Paris Triathlon Race Report

Happy Birthday Monica

For my 30th birthday in December, my family decided to give me the perfect present (for a triathlete): entry to Paris triathlon. So last weekend, I headed to Paris with my friend Dominic to complete the race.

I’d met Dominic out at a dinner with friends in January. I mentioned I was a triathlete, he said he’d always wanted to do a triathlon, so I said, “Well I’m doing Paris triathlon in July – you should do that with me!” And to my surprise Dominic bought a bike, started training, and came to Paris with me.

The Prep: Rain, Rain Go Away

Not looking very happy …
Not looking very happy …

On Saturday we headed to the Eiffel Tower to check in our bikes. As we were crossing a busy road to get to registration, the skies opened, and rain bucketed down. By the time it slowed to a drizzle five minutes later, we were freezing and soaked through – including our running shoes, as we’d worn those so we could jog back to the hotel. This did not bode well…

We picked up our show bags – with special goodies in mine as one of the 170-odd women who were racing: a 3/4 size purple bidon, with writing exclaiming, “Le Triathlon: C’est aussi pour moi!”, and a purple swim cap – which women could wear in place of your official swim cap and start behind all the men. “I’m a long way from Australia,” I thought, “where female participation is a lot greater than five percent. And where we race in sun…”

I woke a couple of times in the middle of the night Saturday. The first time, I rejoiced I couldn’t hear rain drops. The second time, I freaked out, hearing not rain DROPS, but the sound of a SHEET of rain coming down…

Race Morning: Don’t Let Them Eat Cake!

As we arrived at the race start, it was cold. I was wearing tracksuit pants, a jumper, a beanie – and still shivering. I prepped my transitions: everything was going in a big plastic bag to protect it from the rain – including two options for jackets. Dominic, who has cycled with me before when I’ve not been prepared for the weather (and ended up a shivering mess on the side of the road throwing a temperature tantrum), insisted on this point. I then used cellotape to attach two gels to my top tube, and my asthma pump, and went off to find the rookie …

I talked Dominic through his transitions – I love introducing people to this sport, and passing on all the knowledge other triathletes have given me in the years … Dominic was having a great time, soaking up the atmosphere of his first race. This included wishing every second person, “Bon courage!” He said this to one chap, who was eating chocolate cake in the transition area. The guy said thanks and offered Dom a chunk of cake. To my horror, he accepted it, and took a great bite. “What are you DOING?” I asked in horror. “I’ve told you: you never introduce anything new to your regime on race day – especially for nutrition! No new breakfast cereal, no new gels or bars … You have no idea how your body will react. And you have no idea what is in that cake! What if these people made it a space cake and want to get high when they race?” Yeah, I’m slightly neurotic pre-race …

I can also be slightly nervous. Shivering in the cold, thinking about the cold, slippery, wet roads on the bike, I turned to Dom and said, “I don’t want to race.”

“Okay,” he responded. “So what are you going to do?” As though not racing was actually an option!

“What am I going to do? I’m going to race, obviously. I just don’t want to right now.”

The Swim: My First Black Eye!

The start of the race was chaotic. There was a long 1500m walk down from transition area along the Seine. (Yes, we swam in the Seine, signing waivers the day before that we understood the water quality was probably not great …)

My coach Scott had encouraged me to race without a watch – this would allow me to race on feel, and we would see how I responded. Unfortunately, this meant I didn’t have an accurate idea of what the time was … (I think you know what’s coming…)

The swim start included a massive warm up area: some make-shift steps had been set up some 100m from the first bridge, which was the official start line. We were in between the bridge and the steps when the gun went off. I panicked, and ran around people, trying to get to the stairs quicker. “Monica!” I heard.

Poor Dominic – after all my talk of supporting him in his first race, I had totally left him for dead. I turned around at the bank as he caught up. To my right, guys were making big leaps into the water right there, rather than join in the chaos at the stairs. So I gave Dom a hug, wished him the best, and took a big jump off the edge of the bank – it must have been at least a two and a half metre jump.

And I was off! I felt like this was a very speedy swim, but chaotic – there seemed to be people everywhere. About half way through, I swam up quickly on another guy, and as he pulled his arm through he punched my goggles into my left eye. It was immediately painful, and I stopped to adjust my goggles. It must have been immediately obvious this felt hard to him too, because the guy stopped and asked if I was okay. “This is going to be my first black eye,” I thought, but responded, “oui, ça va bien,” and took off.

I received another, less hard punch on my right eye further on – but this didn’t cause much damage. It was a pretty amazing experience swimming down the Seine, the sun trying to make its way out from behind the clouds, and suddenly seeing the Eiffel Tower looming large as I took a breath.

I finished the swim in a speedy 24:47, a couple of minutes faster my goal time.

The Bike: Who Stole My Gels?

I ran into transition and made a call: the sun was coming out and it was warming up… And no one else was we wearing cold weather gear so … no jacket! I hoped I wouldn’t regret this…

As I grabbed my bike, I noticed something was missing: my gels. Somebody had untaped them from my top tube in the transition area at some point. I could not believe it … Who would do that?! Okay … New nutrition plan: no nutrition! Anger is fuel enough, I reasoned.

With my left eye constantly streaming tears, I put my head down and rode hard. Without my computer telling me how hard I was going, it was all down to feel. That, and the knowledge I had to push myself because Dominic was trying to catch me on the bike. Had I known then how fast he’d gone in the swim, I would have been much more worried…

The conditions were not great for riding: with all the rain that had fallen the roads were wet and slippery in places, debris all over the place, sections of cobblestones, and a lot of 180 degree turns. Thankfully, nearly everybody was cautious around these – particularly since it was a draft legal race. I saw one guy who was so cautious he slowed his bike almost to a standstill – and fell off! There were a few nasty falls, and a lot of flat tyres. It was a very unlucky day for some! Luckily, not for me!

By the end of the bike I felt I’d raced strongly. I hadn’t seen Dominic, but as we would find out later it was very close at this point: I biked 1:09:21, he biked 1:05:11. With transitions I was only 70 seconds ahead of him…

The Run: See how she flies when the sun shines…

What I wanted to do on the bike was push as hard as I could, and then see how fast I could still run. I found out the answer was: still pretty fast.

As the sun came out from behind the clouds, I was in my element: running, and racing in the sun. I felt like I was flying – my legs were turning over quickly, and I was passing everybody. (Well, everybody except a few fast men)

Just after I saw the 6km marker, I heard a by-stander yell out, “Only two and a half kilometers to go!” What? This is Olympic distance … This should be a 10km run… So it was not unexpected, but still disappointing when I saw the finish line just a few kilometers down the line …

Having done everything without a watch, I looked at the clock at the finish line – 2:15:21. I was stoked for a while, but had to take it with a grain of salt given the length of the run. The official times gave me a run of 33:30 – so definitely faster than expected, but of course shorter!

And Dom? I’d managed to strengthen my lead in my strongest leg, but he did a great job finishing in 36:24, and an overall time of 2:20:39. Not bad for a first timer! Not bad at all! Especially since it turns out he had his goggles on the entire race. Yes, instead of pulling them off after the swim, he pushed them down around his neck, biking and swimming with them like this …

Paris by Cervelo

After an afternoon of biking around Paris together, we parted ways: Dominic back to Amsterdam, and me down to the Pyrenees to start a ten day cycling camp. Maybe we’ll race again together some day… in a race where I don’t get a black eye, where Dominic doesn’t wear his goggles the whole race, where we can go really fast on the bikes, where the run course isn’t short, and where the sun is shining…