*** many thanks to Vicky Arscott for this race report ***

For someone who talks as much as I do, you would have thought I may have put pen to paper and written a race report long before now, well wait no more... and yes you’ve guessed it there is nothing short and sweet about this.

My entry to the world of triathlons was by virtue of a challenge set by a somewhat arrogant git (a former colleague) who reckoned I wasn’t cut out for triathlons because I never pushed myself beyond my annual RAK half marathon each year. I say arrogant git with a smile on my face because this guy was awesome, a great friend, had a wicked sense of humour, he was totally full of himself, but always challenged himself and I always admired that about him. Sadly after a tragic jet ski accident, a couple of months ago, he is no longer around for me to rub this particular success in his face, but Stevo..I think I can safely say “you were wrong buddy”.

In fact the challenge was the ADIT in March 2013, not the 70.3 in Aix en Provence, but Triathlons have a habit of being addictive and following ADIT I got a bit restless.

My experience at ADIT could be summarised as; panic and pain onset by a lack of preparation and training.  I had no nutrition plan, no race plan (except to finish), no routine for transitions, no idea whether I could even manage 100km on the bike (my buttocks tend to scream for help at 50km)..and I had no idea about the course; where to exit the swim, where to turn on the bike  and god help me if I got a puncture, I didn’t even know how to use that funky miniature pump on my bike let alone know how to change my tyre. Jacqs (Sydow) once told me ‘there’s no room for princesses in Triathlons’..but it sure looks like one slipped through the net on this occasion. Despite all this, the support at ADIT both from other competitors and from the spectators was just immense and I loved every minute of pain. I was hooked from that point on.

A very hot and humid afternoon in April, whilst jogging at Springs with Kenny, my brain was obviously starved of oxygen and my ability to make rational decisions was seriously compromised (more so than normal). That afternoon I not only agreed to register for the 70.3 in Aix en Provence, but also IMSA 2014 !!

Obviously having only participated in my first triathlon in February 2013, the thought of doing my first 70.3 in September 2013 and my first ironman in the following April, was fairly daunting and I knew I couldn’t just wing it, like I did with ADIT. I wanted to do this properly.

After a chat with Johan, he got me thinking it may be worthwhile getting some structure to my training. To be honest I’m quite stubborn, so I never thought having someone writing a training plan for me would influence me any more than normal, to get out there and do the sets, but I was wrong.

Our resident Ironman Ed Hawkins took on the role as my trainer in May... I bet you’re all thinking ‘poor bloke what was he thinking?’..I bet he’s still asking himself the same question. I have a habit of doing whatever I want, rather than what the plan says , not because I think I know best, but because I don’t see the harm, and this is where I hand over my first words of wisdom ‘stick to the plan’.

I frequently ignored rest days, combined sessions, ignored the horrible pool sets, or just did too much. I had no consideration for the impact it would have on me, until I hit a major brick wall. I’m sure Ed won’t forget the day he received an epic e-novel from me, entitled “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK”.

I was tired, sick, irritable, suffering from muscle strain, I wasn’t making any progress and was seriously struggling to find any motivation whatsoever to get out there and train. Arturo also got an earful from me during this time (apologies Shrek!!). Ed had warned me I was on the path to self-destruction and that soon enough it would catch up on me and he was right. Trudy’s article about Adaptation and the need for rest and recovery really hit home. Keep those posts coming Trudy!!

After a grade A pep talk from Ed, I was back on track and seriously motivated. Since the organisers of Aix had altered the bike course just one month before the race, a sub 6 hour finish was looking possible, so I was fired up and working hard towards this goal.

The last couple of weeks of my training were tough, I picked up tonsillitis and with little time left I was desperate to try and keep up with my training, but Ed wisely wrote “NO TRAINING” and yes it was in capitals and yes apparently he was shouting (a bit) to make sure I took his advice and rested. It was the right move because I recovered quickly. That Friday, when I finished what would be my final hatta ride, I received the devastating news of Roy’s tragic accident. Like all of you, this totally knocked me for six. Just the day before, as I was leaving work, Roy happened to write me an email to say “enjoy hatta, you have come a long way and have prepared well for your race, so go and smash it please. Looking forward to read the race report!”.  I would have liked to have told you this in person Roy, but here it is... get yourself a cuppa and a bar of chocolate.. this one’s a long one.

So I’m feeling healthy, I have no injuries, I’m fully prepared in terms of my training and nutrition, I know I can do the distance, it’s just a matter of a fairly short flight before I get this show on the road.

