I should probably begin by going back to my other post where I touched on my (somewhat) purposeful lack of preparation for certain things about this trip. In that post, the philosophy of winging it was great. Mostly due to a local homestay (thanks again Helle!!) and the fact that pretty much everyone spoke at least some English (willingly so!), the philosophy of just figuring some things out as I went, worked out quite well.
In France, it turns out, this was much more difficult. Having spent no other time in France, I can’t speak for the entire country, but in Vichy, there is very little English spoken. And when it is used, it’s probably not in an effort to help an American traveler. That made being an American in Vichy very difficult at times!
The extent of my French includes: Hello, Goodbye, please, Do you speak English, and a few other tidbits I have picked up in life, most likely due to the fact I have the entire soundtrack of Les Miserables memorized, and, I used to act out Beauty and the Beast a lot with my sister when we were young.
So, needless to say, if someone wasn’t able – and willing – to speak English with me, we got nowhere quite quickly. Lucky for me I did have some help. Lucy had offered to take me in for the week and be my travel buddy which was much appreciated. Lucy had a much better background in French….and, had the sense to bring a pocket travel book to translate a few things! Both of these were very helpful. Still – the fact that I was able to fly into a tiny little airport, rent a car (manual!), drive to Vichy (with tolls!) successfully confirms my belief that I’d be the most money Amazing Race partner in the history of the world.
We had a great little apartment right along the river, also on the run course. The town itself is known for being a relaxing place – spas, the river activities, etc. So, it was nice to have this as the second race where I didn’t feel the urge to go out exploring a huge city. I could just hunker down and focus on eating, recovery, and watching BBC news (our only English channel!).
The other difference with this race was that I had 3 other American guys racing as well. Steve, Chris, and AJ who I met out there were familiar faces at the pro briefing and we quickly bonded to get through some of the pre-race logistics. While Steve and I both live in Charlottesville, so we knew each other, it’s always fun to me how quickly you can bond with some of the other pros. There’s just something about the shared experiences that brings you together. Everyone has their story of language mishaps. Losing a bike in luggage. A funny homestay. Immediately it seems, it’s like old friends getting together. I think beyond the spoken stories – the unspoken understanding of what you’re all going through, is what carries the bond. The understanding that this person has also traveled just about every mode of transportation possible to get to this city. They’ve figured out a way to swim and cycle in every town along the way. They’ve slept in a bed that’s not their own for weeks. They travel alone because, well, when it’s this glamorous for one, how can you possibly bring along your significant other? And the understanding that we do it all for the chance that maybe, just maybe, Sunday will be our day.
Whatever it is, it’s pretty cool. And I was super grateful to have others out there to chat with (in English, whew) and just be able to relax around.
One of my favorite elements of Vichy was the swimming pool we had access too – a 50 meter outdoor pool that was up on top of a hill overlooking the city. Seriously insane. Apparently Michael Phelps has been there, yada yada. With the aluminium bottom I was able to tan not only my back while I swam, but also I swear it tanned my front in the reflection. Two birds – one stone. Amazing. I was swimming quite a bit in the week as that was my main way to get true aerobic sets in as I tried to recover from Copenhagen.
Lucy and I did get in a couple spins to preview the course a bit which was great. AND Cadence Running Company friends, Jacqueline and Gordon, helped me out by driving me around the course. The course is very French! Technical stuff through these little villages, riding through sunflower fields (unfortunately sunflowers a bit past their prime), it was exactly what you’d want riding in France to be like. Well, unless you would prefer the French mountains, in which case you’d get none of that on this course
Race day came and water temperature was, naturally, .2 degrees below the cutoff, which, by the French rules is a bit higher than the rules in other Ironmans at 24 degrees C. Despite heating up quite a bit, I felt good in the water and was swimming with a couple other women through the first loop. We did an “Australian Exit” (Do the aussies do this often?) by exiting the water and then diving (!!!) off the dock back in for loop 2. My dive was beautiful. Just saying.
Onto the bike and it was actually quite crowded from the start with age groupers. After the first 10k I was settled in at 5th place, and was feeling pretty good. I made the pass into 4th just prior to the end of the first loop, and rode the high of that for…..about 5 miles. And then the legs started to work…..10 more miles. More Work. Little by little it became WOrk. Then WORk. And then, the last 25 miles were solid WORK. But, despite feeling like I was headed way south, I knew things were still okay (still reeling in plenty of AG men who blew up! ) so I just kept pushing on. I will say, I was pretty grateful to be on the Dimond. The roads weren’t terrible but they certainly weren’t smooth like butter and I’m always happy to be riding a beam bike in those conditions!
I knew going into this project that this run was going to be what could make or break it all. I learned a few things during these next 26.2 miles:
-The French don’t like ice. That makes running a marathon in 95 degree F heat quite a bit more difficult than it needs to be.
-The French don’t like littering. Perhaps this is my “American”ness, coming out, but typically I am under the impression that the aid station rules are that it’s not littering as long as your cup is dropped within the bounds of the station. You make a best attempt at throwing it in (or at least towards!) the trash can, but as long as you do that: golden. Well, imagine my surprise when a referee stepped out in front of me as I’m running out of the water stop, shook her finger at me and held up a pencil to a pad of paper as if to say “I’m writing down your number for a penalty you litterbug.”
So, I ran back, picked the cup up (among probably 10 others on the ground, I should mention), and threw it out. Ok? I asked? She kind of nodded. Jeez.
Jacqueline and Gordon were also out on the run course giving me a few updates. This was super helpful in keeping me motivated as I heard that things were changing ahead of me. While the women ahead had a decent gap – you just never know.
You just never know. And that thought is what I hung on to for about 16 miles of that run, some of the most painful (albeit definitely not the slowest) miles I’ve run in a marathon. That thought is what got me to the finish line with another sub-10 and a 4th place finish. I was absolutely thrilled!
It was farily surreal – I’m not sure what I expected to feel after finishing the double. The nerves and the buildup to these 2 weeks was by far more stressful than one race, and I think that the relief of not just one good race – but 2 – really did just feel THAT much better. I made myself believe for quite some time that I could do this and I could do it well. But……you just never know. Until you do know. And then, it feels. So. Good.
I can’t thank Hillary enough for her patience with me over the last, oh, 4.5 years to get me ready to do this one It’s been a LONG time in the making. It was definitely a special thing to be able to carry the torch and continue the foundation for the double that she has done so well!!