Ending the season on a disappointing race is always difficult and I did so in Aix with a very bad race.
The root cause of the situation was likely a combination of too much travel and not enough training, new allergies I was just learning to deal with, and maybe complacency with the distance that led me to not respect the difficulties of the race as much as I should.
Disappointing performances are inevitable in all aspects of your life. Be it in your personal life, at work and in sports, we all have them. In fact, it is what we do after those events that define who we are, not these events themselves.
After Aix, I tossed my training plan, stored my heart rate straps, pace watches and the like and returned to simply enjoying the sport. I ran when I felt like it, biked as I wanted and swim when it felt right. Always training to a plan gets routine and boring for a while and I knew I had to spend time to find the joy of triathlons again…and it didn’t take long. After a few weeks “off”, I decided to join a triathlon club. For many reasons it makes sense in France to join a club from a licensing perspective, a cost perspective and access to facilities but the main reason for me was for the company. Though it’s not the case for all athletes, I’ve always tended to perform better when training in a group than alone and this seemed to make sense at the time. Though I’ll likely write more about triathlons in France and the fantastic triathlon structure circuit present here, the winter was spent with a heavy dose of swimming and running, building speed and cardiovascular strength, then came the spring where cycling came back. Though a minor foot overtraining injury sidelined me for a couple of weeks, I was able to remain quite consistent throughout the winter and spring leading up to Mallorca.
In preparation to Mallorca, I signed up for a quick race in Versailles, right off the famous “Chateau de Versailles” appropriately named “Triathlon du Roi” which translates to “The King’s Triathlon”. The sprint, draft legal race was fun and despite a flat at the end of the ride I still managed a very good performance. In and of itself, the performance was not relevant, but the work on the transitions was important and I felt my speed had improved. I was now ready for Mallorca 70.3 the weekend after!
As you approach the island by plane, it does not take much thinking to understand why the course has over 2500 feet of elevation. The beautiful mountains surround the western side of the island and the wind sidesteps into the mainland primarily from the North or South. Alcudia is a small port town north of the Island and about a 45 minute ride from the main Palma airpot. After renting a car that my friends at Nirvana Europe had set up, I met two of my tri-club mates by the beach for a quick dinner and a walk on the beach. We also settled on the bet. The best of the three of us would give me a 30 minute handicap and I would give our other teammate, a 70.3 first-timer a 30 minute handicap. Winner would buy dinner!
My first night was a disaster. I had arrived the Thursday night for a Saturday race and the stress of the race started settling in. Unable to arrive before I knew all the things I had to do before the race, and I was a nervous wreck, feeling a cold coming. We started the next morning with a practice swim in the chilly Mediterranean and I focused on relaxing with long and powerful strokes in the cold sea water. We topped off the morning with a drive through the bike course and a lunch. With packet pick up, a race briefing, an hour bike ride, a short run, stopping by the bike shop to fix an issue (Thanks Bimount Cycles!), dropping the bike in transition and a large pasta dinner, the day was full and I was able to be in bed – and asleep by 10PM.
Races in Europe tend to start later than in the US and the 8:40 start for me was welcome. I was able to wake a little after 6 enjoying 8 hours of sleep and feeling very well – without a cold – when I woke up. After my regular oatmeal breakfast I took my time, setup in transition, stretched, ate a banana, a gel and was ready for the race.
The start of the race is by wave from the beach. With a running start from the sand I had positioned myself to the left hoping to avoid the mass but it would make the swim longer since it was headed right. In hindsight it was probably a mistake and I should have pushed to the right but it did enable me to take it easy. Focusing on relaxed strokes and breathing every 3 strokes, I was very comfortable (perhaps a bit too much so) and finished in slightly less than 34 minutes which was a bit off-pace from my plan.
No panic, T1 was smooth and focused with volunteers who helped strip off the wetsuit. My run down the long transition came easy and I was on the bike.
The bike course is interesting. The first 6 miles or so enable you to get your legs and fuel/hydrate and then comes about 7 miles of easy false flat. The roads are smooth and I focused on controlling my heart rate around 140. By mile 13.5, about 5 miles of climb arrive. As a generally weaker climber, I set myself of up with a 12-27 cassette on a 53/39 chainring. Though I mainly stayed in the 39/24 combo for the climb having that extra gear gave me the confidence that I had it when needed. I used the 27 cog a couple of times to spin the legs and remain relaxed through the ride. During the climbs I allowed myself to push 150 HR but the flat would be 140 with a few exceptions when conditions warranted it such as to accelerate after turns or passing to avoid drafting. (On that last note, I did notice quite a bit of drafting during the second part of the race and a general absence of refs to discourage it).
After you’ve reached the first top around 515 meters, a brief reprieve before another short climb and a long technical descend. Around the half-way point, the course becomes much more fun for heavier riders like myself. 28 miles of overall false negative flats made it a fun course. Despite the climb, I opted for a Zipp 808 Carbon Clinchers front and back on my TT bike to enjoy these long fast roads on the second half of the ride and I don’t feel that the setup penalized me during the climb. Keeping strict control of my heart rate and eating a gel every 45 minutes while drinking lots of fluids seemed to work. Towards the end of the ride I felt good and strong which was far from where I was in Aix 70.3 so this was good news. The bad news is that it didn’t look like I was going to make it in 2:45 as planned which put my dinner bet at a serious risk…but oh well! My 2:50 bike split with a near 20mph average was still quite good considering the healthy elevation.
T2 was lightning fast. Helmet off, shoes on, no socks (a decision I regretted) and I was off. The volunteers were still there and helped you by holding your bag and placing your bike items in it for you. The hydration station right outside T2 also was very welcomed.
Unlike the bike course, the run courseis pancake flat with 3 loops total. Coming off transition I felt very strong on the run and focused on staying around 160HR. Although I had planned on going out around 8:30, my first mile was lightning fast in 7:12 and despite my repeated attempts at slowing down I still ran a 7:30 mile 2, 7:40s miles 3&4 before finally settling into around an 8 minute pace. Though one could say I went out too strong, my heart rate data include good effort management throughout the run. I seemed to be passing people throughout the run and would pick out a victim at a time.
I maximized the use of every aid station with water and drinks. As a heavier athlete, heat management is very important to me and I dumped water when I could as well as used sponges if available. A few times however, some of the aid stations became crowded and I was forced to a brief walk. Despite all my efforts, my wall came around mile 11. Because of my injury in the spring, I hadn’t ran more than 90 minutes in the prior 3 months or so and I was feeling the lack of volume by mile 11. To add to the pain in my quads, I had felt massive blisters forming in my shoes and I even felt it pop around mile 11.
It’s funny the negotiations we get into when we run into this effort. The inner voice seems intense but during this race I refused to negotiate. Gritting my teeth, I pushed through the last two miles best I could in 8 minute miles and maintained my pace. The last little bridge before the finish line hurt the legs pretty nicely but I was still able to summon a strong sprint at the end for a massive run PR finish in 1:43:53 and a total time of 5:15 and change.
The race was very well put together and we enjoyed a great weather throughout the race. My preparations had been good overall and my winter training fruitful. The performance showed me what I was capable of doing and truly was a redemption from my last performance at the distance. To top it off, I won a dinner from both my training partners which made me quickly forget any pain from the race.
This race was truly a redemption from last year’s poor performance. The new approach to training, perseverance and work paid off. It is what you do after failures that sets you apart, I hope to apply this perseverance and hard work in all aspects of my life and wish the same for you all.