Life is an ultramarathon

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Monday, September 15 2008

Famous last words...

I just found an e-mail I wrote at the end of April, ie. 2 months before the Ironman. It reads:
For me the marathon should be the "easy" bit - touch wood.
I mustn't have touched enough wood ...

Ultra forecast.

Tuesday, July 22 2008

Post-Ironman thoughts


I've started to run again seriously. And I'm already running faster than I've ever been for the last six months.

Although I realised whilst preparing for the Ironman that I was probably near the limit of my body, I didn't slow down much my training. Only just to keep it bearable. Because I thought I was just surfing on the limit, and not over it. And also because I thought I wasn't training enough anyway. This is just how the overtraining vicious circle starts. Because overtraining decreases your performance, you train more to compensate and make things even worse. I didn't check my rest heart rate, which would have been conclusive on that matter. But on the list of signs and symptoms that can indicate overtraining, I certainly got at least 3: persistent fatigue, irritability and loss of motivation.
I think I got to that stage because I generally don't recover very quickly. It's a fact that I've known for a while. It's not such a problem for running only, as long as I limit the number of ultramarathons per year. I can train every other day, and that leaves plenty of time for recovery. But the Ironman preparation, with daily training sessions, left me with little recovery time in between.

In the end, the "disastrous" last training period may have saved me. The lack of training due to various trips and work pressure have offered me a relative physical rest. And allowed me to arrive in Nice in decent conditions.

A better training plan was possible

My initial training plan was fairly basic. My biggest mistake was not to adapt it during the training. I just sticked to it. In particular I started to realise fairly early on that the bike-to-run transition may be an issue. But at that point I was just too afraid of not finishing the bike in time, and didn't care too much about the transition. I just thought that after the ride I would be OK, should I struggle on the run. I did.
I could have changed my training in something more efficient. For example the 10km runs in the morning were pretty useless. Running 10km at "fast" speed is nothing like running a marathon after cycling 180km. I could have easily scrapped this part of the training. It was not only useless, but contributed to my general tiredness - totally counterproductive. Brick training, ie. successions of bike and run, would have been highly beneficial at that stage.

Obviously it's easy to say retrospectively. But I think the signs were all there and I knew about them. I didn't change a thing. My bad.

Attempting another Ironman?

OK, I went through the finish line. And I said that was it. But the struggle on the run is still fairly disappointing. I wish I could complete the run in something a bit more decent, say between 4 and 5 hours. So should I try another one next year? Which one? Hereafter a list of the European Ironmans:
  • Germany (Frankfurt)
  • Switzerland (Zurich)
  • Austria (Klagenfurt)
  • Spain (Lanzarote, Canarias)
  • France (Nice)
  • UK (Sherborne, Dorset)
Ultra second thoughts

Monday, June 30 2008

Ironman pictures

I've just downloaded my pictures from marathon-photos. At least these guys don't charge extra fees for shipping by e-mail like others do. That said, they don't send an e-mail, you have to download them. The funny thing is that you don't get an archive with all your pictures. You get to see a load of thumbnails on a webpage that link to the original pictures. When I say a load, I mean it. I've got 21 pictures, and each of them is downloadable in 6 different formats (high resolution, web-ready, commemorative, ...) Obviously, I couldn't be bothered to click on each 126 of them individually and then save them one by one so I quickly wrote a python script to do the job for me. Still then, their server is so slow that it took 11 minutes to download the set.





Surprisingly, pain is not so visible during the run.

Ultra pictures

Monday, June 23 2008

Ironman France 2008

In short, I went around my first Ironman in 14:35:06. Swim and bike went as good as my best expectations. But the marathon was a calvary: with about 30°C on the Prom', I was dehydrated, in hypoglycaemia and unable to eat/drink properly.

LegTimePos.Pos. cat.

