Life is an ultramarathon

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Monday, September 5 2011

Another thames challenge to follow

David Walliams has started this morning his attempt to swim the length of the Thames in seven days. Apparently colder than expected, he's eventually decided to use a wetsuit. I cannot blame him really...

As they advertise it, "WARNING DO NOT TRY THIS YOURSELF. The tidal Thames is incredibly dangerous and many people have drowned in its waters which have powerful tides and unpredictable currents". So up to Richmond is fine then :) Lewis Gordon Pugh, who has actually done the full length from the source (starting by running) to South-end-on-Sea, said the biggest danger was coming from objects immersed just under the surface. For Charlie Wittmack, it was probably more a bacterial threat, as he became violently ill during his attempt.

Ultra swim

Monday, August 8 2011


If you thought that the UTMB's 166km were a long way to go without sleeping, think again. Diana Nyad is attempting to swim the distance...

Updated 11/08/2011: Unfortunately, she had to stop half way due to shoulder pain, ocean swells and asthma. Well done, nevertheless!

Ultra swim

Sunday, July 25 2010

Ultimate triathlon and Thames water

I've recently come across Charlie Wittmack's challenge, The World Triathlon, which consists in none less than swimming down the whole Thames and cross the English Channel (275 miles / 443km), cycle to China (9,000 miles / 14,500km), before running to the summit of mount Everest (950 miles / 1,500km).

As you can imagine, this is not going to be trivial, but it's interesting to note that the first issue faced by Charlie was to inadvertently drink a sip of the Thames water and consequently falling violently ill! Luckily Charlie is now fine again and should be swimming in London tomorrow.

Ultra ultra triathlon

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.

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.

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

New trisuit

I've just tried my new Zoot TRIfit trisuit in a (bike + run) back to back session this morning. Felt comfortable, although I'm not used to have the tummy compressed whilst running. I didn't dare wearing it on its own and had a T-shirt on top. I suppose I'd have to get use to it...

Zoot Trifit

Ultra sexy suit.

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.

Tuesday, May 22 2007

Back to running, cycling and swimming

All three today :)

Following some weird chest pressure after the 3 Forts Marathon, I've stopped running for 2 weeks. I've started again this morning with a gentle run around Hyde Park under the sun. I'll see how I feel with increasing distances.

A while ago, I've bought a road bike in order to train for long distance training whilst keeping my knees shock-free. I've never used it much, because in London it's a bit of a pain... Lately I found the solution: take the train at the nearest station (West Brompton) to get out of London quickly. On Sunday morning I took the train to Milton, a small village South of Guildford and did a nice 66km ride on small countryside roads near the North Downs. I know some of you will say that for such a short distance, there's no real need to take a bike... Although it's mostly flat, there were many short but steep ascents on the way. Also some of these small lanes have big holes that you'd better avoid while bombing down on a road bike...

After 6 months off, I eventually managed to get motivated enough for a short swim this afternoon.

As I cycled in this morning, I can say I've done a triathlon today...

Ultra gentle restart.

Friday, May 26 2006

Swimming session...

This morning, the Ethos swimming pool was not only quite empty (of people, not water :) ), but for the first time I've seen more girls than blokes: 3 girls but only Theo and me :) . It's good to go with Theo though, because I swim harder, doing more Mommas' style exercices such as 10x 50m start every minute, 100m 4 strokes, etc ...

Ultra useless post.

Thursday, February 2 2006

Swimming at Ethos

This afternoon, I tested the new Imperial College Sport Center - Ethos. I went for a swim and that was actually pretty nice. The 25m & 5-lanes pool is relatively bright and the water very clear. No rubbish music is played and the UV disinfection system doesn't leave you with a too strong chlorine smell (that were the arguments to convice M.). It's globally modern, with a huge mirror in the changing room, individual shower temperature selectors and digital lockers. I've not tested the spa, neither the sauna and the steam room yet.
As I need to do some negative comments too, I'll just point out two things that were missing: kickboards and pull buoys (*) but also girls ;) .
I think that's the best pool I've ever been, and therefore the best free pool too :) . We'll see how all this nice stuff resists to intensive use though.

Ultra new.

(*) Up to now, when Mommas was talking about that, I thought they were "pool boy", which doesn't make much sense, does it ? :)
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