This is a condensed version of the notes I took while in France/Italy. Consider it the Cliffs-Notes version.... all the important stuff.
Arrived at the start about 1-1/2 hours prior to 'go' time. Had plenty of time to prep my bike, chat with other competitors, hydrate, wait in line for bathrooms, etc. With about 15 minutes to spare, I slipped on my wetsuit and handed in my SWIM bag. The beach wasn't nearly as crowded as I thought it would be and I wasn't nearly as intimidated as I imagined I'd be. This particular beach in the south of France was rocky! They were of the rounded-off, skipping stone type, but rocky nonetheless. It was a little tricky getting good footing. I stepped off to the side where the 1:20+ signs were (i.e. slow swimmer territory) and found Susanna. We stood together in anticipation of the start, which came pretty quick. I believe it was an air horn of sorts that signaled us to begin. 6:30AM on the nose, ambient temp about 70°F, water temp about 68°F. Wetsuits allowed and used by most.
Took my time getting into the water as I wasn't in any hurry to get passed by others that may have been sandbagging it in the back. The water got deep pretty quickly and I was once again enamored by the clearness of the Meditteranean (We'd already done a practice swim on Friday). I'd have taken more time to take in what I was setting out to do, except that I was in the process of being kicked and bumped and fingered, etc. The start was very rough and I was in the vicinity of a guy that was apparently going to breast stroke the whole thing and a guy that would literally stop swimming every 5-6 strokes to look up to see where he was headed. He was a comprable swimmer to me, but was all over the place. Once I saw him look up to re-direct his path and then swim directly into a string of buyos about 5 second later. I think I did a pretty good job sighting and swimming in a relatively straight line. The first lap went well and as I exited the water I realized that the lead swimmers were also exiting with me, except that they were done with their SECOND lap!! I had been lapped, but it was cool. The Australian exit didn't phase me a bit. I jumped right back in the water and was back in a good rhythm in no time. For some reason I had some French phrase stuck in my head and couldn't get it out. I can't remember it for the life of me now, but it was driving me nuts at the time. I made the final turn towards the beach and started to see a few kayaks pull up near me to help guide me in. I knew I was going to be one of the last out of the water, but them taking the time to guide me in made me feel important and I was able to exit the water in fantastic spirits. Plus, a large number of spectators were still hanging around cheering on the stragglers! I jogged easily up the ramp onto the street above where the BIKE bags and changing tent were. I spotted Teresa and Annie and was exstatic to be done with the swim. Never in my life would I have imagined swimming 2.4 miles. What an accomplishment in itself, nevermind the 138.2 miles still to come. P.S. Ocean swimming is awesome! There were pockets of "cold" water that were very refreshing and the water is so clear. At times you could see schools of fish swimming below. I just hoped they weren't swimming away from a shark!
Headed into the transition tent and peeled off my wetsuit as quickly as possible. I was wearing some spandex swim shorts underneath my wetsuit and had considered slipping my tri-shorts over top of them but decided against it because they were a little wet and it was going to be very hot on the bike... So, I did what all true triathletes do and got NAKED in front of about a dozen people, most volunteers and some, women. Nothing like a little exhibitionism at 8AM. Once dressed, cycling shoes (w/ socks), tri-shorts, tri-top (sleeveless), gloves, sunglasses and helmet, I jogged down to my bike, which was about 100 or so meters down from the changing tent. Grabbed a PB and honey sandwich that I had placed on my handlebars earlier and was off. Since I was pretty much alone at this point, the race MC was able to announce my name as I went through to the mounting area. Go me!! Once again, I was made to feel like a rock star by the IM France folks!