The plan was to fly Monday, giving me a full five days to get the bike fixed up, register, check out the course, hand in the transition bags and rest. Piece of cake I thought.

Henry (aka the Godfather) had previously taken me through the steps to dismantle and reassemble my bike as well as how to fix punctures... arming yourself with this kind of knowledge is really worthwhile, just incase help is not readily available at your race destination -  words of wisdom part deux ‘be prepared

So the bike was packed up Saturday, which left Sunday for packing my bags..yes bags (plural)

National, at this point was flying as high as a kite, courtesy of major medical morphine intervention, but he still had time to pass on some last minute tips and encouragement... one of which was the additional luggage allowance that you could buy at a 30% discount on line with Emirates. I flew economy to Nice which gave me 30kg of luggage +7kg for hand luggage, Henry had weighed the bike in the bike box and it worked out at around 24kg. It was obvious as I was shifting all my clothes to a larger suitcase that I would need to purchase some additional luggage. I had no idea how much my luggage weighed so I just bought an extra 5kg.

Monday morning I got to the airport put the luggage on the scales and I had to laugh when the combined weight of the bike and my main luggage totalled a whopping 55kg and that didn’t even include the bursting at the seams hand luggage, handbag and TriDubai banner that I had in my hands. The cost, an additional AED1,680 ‘don’t be a princess pack light’.

The flight was uneventful, I reached Nice airport Terminal 1, picked up my main luggage from the carousel, but no bike... 45 mins later, still no bike. Asked the lady at the baggage desk to help find it, her response was “actually I’m already busy”. After a few heated words, an hour later the bike box shows up. 

I had arranged a hire car to drive from Nice to Aix en Provence, found an unattended hire car desk to find a sign saying “fermé” the French note went on to say that I should go to terminal 2 to collect the car. So me, plus the 55kg of luggage crammed onto the shuttle bus with the rest of Nice airport and headed to terminal 2.

I have to say at this point, that the car rental company (Hertz) were super helpful, I had booked a VW golf... thinking my oversized luggage would fit in it..but one glance of my entourage of bags and they offered me a 7 seater Peugeot at no additional charge.  

Just a quick word of warning to all those, like me, who have never driven outside of the UAE before... those automatic machines at the toll gates,  give change!.... don’t ask !! it took me 2 days before I realised I was leaving a tonne of change for the person behind me each time!

Tuesday morning I had planned to ride part of the bike course, so I got up early to set up the bike. Immediately I noticed a problem with the front wheel. The skewer that goes through the middle of the wheel and forms part of the quick release mechanism was bent and the rear derailleur was also damaged. So off to town I went in search of a bike shop. Despite being a bit of a fruit loop at times, I am pretty resourceful and managed to find the bike shop and get it fixed. Took the bike for a quick spin near my hotel and everything was in order.

Access to the lake was only allowed on Saturday, however on Wednesday I met up with Arturo in the morning to go to the lake (which is a good 25 minute drive) from the town to have a look and drive the bike course.  At 8am, It was only 8C and still relatively dark, making it very difficult to sight the buoys or even know where we would exit the lake. No signage was up and no indicators for the start and finish.. The trees surrounding the lake seem to be all at similar heights and so were the mountains in the backdrop. Only the electricity pylons stood out and they were in the wrong direction. The distance from the lake to the bike transition was also of concern as it worked out to be around 600m. 

Driving the bike course was a real eye opener and thank god we did it... It goes through 9 municipalities, very scenic but clearly some very rough road surfaces at times, coupled with some seriously difficult descents.

That afternoon I went for a quick run, to see how I would fair in the cooler climate. All went ok and I averaged 5.04min/km over 6km with ease over an undulating road, which was close to the race pace I was looking to keep.

Thursday I again went with Arturo to drive the course and use my garmin to get an exact idea of the course inclines. I chose to cycle up the steepest climb on the course to see how I would do...I nailed it in 10 minutes and felt very comfortable, so that put me in very good spirits. On the descent I noticed my profile design horizontal mounting water bottle which sits between my aerobars was doing a dance, so made a mental note to secure that with elastic bands.

