EdApp performance team athlete Chris Wallace shares his experience from the Ironman 70.3 Championships in Nice, France.
Arriving in Nice, I still wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to line up for the race. I’d broken my clavicle (collarbone) in a cycling accident 9 weeks earlier and had surgery to insert a plate. Although one surgeon – also a triathlete – had said I should be okay to race, I’d avoided swimming and hadn’t cycled outdoors since the accident. However, I tried to remain positive and optimistic, and intent on enjoying my time in France regardless, with the race just providing a potential bonus!
On Friday morning, I set off for my first swim on the course. The French Riviera was stunning with crystal clear and warm water. I’d opted to bring my wetsuit as it was not yet certain whether it would be wetsuit-legal with the water temperature wavering above and below the 24 degrees threshold. After what seemed like an eternity of embarrassment while I tried to get my wetsuit on without aggravating my collarbone, I awkwardly flopped into the water and was pleasantly surprised to find that swimming, while not what I would call comfortable, felt bearable enough. I was confident enough to cover 1.9k on the Sunday. Race check 1 complete.
That afternoon, I set off for a drive to check out the Nice bike course. The course effectively entailed 35km of climbing, followed by 35km of descending, bookended at each end by a 10km flat TT along the Promenade des Anglais. The centrepiece of the course was the famous Col de Vence, a 10km climb averaging at about 7%. My key concern was less the climbing which indoor training had prepared me for, but rather the fast and technical descent following the climb which included many dangerous hairpins, turns and speed bumps. I therefore hoped to get out at the top and practise the descent. Unfortunately Mother Nature intervened with a barrage of hail, rain and thunder, and I decided that riding in such terrible conditions would more likely rob me of any confidence. We therefore drove back down the mountain and I made a note of where the tricky points on race day were likely to be.
Fortunately the weather improved on the Saturday, and I could set off for my first outdoor ride in 9 weeks. While the bike course was closed for the women’s race, I rode along the coast to Monaco. I’d covered over 2,000km on the indoor trainer post operation, but this didn’t help with the first few nervous and cautious kilometres, as every speed bump, or sharp turn or pot hole filled me with trepidation. However, as the ride went on I began to feel more relaxed and looser on the bike. Thankfully the shoulder felt pretty comfortable even in the TT position. The stunning scenery along the coast definitely helped to take my mind off it! Arriving back in Nice just in time for the finish of the women’s pro race, it was great to soak in the race atmosphere, finally confident that I could take the start line on Sunday!
Lining up at the start line, I was far more relaxed than usual. No longer was I focussed on time, position, or performance or potential time losses, penalties or mechanicals. I had two objectives: 1) complete the race safely, minimising all risks where possible; and 2) enjoy the race and the spectacular location, grateful to be even racing 9 weeks post-surgery.
It was announced just prior to the race that the swim was to be non-wetsuit. For once I was pleased to swim without it to reduce strain on the shoulder. With each age group going in rolling starts, I made sure to avoid the washing machine and melee of thrashing legs and arms, placing myself at the very back of the pack. In truth, I couldn’t really comment on what conditions were like. I was so focussed on not getting kicked that I didn’t notice anything else. I swam fairly wide to avoid the packs of swimmers, happy to trade the extra distance for safety. Towards the end of the swim, the fatigue started to settle in and I really felt the lack of swim conditioning. Emerging from the water after 38 minutes, I was grateful to have made it round without incident even if it was one of my slowest swims for years!
Coming out of T1, I really had to reel in my usual gung-ho mentality and try to be sensible. I therefore kept it steady and safe on the first 10k TT along the promenade, waiting until the climb to start working my way through the field.
I knew from the metrics of my indoor cycling training that my bike fitness was there, and so my intention was to make this count on the climb where it was safe. As soon as the road started rising I found myself passing rider after rider. The ascent was breathtaking with incredible views of the French Riviera, but was very exposed to the sun, so I made sure to maintain a controlled effort and heart rate.
As I crested the highest point of the course at 46km, I knew I was going to start going backwards due to nervousness from lack of riding and the crash. The descent was steep, technical and fast. The speed at which some athletes passed me was incredible, and it was a challenge to my ego, not to try and follow them. However, as I came out wide on one of the sharp turns early on the descent, one rider cut right in front of me at great speed and would have collided with me had it not been for me braking hard. I was shaken and angry at the rider for taking such a dangerous pass, particularly when it was clear neither of us would be competing for the podium. After that, I found my nerves really got the better of me. I reminded myself of my main objectives, riding very cautiously to minimise risks. I was relieved to come to the end of the descent without any further incident as I began the TT back to T2. However, even then I found I wasn’t safe from reckless riders, as another athlete again cut in front of me on the narrow Promenade des Anglais cycle path. As my front wheel touched his back wheel and briefly wobbled me, my heart was in my mouth as I was taken back to the crash 9 weeks ago. I’m not sure if my “French” tirade against him was lost in translation, but I’m sure he would have gotten the gist of my feelings. Coming into T2 after 3hrs 3 minutes, I was satisfied with my time but more so I was delighted to have escaped any collisions in the swim and bike, and I was excited to see what I could do on the run!
As I slipped on my runners and visor in T2, I really didn’t know what to expect on the run. With only three weeks of minimal run training before the race, I could only hope that the bike fitness carried over. I set off at an ambitious pace to see how my body would react, before adjusting after a few kilometres to a pace that felt sustainable. The sun was beating down on the first lap of the run course along the Promenade des Anglais and I became acutely aware of my under-hydrating and fuelling on the second half of the bike – a result of having my hands gripped on the brakes for most of it! I then had to get as much water and flat coke into me as possible to set me up for the second lap. Thankfully it worked, and I felt my spirits and energy levels pick up as I started the second lap. As I hit the 11 mile mark, I decided to give it everything and picked up the pace.
I crossed the line with a run time of 1:23:21, and an overall time of 5:15:10, and was both utterly spent and delighted to have made it to the finish line, something that hadn’t seem remotely possible 9 weeks previously. It had been an epic day racing on a spectacular and challenging course, and one filled with a whole gamut of emotions!
Reflecting back on Nice and the build up to it, I’m convinced that those challenging months will help make me stronger and more resilient as I approach my next races. Funnily enough, a race that was meant to act as a season finale, now seems more like a perfect way to kick off the next season, one which will hopefully be healthier, fitter and more balanced. After a few weeks of kicking back and enjoying some R&R in the south of France and catching up festivities with family and friends in the UK, I’m now looking forward to building up to the first race of the Australian season at Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney. The big hope is that I’ll be able to nab a qualification spot for next year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships much closer to home in Taupo, New Zealand. However, with a very competitive field, it’s going to require a lot of hard work over the next 10 weeks!