The first thing I remember about the bike is seeing a few race photographers snapping away as I left the mouting area. I was glad they hung around long enough to catch me in action on the bike. The second thing I remember is how sore my legs were. This really scared me! After all, if my legs felt this sore less than one mile into the bike, how in the heck would they make it through another 111 miles (not to mention the marathon). I did what I read so much about and ate part of a peanut butter and honey sandwich I had stashed in my aerobars. I also drank some Powerade and water to help wash it down. My legs started to come to life around mile 5, shortly before the course turned north away from the coastline. Race organizers had warned us of a 500 meter hill at the 20K mark (about mile 12), which was 10% grade. I saw the 20 km sign but wasn't thinking about the hill until a few race volunteers steered me in its direction. Of all the hills on the course, this was the most gruelling. I dropped into the easiest gear, stood up and gave it hell. I could hear my bike squeaking below me and prayed that I had adequately tightened everything. I breathed a sigh of relief at the top and continued on. Within the first hour I was beginning to pass quite a few people. The serious climbing began about 2 hours in. I remember passing Susanna mid-climb and her asking me if this was the 12-mile hill. I didn't know at the time but when the hill seemed never to stop, I had to assume it was. It's hard to put into words what it was like to climb for such a long period of time. I would look up to a section of hills in the distance and think to myself, there's no way there's even a road on that hill. But sure enough there was. The scenery was unimagineable, which really helped keep my mind from turning on me. A lot of the climbing was back and forth on switchbacks. At times I would look down at the cyclists way below and was thankful I didn't look up back when I was where they were. I knew the climbing would be over around mile 75 or 80 so I was relieved when I saw the 110 km sign. At one point near the end of the climbing, I read a sign near a house that said 1064 m above sea level!! I couldn't believe I was nearly 3/4-mile above where I started. The remaining 30 miles or so were sure to be super fast. When the climbing stopped and the downhills finally started, it seemed like a separate race/course all together. I must have hit speeds ranging from 35-40 mph, which was scary at times with all the hairpin turns on the switchbacks. I had read up on the best way to approach a turn, etc. and managed to do pretty well in this regard. Still, negotiating a 180° turn at a high speed was no easy task. During the downhill return I did a fair amount of coasting in order to rest my legs. I stopped at the aid stations for 1/2 bananas, powerbars, gels, Gatorade, etc. I didn't want to eat too close to the end of the bike in fear of getting sick or cramping on the run. As much as I was trying to enjoy the final miles of the bike, my mind was already looking towards the run. The last three miles was along the same stretch of road as the run course. I finally felt at home! My people! The wind was strong coming in but not too bad. I was about 11 minutes from being done with the bike and was feeling great. I didn't know how my legs would feel after dismounting but I guessed they'd be fine since I had dismounted once or twice at the aid stations. My adrenaline was off the charts at this point. I couldn't wait to start the run. I knew I had another 4-5 hours left but there was nothing I'd rather be doing at that point. I've proven my strength as a runner but had no idea how I'd fare after 1:36 in the water and 7:11 on the bike.
The dismount went fine. I didn't fall over and my legs held steady beneath me as a volunteer kindly took my bike from me to put in the racks (merci!!). For some reason I kept my shoes on while making my down to where the RUN bags were hanging about 100 meters away. It's hard to run in them given the giant cleat centered in the middle of the sole so rather than slipping them off, which may have been easiest, I decided to walk down. I grabbed my bag, slipped my running shoes on and scanned the tent to see what others were doing. There was a table of water, bananas, etc. so I grabbed some water and 1/2-banana. I also saw a table full of sunscreen and remember feeling how flaky my skin felt when applying it. It was either sweat from my trek on the bike or remnants from the saltwater (or both). Either way, it was an odd feeling! I had made up a lot of ground on the bike and was ready to do what I do best, run!!
In my experience, which is very limited, it seems the only thing better than being a triathlete with a triathlete's mentality is being a triathlete with a runner's mentailty. I truly enjoyed setting out on foot for 26.2 miles! The rest I enjoyed late on the bike was just what my body needed. Once out of the test, I began scanning the crowd for Teresa because she was holding the Orca hat I bought at the race expo. I was so intensely focused at this point that I didn't stop for too long once I spotted her. I grabbed the hat, smiled, got a good luck kiss and was on my way. The first quarter mile or so was somewhat narrow with lots of spectators and volunteers. I was running on the Premenade de Anglais, which lent itself nicely to the crowds with a grassy divider on the right and a boardwalk on the left (heading east). Just beyond the boardwalk was the beach and the ocean, which offered up gorgeous scenery throughout. My goal for the run was pretty simple... run from aid station to aid station, re-assessing my condition at each stop. On my way to aid station #1, the lead female passed me but it wasn't a swift pass. I was surprised at my pace relative to hers. Her final marathon time was 3:15, which averages out to about 7:26/mile. I was probably running 7:45's at that point. Making it to the first aid station was pretty cool. I knew I had a long way to go (approximately 25 miles), but I really felt "into" the race at this point.