Thursday, 5 September 2013

Challenge Vichy Race Report

If things always turn out the way you expect them to, there really wouldn’t be any point in trying anything new; it’s the surprises which make life interesting… and Challenge Vichy turned out to be so interesting that it had a hat on.

The Atomic Hamster Challenge Vichy Wear the Fox Hat Tour 2013 (the Number and Neighbour of the Beast) rolled into town on the Thursday before race day. Wear the fox hat? Vichy is a pleasant town on the banks of the River Vish*… within minutes of arrival, I’d decided I was going to enjoy the weekend.

The Hotel de Grignan (comfortable enough, but very basic unless you got a free room upgrade, like we didn’t…though Mr A did) was our base for the hostilities; no restaurant, no kettle,  surly staff who put the ‘non’ into ‘Grignan’, but conveniently located for the town and a pleasant 2 mile walk along the Vish from Race HQ.

The excitement started on Friday with registration and the race briefing. We even had a quick dip in the River Vish to acclimatise ourselves to the pleasantly warm water. No sharks, a few ducks, slightly uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back. As long as your navigation wasn’t really poor and you went over the weir or salmon leap (viewing Samedi après-midi, 1400-1800) it was un morceau de wee wee. Registration was really easy, the expo was fine, I even treated myself to a Challenge Vichy cycling top.

Race briefing went ‘blahblahblah no drafting blahblahblah turn left for lap 2 and right for home blahblahblah dangerous crossroads blah prize money.’ There was no mention of a chicane, though this may have been useful information to impart. They invited questions. Someone stood up and said ‘I wasn’t listening to a word you said, but I’d like you all to know I have a coach.’ Willies were about to get waved, so we made our excuses and left. Just in case we too could catch the coach, we resolved to carry a few Euros in change.

We went to the pasta party in the evening; this was a sensible decision as it wasn’t open until 7pm. Lots of tables, but the food was a little disappointing; it seemed to consist of that vegetarian stuff that people serve as an accompaniment to meat. If vegetarians care about animals, why do they steal their food? Things looked up when we found free, real beer. Things looked up even more when we discovered that the rabbit food was merely a starter; there was then a tonne of pasta plus carbonara and Bolognese sauces. Some of both, sir? Don’t mind if I do. More beer, Orangina or both? Brilliant. Apple tart, chocolate sponge and custard for pudding? One plate or two? Damn fine splendid effort.

Another swim followed on Saturday morning as the buoys were back in town; one lap of the two lap course, uphill on the way out, downhill on the way back, miss the weir. Not quick, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Rule 1 applies.

Racking was on Saturday afternoon; after 90 minutes queuing in the sun for IM Nice in 2008, my expectations were low. We were straight up, no bull, walked to our racks by the local English teacher, who then ambled us through the T1 and T2 procedure, mount and dismount line, changing tent et al. It took about 20 minutes. Absolutely perfect; chapeau, Challenge!

We’d decided to call in at the Hippodrome on the way back to the hotel, as athletes got to watch the local trotting races for 3E and it would pass some time. Though the’drome was next to the Vish, we had to trek across the track to get to the actual entrance. When we eventually got there, it turned out to be free, so we watched three races, plus a borzoi race a trotting rig, plus a triathlete race a trotting rig in a weird duathlon. Yes, we did; you really don’t have to make it up. The triathlete was rubbish and all the rigs in Pirate colours were rubbish too. Terrible Marceaux; honestly. It was time to leave…

Apparently it was really dangerous to cross the Hippodrome track in case you got run over by a horse, even if they were half a mile away. Better stand an extra metre from the barrier, just to be sure, monsieur. We got ¾ of the way across then had to retreat due to the appalling risk. We got home just before dark thanks to the gratuite ferry; don’t pay the ferryman? No, sir, not on the Vish. Admittedly, there were upwards of 20 people on a ferry which proclaimed its maximum capacity was 12 passengers, but it was gratuite and we could swim, so it was worth a go.

