Roth Race Report

I’ve been doing triathlon relatively seriously for the past four years. For a lot of that time, people have asked me when I will do an ironman, and my response has been “never.” The very idea of six hour training rides has horrified me. In fact, the amount of training involved in general has seemed like an insurmountable task. But this year, with a new job, a new house, and now a wedding to plan for, seemed to be the perfect year to change my mind and sign up for my first (and, as I’ve stated again and again over the course of the year, my last) full distance triathlon.

The main draw card was the training partners I have: a group of girls living in Amsterdam who also do triathlon and are a similar speed (though they push me!) on the bike – and two of them (Janine and Annchen) were also signed up for Roth. So the solitary, boring, long Saturday rides turned into great social occasions.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, despite the companionship. As training hours peaked at some 20 hours a week, I was often too exhausted to enjoy any of the training. There have been training sessions where I have cried, and training sessions where I’ve seriously questioned my ability to reach the ambitious goal (11 hours) which I set for myself. There have been people who have questioned the goal which I had set for myself. But I have remained resolutely focused, driven by the thought: “Let’s do this once, and do it well enough that I never have to do it again to prove something to myself.”

2015 Challenge Roth  Three days before the race and the activities are starting to build. The pro Press Conference in the morning, Expo opening at noon and the Erdinger Biergarten with the pros in Bavarian attire. Best. Pre-Race. Sign. Ever.

Janine, Annchen and I all arrived in Roth a few days before the event and did a few final training sessions together. Apart from some serious taper nerves (“My knee! I just felt something in my knee I’ve never felt before!”), a fixation on the weather (would it be as hot as Frankfurt the week before? Would it be a wetsuit swim?) and complete anxiety regarding my ability to race, it was a good lead up.

Race Day

The swim went quite well. I didn’t get kicked in the face or swum over. At one stage I clashed arms with someone in a green swim cap from the previous wave. “Wait a minute, weren’t there only pros in front of me? How well am i swimming?! Oh no, also the 65 year old men…” Then I felt like a real bully. I wished the guy a great race and said sorry in my head, and swam past.

I got to the turnaround point still feeling fresh and started the swim back. As soon as I caught a glimpse of the bridge we would swim under, I also caught a glimpse of my watch. “Wow!” I thought. “I’m swimming so well, the bridge is so close, I might finish in about 1hr12!” apparently I am not good at judging  distances in the water – I finished up in 1:18. Still, it was sub-1hr20 and I was very happy.

I raced up into the change tent and was slightly overwhelmed by how busy and loud  it was. But I changed quickly and headed out to pick up my bike.

Onto the bike and I was greeted by HUGE cheers. Then I realized they were for a man just in front of me, cycling his disabled son, not me. I wished them a great race and took off.

I was racing with my power meter, and had an idea of the power I could sustain over 180km. The first five km my power seemed to be there, but after that it dropped off. Had it not calibrated properly? Or was the strength not there in my legs for race day? There have been many a training session where my power is just lower than expected…  Looking at the time and speed I wasn’t too concerned. My goal was to get as close to 6 hours as possible. At this rate, I could hold substantially less power than my goal and achieve it. So I changed my goal to as close to 6 hours as possible whilst expending as little effort as possible. That would keep my legs fresh for the run, which is where everyone told me my race could fall apart, despite my running background.

The crowds as we passed through towns were impressive, but I was most excited to get to the town of Greding, where our support crew was waiting: all three of us girls’ other halves. It also happened to be the toughest climb of the course. As I turned the sharp corner and started up the hill, I flicked into the smallest gear – no need to burn my matches so early. I saw the three guys ahead, and their cheering gave me a huge boost.

I needed it. The hill flattens out a bit after I saw them, but stays a gentle climb for quite some kilometers. And it was into a headwind. I watched my time start to slip off the pace …

Next up was the steepest descent of the course. Anyone who has cycled hills with me knows I am not a great descender, with my hands constantly on the brakes. But in a race, I overcome my fears and I flew down the hill to bring my time back up.

Unfortunately around the 60km mark my stomach started cramping up. I’m not sure what caused it, but it felt like hands were wringing out my stomach. Not good, but hey, I still had four hours to cycle, so I figured it would calm down. I stayed off the nutrition as long as I felt was possible, hoping sticking to water would help the stomach. It didn’t. And I couldn’t stay off nutrition all day, or I would bonk, so I started drinking my nutrition again after about 60 minutes.

As I started my second loop though, I did feel a second wind and took advantage. I was about three minutes off pace, but over 90 km that was not bad. I made up some of the time, and was in good spirits when I passed our support crew for the second time. The wind had really picked up though, so now the continued ascent was tougher – and for most of the rest of the course we faced a headwind. I watched the time carefully, but was still off the pace. The chances of me going under 6 hours were disappearing … would 11 hours still be possible?

