I did my first Nice Ironman in 2009 when I was just 52. Somehow it worked its way under my skin and sort of became an annual challenge, for me a sort of “proof-of-life”. I’m 64 now and in a few days will be taking to the start line for the 9th time. Before I do, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts and stories from my times at the Nice Ironman over the past 12 years.
DANGER: This is a really long read so I hope you are sitting comfortably. It will probably take you about 40 minutes to read it and see all the Slide Shows. I should give you a Finisher’s Medal if you make it to the end 🙂
Here are some Quick Jumps so you can go directly to a section: [A Deep Dive into My Nice Ironman] – [Registration] – [Check In] – [Race Day] – [3.8km Swim] – [T1] – [180km Bike] – [T2] – [42km Run] – [Finished]
So what is the Nice Ironman? Firstly it’s nothing about being nice. By Nice I mean the city Nice, France. It’s also nothing to do with Tony Stark or the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Iron and it does not require modified DNA. In fact, it’s just a long distance triathlon based around the city of Nice organised by Ironman France, a franchise of World Triathlon Corporation. It was started in 2005 and is held over the standard Ironman distances of 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run, as defined by the first “Ironman” event held in Hawaii in 1978.
The distances are a bit extreme but interestingly enough, for me, they are not the real challenge. The real challenge, for me, is completing these back to back distances inside the cutoff times.
The maximum time allowed for the 3.8km swim is 2h15 which hopefully won’t be a problem as it’s in the Mediterranean and we hopefully will be allowed wetsuits. My swimming is really not very good at all, a wetsuit and the buoyancy of salt water really help. I just hope the salty sea is not too bouncy with waves.
In August 2016 I did the Vichy Ironman 70.3. The day before it was 40C so really it should not have been a surprise when they said no wetsuits (as the water was too warm). However it quickly became a worry for me as I had never raced without a wetsuit especially in fresh water. In the end I did breast stroke rather than crawl and finished just inside the cutoff – phew. I was not so lucky in August 2018 when the Maastricht Ironman banned wetsuits due to unusual heat. It was in a canal/river thing and I’m sure there was also a bit of a current. Anyhow my 2h30 for the 3.8km swim was well out of the time limit. Our son, Chris, did much better. He aced the swim, as he is a channel swimming fish, then did a 7hr 3m bike rapidly followed by being ill and taking 7h 4m for the run. Never before have I heard of anyone successfully completing an Ironman whilst taking longer on the run than the bike!
Back to cutoffs. The cutoff for the Swim+Transition+bike is 10h45 so a 2hr swim and an 8hr bike does not leave much room for error. Also one has to consider the 16hr cutoff for the entire event. If I finish close to the bike cutoff that only leaves 5h15 for Transition and the 42km Marathon style run. This is doable for a standalone Marathon, but a bit close after the 180km bike stage.
So why on earth would anyone want to do this? Well I pretty much ask myself this question every year. My wife, Penny, asks much more frequently! For me, it’s the pinnacle of sport that I believe I can ever successfully achieve. I know I am getting old. I know my physical abilities will wane. I just feel that by training and competing in my local Ironman I can put the waning off for one more year. And I do love the bike stage 🙂
My Sporting Background: For most of my life I did no sport, I built a family and a computer business. When I was 46 years old (2003), our teenage daughter, Kim, wanted to go for a run. I ran with her and loved it. I immediately signed up for our local Monaco Marathon in 6 months time. The marathon went well as did my second one in 2005. I spent 2006 being scanned, cut-open, injected and radiated trying not to die from a nasty bout of cancer. By November I was half blind with cataracts in both eyes (a side effect of my cancer drugs) but still managed to get through my 3rd marathon.
On a day out with our son, Chris, we accidentally discovered the Monaco Ironman 70.3 (70.3 is the official name for a Half Ironman, 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run). It seems one knows no bounds when one is on the way to recover from cancer so, there and then, finishing an Ironman 70.3 became an ambition. I could not swim and had no bike. Really – I could not swim. In 2007 I bought a bike and a wetsuit and trained like crazy. The day before the 2007 Ironman 70.3 I happily swam 2km in the sea with my wife Penny. On Race Day I was totally shocked by how fast everyone went at the start of the 1.9km swim. My technique went to pot trying to keep up, lots of water came in, I spluttered to a stop before the end of the 950m first lap. I joined the Monaco Triathlon Club, then had another go in 2008 and actually finished this time.
