After 9 months of work towards my first iron distance race. There I was standing on the beach looking out at a stretch of water 2.4miles long. All I wanted to do was turn around to someone and fulfil my pre-race tradition and shake a fellow competitors hand…I didn’t. I couldn’t. I speak no French and there I was in the FRENCHMAN. Everyone was French and boy did it feel a little lonely.
After not the easiest and problem free journey to my father and I arrived in Houston, west of Bordeaux. We’d been there a couple of days and it was now 17:00 and I was heading towards transition with my bike and different transition bags. I had T1 with cycling shoes, road helmet (not aero) sunglasses, Garmin and most importantly SUN CREAM!! T2 bag had my running shoes, a cap, more sun cream and gel. T2 was a lot less cumbersome.
Skipping forward 12 hours and there I was again, standing in transition pumping the tyres up, checking my nutrition was in place on the bike, my water bottles full, my helmet and shoes were in my bags! Perfect everything was ready to go. So I grabbed my dry bag with my wetsuit and goggles in, kissed my other half good by, said bye to the family and headed to one of the 10 buses ready to bundle us tot the other side of the lake. The great thing about this swim was that it was 1 straight line. Start one side of the lake, finish the other. Perfect! Sighting would be easy. Head down and swim! Arriving on the other side of the lake I got changed, pulled my wetsuit up higher than ever before to give my shoulders as little hassle as possible and headed onto the beach. Making sure to double hat it so no one could rip my goggles from my head I looked around and realised that it was truly an individual sport.
Now I don’t speak a lot of French. In fact very little, but I do know enough to recognise a countdown to put my goggles on so to be ready for the rush that is running into the water. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I head the gun go off and there I was with my goggles onto of my head. So deciding it was a sign I walked into the water ducked my head under to clear my goggles, placed them on my face and dived in. Feeling calm and confident in my swim I started to push through the throngs of feet and flapping arms. After about 600m the bashing and kicking started to disperse and I could finally feel my rhythm coming into play. Making sure I stayed relaxed and in a straight line I pushed on. recognising I was in the middle of the lake because the water had dropped a noticeable few degrees I sat at my pace and slowly picked off athletes who had obviously gone off to fast. Remembering the sighting techniques taught to me I kept the sun at 10 o'clock in my goggles and remarkably I stayed straight on course. After a little while, I realised I was coming to the end of the swim. I saw the big red buoys marking the entrance to the harbour and so turn into the harbour. Now I could only sight off of the land on my left as the sun was still low and directly in front of us. I have never been so blinded in a swim. I remember feeling a touch of sadness because the swim is always my favourite part and now it was over. I swam far up into the swim exit, missing where the family was I clambered into the changing tent.
Finding my T1 bag, number 402, I sat for a moment and pulled my wetsuit off. At this point was confronted with a very naked gentleman who was obviously getting changed into cycling gear. Being taken back a little made sure my tri suit was in a comfortable position, applied as much suncream as I could, dried my feet, helmet on, shoes on, Garmin in hand and I was away. Down the isles of bikes and there was my trusted Boardman. My Zipp 808 wheels with their brand new tubs from Schwalbe glistening with the morning dew on them. grabbing the bike I was out of transition and onto the bike course. Quickly hearing my father shouting ‘1hour 3 minutes for the swim’ That was a confidence boost!
Out on to the bike and onto one of the flattest courses I have ever seen. Head down, stick to my ideal normalised power and drink!!! We all knew it was going to be a freakishly hot day and it did not disappoint. after an hour on the bike and 30km, I was feeling comfortable but the sun had started to show. Little did I know it was going to be that hot. Over the course of the day, it would have an average high of 34c across the course with bits of the bike spiking at 40c and the run at 38c. I was worried about the idea of being dehydrated so I started to drink lots. This was fine. It did mean that I had to stop 3 times to dive into a hedge for a quick wee. I know lots of people will say why didn’t you just go on the bike? Well, I hadn’t adjusted my suit enough and the thought of urine and a slight rubbing suit didn’t bed well. Moving through the course I stuck to my power and was shifting along at a nice 18mph. It turns out no one who swam my speed cycles at my speed. 250 people passed me on the bike. Opps. we had headed north and looped back to come south. at 90km we headed back into Hourtin where before you could stash your own aid bag. So I quickly stopped, chucked my littler away and gathered my nutrition for the next 90km. Tori gels and bars are AMAZING! I couldn’t advise them more. I had a bar and a gel an hour. I also got through 1 bottle of their carbohydrate drink per 90km. The other major nutritional decision I had made was to use Totum Sport salt water sachets. I don’t work well with electrolyte tablets so have had to find different ways of not cramping. Well, I can not advise these enough. One an hour and I didn’t cramp at all the whole way through the bike and run! THEY WORK!!! I would also like to say a massive thank you to my girlfriend, Lauren, and sister Rebecca who had walked all the way up into town from the lake to see me come in halfway for the aid station. It really helped to see a friendly face or 2!
