Ironman Vichy 2018 Race Report

Christine Luo
Sep 1, 2018 · 18 min read

I finished!

Photocredit: FinisherPix

Kidding, there’s more to this post.

Decision to sign up: you can read more about my journey to IM Vichy here!


Darren — boyfriend. LaNae — boyfriend’s sister. Danny — boyfriend’s sister’s fiance. Lynne — LaNae & Danny’s friend from SF. Ollie — Lynne’s fiance. Stephen & Yvonne — boyfriend’s mom & dad.


Prep

I had never prepped for an Ironman, much less prepped for one that was on a different continent. We used BikeFlights to ship our bikes to Vichy and the service was great, no complaints. The logistics took us some time and hair-pulling to figure out, but that’s probably because it was our first time. Bikes arrived speedily and with no damage. Yay!

Not having my bike for a week leading up to leaving was a bit strange, but thankfully I had my road bike so I could still get some miles in. You know how they say “ignorance is bliss”? Well I wish I had ignorance when it came to my road bike. Going from my full Carbon frame, Shimano 105 shifter aero bike back to my full Aluminum frame, Shimano Sora shifters made me realize how entry-level my road bike is.

Packing proved to be its own unique challenge since we were headed to the Amalfi Coast the weekend after for LaNae and Danny’s wedding so in my head I had a mental list of running shoes and high heels, energy gels and make up, swim suit and….different swim suit. It made for a very bizarre suitcase collection.

Travel & Accommodations

Traveling to Vichy was relatively uneventful. We hopped on a plane on Tuesday from Austin to Washington-Dulles and then Dulles to Paris Charles-du-Galle. We had Economy Plus seats, and Darren and I had nobody in the middle seat so we lived in the lap of luxury for our flight. Once we got to Paris Wednesday morning, we had rented a mid-size SUV for the 4 of us (Darren, LaNae, Danny, me) to drive down to Vichy. Now, a mid-size SUV has a very different definition in Europe so our first car didn’t fit our 4 big suitcases so we upgraded to a full-size SUV which is still probably the size of a small SUV in the States. We drove the 4 hours to Vichy battling jet lag and flight fatigue but made it in one piece.

LaNae found us this amazing Homeaway in the middle of Vichy only a mile or so from the expo and starting/finish line. It was a 3-story 5-bedroom house equipped with washer/dryer, yard, and full-sized bathroom. We couldn’t find the other 2 bedrooms for a while which worried us since we wanted to each have our own separate beds, but after some time we uncovered all of them behind closed doors. Darren, LaNae, Danny and I all were able to have our own beds, and Stephen & Yvonne had the last bedroom. It was great to have all of us under the same roof.

Since our body was trying to figure out what time of day it was anyway, we made the quick decision to start waking up at 4am everyday so that race day would be easier. This meant 8pm bedtimes which didn’t coincide well with French restaurant hours which only opened at 7pm for dinner service so we ate in a lot which suited us just fine. After all, that meant lots of shopping at Carrefour!

Checking In and Working Out

We registered on Thursday, the first day that the expo opened. Relatively uneventful outside the fact that it thunderstormed like crazy and we were all hiding in the gear tent. Probably was a great day of sales for them. It thunderstormed for 3 days straight while we were there and we were watching the high on Sunday drop steadily until it only was a high of 60-something with a swim start around 45….not what we had been imagining for a late August in France.

We met up with Lynne and Ollie (or actually more like I met them for the first time) at the registration and decided to drive the bike course together. We got through about 60% of it until we heard the warning that we were out of the gas so it was a mad scramble to Google Maps it over to the nearest gas station. Between our 6 iPhones, we had maybe 3 working phones and 2 of them had service. But crisis averted, we got gas and got to see the beautiful bike course which made us all really excited for the race. We decided it was enough and called it a day, and headed back to the city.

