IM 70.3 Maine: my best performance and my worst misfortune but a happy ending!
Main race of the year, the Ironman 70.3 from Maine was long awaited for me. The preparation was meticulously applied, I studied the “start list” (list of athletes registered at the start). I note two or three names which stand out from the lot including Laurent G Robert, who, 2 months earlier had finished 1min in front of me at the Ironman 70.3 of Mont Tremblant.
For this race, I am ready, the training has intensified in recent weeks and I am confident to set a time that will give me a 1st or maximum 2nd place in my category (which would also place me on the general podium, because my category is the most competitive on this challenge format). The number 1 goal here is therefore to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2019 in Nice, France.
Each Ironman race has places allocated for a grand final (the world championships). For the Ironman 140.6 distance it is every year in Kona, Hawaii (USA) and for the IM 70.3 the city changes every year. IM 70.3 Maine is the first race of the qualifying year for Nice. My podium at Tremblant last June allowed me to qualify for this year’s Ironman 70.3 Worlds (for 2018, the race being in South Africa my interest is less than returning home for 2019). Maine offers 30 qualifying places for all 2,500 athletes, many categories will only have one place to contend with, this place is allocated to the first and I know that my category (30/34 years old) is one of the categories most represented (in number of athletes) with that of men 35/40 years. So generally my age group offers 2 places. I leave no room for luck and aim for the top 2 in my age group.
To do this, based on the results of the previous year, I aim for around 30min for the swim, 2h15 on the bike, 1h20 for the half-marathon and 5 min of transitions for a total of 4:10.
I’m driving Montreal – to Old Orchard Beach on Friday with a friend. We find another group of friends with whom we have rented a house to welcome us all 6. Friday late afternoon we try swimming in the Atlantic the winds are present at this time. of the day and the waves as well. The water isn’t as cold as I remembered it being and it’s ok to swim without a wetsuit, as long as you swim and stay active. The water is not as salty as in Hawaii, but on the other hand the currents are much stronger, I cannot swim along the buoys already installed for the Sunday race, I find myself systematically deported from the racing line. I try to work on the moment when I can look in front of me to orient myself because with the waves if you raise your head in the hollow of these then it’s wasted effort because the next buoy will not be visible. The return to the shore requires a lot of energy and patience. It’s very frustrating to swim hard and feel the currents pulling you back and wondering if it’s good to work so hard to feel like you’re standing still!
As usual, I eat more than I should… overflowing plates of pasta and I complain after each meal “aahhhh !!!!!! I have eaten too much ”
We get ready and put the bikes down on Saturday, so we can enjoy the city and the beach. The day goes by quickly and I find myself in bed around 10 p.m. because the alarm clock is scheduled for 3.20 a.m.
Short night, and in the full darkness I hear a noise that wakes me from sleep with a crash, I think one of the guys fell from his bunk bed. I look at the time 3:00. I’m not going to go back to sleep for 20min because it would be even harder to get up. So I prepare myself nicely, I like to take my time in the morning. Breakfast swallowed up then we leave the house at 4:15 am just as planned. We arrive at the transition area around 5 am to prepare our things, cycling shoes, running shoes, nutrition, inflate the tires, grease the chain and lots of little preparations… Everyone is in their pre-race routine. and in the midst of this crowd we are all separated. I go to the starting area to test the water temperature, I find two of my friends,
6:20 a.m., Sunday August 26, 2018, the wind is still calm as well as the waves, the host at the microphone shouts the count of the last 10 seconds then a cannon shot gives the start of the first wave of athletes who rush towards the ‘ocean. I placed myself in the second wave: 27 to 30min. I know from personal experience that starting on the beach is not ideal. You are at rest waiting the heart is around 50bpm or 70bpm for the stressed, you sprint like crazy under the fire of a cannon shot and once out of breath (which happens much faster than you think) you start swimming while trying to catch your breath and bring your heart down. This is a really bad idea unless you want to miss your swim start and drink a lot of the float while having a mini panic attack with a bunch of guys slapping you at the same time. So here the idea is to run, but to run smart. I tell myself that getting my heart pumped during the warm-up would have been a good idea, but it’s too late. Half a minute after the start of the first wave of about 50 athletes comes our turn. We set off, I try not to start too quickly but the other athletes around you who are overtaking you do not help to limit you… Add the weight of the water, the non-stability of the sand and the force of the waves crashing down on you, little details that annoy. We run with the legs out to the side (pigeon wing type) to facilitate the return movement of the foot forward, I can’t imagine those who have knee problems! I dive under the waves before they break, then when I feel that the heart is too high and that it will be counterproductive I do not get up and start swimming after a dive. The first two or three strokes of the arm I tell myself that it will take a long time before I get my heart down and swim clean… but in the end it only lasted two or three strokes! I measured my effort well and I’m comfortable (it’s not a walk in the park, it’s still a race, for a podium with 2,500 other angry athletes).