Heading up Solar Hill
Heading up Solar Hill

Around 155km is the second time you experience the famous Solar Hill. It’s every competitor’s opportunity to feel like they’re in the Tour de France. A relatively short, but steep stretch of hill rises before you, with pedestrians lining the sides, almost touching, only to part as the triathletes come through. They are cheering so much it is deafening. The first round, I tried not to get too caught up, as I know too many stories of people getting too excited and going too hard, only to regret it later. The second time, I really reveled in the moment, a huge smile splitting my face as spectators cheered me on. The emotion hit me – what a fantastic opportunity I had to race this course!

Over the hill and to the home stretch. I was relieved when the transition was finally in view and it suddenly it was over … In 6 hours 7 minutes. I stumbled off the bike. My legs were heavy and wobbly, but every long ride I had followed with a run, so it was a familiar feeling.

Transition was amazing. I saw a sea of competitor bags in front of me, and was trying to figure out where mine would be, when I looked up and saw a young girl holding up a bag with my race number on it. She beckoned me, and I followed her into the tent. She hustled me to the far end of the room, and emptied the bag out. “Right, what do you need?” she asked.

After she’d helped me take out what I needed and repack my cycling kit, she then set me on the right path to run.

Onto the run course, my legs were wobbly, but not too bad. I looked down at my watch and saw I was doing my half distance pace, about 45 seconds a kilometer too fast. “Slow down!” I instructed myself. “You feel good, but it’s not the plan.”

My stomach was still in agony, but I hoped the change of position from bent down on the bike to upright on the run would help. Nope. My thought of taking on my gel had my stomach heaving in addition to the cramps.

A couple of friends from the Macca X community saw me and cheered me on, which helped me ignore the pain for about … twenty seconds.

I thought to myself, This is crazy. What kind of sick challenge is this? My stomach cramps are so bad, I wouldn’t start a regular marathon like this. In fact, I wouldn’t even go out for a Sunday run in these conditions! What will the results say? They will be slow numbers which don’t tell anything of the pain I am in, nor of my potential as a marathon runner.

As I turned onto the canal path, I channeled my experiences from running two marathons: there is no wall, only waves of pain which come at you hard, but then recede. Just wait for the pain to recede. It’ll come good, I told myself. Pity party over. Just get this done.

Then ahead I noticed someone walking in familiar looking kit: it was Annchen, with her boyfriend Bram’s arm around her.  I stopped and walked next to her to check in how she was: not good; shed been vomiting since km 120 on the bike. Did I have anything for nausea I could give her? Sorry, no – even if I did I would have taken it myself long ago …

I picked up my run again and not long up the road saw the other two guys. I handed Korneel one of my gels and said, “I don’t think I can stomach that! I’m not feeling too good.” I really didn’t want to emphasize how bad I was feeling, since I’d learned in Mallorca that my mind listens keenly to what I say aloud, and can magnify a bad situation…

After about 10km, my cramps still hadn’t subsided, but I was keenly aware of the fact that you can’t run a marathon on no nutrition – especially after 180km on the bike. So at the next aid station, I grabbed a coke. Now, I am the first to speak the evils of coca cola and soft drinks to anyone who asks my opinion, but my goodness, it really saved me. Another 2km and I was starting to feel better – even more so when I hit one of the turnaround points and saw Annchen was now running and not too far behind me. “If she feels better, so can I,” I thought.

I continued on and for the first time stopped feeling the awful stomach cramps. Checking my watch, I was a few minutes off pace if I were to make 11 hours, but I told myself the time to surge was later – as long as I was feeling good.

Around 19km I passed our support crew, buoyed to see them again. That would be the last time I saw them before the finish line.

I was really hitting my stride now, a few seconds per kilometer faster than my goal pace, allowing me to slow to a walk every time I hit an aid station and take in water, one of my salt & electrolyte tablets, and cola.

As I approached the bottom end of the course, another turnaround, Janine was running in the opposite direction. “I’m struggling!” she called out. A few minutes later I was running past her, trying to give her some positive words.

As I approached 30km, I allowed myself to look at my watch and start some calculations. It would be really tight to come in under 11 hours … Did I feel good? Then now was the time to hit the gas.

Once again, I heard my friend Frank’s wise words in my head: “Don’t think too much about the finish line. Be in the moment and it will come soon enough.” Truth be told, these words had been going through my head since about half way through the swim. Every time my thoughts started to drift, I’d pulled myself back.

Even now, I wouldn’t let myself think about what was 12km up the road – that was an hour away, and when you start thinking about it, an hour is a long time… So I brought myself back, just thinking, “Focus on kilometer 30 to 31. and then, Now focus on this kilometer. I thanked Frank after the race because I do believe that advice saved me from over-thinking (and ruining) my race, as I have been known to do in the past.