We did a few workouts before the race. Darren and I did a 5K going North on Thursday. Then the 4 of us did a 5K on Friday going South where we discovered a little beach that was open for swimming so we decided to come back the next day and test it out.

Race Day T-1 (Saturday)

Saturday morning we ran the 1.5 miles to the beach and did 300m and ran back. The water was pretty warm, warmer than Barton Springs but we had just seen the 70.3 swim start just then and it was a sea of black arms so we knew our race was gonna be wetsuit legal as well…and none of us brought wetsuits since it hadn’t been a wetsuit legal race for the last 3 years. The best part of the swim practice was when Darren just stood up when he was about 150m from the shore and the water came up to his thigh. We all cracked up laughing. The water is really really shallow, you can still stand up when you’re in the middle of the lake. This gave me some relief knowing that if all else fails in the swim…I can always just stand there.

Saturday mid-day we rode over to the expo to get some time on our bikes and do some last minute tune-ups. This proved to be a good idea as tweaks had to be made, except there weren’t any bike techs at the expo so we had to ride over to a different bike store. Who doesn’t have bike techs at an Ironman event?! We also changed into brand new tires and tubes for the race. Later on in the evening once the 70.3ers had checked out their bikes, we rode over to the expo again to check in our bikes…so many gorgeous bikes there!

Aside from running around all day literally and figuratively, Darren and I also got lunch near the lake at a cafe that was right in the middle of the running path. We cheered on the 70.3 runners while we had some salad with chicken and he tried to calm my nerves about the next day. It was great to see so many triathletes out and it felt great to cheer them on. Allez allez courage!

Time at home was just to prep, get all my swim gear in order, and my streetwear bag packed with all the things I would want after the race. I ate a light dinner around 7pm and bed time was 8pm where I actually fell asleep relatively painlessly. I debated taking melatonin but I never sleep well when I do so decided to forego it and am glad that I did.


Race Day! (Sunday)

I woke up at 4am and took my Synthroid (I don’t have a working thyroid anymore…or actually any thyroid at all). We weren’t planning on leaving until 5:30am so I had plenty of time to prep and eat breakfast. From the 70.3 I learned that I can’t handle a big breakfast or else I feel pretty gross so I had a piece of toast with deli chicken and a piece of toast with peanut butter along with a banana and as much water as I could drink without feeling sick.

We left the house and made the short drive over to the starting line. We parked in absolutely darkness because there were no lights in the makeshift parking fields and then we stepped outside the car…BRR. It was so damn cold, I was not expecting it and chiding myself for not bringing sweatpants.

Once we got inside, I filled up my bike tires, dropped a nuun tablet into my pre-filled (this will become important) water bottle, dropped off sunscreen and my Garmin Forerunner 235 into my run bag, and then made my way into the hall to drop off my streetwear bag. The hall was filled with people putting their wetsuits on, FILLED….and I felt so left out. I had never swum with a wetsuit and the #1 tip is to never try anything new on race day so I decided to swim in my swimsuit and swimskin. But boy, was I self-conscious.

ALSO THEY HAD NO WATER ANYWHERE. This was by far the most confusing and maddening part…there was no water, no place for you to fill up water bottles, and they didn’t tell you this anywhere so people who didn’t pre-fill their water bottles just didn’t have any water for the bike or run start. Huff.

It was nearing 6:50am, the time of the swim-start but I knew that I had plenty of time to get over there since it’s self-seeding rolling start and I am a slow swimmer. Like…a real slow swimmer. So I ate a Salted Caramel GU and made my way over and luckily found Darren, LaNae, and Danny! Danny self-seeded way ahead of us so I couldn’t see him anymore, Darren was in the corral two ahead so I could see him every once in a while and LaNae kept me company until her corral ahead of mine was approaching. I put myself in the >101' which was the last corral but really there should’ve been a >120' which is where I was hoping to end up but DNF at the cut-off which is 2:20.