Before the race

Triathlon is a bit of a hassle logistics-wise. Indeed, you have to carry your bike along with loads of equipment with you, hoping it doesn't get crushed in the plane. That's when my box-moving skills acquired during para-academic activities get handy ;) My local bike shop kindly gave me a bike cardboard box that I reinforced a bit with sheets of plastic at strategic places. I removed both wheels and put them on the sides, I also put the rear derailleur where the wheel normally sits. I padded the fork, the back of the frame, the chain rings and derailleurs with pipe foam.
Then I was off for a 10-minute walk carrying the bike and one hour and an half in the tube/DLR. Great fun! The extra fee to fly the bike with Air France was only £32 one-way (not so much compared to the standard extra weight fees), but they didn't know exactly how to do check the bike in. All this stuff stressed me quite a bit before the race. Anyway, I eventually arrived in Nice with my bike in working order.
On Friday we went to Nice to register, collect my bib number and the transition bags. On Saturday we went to Nice again to leave the bike in the rack, drop the transition bags and get marked on the arm and legs. From that point, not much could be done any more.
On Sunday, I had to get up at 4am to get there at about 5:30am. Needless to say I didn't sleep well. Once in Nice, I quickly checked my tyres, got changed, dropped my street wear bag and off I was to the pebble beach.


I positioned myself on the side, along with the weakest swimmers. At 6:30, 2500 swimmers ran into the sea. It was a bit messy, but not quite as much as I expected. Of course I got kicked and smashed in the legs, the arms and the face, but that wasn't too bad. And at least that wasn't meant.

On the other hand, some guys pushed me strangely on the side and one even grabbed me to pull himself forward. How stupid is that? I was so angry I thought about kicking that idiot.
Anyway, the water was pretty warm and there weren't any waves, so it was a real pleasure to swim at sunrise.

loop 12.4km46:521:57/100m
loop 21.4km30:542:08/100m

After the first loop (2.4km) I realised I was going faster than expected, although I wasn't pushing it. This is due to the high floatability in salty water combined with the good buoyancy of the wetsuit.


After a relatively quick transition (less than 10 minutes), I took the bike easily. 50km of warm-up to start with. Then started the 21km ascent (a 1000m climb). It wasn't too steep (5 to 7%). I took it easy at about 10 to 15km/h, got overtaken quite a bit. The scenery in the back-country was awesome, the roads were good, not many cars, no navigation involved, reasonable temperature above 1000m, it was all good.

During the descents, I tried to follow some guys in order to improve my cornering technique, but honestly it was often way to fast and scary for me.
The only annoying point was people dropping stuff everywhere, bottles, discarded tubes, pressured C02 cartridges, and other litter on the side or even in the middle of the road.

split 123.3km49:5128.04km/h
split 246.7km2:25:2419.27km/h
split 348.7km4:15:5111.42km/h
split 425.3km1:05:0423.33km/h
split 536km53:4440.20km/h

My bike was clearly in the top 10 worse in the park. I guess the profiled frame and wheels have little impact at a slow speed like mine. But a lighter carbon frame would have helped in the ascents. On top of that the handle bars weren't tied up enough after the plane trip, and ended up a bit low. That could have cost me a fall during the descents.

When I realised I would finish the bike in between 7h and 7h30, I became (too) optimistic. That would leave me at least 7h for the marathon.


With no wetsuit to remove, the second transition took surprisingly longer than the first one. I didn't cover properly the back of my shoulders with sunscreen. With about 30°C on the Prom', that was a big mistake I'm still paying for now. The run consists on going four times to the airport by the "Promenade des Anglais" along the the seafront (without any shade at all) and back to central Nice by the same way. My shoulders got badly sunburned, covered in blisters and the skin got ripped off easily before being properly dry.

