Alpe d’Huez village is located high in the Oisan Alpes at 1869 metres above sea level. It is spectacular. I was lucky (or some might say unlucky) enough to be racing up it in one of the toughest triathlons in the world – the Alpe d’Huez long distance triathlon.
943 athletes from around the world began this epic day of racing with a chilly 2.2km swim in a damned lake in the valley near Bourg d’Oisans. The 115 kilometre bike course roller coastered over three mountain passes and culminated in the infamous, Tour de France 21 switch back ascent up Alpe d’Huez. And if that wasn’t enough to test both your mental and physical agility; the final 21 km run leg, at altitude and over rolling, rough terrain surely was?
The race for me was fantastic; fantastically tough that is. First, we had to make our 40 minute or so descent from our apartment in Alpe d’Huez to the race start. I was tagging along with the Team TBB crew so the doc kindly couriered our bags down for us. Once by the damn, we set up our bikes in T1 and threw our run bag in a lorry for it to be taken back up to Alpe d’Huez where T2 was located. There were a few nerves as bar the long distance mountain bike stage racing I’d done, this was to be the longest race of my life. Bek Keat from TBB didn’t calm my nerves either, exclaiming “this is the hardest triathlon in the world” – she’s done more IM’s than I can bare thinking about and is one of most formidable athletes in the sport. Gulp! But after a few jokes and pictures taken by our in-house photographer, Tamsin Lewis, the nerves settled and we made our way to the swim start line.
Despite being a long day, I approached it the only way I knew how – hard. I sprinted from the gun and once in a good position eased back just a fraction to find my breath and some fast feet to follow. I exited the water feeling relatively fresh (thankfully all my hard work in the pool this year is beginning to pay off) and ready to tackle the bike. Time passed quickly as I attacked both the climbs and descents, drawing energy from the breath taking views. Picking up speed in the straights and leaning the bike tight around the hair pin bends was exhilarating. I flew passed others who appeared to almost be going backwards. I guess I’m lucky as I had such a good grounding when I first started triathlon having been taught by probably the best triathlon club in the UK; the Birmingham Running and Triathlon Club (“the BRATs”), and no doubt, being a mountain biker helped too.
The bike was long but time passed quickly as the scenery and gradient constantly changed. I felt strong and got the necessary nutrition in during the bike to come into T2 6th pro woman and 9 minutes down on 3rd. But almost as soon as my feet touched the ground, pangs of cramp struck through my body. The run wasn’t pretty and yes, my infamous ‘war face’ was out in all its glory. Every stride was an effort as I pushed my body through the pain to get to the finish. Exhausted, relieved and very proud to finish and place in the top 10 to win the 9th place pro woman prize purse.
I am already excited to go back and race it again next year. With a second year of full time training under my belt, I will truly conquer the mighty Alpe d’Huez!