And then the scariest thing happened, there was a gentleman competing in the corral ahead of us who just collapsed and had a seizure right there :( it was frightening and people gave him room and EMS rushed in while somebody called for an ambulance. It was the last thing LaNae and I wanted to see before we were about to jump in to the water. My heart races just thinking about it again. Our heart rates were already elevated with nerves, but that just made us so much more nervous. But the show goes on I guess…

Swim (2:10:40)

Photocredit: Finisherpix

I seriously thought I was gonna DNF the swim. I breathe every other stroke and I can only really breathe from my left side which was unfortunate because all of the buoys on this swim were on the right. And the sun was coming up right into my eyes. And man…I just don’t like swimming. I did my best to just swim and get my heart rate down the first couple meters, and then focus on keeping my legs up and my arms pushing through water. The first loop felt pretty good, and I swam mostly straight. I was at 35 minutes or so at the first turn buoy and I thought, plenty of time.

I was at 1:02 when I came out for my first loop to jump in again and I was starting to get nervous. I don’t know what it was about the second loop but I couldn’t swim straight to save my life so I kept running in to the small buoys they had every 5 meters or so and I would hear “Bonjour! Bonjour!” in my ear and realized I veered too far. Also my swimcap was coming off so I motioned for a kayak to come over so that I could hook my arm around it while I secured my swimcap back on.

I was at 1:42 when I reached the turn buoy and that’s when I started getting real scared. It took me 40 minutes to swim down the one length of the loop….if it took me exactly 40 minutes to swim back the length, I would actually DNF. I couldn’t DNF….not now. I had come all this way, I knew that if I could just finish the swim, I can do an Ironman. So I put my head down and moved my arms as fast as I could. But honestly? The saving grace was the volunteer who kayaked beside my left side the entire time giving me that line of sight I needed to swim straight and not waste time readjusting. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would’ve finished in time.

I got out of the water at 2:10:42 and breathed the biggest sigh of relief ever. I saw Stephen and Yvonne when I got out and it made me so incredibly happy to see them there and that they had waited for me all this time. It was over, I was the 8th last person out of the water out of a field of 1,289. But that didn’t matter…I didn’t DNF.

T1 (00:11:18)

I was a hot mess in T1. I actually started crying because I was so happy I didn’t DNF. Yup…if you know me, I’m not a crier, but I actually cried. I changed into my bike gear (it’s hard to change with a wet body), completely forgot to take my clif bloks, and made the mistake of wearing a jacket. I thought it was gonna be cold but turns out I was just cold because of the swim.

Bike (6:30:45)

This is what you look like when you wear a jacket on the bike…

Photocredit: Finisherpix

Yea…I’m a puffball and the anti-thesis of aero. I quickly shed that thing at 5KM and felt so much better.

Photocredit: Finisherpix

I was wearing Danny’s old tri watch which was actually Darren’s old tri watch before that so I didn’t really know how to use it so I just rode on feel. I don’t have a power meter on my pedals so I never rode on watts and Danny’s watch didn’t have heart rate so I couldn’t go off of that either. The first 10 miles were a real struggle fest, water was pouring out of my ears and nose, and I was burping up water too. My legs felt weak and I was worried they would feel like that all ride. I made the decision to eat GUs every 45 min instead of every hour like I originally planned which meant I was gonna run out of GUs but knew I could pick up food at aid stations.

Here’s a haiku dedicated to Enervit:

“Oh, Enervit you

are not like Gatorade, but

endure you I must”

Enervit was the energy drink they served at the aid stations every 20KM. I tried to drink two between every aid station so I could get my 300 calories an hour but I couldn’t drink that much orange pretend-Gatorade so I drank about 1.5 per hour. Roughly came out to be 250–270 cal/hr so not bad.

I also joined a new triathlon club! I peed on the bike! It took me 120KM to figure out how to, but I felt good and I didn’t want to stop so I made it work. I’ll leave it at that.

