Daniel & Jean-Claude Besse

Natation Vélo Course

Ironman Barcelona

People are often quoted saying “never again” at the finish line of an Ironman. Zurich 2018 was somewhat different for me, straight ahead claiming I wanted to race another one in the same season. Not that Zurich was terrible, but it wasn’t at the level I wished it to be, and I had at heart the desire to show something better. It didn’t take long to have Daniel on board, and after briefly considering Emilia-Romagna and Wales we settled onto Barcelona early October.

Barcelona is one of the fastest course ever, and also the second biggest Ironman race in terms of participation. Only downside, there might be a lot of drafting (though it isn’t always obvious how it will turn out among the PROs in front).

From one IM to another

Barcelona being just over 2 months after Zurich, it leaves times for recovery, a (relatively long) hard block of training, and tapering. Thus not just riding on the fitness wave, but also potentially improving it. I felt like the small interruptions with holidays, military and conference in June prevented to show full potential at the end of July. The stomach pain on the day was also unfortunate, but those are things you might have to deal with at an Ironman.

Off we went and trained, with 2hrs on the week following the Ironman, but already 10+ in the next ones. Uster triathlon was great, and after a tough block (with two days off work) the following week-end, it was rather tired and doubtful that I joined the start line in Murten.

Remained a few long rides, one or two key sessions on the track, and time for tapering. Times goes by quickly. I tell everyone before the race that I am way better prepared, but doubt when Daniel says I should aim for 8h50-8h45. Only race performance is a true indicator of your shape.

Airport
Airport selfie #chillin'withmymuffin.

On Thursday the travel is a bit rough (good thing we opted for an early flight), with over 7hrs delay. I am happy Daniel keeps the mood “chill”, we’ll make it to race location (Calella, roughly 60km north east of Barcelona along the coast) and did not plan anything else anyways.

Lead up

On Friday we mount the bikes (first time with the TTs), and get to test them on the first and last 20k of the course. My legs are just rolling, the pace is steady fast, and Daniel tells me to keep quiet when I ask whether we should do some race pace intervals. Turns out we were riding close to race pace already – it felt so easy.

After a quick PRO briefing we are joined by the support team (Nadine, Gianna & Jamie). Remains a few carbo-loaded meals, a short jog on Saturday morning with a few race pace (and faster) strides, as well as dropping the bikes and bags in transition on Saturday afternoon.

Before race jog
Before race legs shake out.
Bike drop
Bike drop.

On race morning we are greeted with lightnings, stormy rain, big waves and the likes. Not the ideal conditions, but it is supposed to calm down by the time we get out of the water, and at least it’s not super hot like the last two ironmans. Apart from a last minute need-to-find-a-charger emergency all is good.

Morning
Race morning shower.

Swim

Let me introduce the salty washing machine: 81 PROs, beach start, sun barely rising at the horizon through heavy clouds, and waves climbing to the spectators’ feet along the shore. Contrary to rough conditions on the bike, this doesn’t bother me here (rather opposite, I was keeping fingers crossed the swim would be kept as planned). Once the gun goes, it’s a few meters of running until getting knocked down by the first wave, and swam over by the guy behind me. Boom, boom, let’s get this fight started.


Swim start video.

Until the first buoy it’s bumpy to say the least. I also lose my googles thanks to someone’s misplaced foot. After the right turn I re-settle but after looking ahead the first group is gone already, and I find myself pacing the second pack (a huge one by the way).

The rest of the swim is rather uneventful and boring. Waves so high you don’t see the next buoy on most of the sightings (but often trust the foam ten-twenty meters ahead of the lone guy in-between packs). The water being relatively shallow, and us swimming along the coast means it won’t get better at any point. Not worth fighting it, just go with the flow. One concurrent always tries to go past me, but fails. I wonder if I should let him pass or not. On the other hand I am not really getting tired at that pace.

Only question: which one is the buoy at which we need to turn around? Very often I don’t see the next one before having done half of the in-between buoys distance, guess I’ll just trust Ironman for putting different ones there as they promised (they did).

