How about a warm weather early season half ironman in France he says…

We arrived in beautiful sunny Marseille on Thursday evening after a slight delay. We were ditched by the transfer company as a result of the delay but managed to arrive by taxi to the hotel by 7.30pm. We had made the executive decision to rent bikes instead of hauling ours over with us. Our bikes had already been delivered to the hotel as promised and we managed to “install” our own pedals. We went to the race expo that evening to register and get the administration out of the way before 9pm. That was swiftly followed by a cold beer and a pizza on a beautiful, warm and sunny French night.

We had a busy start on Saturday morning and unfortunately the first sign of trouble when I took the rental bike for a test spin. It was a good quality bike but couldn’t get it onto the TT (time trial) bars (a tall, inflexible triathletes’ nightmare!). We tried a few adjustments before racing around the town looking for a solution, but alas – no joy. It probably serves me right for renting a TT (time trial) bike for a race in France from an Italian retailer!

The race briefing was at 11am. The lads were relaxed and spirits were high for the 3 Irish racers: Paul O’Donnell, Donal Murphy and myself.

We dropped off our red run bags to Transition 2 (T2), did a quick recce, put our bikes on a truck and boarded a bus for the lake where the swim and Transition 1 (T1) were located. It was pretty hot and shade was hard to come by as the uber fit looking French and Italians were surrounded by us pasty Paddys. The lake was beautiful; we racked our bikes and hung our blue bike bags up so they would be ready for a quick change on exiting the swim on Sunday morning. We did a quick recce and familiarisation of the swim exit and transition pathway before returning to the town for some family downtime and some pre-race stretching and foam rolling.

Race Day:

We were woken early by a 4.30am alarm. The day started with breakfast followed by a walk to T2 to get the bus transfer to the lake – more of them fit, tanned, skinny folk surrounding us, calmness personified. We arrived at the lake at 6am for the opening of T1. We pumped the tires on our bikes, got the bottles and jellies out, put the Garmin on and fixed the cleats to the bike pedals and then we were ready to roll. We had enough time for a few reverse lunges, single leg dead lifts and even a few photos. Wetsuits on, street wear dropped off, a quick comfort break. I surprised by the number of people in the water warming up, it was not for us – sure why would you get in there and get wet sooner than absolutely necessary?!!

Fergal Meegan T1 Swim

We entered the starting pens and graded ourselves by our expected swim time. The pros were off at 7.30am and the first age groupers at 7.40am. Race day mistake number 1 – French people can swim.  My Irish strategy of the 30 minute pen to try and get some clear water proved flawed. 40 minutes later, black and blue from being swum through and over, I crawled out at the swim exit, cramping all the way through T1. I got the wetsuit off and threw the helmet and shades on. Took a quick drink, dumped the bag and ran for my bike (usually my favourite bit). I started to pass a few of the day trippers, and as this happened my confidence came flowing back. That was until I arrived at my rental bike, “damn” I thought, “how am I going to get this thing around France?” I made a few attempts to get down onto the TT bars before admitting defeat, resigned to a morning on the hoods, c’est la vie…

We approached the first climb, I felt strong and I was passing plenty (good swimmers who can’t cycle are great for the confidence). I passed the nutrition stop at 21 km at the top of the climb. People were all over the road. I still had two nearly full bottles and a bag of jellies, so no need for more supplies yet. On up the climb, shorter than I had calculated, felt good, legs must be good – down the other side – about 12km to get to next climb, worked away at it, felt ok…

Halfway up a climb at c. 45km, the first drops (very big drops) of rain arrived. The heavens opened and almost immediately, the noise of the ambulance (which seemed continuous) was apparent out on the course. We got pelted out of it. It didn’t seem to be passing and my positivity was dwindling. The roads became rivers. Soaked to the bone, I descended slowly. The shivers set in, my hands and arms went numb, and I was hanging onto hoods and brakes for dear life. From that point onwards, my ‘race’ was a blur of “my god I have a family” to “this is madness wtf, wtf”.

I was praying for an incline so I could do some more pedalling and heat back up. “Misery” would be a word to sum it up best. Staying vertical on the descents was challenging, with the occasional continental nutters going straight through corners! We travelled through streams, over manholes and road bumps. The sound of carbon hitting the ground over the last 10km will stay with me – TT bikes went down all around me, especially when we arrived back to the town. Frozen, I got my foot out of my shoe and stopped at the entrance to T2 expecting the marshalls to say ‘well done for managing to get here safely! The race is off, go and get a hot whiskey’ – to shouts of “bravo” “courage” “bravo” – no sympathy here – me thinking I’ll go inside it’ll be fine; not so. Marshalls signalling me to my bike racking position, me thinking ‘sure I’ll drop the bike in, I’m sure there’ll be someone handing out towels inside, sure they wouldn’t expect us to run in this…. Surely?’

Cue the thunder and lightning……

Fergal Meegan T2 cycle

I found my run bag, found a chair and somehow got socks and runners on. It felt like it took me an hour. Noticing a queue had formed for my chair I got to my feet and lumbered off. It was easily the very, very worst moment of my adult life. I did a quick calculation based on my physical state and the ‘environmental’ factors and I realised that I would be running for nearly 2 hours… not very inspiring. I went off in search of the first aid station at 1 kilometre in. I was grateful to find a portable toilet that was dry (and warmish). Afterwards, I ran through the park while thunder and lightning rattled the sky, the park was like a landslide. I travelled up and down the hills and made it to 7km – the end of lap 1 of 3. Back to my new favourite sanctuary, the 1km portaloo – same result, inspired…

At the end of lap 2 the rain cleared up. It felt like the last 5km took an age. My watch seemed to be counting the kilometres in slow motion. I finally reached the line. I’ve never seen an Ironman finishing chute with so few people. They are usually an inspiring frenzy of finishers with a buzz of noise and encouragement & positive energy that spurs you through the final few metres. So I just followed suit; I took my medal, said ‘merci beaucoup’ and headed for safety. The clock stopped at 5 hours 45 mins, the longest I’d ever exercised for.

I suppose it is always good to break personal records, no matter what they are…..

Fergal Meegan run

Blog by Fergal Meegan, DSC client and Triathlon enthusiast.