Challenge Vichy – Ironman distance 2014

From hell to heaven

My 2014 triathlon season hasn’t been a big success so far. I did finish the 70.3 in Aix but experienced some serious stomach issues during the final run. Those same issues made me quit the 70.3 in Luxemburg halfway through the run. But the biggest disappointment by far was without a doubt my bike crash during my first attempt to finish an ironman in Roth, Germany. Boy, did that hurt (physically, mentally and financially)!

But I invested heavily in the beautiful sport that triathlon is and I didn’t want to give up on my dream to become an ironman. So a few days after crashing in Roth, I already subscribed to participate in the Challenge Vichy, that would take place 5 weeks later. After all, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, no?

After 10 full days of doing nothing but recovering, I took up training again. Sometimes very motivated, sometimes very tired after what already was a very long season. Either way, I really looked forward to racing in Vichy again (did the 70.3 in Vichy last year) and get the whole “ironman thing” finally over with.

Race day! Main objective of the day: finish the bloody thing without 1) crashing my bike and 2) experience stomach/nutrition issues.

I was part of the first wave that would start at 7AM, together with the male and female Pros and other fast age groupers. I arrived at the bike park around 05h15, which gave me enough time to change a flat front inner tube (always bring spare ones!) and prepare mentally for what was going to be a long and very hard day.

The swim start was a very hectic one. I got some fists to the head, some feet in my mouth and some water in my goggles. The battle finally settled down after a good 10’. I swam the first 1900m in a little under 30’ which I was quite happy with as I felt I still had lots of energy to swim faster the second round. Not sure why but my second round was actually slower than the first one and I exited out of the water after 61 minutes.

[cml_media_alt id='8668']leslybike[/cml_media_alt]After a rather slow T1 I jumped on my bike, ready to attack the 180km. The first part of the bike course is rather hilly but the second half is flat. In contrast to last year, there was not a lot of wind, so perfect conditions for setting a good bike time. The legs felt good and I was extremely focused and cautious in every turn or downhill. What ever happened, I did NOT want to experience another bike crash.

A few strong bikers passed by and I decided to follow them. I saw my average speed slowly coming up and my average heart rate slowly going down: perfect! Same story for the second round where we did have some more wind, but still much less compared to last year. Total bike time was 5h01, pretty evenly spread between the first and second tour. And yes, I managed not to crash this time!!

After another very slow transition, I started my first ever marathon. Both my knees were hurting like hell but I immediately found a very good running pace. As I was very afraid to fall without energy at a certain point, I stopped at every aid station to drink some water or energy drinks and eat some salty cookies (no cramps for me!). I didn’t mind losing time this way as my sole objective was to finish. The run course was slightly modified compared to last year but was almost completely flat. The sun came out and the temperature rose to about 24 degrees. Lovely conditions to run in! We needed to run 4 laps and the strategy was to run the first 2 at a rather “comfortable” pace and then increase the speed little by little (if I still had enough energy left, that is). Easier said than done! But the third round passed and I was still feeling pretty ok (and my stomach as well after having to digest around 13 energy gels already).[cml_media_alt id='8669']lesly_finish[/cml_media_alt]

The last lap I will always remember. So emotional! I knew I was going to make it without having faced the infamous “wall” marathoners told me about, without cramps in my legs (and more importantly my stomach) and I would definitely race a sub 10h ironman. And knowing that my closest family and friends, who had supported me enormously after my crash in Germany, were waiting at the finish line gave me wings to conclude the last meters of my first ever ironman.

I crossed the finish line after 9h29m25s and ran a 3h16 marathon. A result I’m very pleased with and something I see as a big reward for the hard work and sacrifices I made over the last year. Being able to share that moment with my closest family was just priceless. A moment never to forget.