The swimming is going relatively well, starting in the first 100 there are not many people around me and very few underwater dams. I continue my progress by taking my pain patiently. I swim because you have to swim but it’s not the discipline where I take great pleasure. But it’s okay, I still appreciate this portion, then today it’s going pretty quickly. I feel my watch vibrating announcing the first 500m of fact. ¼ of the swim course! Then another 500m and one more. I know we have less than 500m to go to complete this 1900m swim, now we are swimming against the tide trying to get back to Old Orchard beach. In the distance I see the flags and the spectators and I say to myself go-go-go. I also feel the current that literally makes me swim in place! We can’t see the bottom because the water is too cloudy so it can be just an impression, but many times this feeling of paddling like crazy to just stand still is present. Extremely frustrating this feeling !! Not much to do here, just continue your effort, against the elements you have to arm yourself with patience, courage and tenacity that will end up pushing in the other direction. Indeed when the waves do not withdraw they push you and that is good for morale and arms! The buoys go slower on these last 400m but finally my fingers start to scrape the bottom of the water! I straighten up and start a run / walk to extricate myself from the water again trying to run crooked for the aerial return over the water of my legs. I glance at my watch and read 37min. I tell myself that the day is starting really badly and that I am really bad at swimming. I watch again because the stopwatch surprises me and I read 27min! I’m so used to swimming this distance in 30min that I didn’t think it was possible to drop the stopwatch so low! You still have to get out of the water, go up the beach but I know it won’t take me 3min, so it will be a swimming time under 30min!
Then we cross a part of the city to pick up our bikes, the road to access the transition zone is quite long, we even cross railroads and I am delighted that the schedule of my swimming trip does not correspond with the passage of a train.
I jump on my bike, and as usual, I feel that my rear wheel is flat! Horror, what do I do? This feeling happens to me systematically, but now it seems real! I brake to stop, release the brakes, I hesitate… And I tell myself that if I hesitate then it’s no. (This is my method of making decisions in life) Should I go to the hospital? Does that bother me? Should I ask him? These kinds of questions where we do not really know… If I have to go to the hospital it is because the question does not arise! Here the same if I have to stop it is because the tire comes out of the rim, so at the first turn which is in 20m I will be fixed on the fate of my rear wheel. In short, as usual, it’s just a feeling! The turns are linked together well and I won’t be thinking about this tire the whole race.
Objective 40km / h average or more for 90km. This speed is easy to follow (not easy to maintain) but the calculations of the passage times are very simple: every 10km in 15min! So 20km in 30min, 30km in 45min, etc etc… super simple!
The first 10km is done in 15’08 ” the second in 14’44 ” and I thus monitor my pace every 10km to adjust the next segment according to the previous one. The course is very rolling, the road is of very good quality and I have a large group of athletes (109 people) who swim much better than me to catch up. The ascent is going well, I drink my gatorade (sport drink) from time to time and force myself to eat some candy because I am really not hungry because of my 3 or 4 previous meals …
I wouldn’t touch my water bottle, and barely two small pieces of a cereal bar, over the 90km I would have eaten a quarter of a bar plus 6 or 10 candies and 1.2L of gatorade. On a refueling I try to take a bottle of water, I tell myself that I can drink a few sips and swing the rest immediately, when you pass, launched at over 40 km / h and hit the bottle with full hand held by an 11 or 12 year old volunteer standing still is not that simple. The bottle spun right away! At least I would have tried! I want to apologize to all the volunteers if they got hosed down by me!
Following that, one or two minutes after this refueling I am overtaken by an athlete (first time since the beginning that I do pass) I read 34 (his age) on his calf. Neither one nor two my brain turns on and I tell myself not to let it go, because it is in my category. I leave the regulatory 10 meters, roll but another passes me (like 40 years or more) and folds right in front of me, he closes the gap between him and the first competitor. I stand up, cut my effort and leave the required regulatory space. Then it continues…. In fact it’s a group of 6 athletes who ride in a peloton! Only the first athlete complies. It’s not a big deal, cheaters are everywhere, and the guy in my category doesn’t cheat, he makes the effort so I let it be. What annoys me is that the 6th is also in my category… In short I look behind me to see how much people are in this group. There are two athletes behind me who are far enough. I’m not dragging a tape measure with me but it looks okay, nothingcompared with the 5 guys in front who take advantage of the leader’s effort. It rolls 2 to 3 minutes like that, I keep my distance. My goal is to keep this pack within range and not let it go.
At the same time, a motorbike arrives at my level. I see the driver, and a referee behind him. I nod my head for a friendly hello and a smile (I imagine he is about to sanction the peloton in front), the referee takes out a blue card and says “Blue card, stop at the next penalty tent »I smile again this time, showing all my teeth at the inconsistency of the situation, thinking of a bad joke. He tells me Blue card, stop at the next penalty tent. I ask why, show the compact group of 6 cyclists who are more than 10m ahead but the motorbike accelerates and leaves without giving me a reason. I insult him and his family over 4 generations by telling him not to hang around near the finish line once the race is over… Brief blue card, it must be a “stop and go” penalty, we stop and start again immediately. Maybe the water bottle in the ravito fell badly, bounced and it could have bothered someone, maybe he judged that I would not unseal fast enough when I was overtaken to leave the 10 meters . Then the motorbike comes to a stop at the next crossroads leaving the peloton of 6 riders unpenalized!
