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Ironman Vichy by Jo Whitaker

I’m not quite sure what propelled me into doing an Ironman. Was I bored of my former role as a triathlon wife and tag along (TWAT) or the fact that my other half was adamant it was a prerequisite to having children? I jest. It was our hen and stag dos. Of course. Lead by Robbie -seasoned Ironman and Kona qualifier, The Whitaker Racing Team was formed. A fantastic way to spend time with family and fulfill a lifelong dream of racing together. Besides, everyone needs to do at least one Ironman right? That way, when I’m in my TWAT role I can wear my finishers tshirt and receive the nod of approval.

So. Why Ironman Vichy? We wanted a nice flat racing course. Somewhere with lovely weather –and hopefully nearby our wedding venue –which was still to be confirmed, but ‘anywhere with turrets’. Ironman Vichy followed by a wedding in a French chateau 3 days later sounded perfect.

Feeling a bit lost with training and wanting to improve on my previous Staffordshire 70.3 time, I enlisted the help of Steve at OffthatCouchFitness -if he could race sub 9 hours, I was certain he could nudge me in the right direction and help me achieve the best result I could. Besides, I needed someone else to blame if I couldn’t walk down the aisle after Ironman. In high heels.

Goals: 1. 1. Finish Ironman 2. 2. Beat Alan 3. 3. Get Married.


Travel and pre-race prep

We set off for France in the Whitaker Racing Team van –with our do it yourself adaptations to Alan’s white van. It took 8 hours to reach Calais followed by another 6 hours to Vichy –a long journey, filled with pre race nerves. To say I felt tense was an understatement. Steve had helped me knock off 50 minutes from my 70.3 time, but this was my first Ironman. I had no idea what to expect.

When we parked at our hotel everyone was staring. They seemed to think we were kind of a big deal -arriving in our homemade team van, a few spare bikes in the back, team t-shirts. I wasn’t going to tell them they weren’t our spare bikes, and we were merely transporting them for the rest of the family who had the intelligence to fly to France rather than endure a 14 hour van journey. In fact, I was quite enjoying pretending to be a big deal. I popped on my Off That Couch Fitness gear and went for a spin –ease my legs, test the bike and acclimatize to the heat. It was 35 degrees! Had not planned for that.

We then drove the race course –it’s not often you see a giant M dot made out of hay!

The day before the race involved a lot of resting, time with family and eating carbs –the latter of which I’m not very used to. Many reassuring words were thrown my way. “Yes, your wedding dress will still fit you after all those baguettes”. Also, the issue of tan lines was crossing my mind. I’m not sure that tri suit tan lines is a good look with a strapless lace wedding dress. This resulted in a panicked phone call to Andy (father in law) to bring surgical gloves incase I needed to fake tan. Yes! Ironman preparation!

Race Day That night I didn’t sleep a wink. Rather than staying quiet and pretending to sleep, I preferred to make it known to Robbie that I was still awake. All night. The alarm went at 4.30am and I hopped up to eat my almond butter and cherry jam bagels. A delight! I could get used to Ironman.

Swim We had found out the day before that the weather conditions were too hot for a wetsuit swim. We therefore had an arduous 2.4 mile swim in our tri suits. I’d been able to cover the distance within 1 hour 15 mins -1 hour 30 mins in training sessions but wasn’t sure what impact the non-wetsuit swim would have on this.

It was a rolling start, with 3 athletes each 4 seconds –another long and ardous process. It took approximately 45 minutes to get everyone in the water. Normally I get quite nervous when I see the water, but this time I was excited. Lake Allier was beautiful and I had done the training. The swim took me longer than anticipated -1 hour 40 mins 52. I found it difficult to navigate the buoys and tried to stick in packs.

Bike The bike course was great. It was absolutely beautiful. I felt like I was gliding through the air, enjoying the scenery and able to push. Either my tapering had done some good or it was a lot easier cycling here than in Lancaster! It was a mainly flat course with some slight hills and great views over the countryside and Auvergne Volcanoes. Had I pushed too hard or had I made a nutrition faux pas? From 60 miles – 90 miles I couldn’t take on any more nutrition. Perhaps Alan was right. I’d over taken him at 50 miles and he had told me to slow down. I was cycling at my target power, so I had carried on. I felt great! Now I felt nauseous and full of high 5 drink. The only fluid I had left on my bike water and I couldn’t stomach any more cliff bars. This second cycle lap wasn’t so great. I felt like I was slowing down. At 90 miles I discovered the benefits of drinking coca cola! Fantastic! I could push again. I made it into transition after 6 hours 17 mins 49.


The run involved 4 loops –over bridges, through parks and through the city centre. You run round the finish line area three times before actually heading down the finish line. As I set off I wondered if I would actually be able to finish this. Robbie said it’d be easy when I got to the run. I’m not sure how correct this is. My calves had been aching over the previous few days, waking with cramps and this felt exacerbated. My run-walk was more a walk-walk-hobble. Anyhow, I had got this far, I wasn’t going to give up –I was supposed to be laughing at this point! I caught up with Robbie on my first lap (a massive understatement as he was on his final lap and nearly finished). We had a nice chat and I felt relieved to see him walking. The next few laps were difficult. The crowd supporting was great. By nightfall, one of the aid stations had turned into a disco. I was running through glow sticks and Mexican waves. On my last lap I had a hug from Robbie and my family and one final pep talk.

I had a lot of time to think on the run. 26 miles worth –which in this case took 5 hours 50 mins 27 –almost as long as my cycle. I was reminded of a training peaks article I read earlier this year. It discussed the attributes of Kona athletes. The levels of competition are so strong that there is no accidental way of rising to the top. Commitment, positive mental attitude, patience, confidence and toughness are the vital traits. I found a new respect for the seasoned athletes around me and felt proud of the ones I know, Robbie and Steve. Although I have a long way to go, my training this year has taught me that perseverance and positivity are fundamental. Quite often, the only barriers we face are the ones created in our mind.


14 hours 1 min 11. I had a great time, I achieved a personal best and I made my husband smile. I learnt that it is just as important to prepare yourself mentally as well as physically for race day. I couldn’t have done it without my coach, Steve and also our support crew –who hugged me and cheered me on when I doubted myself.

Did I achieve my pre-race goals? 1. 1. I finished 2.I 2. I beat Alan on the bike 3. 3. I got married! –Yes! I walked down the aisle in my high heels.

I can’t say that it will be last Ironman –I can see myself entering another one, but I think I will take a break for a while and see where life takes me.

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