It’s time for my slightly belated Paris Triathlon Race Report! Don’t worry, it doesn’t get too stale even though it’s a week later.
As you’ve likely surmised at this point, I raced the Paris Triathlon. But not just me, but also with one of our friends who was in town from Colorado over the last few weeks (Phil). We treated it as more of a fun race than anything super-serious. Which is probably the best way to treat most races anyway.
Packet Pickup and Re-drop off:
Packet pickup for the race was held at a track next to the Eiffel Tower; the spot itself would ultimately be the finisher’s area on race-day. This made it super-easy for us to go to via bike, so Phil and myself simply jumped on our bikes to head down mid-day on Friday and take care of things upon expo opening.
At this point in the day, it was pretty much empty – so the process didn’t take very long at all.
After that, we’d have theoretically dropped off our running shoes at T2, which is in the long park (Champs de Mars) under the Eiffel Tower itself. But we didn’t bring our shoes since we both wanted to get in a brick workout the day before the race.
At this point you may be wondering why we’d drop off our shoes the day before. The reason is that the course itself was what’s known as a ‘point to point’ course, where you start in one place and end in a totally different spot. In this case, you started about 10-15 miles to the East of the Eiffel Tower in a large park. You swam there before jumping on your bike for a cross-town ride where you ‘overshoot’ the Eiffel Tower and then head west for a while before turning back to the Eiffel Tower.
Once at the Eiffel Tower you’d rack your bike and head off on the run. Hence the need to drop off your shoes in your transition bag the day before the race.
As such, you’d need a bunch of different bags. Very much like how an Ironman race is structured with all the separate bags. Probably a little bit of overkill here, but it’s clean and functional.
We’d come and do the run bag dropoff that Saturday evening. Nice and quick with the ride only being about 10-12 minutes each direction.
From there, we were good to go for the next morning.
We jumped on the RER-C train, which departs about 150 yards from our front door, super convenient. It was then about a 15-20 minute trip out to the starting area.
From there a short 1-2KM ride to the transition area for racking our bikes (T1).
I should probably take a brief diversion to explain the ‘draft-legal’ aspect of the race. In triathlon there’s roughly two types of racing: Draft-legal and non-drafting. Non-drafting is the most common for age group athletes and long distance racing. It’s what you see in Ironman races and 99.99999% of all triathlons you’ll find in the US as a non-professional athlete.
Whereas draft-legal racing is what you see in the Olympics and ITU racing. In this setup you can draft on the bike, effectively working together just like most road cycling races. This drastically changes the importance of the bike leg (as well as both the swim and run segments). While this format is more widely found in Europe than in the US (only a couple races for amateurs in the US), it’s still in the minority of triathlon races overall.
In both draft-legal and non-drafting events, you can always draft on the swim & the run. It’s only the bike that’s different (and yes, drafting on the swim is very advantageous).
Ok, so given that – you are NOT permitted to have long aerobars on your bike in a draft-legal race. Generally speaking the rule is that you can’t have the aerobars extend beyond your handlebars, though in some cases there are no aerobars at all. This is done for safety reasons, primarily because of the close proximity of racers on the bike in packs, and the pokey aspect of the aerobars.
However, I saw numerous folks that didn’t get the memo. And the officials would reject the bikes due to being unsafe. Somehow though, semi-astoundingly, these ‘modifications’ of taped and reversed aerobars seen below were allowed:
Somehow I think that’s probably worse than before. Go figure.
Oh, and there was a Velib in there too! Woot!
Ok, with that, I got my little area all setup. Just nice and clean, since we had to leave the transition area empty upon departure post-swim (nothing on the ground). You’d put everything in your T1 bag and they’d transport it to the start.
Finally, I’ll note that the event had hired a drone to do a bunch of aerial photography. Given it was technically outside the city limits of Paris, that’s permitted (inside the city limits is an arrestable offense). Cool idea, though not cool at how unsafe the operator was. Seriously – you don’t fly 5ft over people’s heads. One, it’s illegal in France (and most other countries with various drone laws). And two, it’s just stupid. It is stuff like this that gives everyone else a bad name.
The full video is here. It appears that none of the low-flying stuff made the cut in that video.
In any event – onwards to the swim!
We walked from transition area to the start of the swim. The swim was held in a long lake (man-made I presume, for rowing). It was a completely straight swim – simple in that you swam straight from one end to the other. Kinda un-screwup-able.