All in all the bike actually felt great, I love my Quintana Roo Kilo (I call her Roo), the aero position didn’t hurt until the last quarter of the race when I had to do constant neck rolls, the downhills were speedy and the hill climbs gave me reprieve out of the aero position. I was thinking I would get out of the saddle and crank up those hills but it’s a 112mi bike course and I have to run a full marathon after that so I did the bare minimum work needed to stay on the bike and get up those damn hills so that I could save my legs. It ended up being a wise decision.

I saw Stephen and Yvonne right at the end of the bike which made me super happy. I dismounted right before the dismount line and unclicked my helmet and walked into the chute only to be stopped and given a yellow card (1 minute penalty). Turns out you can’t unclick your helmet before you rack your bike so after my 1st run loop, I would have to sit in the penalty tent for 1 min.

I thought I was gonna do the bike in 7 hours, Darren told me I could do 6:30. I didn’t know how much time I actually had been on the bike because I started the next stage on the watch when I got out of the water so it included T1 as well but I knew there I was somewhere between more than 6:30 but less than 7…so I was happily surprised to see final time of 6:30!

T2 (00:10:27)

Uneventful. I switched out my bike shorts for compression running shorts, changed socks, put on my running shoes, tried to eat a peanut butter cracker, failed miserably with its dryness, put on some sunscreen/visor/sunglasses and race belt, switched out Danny’s watch for mine, used the porta-potty, and started my run.

Run (4:50:29)

Photocredit: Finisherpix

I don’t even know where to start. I ran…very slowly, about 10:30min miles. I saw Stephen and Yvonne right at the start of the run and gave them a thumbs-up. Now I knew for sure that I could be an Ironman because I had 7.5 hours to finish a marathon and I could walk it and still make it. While I was beginning to run, I did some very labored mental math that 26.2 miles over 4 loops is essentially a 10K every loop (it took me a few tries to get there with my addled brain). A 10K! I can do that. That’s just Mopac to the 35 bridge 4 times, I’ve done that run plenty of times.

I gave myself rules for all 4 loops. For the first two loops, I had to run the entire time, but could walk the aid stations and the parts of steep incline (there were 3). On the third loop, I can walk when my body needs a rest. On the fourth and final loop, I had to run but could walk aid and inclines. And I kept to those rules. I was running steady 11:18 min/mile with there being an aid station every 2KM and I was trying to figure out what the perfect combination of water, sparkling water (it is Europe after all), Enervit, energy gels, oranges, bananas and cantaloupe was. I ignored the cokes and Red Bulls.

I saw Darren on the first loop! Or rather, he passed me with a tap so he slowed down while I caught up to him and I told him about my swim. He was really glad to see me make it out and looking alive. He was already on his third loop which meant he was gonna finish pretty damn soon!

I actually welcomed the 1 minute penalty, it was forced rest in a shaded tent with water. I won’t complain too loudly.

Lynne came up behind me on the start of the third loop and we speedwalked together for a bit. Her old injuries had flared up so she was walking more than she would’ve liked but it was so good to see another familiar face. She had told me that LaNae was somewhere about 20 minutes ahead of us and we were all on our third loops. We walked together for a bit and caught each other up on our race stories, and then I kept running.

1 more loop! And there’s Joelle behind me

On the start of the fourth loop, this French lady who I had been running near for the entire third loop caught up to me and asked if she could run with me. She was getting tired and it was so much easier to pace with somebody so we ran together for like 5 out of the 6.5 miles and I am so incredibly grateful that she did. She pushed me through mile 22 which was a dark dark place, and we didn’t let each other linger in aid stations long, and just said encouraging words to each other. Wherever you are Joelle, thank you so so much!!