One of the reasons I chose the Frenchman triathlon was for the reason of the flat cycle. Well, I got to 150km and there were suddenly these undulations. WHAT???? Well, it wasn’t as flat as I thought. I had a hill that lasted at least 300m and was easily 5% gradient. How dreadful! This was actually a bit of a relief. Gave me a chance to sit up a little and stretch my neck out. What made this really hard was the fact it was crossing a sand dune that was about 15km long. There was no wind and everything was absorbing the heat along with it being the hottest part of the day. This is where temperatures started to rise and rise. It was like cycling into an oven. Head down and push through it. Holding a little more power than I had expected I pushed on, now wanting the bike to finish.
Heading out of the sand dune I knew I had 15km to go. So last Torq Bar, a big slurp of carbohydrate drink and another Totum Sport sachet so that it had a few miles to settle in my stomach. Before I knew I was in transition. Whizzing towards the dismount line I didn’t know someone was going to take my bike from me. How kind of them. If I had known I would have dismounted a little sooner but I didn’t so there I was stumbling around trying to unclip. Down the isles of bikes again, grab my T2 bag. Helmet off, shoes off, running shoes on, cap on and I was away. OH MY THE HEAT!
Running slowly but still running I made it to 2kms. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that I had less than 40km to go. Turning onto a straight where you had a choice of either running on bright white stoney gravel or running on the jet black tarmac bike lane, it was like choosing between slapped in the face or slapped in the face. Both were equally awful. The white stone reflected all the sun straight back at you while the tarmac was so hot it was boiling your feet every step you took. I found the thinnest part of grass and tried my hardest to move along that.
My run slowed and it turned into a walk. I knew this would happen but I was hoping not for another 10km at least, but I couldn’t will myself to work any harder. Making sure at every aid station I got soaked with a hose so to stay cool I carried on. I completed the first 10km lap and saw the family and my other half Lauren. Their support and cheering were invaluable. I grabbed a Totum Sport sachet from my own aid bag and carried on what was going to become the hardest 10km of my life!!!!
I mustered up a jog and put one foot in front of the other, and headed back out on to the 10km course. This lasted for about 500m. My legs felt like lead, my body just wasn’t cooling and all I wanted to do was sleep. The next 5km took around 50min. I was stumbling and walking like a zombie. I decided to revert back to the diet I only used if things were truly dreadful. WATER, COKE and READY SALTED CRISPS! After another very slow kilometre, I had to stop. My right big toe was hurting and I could barely walk on it. I could feel my sock catching my nail so I sat down on a curb and took my shoe off. There, while playing with my sock, I thought how easy and comfortable it would be to just not get up, to just walk off the course right now and go to sleep. This seemed like such a viable option I said to myself that when I got back to the family I would do this. I would just wander off the course and call it day. So getting back up moving I thought this would be my last 3km of the race. I had done a half marathon and that would be fine…
…Well my foot felt instantly better and obviously the coke kick in. As I was walking along I thought to myself about something I had read. It said that to run a good marathon you have to go to a dark place. A place where you feel awful but can keep going. I thought to myself ‘how dark do you feel right now Tom?’ the answer was not very. I didn’t feel like I was in a dark place I just didn’t like it. This was not a good enough reason in my head. So I had a word with myself and told myself if you are going to quit it has to be for a better reason than not liking something. So I started running again, and I was running faster than before. I knew I couldn’t keep the pace up but while I was doing it I might as well keep going. So suddenly out of nowhere I went from walking 12minutes per Kilometre I was running 4:30per km. Grant after a kilometre I stopped and walked for a couple of hundred meters but then I started running again. Still, at this pace, I wasn’t expecting. I was flying past people. I completed the second lap where Lauren started to run next to me. She told me that I was doing a good job and that I would complete. My mum and dad were saying the same things while my sister took lots of pictures and cheered. For the first time, I believed them. I felt a renewed confidence that the heat and distance weren’t going to beat me!
The Third lap flew past. Lap 2 had taken my 1hr 40mins to do 10 km. I went through lap 3 in an hour. I didn’t want to be in the heat and on that course for another 3 and a half hours. This was the thought kept running through my mind. The faster I ran, the more of the course I ran the sooner it would be over! So like before one foot in front of the other just this time a lot quicker!!!
