We were privileged to have over 13 of the brave and determined competitors for Ironman Nice stay in our apartments in June. After the race, I caught up with Holly Turner and Brooke Brown – two female competitors and both of them now my heroes. They both beat over 54% of the 2,500 competitors. I was delighted that they were prepared to share their experiences with me.

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ironmanBrooke Brown is in her late 20s and is now heavily into racing. She completed the swim in 1 hour 11 minutes, the bike ride in just over 6 and a half hours and the run in 4 hours 17 minutes. Her overall time was 12 hours, 23 minutes and 31 seconds. Her time meant she came in 918th place in the race.  Brooke remembers the finish line fondly:  “The stands were filled with applauding spectators, music was playing loud and I felt like a hero! As my foot crossed the finish line, and I stopped my Timex two mixed feelings crossed my mind; a sense of excitement, joy and relief that it was over but also sadness that it was over.”

Now in her 50’s Nice Ironman is Holly’s fourth Ironman race and her triathlons notches are over 50.  She finished second in her group of the 50 – 54 year olds which meant she got to stand on the podium and receive her medal which she described as “awesome”.  I think sitting next to the British Armed Forces during the ceremony didn’t do any harm.

Holly completed the swim in 1 hour and 18 minutes, the bike ride in less than 7 hours and the run in 4 hours 40 minutes. Her overall time was 13 hours, five minutes and 28 seconds. A staggering achievement for most of us, never mind a woman in her 50’s! Yet, Holly was disappointed with her time. “I truly thought that I would have done 12 hours or less.  My last Ironman in Canada was a 11:25 finish and so with the harder course I thought that it would have been doable.  At Nice the travel and the loss of sleep was a big impact.  I got a little sick on the run and bonked.  This is hard on any athlete. I had to walk a lot on the run, which I regretted later, but I did it to survive otherwise I might not have finished”.

The idea is that the race will take place before the summer season crowds and whilst it is still not too hot. From what we saw both crowds and summer were firmly in place. Thousands of people stood in every available nook on the Promenade, heavily concentrating on catching the drips of their ice-creams, cheering and supporting the legions of athletes who flocked to master the course.

Ironman Nice is regarded as a tough race. Even the start of the course, the swim, can be tougher than some others because unlike other races where here are several waves of starting lines, in Nice all 2,500 competitors start together. Holly told me that she was bumped, kicked and pushed during the swim but was quick to point out that it was no-one’s fault. “You can’t get mad because it isn’t intentional it just is what happened when 2,500 aggressive athletes share the same water.  I mainly just told myself to relax and keep the focus”.

Brooke’s tactic for the swim was to conserve her energy at the start and she told me she just swam breast stroke for the first 600 meters to let the more aggressive swimmers pass on. This seems to have been a good tactic since it meant she enjoyed the swim a little more. “As the huge mass dissipated, throughout the entire swim there were always many swimmers side by side. The swim went by quickly and soon enough I was in the bike transition. The swim was probably the most enjoyable of the entire race because the sun was just rising you could feel a slight heat on the back of the wetsuit and the water despite the thousands was so peaceful.”

As well as the sheer ground to cover in intense heat, there is the grueling stretch of the 4 time back and forth down the Promenade des Anglais. The only reward a coloured wristband as you pass first time, second time and third time. Three wristbands and you are nearly there. Brooke told me on receiving her third and final band, “I felt so strong that if they told me to do another lap I probably could have. When I passed the Negresco hotel, I knew I was in the home stretch and I had a huge smile that no one could take away”.

Running in temperatures of over 38°C it’s not surprising that this effort soon takes its toll on the athletics. Having started the race fresh and dynamic they end staggering and shaking as they lurch towards the finish line. I’m sure everyone’s sympathy went out to the 25% of athletes who did not finish the course. From the safety of the sidelines we saw at least five being carried off on stretchers the disappointment on their faces clearly visible on their faces.

Holly told us “The run was so difficult.  People being sick or passing out and, since the course was just running back and forth four times, it was not so inspiring and hard to keep motivated. The crowd helped enormously”. Brooke says, “I kept visualizing myself at the finish line, my family was there cheering me on, and I and other racers motivated one another as we cheered on one another when we would pass each other on the course”.

Ironman_2The Nice Ironman is growing fast in popularity. Many athletes whom have mastered the course like to return to shave off minutes from their last record time. Serious competitors, time permitting, practice the course before race day. Brooke practiced the bike course 2 weeks prior to the actual race and hired a car to familiarise herself with the little villages and the multiple climbs she would face. She believes this helped enormously on the day.

Despite its challenges, the bike ride is well remembered by Holly. “The bike course is the hardest and the most beautiful that I am aware of.  I will never forget that ride and the support of the villagers along the way. I felt an amazing sense of privilege to be able to ride on such a beautiful course.  Up the mountain was a challenge but the reward was the most fragrant air and beautiful views!  It was truly humbling.  The downhill was the most exciting experience in my life.  I was going so fast that I felt like Lance Armstrong!  I didn’t even think about crashing!  In the villages the local would cheer and sing my name in praise.  It truly brought tears to my eyes.  I will always thank the French for this gift”.

I asked Holly if anything disappointed her about the Nice Ironman course. She replied that it was a shame that the male competitors dominated the field.  “Most Ironman triathlons are closer to 40% female, Nice was 20% or less.  I would like to see more women participating in the future. Although there was not much of a gender difference in the actual race, except when you hear the crowd yell “femme” and cheer louder!  As competitors the boys want to do their best, just like the gals, so we are all just competitors out there. Which is the way it should be!”

Now Holly has returned home to train for further races and to her other passion – Athletic Soles. Holly part-owns an independent running / walking specialty store. She says that owning this store was a long awaited dream come true. “I love helping people and encouraging them in their healthy lifestyle!  As a teacher the education factor is important when assisting people.  We offer a run club and clinics on a variety of topic.  We have been opened almost 1 year and business is great!” If you want to get in touch with Holly you can find her at www.athleticsoles.com.

I have been inspired by the sight of the Ironman woman competitors and it has even made me dig out my rather neglected running shoes. The competitors seem to live life to the full. I guess the drive, determination and self respect that must come with this level of training seeps into every aspect of their lives – for the better. You reap what you sow.

I’m sure I’m not alone with the complaint that trying to keep (and in my case failing!) to your 20 something dress size is a never ending battle for us ladies.  For Holly and Brooke the dress size is immaterial these days – they have far more pressing concerns which means the dress size takes care of itself. The organization, the time to train, the training itself must be a constant cram into an already busy day. Then balancing the nutrition needed to sustain the training must mean making choices that would be inconceivable to most of us. Add to the mix full time employment and a social and family life and they put to shame the thoughts I have from time to time that run along the lines of, “well of course I’d be fitter, thinner, have more energy if only I didn’t have to work”.

Holly is full of encouragement for making sport a part of your life and her philosophy is that every body is an athlete. “I got into running in my twenties as a way of keeping my weight down. My inspiration came from an older woman who is now in her 80’s who proved to me that if you look after your body you can be a competitive athlete your whole life”.

Even so, I don’t think I will be ready for Ironman Monaco on 7 Sept 2008, except as a spectator. But I will give this running malarkey a try again, as soon as it goes a bit cooler of course. And then for Ironman Nice 2009, you can find me a little less on the sidelines as I have volunteered to hand out drinks etc to get in on the action and excitement of the day.  If you want to join me you can get information from the Volontaires page of .