Flying toward the finish line
Flying toward the finish line

From kilometer 36 I really started a charge… Winding up the speed to finish as fast as possible. 1km splits:
4:44 … 4:32 … 4:40 … 4:36… 4:35 and 4:56 as I slowed down to high five my excited fiance, and smile and wave to the crowd in appreciation for all the support as I was cheered in across the line … In a time of 10:56:28, buoyed by a marathon time of 3:25.

I’m absolutely delighted with the result. But one thing which must be acknowledged is that this was not a one-man show. The performance is thanks to my wonderful fiancé, Korneel. Throughout the year, he has been my thought partner in devising my training plan, picked up household chores to give me more time to train, prepared my clothes or bike for training sessions,  indulged my fatigue and bad moods, and generally put up with a fiancée who wants to go to bed at 9pm every night. He helped me devise my race plan, and filled me with confidence that it was achievable, despite what others said. He stood on the side of the road for almost 11 hours to cheer me on as I raced past. And he’s even proof-read this blog, despite hearing me tell the stories a hundred times already! Huge thank you!!!

Thanks also to my wonderful training and racing buddies Janine and  Annchen. Without these two girls, I would never have thought it was possible for me to do an ironman, and I would never have had so much fun in training for one.

And of course, the question everyone is asking: will there be another ironman? Well … never say never …

Mallorca 70.3 Race Report

POP! Went a tire just meters from me. I turned around. A woman gingerly reached out and touched her bike’s tire. Flat as a pancake. She looked horrified and ran her bike over to the mechanics’ tent. I felt just as horrified: I’d used her pump just moments after she had. What if there was something wrong with her pump and my tires blew too?

I replayed our interaction in my head.

Me: “May I borrow your pump please?”

Her: “Sure no problem – could you hold my bike for a moment while I pump mine?”

I did as she asked, watching as she pumped the tires up to 100 PSI. She looked up at me: “What do you pump your tires up to?”

Me: “120.”

She continued to pump til she reached 120.

Why ask and listen to what a stranger does with completely different tires on race day?

I crossed my fingers that she either had really bad luck or her tires weren’t built for 120 PSI, whispered: “Don’t you blow up!” to my tires and headed out for my warm up.

The Swim

  I positioned myself on the side, toward the middle of the pack of girls in hot pink swim caps, waiting for the gun to go off. I’m not a super strong swimmer, so I don’t think I belong at the front, but what happened next has me rethinking that choice.

The gun went off and the majority of the girls in front of me walked into the water like they were wading into a thermal bath. “WTF ladies!” I wanted to shout. “It’s not a day spa! It’s a race! Get moving!”

Finally I got some space and was ale to start swimming, but I spent a lot of that swimming around slower swimmers. I pushed the whole way, and felt strong coming out of the water.

Swim time: 36:32

Transition 1 went smoothly. Mallorca has one of the longest transitions in the world, so it’s a relief to get through there.

T1 4:02

The Bike

The bike is where I’ve been putting all my effort in recently. In previous years, if I’ve needed to drop sessions, the swim has been first to go, followed by the bike. This year, in an effort to improve my cycling, my bike has been my non-negotiable. My run has suffered slightly, but I know I have plenty more opportunity for improvement on the bike.

I’ve also been working with power. I had my power number in mind which I believed could hold for the race. I had cleverly configured my garmin so that I was unable to view my speed – seeing my speed could do only two things to me:
– leave me dispirited if not high
– freak me out if too high on the descents

The first 20km are on the flat, and I held my power well.

The next 10km is a climb of around 5.5% gradient – so a steady climb. Here I allowed myself to go above my power numbers, confident I could recover on the descent.

All was going quite well until I ran out of water. I have a fuel bag of water which sits within my bike, and I think the way it was positioned I just hadn’t filled it up completely – or I was drinking way more than expected in the heat. Fortunately, just a few kilometers up the road a water station appeared. I grabbed a water and tried to fill up the fuel bag. After a few seconds, it appeared full. What on earth … ? I jiggled my finger in the bag, desperately hoping it would reposition quickly. My only other option would be to shove this water bottle down the front of my jersey – and what if it came flying out during that treacherous descent? Fortunately, the fuel bag repositioned, and I filled it up completely.

Then came the next almost-disaster: I reached the service station, which is where the descent starts. I’d learned days earlier during my reccy ride that I needed to get the chain onto the big ring at that point, in order to get power (and stability) descending – and because with the upcoming hairpin bends I wouldn’t feel confident changing gears any further down the road.

I pulled the gear up. Nothing changed. I looked down – nope, the chain was definitely not moving. I tried two or three times before it finally caught. Thank goodness – I would not have liked to do the rest of that ride in the small ring …

I started to descend. I was steady – having taken confidence from the reccy ride. Half way down the mountain, my mate Niels came flying by. He’d started 30 minutes after me, so I was expecting it at some stage. It was actually good to have a friend with me just for a moment on the descent.

