Ironman 70.3 Vichy, France, August 2015 – Race Report by Claire Sutcliffe

ironman70.3vichyclaire470.3 Vichy wasn’t originally on my planned list of events for 2015 but I am very pleased I ended up racing there!

It all started with a puncture at 70.3 Exmoor back in June, which was supposed to be my A race with the plan of qualifying for the 70.3 Worlds in Austria at the end of August.  I was gutted to not get a slot especially as the other coaches – Phil, Chris and Beth all qualified. I didn’t want to miss out.  But my partner Steve came up with an excellent alternative plan. There was room in his car if my son Finley, and I wanted to join him and his support crew in his already planned (camping… oh god not before a race surely???) trip to Vichy in France for the Ironman.  Just to clarify this trip was all booked up before we met each other!  Sounded like a great plan so I set about googling the Ironman Vichy event with the aim of being top supportive partner and also checking out the campsites child friendly pool with slides.  On further investigation I discovered much to my delight that there was actually a 70.3 the day before his Ironman! Perfect! All I had to do now was break it to him gently that his Ironman supporter maybe a little tired on his big race day due to having done a 70.3 the day before!  Luckily he thought this was a great idea and so my race entry was submitted.

So the wacky races road trip to Vichy was born………two kids, four adults, two bikes, masses of camping gear, the BBQ, race kit….you get the picture.  All in two cars! Overload was an understatement.  Ferry’s booked and euros in hand is was then just the matter of a 1500 mile round trip.

On Tuesday the crew set off for Dover – Steve, Katie, Finley, Sian, Kelly and myself. Clear roads in the UK meant an earlier ferry to Calais. Then onwards through France, skirting around Paris before hitting the toll roads though stunning rolling French countryside. Arriving at 7pm it was all hands to the pump to set the tents up. Camping at Beau Rivage, aptly named as it was on the banks of the lovely Allier River in which we were due to race.  The campsite was full to the brim of athletes and families of differing nationalities, all preparing to race.  The atmosphere was fab.

Given the long journey down, the Wednesday and Thursday were devoted to the kids…….plenty of time in the pool and speeding down the water slide. Out came the race bikes for us and then came the hire bikes for everyone else. Riding along the river banks we ventured down to the race venue to check out the Expo and gather our bearings.  The whole of Vichy was alive, a real buzz about the place.  I attempted a run on Wednesday evening in what must have been about 30 degrees.  It was baking hot and the temperature was set to rise further as the week progressed with a forecast of 35/36 degrees on race day!!  Steve and I were both very conscious of keeping the fluid levels up in such temperatures, so we both targeted 3 or 4 bottles of electrolytes a day in the lead up to the race weekend.  It was tough to stay out of the sun whilst entertaining the kids so the best we could do was stay cool in the pool. Having free access to the campsites kayaks was superb.  I took the initiative, donned the wetsuit along with Kelly and Sian and set off for a swim down river.  Safety cover was on hand……….Steve paddling the kayak with the kids and our kit.  All very civilised with a stop at a coffee shop on a man-made mini beach, before a return swim back up to the campsite.  The water was very warm with the temperature bordering on a non-wetsuit race day swim!

Steve and I registered on Thursday evening before the thousands of athletes descended on the Expo. Then it was over to the venue again on Friday to rack my bike. A thorough walk through of transition with the added bonus of having a racking spot right on the red M dot of the huge Ironman logo.

Also in town was my fellow TTT athlete Scott Welsby, who was also racing the 70.3. Along with his Dad Ian, (aka the driver, kit man and lead supporter) we met up on Friday lunchtime down at the “beach”. Great to catch up over a coffee before Scott went for a dip in the river.

Friday night’s pre-race dinner consisted of BBQ chicken and boil in the bag rice followed by an amazing Strawberry flan (I know) that I’d eagerly spotted in the giant hypermarket!  Unfortunately an early night went out of the window as we had particularly noisy neighbours who had clearly been on the red wine for several hours, making the most of alfresco dining outside their caravan.  Anyway I must have gone to sleep as I was woken by the alarm at 5am, ready to force my Alpen down whilst trying not to wake the rest of the camp.  Our support crew aka the “big kids” Kelly and Sian, were left in charge of the “little kids” Katie and Finley, who had been given instructions do whatever Kelly and Sian said……mistake as I later found out post-race ……. somehow Finley ended up stuck in the Aldi shopping trolley park???

