This past Sunday I raced in a popular sprint triathlon just outside of Paris. It’s officially the Triathlon du Roi (Roi means king in French). But more commonly it’s known as the Versailles Triathlon, which I last competed in back in 2013. It’s held on the side of the Château de Versailles, one of the most famous châteaux in France. It’s a popular tourist destination to escape to for the day if visiting Paris. It’s also one of my favorite places to run to (and there’s even a huge running race that ends there, Paris to Versailles). But enough about that, let’s get on with the day!
The easiest way to get to Versailles from Paris is via train. The RER-C train goes directly there from below my apartment, and then it’s a short 5-minute bike ride once you reach the end station. Given the race for the licensed men didn’t start until 3:30PM (yes, mid-afternoon), I didn’t have to leave town till until around 1PM or so.
Upon arrival I went to find my bib number on the board and then pickup my bib. It was only lightly raining at this point, though you could still see the mess it made.
The whole process only took a minute or two, and was super quick.
I then took everything out of the bag to see what the goods were:
I got myself a swim cap, two race numbers, one sticker race number for my bike, a timing chip, and then a fabric race bag (actually a fairly nice one). Oh, and there was a Clif bar in there. Woot!
From there it was into transition area to get my bike all settled. Though first they’ll inspect your bike (bar plugs, brakes), as well as your race bib (attached at three points).
Then I made my way up the hill to my rack:
It only took a minute or two to get everything all setup. I had tossed some running socks in, mostly because I figured if a bunch of sand/mud was getting into my shoes during the run I’d probably want that in between the socks and the shoes, rather than grinding between the shoes and my feet. And if done properly it only takes a second to put them on.
You can see I had setup a GoPro Hero4 Black on the bike in a case, as well as an Edge 520. I tend to like having a dedicated bike computer, versus switching units or looking at my wrist. But that’s just my personal preference.
After wrapping up there I headed down to the water and got in a short warm-up swim prior to the race start. Just 5-8 minutes worth.
Doesn’t the weather look beautifully inviting?
It’d actually end up raining even harder during the swim portion of the race. So hard I could feel it through the wetsuit while swimming. Kinda crazy. In any case, with my warm-up complete it was time to head out of the water and listen to the pre-race instructions.
That only took 3-5 minutes though, efficiency for ya!
After which it was back into the water, so the 370 or so guys worked their way down across the continually sinking pontoon docks and into the pond. This specific wave was for licensed men. Other waves for women and unlicensed athletes were in the morning.
The pond doesn’t have much circulation to other bodies of water, so like most small ponds the water pretty much tasted like duck and goose crap. But, at least there wasn’t any lightning.
Props to the undoubtedly weary folks standing along the pond ready to watch the start. I’m sure they were just as wet as we were. In fact, we were probably better off than them. At least we weren’t standing in mud. Plus, wetsuits are kinda nice and warm.
I was also using a GoPro Hero4 Silver during the swim/run, within a waterproof case. I simply tuck it into the neck of my wetsuit once the swim starts.
And with no count-down or fanfare (as usual), the starting gun fired and we were off!
It was actually a bit of a rougher swim than normal. I think the muddy water churned up by hundreds of athletes near the start line basically meant that nobody could see anything below water, so you lost some of your ability to avoid and had to rely on above-water sighting for avoidance.
The swim was supposed to be 750m, and my track was pretty clean on the four-point course. I didn’t waste that much time/distance on bad sighting. But given how small the pond was, you could pretty easily just sight off the walls on the side for much of it. The FR735XT recorded 854m, whether or not the swim was measured correctly I don’t know (many aren’t). I’d probably split the difference and guess I swam an extra 50m, though unlikely I swam an extra 100m – it was a pretty easy course to stay on target for.
Once past the first buoy, things were pretty calm and I just kept trucking. I probably should have pushed the pace a bit more on the swim. I’d guess that my swim pace was more appropriate for an Oly or longer. These sprints always throw me for a loop on getting the right swim pacing – I often forget just how short they are.
Speaking of which, before I knew it I was climbing on the sorta-not-really-floating pontoon dock and running up into transition.
It’s there I found my bike waiting for me, with my shoes on it and ready to roll. Given the race starts uphill, I had put the bike into an easier gear ahead of time. Once I got going I’d put my shoes on during the first minute or so of the bike.
I had setup another GoPro on the bike already, configured with the one-tap recording option. So that meant I just pressed a single button and it started recording. I left the first GoPro in my running shoe for when I’d return.
Oh, the total swim time was 14:18, or an average pace of 1:30/100y according to the FR735XT. So definitely need to kick up the pace this upcoming weekend during the Paris triathlon.
The name of the game for the bike was simple: Don’t crash.
Seriously, that was it.
More than a enough ambulances had already been utilized earlier in the day in the other races. The word was pretty clear among discussions at the race – play it a bit cautious.
