70.3 World Championships in Nice, France

The 2019 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France was an experience I will never forget. From the pebble beaches of the Mediterranean to the historic villages nestled in the mountains, this venue did not disappoint. It was by far one of the most challenging races I have ever done, but that only made the trip more worthwhile.

For those wanting the short version, here it is: The swim was just barely wetsuit legal, so I wore my sleeveless wetsuit and felt great. The only bad part of the swim was a bit of chop heading back in and the blinding sun. I zig-zagged my way back to shore, swimming a few hundred extra yards according to my watch. Overall my time was not fast, but not my worst. The bike course lived up to the hype with about 5,000 feet of climbing in the first half of the course. I put in a steady, conservative effort and made it up with no issues. At the top, I was most surprised by how sore my arms and shoulders were – never had I used my upper body so much while cycling! The descent was technical and chilly. Knowing how dangerous this part of the ride would be and not having a ton of experience on descents like this one, I played it safe and was just happy to make it back down in one piece. The run was long and painful, but I tried to keep my spirits up, enjoy the views, and keep moving forward. My watch died about 8 miles in, so I was happily surprised that I finished the run just under two hours. Again, certainly not fast, but not terrible for how my legs felt after all that climbing!

All in all, I was proud of myself for completing my first World’s and overcoming several obstacles along the way. It was incredible and inspiring to race alongside so many other amazingly talented athletes and professionals from around the globe. I am already looking forward to my next 70.3 – Mont Tremblant on June 21, 2020, and will try my hardest to qualify for the 2020 World’s in New Zealand!

If you’re up for it, here is the long version with the good, the bad and the ugly:

Two weeks before race day, I woke up with a sore throat. My initial reaction was, “at least this is happening this week and not race week!” I had two weeks to recover and anything I did this week as far a training didn’t matter that much anyway. The congestion immediately set into my chest, and I decided to play it safe and took several days off. During the day I did not feel terrible, but at night the post-nasal drip was so bad I couldn’t sleep. The third day of being sick my throat was so sore I decided to go to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t strep. Fortunately, it wasn’t, but that also meant there wasn’t much I could do. I completely lost my voice for about five days, and even a week later, I still sounded awful. We left on a Saturday, one week until race day, and landed the next day in Nice. My spirits were high, even after a sleepless night of flying and still dealing with a scratchy throat.

To my dismay, these feelings were quickly squashed when my bag was no where to be found. Because the customs line took so long, our bags had already been dispensed before we got to baggage claim… everyone’s, except mine. I went to the baggage services office, handed then my claim tag and they informed me that the bag had indeed made it on the plane and been placed on the carrousel. They filed a claim and said they would try their best to deliver the bag the next day. But if the bag was indeed put on the carrousel, how could it be lost? I could only imagine one thing: my bag was stolen. Of course, my suitcase had EVERYTHING in. All of my race gear except my bike. I had no idea what to do. My Mom tried to get me not to worry, but how could I not? Lesson Learned: TAKE ALL YOUR RACE GEAR ON THE PLANE WITH YOU!

24 hours past, and we still couldn’t find out anything. The WiFi in our apartment hardly worked, and only my Dad had service. We tried to call the baggage claim number, but nobody answered. We tried to call Delta directly, but they were of no help. I bought one change of clothes to get me through and borrowed some things from my sister. We did some touristy things and tried to enjoy the city, but I couldn’t shake the feelings of worry and doubt.

FINALLY, my Dad got through to someone at Delta who was very helpful. As it turns out, my baggage claim number was switched with my husband’s, so my claim was filed on the wrong bag – my bag was not lost! Unfortunately, it was still in New York. Because the claim was filed on the wrong bag, Delta just left my bag in the wrong city. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but I was ecstatic to find out my bag was not stolen. The next day, we were able to pick up my bag from the airport, and all was well! It was a darn good thing we had arrive in Nice a week early. Phew!