After only 10 minutes running and despite the overwhelming heat, I started to shiver. Hypoglycaemia was already on its way, just as it happened so often during training. I took it easily, as ultrarunners would do: walk, drink, eat and be patient until it gets better. I alternated running and walking. At the end of the first-of-four loop, I got my first, white, wristband. But I didn't feel any better. While everyone looked very hot and willing to be showered, I was still shivering. A real calvary.

loop 1 out5.25km35:358.85km/h
loop 1 rtn5.25km42:237.43km/h
loop 2 out5.25km43:057.31km/h
loop 2 rtn5.25km51:236.25km/h
loop 3 out5.25km41:297.59km/h
loop 3 rtn5.25km48:176.52km/h
loop 4 out5.25km46:466.74km/h
loop 4 rtn5.25km44:197.11km/h

At the end of the second loop, I got the red wristband and started to feel slightly better. Unfortunately it didn't last long. After a couple of kilometres I realised I couldn't eat or drink properly. Everything got stuck in my stomach. At the end of my third loop, although I was happy to get my last wristband (the black one), I was feeling quite bad. I think that was quite obvious on my face, given the way people were looking at me. On the last loop, there were suddenly not many people around any more, as the finishers' peak stand at around 12 to 13 hours. Supporters became sparse and volunteers started dismantling food points (they were still manned, but had less choice). It was really hard, and I'm not sure where I sourced the energy to walk. At 5km from the end, I decided to take a 5 minutes nap. It didn't really help, but as I stood up I threw up all the blocked water. I was a sudden relief. The last 5km were at least enjoyable!

Many runners (and even volunteers) went back home in ambulances. And some even fell after the race. It was a bit scary, and I'm glad I didn't push it harder.
I lost loads of salt and water by perspiration (I was covered in salt dust at the end), and I think a salt unbalance blocked my digestion. I'm just a bit disappointed I didn't realise that whilst running. I could have tried to eat savoury stuff. Anyway, during the next 24 hours, I was craving for cheese, as if my body was asking for salt. Before going to bed I drank a glass of water with a bit of Roquefort and Comté. Not the easiest stuff to digest, but that's what I wanted. In the middle of the night I ate a "Crottin the Chavignol" with 2 slices of brioche. At breakfast I felt more like a four-cheeses pizza than a pain au chocolat (I eventually got one for diner, though :) ).


My only surprise is that there weren't actually any :) The swim went well and so did the bike. And although I knew the transition with the run might be hard, I haven't trained enough for that.

I've proven that it is possible to finish an Ironman with little preparation. Whilst my plan included 6 to 7 sessions per week, I've done 5 in average. My weekly training time was between 8 and 10 hours. There is no real need to go progressively through sprint, Olympic and 70.3 distances before attempting an Ironman! And the thrill is much bigger that way. The stress as well... Obviously, performance-wise, it may not be the best approach!

I've already been asked whether I would do a double, triple or deca-Ironman. I don't think so. Note that this is not a definite answer. Firstly, the logistics is a bit too much, I prefer simpler things. Just take my shoes and go running. And secondly, I'm not impressed by the behaviour of some triathletes to say the least. The swimmers that meaningly pushed and pulled me. The cyclists dropping their bottle in front of my wheel (or everywhere else). The runner that angrily pushed a child away as he was crossing in front of him, and who would have fallen badly on the ground if not holding his dad's hand. All these things disturbed me. Of course there were also loads of amazing people among the volunteers and athletes. In particular the Pirates Ship of Fools, a British group of triathletes, were very supportive and friendly. But well, it's not quite the same atmosphere as in ultrarunning. Not a surprise, though.

So now I can follow the last part of the motto coined by the Ironman creators "Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life" :)

Last but not least, I'd like to thank everyone for their support in my periods of doubts, and more particularly Bastien for hosting me. I don't think I would have made it through without a bit of help, my currently weak mental would have lost me.

More pictures here, and even more here.

Ultra triathlon.

* These are final results. I'm not sure why they differ from the live tracking. Maybe because of disqualified athletes?

Monday, June 16 2008

Ironman training report 4

My last training session ended yesterday. Let's face it, it was a bit of a disaster.

Because of the very bad weather followed by a trip to Hong-Kong, I didn't manage to take a single long ride. I haven't swum much either. And I feel fairly slow when running - whilst Börkur is getting sub-40 on 10km, I feel like I'm going towards an over-50 :( How much have I lost in a month, I don't know... Maybe I'm tired, maybe I'm overtraining. The only positive point is that I'm not injured and I'll hopefully be well-rested for the race day.