Once there, they had 4-5 large waves, each with I’m guessing 500-800 people in them:
I was in the third wave, which wasn’t so much age groups as different aspects like whether you were in a team or not, and then from there different categories. In short, it was a complete mix of folks – which was fine.
And by ‘mix of folks’, I really mean it:
You had a few minutes to swim out. The smarter folks (like myself and Phil) swam to the complete opposite end of the start line. That’s because that was the same spot as where you’d exit the swim at the other end. So you could either swim that extra 100m off the clock (pre-start), or on the clock (during your race). Given I’m slow at swimming already, I’ll take the minimalist option.
Oh, here’s us waiting to start:
As is always the case with French races – there was virtually no massive countdown. Instead, boom, and off we went!
I don’t have any mid-swim photos this time around. And for the most part, I just swam straight forward. The lake was pretty shallow, so you were often grabbing into various plant stuffs along the bottom. But no big deal.
It was pretty clean swimming in terms of bumping into people. Only the last 300-400 yards or so as I started overtaking various groups in front of us did I have to do a fair bit of dodge and weave.
Now, despite what I’d consider probably my straightest swim line of all time, the Epix thought I was drunk:
Obviously it’s just having some sort of issue there in the swim. Though interestingly the distance was reasonably close – at 1,661y.
My time on the course was 26:58 Certainly not my fastest, but it was also sans-wetsuit due to the 81°F water (thus I’d be slower than any PR’s).
With that, out of the water for the few hundred meter run to the bikes.
The Draft-Legal Bike:
With the swim behind me, it was definitely time to have a bit more fun. My T1 transition time was fairly straightforward. The only notable item was dropping off my T1 transition bag, which I did on the way out. I’d eventually collect this post-race at the finish area.
From there I headed over to the mount line to pop on the bike and head on out:
I was using a bike with three power meters, and for the heck of it, I had collected data from all three (Pioneer, PowerTap P1 pedals, PowerTap G3 hub). Seemed kinda a waste to let that data go into the air uncollected.
Once away from transition area, I immediately set to work finding someone to draft behind. The key here though is to find a balance between drafting (and thus saving energy) and going fast. You don’t want to draft behind someone that’s slower than you’d otherwise be going at race effort.
In general, my rough rule of thumb was about 26MPH (41.8KPH). Meaning, I found that as long as I was holding about 26MPH in a pack, I was going fast enough to be worth it. If that pack slowed down, then I’d jump ahead to a different group.
For the most part, you generally stayed within some ‘circles of athletes’ in that there were a few people that were roughly always within sight of me – sometimes working together.
In my case, almost none of the people that I had ‘joined up’ with were good at working together. That’s when you get into any number of rotational schemes where someone takes a pull on the front (doing the hard work) before getting a rest in the draft towards the back. There was only 1-2 times towards the end of the race that the other athlete/athletes ‘got it’ and worked correctly together.
In most cases, when I’d do a pull and maintain speed, others would fall off (thus defeating the point of me pulling for them). It would have been stupid for me to do a pull and then slow down to let them catch up. Either you hold on on you get dropped.
In the case of Phil, he noted he did find a couple of cases where the packs worked together. He’s a far stronger cyclist than I (CAT3 in the US), but he also got hosed when the seatpost on his bike wasn’t tightened enough, causing it to slide down and requiring a pit-stop to fix.
In any case, here’s what the whole thing looked like from a GoPro on the front of the bike – condensed down to just a few minutes!
As you can see, in most cases when there was nobody ahead of me, I was trying pretty hard to bridge the gap to the next group. As a result, my overall power numbers are much more spikey than you’d see when doing a triathlon in a non-drafting event. In that case you’re aiming for smooth and even power. Whereas here you’re trying to take advantage of any situation you can (by either going faster or slower):
I’d wrap-up the bike with a time of 61mins. I was hoping for a few minutes faster, but the coordination amongst others just wasn’t there. All that said – it really is a blast! By far the most fun I’ve had on a bike ever, race or otherwise. It becomes far more strategic than just holding a given heart rate or power number. You’re constantly thinking, adjusting, reacting. You don’t have time to be bored, or to think about what pain you may or may not be in. You’re simply too focused on your next move.