I was less than 2 miles out when Joelle and I split up, I realized that I could reach a sub 5 hour marathon if I just ran faster than 10 min/mile for the rest of the course so I just tunnel visioned in on my running. I passed the last aid station and just said “no, no, no, no” to everybody pushing water in my way and just kept running at an 8:55 min/mile pace. I had never been so intensely focused on reaching the finish line with that pace. I saw LaNae on the last bridge with about a mile left and yelled “you can do anything for a mile!”…I probably scared her a bit with how intense I was being.

But the end was in sight, and I was gonna make that sub-5 hour mark, my legs be dammed. Once I started entering the expo grounds, the adrenaline kicked in and when the crowds appeared, I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear and looking like a damn fool in all of my finishing photos.

La Fin (13:53:45)

Photocredit: Finisherpix

It was all a blur. One incredible, magnificent blur. Somewhere in the background I heard him say “Christine, you are an Ironman!” in a French accent but I only had eyes for the finish line. I jumped, threw my fist in the air and yelled “Fuck Yeah!”…and just like that it was done. Darren asked for permission to stand in the finishing area so that he could give me my medal and I’m incredibly grateful that he did. It capped off an amazing moment.

Photocredit: Finisherpix

Post-Race

We hung around for a bit while everybody gathered their belongings and got into warm clothes (still rueing that I didn’t bring sweatpants) and then went to McDonald’s :) well, we biked over to McDonald’s and that was one of the more painful rides but we had to make it before they closed at 11pm. My eyes were bigger than my stomach and I ordered 9 pc Chicken McNuggets and Large Fries and ended up eating 5 pieces of nuggets and maybe a Small Fries worth. And then I fell asleep at the table.

We rode back to our Homeaway and right when we were crossing an intersection the last-finisher fireworks went off and they were spectacular. We paused on our bikes to watch the fireworks with a sense of awe and accomplishment.

I took a shower when I got home and climbed into bed, and feel asleep some time past 1am.

Race Day T+1 (Monday)

I woke up about 5.5 hours later at 6:42am and couldn’t go back to sleep. My body had gotten used to waking up at 4am for a week that 6:42am was positively sleeping in. And then I got sick which apparently is pretty common. My immune system had been suppressed for nearly 14 hours with intense spikes in cortisol so I think hanging out post race without getting dry/warm for those couple of hours did its damage.

I spiked to a fever of 101.3 and also couldn’t keep anything down so I was both hungry and dehydrated. After going out to lunch for Darren’s birthday, I went home and slept on and off from 3pm to the next day’s 8am. He had washed and packed my bike for me so that I could sleep. I felt better the next day but still couldn’t eat and had a mild fever. Thankfully the fever broke on the flight from Lyon to Naples, and my stomach started feeling better the day after. I can earnestly say that I got the full Ironman experience.


Special Thanks

I want to thank my parents even though they don’t know I did an Ironman (they’re not keen on me doing these types of endurance races so I thought I’d save them the heartache of telling them). I learned the value of hard work from them and this was the definition of hard work.

I want to thank my Candex team for being flexible and supportive even if that meant some odd working hours coming in late after a long morning workout or leaving early to go swim when the pool was emptier. Also for keeping the ship running smoothly while I took 2 weeks of PTO for this.

I want to thank LaNae and Danny for being my training partners and enduring my silly newbie questions like that does this part do or does this match my bike? And also for teaching me that my kit had to match my bike or else. They were the best social life I could’ve asked for while I was doing this.

I want to thank all of my friends who totally understood and supported what I was doing even if that meant that I didn’t see them as much. Nobody ever complained when I asked for late dinners so that I could get a workout in, or that I couldn’t attend an event because I had to get up early.

Lastly, I want to thank Darren for being by my side this entire time. From convincing me to sign up for the 70.3 and then reasoning me into signing up for the Full, from pushing me out of bed so that we could go work out to scheduling massages, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. Thank you!

Christine Luo

Written by

Product Manager @ Indeed. Formerly Corporate Development & recovering Investment Banker. Penn Grad. Minnesotan sweating it out in Texas. Lifelong Soccer Player.