Once out of the water a quick glance at the watch shows 53min. Could be better, but not so bad. I guess the distance to the first pack is bigger than usual. A quick run through showers to get the salt off, pack the suit with some gels (on top of the on-bike ones), and eat one biberli already.

Bike

Once on the bike and the shoes fixed, we have a first three-kilometer stretch in the city of Calella where aerobars are forbidden, due to the road being narrow and bumpy. Out of that portion and onto the coast road, I get passed by a few people, despite my Garmin showing above 280W. Calm down, JC. The plan is to take the bike easy. I might lose a few minutes, but will more than make that up in the run. 250-260W it is, slightly ambitious but if I don’t burn too many matches it should go smoothly (and since it’s mainly pancake flat not burning matches should be easier than in Zurich).

Another few people pass by, all way too eager to make up lost time in the swim; I don’t try to stay with them. Some rolling hills in the first part, that changes a bit from the very flat announced course. I do not regret that. I still mostly feel like I am waiting for things to happen. Kilometers go by quickly - we’re talking about 38km/h average. The road is clear and wide, fully closed to traffic. At some point I see people in the other direction already; it must be the first of the two new “climbs”. I meet Daniel right before a sign that say “U-turn 500m”. Not so much delay then! Turns out - as I confirmed by looking at the GPS on the second round - that sign was 1.6km away from the actual U-turn…

Aero is key
Aero is key.

Semi-highway back and forth, before attacking the actual highway for the second climb. Power goes slightly up to 280W, the pace stays steady at around 30km/h for most of what a Swiss athlete cannot seriously call a climb. Again the U-turn is just randomly along the road, and no official nor timing mat seem to be checking that people actually go up to there. Weird.

For the second time I meet Daniel, as well as the first two women slowly but surely closing the gap behind me.

I still ride completely alone, and this from km20, until the 65km mark. There a media motor bike catches up, and sure enough while staying next to me or slightly behind he doesn’t point his camera towards me. That can only mean one thing: Laura Philipps is tagging on to my pace. No change of plan on my side, still aiming at 250W. Not long later another PRO man passes in front, at which point I realize we are 5 with the first two women (not sure who brought who back onto me). An official on the motorbike is also there, but rather making space for the media and making sure no one draft Laura and Yvonne than giving cards it seems. People are fair, and ride at 10-12m in general (except at the rare roundabouts). The pace is a bit less steady, as I will realize later the leading guy has gotten carded already and trying to gain some time before stopping at the penalty tent.

We are already reaching half-way, and I keep eating as much as possible. No bonking today! Daniel seems to be in a tighter more crowded pack with many of the people who passed me in the first 20k, and gains distance quickly. Doesn’t seem like he has much choice, whereas we do.

Daniel bike
Daniel starting his second lap.

On the start of the second lap Yvonne lets some gap build up, which I bridge in two hard fought kilometers, but otherwise I am just tagging onto their pace without gaining much aero advantage. In the aid station and start of the climb the pace is relatively slow, I move up to second position in the pack, but decide not to take the lead. I am still on plan for 4h45, better run a great marathon than dig into the sugar reserves now.

At the top Laura notices Yvonne in pain 100m back, and decides to put 300W in the descent. Chopfedammi-***! I push to stay with (partly out of the bars sadly as not super confident at 60km/h), then need to brake as the motos don’t really know where to stay, sprint again to regain speed. Not ideal, thus I decide to let a little gap build up and smoothly get back into the wagons at the final turn (the train decreased in size to 3 though).

Once at the final U-turn I am very confident on my energy reserves. A bit less about the rain drops that start falling. Laura pushes hard again, after having recovered for 20km behind the other guy. I stay with them, but the rain that falls more and more heavily starts to bother me. They are very cautious in the turns, but push really strong in the straight lines along the train tracks. At some point around km155-160 I let go. I am on my own again, just wishing the rain would stop and I can switch to running.

Bike end
Going into T2.