Friday was registration day,  I had obtained my medical certificate from my doctor in Dubai which cost me the grand sum of 50AED (the deductible for my medical insurance) which is far cheaper than getting it done in France and submitted it along with the 60 euros for my one day triathlon licence. I picked up my race pack, seriously abused my bank account reserves in the ironman expo and set about fixing up my transition bags and labelling my bike and helmet. Friday was carb loading day... so waited for my sister and niece to arrive from Italy before I dug into a bowl of fettuccini bolognaise and another bowl of chicken salad to which my dad said “you have a serious appetite, don’t you?”, that was his polite way of saying I was eating like a pig.

Saturday, I drove up to the lake got the body markings done, handed in my bike and transition bag, took a note of where exactly they were both placed and went through the motions, so I knew the route from the lake through the transition area and out to where I mounted the bike. I also took another look at the lake to see if there was anything I could sight from, but everyone was saying the same thing, that sighting would be a problem.

I left the Lake and headed for Aix town centre to hand in the run transition bag and to make sure I knew its location and the route out for the run and then went home to get some rest. That night I double checked my nutrition plan, checked my garmin multisport function was working (no it wasn’t, but nothing that a little youtube tutorial didn’t fix), wrote down a schedule with times and got an early night. I was surprised at just how well I slept actually…maybe something to do with feeling prepared.

So 4am alarm went off... everything was packed up ready, it was just a point of a quick shower to wake myself up.. a little breakfast and then the ceremonial pre race poop... sorry peeps it has to be said... wake up early enough to do the business.

I set off from my hotel at 5.15 and picked up Arturo at 5.45 whose brain was like mashed potato and had even forgotten to pick up his timing chip. We reached the lake with plenty of time to set up the nutrition on the bikes and put on the wetsuits, in fact we had so much time that Arturo decided to trap his trisuit cord into the zip of his wetsuit. The officials were shouting at us saying “There are too many people in the bike park, get out”..I guess any form of politeness got lost in translation. I was walking out with Tatyana (some of you may know her from Palm runs) both of us tugging and pulling on his zip trying to the release the tri suit. I said to Arturo “you will be the first person to do an entire 70.3 in a wetsuit”, but actually it wasn’t funny. It’s not good to know your team mate is in trouble and we are minutes away from starting the race. Thankfully Tatyana’s husband managed to pull it out and the wetsuit got zipped up.

There were only around 200 women in my wave, so it was similar to my wave at ADIT, but I never expected the women to be quite so violent. It was a beach start, I had made a plan to stay near the back as I don’t enjoy people swimming over me but as soon as the horn went for us to start, I went in as practised during our last sea swim session and soon found myself in the middle of the chaos. My goggles were knocked clean off my head, but I managed to retrieve them, I had a fist to the right of my face and some very annoying people slapping my feet as they were aggressively drafting off me. Even after 500m I still couldn’t shake them and I started to get very uncomfortable and struggled to breathe. I had had problems with tightness around the neck with my wetsuit but it felt worse than normal so I stopped to try and sort out the wetsuit... the thought of having to still do another 1400m was very depressing but I didn’t come here to quit so I carried on and tried to focus on something Lynnette told me about dancing in the water, to try and get some rhythm back. Sighting was really a problem and I had to ask marshals in kayaks twice where I should go, as there were very few buoys marking out the circuit.

I exited the water at 36:16 minutes, not as good as I had hoped but to be expected considering how many times I stopped. I had no problems finding my bag but it was a 600m run in the wetsuit to the transition area and quite a distance out to the mounting line hence the long transition time

So onto the bike ...it was a bit cold and windy for my liking for the first 10km and my legs were pretty tired from kicking people off my feet in the swim, but I saw Sam McCone and focused on trying to stay with him. He was a bit of a speed demon and it wasn’t long before I had to choose someone else to focus on. It’s quite depressing to see men who you know started 10 minutes after you on the swim already overtake you on the bike within just a few kms of starting the bike course and infuriating to watch what looked like the ‘Tour de France’ as groups started drafting off each other. I wasn’t really comfortable in the bike until around 45km and the lack of spectators didn’t help much, I was also fairly surprised to see that not all roads were closed to the public and in particular on one hairpin turn I was faced with a row of cars. At the 55km mark, the water bottle I had secured with elastic bands had gone flying after the elastic bands snapped, but I wasn’t concerned as I had plenty of fluids on the bike. There was an ongoing battle between me and another female competitor at this point, but during one of the sharp s-bends, I overtook her. She screamed at me “hey you can’t do that”…to which I promptly replied “you snooze, you lose” and carried on.