So back to the race morning, arriving at the venue with plenty of preparation time. I checked my bike over, pumped the tyres up and added my nutrition (shot blocks / Torq gels / Torq bars). Bike ready it was time to get the wetsuit on and head down to the swim start.

The sun was rising and it really was very atmospheric.  As a strong swimmer I was not afraid to position myself at the front of the wave, sticking as I like, to the left hand side.  It seemed like we were all in the water for an age before the hooter sounded. I managed to get a clean start and quickly found some feet to follow, all going to plan until we hit the turnaround point. There were two sets of big yellow buoys laid out ready for Ironman the next day and there was a bit of confusion as to which buoy to head for as we all rounded the turn. I think I probably lost about 30 secs heading in the wrong direction, as did others, until I discovered my error as the kayak support crews were madly waving at everyone to get over to the left.  It just shows you really need to pay attention to the swim briefing and the layout of the buoys especially when there are two courses marked out.  All went to plan and I came out of the swim 2nd in my age group although I had no idea of this at the time. Transition went smoothly and I was soon out on the bike.ironman70.3vichyclaire3


The route headed out of the town with some quite technical areas, before heading out into French countryside, we made our way through the regions of Allier and Puy-de-dome, on what was a reasonably flat course.


I enjoyed the bike although despite the ever increasing temperature as the sun beat down on me. I was very conscious of the need to keep hydrated, drinking more than usual. So far so good and soon it was back down through the town and eventually back in to transition. A smooth T2 took me out onto the 2 lap run course.  Following the banks of the river the run route looped over a bridge before heading through the river side park and into the town. The support was brilliant, from locals, volunteers, visitors and athletes.  Shouts of “Allez Claire” came from everywhere, it was literally non-stop along the run route, which was gave me a massive boost. Heading out on the run around 11:00 it was getting stupidly hot. Sun visor on, I made sure that I took water on board at every opportunity.  And the hose pipes sprayed over athletes at each aid station were so very welcome.

I caught up with Scott about 10mins into the run as he was on his 2nd lap, struggling with the heat and weaving across the path.  I got him to the next aid station and advised him to take on fluids and cool down, we ran together for a bit but he soon found his run legs / head again and was off!  I think I must have walked through every aid station just trying to get as much water tipped over my head and down my neck as possible on the 2nd lap.  It really made a difference and I continued that strategy for the remainder of the race. I knew I was slowing down to do this but it was the sensible decision as I was worried that if I didn’t I may not make it to the end at all. My support crew were all the course following me, I kept seeing them and hearing shouts of encouragement which was lovely.  Eventually the finish was in ear shot, you can’t help but hear it, the music was pumping and the race commentators were incredible, keeping up the enthusiasm for all the competitors. They made sure every athlete finishing the race had their special moment crossing the finish line. Handed a huge union jack flag I entered the finish arena with a beaming smile on my face.

So race done the first thing I did was take my socks and trainers off. Sitting in the athlete area, there was a huge post-race buffet laid out but I really struggle to eat immediately after an event.  I did however grab a few chocolate brownies and managed to force them down about half an hour later. Finding Steve and the kids I had a rest on the grass, but not for long as it was then time to get the kids over to their IronKids event! Finley heading off on a 300m run / 2km bike / 300m run and Katie on a 400m run /3km bike / 400m run.

The kids ready on hired bikes from the campsite, with bike maintenance obviously not on the campsites priority list, We could of done with Chris Prior to sort them out as both bikes were fit for the skip! Finley was not overly impressed with his stead!

Both Katie and Finley raced and loved it, it was really well organised and all the kids got a medal and drinks. Back to the campsite for proper race recovery which for me meant lying on the lounger by the pool eating salty snacks for a couple of hours! Heaven. I was really tired and everything ached and my body felt like it was just one big bruise so I suspect despite my best efforts I was very dehydrated.

Mine and the kids big race day was now over with and now just the small matter of Steve’s Ironman in the morning!!!  Alarm set for 5am again……

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