The rain will stop eventually, but not before a heavy 5 minutes where riding 47km/h on the bars with back wind is not super reassuring to me. I feel like I lost a bit my will to push, and the watts (as well as my average time on the bars) drop until reaching transition. No biggie, the last 3k are again treated with caution out of the bars, and 4h48 for 181.5km is where the computer stops.

Run

In transition I take a bit more time than usual, eating half a honey waffle, packing all the gels in the trisuit (since no personal aid is allowed contrary to Zurich), and drinking my own iso mixture. A 3-hour marathon is the plan, and that should take us at 8h45 or just above.

The first steps are very reassuring as the legs feel great, and the very cushioned 4% shoes bounce nicely in the packed sand. I was worried in the days leading to the race that this road in-between transition and finish would not give back, losing energy by slipping; turns out it’s very enjoyable. Gianna asks if I am doing well. She’ll just get a quick sign, but yes all is good (I add ‘for the moment’ nevertheless). First kilometer already, sub 4min, let’s slow down the pace.

After the second kilometer also below 4 minutes, I finally settle into a pace that seems very controlled, at around 4’05/km. The first part along the beach is nicely running through spectators, with some shadows, and the sun partly hiding behind clouds. After a small out and back, we go below the train tracks to a long stretch towards Santa Susanna. I realize after the race that it is probably only 1.5km, but feels much longer due to it being exposed, fully straight, and without any spectator.

Anyways soon later I reach the 10k mark in a flattering 40’09. My Garmin shows slightly less distance, and consistently so over the marathon (to finish in 41.9km). The race hasn’t started yet. It’s a bit like Lucerne, by 10k it should sound like a joke. I smile when I hear Jamie saying “great pace” (I know!). My left foot is already dripping blood since the kilometer marker 8, but oh well – it’s a problem for post-race JC (in-a-race JC couldn’t care less about post-race JC’s worries).

Run
Smiling in the run.

After one of three laps I tell myself that I am on a good track. We’re above one third of the marathon, and yet I still keep myself from running faster; running in a controlled way. The speaker announces my name, along some “keeps flying” comment. It’s true that I catch a lot of concurrents in the process.

Not much to say for the next bit. Still on track with one gel about every 5km, iso every second aid station, and as much water as possible to throw on myself and rinse down the sugars. The sun comes out briefly, before hiding again. Second 10km in 41min, half marathon just below 1h26.

Daniel run
Daniel moving just as fast.

From then on the feeling of flying slowly dies off, and keeping a roughly constant pace is costing more and more energy and mental dedication. But it is far from the fight an IM has been before. In fact nothing could stop me now, as long as I stay clever and keep eating until the very end. I ask the supporters to tell me something (“what did Melanie do?”). Need to think of something else than my quads hardening.

Km 30 arrives relatively fast, and once again I just lost 1min to the previous ten kilometers (42min). For the first time I switch the watch to total time, 8h45 should be doable. It becomes slowly but surely difficult to keep the stride length, the feet stay a bit longer in contact with the ground, but the pace never goes above 4’30/km. Try to enjoy the final stretch if you can!

And enjoy I did. It doesn’t matter at what rank I finish (23rd), I showed I can run a sub 3hrs marathon after pushing above 240W for close to 5hrs. That’s all I wanted. A PB in 8h42 is just a bonus (or a logical consequence if you want). What a final point to the season 2018…


Finish video.

Post-race

First of all: super proud of Daniel, whom I meet after the finish line. Clocking a sub 8h30 is a long term goal I announced a few times already (as well as a 2h30 marathon - alone), and while he tries to tone it down to drafting-aided, he showed it’s in our potential.

After a brief stop to the medical tent - now it’s post-race JC suffering from heavily bleeding feet speaking. He’s not regretting pre-race JC’s choice of shoes though; the sole was just great during. He just wished the laces were put on tighter. – after said red-cross stop, it is time for shower, massage, a few bites of sandwich without real appetite, and sharing impressions with supporters.

In the next few days sleeping and eating habits are still shaken by the adrenaline, but I am really proud of the performance. No next goal for the moment, it’s time for a well-deserved off-season break.

 



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