Anaïs on the trail to Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc Triathlon – S & M Distance – 26 August 2017

Race reporter Anaïs

During Saturday’s race, as people watched us cycle up the hill leading to Plaine Joux under the 32°C heat, some supportive people were shouting “Allez, Courage”, but others were saying “Ohlala les pauvres, quelle souffrance !”.

3 years ago, I would’ve probably been one of the latter if I saw present me going through such an ordeal.  3 years ago, I would’ve probably been one of the latter if I saw present me going through such an ordeal…..

I had signed up for the Mont Blanc Triathlon early in the season and decided it would be my ultimate objective for 2017. I love cycling in the mountains but I wasn’t well trained for it, so this would be the perfect excuse to take my bike out in the mountains before the 26th of August.

Early August, I did a bike trip across the most famous cols in the Alps with a group of experienced cyclists. We climbed the Col de la Croix de Fer, the Col du Glandon, the col de l’Iseran, col du Télégraphe, col du Galibier, col de l’Izoard, and the ascent to l’Alpe d’Huez. It was hard – especially on the Galibier – but I felt I had made some progress during the 5 days and felt more confident on the climbs – and in the descents, which also require some technique and getting used to.

I also decided to take advantage of the week before the race to enjoy Chamonix’s valley and the tons of activities you can there. I found out about a 5-day trail running camp starting just the day after my arrival and finishing the day before the race. “Great!” I thought and signed up.  I can almost hear Nick say “What about your tapering?” in my head as I write this report.  Yes, it was a big mistake. But I had a lot of fun and got to see some amazing views. I even found the energy to practice one last bike climb in the “montée du barrage d’Emosson” which includes 6km of 9.5% average ascent. On the Friday – the day before the race – I took it easy and walked most of the trail course but still hiked during 5 hours. I thought that after all this, I would be in stellar form for the triathlon on the Saturday! …

I was feeling good on Saturday morning as I took the train to see the end of the S race in which some of the Expatriés – Louise and Miguel – were taking part. As I cycled to the Passy Lake, I noticed it was a perfect weather: sunny but with a veil of clouds so that it’s not too hot. I arrived just in time with Kathryn to see Miguel finish, closely followed by Louise. They both did a great time and were looking fresh. Congrats to them! Until the beginning of the M race, Julien – very focused – joined us and we enjoyed the lake which was at a perfect 22.6°C temp – and the magnificent view on the Mont Blanc behind the lake.

As the time got closer to 2pm, the clouds were all gone and it got really hot – 32°C announced! As we were setting up our transition area, we met Sarah, who unfortunately couldn’t race because of an injury, Bettina and Vivian. We all wondered if we would wear our wetsuit. After a lot of hesitation, I finally took Louise’s advice who recommended not to wear the wetsuit as she felt hot during her swim in the morning, so I decided not to wear mine. I thought, it’s the time or never to try it! We were very few to go without a wetsuit but it was so hot already and the water was so nice and clear, I was comfortable with my decision. It was an uneventful swim, I lost track of the peloton once or twice but in general, I had a good swim and got out of the water at 26’ at the exact same time as Julien who shouted: “t’as super bien nagé !” so I replied “Bah toi aussi !” – a little self congratulating never hurts 😉

Now comes the worst part… As I took the bike out of the transition area, I started feeling the heat but cycling on a flat 10 km helped catching a bit of air. Anticipating the coming climb, I planned to drink as much as I could to avoid having to do it in the hill when it’s much harder. My water was as hot as a tea and my lemon flavored Gatorade was nauseating. That’s exactly how I felt when I started the climb, which started with just a 5% average but with some very steep turns. I was already hyperventilating, felt weak and was on the lowest gear because my legs felt like cotton. I was thinking “what the heck is wrong with me??”.

Many participants were overtaking me, women included! When I got to a steeper segment leading to plateau d’Assy (7%+) I was barely moving and thought it was over for me when I heard a familiar voice saying “bloody hell, this is tough!”: it was Kathryn and her iron legs overtaking me with limited effort! This gave me the courage to continue pedaling, although I couldn’t go faster than the 7kph pace I was laboriously maintaining. I maintained a painfully limited pace until the top, as many other participants – Matteo from Expatriés included – overtook me. The gradual cooling of the air however made me feel better. The food and water station at the top was like an oasis in the desert for me. I enjoyed the cool water but was unable to eat anything. I had a pretty good descent and caught up with Matteo with whom I would stay almost until the end of the race.

Back to transition 2, I felt the heat again and wondered how I would ever manage to run 10km. But I thought to myself, worse come to worse, I’ll walk and it’s no big deal! I started the run and realized my legs and the overwhelming heat wouldn’t let me run at my usual pace. So I maintained a 6-ish min/km pace and managed to keep it as such until the end. Thank god Matteo was there and we cheered each other to keep on running as we passed by some tired out participants who were walking. We ran together until somewhere in the last 2 kilometers where I sensed that Matteo was reducing pace. I waited for him and tried to cheer him to get back on track but after a while I lost sight of him and decided to use the last energy I had to run to the end and get it over with! It was great to see the Expatriés cheering right before the finish line but I was feeling so weak at the end that it was hard to feel relieved. At the finishers’ food station, I still couldn’t eat anything despite the mountains of cake, fruit and saucisson that would normally have delighted me and I could only drink – a lot of – water. After an hour or so trying to gain my lucidity back, I realized I was done and felt happy. I had made it in a reasonable time 3hrs28’ overall, despite the bike nightmare – almost 2 hours – and the run that took me 13 min more than my Paris triathlon run time – almost 1 hour.   

Lessons learned for the next one – which is (if I don’t chicken out) Natureman Long Distance: respect tapering time and get an isothermal water bottle! I think that’s about all what one can do against heat, right? I’ll have to ask Julien or Kathryn who both did a great race. Congrats to all the participants: Vivian, Bettina, Julien, Matteo & Kathryn, it wasn’t an easy one! It is however one of the most beautiful places I’ve been for a triathlon and the organisation team was really nice. A must-do triathlon if you can handle the heat!