Paris Triathlon – 5 July 2015 – Olympic Distance
by Penelope Stockdale
Nostalgia…the Driving Force for Competing in the Paris Garmin Triathlon…for the Second Time!
After having competed in the 2012 Paris Garmin Triathlon, nostalgia drove me back for a ‘second bite of the cherry’! As soon as the event was posted, I signed up immediately, not even bothering to take a look at the programme and the course. I just assumed I would be back in the Seine again for another fast swim thanks to a swift flowing current, followed by some long zig-zag loops in the Bois de Boulogne and a lovely picturesque (less than 10km) run taking in the sites of Bir-Hakeim Bridge, Îles aux Cygnes, Trocadéro, Pont de l’Alma, Musée du Quai Branly and the inimitable Tour Eiffel on the way to the finish line in front of the Trocadéro.
It only dawned on me about a month before the race that the course had indeed changed…and quite considerably! No swim in the Seine and no more bike racking the night before and single transition on race day in the Champ de Mars…the 2015 Paris Triathlon was to be much more complex and time consuming than I had anticipated: a non-wet suit swim and split transition, my first for both, and as I was to discover on the day, a much more technical and undulating bike course compared to 2012 terminating with a run taking on quite a different configuration to the previous course…and indeed 10kms this time!
I picked up my race pack on Friday late afternoon, including the colourful transition bags – blue for transition 1 (swim to bike) and orange for transition 2 (bike to run) and black for Finisher (whatever you needed post race). The village set up in Stade Emile Antoine was well designed. Registration was relatively fast and smooth but we were obliged to check-in the orange transition T2 bag with our running kit as soon as we collected our race pack (an anxious moment as I was sure I may have forgotten something and was unclear as to where and how I would find mine on the day).
By coincidence I bumped into a few of the team and had a chat about bike logistics. Lou, Clare and I decided to head out earlier on Saturday to rack our bikes and check out transition 1 and the dam/reservoir…whatever that body of water was it wasn’t at all inviting…give me the Seine any day with floating dead boa constrictor (race day 2012) and all those centuries of dead bodies and bones that lie beneath…I just love that ‘yellow river’!! The ride from metro François Mitterand to Choisy Le Roi gave us a ‘taste’ of what lay ahead. This semi industrial area on the outskirts of Paris was ugly and unappealing. When we finally arrived at an oasis of dried brown grass and green trees we knew we had reached the Base de Loisir. We had even taken our swimsuits in the hope we could have a dip. But as soon as we set our eyes on this ‘swamp’ with dragon flies and other insects dancing all over the place, not to mention the plastic floating bottles, grass and other gunk, that put a very quick end to our dip aspirations. And when I spotted ‘baignade interdit’ (no swimming) sprayed in red paint on a grassy slope running parallel with the water that said it all!! The upside was that the transition (T1) was spacious and large, well signed-posted and equipped, and was comforting that all of us girls in Wave 4 (women’s only wave) had our bikes racked together.
When the alarm went off at 05H10 on race day, I didn’t feel as fresh as I had hoped – sleep deprivation over the past few nights seemed to have caught up with me – and my tummy was doing ‘tumble turns’ right up until the start of the race. But at least my spirits were uplifted as the weather conditions were ideal for racing: slightly overcast in the early morning and cooler temperatures than the previous days…this was a good sign and great for a ‘fair weather girl’ like me.
I arrived with the team on the RER D and it was soothing to be surrounded by your team mates pre-race. We all had our T1 and ‘Finisher’ bags and quickly set about preparing our swim to bike transition kit, putting on the puce and dropping off the ‘Finisher’ bags…this was a nice pre-race distraction but split transitions are almost as cerebral as the sport itself!
