Kathryn’s 1st Half Ironman!

Triathlon de Salagou  – 2nd June May 2018 (L)

Race Reporter: Kathryn

It is with a mix of pleasure and relief that I finally completed my first Half Ironman this weekend and what better location for the first one than the stunning Lac de Salagou! I had never thought I would be able to do a HIM, but you guys in the club thought otherwise when you gave me my birthday present last year of an entry into an L distance of my choice… You may say it’s taken me some time to achieve, but with a few minor setbacks, such as being knocked off my bike by a car before St Jean de Luz Triathlon last September and a sprained ankle only 4 weeks ago; it was a great feeling to finally cross the finish line in 5h57, and now I can honestly say thank-you for setting me the challenge.

It turns out Salagou is not the easiest course for a first L distance and there is a reason the bike is 80km due to the 1300m dénivelé and the run reduced to 18km because of the challenging trail course. Not to mention the 26 degrees heat. However, I’d heard from those that did it last year that the lake was beautiful and I’d also have the opportunity to visit the region of Montpellier and stay the weekend in the hospitality of Francois’ family; who’d also agreed to take on the challenge of doing his first Ironman with me. So we signed up and I decided to blissfully ignore the details of the race course until the night before…!

Well, it definitely lived up to its reputation – challenging, but beautiful setting. The flat blue lake was a pleasant 22 degrees reflecting the green trees and red soils of the garrigues scrubland typical of the region. Truly “pittoresque”. Taking in the stunning views during tough moments in the race definitely helped take your mind of the pain. After approximately 70km on the bike, the route turned a bend into a straight descent to reveal the lake unfolding directly before us. Really breathtaking.

We arrived in good time at 7.30am to collect our dossards and met Côme as we set ourselves up in transition. Rose and Miguel were also there to cheer us on throughout the race. Before I knew it, it was time zip up the wetsuit, take a quick group photo and head down to the start line and have my last minute panic before the swim! The best part of this race was that I finally enjoyed the swim part of a triathlon! We’d started near the front and the pack quickly spread out and I found the space to get my rhythm and concentrate on trying to put Sylvain’s coaching of gliding through the water into practice. Coming out of the water in 36 minutes was a good achievement for me and I was out of transition onto the bike in under 40 minutes. Then the pain kicked in! After 1.5km, the route started to climb at 7% gradient and seemed to go on for 20km. I also started to get cramp in my left foot, which stayed with me for the majority of the bike part and so putting the power down in the climbs was not easy. The other women were strong on the bike and we were often taking it in turns to race each other. This is where having aerobars makes a huge difference, of which I didn’t have! Happily I rode the second climb side by side another girl, Sophie, from Toulouse, which took my mind off my foot and then I saw Francois ahead of me. We were now 40km into the bike, but I’d managed to finally catch him and after racing down the first major descent together, I pulled away on the last climb… 😉

Rose and Miguel were there cheering as I made it to T2, where it was time to reapply the sunscreen and put on the cap. It was now time for mad dogs and Englishmen to run in the midday sun! The run was tough, with cramp in the legs for the first 3km and undulating course making it impossible to get any constant pace going. It was also mentally tiring, as every rock, tree root and puddle were potential hazards for my ankle! However, the support of the benevoles was fantastic, as were the number of food and drink stations around the 9km loop, which helped to throw water over the head to keep hydrated. It was all about digging in as I started the 2nd loop of the course and mental visualization. Just get to 15km, then hold on, with the words of my former rowing coach coming to mind at 16km, who always said “anyone can hold on for 2km”. Then it was the last 1km to the line; only 1.5 times around the track at Emile Antoine and coming out of the woods, turned onto the grass for the final ‘sprint’ finish as I heard Rose, Miguel and Côme cheering me to the line!

Exhausted, but elated, it was a great experience and I can honestly say I enjoyed my first L distance! Result!! It was also good to be one of the 20 women that entered out of 305 participants! I definitely think we can improve that ratio next year and I would really recommend this be added to your race calendar. The course was challenging, very well organized and located in a stunning setting. Thanks also to the amazing support of Rose and Miguel and the wonderful hospitality of family Maury – a true welcome in the South with great apéro and home cooking. Just what was needed for post race recovery.