During 2008 I discovered there was an Ironman race just down the road in Nice that was twice the distance. This just had to be done! I finished Ironman Nice in 2009 and have entered every year since, except for 2015 and 16 when my body fell apart again. I have 5 Finisher’s Medals. Three times I missed the cutoff always due to lack of training after various body problems. Once, in 2018, I did not even start as a painful Hemorrhoid suddenly appeared in my bum the week before!
So apart from entering the Nice Ironman 9 times I have successfully completed 10 Ironman 70.3’s in Monaco, Aix, Vichy, Marbella, Mallorca, Nice and Cascais. I have tried the Maastricht Ironman once but failed the swim as I did at my first Monaco 70.3. From 2010 to 2012 I did the Monaco (x3) and the Cannes (x1) Tristar 111 Triathlons (these were 1km swim, 100km bike, 10km run). I have done a bucket load of shorter local triathlons at Castellar (x7), Cap d’Ail (x6), Antibes (x3), Roquebrune (x2), St Laurent (x2), Nice Olympic (x2), Gorbio and Beaulieu. On the running front, my Marathon medal total is now up to 22 with finishes in Nice-Cannes (x12), Monaco (x5), Paris (x2), Marrakech, Yorkshire, Barcelona and Rome. I also have Semi Marathon finishes at Nice (x5), Monaco (x5), Cannes and the Great North Run in Newcastle UK. In 2017 (aged 60) I had a go at off-road Ultra Marathons and did the 250km Marathon des Sables desert race twice, once in the Sahara, Morocco and once in the Ica Desert in Peru. I also tried mountain Fell Racing in the UK Lake District with a finish at the Dale Head Fell Race – a race with a Start/Finish and a high point to pass thru but no actual course defined !
A Deep Dive into My Nice Ironman
For me the Nice Ironman really starts 6 months before Race Day. In a normal year, that is January as the race is usually in June. That’s how 2020 went until the race was bumped back by Covid to September 2020 then June 2021 then September 2021. This time training and motivation have been a bit of a roller coaster.
Normally it all starts with a gentle build up of the three sports. Usually I do the occasional swim training in the pool, then in May I start early morning sessions in the sea. This time the pool was closed and our local beach was closed due to construction work so swimming didn’t actually start till July. I didn’t really mind as I am not very keen on swimming!
“So why don’t you just do bike and run events?” I was once asked by Nancy, my sensible Otillo Swim Runner friend. I did consider this for a moment but ultimately I think that if a 3 sport race exists, then that has to be tried. Just because I can’t do one of the sports is no reason not to do it. It certainly adds something extra to the challenge. I also wonder if a bit of doing what you don’t like is good for you 🙂
Back to the training. Biking and running are easier to train – it’s just a matter of going out and doing it. I use the guilt method of training motivation. I keep a track of my time for each sport and do more if I feel guilty I am not doing enough! No real plan. I build everything up over the 6 months, so in the weeks before Race Day I am doing 12 to 16 hours per week.
The final week, (this week in fact) is one of the strangest. It’s tapering week so very little sport. The week is all about relaxing so everything is nicely recovered before Sunday. It feels really strange. I know that whatever I now have bodywise is what I am racing with. Nothing significant can be improved in these final days, but things can be stressed or hurt.
In reality I’m never very good at tapering so I usually sneak out for a couple of short stress-free runs or bike rides in the final days. Having said that, I do actually try to swim most days of the last week. This is really to keep my sea swimming head active and to remind the muscle memory in my arms what they are supposed to do on Sunday.
We normally go to Nice on the Thursday morning a couple of hours after Registration opens. After all the training on my own it feels very surreal to be around all the skinny super fit sports people at the Ironman Expo. In the Registration tent, paper work is checked, boxes are signed and an Athletes Wristband is riveted around my wrist. I’m In !
I still remember the buzz I had the very first time, 14 years ago, that my wrist proudly signaled I was an Athlete. I’m not a casual observer. I am in it. It’s still weird !
The photo below shows me with two Ironman ID wrist bands because I did the Marbella 70.3, then 12 days later the Mallorca 70.3. I thought keeping the bands on would be cool 🙂 This is actually a story for another time because I was signed in for the Barcelona 70.3 the following weekend but we had a drama and had to skip it 🙁
Apart from the brightly coloured Wristband, I leave Registration with Race Numbers, Race Bags (more about these later) and a very nice Event Backpack. I was amazed by the Backpack at my first Ironman. I thought it was really cool, although of course I am paying for it in my entry fee! These days I have loads of them, some I use often, some were only used once.