We then headed-off on the ‘long march’, 1.5 kilometers, to the race start, getting a full picture of the swim course distance from the ‘surface’ but completely naive as to what was lurking below. A colourful array of swim caps soon appeared – Blue (Wave 1), Black (Wave 2), Green (Wave 3/Relay) and Dark Pink (Wave 4/Women Only). There was about 6 minutes between each wave departure. No warm up in the water was allowed before the start of each wave; it was straight into the water, swim over to the canoes and the starting line asap. Before we knew it, our guys were in the water and off and racing although I noticed in the first couple of waves some of the guys were still making their way to the starting line when the gun had already gone off. The Blue Caps had an impressive and quick departure followed by the Black Caps and then Marie and Anaïs with their green caps (the relay wave) were next on the block. Finally our time had come…the pink caps were the last wave of the day. We all had an idea as to where we would position ourselves for the start and we were quite relieved to see that there were not so many in our wave. Just before we plunged in, a light breeze carried a rather unpleasant odour from the water bringing back recollections of the ‘baignade interdit’ I had seen the previous day. For an Aussie who loves to be in the water, I have to confess that this was the first time that I was ‘dreading to get in’. As soon as I hit the water all those thoughts evaporated and the ‘tumble turns’ in my tummy completely disappeared…from that moment on I kicked into race mode … the Pink caps were heading to the start!! The water temperature was initially a little bracing but as soon as I was moving it was very pleasant. I got myself to the line and on the right side of the course as planned just a second or two before the gun went off. I had a good, clear start and pretty much got into a rhythm early in the race, only having to sight a few times. I even caught up and overtook some green and black caps during the swim leg and only saw some kicking legs and arms shortly after the start and towards the very end. My only mission, I thought, was to make sure I keep going straight and keep up my race pace. But navigating in unpredictable waters resulted in my realisation around the 800-1,000 meters mark that it was not my fellow female swimmers who were the hazard in this race but the dense underwater foliage which I had to do battle with!!! Stroke improvisation was the only way to get me through this ‘mess of uncontrollable green tentacles’, using a hybrid form of catch-up and zipper drills, thereby allowing me to disentangle myself and ensure that my vain attempts to fight off nature would allow me to exit the swim without a garland of greenery on my head and arms. Thankfully my technique paid off as I made a foliage-free quick exit out of the swim and was on to the blue carpet and heading to T1. The distance from the swim to the bike wasn’t too bad and having the blue carpet underfoot certainly made it more comfortable. There were not so many bikes left when I got to T1 but it went very smoothly and efficiently although it was strange having to put your goggles and cap in the T1 orange bag and drop them off in a metal crate before heading to the line to start the bike leg.
Relieved to have the swim behind me, I made a good start on the bike, happy to see the sun make a brief appearance but pleased when it clouded over again. I over took Neni a couple of kilometers into the ride but little by little the slower swimmers who were more skilled and stronger on the bike were catching me up and overtaking as we headed to Paris and beyond to the back of the Bois de Boulogne. Around the 8 kilometer mark, with the Bibliothèque François Mitterand just ahead, Cat bolted past, looking strong and shouting some “Twinnie” cheers of encouragement which boosted me along. We weaved from one bank to the other with most of the bike leg covering the right bank of the Seine and providing stunning glimpses of Notre Dame, the Tour Eiffel and other iconic monuments. The bike course was more technical and undulating than the 2012 Paris triathlon which was mainly flattish loops in the Bois de Boulogne…and it was certainly more scenic as well!! It was also a good test of my bike skills… I managed to see Lou flash by on her new Trek bike as she was heading towards the Tour Eiffel and probably in the last 5 kilometers of the bike leg. The peletons were impressive!! Was great to hear the cheers of ‘Bravo Madame’ on the bike course which spurred me on and through the final 10 kilometers…delighted when I reached the final turning point, just to the side of the Longchamp track (I was so tempted to take a short cut at that stage), and was heading to T2…finally!!! I was also amazed to see so many competitors experience bike problems over the entire bike course. Fortunately my trusty Trek got me through the bike leg safely. But a feeling of uncertainty instilled as I approached T2 …the bike to run changeover with the split transition thingy was a real worry for me! As I got off my bike, a kind of ‘tri valet service’ was there to find you the closest spot to rack your bike which was a nice treat. My timing was good as ‘my valet’ found me a spot within a couple of meters. Off with the helmet and bike shoes, making a quick dash in my sockies to the transition racks in search of my T2 orange bag. After 3-4 circuits of the bag racks, I finally called out to a volunteer for help…was a huge relief when at last I had my running shoes but I had lost precious time in the T2 transition. Lesson learnt from Cat re split transitions: make sure to put some coloured ribbon on your bag so it stands out from the others.
With that last stress behind me, I was now on the final leg…the run!! Took me about 500 meters to get my running legs and although I managed to increase my pace over the 10 kilometer course and pass a few competitors on route, I didn’t manage to run as fast as I had hoped. Anne-Marie was ahead of me on the run but we passed each other a couple times and just a smile from a team mate spurred me on and made it more fun. The course went up and down, past the Tour Eiffel and down on to the berges (banks) of the Seine, then a circuit of the Bir-Hakeim bridge and onto the Îles aux Cygnes, followed by another tour of the berges (banks) further down the Seine, before popping back out on the side of the Australian Embassy where I unexpectedly saw ‘Skippy’ looking down on me, giving me a final burst of Aussie energy which powered me towards the Stade Emile Antoine and over the finish line!!…thanks Skip!!
After having completed two very different Paris Garmin Triathlons courses – 2012 and 2015 – I can now conclude that both have their advantages and disadvantages…and both were nostalgic!! So my suggestion to the organiser for the next one is to do a hybrid of the two races: reinstate the swim in the Seine (far cleaner than that yucky cesspit we swam in near Choisy Le Roi and far more spectacular), with one transition area only in the Champ de Mars, a 40km bike course which takes in the Paris banks of the Seine and why not some loops of Longchamp to pad out a few kilometers, and to finish off, a run course which encompasses the best of both routes. Et voila…roll on 2016!!