Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Kickstart to euro racing - Ironman 70.3 Pays D'Aix

With the off-season prioritized by moving my life across the Atlantic, I knew it would be a stretch to be race ready in May.  Regardless, I’ve never been afraid to race myself into shape, so we kicked started the 2015 tri season with the Ironman 70.3 Pays D’Aix. With such a beautiful backdrop for a race, there’s no surprise the race filled to capacity with 2500 athletes on the start. It had the typical Ironman brand hoopla and it felt like a championship event with racers from all over Europe. 

Pay’s D’Aix is roughly a 7 hr drive from our new city, and this was our first euro road trip. After 42 euros of road tolls, we finally made it to our hotel in the heart of Aix en Provence.  We celebrated the majestic city and enjoyed walking through town and having dinner at one of the many outdoor restaurants. I just love that vibe and could sit and enjoy it all night. It was music to my ears to hear french again and finally be able to understand and communicate with locals. 

With a point to point bike, there’s a lot of organization involved with this event, so Saturday was a day filled with pre race logistics. We checked out the swim venue then drove the 90km  bike course back to town. The course is  highlighted by five significant climbs with the Col de Cengle coming at 70km. I loved the the climbs, but compared to those around me, I lost WAY TOO MUCH time on the descents. In the US I considered myself to be a good bike handler from all my years of racing road and mtb, but here, I feel like a rookie navigating the steep switch backs, roundabouts and tight hairpin turns. 

Swim Start - ALL women and PROS went off together. Seemed strange that they would start all the women with the pros (pros had a water start, women had a beach start), and it was unreal how fierce that start was. I lined up in front on the beach, but I'm sure 50+ people got ahead of me by the first buoy. Based off the results, after the 1.9km swim I think I came out of the water as the 6-7th amateur (3rd AG) in  ~28min. but I had no idea where I was in the race. T2 was over half mile/barefoot run (on concrete, so I'm still paying for that with super tight calves 3 days later)!

Bike - Still had no idea where I was in the race, but I settled into a decent groove. Once a gal from my AG passed me about 15miles in it helped spark a bit of race day mojo. I worked harder to keep her in my sights as best I could, but I would always loose her on the descents. Here's my strava file.  I knew the race was finishing with a long sketchy decent, which didn’t bode well for me, but regardless it was extremely helpful to know there was someone ahead to keep me focused. Clearly that makes a difference and I must find a way to focus and work hard without that! 

T2 - Drop bikes at racks in the order you arrive, then run another half mile barefoot in the street to retrieve the T2 bags. Maybe running barefoot would be smart and specific training for TRIs after all! 

RUN 4 loops. I wasn't expecting as many hills, but they were certainly there and they kicked my butt. I ended up passing two amateur gals on the run, and at that time, I thought I was near the front of the AG race - I didn’t see anyone else in front, but it was basically impossible to differentiate the pros from the top AGers. It was so fun to hear cheers in french and my name in a sweet french accent. The locals also seemed to love my Coeur race kit as much as I did. I was motivated all day with cheers of "COURAGE." I focused on the joy of those simple pleasures while trying to say strong.  I was really hoping to be able to run sub 1:35 and break the 5hr mark on this tough course. Although I missed that target, I was able to pick up the pace to stay in front on a fast charging french the line.  I still had no idea where I finished in my AG or overall, but I headed out to the run course to watch and cheer for KY (he started in a wave about an hour behind me). 

Despite minimal run training, he gutted it out and had a great day -  I'm so proud of him!!

I finally had a chance to check results, and was initially a little bummed when I realized I had finished 3rd in my AG (15 overall with pros).   I knew I wasn’t in prime shape, but I was holding out for race day magic to help me out!  It’s always tough to come up short (only two AG slots for the World Championship), but it helped spark some competitive juice to fuel my preparation for the next attempt.    I'm happy to have made the podium, and regardless of any race results, we had a fantastic weekend in France. I'm extremely grateful to experience this incredible area, especially while sharing the adventure with my hubby!

This race was the first euro 70.3 of the year, and based on the enthusiasm at the slot allocation ceremony, it’s evident the europeans are very excited to finally host the 70.3 World Championships on this side of the globe. This was the first time in my history of racing Ironman events, that I watched 100% acceptance of the 50 slots with zero roll downs. 

I have roughly four weeks before the 70.3 Rapperswill-Jona (Zurich), so I know I have to buckle down and commit to the details if I want to be competitive and fight for a slot. For the past two months I have executed all my training - That’s not the problem for me, but instead, I realize that I need to work on my brain as well! 

Several years ago when I was racing my best, I was admittedly much more fierce and competitive. All that short course racing (especially in Minnesota) does that to you. I would race 10-15x a year, and each weekend there would be great fights to the finish - Real intensity, real passion and BIG heart when into each performance. IN many ways, I feel that my recent shift to longer distance racing as sucked a bit of that out of my blood.  I’ve become too conservative and comfortable, always pacing and preparing myself for the long run! Anyhow, this past weekend, it was a great wake up call, and it lit a new fire - I’ll be ready to fight with renewed heart and courage the next time I toe the line.

HERE we go!!