En route to Austria, via Putrajaya (and maybe a marriage counsellor…?)

Guillaume and Nicole Rondy

Let us tell you the story of the last 3 months in Chez Rondy. We think this might be familiar to a lot of ANZA relationships…you might want to grab a coffee/popcorn and settle in for this domestic tale.

GR: For me, this is simply the story of well-executed holiday planning . November 2014: 3 weeks after playing ‘super domestique’ in the Tour de Bintan, I completed my first half-ironman distance race in Phuket and was very surprised to come 3rd age grouper overall. It was a Challenge family race and therefore not an official Ironman event, but I started to wonder if I could qualify for the 70.3 World Championships… a few days in Austria, a little race thrown in for good measure… that would be a fun holiday wouldn’t it? My wife and I agreed that it would indeed be super fun and went on to put a plan together to guarantee said fun-filled holiday.

[NR: Super fun? We sound like the von Trapp family. What bull. What G had failed to build into the equation when deciding to aim for this, was the three other trips we needed to make to Europe in 2015, leaving no more annual leave/money/time for a ‘little jaunt’ to Zell-am-See (I mean, have you looked at how to get to ZAS from Singapore?!). But details schmetails…(I hate being the sensible one, but one of us has to be). Also please, let’s make it clear from the outset, you don’t just ‘decide’ to go to the world championships as part of a holiday … there’s a bit more too it than that…]

GR: Ok true. So back to this plan… Step one: find the best race to qualify. Putrajaya seemed the easiest option given the relative slow times required.

[NR: Putrajaya, what a great idea! High on everyone’s list of must-travel-to places over a bank holiday weekend. Just a tip, if you haven’t been yet…you lucky sod. Don’t.]

GR: Step two: find a coach to get me there. The ever resourceful Glen Kenny advised me to contact Arno Selukov: “he’s French, he has just qualified for Kona for the 3rd time in a row, he’s your man”. So a few discussions later, Arno and I had set up a weekly routine that ‘fitted’ into Team Rondy’s schedule and which tried to stick to two rules: to try to maintain a life outside of work and sport and try not to wake Nix up in the mornings!

[NR: Ahem. My idea of ‘routine’ is something that doesn’t change on a weekly basis (the Oxford Dictionary agrees with me). But apparently, in French it must mean something completely different ]

GR: Step three: Stick to the plan. The race was on April 5th, so I had 3 months to get in shape. Now I have been cycling for 20+ years, competing for 5, used to swim at school and started triathlon 3 years ago. I have always been into endurance sports thanks to my dad, which I believe has given me a good base, but those 12 weeks involved A LOT of training: between 12 (less frequently) to 20 hours (more frequently) on a weekly basis… I was generally fitting in 2 to 3 swims (covering about 8k), 3 to 4 runs (about 40k) and cycling 3 or 4 times (generally about 200-300k). So lots of double training days, lots of bricks, and even with a 5 to 6 hour cycle on Saturday morning, that is still early morning wake ups pretty much every day and not really any rest days – a rest day became a day with only 1 session! The hardest bit in each of those was actually to try and honor my part of the agreement in not waking up my lovely wife.

[NR: In actual fact, I gave up with the interrupted sleep and decided that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” was the only way through: I went to his Monday swim squad, I joined the chix ride at 5.30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I got up for 6.00am runs on Wednesdays and I occasionally accompanied him for a run on Sunday. So by the time his 4.45am wake up call came on Saturdays, I was tired enough to sleep through before my 7am ride!]

GR: Step four: Try not to waste away. That much training also involved eating a lot more and Nix worked out I would need 2900kcal a day to sustain this amount of training. She then went on to become my personal chef, feeding me with the healthiest diet, yet in gigantic quantities! I started having 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches every day, protein shakes after exercising, snacking a lot more and we must have gone through groceries as fast as a hockey team would. I’ve never paid attention to what I ate or drank before, but it worked, I’ve never been in such great shape. However, I couldn’t stop losing weight – I don’t mean to brag, just happened…

[NR: HA. Sweetheart, I said 3900kcal MINIMUM (not 2900) just to maintain your weight…this might be why you are walking around looking so skinny… ‘F’ for attention Rondy.]

GR: Step five: Harden the F*ck up, mentally. I knew the training would affect my body and was looking forward to that, but I don’t think I was ready for the mental impact. For the first time I was having mental debates with myself: if I don’t train today, can I slot in 2 sessions tomorrow? Can I get to work a bit later today and have a bit more sleep? Can I go for drinks with work tonight and have a lie in tomorrow? Having a coach to set up my sessions, setting such an ambitious goal and most importantly, having Nix embrace that goal with me, were great way to stay focus and not deviate from the plan. I clearly wouldn’t go through that training routine if I hadn’t had those 3 things to push me out of bed (quite literally, in Nix’s case).