As for heading into T2, you actually didn’t have a specific bike rack. Instead, they had setup a gigantically long three-line transition area over the course of hundreds of yards next to the Eiffel Tower. You simply ran as far as you could with your bike until the volunteers told you to rack your bike there.
The trick was remembering where it was afterwards. 😉
After leaving my bike behind, I ran over to the massive racks of orange bags to find my T2 run bag. In my case, the only thing it had in it was my running shoes. Others had put in far more items, but I was pretty minimalistic.
From there you had to run to/through the changing tents before you could use any provisions in your bag. So I completed the obligatory run through the changing tent and then randomly found a little rock ‘stool’ to sit on and put my shoes on. As I did so, I somewhat accidentally took the below photo. Turned out pretty good.
Then it was out past everyone else and onto the run course:
The course was all mostly on either city streets, or streets along the river. The first portion of the route circled back in front of the Eiffel Tower:
We’d dip down a bit of a tunnel here with an aide station at the bottom. Because of the much higher temperatures over the weekend, they had upped the number of aide stations.
Next, it was down onto Les Berges, which is a semi-new car-free park area along the river. It used to be a highway but was converted to a multi-mile park two years ago. It’s here I caught up to Phil on the run:
A short bit later I hit the first turnaround point.
The course kinda wandered all over the place along the river, doing a dual out and back type situation:
As I passed back by the Eiffel Tower, I saw The Girl, and Phil’s Wife as well – cheering us on.
Soon I was running halfway across the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, before dropping down onto a small island in the river:
At the other end of the island was the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat appropriate given it was the day after the 4th of July.
After saying hi to Lady Liberty, we headed back to shore and down along the river again. It’s here I realized I was running a wee bit low on camera juice (it had gotten left on during the swim/bike segments). So I held off on more photos till I was closer to the end.
As for my pacing – I was more or less running at a pace that felt sustainable for a 10K. I had done a 38-minute 10K race a few weeks prior on a much hillier course. But those weeks in between had been low-mileage weeks for me, due to travel.
The pace roughly had me in the 6:30-6:40/mile (4:02-4:08/KM range), which would have slid me in just above a 40 minute 10KM run. Seemed doable.
However, shortly after the turnaround I knew the course would not be 10KM. I’ve run along this route more times than I can count, and immediately realized it was going to be some distance short. Which, is sorta inexcusable. There were two turnaround points on the pedestrian only path – either (or both) of those could easily have been extended a few hundred yards to get the correct distance.
My GPS watch measured it at about 5.5 miles (8.85KM), and looking at the track, it looks spot-on. They were short nearly 1KM (so a 9KM race). Again – there’s just no excuse for a 2,000+ person race to be short 1KM, especially in this case when it would have been so trivial to place the turnaround marker further down Les Berges towards Invalides. Sigh (incorrect race distances are a pet peeve of mine).
In any event, after wrapping up along the river it was back up towards the Eiffel Tower to the track to finish. One did a partial loop here:
And then it was straight into the finishing chute! Gotta say – it’s pretty hard to beat this view:
My final run time was 37:12, so a 10KM time probably would have put me in the 40:30 range. Once I realized it was going to be super-short, I lost a bit of motivation to run harder – since the appeal of a sub-40-minute 10K was lost.
For those that are interested, here’s my full multisport file as recorded on the Garmin Epix.
Following my finish, I waited a minute or two for Phil to cross as well:
From there we received our finisher’s shirts, as well as our finisher’s medals. Then it was over to the food tents to survey the goods. Which, were impressive. Everything from chocolate to juice to watermelon and much more:
In fact, later on they’d even be giving out full watermelons to anyone wanting one!
After taking care of free food we headed over to pickup our bikes. We had to wait about 15-20 minutes for it to open, but were at least first to our bikes.
Unfortunately, someone was an asshat and stole Phil’s Garmin Edge 500 in the transition area. Not cool at all. At least he still had some data, as he wore a spare FR920XT I had. But still, not cool. When I mentioned it to the Clever Training folks, they said they’ll hook him up with a replacement Edge 520 though instead once they start shipping soon – so definitely cool of them!
Luckily, nobody stole either my Edge 1000 or Edge 810 I had there:
Upon exiting bike pickup we headed off to refuel properly:
With that – thanks for reading! It was great seeing those readers out there that said ‘Hello!’ – especially mid-race. Always good to see folks!