Deauville International Triathon: Allez Allez Cecilia et Crystal!
Updated: Feb 8
Race Name: Triathlon International de Deauville
Date & Time: June 23, 2019 2:30 PM
Locations: Deauville, France, Normandie
Water Temp: 65 °F
Air Temperature: 75 °F
This idea all started when Martin sent a message about an athlete exchange program with our French sister club, the HAC Triathlon. We would basically send SCTA members over to France to race a triathlon and in return we would host interested HAC members for the Santa Cruz Triathlon or IM 70.3 Santa Cruz. I loved the concept when I first heard about it!
Over time, I’ve met people my age who took month-long vacations through Europe after graduating college. Because of expenses and work obligations, I couldn’t afford to travel and take time off work while bills piled up. I kept that dream at bay for almost 5 years! It seemed so far fetched until the end of last year when the opportunity fell on my lap. I had a deep desire within myself to experience something new and to step out of my comfort zone. On my own. What better way to experience a new country and culture than racing a triathlon - one of my passions!
During a long ride, Crystal said she would join me if I decided to purchase a ticket. So I contemplated this dream for a couple of weeks. The price was right on Cyber Monday when I found a roundtrip flight through Icelandair for $664! Major score! I probably caught Martin by surprise when I sent him a message saying I booked my flight. But it was done. All I had to do was officially register for the Deauville Triathlon and prepare for my little adventure.
Fast forward to May 2019 - after 7 months of intense training for IM 70.3 Oceanside, completing the race, and riding the high of a major PR. It was time for some more planning.
Where was I going to stay?
Who was I going to stay with?
How would I get from Paris to Le Havre?
What do I need to pack?
Should I bring my bike or rent one?
How do you pack for an international triathlon AND a vacation?
What activities do I want to do while in France?
What words and phrases do I need to learn in French to get by?!
Eric Laurent, the President of HAC Triathlon, kept in touch with Crystal, Martin, and me since mid-December. He added us to the club’s active Facebook group to stay connected and reached out to us about our plans, flights, bikes, and hosts. I stayed with a woman named Emilie and her girlfriend, Anaïs, both HAC Triathlon members. Emilie is an avid triathlete and a member of one of France’s top adventure racing teams, “Elles H”. Anaïs is a national ranking tandem mountain bike racer. I was so so lucky to get the opportunity to stay with two kind, humble, strong, independent, athletic women. They made me feel welcome and at home in Le Havre. So did Eric and his wife, Laurence. It was like visiting distant relatives abroad. I fell in love with the triathlon community much more thanks to this trip.
I borrowed a bike from the Giant store in Le Havre which ended up being a good call! I couldn’t imagine carrying a bike box through France or Iceland for that matter! Not to mention it would have been expensive. It was a personal choice to leave my bike home but I would do it again if I were to race another Olympic triathlon abroad.
All my gear was packed the night before so I was ready to go by the time Mike and Crystal picked me up. We arrived in Deauville around 11:30 am. Crystal and I walked to the check-in table to pick up our bibs. The signage was all in French and the volunteers spoke very little English. “Parlez vous anglais?” was one of the most useful sentences I learned in France. The packet had stickers, a timing chip, a swim cap, and two bibs. I had to place three stickers on my helmet, one on my bike, and one on my tri backpack. No body marking at this race. We had to wear bibs on our back during the bike. The rule was it needed to be secured to your race belt with three pins.
This race was scheduled to start at 2:30 pm! Definitely not what we’re used to in the US. We waited until 12:30 pm to enter the massive transition area. I got a spot close to the bike in/out but it was quite a run from the swim exit and the run out. They have numbered bins next to your bike rack where you place your stuff (shoes, towels, helmet, etc.). Once transition was settled, we dropped off our bags with some volunteers and walked over to the swim start.