We don’t generally buy much at the Expo unless there are any interesting Special Offers. Usually if you have enough stuff for training you have enough stuff for racing. Having said that I always buy the Event Shirt (with all the names in the “M” on the back). That way if it all goes belly up (no “Finishes Shirt”) at least I have one souvenir to remind me!
Friday is usually Bags Day and involves most of our lounge floor. There are two Transitions – one from Swim to Bike and one from Bike to Run. For each Transition we are given a big plastic bag and a big sticky race number. Simply stick on the number and fill the bag with everything needed for the switch over, more on that later.
Saturday is Bike and Bag Check In Day. We drive back to Nice in the afternoon and, generally, queue to enter the bike park. There are 2,500 athletes racing, so during the afternoon 2,500 bikes have to be checked in and parked, on the numbered racks. Officials check all the obvious safety aspects plus, these days, they check for hidden motors! Once the bike is parked it’s down to the Bag Racks to Check In my two transition bags and pickup my ankle mounted timing chip. We then head home for an early night. It’s getting close!
Slideshow : Ironman Nice Check In Day
And so after 6 months, or more, of swimming, biking and running it’s now Race Day. This is It! By Monday it will all be over no matter what happens.
Usually the Race is in June and starts at 6h30, a little after sun up. To swim at 6h30, tests have shown, my stomach really needs to finish breakfast by 4h30. So at 4am on that June Sunday morning I am up and eating my Weetabix. I have read all sorts of stuff about Special Race Breakfasts but for me it’s just my normal 2 Bix’s and a banana flushed down with milk and coffee.
By 4h45 I have my heart rate monitor on and am dressed in my Monaco club Trisuit, a sort of combined shorts and sleeveless shirt that we Triathletes wear 😉 Penny and I make the short drive to Nice and I once again join the queue to enter the bike park a little after 5am. It’s still dark!
Once inside, I visit my bike. Pump up the tyres (I had let them down the previous day as they were sitting in the hot sun all afternoon) then add on my drink bottle (just enough to get to the first drinks station), my clipon shoes and my food supply for the day. Next I head down to the changing area to struggle into my wetsuit. The bike pump, shoes and jacket all go into my Street Wear Bag which I hand in then join the queue for the beach. Normally at this point I try to find my wife, Penny, who helps me zip up my wetsuit and gives me a final kiss for luck.
Slideshow : Ironman Nice – Pre Race
The beach in Nice is about 8 metres lower than the Promenade so all 2,500 of us have to make our way down a long ramp to the water level. Resplendent in our black wetsuits we look like we are going to a Sea Lion Convention. Once on the beach everyone looks out to sea for the course buoys. Wow they look a long way away!
In the old days we all lined up on the beach and dived into the water when the gun went, just as you would expect a race to start. These days we have to form a start queue in the order of our projected swim time. As my swim is not so good, I am near the back and one of the last to start. With 2,500 racers and the top people doing the 3.8km in well under an hour I often see them finishing before I even start. Eventually I cross the timing mat and off we go!
Over the years they have tried a couple of different courses to make the 3.8km. It’s always been two loops, sometimes 2 x 1.9km but more usually one of 2.3km and one of 1.5km. In the old days we used to have to exit the water, run around a flag, then jump back in for the second loop. They seem to have given that up now and we just stay in the water. I prefer this as the beach is all big rocks so it’s not very easy to get in and out of the water.
As Desmond Tutu once said “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time“. Well the first bite of today’s Elephant is a 1km swim straight out to sea to the first turn. For me that’s almost 30 minutes. This is sort of the warm up for the day. By the time I make the turn everything should be working – arms, legs and head. I am glad of my wetsuit as 1km off shore the sea is cold and choppy. I turn right and search for the next buoy just 300m away. The two buoys are usually linked by a floating chain of footballs. Easy to see. Also easy to crash into!
The second buoy is another right hand turn and now I am facing back to Nice. For a few seconds I take in the magnificent view of the city and the mountains behind. It’s also my first glance at what the weather might be on the bike. More importantly I try to line up a mountain feature with the required direction of the swim. This makes navigating back much easier as I just have to head for a peak or valley or big building or something else obvious rather than having to look for the distant marker buoy each time. I also have a sneaky glance back to make sure there are people behind me and I am not quite last!