Toward the bottom of the descent, a lot of girls flew by me. I stayed calm and didn’t let it rattle me. I’m not a strong descender and I can’t expect differently.

The back half of the course included a few other bumps, but mainly flat terrain. I put my head down and got to work. Watching my power numbers worked really well for me – I was so focused on them I didn’t even realized how much of a headwind I was pushing into. Others complained about it later, how tough the conditions were this year. My fiancé was tracking me on the ironman website, and when he saw my speeds he thought, Does she have a tailwind” only to check and see I was working into a headwind. (Note if you check my results you probably won’t be that impressed, but know that I am usually that much of a wimp into headwind!)

Toward the end of the bike leg I noticed two things which have been fairly unusual for me in cycling:
– I was passing people
– The only people passing me were male

The bike work is paying off!

Bike 3:06:57 (in comparison, two years ago I rode this same course in 3:19:37 – that’s huge gains!)

Transition 2 was quick as I dumped my bike, and slipped on my running shoes and visor.

T2: 2:18

The Run: The Hurt Locker

  The run started well. I was on the pace I wanted to be on. The only slight concern was how few aid stations there were.

As I approached 7km however, I made a mistake. I was so intent on chasing a runner ahead of me, I followed him as he made a mistake on the course, skipping a short, maybe 200m out-and-back section. We skipped directly onto another out and back section, again probably only 250m or so. As we returned, I saw my mistake, “What on earth ..?” I said aloud. There was only one thing to do: loop back and redo those sections of the course. I probably only ended up adding 200-300m to the course, but I was furious with myself. And I started letting the negative thoughts slip in. My pace slowed. I started wanting those aid stations even more desperately, cursing how far apart they were on such a hot day.

In addition to the negative thoughts, I then added fuel to the fire by seeing a couple of friends on the course and saying aloud how awful I was feeling and how difficult the race had been for me. The target time I’d set for myself was out the window, and now I was just trying to survive.

The cycle of self pity lasted until the final five kilometers. I made a conscious effort to turn my thoughts positive. Now how do you do that? It’s really difficult. But the same way I’d spoken aloud negative thoughts and going into the negative spiral, I started saying positive things aloud: “good job!” and “well done!” I’d say to people as passing them, but speaking the words as much to myself as to them.

I then focused on the positive fact that this being my final lap, any females I was passing was putting me further up the rankings. I’m a competitive person: let’s race.

With one kilometer to go I decided to put myself further into the hurt locker and really picked up the pace, going so far as to sprint down the line.

Run 1:34:18

Total time 5:24:07

I’ll be honest: I was disappointed. This was not the time I’d been aiming for, and I felt I’d really let myself down on the run.

I was feeling quite sorry for myself until I saw the provisional results they’d placed on the side of one of the tents. I was shocked beyond belief to see my name against 3rd place in my age group. By the time I got back to the villa, someone’s slow timing chip had finally been picked up and I’d been pushed off the podium into 4th place. Slightly disappointing, but considering I’ve previously been happy placing in the top 20 this was really beyond my wildest expectations.

As for my time, everyone is saying the conditions were much tougher than last year, with all of my friends adding time to what they achieved last year. So I can’t be unhappy.

  What I can be extremely happy about is … I qualified to go to the World Championships in Austria later this year. I got a slot at the roll down ceremony, and was clearly the most excited person to be saying yes, shouting it as I ran down to the stage to collect my certificate, giving Paula Newby Faser (the Queen of Kona) a giant hug.

As I look back at the journey to this…

I think of that day a few weeks to when I was in tears on the turbo trainer, adamant I would be throwing in the towel on the sport of triathlon, and I cannot believe what a difference a few weeks will make.

I think of everything my fiancé, Korneel, has done over this year to enable this: helping with my coaching, helping organize my life so everything can fit in (an example: a few weeks ago, I arrived home from work at 8:30pm. I was greeted with a hug, and my swim bag being shoved into my arms: “your swim bag is packed, go get your training in.”), and really giving me the time and space I need to train (and sleep 8+ hours a night for recovery).

I think of my great training buddies, The Ladies Speedzone, as we call ourselves affectionately. These girls motivate me, inspire me, keep me company in training, and keep me sane when things aren’t going my way.

I think of my friends who don’t do triathlon, who give me the space to stick to sparkling water on a night out, go home at 10pm, and even decline invitations to parties on the biggest day in Holland, King’s Day.

And I think back to a few years ago… I think I was complaining about how much stronger all the other girls are on the swim and bike, and how could I ever compete. My dad could not understand why I was putting myself through all this misery when I could just be running and doing something I exceed at – rather than struggling along through triathlon. I wish he could still be here, to see all my hard work has paid off and I’m going to the World Champs – so I’m not so crazy for pursuing this after all.

