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ALPE D’HUEZ

ALPE D’HUEZ long course triathlon

Race report

 

I have to admit, I’m struggling with this one. Writing is rarely a problem but I just can’t find the words to describe the race up Alpe d’Huez last week. It shouldn’t even have happened, I hadn’t planned on going.

WHY?

Question from a friend: WHAT’S YOUR NEXT RACE?

 

 

Thank you, Jane, for giving me the necessary kick up the backside.

 

Tuesday

Packed the car, drove to Alpe d’Huez, booked myself into a slightly dodgy but very friendly hotel / hostel, eventually located the pillows under the bed and decided the broken shower was not my doing.

Tried to pretend I wasn’t going to do a 7-hour race two days later so rode down to Bourg d’Oisans and back up the 21 bends just for the hell of it. Spun up, but turned out it was considerably faster than what I managed during the race.

 

Evening spin up Alpe d’Huez. Does it get any better?

 

Wednesday

Early swim in the morning. Pool full of 50 million other athletes. What am I doing here?

Athlete presentation: loads of super friendly people and familiar faces. Plaster on a smile and try and act pro. What am I doing here?

Clearly still not a pro: emergency trip to the supermarket for nuts, dried banana and marzipan after realising I hadn’t packed any energy bars for the race. Chop everything up into squares and put it into my nutrition pouch. Guess that’ll do the job…

Easy ride up to Col de Sarenne. Such a beautiful place to ride a bike!

 

Afternoon spin up Col de Sarenne. Does it get any better?

 

Panic call home at 7pm. I feel sick. I can’t eat anything. I don’t know if I can do this.

The people around me have run out of patience with my total lack of confidence but not quite with me yet. Still, pull it together Emma.

 

Thank you, Guilhem, for giving me the necessary kick up the backside.

 

Thursday – race day

Two rice cakes and a slice of ham for breakfast. Anything else and I’ll choke. Oh, is that black chocolate?

45-minute ride down to the start, chat with an Instagram-friend in the loo queue, chat with some real-life friends in the bike park, shit in the bushes because loo queue is now too long.

 

SWIM – 2.2km in a lovely lake. Sun just coming over the hills

18-degree water, centre front on the start line. I am going to get absolutely destroyed when the gun goes off… It didn’t happen. I sprinted myself into a really good pack of guys, held my own with the kicks and punches, and stayed there.

 

I look like an elephant. No that is not a sponsored wetsuit.
Photo © Activ’Images

 

BIKE – 120km, 3200m climb. Sun scorching.

The most I’d seen of the bike course was in the race booklet. It did its description and profile justice.

Uphill. Hot. TV camera in my face. Uphill.

Still hot. Still uphill. Still trying to smile and hold my stomach in for the damn camera.

 

No it wasn’t all downhill… Photo © Activ’Images

 

I felt like I was flying until the foot of the Alpe, at which point the proverbial wings disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Monumental blow up on bend 18 – unfortunately it’s a countdown from 21.

I went from “I totally have this under control” to “I have no idea how I am going to get to the top of this mountain” within minutes. It was embarrassing, but my televised zig-zagging across the road certainly made a few friends at home smile, so I’m glad of that at least!

 

Thank you guys, for reminding me to take things with a bit of humour 🙂

 

I don’t know if it was the marzipan, the over-enthusiasm on the first pass, the heat or simply my lack of training; possibly a combination of them all. My lead went from 9 minutes at the bottom to a measly 2 at the top. Good going Emma!

 

Are we there yet? 1km from the top of the climb… finally!
Photo © Activ’Images

 

RUN – 20km, way too much uphill. Sun still scorching.

Autopilot engaged. You can take a year out, yet even when you’re absolutely dying out there, your brain somehow still sends the right messages through. Rack bike, shoes on, grab gels. GO!

I hadn’t recced the run course. Well, I did via the race booklet. I just knew there were 3-laps, an off-road section, and a brute of a hill. Turns out it was a bitch instead.

 

Absolutely gorgeous race setting.
Photo © Activ’Images

 

I apologise to all the friends cheering me on for my negative outpourings as I ran past. I’m fucked, was the most popular. I’m done, was a close second. I can’t do more, may have been sobbed as well. I truly, truly appreciated all your encouragements though, I swear.

I was fucked, but I wasn’t really negative in my head – it was my way of getting rid of any potential dark thoughts and just keep on putting one foot in front of the other. Keep the brain switched off and the motions going.

 

Bad hair day. Pretty good run day.
Photo © Activ’Images

 

It hurt. So much. But the girls behind me weren’t getting much closer. If I could get to the top of the hill with a bit of a gap… just a little gap… all I had to do was bomb down the last 2 kilometres…

Shit, I was going to make it.

 

OMG. I made it.
Photo © Activ’Images

 

This is where the words run out. The emotions that I hadn’t felt in Deauville finally appeared. I tried to stuff them away; crying wouldn’t do. I smiled for photos, congratulated Alex and Carrie who came in barely minutes after me, thanked people I knew and didn’t for their encouragements. Discreetly wiped away a few tears.

I wobbled over to the ice bath and plopped down into it because my legs wouldn’t hold me up, peeling soggy confetti off my shoulders and answering interview questions. It was me and not me at the same time.

 

Congrats girls. And thanks for pushing me.
Photo © Activ’Images

 

Physically speaking, and compared to previous years’ winning times, it wasn’t a particularly impressive performance. I also shouldn’t have been able to get away with misjudging things and weaving up the last hill. Like in Nice two years ago, on paper I didn’t have the training volume or fitness to win a race like Alpe d’Huez. But in the toughest races, the physical aspect is often secondary.

 

 

I kept my head in the game, gave my body a chance, battled it out to the end and didn’t once think of throwing in the towel.

That is what I am proud of, and what I will remember the most from the race.

 

 

Thank you, Alpe d’Huez, for showing me I’ve still got what it takes.

 

 

I went back to the dodgy hotel. Found a shower that worked and admired the new patterns the sun had drawn on my back. Accepted the trophy on the podium, got back in my car and drove the three and a half hours home, thinking of all the people who have supported me on my way back.

I wanted to write all your names down, but I realise that’s probably unnecessary. Social media and blogs can only go so far.

 

Thank you, all, you know who you are.

 

 

XXX
Emma

 

emmabilham.

There is 1 comment on this post
  1. Guilhem
    August 07, 2018, 11:58 am

    What a fantastic report, I would have loved to see a graph of the zigzags during the final uphill on the bike !

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