Thursday, August 9, 2012

Alpe d'Huez Triathlon Race Report

My eagerly awaited race report for anyone who is listening...
The race was almost two weeks ago now and between sight-seeing in Paris and returning to the depths of the New Zealand winter I haven't had time to write anything.

The forecast for race day was hot and sunny which was good news because last year conditions were horrible - 4 degrees up the mountain and raining the entire day, ie. not Jo-friendly.  So the weather gods appeared to be on my side for once.
Our first challenge was getting to the race start.  We were staying up the mountain and they recommended riding to the start as it is about a 40-50 minute ride which is 95% downhill and was supposedly signposted.  It was a bit tricky to find the start of the signposting but once we got on the right track there were plenty of other cyclists to follow.  Our supporters were following us in the car with our gear but disappeared after about 10 minutes which started to cause us some concern but they appeared as we reached the lake, as  being the upstanding citizens that they are, they stopped to help a cyclist with a puncture.

The swim was in a beautiful lake which is an artificial reservoir and not usually available for public use.  It was rather chilly at 14 degrees but was amazingly clear and dead flat.
Glacial temperature lake anyone?
At 9.30am (!) the gun went off so off we swam.  I was really feeling the cold even though I have swum in colder temperatures and felt I couldn't really get going because my arms and legs were too cold so I decided there was no point in flogging a dead horse and cruised along enjoying the scenery.  My swim was about 4mins slower than I had expected but I suspect that it was a bit longer than 2.2km as J-Rad and the top dogs were slower than usual.  J-Rad had a tough time in the swim getting smacked around at the start and then getting an elbow to the head as some guy pulled his wetsuit off on the way to T1.

The first section of the bike was ~25km of false flat which went by pretty quick with some rather large packs coming past me.  The first climb was the Alpe du Grand Serre which was 14km and took a bit over an hour.  I felt like I had been climbing forever when I came to a sign saying 10km to summit - holy bejesus!! I passed a lot of people who had passed me on the first section which gave me great satisfaction, and quite a few girls. I was wary of blowing my foofoo valve so mostly stayed seated and watched my power.  It wasn't a super hard hill but just took forever.  When we got to the top (1375m) it was like we were in a valley with massive mountains on either side, after 14km of climbing...
There was a few scary downhills and some nice gentle downhilling for a while before the next mountain which was more of a false flat for 18km with the last 5km being harder.  It was very hot at this stage with the temperature being well over 30 degrees.  The scenery through here was absolutely beautiful - massive mountains on either side of us with waterfalls snaking down the sides.  I felt I needed to share my appreciation for the scenery with someone so chose an English man (our country flag was on our race numbers) who I had been toing and froing with for a while.  He agreed that the view was quite remarkable and then asked if I ride up Mt Eden which made me laugh.  I haven't ridden or run up Mt Eden in years but it would probably take about 5 minutes to ride up which is hardly ideal preparation for a race in the French Alps.
Once at the top of this mountain (Col d'Ornon) there was a very wiggly downhill (where I got passed by many people) which took us down to Bourg d'Oisans where the real race would begin.  It was the moment we had all been waiting for but dreading at the same time - climbing the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez.  I had thought I would reach the base at about 4 hours of riding and I was bang on target at 4 hours exactly and was greeted by Neilio and Darreen at the bottom of the hill.
Baby steps up the mountain
The first couple of corners almost felt a bit easier than went I went up a few days before as I was able to remain seated where I wasn't able to before.  I was going a bit slower though which may have had something to do with it... Once I got to La Garde I knew it would be a bit easier and it was but my leggies were still having to work pretty hard.  My speed was mostly in the single digits but I was passing people left right and centre - I was coming back to haunt all the people who blasted past me on the downhills - ha!  There was carnage everywhere - people stopped and lying down at the corners were my favourite, seeing other people suffering made me feel better somehow.  I counted the corners off one at a time and it wasn't long before I was down to the last 7.  Neilio and Darreen popped up a couple of times and offered encouragement, although telling me I was going slower than Neilio (he rode up in 1hr46 the day before) perhaps wasn't so encouraging and I almost blew my mind trying to calculate whether I was actually going that slow but thankfully I wasn't.
As I approached the top someone called out that I was 16th girl just as I was about to pass another girl which put me into 15th.
Gone were the negative thoughts which had plagued me at Auckland Half Ironman - I was enthusiastic and keen to get running.  The run was 22km - 3 x 7.3km loops which were either uphill or downhill and partially offroad, all at 1800m+ altitude.  I can honestly say that that altitude didn't affect me at all - I never felt short of breath unlike a race I did in Korea which was 1500m and I struggled to breathe on the uphills.
I was running ok on the flats (the little that there were) and downhills but the leggies were a bit dead for the uphills so I baby-stepped past all the people who were walking and smiled whenever anyone cheered for me.  The off-road sections  were quite rocky so I had to watch where I put my feet all the time which was a bit of hard work.  I passed a couple of girls and one who was on her second lap but wasn't keen to let me pass her so she ran on my shoulder for a while which was a bit annoying.
Happy to be here