Up at pet de moineau, shove down food, don kit, head off to the start. Organisation was slick, meet up with Gavo and acquire new friend in Dave669. Give me a P; P. Give me an I; I. Give me an R; ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

Into the Vish, off goes the hooter, start to swim… and have an asthma attack. I know people refer to this as a panic attack, but mine really wasn’t. I’m calm, I enjoy OW swimming, but nothing will move to allow me to suck the air in. Everyone goes past. Eventually, I get a rhythm and spend the rest of the dip overtaking people. I had a lovely dive in at the Australian exit… My time of 1:24:something was embarrassing and I’m already into ‘just enjoy the day’ mode. Rule 4 applies.

I was damn slick* in transition (about 5 min with a long run in) then time for a ride.

I knew the first part of the bike was uphill, so went out nice and easy; a steady stream of half-Challengers and nageurs merdes went past. There was Vivian and Rick; not in my age group, I think they were the young ones; there was Erwin, not wearing a hat, not being interesting; and now Arnie, wasn’t worried about him, knew he’d be back.

The bike course was a two lapper, no real support in the villages; there was the odd construction worker and motorcycle cop, but no other village people. We went through Olhat, which was nice the first time, but the second time it was old hat. We did pass Rue des Prunes; you probably would.

The road surfaces were more English than German, but that was ok. The snag was that the course is largely flat, so if someone turns on the wind machine, you’re at risk of being blown off (and not in a good way.)

For the second half of each lap, someone did turn on the wind machine. Rule 7 applies.

I caught up with Jase, who was magic; we’d natter for a while then he’d shoot off ahead, only to reappear behind me a few miles later; I have no idea when I passed him. Hope you got your finish, mate!

Dave669 had long passed me and disappeared off into the distance, stopping alongside me just long enough to explain that he had a picture of himself in his attic*. He’s 97*, you know…

Towards the end of the bike, ATOM caught me and we played piggyback back towards T2. There was a nice little downhill with about 5k to go, so I dropped onto my aerobars to enjoy the free speed. We were approaching a crossroads so dangerous that there may have been a horse coming, so to slow down any reckless triathletes, the organisers had popped in a cheeky chicane; you’ve all seen ‘em, same principle as they use to stop children running into the road.

I didn’t see it till it was way too late. What follows is so gory that Meatloaf almost sang a song about it. I hit the brakes fairly hard, realised that that wasn’t going to help so prepared to deploy my Joe Newton School of Bunny-Hopping  Remedial Class Kerb Mount. I failed dismally, and the rest as they say, is physics… followed by some pathology.

Ding, bang, ow. Time didn’t slow down, my life didn’t flash before my eyes, not even the good bits. My trusty Gherkin says I was doing 22.9mph, then about 22.9mph less than that. What’s the last thing to pass through a fly’s mind when it hits the windscreen? Its legs. This was a rare exception to Rule 8.

Some spectators appeared concerned. They provided ice, a towel, a cushion and phoned the race doctor. Gavo stopped to see if I was ok.  Top Pirating, sir!

The doc arrived in a car with an attached flashing blue light.

I explained that it wasn’t un club de knitting and that nothing** was broken. He squirted a phial of saline into a cut or two, taped me up with some gauze and allowed me to continue as long as I promised to toddle into the medical tent at the end for a stitch or two. It was a reasonable deal, the helpful spectators had put the chain back on the bike, so off I went. Absolutely nothing hurt.

The last few miles involved crossing a rickety bridge, avoiding the swinging blades, dodging the rolling boulders, jumping bales of hay*and definitely not turning up the entrance to the Hippodrome (eh, ATOM?)

Into transition, caught up with Gavo, changed into running shoes and charged* out onto the run course… and then things started to throb a little. Someone (no names no pack drill, begins with G and ends with ‘avo’) forgot to remove their cycling shorts, so had to stop, but it didn’t take long for him to pass me again as I whinged and whined my way onto lap 1.