Big inconsistency, big disapointement, I am very disappointed with this referee. We pass the crossroads the athlete behind me yells at the referee, I understand that he too was turned on for no reason. I keep the group of 6 in front of me this time I have a minimum of 50m distance…. It’s going well I notice that it is always the same athlete in front of this pack. Then km 80 I burn a cartridge and pass the complete pack, push my effort to the far left of the road so as not to give them a bit of my rear wheel. I look back, the hole is made, I go back to my “normal” effort, I know that a few seconds will be enough to take my penalty and start the race with them. I hold the distance well on the pack then make me resume in the last 2 kilometers, the same athlete who leads the group passes me, I cut / relax the effort to leave him sufficient regulatory space, and long before a space of 10m I see another one that passes me! Ben there! I restart my effort, cut off the athlete’s path, I insult him and advise him not to do without me, that he has sufficiently taken advantage of the situation.
I pass and get passed by the leader of the group, we have the same level and that pulls us together, the distances are systematically respected, we even opened a gap on the 5 guys. Having known that earlier, I would have voluntarily “worked” with him by law to blow up the 5 others. The transition zone arrives, I see the penalty tent, stop there, give them my number and the color of the card received.
Verdict 5 min penalty. I fall apart, I cry, I cry, I cry.
I know that my race is over, my goal to go to Nice starts with these 5min… My last race as a serious competition… Now that I am going to be a dad, I know that my next competitions I would take them relaxed… I refocus, I try to convince myself that it’s not over, a lot of things can happen. The two guys behind me come and stop too. They tell me the penalty is rubbish. I still do not understand the reason and especially why the pack of 5 had nothing I find that unfair. 5min is long… Really long. During all this time I also realize the difficulty of the volunteers in the tent. Their job is to make undergo penalties which they did not attribute to angry adults who deserve their punishment or not. I apologize for my childish attitude,
Then finally I am released, I put the bike down and go for a run. I know the guys here are quick. 36 athletes are still ahead of me including 13 in my category …
As they say in Quebec, I have this penalty bitch! So I run to the tabernacle. The circuit is really nice, we have two loops to do. I thought it was much flatter I am surprised by all the false dishes present. I am gradually catching up with a lot of competitors. The sun and the heat are felt more and more. I see the leader of the Ironman and no need to calculate he has a lead that I could not fill, I also recognize Laurent Robert, who seems in the hard, which motivates me even more to seek him. I pass kilometer 10 in 38min, and I attack the second loop. There are many participants on this second loop because many are on their first lap, it is now difficult to distinguish who is where.
Then I recognize around km 15 the guy in my age group who was doing well on the bike, I pass him, then km 17 the other guy in my age group who was taking advantage of the peloton’s draft (bib number 1345 , Gabe Dakowicz, not to quote him). Finally a little justice! Some places are quite narrow and it’s difficult to overtake (no one will overtake me though). Finally I passed the arch of finish with a great time for the half marathon, the best running time in my age group, but very disappointed with the final result. I would still have spent 28 triathletes on the run.
On the line I see a friend who was there as a spectator, we look at the results on his phone, and the horror, I place myself 8th overall, and 4th in my category. I am 1 minute and 50 seconds behind the second in my category! Less than 2min from my main objective Less than 5 min from the general podium.
I go back to get my things, I still cry very disappointed, I do not understand why to hurt myself like this, to invest so much, to miss his objective in this way. I really feel a sense of injustice. I grieve in a few minutes then I am, and encourage my friends who are still racing. During one of my many round trips, I ran into Laurent Robert who finished 3rd in my age group, we chat a little and he told me that he was not interested in a place at the world championships in 2019 (he already has other requirements). A glimmer of hope is reborn in me!
If one of the top two in my category also refuses his place, then I have a small chance (if Ironman offers 2 places in my group) to have my place. That’s still a lot of “ifs” to eliminate. My friends arrive drop by drop, we congratulate each other, we tell each other our anecdotes, then 3pm finally arrive. Having finished my race around 10:30 am I found the time long! The podium ceremony is endless…. Come my age group, we go on the podium, and the 2nd is not present! Has he ever been home? (most likely option, but not the only one). So my chances are increasing! The likelihood that he has gone to eat and shows up later to claim his trophy and his slot (place for Nice) is also great. Then the winner at the top of the first step tells us that he will not take his place! When he comes down we shake hands and I hug him tightly, thanking him. Very moved, tears of joy flow down my cheeks, my friends in the crowd then understand what is going on even though they cannot hear our conversation. Marie Ève also starts to cry, hugging me. Then I wait patiently for the distribution of the lots … more than an hour goes by for my age group to arrive, they call the first (who has already returned home, once, twice, three times, next , they call the second, same scenario, for Laurent the same, then finally my name! Deliverance, and I go get and pay my registration for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice 2019.
I return to town to find my other group of friends who had stayed in the center. I tell them the news, everyone is really happy, Émilie jumps everywhere and starts to cry too!
6 hours of road awaits us to return to Montreal, a long road especially when we have been up since 3 am, a half IM of lodged, and a day full of ups and downs, with a lot of emotions and shared joys.