Once I am back at the beach I can breathe a sigh of relief – the long bit is done. Now it’s time to find the next buoy in this game of join the dots. I’m surprised at how far away this one is, but I always get there in the end. As I turn left at the buoy I am greeted by the rising sun directly in line with the final buoy. It’s only a couple of hundred metres, but it’s really hard to spot with the bright sun behind it.
The final turn and I am facing the beach again. In the distance I can see the finishing arch. Whoopee! As I am almost last, most of the safety canoes are now on this stretch almost forming a guard of honour. Certainly not going to get lost! A couple of hundred metres later and I am freezing my bits off as I pass through the output of one of the rivers that pass underneath Nice. Wow that wakes you up.
Finally I can see the rocky bottom again as I enter the shallows. A line of volunteers happily help me up the steep slope at the water’s edge. I lift my goggles and jog through the showers. Sometimes helpful volunteers will undo my wetsuit zip as I pass. One year it went wrong and the zipper came off the suit. Not very helpful as I then had to go back and retrieve it off the floor……
Slideshow : Ironman Nice – Swim
I jog back up the ramp while I strip the wetsuit off my top half. I am greeted by a splattering of applause from the few spectators who have stayed to the bitter end. Funnily enough we now get to run through the Event Finishing arch on the way to transition. I always give it a little pat and silently hope to be back in about 14 hours or so for the real finish !
I grab my T1 bag and head to the changing area. No one is around so plenty of chairs to organise on. I empty my bag onto the floor then put my swim hat, goggles and wetsuit into it. I eat a couple of energy gels and drink some water. Next it’s socks on and sunscreen time. I slap lotion on my legs, arms, neck and face – there are a couple of spots on my back I can’t reach but there you go. I put on my Race Belt with my number attached – it’s on a belt as it has to show on my back for the bike and my front for the run. Then my bike gloves, helmet and sunglasses (or yellow ones if the weather looks bad) complete my ensemble. I seal up my bag and drop it off as I jog to the bike.
About now I generally hear the announcement that the last swimmer is coming out of the sea. Yes out of 2,500 athletes I am usually in the last 20 out of the swim. This makes finding my bike really simple as the entire massive bike park is just about empty. I grab my bike then jog to the exit.
My shoes are on the bike already. Now the really good guys will jump on the bike at the park exit and slide into their shoes as they pedal. I tried this a few times with very little success. (At the 2012 Ironman Aix 70.3 I caught my toe in the rear wheel and actually broke a bone – it made for an uncomfortable ride and an awful run – but I did finish!) My trick is to jog with the bike to the last parking row then park the bike, unclip the shoes, put them on my feet, then hobble (bike shoes have solid soles with a big clippy thing in the middle) the last few metres out of the park. Once over the official bike line I jump onto my bike as usual and off we go!
The 180km bike route is a thing of beauty. It’s probably why I love this race. It has some big climbs, massive fast descents and brilliant views. The route has almost 2,000m of climbing and goes from sea level to well over 1,000m in the first 70km. In 2014 the weather was 33C and sunny in Nice then 16C with rain in the mountains. In 2019 it was pretty much 38C everywhere. It’s Epic!
Cycling the course is brilliant. Some of the roads are closed to traffic and all the junctions are manned by Police to give me priority – heaven!
Slideshow : Ironman Nice – Bike
The first 6km is down to the airport along the flat, wide and closed Promenade des Anglais. A perfect time to settle in and try to get the water out of my ears. Remember only a few minutes ago I was battling against nature in the sea. After the airport we turn right and head inland along the side of the Var river. Still flat, still going well. In the old days, when everyone started together, I would now be catching and passing people. As I passed them I would count. (Sometimes I reached as many as 170 overtakes before the end. I’m sure they all streamed past me on the run though.) These days with the staggered start I am pretty much on my own.
After 20km the climbing starts with a dramatic 500m long 25% hill at Gattieres. That’s steep – but short – whew! This is so steep that, not only do I stand on the pedals, but I also use my arms to pull really hard on the handlebars. I’m always a bit nervous they might pop off under the strain !
The next 20km are sort of rolling through St Jeannet and Vence. After Tourrettes-sur-Loup we have a magnificent 8km downhill which is where the Feast starts. Did I mention the Feast? No – OK let’s consider this. I had a very pleasant breakfast about 6 hours ago. Since then I have swum 3.8km and biked 40km. I’m getting hungry. More importantly I have to fuel for another 6 hours on the bike then a 42km run. A Feast is needed. My Feast strategy is to eat energy bars for all the time I can on the bike. In practice this means all the downhills and some of the flats. I have tried eating while puffing my way up hills but that just does not work for me. So the Feast starts here!