I may be competing by myself in a triathlon, but it’s the people around me – now and throughout my life – who enable this, so to them: a thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The Ups and Downs of Ironman Training: Part 2 – Moving on Up

After the disaster of Saturday, the last thing I felt like doing on Sunday was racing.

This year, I’ve signed up to do some races with ATAC. It’s the first season for the club to be racing teams. The first race I would be competing in was a very strange team race in Arnhem. Teams of four would race 475m in the pool together – in one lane, drafting off the fastest swimmer (s). The second leg, drafting was again encouraged, with the four of us riding together. Here there was an option to drop one rider, because the craziest part of this triathlon was: only one time counted from each team: your third triathlete over the line in the run leg.

Now, miserable and mopey as I was from the day before, I did not want to be racing. Had it not been a team event, I was certain I would have pulled the covers up over my head when the alarm went off.

But I went, joined the other girls … and had a GREAT time!

Our swim went quite well, with our strongest swimmer, Lorna, leading the charge. I brought up the tail – as I explained to my team mates I have a lot of experience being the slowest swimmer in the fast lane at Team Nike Tri training, so I am well versed at throwing everything at it to stick to the end of a group.

We then headed onto the bike course. The four of us had practiced together the weekend before, so we were very orderly with our calls of “Rolling!” and keeping the line – especially in comparison to other teams, who were all over the road.

Now, anyone who has ever seen me at an event knows I absolutely love cheering people on. I get a lot of energy from it. As soon as I have crossed the line, I am back on the course screaming my lungs out. Even on the course, I am saying “good job” to people as they pass me, and “keep it up” as I pass others. So this event was actually perfect for me: I was cheering on my team mates throughout. At one stage, we came down a hill, made a 180 turn, and climbed back up. “Come on Ladies Speedzone!” (our affectionate name for a few of us girls who train together often) I shouted out, as we attacked the hill. This was met with a ripple of laughter, followed by some applause and cheering by the crowd.

The beauty of this was I was not thinking about myself, and how crap I am at cycling at all. I was riding with some strong girls, and doing my best to keep up – and succeeding.

All smiles
All smiles

Three of us finished together, so we headed to the run course. Since the focus was on the third person over the line, I took it upon myself to be a personal motivator for our third girl (she may say drill sergeant). We finished the race with huge smiles.

I rode strong, and I had fun. I’m back in the game!

The next day was even better: I managed a 75km ride, with a 24km run – despite everything my legs had gone through that weekend!

 

The Ups and Downs of Ironman Training: Part 1 – A Real Downer…

Rock bottom...
Rock bottom…

Last weekend, I hit ROCK BOTTOM in my ironman training.

Saturday morning, I was all set for a challenging bike session. The weather wasn’t on my side, and neither were logistics: the fiance was out, (Technical Official at the Mirandabad triathlon) and it was too much of a hassle to find someone to look after Hugo. So I would do it on my turbo trainer.

The first stumbling block of the day came when I tried to take Hugo out for a walk (so that he would then settle in for a nap when I was training). For the life of me I could not find his lead. I searched high and low for a good thirty minutes before implementing a contingency plan: attaching a belt to his collar.

Well low and behold, when we walked down the stairs, guess what we found in the mailbox? His lead. Korneel had left it there by accident.

I returned from the walk and got on the bike 20 minutes later than expected. This put me into a bad mood, and I then got myself into a worse mood: I skyped with my mum and we had a huge fight. It’s a scene I am sure I could send to a TV sitcom: me on the turbo trainer, shouting away at skype on my laptop on the kitchen table.

With the fight over and done with, I could finally focus on my session. But maybe I shouldn’t have: the numbers were not there. I’ve been training with power since the end of January. Power training has certainly shown what I’ve always suspected: I’m weak on the bike. But that Saturday, it was different. I was struggling to hit warm up power numbers. “It’s fine,” I thought. “It’s just the warm up. You’ll get the numbers on the intervals.”

The first interval started: 15 minutes a bit below race pace, 15 minutes at race pace. Within five minutes, sweat was pouring off me and my breathing was laboured like I was going all in. But the numbers were still low. I burst into tears.

Just at that time, my sister called me. Sitcom moment number two: me crying hysterically on the turbo with my sister on the phone – and despite the fact that I was not hitting my power numbers, I was stubbornly pedalling away, keeping my eye on the timer running the 30 minutes out.

I was extrapolating one bad day into:

I have put so much energy and time into the bike this season – and not only am I not getting better, but I am actually getting worse!

My sister and I talked about my nutrition, and she had some good ideas for me. By the time I got off the phone, I thought, I can do this!