I've eventually tried my wetsuit in the sea yesterday, a Foor Quantum 2 that I managed to pay 1/3 off. It's pretty easy to wear and remove, warm but not too constrictive whilst swimming. At least something I'm happy about :)

Foor Quantum 2

I guess the only thing I've got left is my mental. I'll try to keep on building up mental energy this week and try my best on Sunday. With a bit of luck I'll get through.

My race number will be 415. If you've got nothing else to do that week-end, you should be able to follow live on

Ultra unprepared.

Wednesday, May 14 2008

Ironman training report 3

This is already the end of my third training period, out of four...
  • Swimming
    Swimming went fairly OK, I can cope with the distance without slowing down much. I missed 2 sessions though, and only pushed up to 3km (3.5km planned).
  • Cycling
    I'm eventually progressing :) I've ridden up to 140km with 1400m ascent. Speed is also getting there with a 60km session at over 30km/h average speed. I've not been to spinning classes, though...
  • Running
    Running has not been great lately. I've been slightly injured at the beginning of the session, then never really picked up after that. I'm not pushing it very hard anyway, following the "train your weaknesses, race your strength" moto. Maybe I took that a bit too far... I need to pick up a bit of distance during next period.
Issues to be addressed:
  • Hypoglycemia struck me twice during this period. Once in the middle of a bike ascent, and once on a cycle+run back-to-back session, 15 minutes after the transition. It's not clear to me why the former happened. For the latter, I think the sudden pace change got me. I'll need to be careful at the beginning of the run and practice more on transitions.
    Rough energy expenditure estimations on an Ironman are the following: swim 1000Kcal, bike 5000Kcal, run 3000Kcal, total 9000Kcal (on top of the regular requirements). Even if you eat a 100Kcal gel every 30min, that's only 3200Kcal after 16 hours...
  • PowerGel will be available on the race. I gave up with those 2 years ago because they're sweet and sticky. I've started to eat them again recently as part of my tummy training.
  • I need to train in open water as well as practice the swim to bike transition.
  • Overall, I don't think I recover quickly, especially from the long rides.
There will be only 127 triathletes under 26 years old (out of 2700), so I'll be in the 5% youngest. Youngest: 19, average: 38, oldest: 70.

It's pretty tricky to guess your first Ironman finish time. If I manage to finish, it'll probably be in this range:
fastest: 12h45: 1h30 + 7h00 + 4h00 (+15min)
slowest: 16h00: 1h45 + 9h00 + 5h00 (+15min)

Ultra triathlon core training.

Friday, May 2 2008


Yesterday showed good improvement, psychologically and physically.

In the morning I installed MemoryMap (*) to evaluate the ascent on my last 120km ride. Whilst I was expecting around 600m, I was delighted when it came to a total of 1300m. This is because my calculations only accounted for the main ascents and not the numerous small slopes. This is about 3/4 of the Ironman ascent for 2/3 of the distance. So I feel a bit less scared about the ascent on the ride, although this is still my main concern.

Yesterday I managed to run again after several weeks off, twice around the park without pain. Surprisingly, speed was not too bad with 55min for 12.6km. As always in ultra, when things aren't great, just slow down a bit and be patient...

Ultra ?

(*) Yes, I reluctantly bought a piece of software. Last time such an event happened, it was a version of MS Windows (forced with a laptop) that I barely used. The maps on Google are not very precise (and contain loads of errors), and for that purpose I needed proper Ordnance Survey data. Somehow, I bought a map, not a piece of software...