To my relief, the water was much warmer than Santa Cruz! My nerves kicked in after putting on my wetsuit and looking out at the beach as people got into the ocean to warm up. I came to the realization that I was racing... IN FREAKING FRANCE! Not to mention swimming in the English Channel! This was a sold-out race with 1800 people registered for the Olympic course.
The swim start was packed. There were three “corrals” sectioned off - Expert, Intermediate, and Beginner. Crystal and I seeded ourselves in the front of the Intermediate group around a bunch of dudes. There aren’t many female triathletes in France unfortunately. Before we knew it, the horn blew off at 2:30 pm sharp followed by a mass start. Every man and woman for themselves.
The swim course was 1500 meters long total. Two loops with an “Australian Exit” which means after the first loop, you run onto the beach, cross the timing mat, and then run into the ocean to complete the final loop.
Swimming with almost 1800 swimmers in the water trying to complete two 750 meter loops was a cluster as you can maybe imagine. I was caught in a never-ending draft with people swimming all around me. The entire time. There was no passing. The moment I tried to swim faster, I would find someone’s feet or elbow near my face. I call this swim more of a fast doggy paddle because I sighted the entire time praying I wouldn’t get knocked out by someone around me. There wasn’t a clear path after swimming around the second buoy so I just sighted the inflatable at the beach. Once I got close to shore, I noticed some people WALKING to the beach in the shallower part of the water and getting in the way. I continued swimming, stood up at the appropriate spot, and finally made it to the timing mat. I looked down at my watch and noticed I finished the first loop in about 13 minutes. I was surprised! My goal during the second loop was to get it over with and finish. I got elbowed in the face before the first buoy and continued moving forward. I’ve never been so excited to see the swim exit than after swimming around the second buoy. After crossing the timing mat, I excitedly looked out into the crowd searching for Mike and Eric. I waved at them quickly and continued my run to transition.
It was about a half a mile run from the beach to my spot in transition. I finished my cherry SIS gel while putting on my helmet, bib, and cycling shoes. The numbered bins helped me find my spot much faster! I did like this method better than American triathlon transition areas. Once I grabbed my bike, I hustled over to the Bike Out and began my favorite leg!
A stunning 40 kilometer ride through the Northern France countryside with 626 meters (approximately 2,053 feet) of elevation gain. The first hill was roughly a mile into the bike ride. Tour de France style. The Strava segment is called “Cote de cote st Laurent triathlon deauvillecco”. This hill started at a 3.1% incline then 11-12%, 17-18%, 25%, and peaked at 49%!!! It was a struggle maintaining the mental strength to pedal through the climb while racers either fell over or dismounted their bikes and walked up most of the hill. There were spectators left and right yelling “Allez allez Cecilia!” motivating me to keep going. Emilie and AnaÏs saw me on my way up and cheered for me. It was just the boost I needed to overcome this monster of a climb. We have hills in Santa Cruz but nothing like this.
Because I was on a borrowed bike, I was terrified of crashing it. I was conservative while riding downhill because I didn’t know the course and I was weary of other riders around me. Deep down I hoped nobody would crash into me while riding downhill or turning. Aside from those concerns, I tried to enjoy every moment and actually admire the landscape in Deauville. Man was it beautiful. We passed gorgeous two-story French style homes surrounded by vast green pastures and trees. There were a few more hills later on the course but they were comparable to riding up to UCSC or Empire Grade. There was one aid station handing out water bottles with Powerade and plain water. I chugged an entire bottle of plain water and continued onward. I wish I would have brought more nutrition on the bike though. One more gel would have come in handy.
The bike was a Giant TRC Advanced size medium. A tad too big for me. As a result, I strained my lower back most of the ride. The saddle wasn’t that comfortable either. I was relieved when I made the last turn and sighted the Bike In inflatable.
Overall, this ride was a dream! It was a challenging course with the steep ascents, descents, windy turns, warm weather, and humidity. I’d say this was harder than the Wildflower bike course! I would gladly do it again though.