I started my second interval.

No – I couldn’t. My numbers were even lower this time around. I was torn: on the one hand, I thought, It’s ironman training! It’s going to be tough! And when the going gets tough, the tough get going! On the other hand, I thought, This is supposed to be fun. You do this because you enjoy it. And right now, balling your eyes out, you are not enjoying it at all.

“Just five more minutes!” I said to myself. “Make it to two hours!”

A minute later, the tears were coming thick and fast again. I stopped. I was done. Sometimes you just have to call it a day.

Unfortunately, I was also questioning my very ability to do the race… How would I recover from this?

Learning to Train with Power

  A coach once said to me, “Monica, if you’re every going to do an ironman, save your pennies and buy a power meter and Joe Friel’s book, Training with Power.” 

Well, I signed up to Roth and I’ve done one of those things: bought a power meter. As I haven’t bought or even borrowed a copy of Training with Power, you can imagine how disorganized this endeavor has been …


An Objective Number

One of the reasons I wanted a power meter is because I tend to be quite emotional. What this leads to in training and racing is me wanting to achieve a certain pace or time, and then crumbling apart if I don’t achieve it. It’s one of the reasons said former coach had me race without a watch – successfully.

So I thought a power meter would be helpful. And it is. Now, even if I am riding into a strong Dutch headwind, I’m not looking at speed and freaking out if it says 12kph. I’m looking only at the power number I’m aiming to achieve. I complete sessions feeling a lot better.

I know some of you would say I could look at my heart rate to similar effect, but I have a strange heart rate … A former coach used to ask me to take my heart rate every morning. Sounds simple, right? But as soon as that chest strap went on, I would start stressing. What would today’s number be? Would it show I am in good shape or not? Please let it be low! Please let it be low! It was never low. It got to the point where I would wake up, strap the chest strap on, start the garmin, and try to sleep again. You can see giant jumps in the line as I oscillate between drowsiness and remembering I am checking my heart rate.

In addition, I have a really high heart rate. I regularly hit the mid-190s in track sessions, and have raced 10km races with an average heart rate of 194. In cycling, my heart rate is much lower – but then again, so is my level of cycling, so I reason that I could probably push harder on the bike – but then people start getting overly concerned around my heart rate and telling me I shouldn’t be so high. Plus it feels hard. I guess I’ve been running so long that when I run at 180HR it feels ok, but I am still so unfamiliar with cycling that it feels very uncomfortable…

Apparently you have to calibrate?

Of course, it’s not like I look at these numbers and have amazing training sessions all the time.

Easter weekend I had some big bike sessions planned. I had been working with my power meter since late January. I’d done an FTP, with a cycling buddy taking me through that. But apart from that, my scientific knowledge of what power I could hold was based on what I’d tried out in intervals. But I had a pretty good idea of numbers I could achieve and numbers which weren’t achievable.

I started out. An hour easy to start. Things seemed kind of tough, but I was cycling into a headwind. So that made sense kind of.

Then the efforts started. I tried to hold my race pace – and came nowhere near it. Ok, I thought. Bad day. Let’s aim a little lower. But on the second intervals the number got even lower. I checked my heart rate: it was high. Higher than if I were holding race power. What on earth was going on?

With my heart rate high and the power number low, the outcome was inevitable, I suppose: I burst into tears. Unfortunately tears make things worse in some situations – like when you’re already gasping for breath for example!

I called my boyfriend and explained the situation. “I can’t do this!” I cried. “My heart rate is too high and my power is too low!”

“Go home,” he said. “Maybe you’re getting sick.”

I didn’t feel sick …

My girlfriends I trained with had other ideas.

“Did you calibrate your power meter before the session?” one asked. “My coach tells me to do that before every session.”

Did I what? I had no idea what she was talking about. A quick google search revealed it is indeed a very good idea to calibrate your power meter before every session – otherwise the numbers may not be accurate. They may tell you you’re working a lot harder than you actually are, or they may tell you you’re not working hard at all – but you’re outing your guts into it. Sound familiar?

First race is in May

So May I have my first big race: Mallorca 70.3.  I’ve got an idea of what power I should be able to hold … Perhaps my idea would be more accurate if I got that copy of Training with Power, but let’s see…

A Short Recap of the Triathlon Situation: 2013, 2014 and Today

2013

I changed jobs – changed companies actually. Big life changes are difficult to manage, and it was no different for me. My half ironman training fell away and I executed a poor race in Mallorca in 2013 which displayed all the sort cuts I’d taken in training.

I took time off triathlon and went back to running. I would run another marathon, and I would achieve a sub-three hour time. Instead, I developed a mystery injury in my right achilles. I took time off everything.

