Alan Macpherson was a crew member for Ghislain
Mare?chal, who competed in the Double Enduroman UK. The Double Enduroman consists of a 4.8-mile swim, a 232-mile cycle ride and a 52-mile run.
Ghislain Marechal was unknown to me until I learned he was competing in the inaugural Ultraman UK Triathlon (UMUK), held in Snowdonia, Wales, last September, 2011. Ghislain had the presence of a professional, and his support crew gave the same impression; I noticed that Ghislain and his team were very particular to every detail. My own well-organized support crew and I knew then that Ghislain’s team would have a lot of success in many Ultra-distance Triathlon events. Ghislain became a friend at this event, as well an excellent opponent.
It was early in 2012 when the phone rang; it was an unexpected but welcome call from Ghislain, offering me a “call to arms” and requesting my support for him to compete in the very first International Ultra Triathlon Association (IUTA) event, to be held in the UK at the Double Iron Distance at Enduroman. The friendly French Giant, which is what I call him, was planning another successful race on British soil. I immediately said yes; for it was an honor to be asked. I was aware Ghislain was collecting precious points with the IUTA series, having come in second in a Triple Iron distance event in the US – and breaking the bike record, to add to his growing profile – only 6 weeks after we competed in UMUK.
On collecting Ghislain at Cambridge, he looked professional and focused as ever. I was feeling nervous. Doing support crew on my own, I knew a lot of hard work would be ahead – and any mistakes on my behalf could be very costly, and I was determined not to let him down.
The pre-race evening was spent learning the specific mixtures and energy foods and sorting out clothing and equipment to be ready for all weather conditions.
Race morning was very relaxed; with the support tent and base set up after breakfast, bike and equipment in its transition and changing areas, Ghislain appeared to have no fear about the grueling hours ahead.
The lake appeared to be very small; however, this was to be an advantage, as no time would be lost having to navigate in the water. A swim time and personal best of 2:07 was evidence that this was the case. Ghislain came out of the water in 5th place and approximately 16 minutes behind the race leader. I was put into action, helping Ghislain get food and drink down while in and out of
It was then the part for which I had huge expectations and hopes: the 225-mile bike phase.
The potholed roads took a toll immediately, and Ghislain punctured his rear wheel after the first lap. I expected more wheel replacing due to the amount other athletes were also getting flats.
As Ghislain made his way round and round each lap of the bike course, time passed very quickly. Ghislain was very easy to support, and his instructions were minimal, simple and clear.
Ghislain is a man who knows what he wants, and does not make life complicated for himself or for his support team. With one additional puncture to follow and my mistake of not having spare batteries on hand for his lights during the night phase, Ghislain stormed into a 40-minute lead by the end of the bike stage.
The start of the run phase was in darkness. Ghislain still looked fresh and focused and, most notably, he was smiling! Taking no time for granted, a strong run was soon under way on the 48-lap cross-country route. As each lap was completed in the main race center, I witnessed fantastic support for Ghislain from other support crews. I was asked many questions about who this man was; some believed they were cheering on a possible winner and future world champion.
With the demanding course taking its toll, Ghislain was forced to take a short rest. Many were fearing the worst; as other athletes were catching up fast. I felt gutted as he dropped into second place; but I wasn’t panicking….yet, as I was aware that Ghislain had taken a rest in a previous race and still won it.
Ghislain got up from his 10-minute rest and with about 15 miles left, and I resorted to using my own verbal tactics and persuasion to motivate him. Ghislain pushed back into the lead with 7 miles to go, and it was full-on noisy encouragement from me. Ghislain was not going to be allowed to lose his lead again.
Crossing the finish line in just under 26 hours and 11 minutes ahead of his nearest rival, Ghislain was a well-deserved winner.
With maximum points, a possible lead in the IUTA world rankings, and some nice medals and trophies at the awards ceremony the following morning, I dropped Ghislain off at Southampton Railstation. This man had even survived my driving in one piece – a marvelous achievement in itself!
Marechal went on to compete in the triple IRON in Germany, where he had a bad race and DNFed. He then competed in the double IRON in Switzerland on
September 8, and will go back to defend his title in the double IRON in Lake Anna, VA on October 5.