I had decided that when I reach the top of the last big climb (at 70km), I would reward myself with a mars bar. So sure enough at the top of that last climb I whipped out the mars bar from my bento box, got the top of the wrapper off when all of a sudden I’m faced with a serious descent of s-bends. There was no time to eat the mars bar or even put it back in the bento box and I definitely wasn’t letting go of it. That mars bar remained clenched between my lips for 4 kms as I navigated my way down that descent.

The rest of the bike ride into Aix town was great... I would have liked to spin the legs prior to getting off the bike but due to a combination of uphills leading to the transition area there was no opportunity. Bike time was 3:13:33.  Despite the queue to hand over the bike, I got through the bike transition fairly quickly but had very tight quads in both legs, it felt like I was on the verge of getting cramp.  As I exited the transition area, who did I see but Arturo just entering the transition... he had started 10 minutes behind me and had already made up considerable time on me. Time to put my skates on.

As I began the run, within seconds I was faced with an uphill climb...which was too much for my legs. I had to stop to try and stretch them but when I tried to stretch I got cramp in my glutes instead.. I tried with the other leg but got the same result... so carried on running. This tightness did not loosen up until 7km into the race. There were aid stations at 1.5km and 4km mark. I used the aid stations to stretch out the legs by walking through whilst taking on board coke and water. The first lap was manageable and I received my first coloured band. The cheers of my family and the spectators also spurred me on, but during the second lap I was not happy. It was bad enough that around 65% of that run felt like it was on an incline but they had chose to route the course through a park where there was a dirt track and also gravel and then once that was over you entered a narrow cobbled street... not exactly my ideal running surfaces. It really took its toll on my legs. I actually started thinking of all the people who I knew would be watching this race, thinking they are probably posting something like “oh Vicky’s beginning to struggle”, “Vicky must be tired” and it did make me want to push harder... but by lap 3 I had problems in my calf muscles and my left foot. As I passed the spectator area at the end of my 3rd lap I saw I had 31 minutes if I was to get a sub 6 hour time.  Judging by the previous lap, I didn’t think that would be possible but I decided to give it my best shot. I happened to meet up with Kenny who irritatingly seemed as fresh as a daisy. After having a serious whinge about how hard this was, I also made it clear to Kenny that IMSA was definitely off!! , he said “You won’t be saying that tomorrow”. At this point he passed me, but I was so close to the finish that I was already smiling just at the thought of what I was about to achieve. I picked up the pace and the cramp royally set in, but I didn’t care the finish line was in sight.

As I crossed the finish line at 6:03:11, a wave of emotion hit me, Oli (Nichols) was there .. gave him a hug ..well it was more like I collapsed on him,  I was just so flipping happy. My sister, dad and niece, despite only being able to watch the run due to the lack of public transport to the Lake and throughout the bike course, they were seriously impressed, this was the first triathlon they had seen and the first time they had seen me compete. I stayed to watch my training buddy Arturo come in, before I had to say goodbye to my sister as she was booked on a flight back home that afternoon.

It’s almost a week now and I don’t believe it’s over.. 5 months of hard work and its over in a flash. Everyone is right when they say savour that home straight, take it all in as you come to the finish line.

My mum wasn’t there to see this race and yet she has been a massive part of my training. Every Thursday for 3 months she drove the support car behind me at the crack of dawn, she came to every event I participated in, and she picked me up when I was feeling down. Ed you got me through a tough 5 months... I know I’m a pain in the back side... clearly have too much to say for myself and sometimes let things get to me. I’ve learnt my lesson and I know you’re going to get me through IMSA smiling. Arturo... jeez it has been an intense journey..it’s definitely had its ups and downs but watching you run through that finish line with your dad at your side made me really proud of you... you’ve worked damn hard at the training and weight loss and you nailed it.. you will continue to do great because you are so disciplined, but for god’s sake stop talking so much lol :)!! To all you peeps at TriDubai and of course TRI wings, I don’t want to name names...I thought about this earlier but at some point or another so many of you have helped me to get to this point and if I was to start to recall all of those times, you would be here until next week still reading this report.

So that’s it...race is done, I almost achieved my target time, I’m proud to have completed it, tremendously thankful to everyone, not just for the help in training and support on race day, but for the genuine kindness and willingness throughout the year, to encourage me, share your hints and tips and your experiences with me to help me achieve these goals. Ian..Kenny… you are right , IMSA is back on :)

In brief: spectacular scenery, great weather, technical bike course, a draining run, not supported particularly well, with fairly remote swim location. Loved the achievement!