I quickly ran to my section but couldn’t find my bin! I thought about the pain in my lower back stressed about finding my spot. I slowed down, took a deep breath, and looked at one bin at a time. Found it! As painful as it was to bend over, I took off my cycling shoes, put on my running shoes, grabbed my hat, and ran to the Run Out. Also a long transition (sorry again, Coach!) but I got through.
10 kilometers (two 5 kilometer loops) along the beach mostly flat with some running in the sand. The humidity and temperature made this run a challenge. I maintained an 8:45 min/mi pace which was really good for my standards! They served coke, water, and Powerade as well as dried and fresh fruits on course. This was the first time I ever tried coke during a race. It saved me! My body was fatigued and dehydrated from the swim and bike. I knew I needed more nutrition. Drinking that first sip of coke revived me instantly. Didn’t expect to run in the sand in one section but I managed to get through it without cramping. I heard a man screaming on the side of the run course around the 3 KM point. He would groan every time he stretched his calf. Kind of hard to watch as you’re trying to continue your race. Then I reached the fork in the course where you either turn left to start your second loop or continue straight to the finish line. A man turned to me and asked me a question in French. In the worst American accent, I told him I did not speak French. Tough luck! I stayed strong during my second loop and eventually saw Crystal on the run course! We gave each other a high-five and I pushed the remaining 3 KM of the run. I am thankful for the spectators who fervently yelled “Allez Allez Cecilia” throughout the entire run course. It felt like a community race much like the Santa Cruz Triathlon. I sprinted to the finish and passed some people on the way. I finished my first triathlon in France. What a journey!
There was a sweet athletes area with food, drinks, and lounging space. They served food like ham, salami, salty chips, and watermelon slices. They also served beer, soda, water, powerade, and juice. I probably got up like 3 times to ask for more coke. It hit the spot!
I am happy with my time considering all the factors that impacted my performance. I finished the Santa Cruz Triathlon Olympic race in 2:59:01 two years ago and comparably that race was much easier than the Deauville Olympic.
Racing internationally takes a lot of energy and preparation. It’s much more than simply showing up. Admittedly, I didn’t do much research ahead of time because it was an unapologetically impulsive purchase. However, I’ve come back with more wisdom about what I need to do and pack for another international race. I hope this blog post gives you some insight and inspiration to try this for yourself! You will come back a changed athlete. Guaranteed.
There were many variables I didn’t factor in that affected my performance such as travel, diet, and sleep. I spent almost 24 hours traveling on planes, trains, and cars from Santa Cruz to Le Havre which means a lot of sitting and not much sleeping, eating, or drinking. I don’t think I had adjusted to the time change 100% by race day. We stayed up pretty late the night before hanging out with our hosts over a lovely dinner.
As for my diet? This one was tricky. Do I indulge in French goodies? Or do I stick to my strict eating schedule and diet? It was a personal choice to indulge in all the French food I came across. Obviously, if I were an elite athlete trying to win the thing, I would approach things differently. But life is short and I have no desire to ever feel guilty for eating good food. Especially if it’s a fresh croissant or baguette from the boulangerie or fresh slices of local Normandie cheeses or a glass (or two or three) of Chinon.
My goal for this race was to have fun and cross the finish line. Emilie cooked us a fabulous three-course meal the night before the race. Avocado tuna and a side salad to start. Spaghetti with a home-made cream sauce and mushrooms. A delicious cake for dessert from a local bakery in town. We were carbed up and ready to go!
I want to thank my coach, Martin, for making this all happen. You have been supportive of my growth as an athlete and inspired me to dream bigger. I appreciate everything Eric did to organize my homestay including waiting for me at the train station when I arrived, welcoming me to his beautiful community, and guiding us before the race. I would have been so lost without him. Special thanks to Emilie and Anaïs for allowing this American stranger into their home with open arms and making her feel like a part of the community. I can’t wait to come back and visit. Hopefully speaking fluent French!