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Archive for July, 2009

Meeting the St. Bernards

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

So on the very occasion that we have an afternoon off from training, I like to go out, see and learn something new in the environment that I find myself. This week I managed to round up some fellow dog lovers and persuaded the Wongstar and Coco to join me in a visit to the home of the famous St. Bernard dogs, nearby in the town of Martigny.

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The museum was interesting (I am that kind that reads everything!), and obviously, the contact with the dogs was really what I was after! Last Sunday, in fact, one of the dogs appeared on the podium with Alberto Contador at the Tour de France!

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In the past, these clever animals were originally used to guide pilgrims (who used to travel from Rome through the treacherous mountains into France) to shelters known as “Hospices”. As a result of the deep snow, it was often difficult for these people to find their way, so guides known as “Marroniers” would send out the dogs to search for these pilgrims and guide them to safety and shelter. The Hospices themselves were a great idea, welcoming travellers, at no charge, regardless of wealth or religion, and it was even considered a privilege to host pilgrims! At the end of their stay, the pilgrims would leave behind a small gift/donation. Regardless of its value, the “gifts” would then be considered sacred and either used or stored in the Hospice. Seemingly, the St. Bernard Hospice (named after Saint Bernard), was the first to use the dogs for this purpose, and so came about the breed name.

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In later times, the St. Bernard dogs were used to trace people lost in the mountains, especially after snow storms. They would only lead their guides to people buried in snow, but did not dig people out (like I and many others think), because of the possibility of the snow caving inwards. However, there is truth in the fact that they carried small wooden barrels around their necks, containing Brandy (incidently, there is a famous distillery in Martigny), which was consumed by the mal-fated victims of the climate and perilous terrain, to regain core temperature.

Nowadays, the dogs are still trained at the centre, but more for shows. Rescues are now no longer performed by the St. Bernards, apparently because their weight exceeds 35kg, and other breeds such as the Labrador have proved more agile and practical in weight for helicopter rescues. Interestingly, the St. Bernards were also once used as the marketing image for “Milka” chocolate, which now has the less stoic “cow” as its symbol.

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Similarly, no great athlete is ever unbeatable…

Bean’s Ironman France

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Racing Ironman France in Nice taught me a bit and enchanted me at the same time. I knew the course was going to be the hardest I have ever done, and not particularly suited to someone used to the flats of Benoni, South Africa.

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Racing in France has always had special significance to me, particularly as I am half French. I get to speak to the locals in the language that I was taught by Mom and get to experience a culture I am distantly familiar with.

I headed off to Nice with Scott D who was doing his first Ironman (baptism of fire I would say!!). We were generously hosted by two members of the Nice Triathlon Club. My host, Ludovic took us to their club swim practice, where Scott and I were allowed to do our thing in the FAST lane which was rather a change for the both of us!

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The next day, my host, Ludovic, kindly offered to take us on parts of the bike course for the race and even allowed us to take the bikes so that we could ride down some of the descents. What a beautiful course! A couple of nasty climbs, but nothing harder than the Swiss mountains where we have been training.

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Saturday came all too quickly, and despite being in a holiday heaven, we had to get into race mode with the usual bike check in and hope like hell I haven’t forgotten anything??? It was clearly the biggest transition I have EVER seen – 2800 participants – thank goodness the Pro’s got the 1st and 2nd racks, otherwise I am sure that I would have needed a GPS to find my bike!

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As many of the Nice Triathlon Club members volunteer at the race, it was a pleasure to meet the Club President, Jean Jacques who was really one of our biggest fans on the day!

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Race day.
Perfect conditions! This was unbelievable especially as Abi was racing with us, and has so far managed to take her English weather with her to every race she has done so far this year! The swim was daunting, with all 2800 athletes starting together – aaaarrrrgggghhhh! Luckily, Scott and I came up with a legal plan which saw us largely untouched with a clean start! I came out the water with the first few girls which was a good thing because I then did the usual Bean thing and momentarily could not locate bike bag number 40 amongst the 2800 options!

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Got off to a good start on the bike, but then slowly got passed by the stronger bikers which I sort of expected but hoped would not happen! Ludovic had mentioned a classic ‘Niceois’ French word to me, “Mounta Cala”, and I quickly came to understand it’s definition! Everything in the surrounds of Nice goes up or down! There were some monster 39×25 climbs out there, but the course was never boring, and I especially came to enjoy the crazy descents, racing the frenchies and trying my best to make up some time! Yeeeeee Haaaaaa.
Soon enough, actually, quite a big longer than your normal IM ride, we were back on the Promenade Des Anglais, one of the most exclusive stretches of beach front in the world. The run is a flat 4 loop course along the Promenade. Easy, I thought. I started running and suddenly realised the effect of the “mounta cal” on the bike, my legs felt like mashed potato and I had a weird cramp in my left shoulder which would not leave me for the entire run! Thankfully, My legs started to come right about half way through the run (actually, about where I saw my pal Mark Spencer, a Benoni boy who was down there on holiday and made the effort to come and cheer on a Benoni girl! Thanks Mark!). I made up some ground and caught a few of the girls, but realised without a strong bike, I wouldn’t stand a chance! I must thank the guys from Compress Sport who probably saved my race with their compression calf sleeves – the dreaded calf tear injury came back to haunt me in the days before the race, and two days before I could hardly run! They held my calf together so well that I ran the whole way without even thinking of the slightest pain!) Had a good day at the office but finished 13th. It’s a strange and insignificant number, but only serves to inspire me to come back again next year, have a good day, and get a better number!

Merci boucoup a Ludovic, Sebastien, Jean Jaques et tout les membres du Triathlon Club de Nice, vous etres un club dans un million! Je revient l’annee prochaine pour faire la perf’ de l’annee!

Oh by the way…

At the Compress Sport stand the next day, with winner Marcel Zamora, ex- world champ Olivier Marceau, me, Abi (who finished 4th) and Scott (14th, and now an Ironman!)

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An excellent discovery in Nice – Fenocchio Ice Cream – they even had a beer variety!!

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The Chariault Family – the best hosts in Southern France!

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