So it was out of T1 I went. You ran up the hill towards the exit. It was a single long skinny transition area, a few hundred meters long:
Once out of transition, you continued uphill and away from the park.
You’d be riding a few minutes away to an automotive race track where the majority of the bike course was held. Going uphill your speeds were pretty low, so there wasn’t much of a concern of crashing. Though, the multiple sets of wet train tracks and 90° turns attached to them were reason for numerous volunteers to be standing by yelling at competitors to slow down.
After that you were home free in the race track area. The pavement wasn’t perfect though, which would take down plenty of people, such as this athlete to the left.
The ambulances were standing by throughout the course and often attending to folks. I’m guessing some crashes were solo/self-induced, while others were part of pack riding fails.
Given the race was draft-legal, packs are a very real and important part of the bike segment. If you don’t latch onto a pack you’ll end up numerous minutes slower and you’ll have to work a heck of a lot harder for it. Unfortunately I didn’t find much of a pack initially. I overtook a few scattered folks, but none were riding fast enough to be of use to me. Finally, a small group of three others formed with me, and we did a pretty solid job of rotating through. Probably one of the better packs I’ve seen in races here (most of the times, people don’t take their turns).
We came together into a section where volunteers were having folks slow down on a steep/rougher descent, to prevent crashes. It was going back up the equally steep section that I dropped my chain while shifting.
That sucked. As I then lost some 45-55 seconds trying to get enough traction pointing straight up the steep hill to get going again.
And more importantly: I lost my group. Thus I was mostly riding solo the remainder of the bike segment.
Coming down off the hill (race track area) into transition I was pretty cautious. A small group passed me on this section, but it didn’t quite seem worth it on a curved descent in the last few hundred meters in the race to try and pass. The ambulance racing up the hill to the rest of the bike course was a reminder of that.
Not to mention we’d all be stuck behind each other on the massive conga-line into transition. You ran a few hundred meters with your bike, single-file, so basically it was just trotting along with no room to pass. The right side had numerous spectators and super-slick mud, so it was best to stay on the carpet.
While I wish I could have had a faster bike, I’m happy I didn’t end up on the pavement. I really enjoy draft-legal triathlon racing, mostly because it increases the importance of the run (which I’m generally good at). On the flip side, if you don’t find a group, then it severely punishes you.
Just like the bike segment, the name of the game on the run was simple: Stay upright.
The run course was relatively simple: Two loops of the pond we swam in. Except, there was no asphalt path. Instead, what you see above is the run course.
Well, actually, that’s incorrect. The first few hundred meters was a trail-run through the slanted hillside in the woods. It was basically just a giant-slip and slide. Me and another triathlete were making our way through with all sorts of random shouts coming from us as we attempted to keep ourselves on the trail. I don’t have any usable photos there unfortunately.
Side note though: If it’s raining hard out, you should consider leaving your running shoes in transition upside-down. I didn’t think about that, and thus my shoes were full of water by time I got there, like small ponds.
It’s kinda neat though, you can see the impact on the cadence/vertical oscillation/stride length in that first section in the data below.
Once out of the woods it was onto the trail around the pond, like this:
The trick to the run was not falling, or sliding significantly. In some cases running in the deeper grass was the best place to be.
Yet in others, the ground below the puddles was actually firm. So you were best just running straight through the puddles (some of which were surprisingly deep, well over my ankles).
I passed one guy who had taken off his shoes and was just running barefoot while holding them.
You got a slight reprieve from the mud as you crested a small hill. This being the highest section on the course the water ran down into the pond. It’s also where you picked up your first neck ribbon. Kinda like grabbing Mardi Gras beads, except without as much excitement for either party.
The neck ribbon simply acts like a timing mat. It ensures you did the appropriate number of laps. After you’ve got two ribbons, you can finish the race.
It’s funny: This old-school system would have easily prevented the now infamous Canadian triathlete woman from cheating. No lost chip excuses here. The French race officials would have told her to run another lap and HTFU.
The bummer with the mud is that most of your energy was spent trying not to slip and fall. So my average pace was some 6:50/mile (4:18/KM). I think it took me about 2/3rds of the first lap to get the hang of running in the mud.
After my second lap I headed on in and did the short out and back section before working my way down the finishing approach and into to the finish line. The expat tri team was there though, and cheering quite well – despite the downpour.
Afterwards they had Champagne ready in hand. Meanwhile the finishers tent had sausage and other food goodness.
The accumulation of the mud post-race most easily seen on everyone standing around:
Or my legs:
Still, it was fun. In a Muddy Buddy sorta way. Something different to look back on years from now.
Congrats to all others who raced! I’m looking forward to this weekend’s Paris Triathlon race. It’s also draft-legal, but is Olympic distance. And most importantly, there’s no run on the mud! Here’s my race report from last year. With that – thanks for reading!
(For those curious, here’s my Garmin Connect multi-sport file from the FR735XT. As noted, it was connected to the HRM-TRI for heart rate, and to a Quarq RIKEN for power data.)