With one less thing to stress about, I could relax and enjoy the beautiful city of Nice and prepare for the race of a lifetime. It was so cool to be in a city with so much history and surrounded by top triathletes from around the world. I quickly realized that everything in Nice took a lot longer and was a little more difficult than at home. For example, our apartment had terrible WiFi, no AC, only two keys between 8 people, you weren’t supposed to flush the toilet paper, there was only one towel per person, it took us three loads to figure out how to properly run the washing machine, and there was no dryer. Everything closes in the afternoon, most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7 pm, everyone smokes everywhere, you never know what you are ordering, you should expect the meal to take 2 hours minimum, and free public toilets are just not a thing.

All of this just added to how memorable this adventure was. We walked so much my feet hurt everyday (I think 25,000 steps/day was the minimum), but we got to eat delicious food, drink fabulous wine, and enjoy the beautiful views of the Mediterranean. One day, we even went over to Monte Carlo, Monaco. We walked the harbor, toured the famous casino, saw the changing of the guards at the Palace, and had coffee with the Prince (my dad is convinced he saw him). I enjoyed every minute of exploration and just hanging out with my family.

THE RACE:

The evening before the race, a massive storm blew through. It poured, soaking the bikes and all of the bags that had been checked in earlier. It cooled the air and the water enough that race morning, it was announced the swim would be wetsuit legal. I was fine either way, but happy to put my wetsuit on simply because it was a chilly morning! In the 60’s with a strong breeze, it felt cold after the week of heat and no AC! Race morning, I was tired, but unexpectedly so. It is hard to sleep with the windows open to the noisy streets of Nice, especially on a Friday night! I also was STILL congested after two weeks of being sick – it was the cold that would never end. My rib cage was sore, I assume from coughing, and I couldn’t even take any cold medicine because they are pretty much all band by WADA. But there was nothing I could do about that, so I tried to only focus on what I could control. I needed to keep a positive mindset and focus on enjoying the race, controlling my effort and getting to the finish line safely. I had no time goals; I simply wanted to enjoy the race and have a day I could be proud of.

The Swim: 36:59

Each age group went off in separate waves, but with a rolling start sending off 10 athletes at a time. This was a much better start than a mass start, but the swim was still pretty congested throughout with 2,100 or so females racing. The swim was a clockwise triangle, and the first side was quite pleasant. The water was clear, seemed calm, and it was easy to see. Upon turning the first buoy, I realized that was short lived as the chop was now splashing me in the face with each breath. Around the second buoy, things only got worse. Now the waves were head on, as was the sun. I was blinded and even if I tried to sight, I could only the see next wave hitting my face. This was the longest part, but I put my head down and tried to follow the crowd. As I exited the water, I was a little disappointed in my time. According to my watch, however, my total distance was 2,400 making my swim pace like what I would have expected. I got my bag, tried to dry off a little so I could spray on sunscreen, and continued on to the bike.

The Bike: 3:27:56

The start of the bike was flat but not without its challenges — the lane was narrow, there were lots of bumps, long “no aero” sections, weird turns, and no passing zones. Once I turned away from the beach, it was straight into a chilly head wind. My nose began run, and I knew this would be a problem. About 7K into the bike, we made a sharp turn and the climb began. It was immediately into 10% and 15%, just to burn the quads before the real climb began. The next 6 miles of climbing was not as bad after the initial steep sections. There was a good amount of variation. The first water stop was at mile 12, which seemed more like mile 20. After this, we got some relief with a fast, false flat section with gorgeous views. I had a lot fun through there but knew the real work was still to come. Next, we hit the town of Vence, meaning the famous climb was coming: the Col de Vence. About 6 miles with an average grade of 6.5%. Each kilometer had a sign denoting the total climb of the next kilometer and the average percent grade. It was always either 6 or 7%, but it all felt the same. It was relentless. We climbed above the treeline and were completely exposed to the wind and sun. My runny nose and cough made it hard to breathe. But I pushed on. I kept my legs moving and my effort consistent. When I reached the aid station at the top, I knew the hardest part was over. There were small climbs yet to come, but nothing like what I had just done. There was another false flat next, and I tried to go to aero and realized just how much my arms had been working. My shoulder thrived in pain. The descent started out slow, and it was hard to push the pace because my body was so sore from the climb. After one more short climb, we started the real descent.