This part of the Feast ends as we turn off the main road and start the 20km hill up to Gourdon and the 1,000m high Col de l’Ecre. For me this is the “new route” as the old one used to continue along the main road through Chateauneuf and into Gourdon from the other side. The inclines made that much harder than this route.
It’s a grind from Gourdon to Ecre – usually a windless valley in scorching sun. Very, very hot. When I did the race in 2019 the government had called a national emergency due to the heat, many places were up to 40C. For a while it looked like the event might be cancelled at the last moment. In the end they came to an agreement to start by cutting down the bike distance to 152km and 30km on the run. This was fine except they reduced the cut-off times a little more than I was comfortable with and I almost ran out of time. Anyhow I mention this now because in 2019 everyone was drinking a lot and I don’t think they ordered more water. I arrived at the drinks station just before Gourdon (there is one every 20km) only to be told they had no drinks left. I’m half way up a 20km climb, I have no water, it’s 37C, I was truly shocked. They did say that in another km there was a guy with a hose ???? They were right, just after Gourdon was a small collection of athletes and a guy with a garden hose. Showers for all, fill your bottles, unlimited cold water. All we needed was some music – this was wild!
My first race bike was a carbon framed blue Specialized Tarmac. Unfortunately this was stolen from our car at the 2013 Nice Olympic triathlon. After the race we had put it in the car, then gone back to the course to watch the pros racing. I guess someone saw and followed us to the car as the bike was well hidden. At least we got to say hello and well done to Jonny and Alistair Brownlee, bronze and gold medalists from the 2012 Olympics (interestingly enough they live in Yorkshire, UK in the next valley to where I grew up). I immediately ordered a new bike – a carbon Specialized S-Works – a big step up in quality and price. Unfortunately it would not be available for the Nice Ironman so I ended up doing the 2013 race using my training bike – an aluminium (heavier than carbon) Specialized Allez. I had high hopes for the S-Works which came to nought when I passed a guy in the race going up to Ecre. He was on an S-Works and had carbon Zip wheels – seems there is more to cycling than an expensive bike.
There is a sharp left hand turn 80m before the top at Ecre. In the 2010 Ironman, an American guy suddenly leapt off his bike as I passed him shouting cramp, cramp. Even 11 years later I still think of him each time I cycle Cramp Corner – I’m like that!
In the Athletes Guide it correctly shows that the Personal Needs Bag point is at the top of Col d’Ecre. I didn’t mention these, did I ? Well Personal Needs is the name for the “Half Way” bag. It’s a numbered plastic bag you can put food etc in and collect half way around the course. There is one for the bike and one for the run. This means you don’t have to actually carry all the 180km food up the first 70km. I remember one year I put a bag of Jelly Babies in it as a sort of incentive to reach Ecre (this is true – I’m not making it up!). Unfortunately by the time I got to Ecre I was in no state to eat them so I just ended up carrying them home! I’m not sure if it’s a joke or a test but for some reason the organisation put the pickup point on the uphill after Cramp Corner and meters before the Ecre top. This makes it a real trick after all the climbing to stop, collect your bag, take out the Jelly Babies, throw the bag in the waste area then continue up over the top. I will never know why they don’t put the bags on the top or just over on the start of the downhill. It would be much easier but there again this is supposed to be hard – right! Generally I don’t do Personal Needs these days. I do think it would be interesting to put a really heavy backpack in the bag to make you go downhill faster as we are at our highest point!
So after 70km we pass over the 1,000m high point of Ecre and, in a way, that’s it – job done. OK I know there is still 110km to go but it’s mostly flat or downhill with just the occasional hard bit. It usually takes me about 3h30 of biking to get here and hopefully I can do the next 110km in about 4 hours. After Ecre it’s back into Feast mode with the flattish run to Caussols then the downhill, and then uphill, over the Col de la Sine.
At 90km we pretty much hairpin turn and start heading back. Still going downhill on windy roads this time to Greolieres which I generally pass at about 5 hours. In 2014 this entire downhill was done in the cold and rain. I passed the aftermath of several crashes. I slowed passing one ambulance that had a group of cyclists trying to hitch a ride, along with the victim, they were cold, wet, scared and fed up.
