I had the privilege of speaking to some local triathletes yesterday at the end of a women's only tri camp here in Wilmington. It featured Olympian and World Champion and coach of GiddyUp MultiSports, Michellie Jones and included presentations by a few local tri coaches.  I was able to choose the topic and of course, chose to talk about France. I am writing a more in-depth race review, but I wanted to share a little more of what I learned rather than the details of each leg of the race. I spoke without notes at the camp, but here is what I'd written on the plane:

I want to tell you a little bit about my experience at IMFRANCE but I want to tell you how it fits into what I call the 4G philosophy. You see, I'm a local tri coach and we use 4G - and I don't mean the mobile network. I adopted the mantra from one of my friends (thank you JeYo) and now use it all the time - in triathlon and in life. The Gs are GUSTO, GUMPTION, GRUEL & GRACE.

 A Sign from one of my first training rides of the season.

A Sign from one of my first training rides of the season.

Gusto is the enjoyment, vigor and zest of doing something. Gumption is spirited initiative, courage, moxie and sometimes common sense. Gruel is an experience that is exhaustive and punishing. Grace is mercy, forgiveness and love.

I want to start with GUMPTION because that's what it took to simply get to the start line. On my very first training session for this race, I passed a sign that said FEARLESS. Looking back, I know that it meant: FEAR LESS. Everything about the training and the race was scary. I trained differently - I trained hard on the bike and most of it was out of town. I spent five out of six weekends out of town and that included two century rides and a half Ironman. I trained alone. Nobody trains for a spring Ironman around here!  I spent long hours without my go-to training buddies - one was injured and one is pregnant! I takes gumption to make new training buddies. It took gumption to fly my bike and gear across the world, to put my bike back together BY MYSELF and to look at the Alps and know that I was going to go up - and down - for 112 miles.

GUSTO embodied the swim at FRANCE. My ideal race is to start and finish the race with GUSTO. This year, I started the race with dancing and I finished the race with a bow. I loved the swim. This race was a rolling start and it felt a little like Blinko - that game on PRICE IS RIGHT. You seed yourself in a roped off section based on your finish time and when the gun goes off, you follow the river of people into the water. The swim was a funky shape - I called it an infinity square instead of an infinity loop. But, I felt strong and fast - like Dash from the Incredibles skimming across the surface. The buoys looked like giant Minions and as I passed each one I'd think, BEEDO, BEEDO, BEEDO.! The blue is something you've never seen and it was salty and clear.

I'll add one other G to the swim and that was GRATITUDE. At one of the farthest points on the course, I stopped. I looked back to shore and saw the cityscape of Nice and the mountains beyond. I suddenly felt so full of gratitude that I get to do this on this beautiful day.

The GRUEL came on the bike. I never felt like I wasn't going to finish - I just knew it would take me longer than ever before. There were three climbs that were exhaustive and punishing. The first was a steep, 17% grade for half a mile. My lungs burned, my quads burned, my booty burned. I was out of the saddle and in the saddle. I was too scared to clip out for fear of toppling over. Right about the time I thought about walking up the slope, I saw IRONWILL written on the road and I thought, I have that. I'll use every bit of will and skill to get up the hill.

The second and hardest climb came a little later as I climbed from Chateauneuf to Gourdon. It was a 90-minute climb at 7-8% grade. My average speed was 6-8 mph. I switched between my three easiest gears. I watched as faster cyclists passed me. The sun was at its brightest and for the first time I was sweating. I watched my Garmin as the tenths of a mile ticked by.  SLOOOOWLY. I was patient and kept working.  

 The view on the long slow road to Gourdon.

The view on the long slow road to Gourdon.

 It got cold on the Alps in the rains on the descents. I had to pick up a long sleeve tee in bike special needs.

It got cold on the Alps in the rains on the descents. I had to pick up a long sleeve tee in bike special needs.