2014

From no triathlon clubs in Amsterdam when I arrived two years ago, I now had two. I joined some people I’d met in a cycling club to form ATAC – Amsterdam Triathlon and Cycling Club. A the same time, I connected with some triathletes at work, and Team Nike Tri was born. Nearly every session I did in 2014 was with those groups – or individuals from those groups.

My races were also with friends: Ironman 70.3 Rapperswil was raced with my boyfriend and a good friend from ATAC. I didn’t see my boyfriend on the course, but my friend and I went back and forth a couple of times, which gave me a sense of solidarity on course. Challenge Almere was raced with TNT athletes. Again I crossed paths with a couple of the gang, and spent the rest of the time trying to catch some of the boys – or stay in front of the others!

In addition, I had the honor of captaining a team of colleagues on the Hood to Coast – a 320km running relay from Mount Hood to Seaside in Oregon. Forty hours in which we all ran three legs of 10-12km, without sleep.

2015

Along the way of 2014, I made some amazing friends. Many of them race full distance ironman, and I realized there will be no better opportunity for me to do a full distance. I have people to train with from both of my teams, and people to race with also: I will do Mallorc 70.3 with the buys from TNT, and Challenge Roth with two girls who have become close friends from ATAC.

Triathlon and running. At be invidious sports, but it’s through my teams that I’ve found the motivation to race a full distance race – and enough joy to train for that 180km bike leg … or, at least, people to keep me company :)

Rapperswil Race Report

  2014’s A-Race was Rapperswil Ironman 70.3, in Switzerland.

I’ll be honest: the key reason I chose this race is because transition is situation next to a zoo, and giraffes look out over the course. How cool is that? How unlikely is it that you get the chance to race with giraffes looking over you in your lifetime? And I’m rather partial to giraffes too… Having traveled through Kruger Park in South Africa on safari, I was really taken with these majestic creatures with their beautiful eyes…

I arrived in Rapperswil with my boyfriend on the Thursday before the race. My friend’s husband then took me on a reccy ride of the course. It would be my first race on my Tri bike, and I wanted to see how it felt climbing and, more importantly, descending. The course is two 45km loops, so I wasn’t going overboard with distance, and it gave me the confidence boost I needed …

Race day

The Swim

After organizing everything in transition, I headed to the swim start. The lake is extremely cold, but absolutely beautiful! I drafted well, and came out of the swim feeling really strong, and like I was in a good position. This was one of the races was doing without a watch, so i didn’t know my time, but it felt good. I got onto the bike in a positive frame of mind.

The Bike

Heading out onto the bike course, I felt strong. It was very exciting to be riding my new bike in a race. The first lap went well. The highlight was climbing so-called Witches Hill, where some of the local women dress up like witches and hold broomsticks as they cheer you on.

The scenery was beautiful, and again in my life I felt so blessed to be able to explore Europe in a way that many people do not.

It also felt really good descending – some of the descent were shallow and sweeping, and even I was able to stay in the Tri bars.

The second lap, I had a shock as I climbed up a hill and saw my friend Janine ahead. This was shocking to me because a) I genuinely thought I’d had the swim of my life so I’d deluded myself I was ahead of her, and b) she is s stronger cyclist than me, so the passing should have been the other way around! I passed her on the way up, but she passed me again on the way back down.

I felt physically stronger than ever before on the bike leg of a triathlon. I was passing people – I wasn’t just being passed. And for the first time in triathlon on the bike leg, I felt mentally strong too. That came with passing people, sure, but manifested even more strongly when people passed me. I didn’t think, oh look how crap I am. I thought, no problem. This is my lace and it’s still a strong pace.

I still felt like I’d had a good ride when I made it to transition. Time to find my fast running legs …

The Run

I hit the run course with quite some speed and was again surprised by Janine – I caught up with her within a few hundred meters of transition.

“Had to go to the toilet,” she explained.

“You gotta learn to pee on the bike Janine!” I shouted as I ran by, other runners making way for this vulgar girl.

Without a watch, I had no idea of my pace or my time in total. But I felt fast. I reached the stairway to heaven – a set of around 60 steps if I recall correctly – for the first time. I bounded up them.

By the time I came back the second round I wasn’t bounding up them – but I was still holding strong. I did have a few week moments on that run leg, but the thought of people chasing me (Janine and my boyfriend starting in a later wave) spurred me on.

It was with joy that I crossed the line, and looked up to see my time: 5:13:12

The splits when I found out:
Swim: 39:09 … So not the super speedy swim i thought I’d done. Still, that’s the beauty of me racing without a watch. I’m not beating myself up about doing a crap swim time, because I think I’ve done a good job. Ha ha!
T1: 3:19
Bike: 3:02:28 Extremely close to my dream speed of 30kph
T2: 1:47
Run: 1:26:19 Wow – I didn’t know I had that in me! 