In 2011 I almost fell asleep on this downhill! I had been in the USA for a few weeks and only returned to European time 6 days earlier. I then totally messed up my de-jet-lagging so bits of me were still on USA time. It became too much for me and eventually I expired during the run.
After the Greolieres descent is a serious uphill, where once, on a training ride, I saw a lady sunbathing naked in her garden – oh the memories. I always remember to look out for her 🙂 This hill tops out just before the turn off to the village of Coursegoules. We miss the turn off and head towards the Col de Vence then turn around a post and go back to Coursegoules. The turn around is 110km in and it has its very own cut off time. Just once in 2013 I was shot down here. (I had been sick during the year and had missed out on a ton of training.) Helpfully Penny was there as usual to take photos, but in this case gave me a lift back to Nice to watch our son, Chris, on the run.
Coursegoules is a fun little place. We actually cycle past it up a very steep hill. Near the top is the Fire Station and usually they setup a fire hose to make a fine spray so we can shower on the way through. That really is the last proper uphill.
The descent to Bouyon and Le Broc is a high speed beauty in itself. Windy roads with a good surface and Police to keep the traffic away – wheeee!
By 160km the ups and downs are all over and we are back on the plain of the Var River. Now it’s a 20km fast-as-you-can flat zip back to Nice. Probably one of the scariest bits is the final 5km along the sea front. You can see the end in the distance and the clock is ticking down – flat and fast fast fast. On your right athletes are on the run course. On the left are spectators and a few barriers. In principle spectators should only cross to the run course at the zebra crossing manned by marshals. Sometimes they cross anywhere and sometimes the marshals are a bit shell shocked having been doing this for hours. There are very few bikes coming in now so in general the bike course is very quiet. Three times, in my many years, have I seen spectators walk in front of a speeding bike. Once they actually touched and the poor rider went flying. Imagine having done the swim and the bike only to be taken out by someone crossing the road without looking!
So having survived the spectator lottery I slow to a halt at the entrance to the bike park. Usually I remember to take my feet out of my shoes just before the end so I can run the bike back to its parking slot with the shoes still attached. Welcome to T2 !
I jog to the T2 bags area, once again totally deserted. I locate my bag and empty it onto the floor. This transition is much easier. Off come the helmet and the gloves, if I remember. Weather depending I might keep the sunglasses on to look cool! I put on my running shoes, turn round my Race Belt so the number is in front then have a quick drink and an energy gel, drop off my bag and head out to the run course. Wow only 42km to go !
In 2014 I was a pretty sick puppy. Something was wrong with my stomach. For much of the bike ride I had trouble eating and was continuously considering stopping for an outdoor poo. I made it back to transition and immediately ran to the toilets. Luckily I had remembered to pack a roll of toilet paper in my bag. I was on the toilet for 5 minutes continuously looking at my watch until finally I was able to move again. Once out on the run, things felt better and I successfully collected another Finisher’s Medal 🙂
The run course could not be simpler – it’s just to the airport and back again four times. OK I guess a straight line from A to B, like the Nice to Cannes Marathon would be simpler. My first aim is to run to the first aid station. Once there I generally walk through, see what is on offer, have a drink and, if it’s still very hot, pour a drink over my head. Next target is the airport about 5km away so off I go. The airport end is very depressing. We just run down the quiet road, around a timing mat and back up the footpath. No spectators, just loads of cars in the traffic jam on the other side of the road.
Slideshow : Ironman Nice – Run
5km later and I am back at the start/finish area. Crowds, noise, people shouting my name (Steve is written on my Race Number). Once someone shouted Monsieur Gale – it was actually someone I knew! I continue around the bollard for the next lap collecting a coloured wrist band. Once I have collected all three colours I can take the right hand spur into the finish arch, remember that from the end of the swim!
In 2013 I had to retire at 110km on the bike due to an ongoing knee problem. Our son, Chris, was still going strong though. Strangely enough he did the entire 42km Run wearing a full body Union Jack suit. He actually had big tummy troubles but his Swim and Bike had been so fast he was able to literally “just walk it” to the end. How bizarre is that !
While we are discussing our son I think I should mention the even more bizarre events of Nice Ironman 2012. In 2012 he was old enough to race, so early on, we signed him up. By the time race day came he was living in a different part of France and had to be back the day after the race. This was not going to work due to train schedules – he would have to leave part way through race day. Of course by now it’s too late to cancel for a money refund. In the end he started the race, did the 3.8km swim in a pretty good 1hr 6mn (1hr 2mn in 2013) then retired and headed off to the train station.
