise lake but we also receive advice from a guy of the organization about the way and buoy path. A 2 km swim with a particular route with an Aussie exit on a half an island of the artificial lake of the clear blue water of sainte croix. The difficulties would be the stone at ground area and the pretty steep way from water exit to the transition area.
The bike … this is only on our way back to our house, that we decided to do part of the bike course by car as during a discussion with Alex L that we learned we would have a segment of a 16% hill….we therefore followed the boards of the race along the road and finally drive the 3 k never ending of the Enfer Sud hill…. at the last 500 meters, we discover a boards written:
Suddenly you could see a bit of fear in Aurelie eyes …the fear of not being trained enough despite the good coming back in Chantilly… so do I….To relax the atmosphere Vince goes the way down and starts counting the steep turns and we end up counting 17 turns …like our 17 turns in Le Chevreuse which give us finally a bit of hope…. Even if we all know that the elevation would be another story and much of a challenge…..
The run …. No idea of the run course… which I really recommend to not neglect as we did. Fortunately, Vince had previously analysed a bit more than us the map and briefed us….Also, knowing it could end up with a muddy trail, I brought my trail shoes in addition to the road run ones….(actually I always duplicate my kits…that may appear stupid but that can from time to time be a relieve to some teammates ;-)!!!
Back at home …with the image of the latest 500 m 16% climb in mind, we fit our bikes (thanks Aurelie for the pump, despite getting old, as long as it pumps, this is the essential) and enjoy our pasty party cooked by Aurelie!
After a good night, stressless, but with a taste of too little sleep, we woke up at 6 am in a house where we all are ready to fight. …High energy cake apurna for me in addition to a butter ham sandwich to have the 700 calories needed to last a few hours, bread for Vince and bananas and yogurt for Aurelie. We packed our bikes and were off to Salles -sur Verdon to descend to the park to leave the bikes.
Entertaining atmosphere early in the morning at 8 am. People everywhere, the sound system (it’s good we are now awake …), airship to indicate the way out of the water, there is even a drone flying over the scene to film! …In the park the atmosphere is good, ultimately less burdensome than other races. The season-ending effect must be there for a few things. When I and all other participants were heading to the left, we slowly with Aurelie realize that we have to move from the transition area to get a short warm up in the water as the women leave 20 min before the massive male starts. Water was pretty good, so I’m turning arms and I do some short straight lines in the water in order to not have my heart in my mouth on the first 50 meters. We are called by the referees to join the starting line. The scene is memorable: when you start your race just beside Jeanne Collonge, the French Champion of Long Distance, you feel simply that you arrive at a stage where….you are confident enough to achieve something that even the best of the discipline are fighting against. Last cheering from/to Aurelie, and we are jumping into this washing machine of ladies moving straight forward to the first buoy hearing the “GOooO” of the referee.
Link to the women’s start:
The washing machine is bearable as we are less than 50 women. After 200 m and heading to the buoy in a straight line, a woman suddenly arrived on me and pushed me on the left, I gently redirected her on the right straight on the buoy but she continued a bit with breaststroke and swam right over me…I finally ended up jumping on her like in water polo. Unhappy she punched me on my body.. I sprinted awhile to get away….From this moment I was quiet alone with sometimes overseeing some feet in this disorienting crystal blue water…. After 1500 m, I ended up on the beach of the island for an Aussie exit…no need to say that I was about to fall and then run with hesitation to have an odd jump back into the water to avoid the numerous stones….I was carried to the left with the slight stream and finally headed to the latest buoy while the first guy passed by me….The water exit was pretty well organized with Charlotte Morel helping participants out of the water….
At that moment….I become a super star as I was filmed….but more as a landscape of the top tier guys out of the water….Check it out at sec 30 to 33!
Aurelie had arrived 15 min earlier and was part of the women’s top tier….she also had her moment of glory from min 4.15 to 4.50 of this video….
Contemplating her T1 techniquess….. No need to say that she was away quite a long time and missed Sylvain’s training on transition techniques…However looking at Jeanne Colonge’s transition, we are still far from the explosivity of an Olympic distance ….
Aux pays de l’enfer….
To put us in the mood, it goes up from the beginning to the village. I make the choice of my new bike Amira with new gears 52/36…and I had not quite made my marks but put enough cadence. However, I lost so many rankings being passed by ladies and mostly by guys….A bit of flat when we arrive at the village until we arrive at the “Enfer”….the Enfer Nord…. A climb of 1.5 km with a feeling of a 200% gradient…or at least, it’s my hips screaming that measure this percentage … But the pain is cleared by the sight of the lake and the smell of lavender! Then a great of mix of an almost straight descent and flat where I decide to push with an average of 46 km/h ….back into town for some cheering and photo shooting!