Monday, April 7 2008

Ironman training report 2

Wow, that's already the end of my second ironman training period! My training has been seriously altered by the Easter break, then things went back to normal.
  • Swimming
    Swimming went globally alright, except once as I tried to swim 2 days in a row on top of running. My triceps were aching quite a bit and I decided to stop after 500m rather than forcing it. It seems I can increase the distance without much trouble.
  • Cycling
    I eventually started spinning classes: it should help building up quads and cardio. Yesterday I didn't manage to ride 120km: it was snowing and very windy. My gloves and shoes were full of ice-cold water and covered in snow. I was wearing warm and waterproof long sleeve tops, but only triathlon shorts. After 20km I couldn't feel my hands and feet and my legs were getting weaker, so I decided to come back home. I did the typical mistake of getting straight into the warm house, thus could feel the cold blood from my legs suddenly entering my chest. Very bad! Anyway... On the whole cycling is getting better.
  • Running
    Running is OK. I did a 23km run without water/food, and it went surprisingly easy.
I need to focus more on cycling from now on. This is my weakest point, or at least the one I can improve the most.

Ultra triathlon increasing training.

Thursday, March 27 2008

Simple statistics on Ironman times

Using the Nice Ironman 2007 results available online, I've generated simple statistics by the finishing time (by 30 minutes span). This gives me a bit more insight about potential objectives, although I still have no idea how long I'll take.

The following graph represents the number of finishers by time span. It shows a fairly symmetric shape, with most athletes finishing in about 12 hours. This is quite different from many running races such as marathons where the maximum is usually shifted towards the end. This probably means that most athletes are well trained.
ironman: nb finishers by time span

The next graph shows the average split times (in minutes). This has to interpreted with care, as some may be stronger runner, cyclists or swimmers, etc ...
ironman: split times by time span

The following table summarises the average split times for 3 finishing time targets. As expected, the swimming time doesn't show a large variation in absolute value. Thus, I'll simply try to swim efficiently to minimise the overall energy expenditure.
Finishing timeSwimBikeRun
12h +1h106h204h30
14h +1h207h155h20
15h30 +1h258h6h

Ultra speculations.

Monday, March 10 2008

Ironman training report 1

This is already the end of my first Ironman training period and the beginning of the first relative rest week. On the whole things went roughly as planned, with a few exceptions. My rest heart rate is now back under 50bpm.
  • Swimming
    Swimming training went on perfectly as planned. The start was a bit hard, but it's getting better. I still find it tricky to do speed training on my own - I'm lacking a bit of self-motivation. I don't work out too much my legs, as this "tickles" my hips, and may not be as useful as arms for triathlon.
  • Cycling
    Rides in the countryside went fine, with London-Brigthon (90km) in 3h40min at last yesterday. Hills such as Ditchling Beacon are still a bit hard after a riding for a while. I really need to do some hill training.
    I noticed I can't stay on the aerobars for a long period of time: I got some cramps in the arms. My position is certainly wrong but I'm not sure how to fix it yet.
    I didn't do any spinning classes for various lame reasons, which is quite bad.
  • Running
    Running went as planned but not amazingly. I feel generally quite stiff and slow. Speed training in the morning is a bit tricky as well, because it's cold and I carry a bag.
No injuries so far, that's a good start :)

I don't intend to change my training plan for the second period. But I must go to spinning classes - they may help for hill cycling.

Ultra triathlon training start.

Sunday, February 17 2008

Ironman training plan

Just about 4 months before the Nice Ironman, and after a long semi-resting period, it's really time to devise a training plan ... and to start training!

There are 18 weeks left till the 22nd June. I've divided them into two periods of 4 weeks and two periods 5 weeks. Each period is concluded by a relative rest week to recover. So that'll be 3 weeks training, 1 week rest, 3 training, 1 rest, 4 training, 1 rest, 4 training, 1 rest (tapering). During the two first periods, I plan to exercice 6 times a week (proper triathletes would probably laught). For each sport, I'll train once in a short and intense fashion (intervals), and once in a longer and slower way. I'll try to prioritise on swimming and cycling, as I'm less comfortable with those.
  • Monday: swim (intervals)
  • Tuesday: run (intervals) OR longish run (15km to 20km) [1]
  • Wednesday: -
  • Thursday: spinning class
  • Friday: run (easy 10km) + swim (easy 1.5km to 2.5km) back to back [2]
  • Saturday: -
  • Sunday: bike (40km to 120km) [3]
[1] A long run of 15km and 20km will replace the intervals on the second week of each period.
[2] The distance of the easy swim on Friday will increase from 1km to 2km during the first period and from 1.5km to 2.5km during the second one.
[3] The Sunday bike will increase from 40km to 90km (London to Brighton) in the first period, and 60km to 120km during the second one.