Lap 4 came and my concentrated effort on lap 3 was starting to show. I was trying to move with the same figure as before but it wasn’t coming so easily now. Oh well, I thought. I am going to walk a little more it doesn’t matter. I shall walk with purpose and power through it. There were 4 of us all on our last lap, all within 200m of each other. We changed position about 5 times on the last lap. You could see each one of us was trying to make it past the others. Then you would take an extra moment at an aid station and 2 people would pass you, or you would stop and walk a little then they would jog past you. I was determined not to be beaten by these other 4.
With 3 km to go, I was struggling. Walking was slower but still as fast as possible. I had passed one of the 4 and he had fallen off. I knew I had 3 left to ‘battle’ with…. Well, it didn't go to plan. going into the last 2 km they had all past me and the furthest was about 300m ahead. I could not move. I managed to hold these gaps but could barely run. With less than a kilometre to go, I knew where I was going to end up…but NO!!! Passing the 1km to go marker and stumbling along I saw my wonderful girlfriend. There she was with her phone in one hand and waving the other. Suddenly she was running alongside next to me. This gave me a bit of life. I picked my feet and head up and started to move a little more freely. She was a little distracted fumbling with her phone. I thought 'by god woman, there are official photographers you don’t need to take a selfie now'. Little did I know it wasn’t a selfie she was taking but Spotify she was opening.
Now sidenote here... If any of you know me, come along to my spine classes or have spoken to me in the last 2 years, you will know I am a massive, slightly obsessional fan of Rupauls Drag Race. I love it all. The Queens, the dresses, the music!! I am a fan of it all. So it was with pure delight when I was running along, Lauren next to me, I suddenly heard Mother RU with Sissy That Walk. This was exactly what I needed to hear! Lauren had somehow plucked the exact music I need to move my feet faster. I was feeling so good I started singing the lyrics.
‘Pick myself up, turn the world on its head
Don't forget what, don't forget what my mama said
People talking since the beginning of time
Unless they paying your bills, pay them bitches no mind’
That was IT!!! 500m to go and I was running with Lauren to my side, my parents and sister shouting support and Rupaul rumbling in my ears. 400m to go and I catch the first out of 3 guys. I fly by like I was out on a fresh 5km.
‘And if I fly, or if I fall
Least I can say I gave it all
And if I fly, or if I fall
I'm on my way’
300m to go I catch the second guy. He looks decidedly upset with this. I feel him picking the pace up and sticking on my heels. He won’t stay with me. I’ve got family support and far too much ‘Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent’ (Rupauls fav phrase) for him to overtake me.
‘Better beware, ain't no tea, ain't no shade
But at the same time, bitches better get out the way”
150m to go and I catch the last guy I was aiming for. I turn and cross the line. 13hrs 10minutes 7 seconds. I have the other 2 blokes right behind me. I had finished! NO MORE!!! Everything I had worked for, done. I stumble around and see my mum and Lauren. They tell me to take a seat and I do for about 30 seconds. I was so out of it. I could barely move but barely stop. I left the family and wondered into the finishers tent. They were handing out beer (tasted awful), Parma ham (the greatest thing I have ever eaten after a race) and hot dogs (I couldn’t eat enough of them)
After about 10 mins I grabbed my kit bag I had left at the start of the swim and walked out. Still exhausted and out of it, I wasn’t ch company. There were lots of hugs and congratulations from everyone. We got my bike from transition, along with all my other gear and headed back to the apartment. With a lot of help from Lauren, I managed to climb into a bath and have a scrub. I was ruined but I have never felt happier and for longer. This whole past week I have been buzzing off of it!!
So a massive THANK YOU to our tea sponsors who help put each and every Beacon Triathlete on the start line.
Xtenex Laces for giving me a speed transition with your elastic laces.
Schwalbe Tires for keeping me stuck tot he road.
Tri-Harder for all helping me with all my triathlon needs
Ride Harder for helping my bike fits!!
Sport Link Running and Fitness for keeping me in shoes
Replay Sports Clinic for helping with those niggles and injuries
Chestnut Nursery for giving us the funding to allow our athletes to do what they do best
Epic Orange for supplying us with great trip suits
My biggest thanks go to my family who came out and supported me! I couldn’t have done this without you! Dad, you really helped by driving us about everywhere!!! A massive thank you to Lauren my other half for putting up with all the training, the equipment and the odd birthday and Christmas requests. (On my birthday I was greeted with ‘I don’t know what it is but here's your present. Happy Birthday’ It was an aero bottle)
Now to enjoy the summer!!!!