At the start of each lap, the course passes through the grandstands adjacent to the finisher’s chute… and there was Squish. I stopped for a kiss; she seemed mildly surprised by my appearance. I explained that I’d had a brief face-ground interface but that all was well.*

A few hundred yards later, in the off-road twiddly bit in the darkest depths of the Parc Omnisports Pierre Coulon, I discovered I wasn’t feeling terribly British, so had a bit of a sit down. Parts of me were a little sore and I’d had enough; I was going to pull out.

Except it was no good pulling out in that god-forsaken spot as I could’ve died and no one would’ve noticed, so I resolved to stiffen my upper lip and walk to aid station 2 before being a sissy. Rule 10 applies throughout.

At aid station 2 was a man dressed as the love child of a Dancing on Ice competitor and Noddy Holder. This was enough to make anyone run, so I tucked my arm across my body and legged it.

Now I couldn’t pull out before Aid Station 3. By the time I got there, I was a bit sore from having to hold my arm in one place; if only there were some sort of handy mechanical device for securing an arm across a body…

… so with a spot of schoolboy French, some bleeding and a Degree in Charades, I got a sling, some coke an orange and a part in the next Bond film*. Onwards to Aid Station 4.

Who’s that behind me? Look it’s 669 Dave! How are you going, mate? Rubbish, but I’m having fun, so what’s happened to you? Fell off my bike…

Along one side of the Vish, fail to catch the gratuite ferry, fail to find the coach that we were promised at the race briefing so obliged to walk, have a chat with Dis, who was supporting at the town bridge, cross the bridge and drop into AS4 on the other side.

Aid Station 4 had an in charge medic and a not-in-charge medic who actually did all the work; her work was, in my case, to repair AS3’s sling with some Micropore tape. AS4 also featured a couple of lovely French ladies who chattered amiably and volubly to me, despite my having no idea what they were saying. I was, however, getting the hang of ‘tombe en velo’…

Tally ho down the other side of the Vish, climb the 20 random stairs. I’m acquiring a bit of a fan club by now; tombe en velo, bon courage, chapeau, nutcase, that sort of thing. My favourite was ‘did you know you’re covered in blood?’ Hadn’t noticed, madam *

Head up, don’t let ‘em see they’ve hurt you, complete the lap, pack in with some degree of pride.

Hang on, you’ve bought the event cycling shirt; you can’t wear it if you don’t complete and it cost 30E, ooh look, here’s AS5, those oranges are nice, wonder if there are any lizards about?

Fantastic, AS6! Ooh, just water, that’s a bit odd, still transition is just over the bridge. Bridge on the river Vish, sir? Tally ho.

AS1 again? Hello!

The bands for laps system at Vichy involves getting one at the beginning of each lap, so I already had a black one; hmm, might as well get the second one. Thank you very much, could you put it on my wrist please, because my hand is stuck in this sling and doesn’t quite work as well as it normally does. Murky buckets!

Ooh look, there’s one of the chaps who scraped me up off the road! He’s fixed my sunglasses and popped down to return them to me! Thank you kindly, sir!

Someone stops in for a walk and a chat; it’s Julie from Absolute Tri and she’s on her last lap; she spots that I’m covered in blood (obvious) and that I’m originally from Birmingham (psychic!) Can she get under 13:30 from here? Easily! Go! Results say 13:15, so it looks like I was right!

Ooh look, here’s AS2 and Noddy again, oranges please, head up, march on.

AS3, NICE SLING! Hello Gavo, you’re going like a train, sir! Bridge, AS4, chapeau, steps, AS5, AS6, bridge, lap 2 complete!

Reasons to be cheerful, band 3. Thank you very much, could you put it on my wrist please, because my hand is stuck in this sling and doesn’t quite work as well as it normally does. Murky buckets!

Yay, Squish is alongside me! I’ve got company. Hello, Noddy, this is my wife. Do I want coke? Got any beer? You have? Cheers!

Darker now. Squish, this is AS3, they made my sling!

Ooh, hi, it’s Magic Jase, sneaking up from behind again! Hi mate, how’s it going? Enjoy your finish.

What’s the time? I have no idea, my Gherkin’s somewhere in my sling. Completing 3 laps then being pulled off (but not in a good way) is a respectable way to bow out. Whaddya mean, we can make it?

