Ross completes Marseille 5i50 Olympic as part of a global challenge with a friend


Ross Taverner – Marseille 5i50 Olympic distance – 26 July 2015

Ross at Marseille Olympic 2015

Ross at Marseille Olympic 26 July 2015

It started with an idle challenge between two friends, an improbable idea of settling a bet that would likely never materialise. What is the midpoint between Paris and Hong Kong where two South Africans can compete against each other in a triathlon that is pretty challenging but that wouldn’t kill us? Marseille is your obvious answer, for the 5i50 organised by Ironman. It’s a sea swim off the sandy beaches of Marseille, a bike climb toward the town of Cassis and a run along the beachfront.

So perhaps scheduling a week’s holiday before an event like this was not the best strategy in the world. Enjoying the good life, eating too much and having the odd glasses of wine at every single meal was not the way to do it, but you only live once. There is no amount of clean living that can make up for a lack of training.

After this great week of sun and relaxing, with an occasional ride in the Alps de Haut Provence, we descended on Marseille for the weekend. The event organisation was pretty well done, registration very simple and we were set for an early start the next day. Whilst not being able to sleep, I contemplated the loud noise coming from outside our hotel room, that of the wind. You know when it’s blowing at 4 in the morning that you’re in trouble the next day.

So an early rise and a gentle ride down to the start to put our bikes in the park at 6am. Whilst the sea was supposed to be still quite warm, we realised that 95% of people had wetsuits on. It’s ok we’re tough, and the water was perfect for a tri-suit. Chilled by the wind, we lined in front of the agitated sea, with its not insignificant swells, and we were off. For my first sea swim in a triathlon I felt pretty good, keep your mouth closed and all that. After the usual mass start I was happy to see the first turning buoy at the halfway point.

Pity I never saw the second buoy to tell me to head back to land, and by that stage with the rising sun dead ahead and large swell meant I couldn’t see a damn thing, nor could anyone else. So I followed a large crowd in pretty much completely the wrong direction and realised something was wrong when a marshal woke up and headed over in his kayak to shout at us. We were a long way from the rest and it took a while to get back on track. From there I knew the swim was a write off but overall it felt better than the 31 minutes it took.  A few pointers here for the organisers, get your marshals in the right spots!

So out the water and on to a path of stones (!) into the bike park (all I heard was ‘putain’ and ‘tapis’ around me). My friend’s bike was already gone, dammit! Transition was fine but the start of the ride a bit messy, and we headed away from the sea towards the gentle rise out of Marseille. After a few kms I realised my right cleat was no longer completely attached to my shoe, as it should have been, and as it was earlier in the day. Not the best luck, and with it moving so much I didn’t have the confidence to climb using full power (it would have been a long day if the cleat broke off completely). The +-350m climb to the Col de la Gineste is pretty steep in places and it was tough going up for the best part of 20kms. The view is spectacular though and makes the whole thing worthwhile. There was a plateau at the top where with the wind it was possible to hit above 60km but equally tough to turn around it that wind. The descent was a blast and I gave it all into the turns (thanks for the tips, Karsten) and flew past my friend. I gave it everything on the way back into Marseille trying to get back above 30km/h average. 1h23m was good enough with the wind so strong, it could have been better if I could have gotten my broken cleat out of its pedal at the dismount, an elegant tactic of falling over instead was employed. Transition practice is probably a good idea.

On the run, with a little lead and a large stomach cramp, I realised gels aren’t for me. Unfortunately my friend passed me in the first kilometre on the way to a 42min 10km. No matter what I don’t think I could have kept up with that. I battled for the first 5km, the cramps eased a little and I could pick it up, only for any fast finish to be scuppered by more cramp. So a respectable 47m and I know I can do better. Overall 2h45m and a few minutes behind the competition, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would consider doing it again.

The photos can do the selling, any takers for 2016?