GR: Step Six: Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. The training wasn’t always easy on Team Rondy of course, and it took a fair amount of compromise from both parties to reach consensus in a number of occasions. The amount of training tends to cut into your daily life a considerable amount when you then factor in that you are both working full time jobs and travelling for work quite a bit, which means one of you will, more often than not, have to bend their schedule around the other just in order to spend any time together.  The process was therefore also helping my sales career as I was learning to handle tough negotiation techniques, so what’s not to like!

[NR: Cheeky sod. This is probably enough to test any wife’s patience…though I, admittedly, am already low in that department. However, both members of Team Rondy needed to pull their fair weight to make it easier and not just complain (even though it’s my favourite sport), so I gave up riding on Sunday mornings (sorry Dave, one of these days I’ll make another recovery ride!) and instead would spend  2-3 hours cooking to try and ensure he stayed fed for the week, whilst I was working silly hours in the week. This also meant that I was hopefully free when he got home from training and we could have a bit of time together.]

GR: Step Seven: if in doubt, what would what jack Reacher do? I had a couple of sprint races during the preparation in Singapore and was happy with my form in both – I even won the duathlon in front of Arno, always nice to beat the master. I have been doing triathlon for 2 years and had had good results, but getting an overall win was the proof that the training was getting somewhere at least. However, the final race week arrived faster than I wanted, and as always with it came the usual doubts: did I train enough, I don’t know how to eat on race day, how do I pace myself, how I will adapt to the heat, some competitors look super strong… I basically did a lot of online digging into my competitors that week (and probably sent very few work emails). I also started getting sick in the week before, which couldn’t have been worse timing.  I didn’t have a backup race to qualify in case things went wrong in PJ… however I decided to adopt what some people have called a very typical French attitude and what I prefer to call my Jack Reacher attitude:  use my natural confidence level to assume that everything was going to be fine.

[NR: would that ‘some people’ be a reference to me? I just don’t like to count my chickens before they hatch! But I loved your daily emails and nightly updates about the latest guy you had researched…I probably know more about the people in G’s age group then the competitors themselves!Though I don’t know how you find the time to do that at work…]

GR: Step 8: Get to the race. We decided to fly to the amazing destination that is Putrajaya. [NR: Yes, because I refused to drive 6 hours there and back through Malaysia, and given I’m the only one with a licence, I won. (Small victories are important too)] Living in Asia allows us to travel to wonderful locations; Putrajaya isn’t one of those unfortunately. It is a purpose-built town, 25 mns outside of KL, nothing to do or see and it is 37 degrees and 100% humidity in the middle of the day. Why would you setup an official Ironman race there?! Anyway, pre-race preparations in PJ went well except for appalling food and service at the hotel we stayed at (if you ever go to PJ, do not go to the Pullman hotel). We did get a room upgrade though, so not all negative again!

[NR: Private terrace: result! Restaurant: Bleurgh! G could probably cook better.  G can’t cook….]

GR: Step 9: Compare strategies. We caught up with Arno and a few other racers the night before to devise race strategies, eating plan, etc. It was great being surrounded by familiar faces such as Trent and Colin. We also met a few pros that were racing as Arno knows most of them, and seeing Crowie have dinner at the same restaurant made me feel like a kid seeing Asterix and Obelix at Parc Asterix!

[NR: I can concur (yes, it does occasionally happen) I had to stop him from interrupting Crowie’s dinner….]

GR: Step 10(a): Race Time – The Swim! I had to have 5 loo stops before the swim which meant I was at least 25% more stressed than usual.  It was a rolling start and that went pretty well for me as I was in the 5th row of people to jump in the water. Actually, I had planned on jumping in, but at the last moment decided it would be more graceful and world-championship-esque to dive instead. I obviously lost my goggles and had to stop to put them back on before resuming the swim. No comment. The rest of the swim went well though, I managed to find some good feet to follow and was very pleasantly surprised to come out of the water in under 31’.

[NR: Bloody rolling starts.  Do they know how difficult it is to see how well your athlete is faring overall with a rolling start? Anyway, armed with my list of race numbers and swim cap colours, I was positioned as usual at the swim exit.  After Colin came out of the water in 27 minutes (machine!), I was very surprised to see G’s very recognisable stroke just 3 minutes later… second orange cap, so second in his age group (which was confirmed by the online tracking very soon afterwards). I don’t know whether the surprised look on G’s face coming out the water was from realising his time or the shock I gave him screaming his position in his ear!!]

GR: Step 10(b) : The bike leg. I didn’t have great legs at the beginning of the bike and quickly realised my saddle was too low. My handlebars also tilted forward at the first speed bump, meaning I would have to do the entire bike with an over-stretched back – couldn’t believe I made fun of Colin the day before for being a poor bike mechanic! Piece of advice for my future self: always check everything 3 times before race day! The bike leg is actually quite challenging with a lot of rolling hills and it is hard to keep a steady pace. My goal was to catch up Colin on the bike, but he was having a fantastic day and I quickly realised it wouldn’t happen… For some reason, I started feeling cramps from about 40k in – WTF?! Panic arose within me, and I started doubting that I would indeed get that qualification slot… I tried to calm down, and guessed it was bad nutrition; I went on to take as much salt as I could. I also saw Nix half-way through the bike who told me I was 2nd in my age group which gave me a massive morale boost. At km 60, 2 guys had been drafting me for about 20k and I decided to slow down and follow them instead. One of them was Assad who I know is a great runner and I didn’t want to do all the work for him on the bike! I racked the bike with a 2:24 split anyway, pretty much bang on schedule.