Not to point out those disappointing group you always find on a race drafting while you struggle following the rule…. and unlike in Kona there is no penalty box ..Tough….not only did they cheat but they also made unacceptable and unwelcome comments….the latest is not part as a rule breach in a race but would be interesting to have it introduced ….
Before k30 , here is Vince (by himself) on a fake flat passing by me like a rocket…(all the technicity of this race are the climb followed by false flats, descend, ascent… (still face issue on it), … Hi Vince ! Enjoy your race! See ya!!
In Moustiers, we turn left and here we go at K40….an enfer is always suceeded by….another Enfer ….the Enfer Sud – the famous 17 steep turns…I decide to count, and the more I count, the harder I push on the pedal… at the board we saw the day before, Charlotte Morel cheering! You just feel stronger to push even harder….
500 m, then 300 m and then 200 m marker boards to warn you are very near to the summit! Here we go and a ravito, I take 2 bottles to refill my aero bottle drink….and then again and a again the remake of mix of flat , hill, fake flat, ascent, descent…. The view is amazing….with the color of summer and autumn with a bit of purple of the lavender sometimes, and the blue and then grey of the sky …. What a chance to have the ability to witness Mother Nature in this context… Very dreamy indeed …until I get back to reality with the dangerous descent turns …. as I am not familiar, I don’t risk myself at 70 km/h…..
At K 65 …Here is Farid, Hello Farid! You enjoy your race…. I ask him how many more people and ladies are still behind…. Just for assurance …..22 km to go and still the same never ending up and down road …. Latest km was pretty fast…aero position, I turn and turn my leg and then back to home,…le Parc à Velo….at ¾ full….. just that feeling of being again far behind the average of a group and getting overwhelmed by loneliness….the rain points the tip of it nose….
… grey sky…rain…. It smells the muddy race…. I remove my cycle shoes and replace them by the trail shoes…. I start crossing all the transition area to for a small/long toilet stop ….despite all these I pass by people but some other that I passed by on the bike passed me ….1 km run and we have this naughty vertical slope of 50 m …at this moment you walk and then you start running on the flat area pushing your leg and then back on a descent….you definitely need trail technique with the stone ….somehow steeper…. Then who did I see…Vince, he was at K12 drafting with another guy!! He cheered to me.
Then come the free picture of the org…in this moment of loneliness …in fact this moment last approx the first 4 k run…and then who I meet, Farid again on his way back ..I stop the first 10 k at all the station…..and then as usual I gradually wake up until…k16….psychology of the arrival or not… feel like fresher legs….this is possibly the lack of training on long distance transition…..some hills , another toilet stop, some hills to walk and run , walk and run… last flat and I pass by some others ….the loop in the city center, back along the lake and again this hill where everybody was walking…. 1 more k…I run and run ….and I am at the finish…Vince and Aurelie applauding….. 7h01….exactly the time I predict the day before given the bike course….
Actually happy to make it given the difficulties and most importantly the osmosis with the nature…. And more than happy with the 8 weeks preparation and the progress done against where I was before; I arrive fresher than the other LDs made this year despite an elevation X 3 somehow but deeply disappointed as you can always do better in a race…. Definitely, a training in the Alps would have helped as the Chevreuse has really not the same technicity….
Aurelie (6.07) and Vince (5.54) might have the same feeling about the race…the most difficult one they have ever done…
About the organization
The race is really worth it … not only for its beautiful landscape but also for the organization that is quiet small with 1200 participants and a healthy ambiance with caring volunteers and fan zone who cheer you along the race.
The village, inhabitants and local triathlete like Alexandra Louison are really carrying this event ! Affordable and less bling bling than the Man in Red, you can find at the street corner some stand where local hand-made cakes are sold for 1 euro!
The race is deemed to be environmently friendly and the rules are more strict than Ironman…if you throw any rubbish out of the trash area you are not only prevented from continuing your race but you also are banned for life from any other participation. Organic food is offered at aid stations.
For a woman, this is very interesting as the start system is “ladies first” 20 min ahead to avoid the big washing machine.
The day before you have the Ekiden with the S distance and the kids which open the events to less insane race! As many other suggest , Natureman could be a team event for year 2017…The organization offers a magnum for the clubs with the most people present… and everybody gets a goodies package of Occitane cream and oil as it sponsored by them! So women are likely to push their man for Natureman !