Pretty much all of my recent posts have exclusively detailed the journey from Cardiff to Paris by bike with the Cardiff Blues, which means no updates have been posted about events past Monday 7th June! With training hitting its peak at present (end of July), time to write blogs has also been very limited and delayed this process too!
Stepping back in time though to the beginning of June, there was just about enough time to recover at home – including running up the Tumble to watch the Velothon traverse (catching up with friends and colleagues from the Paris cycle), and several business meetings – before it was back to France once again, for the last time this year….probably!!
With B’s Auntie’s wedding taking place on Saturday 20th June (my birthday!!), we planned to stay for the week and do some training with coach, mentor and long-time friend of the family Pierre-Yves who had prepared a gruelling plan for me to follow! We loaded up the car with wetsuits and bicycle, as well as clothes, on the 19th and headed once again for Portsmouth. Nearing the port, I tried to spot the route we had taken by bike and ended up taking a wrong turn! We soon rectified that and headed onto the Brittany Ferries boat and onwards on a lengthy, and somewhat boring, crossing to Le Havre!
We arrived at the wedding venue, near Rouen, on Friday evening, in time for the apéritif and dinner, plus a family catch up that lasted well into the early hours of the morning…. After just a few hours sleep the wedding was underway and knowing a training camp would be starting with my fearsome French coach on the Monday, I avoided the gluten and stuck only to traditional French alcohols! After a little bit of dancing the soirée drew to a close earlier than the Friday evening and we all headed for bed.
On the Sunday, time spent with the family was brief and we were soon on our way again, beginning the long voyage over to La Turballe in Brittany, which would take about five hours in total. The time behind the wheel and the late Friday night though was already beginning to catch up with me as we arrived however, and I was starting to feel tired….even before the training began! Nevertheless before eating we popped out to collect a vintage bike for Pierre-Yves from a friend so he could join me on the next day’s cycle, and also popped in to say hello to his parents, Louis and Andrée who we hadn’t seen for ages!! When we returned we enjoyed a meal prepared by Pierre-Yves’ lovely wife Armance and accompanied by their beautiful daughter, Klervi, before hitting the sack!After a good night’s sleep I was ready for what “Coach Chouteau” had prepared for me first up. Monday morning brought a bike session which included a large loop around the flat salt marshes before interval training on a shorter circuit, up a short hill with “Coach” following in my wheel for the first and last repetitions but timing me in between to ensure I continued to work hard! Returning home for lunch, I was left with the instruction to sleep a little before the afternoon session!
During the afternoon B and I headed out in the car but met Pierre-Yves back at the house before driving to the beach for our first sea swim…. The water was fairly rough and B didn’t fare well, lasting only a few hundred metres before having to get out and walk, although she was still swept off her feet by a strong wave, losing her new swimming goggles! I did a little better and despite a jellyfish to the face (I thought it was a corpse at first…!), I managed over 2.6k before feeling a little seasick and having to stop as well. Certainly this felt like the proverbial “baptism of fire” in sea swimming terms!
On Tuesday, cycling training was to be a lonesome affair and I was given my route and headed out for two laps of a long course from La Turballe to La Roche-Bernard and back, which I unfortunately had to curtail due to an impending meeting with Christophe, a friend of Pierre-Yves and two-time Ironman World Championship participant, at the local swimming pool. I did however manage almost 100km on the bike before swimming, which impeded my technique somewhat and correspondingly I couldn’t swim far!
That said, I did receive some useful advice from the charismatic Christophe – stay lucid, drink and eat plenty, manage your race, rest if you need to, GET THE FINISHER’S MEDAL! I’ll certainly be bearing all of this in mind come September and will definitely be gunning for that medal!
In the evening, marathon man Pierre-Yves took me for a brisk 12km run along the seafront with me blowing hard after the day’s activity and he calmly chatting away like he was out for a leisurely stroll! If running was his domain, cycling was certainly where I had the upper hand and so on Wednesday morning I pushed the pace a little as we headed out together for the first of two large laps around the coastal area. To be fair considering the age of the equipment, the lack of proper cycle shoes and a few less gears on the bike, “Coach” did well to stick with me, even inviting some cyclists we passed to join our train to benefit from my work! He did however have to leave after one lap and I headed off again for another tour, finally racking up over 135km in total. Once back I ate everything B had kindly prepared for me (and more….!) and followed the instruction to sleep again before B and I spent a few hours out in the car where I showed her the route I had taken on the bike and having a short walk around Le Croisic.
B and I headed out for another sea swim that evening, watched closely by the “Coach” who was babysitting Klervi along the beach as we swam in much calmer waters than Monday and completed over 2km in a reasonable time. Fortunately for me, the only jellyfish I met that evening was the dead one washed up on the shoreline…..they really are not my most favourite creatures in the World and sea swimming has become a “necessary evil” to achieve my end goal!
After another of Armance’s lovely meals, we headed to bed, although I slept really badly despite being exhausted from three days of hard work. Perhaps the realisation of the next day’s activity was weighing heavily on my mind as we had agreed to finish the programme with a complete “Half Ironman”, or middle distance triathlon, beginning with yet another sea swim (of 1.9km) at 8am on Thursday morning!
When the time came I was ready and Pierre-Yves joined me for the dip, although he was soon way ahead of me, so much so that when the time came to loop back to the slipway I had to wait for him to look to signal since he was out of earshot (and besides, it really isn’t a good idea to yell loudly when in the sea!). We returned to the car where we had pre-loaded my bike and I set off for a 90km ride, following the same circuit as previously. Returning another 3hours later, the Sun was beating down and I was already hot and sticky as I swapped cycling shoes for trainers and headed out for the half marathon. B agreed to meet me at about half way to provide fluids but somehow we managed to miss each other and although I had kept a good, steady pace, at 18k I began to flag. I did however complete the course, doing the run leg in under 2 hours and the whole “event” in just under 6 hours in total. To be honest I was pretty knackered and was very happy to eat everything B had made….and more!
We spent that evening eating with Louis and Andrée and even despite my enlarged appetite, they still managed to provide more than enough food for us, as they always do! It was lovely to relax in the garden of Coispéan, a place where we had spent many happy holidays years ago, and brought four days of extremely hard training to a more sedate, and much needed climax!
The very next day however, after yet another fitful night’s sleep, we were up and about early, newly drafted training plan in hand (from “Coach Chouteau” of course!) and heading back to Le Havre, then over to Portsmouth, and home for two nights before a day’s work at Paul Turner’s new Junior Rugby Academy in Hatfield.
This busy week in France was a fantastic opportunity to test myself and to improve not only my fitness, but my belief that I can achieve my goal in September. Above all, it was great to get to spend some time with (some of!) the Chouteau’s once again and to properly get to know Armance and Klervi. It was also very pleasing to be able to train with such an inspirational athlete and gentleman as Pierre-Yves himself.