Time for Band 4: Thank you very much, could you put it on my wrist please, because my hand is stuck in this sling and doesn’t quite work as well as it normally does. Murky buckets!

This is going to be dark and lonely; me and my darling Squish against the world.

Greeted by AS2 yelling ‘God is alive!’ and doing the down on their knees worshipping thing. We have to sign their shirts; they even have a marker pen for this purpose. I’m sort of enjoying this!

Au revoirs to AS2 and 3; welcomed into AS4 by a chap with a torch. They team us up with Alain, who is doing his first Ironman; he has a headtorch. We natter; he knows London and Reading because he works for EDF; he’s done UTMB but otherwise did 6 bike rides and 5 swims; he can’t do front crawl. I’ve found another proper Pirate!

We pass another competitor on the final bridge (rule 5 applies), then we send Alain down the chute first so I don’t spoil his finish.

Lights, camera, action! My first after dark finish, ATOM gives me the Pirate flag and I milk the applause for all it’s worth!

I get my medal from the second female finisher; ATOM points out that if I’d hurt myself a bit more, I could’ve got the first female finisher. I’m not fit and I’m not fast, but look behind me, I’m not last! A kiss for my brilliant wife and then into the athlete’s village, where the beer is excellent and the pancakes are crepes.

As I’d promised to go and see him, I nipped into the medical area to track down the doc, but was told he’d gone home. I was quite happy to sneak away, but then someone found him and he suggested a trip to l’hopital. I declined gracefully, but he pointed out that he’d done me one favour by letting me finish, so I wasn’t to push my luck and ask for two.

So it came to pass that I got a ride in a French ambulance (feux bleus but no woowoos) accompanied by St Squishy of Nice, reprising her Keg Killer role.

First up was reception, featuring the second comedy question of the day: do you have your passport?
Yes of course I do, I never complete an IM distance triathlon without it*

I could see the problems mounting up before my eyes, but they were actually entirely unconcerned. All my treatment was carried out to the highest standards and there was no man at the door with a bill (it must have been a duck with a hat on.)

I had my best comedy routine on; we soon had eachother in stitches, as I received ‘deux points’ from the Vichy jury. I’ll get one of my colleagues to nip ‘em back out again at work on Monday.

X rays were taken, checked and discovered to show that nothing was broken; dressings were placed on the road rash, drugs were offered and declined, and we left, well equipped with notes, radiographs and letters to British physicians, at 0230 on Monday.

It was a long old day, my slowest ever IM finish and I think I might have joined the Pebble Club for Faster Bike than Run Leg…

… but I actually enjoyed it, in a perverse way. It was very well organised, the town was nice, it’d be a really quick course in perfect weather; in a few years, when the town gets completely behind it and its reputation spreads more widely, it’ll be an absolute classic.

I’d like to thank:
new friend Jase for the company on the bike;
new friend Julie for her company on the run;
new friend and proper Pirate Gavo for stopping when he saw me in a heap;
new friend and proper Pirate Dave669 for his kind offer of a lift back to our hotel after the race; he’d hung around after his 12:37 finish to make sure I was in OK, which is a brilliant thing to do for someone you met for the first time at 0615 that morning… and then I ungratefully went by ambulance;
new friend Alain for his company, headtorch and banter in a foreign language on the last half a lap of the run; a proper Pirate!
old and loyal friends ATOM and Dis for rescuing my bike and kit from transition and returning it to the hotel… then looking after me for the remainder of the trip. We’ve done 2 road trips together and I’ve ended up crocked on both occasions; sorry!
darling wife Squish for covering the last 13 miles with me, despite having done a 1900m swim/56 mile bike/ 6.5 mile run earlier in the day. I was walking sufficiently fast that it made her run; sorry. She’s also having to nurse me back to health for the next few days. I love her.
The organisers, volunteers, medics and staff of Challenge Vichy; it was an excellent race!



*May not strictly be true

** Except my helmet, Monaco, sunglasses, bike shoes


opping HHHHH   HHHHh


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