By Holly Ann Baldwin
This is just a short report to share my experiences of competing in my first Ironman 70.3 event, Vichy 2021. I hope it will be useful for anyone else embarking on their first Ironman event or thinking of going to the Vichy Ironman.
Prior to Vichy, I’d taken part in five triathlons, working up to Olympic distance, but the COVID-19 restrictions meant my last event was a single tri back in 2020. The Ironman 70.3 was my first tri for nearly 12 months. My training plan aimed to get a balance between swim, cycle, and run, but in practice this was also trickier under COVID. Thankfully, Dorchester lake open-water sessions with Liz and Lee, were running which was vital to preparing me for the swim; I also took part in a couple of River Thames swim-events in Henley, including the club-to-pub, which was very helpful in getting me more comfortable with mass starts and open water swimming anxiety. Bike was around 70% trainer with only about 30% road, partly because of my work schedule and partly down to weather. Run was a combination of long- and short-distance sessions, the latter including hill work and interval training; these proved really helpful in building up my speed. Despite a shoulder problem, perhaps exacerbated by swimming, I felt reasonably well prepared for the event. On reflection, I would look to take part in more Oxford Tri bike and run activitiesand look to get more road time on the bike.
Logistics and set-up
I decided to drive down to Vichy, arriving with two clear days before the Saturday event. The bike was carried in a bike bag in the back of the car which worked well for carrying all the support stuff that I always have. Registration took place on the Thursday morning after a short run and bike work out, following which I drove the bike course. Getting a feel for the course was incredibly valuable and I can’t recommend it enough. Friday involved pre-race packing and dropping off the bike and bike kit bag in the first transition area and the run kit bag in the second transition area. One thing I didn’t do was recce the run route. I didn’t think it was necessary but on reflection it would have been useful and helped orient me to the course. From a practical point of view, my lack of fluent French wasn’t a problem – the staff and volunteers were really helpful.
The swim at Vichy is in the Lac de l’Allier and so many blogs spoke about how hot the race is and how wetsuit decisions are made on the day. Expected water temperature was 18-20 deg C, so I decided to swim in just my tri-suit. I was one of only a handful out of the hundreds of starters who wasn’t wearing a wetsuit. It did make me wonder whether or not I was making the right decision but it turned out fine in the end. Might have been a little faster in my wetsuit but I hit my target swim time.
Transition went smoothly, and I soon found myself starting the first of four significant climbs on the circuit. The roads were closed which was very helpful, particularly on one of the more technical descents, allowing use of the whole carriageway. I carried my own food in a combination of race belt, tri-suit pockets, and top tube bento bag. Aid stations offered water and other drinks, along with bananas and gels. I hadn’t tried the brand of the latter so didn’t want to rely on them, but will consider doing so for future events to reduce the need to carry my own. Overall, the bike went well,although my Garmin showed a total climb of 4000 feet rather than the 2900 suggested by the race road map.
The second transition went well, but by the time of the run the temperature was getting up to 30 degrees C, with long stretches of the run route lacking any shade. I must admit I did struggle at this point. This was in part down to the temperature and in part because I found the run route rather demotivating with some out and back loops off the main circuit. This is where a run route recce would have helped me prepare mentally. I also had to stop at a medical station because my tri-suit was rubbing under one arm and I needed a dressing for it. What really helped was to see fellow Oxford Tri teammates (Neil and Andy, racing the next day’s full distance) on the route cheering me on. The run was definitely the toughest part of the race for me and I will be working to improve my running for my next Ironman!
So what did I take away from this? Firstly, the importance (for me at least) of doing a thorough recce of the race routes before the event. Secondly, the need to test all kit beforehand: I switched tri-suit at the last minute for technical reasons and hadn’t done a long run in the new suit that might have alerted me to the fit problem. Thirdly, that it’s possible to crack the Ironman 70.3, even under less than perfect training conditions and I have the t-shirt to prove it!