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My First Ironman 70.3 Experience in Nice, France

My First Ironman 70.3 Experience in Nice, France
by Noemi Giglioli

When I decided to prepare a triathlon, I was coming out from back to back injuries due to running overload. Since I moved to Switzerland in 2017, my weekends were mainly spent trail running up and down from mountains, until I could not run anymore for several months. After months of physio, strength, chi-running, change of multiple shoes, and even diet adjustments, I slowly came back to running, but was not the same as before.

At that point, training for an ironman 70.3 sounded like a reasonable way for keeping myself motivated to introduce swimming and cycling in my daily life. I am not sure how it sounds to you 😊

I signed up for Nice 70.3 for the cool location; of course I had no clue about the 1300 meters of climbing bike course.

So, the next step was to buy a bike and place my ass on it! That’s what I did during the summer 2020 until I was informed that Nice was postponed to 2021.

In 2021 I was thinking to renounce it. Nada...why should I do that again? 
One day I told my boyfriend... ”maybe” I start the training and then I see how I feel. “Maybe” I will contact my coach Lisa to see if she is available to coach me again... “Maybe” I need to swim a little in the open water. The following “maybe “ was to book a flat and get some extra days to explore Cote Azure.

I arrived in Nice 3 days earlier than the race. We indeed combined the race with some days of Holidays – the payback for my boyfriend for supporting me during all my worst moments. He had a lot of fun watching me simulating swim to bike transition in our living room.

I wanted to swim on the swim course as I wasn’t swimming in the sea since years, on the other side I learnt swimming in the Mediterranean when I was a kid, so it came out as beautiful as I could remember. However, I don’t think that swimming in open water is a joke. Consider waves, current, and water temperature as factors that can seriously interfere with your swim.

I had several issues to the water temperature during my training.

Indeed, I experienced a couple of “shocks” in open water during training: I felt lack of breath during the first 5-10 minutes in the water. I tried to not panic, but my instinct was saying to not put my head and face in the water due to the temperature.

A month before Nice I had an Olympic in the lake of Geneva: the cold was so cold that I decided to quit the swim and the race. Unfortunately, I threw inadvertently the rescuer in the cold water too...

That day, that should have been my “triathlon test”, I spent one hour on the rescue boat watching the swimmers who were completing the course!

Unfortunately, even neoprene wetsuit and hat couldn’t help much with this. After that experience I adapted a bit during summer time forcing myself to swim gradually longer in colder water and during the race in Nice I was sweating in the full wetsuit!

Wetsuit was indeed prohibited above 24.6 and average on these days was 24.2, but almost all swimmers are using a complete neoprene wetsuit.

The swim course is one beautiful 1.9 km loop from the beach that is made of stones, and water goes deep immediately. Before the race they put us in line depending on estimated race time: I lined myself at the very end (estimated time > 50 min) in order to not crash too much with other swimmers. There was a rolling start in groups so we waited for 20 minutes at the starting point.

I was racing alone and I was very nervous... the atmosphere was tense. Where the hell are the buoy? Where am I supposed to turn? What if I feel cold again in the water? At one point a guy behind me was commenting that he never swims in open water before. Alright, he is crazier than me. I started chatting and laughing with them and I relaxed immediately!

Swim went smooth except for a small deviation due to the current: “oh yes... finally, I found some space where are not other swimmers”. When I heard a guy yelling at me and I realized I was swimming in the wrong direction! I have no clue who he was but he saved my race.

Nutrition: Swim starts at 6:30 am so I need to eat something around 4:20 am. I forced myself to eat 2 scramble eggs and 2 toasted bread with jam. Before the race starts I eat half banana.

Transition 1: I was afraid to feel cold despite the nice weather and I quickly dry my body and changed with a dry trisuit. I was not racing for time. I left a bottle of water in my swim bag to wash my face from salty water. I did put sunscreen the night before and my skin is quite used to the sun – if your skin is sensitive a cream is recommended.

Bike course:

Last minute decided to rent the bike instead of bringing mine. I felt I was a bit betraying my lovely cube axial race bike who supported my ass for many miles, but it came out quite successful as I rented a ventum race bike that was 3.5 kg lighter.

The bike was my real challenge, as I started cycling the year before the race and have no power in my legs. Bike course has 1367 meters elevation and there is a cut off time limit at the top (km 44, around 1000 mt elevation). After that, the course is mainly descendent, but quite technical so need to be very careful downhill. I saw a lot of normal road bikes and haven’t see many aero, maybe because the flat is really minimal. In almost all my long bikes I incorporated long uphills of 4-6 km with 6-9 % grade with some challenging points of 10-13%.

With the lighter bike and quite some climbing training on my legs, I felt quite confident uphill and when I realized I was close to the cut-off point of 44km I relaxed a bit. I could have saved at least 20 minutes on the bike, but I wanted to save my legs for the run.

Nutrition: I had an organic bar in the first 30 minutes of the bike and then continue with the food I tried during the training. I did not try anything new. I have persistent stomach issues, during the training I even reduced the caffeine, thus I know that real food works well for me with organic bars, dry or fresh fruit, and need some “salty” snacks like bread or crackers in between that can absorb gastric acids.

Generally, I was never hungry, but I realized during the training that when I am hungry it is too late.

I also had a lot of fluids, 750 ml of water plus Polase Sport and 750 of water plus water and bananas at the aid stations.

Transition 2: as I practice transitions during my training it was not an issue. I know that I have some back pain on the bike that disappear once I start running.

Running course: 
The run is two loops of 10 km on the Promenade de l’Anglais and once I hit the road for my favorite part of the race, I start with the aim to keep a pace of 5:40- 5:45km/hour.

I look around and I see a lot of exhausted people, many were mainly walking. I told myself that I did not want to look destroyed!

My knee also hurts a bit, so I slowed down and kept my heart rate in zone 2 avoiding going up to threshold. I followed a guy running with a consistent 6, 6.15 km/h pace, he was giving me the right speed and we were able to chat a little that made the half marathon more pleasant.

Nutrition: at km 80 on the bike I had a banana and I had one gel almost immediately on the running course at km 2 and km 10 with some water (gels without water can hurt your stomach a lot). I stopped at ALL stations and I am not sure I could finish the run without them!

At the aid stations I had a lot of cokes, it was addicting! However, I think it caused me a bit of nausea at the very end of the race, but I felt immediately better with some candied ginger. Ginger is normally very helpful for stomach issues and candied ginger have also some sugar that can make you feel alive again!

Conclusion: At the end of the day, all I wanted was to feel strong and enjoy the atmosphere, I had no time expectations. The people gave me great vibes and encouragement, I laughed with the volunteers and other participants and when I crossed the finish line I was screaming like I was the first female (and I definitely wasn’t!). My transitions were very long, but they also helped to recharge from one sport to the next.

What worked well was to keep consistency during training, make a careful plan (what can go wrong? What I can do to prevent that problem?), follow advices of my coach, listen to your body (it will tell you when enough is enough), but overall remember that you need to HAVE FUN!

Overall time 7:55

Swim: 47:24

Bike: 4:25

Run: 2:15