I complete lap two on the basis that it was only a half marathon and I can do half marathons without any real stress.
For several years my wife, Penny, volunteered on the Run Course. It was brilliant to see her every half lap and really helped the motivation.
The next lap is the absolute hardest – mentally probably the hardest moment of the entire day. This is the 20km to 30km section. It’s more than half but it’s not the end. I have to fight back the black thoughts. Why am I doing this? Does it really matter? I have loads of finisher medals why do I need another one? By now I have been on the go for over 12 hours. I don’t feel so good and there is still yet another lap to go. I generally end up walking a bit and running a bit. I could easily just stop!
In 2011 I was out of power half way through lap three. I was so dead that when I saw Penny I just stopped and gave in. After a little sit I began to feel better so I started up again. I completed the third lap but by the time I had reached the airport turn around half way through the last lap it was closed – they had all gone home. Dejected I walked the final 5km back to the start having well and truly missed the cut off. But I did complete the distance… Half way back I saw the finishing fireworks going off in the distance. Not a pretty sight for me.
In 2017 I had under trained the bike as I was concentrating on running for the Marathon des Sables races. I just made the bike cutoff but didn’t have enough time for the run. I completed the third lap, calculated if I kept the same speed I would miss the cutoff by 9 minutes so gave up there and then.
So if I can survive lap 3 and I am OK enough for time then I know I’ve cracked it. The final lap becomes the farewell tour. Never again, till next time, will I have to be here and feeling like this. Just to the airport and back. How hard can that be? Just keep going! Usually by now it’s getting dark.
This time on the way back from the airport something really strange happens. With about 2km to go I can hear the rock music coming from the finishing area. With every step it is louder. With every step the fatigue evaporates more and more. Then with about 500m to go everything changes – I can sprint. Absolutely everything I have done today is forgotten. My legs feel good, my head feels good, I speed up. I’m almost laughing this is so fantastic. If only I could work out how to do this effect earlier.
As I near the finish I proudly show my collection of coloured wrist bands to the marshal and he lets me in to the last 50m finishing spur. In my early races I would sprint this bit trying for a good time. These days I slow down to absorb. The absolute best time to finish an Ironman is closeish to the cut off time. It’s dark, the lights and music make it feel like a nightclub, the stands are packed, the music is really loud, the compere has worked the crowd into a screaming frenzy. It’s so loud it hurts your head. Enjoy is the only thought in town. I take a quick look behind to make sure I am not about to be run down by some enthusiastic amateur finisher then slowly make my way towards the finishing arch. Sometimes I high five everyone. Sometimes I do an aeroplane finish with my arms out. It’s the End. I have done it – again! I’m ALIVE!
Slideshow : Ironman Nice – The Finish
I stop in the archway for the photographers, gratefully accept the Finisher’s Medal then the entire day hits me like a tsunami. All the aches and pains that disappeared a few minutes ago come back at once with interest. Seconds ago I could sprint, now I can hardly walk. The head is a wonderful thing.
Back in 2009, at my first Nice Ironman finish, our son Chris was working in the finish area as a Race Volunteer. He had specially organised to be around as I crossed the finish line so he could be the one to present me with my first Nice Ironman Finisher’s Medal – a magic moment! In 2012, when he was old enough, he completed the Nice Ironman himself.
I make my way into the athletes area, collect my finisher’s shirt, street wear bag and get a cold beer. Very rarely can I eat straight away, but certainly I can drink. Usually Penny is with me. I have been told I am not a pretty sight. She takes some more photos to prove it and happily finds me beer and food I can try to eat. I tell her of my adventures and she politely listens and hopes I will not do it again.
Slideshow : Ironman Nice – The Finishers Medal
When I feel I can actually move again we make the pilgrimage back to the bike park to collect my steed and the transition bags. Penny finds the car and we load up to head home. Once back home it’s shower and bed. I usually sleep for about 14 hours before I have breakfast at lunchtime while cuddling my hard earned Finisher’s Medal.
And that’s it. A few days later I feel I can jog again but probably shouldn’t. It’s now time to decide if I want to enter the Nice Ironman for the next year!!!!
1 thought on “Tales from My Nice Ironmans”
I hope i will still be doing the Nice Ironman in my 50s…it is my favorite race in the series. Very cool stories!