The third climb was grueling because it didn't look like a climb. It was a 5-6% grade cleverly hidden in the shade. I swear it looked flat but, I felt like I was crawling. Was it a flat tire? Was my bike falling apart? Was I low on calories? I was simply climbing 1000 feet in about 30 minutes. Compared to that second climb, this one only lasted a little while and the reward was about an hour of flats and descents.

The other G for the ride was GORGEOUS. The scenery was gorgeous. The Alps may be the prettiest place I've ever been. There were valleys that looked like rainforests. At the top of a few peaks I could look back and see the Mediterranean Sea. At the top of others, I was in the clouds. I loved the ancient villages perched on the sides of mountains.   Even I was gorgeous.  I was the best dressed out there. My kit was falcon amazing. I wore the red, white and blue USA Kiwami kit with a red helmet and silver shoes. I looked good. Everyone who passed me said so. ;) Plus, I sounded gorgeous:  I sang every song from the Sound of Music and Les Miserables. OUT LOUD.

You will face the gruel. Track training, long runs and rides, hard efforts in races can be punishing. Life is hard. Embrace the suck! If you acknowledge that it's hard in the middle of doing it, and you survive it, you will be stronger and more confidence when you get out of it.

GRACE somehow always follows the gruel and GRACE in this race came on the run. I tend to beat myself up on the run, but this time I had mercy on myself. Which, as women, we need to do a little more of in general. I stole the mantra from one of my athletes (thank you, BShivak) and repeated: happy runner, happy runner, happy runner for much of the 26.2 miles. This run could have been grueling: it's an out-and-back-and-out-and-back-and-out-and-back-and-out-and-back. That's essentially four 10Ks. And, everything hurt. My left foot ached, my right shin hurt. My glutes were fatigued and the athlete bracelet was cutting a hole in my wrist. But, unlike some other races, I didn't get discouraged or mad at myself for my performance.

My other G for the run was GOAL. I am chasing a fast Ironman marathon PR, but I didn't think this would be the day for me. So grace was actually changing the goal. I was not going to win IRONMAN FRANCE. I'm an everyday athlete. This didn't have to my personal best from 2014. This didn't have to beat my friends' runs. I didn't have to beat that woman in my age-group or the run from the guy I met before the swim (okay, yeah, I wanted to beat Barry). My new goal was to BE YOUR OWN AWESOME (thank you, Leanna). I'd written that on my arm at 4am. My goal was to do it - NOW.  My run plan was a four-minute run, 30-second walk and that plan became: be awesome for four minutes, then walk for 30 seconds. I followed that strategy - and it was awesome. This was already the run, the ride, the swim, the race of a lifetime. I ran down that finisher's chute yelling:  I'M AN IRONMAN! I DID IT! I'M AN IRONMAN! I finished with gusto - a jump over the line and a big fat curtsy bow.

My last G is GIDDYUP - which I'm stealing from Michellie. The day after the race, I went to the expo to get some beautiful finisher's apparel. Melanie - an athlete from France - and I were the first in line for the IM store to open. I asked about her race and she told me that this was her third attempt at the IRON distance. She had a good swim, but got caught in some of the thunderstorms on the bike. It slowed her down on the descents and it took her over nine hours to finish. When she came in off the bike her time was 10:44. She knew she had five hours and 15 minutes to finish before the 16-hour cutoff - and her predicted run time was 5:30. She headed out on the first two laps and was a little ahead of pace.  Before the third lap, her friend told her she had time, but it was close. When she returned from that third loop, her friend said: I was wrong you only have THIS much time to finish. Melanie said, I thought about stopping, but it's too easy to quit. She headed out on that last loop, got to the turnaround and sped up. Her marathon time was 4:55 and she finished the race in 15:53:15!! Just over five minutes to spare. THAT is GIDDYUP.

I encourage everyone to use what you've learned at this camp to make this your best triathlon season. You can use all the techniques and tips you've learned to make you a better, faster, healthier runner. But, I also encourage you to use GUSTO, GUMPTION, GRUEL & GRACE. 4G will help you not only in practice and in your next race, but it will help you tomorrow, next week and next year in life. Now, GIDDYUP! Get out there and BE YOUR OWN AWESOME.

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