The run went by pretty unremarkably, due to the layout of the course I never got to see J-rad but knew that he hadn't finished by the last time that our paths could have crossed so he couldn't have been too far in front. There were so many people walking on their first lap while I was on my 3rd and people lying down on the ground obviously broken by the mountain.  It was definitely a hard course and my legs were tired but didn't really hurt like they have done in other longer races.  I have heard a lot of people saying that this race is harder than an Ironman and would agree that the bike is harder but there is nothing like the last 10km of an Ironman and I wouldn't have said that this topped that.
J-Rizzle found it to be a bit of a struggle and reckons that it is the hardest race he has ever done, he did well though but is not so keen to ever do it again...
I have been reading a book about mental training for triathletes - particularly the negative self-talk section.  Apparently when you smile, even if you are not happy, if sets off something in your brain which then actually makes you feel a bit happy.  So my rule for this race was to smile whenever anyone cheered for me and whether it was that or simply the fact that I was racing in a place that I had always dreamt about, either way it worked! No nasty "I wish I would break a wheel/pedal/bike/chain so I have an excuse to stop" or "I don't want to run, maybe my shoes won't be in transition" type thoughts entered my little brain.  I may not have had quite the result that I wanted but I loved every minute of it and there are not many races that I can say that about.
Finished! I decided to bypass the camembert in the food tent 
So I finished up as 12th girl and a bit short of my top 10 goal and way off my time goal but in reality I was just happy to have made it through especially having seen all the people which had been broken by it.  That night I was as tired as if I had done an Ironman but not as sore.
I think that traditionally Kiwis don't tend to fare so well at this race and it is not really surprising since we don't have anything like the hills that are on the bike course so it is pretty difficult to train for.  It is an awesome race though in a fantastic location and I think most people tend to treat it as a 'bucket list' race rather than an 'A' race.
The next day we packed up the car and headed over to the Col de la Croix de Fer which was included in this year's Tour.  Neilio and Darreen rode from 18km to the summit and J-Rad and I from the 11km to go mark as we were feeling slightly precious.  For the first 5 minutes of riding I thought I was going to have to turn around as my leggies felt absolutely wasted but then they came to the party and we had a lovely cruise to the top passing some amazing scenery on the way.
A damn dam

Me and Neilio in the Alps but just like normal

After that we headed back to Alpe d'Huez and packed up our stuff and bussed our way back to Grenoble for the TGV the next morning which took us to Paris.  We spent 3 days there being tourists, not training and eating rubbish.  I was quite unimpressed with the Eiffel Tower during the day time but it looked pretty amazing at night.  We had a delicious dinner on the Champs-Elysees on our last night and got pissed on a half bottle of wine between us.
Much better at night
So now I am trying to find some motivation to get out of bed in the cold dark mornings to ride... We are back swimming at the Teps which is fantastic and just like old times.

Au revoir from cold and wet NEW ZEALAND!

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