During the two last periods, I would exercice 7 times a week by adding a running session after the Sunday bike.
  • Monday: swim (intervals)
  • Tuesday: run (intervals) OR long run (20km to 32km) [1]
  • Wednesday: -
  • Thursday: spinning class
  • Friday: run (easy 10km) + swim (easy 2km to 4km) back to back [2]
  • Saturday: -
  • Sunday: bike (60km) + run (10km to 20km) back to back [3] OR bike (90km to 180km) [4]
[1] A long run of 20km and 32km will replace the intervals on the second and forth week of each period.
[2] The distance of the easy swim on Friday will increase from 2km to 3.5km during the first period and (hopefully) from 2.5km to 4km during the second one.
[3] The Sunday (bike + run) will increase from 60km + 10km to 20km.
[4] Sessions of 120 and 150km the first period, 180km and 90km during the second one.

I've setup two public Google calendars: the Ironman training plan and the Ironman actual training. The latter will be updated with lame excuses for not training... You can tell me off if you think I'm not training hard enough :) You can either browse them directly or register if you have a Google account.

This is however still a draft I may need to improve. In particular, I've got no back to back swim + cycle session. Also I may try a half-Ironman in real conditions on my own, ie. swim 2km in the Channel near Brighton, ride back to London and then run 21km. Other plans may alter this training such as conferences and other trips.

EDIT 21/02/2008: increased bike distances.

Ultra IM training plan.

Monday, November 12 2007

First back-to-back training

Yesterday I went out for my first back to back-to-back training. I cycled about 37km and ran 11km immediately after. This is more or less the distances in an Olympic triathlon. It went better than expected. Maybe I didn't push the bike hard enough? Only the first 2 minutes of running felt a bit strange. And obviously after running only 5km, you already feel tired like you'd run much more. It took me 2h10 overall (1h18'+2'+50'), which is not great, but OK for a start. I've got to improve the cycling quite a bit.

Ultra triathlon training start.

Thursday, October 25 2007

Registered for the Nice Ironman

The title speaks for itself, after a long hesitation I've eventually registered for the Nice Ironman 2008. I have to start training a bit more seriously for swimming and cycling... Books and manuals obviously say that before attempting an Ironman you must have completed a certain number of sprint and Olympic triathlons. Maybe. Just like with my first UTMB, I'd like to try the full story first. We'll see what happen.

Ultra triathlon.

Wednesday, September 12 2007

Nice vs UK Ironman

I had the feeling that the Nice Ironman was much harder than the UK one. That was confirmed by some posts on the Runner's World forum.
However, looking at the facts, it's not that obvious. Surprisingly, there's more ascent on the UK one, for both the bike and the marathon. I thought the nice backcountry would be more hilly. On the other hand, the temperature in Nice will be much higher, particularly on the run, well exposed to the sun. As for the swim, the waves in Nice maybe a bit of a problem, but that should be compensated by the higher water temperature...

 UK IronmanFrance Ironman
General LocationSherborne Castle, DorsetNice, Alpes-Maritimes
DateAugust 2008 ?22nd June 2008
Cost?330+10+40 = 380€
Laps22 with a land exit in between
StartIn water mass start6 starts sections
Time limit2 hours 20 min2 hours 15 min ?
EnvironmentLancelot Brown Lake (15.5°C)Mediterranean Sea (24°C)
Time limit10 hours 30 min10 hours 45 min
Water points9 ?8
EnvironmentEnglish countrysideSouthern France backcountry - may be warm
Laps2+2 ?4
Ascent773mTotally flat
Time limit17 hours16 hours
Water points18 ?24
EnvironmentEnglish countrysideSeafront (Promenade des Anglais) - may be hot

Overall, the website of the Nice Ironman is much better than the UK one. I know it may not mean anything about the actual race, but it gives a bad impression...

Ultra choice to make.
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