Chantilly – Half Ironman

It was a dark and stormy night…
A week ago the forecast was for the temperature to drop to 22°C but the day before the race the forecast was for max 16°C and for it to rain all day with winds up to 15km/h. The weatherman didn’t disappoint to say the least!
But nothing was going to deter me from my first attempt at the half-ironman distance. Alarm clock(s) went off at 4.45am, cats fed, then on the road by 5.30am after the obligatory bowl of porridge, banana and a coffee to arrive at Chantilly by 6.30am. When I got there it was still pitch black and defintely still pouring with rain. There was some generally good humoured moaning in the car park about the fact it was going to be a miserable day for us all. And we weren’t far wrong.
Within a few minutes of arriving I was already getting wet and cold so decided to put my wetsuit on an hour and quarter before the start to keep warm and dry. It was a top idea, however, turning up at the registration tent, I had to take everything off again so they could mark me with race numbers. Sorting everything out in transition area was a case of keeping things from either getting wet or absolutely soaked.
There are not many times I can say I look forward to the start of an open-water swim but, this time, getting into the lake at Chantilly was fine as, by then, we all just wanted to get the race under way. The swim was fairly straight forward as there wasn’t the usual mad scramble at the start so I was able to find a decent rhythm quite quickly. Plus, I have finally got some decent goggles which don’t leak or fog up!  The 1.9km swim was over fairly rapidly in 38′ (vs race average 40′) and then onto the bike.
I wasn’t sure what was best to wear for the bike as I didn’t want to much on in case it did warm up so opted for arm warmers (put on under the wetsuit – does work v well as per calf guards) and my Mallorca Tri Camp gilet. But as the rain didn’t stop all day the whole bike ride was spent very wet and not exactly warm. Some people seem to have found the time to change into full leggings and jackets which was not a bad idea.
The first 45km loop (which had been changed by over 50% by the race organisers from the original route and the one we practised on a fortnight before) went according to plan and I kept my target 30km/h average speed but leg fatigue definitely started to creep in on the second loop so eased off a bit to make sure I had something for the run. Despite the persistent rain I didn’t see any accidents which was a surprise as I thought we’d all be sliding around for fun. Given the conditions the bike course (94km in the end)  took 3h22′ versus a competitir average of 3h20′. Throughout the bike course I kept trading places with my new friend, #120, one of the ladies racing in the senior category. We both agreed that it was a fairly lonely course made worse by the atrocious conditions (she said it was harder than Challenge Roth which she’d done) and it was nice to have a chat with somebody on the last few km back to transition.
So far, so good and if I could do a sub-2hr run I would be on for my official goal of a sub-6hr finish. But, once into the forest the conditions under foot were terrible in muddy, water-filled rutted paths. It was nigh on impossible to run straight without being ankle deep in mud and/or water. Conditions got a bit better after 4km as we started the loop around the racecourse and stables but half the hard paths were also water logged. By then, we’d been soaked to the skin for well over 4 hours so getting more muddy and more wet didn’t really make a difference. At the end of the first loop my legs were starting to hurt and every km the pain seem to move from calf to quad to ankle to abductor and it was becoming very apparent that I couldn’t keep a sub-2hr race pace otherwise I’d have cramped up badly. I’d been overtaken by 7 or 8 people on the first loop (where were you Jamie and Paul?) of the run but thoroughly enjoyed overtaking several people of the second loop despite slowing down a bit.
With the last few km to go it was a case of doing nothing stupid, no heroics and you’ve done it. Yes, my legs were hurting but my lungs and HR were fine. With 1km to go I was v happy as I got a new PB as I’d never run a half marathon before, only max.20km (and that was by accident when I got lost in the Bois du Boulogne running home one day and ended up taking the longer route home!). I finished the run in 2h10′ versus an average of 1h59 so it wansn’t too bad in the end especially as 18 months ago I’d never ran more than 5km in my life (didn’t see the point of running back then).
And 6h11’51″ later I crossed the finished line! First half-ironman completed – a pretty cool feeling and, if there had been a crowd, they would have gone wild but all sensible people had decided to go home by then me thinks. I collected my medal, tri bag and some food and then back to the car to find some dry clothes (there was one in the goody bag!) and turn the heater on to try and warm up. And the home for a bottle of wine – something that I’d not had in 6-7 weeks.
Overall I was 61st out of 99 starters and, despite getting battered in my age group (Vets 40-49), if I can do the same next year in class Super Vets it gets me a podium place. Plenty more leg strength work and may be some run coaching over winter me thinks.
After the awful conditions at Deauville and now at Chantilly I’m hoping for some nice weather at Sartrouville this coming weekend. Plus, let’s hope my legs have something to give.
p.s. it might have been miserable and wet for the competitors but I’d like to say a big big thank you to the all the volunteers who stood in the rain and wind for hours and hours looking after us and keeping us going and succesfully handing us water bottles etc. I would have gone home halfway thru’ if I had been in their place.