This was the part I knew I was going to really bad at, but I only wanted to make it down safely. Though I had my brake pads changed and adjusted before the race, they were still screeching anytime I braked. I didn’t trust them, and I chose to take the corners with caution. For others, that was not the case. Though I had passed more people than passed me on the climb, racers blew my doors off on the decent. I couldn’t believe how fast they were going! Early on, however, coming into a sharp turn, an official was off his motorcycle having everyone slow way down. In the turn, there was a woman on the ground, unresponsive with a neck brace on and an ambulance waiting. This was gut wrenching to see, and I still had 15 miles to descend. Though the descent was easier than the climb, my body still ached the whole time, and it was FREEZING. At the both of the last two water stops, I dropped the first bottles I tried to grab because my hands were so cold. Getting to the bottom was such a relief! The sun warmed my body quickly, and I tried to push the pace a little more towards home. One last unexpected test was a tight U-turn to the right. I literally almost ate it, and would have been so embarrassed! They also had a tight confusing path into transition which was over cobblestones, and apparently several other did crash there. Fortunately for me, I made it safe and sound back to transition, ready to face the 13.1 miles ahead.

The Run: 1:57:39

In most races I think, “If I can just get to the run, the hard part is over and I will feel a lot better.” And then I get to the run and hate every minute of it, realizing how much more fun the swim and the bike were. This time, I was prepared for that. I knew just how hard the run would feel after such a challenging bike, and based on my training (or lack there-of) leading into the race. It’s not that I didn’t train, but about 6 weeks before the race, I started having shin pain. Out of fear of shin splints or a stress fracture, I chose to cut back on the run, and never did some of my key long runs. While I seem to have dodged a bullet with the shin splints, the severe cold and time on my feet race week certainly did not help. I knew the run would be painful, and it was! From the start, everything hurt. I kept thinking I would warm up into it, but it only got more painful. I got of the bike with a bit of a headache, so I tried to drink a lot at the first few stops, then I got an abdominal cramp. I think it was mostly because I am not used to the electrolyte drink they served, Enervit. It also got hot with hardly any shade, so I kept pouring water on myself. I overdid it and soaked my shoes so much they felt 10 pounds heavier. I ran water stop to water stop, and kept thinking, “I’ll run faster at the next one,” but I just kept feeling slower and slower. I tried my hardest to enjoy the atmosphere and the views, but sometimes that is hard when you can see where you have to get to, but it is still 3 miles away! Even when I finally got to mile 12, I couldn’t even make it the last mile without walking at the final water stop. I felt accomplished by what I had done, but it is so hard to not feel disappointed when you know you can do better and when so many other athletes are doing so much better around you.

In the end, I was 181st in my age group out of 246 finishers – not even in the top 50%. While that is nothing to brag about, it is inspiring to see just what is possible and I am driven to train more, push harder and see just what I am capable of. I am proud of what I accomplished on the toughest course I have ever done. I am proud I held it together and pushed through the pain. It wasn’t pretty it, but I am so happy I did it and learned so much from the race. Thank you, Nice for making me stronger! Also, thank you to my loving and supportive family who helped me get to the start line and cheered me on through the race. I love you all and would not have been able to do it without you <3

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Stephanie Sullivan

About Stephanie Sullivan

I am a North Carolina native but lived in Mississippi, Florida and Iowa before moving back to the triangle area in 2017. I started in triathlon in 2011 during my senior year of undergrad at Mississippi State University when I joined the club team. After a few races, I was hooked! By 2012 I had completed my first half-ironman, followed by my first full ironman in 2013. Triathlon opened my eyes to the world I had known little about and sparked my interest in health and exercise science. I went back to school in 2017 for a master’s in exercise physiology at UNC and graduated in May 2019. I am excited to be on the TMS-IOS team for the first time and will doing quite a few local races over the summer. My “A” race will be the 70.3 Ironman World Championships in Nice, France on September 7!