[NR: It’s at this point watching any race that I always kick myself: why on earth have I not learnt to bring a cushion by now? Or a little folding stool? Putrajaya is particularly unfriendly on spectators. There’s no shade. Nowhere to sit. And nothing to look at until the first bikes come through. You need to be entirely self-sufficient on the hydration and nutrition and entertainment fronts: it’s actually kind of up there with competing I’ll have you know…! However, I discovered something new in this race: the partners of the female elite athletes are the chattiest/friendliest.  If you are bored – position yourself by them, they are great fun!

Oh right…I digress…back to G’s race: yup, so G had made up a little bit of time on Colin on the first lap – but Colin had a massive smile on his face coming through, whereas G looked rather pained.. and as the bike is always his strongest leg I could tell this might not be going according to plan, but the numbers still looked good.  I was concerned that the big Russian had made up a good four minutes by the end of the bike leg though…]

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GR: Step 10(c) : The run. The fun started on the run… I was still 2nd according to Nix, but from the get go, I felt like I couldn’t breathe in properly. I was stuck in a much slower pace than expected and had to stop regularly to try and get rid of the stitches I was getting. I saw Nix at km 7 who screamed I only had a 30 seconds lead over the 3rd guy – and it was a loud scream so I heard it even though I was a bit phased out. I decided to try and push a bit and managed to hold a very slightly faster pace – it’s all marginal gains at that point!

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[NR: When G finally came through on the first lap, I could tell from timing and his stride from quite a distance that he wasn’t 100% (well, if I can then run alongside him, he really isn’t running fast enough!). When the Russian came through straight after him, I  had  to get a full on sprint on back to G to scream that he had lost another  4 minutes and only had 30 seconds on the Russian.  I was praying that might make him hold on and push a bit. After that I went back to cheering on everyone else. It was disappointing there weren’t more spectators out on the course actually –it’s such a hard race guys, people need cheering!!]

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GR: Step 11: … *&%$#@@!!…just keep running. The 3rd guy eventually become 2nd as he overtook me at km 10. Even if I felt a bit better on the last half of the run and I had frequent encouragements from both Nix and Arno, I couldn’t catch him and had to settle with 3rd place with a disappointing 1:45 run. What was surprising though was that the heat wasn’t actually as bad as I had expected – perks of living in Singapore!

[NR: I might have got a tad stressed at this point… selfishly, I didn’t want to deal with a moody stroppy Rondy for the next few weeks (one is already more than enough to deal with!!) so I was bloody desperate for him to place and get the spot.  Waiting for him at the finishing chute was agony. The minute and a half between the Russian and G felt like 20…. But seeing him run up the red carpet, knowing he’d grabbed that third place.. well, it was just amazing…And G, if I couldn’t run a 1:45 half marathon even without a swim and bike in front- be proud of yourself!!]

GR: Step 12: Relax! SO I finished in 4:42 overall. 3rd place in my age group and 21 overall.  Nix managed to join me in the recovery village midway through my massage, we did the usual race debrief, drank as much water as we could and eventually made our way back to the hotel for even more appalling food and service.

[NR: I was only in there for the free ice cream, oh and a seat. I’d had such a hard morning….]

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GR: Step 13: Keep everything crossed for the Roll-Down. I knew that there were 3 qualifying slots in my age group last year but wasn’t sure about this year. I also knew that both guys who beat me wanted to go to the World Championships, so the wait for that roll-down ceremony was quite tough for both of us – I actually think that Nix was more stressed than me! [NR: yes, see above comment about waiting for you to finish!!] I guess my French/Jack Reacher attitude helps sometimes! I enjoyed the podium ceremony but yet couldn’t fully relax until we got to my age group roll-down ceremony. The wait until the moment he announced there were 3 slots in my age group, officially sending me to gorgeous Zell-am-See in Austria, reminded me of the horrible tension I felt during the X-Factor finals… We were gutted that Trent narrowly missed a slot, but there was a lot of dancing and screaming at that point. So much tension from 3 months of training did have to come out at some point! We celebrated in usual Team Rondy fashion back at the hotel: pizza and (unfortunately non-bubbly) wine.

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[NR: OK, I’ll admit, at this point I think I might have shed a tear or two.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud.  I, however, am still waiting for those bubbles G….]

GR: Step 14: Book tickets to Austria: Jack Reacher always knew I would do it. And thank you to my amazing wife for supporting me throughout. Bring on Austria!

[NR: aww shucks….  Los gehts Osterriech!!]

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