All in all fairly reflective of the training I’ve done:
– swimming most seldom
– putting more effort into the bike
– but still focusing on my strength, the run

A new PB in the 70.3 events – so pretty happy with that!

ATAC Spring Training Camp: Confessions from the Back of the Pack

When Hamish first floated the idea of the Spring Training Camp toward the end of last year, I was hooked. Cycling in Spain under the Spring sun? Sign me up!

Citrus Cycling had been scouted out by a pair of ATACers last March. Located in Benidoleig, in between Alicante and Valencia, it boasts one of the mildest winters in Europe. It also has some hills to speak of … including, it turns out, one leading right up to the accommodation…

Saturday morning, six of us were picked up in a large van to transport us and our bikes from Alicante airport to Benidoleig.

“Have you heard about the hill?” someone asked. “The serious climb to take you up to camp at the end of every day’s cycling?”

I had not. But still, I thought, how bad could it be? I did a tri camp a few years ago, and there was a relatively steep 1-mile climb to the camp at the end of those rides too.

But this was bad. As the van made the turn to go up said hill, it felt like we were jerked up toward the sky. The driver dropped down to first gear as we struggled up the hill. Up, and up, and up. How long was this?

“How bad is it going to be climbing up this every day?” someone asked.

“How much worse to descend each morning!” I replied – definitely not a speed demon, my descending skills leave much to be desired…

After we were checked in, had done some grocery shopping, and set up the bikes, we went for our first spin. First, we had a steep 200m climb to get to the peak, before we could begin our descent. My “climbing legs” were nowhere to be found. I am not doing that every day, I vowed.  (I stayed true to that vow, and walked up that hill, pushing my bike, every  morning except the last day, when I was running late.)

The descent was kind of scary. After months of riding the flat roads of Amsterdam – okay, to be fair, the flat road of my living room on my turbo trainer – my confidence in descending was low. But everyone waited patiently at the bottom of the hill.

Smiling after the first time we ascended the hill ...
Smiling after the first time we ascended the hill …

After an easy 25km, a few of us called it a day, and had our first attempt up the hill. It was as tough as I’d expected. After uploading to Strava, I finally had the data to back it up: a Category 3 climb. Distance: 2.9km. Elevation: 205m. Average grade: 7%. Maximum grade: 17.2%.

Each day, we were guided by Citrus Cycling host Adam on a ride – from a coastal ride, to a three peaks mountain climb, each day brought something new.

Now, as ATAC’s resident spin instructor, I do hate to admit this: but the truth is, cycling is not my forte. And this trip was full of strong cyclists to illustrate that. As the date of our trip approached, I got more and more nervous about the caliber of the cyclists attending…  How would I ever keep up? Well, the short answer is: I didn’t. But the good thing was, no one displayed – to me anyhow – any impatience. Once you get onto the hills, everyone really cycles at their own pace. On the flat, I could more or less keep up by slipping into the group and getting pulled along. Of course, this did take a lot of my effort, so I never arrived at the bottom of climbs totally fresh … but hey, it’s all good training!

To further slow me down, I’ve been trialing out a different nutrition program for a little while. Triathletes will often hear me say, “never try anything new on race day!” and I would say the same applies for a big training camp. But I’ve been experimenting for almost two months, so I thought I would be fine. I wasn’t. I bonked on the third day. Sadly, this was after climbing against a head wind and then descending to the other side of a mountain. The only way back to camp was up – against some pretty mammoth climbs. Road signs warned of 16%, but my legs and eyes told me some of these roads were even steeper. (NB Strava did agree with me after – I see once part at 29.7%).

Without any energy, and the group cycling further and further out of sight, I fell apart mentally as well. Suddenly all the hills were too steep for me, and I had nothing left in my legs … Now, I mentioned the group was further and further away, but the ever patient (when it comes to me, anyway) Korneel was by my side – doing his best to cheer me up as the tears fell more freely, riding next to me and pushing me up hills. When I needed to get off my bike and walk up hills, he got off his bike and pushed mine up for me. He even stopped for a hug when I needed it.

I was certain the group would be peeved off when I finally made it to the peak, but everyone was extremely supportive. A group of five agreed this was not to be our best day in the office, and the option to peel off and ride downhill with a tailwind all the way home sounded too good. (Actually the “all” the way home was indeed too good to be true – there were still a few uphill sections and some wind to fight, and I’ve got to thank Mark as well here for giving me a push and shielding me from the wind).

Wednesday was our official rest day. For some, that meant a gentle ride to the beach and a stop for coffee there. For others of us, that meant a drive in the car to that same beach. And for the one and only Dick Visser, aka Robocop, this meant a 118km ride.

I fixed up my nutrition issues, and was feeling much better again on Thursday. I did ride with a smaller group the easier option – a 25km gentle climb, and a race to the top of our Cat 3 climb home – shaving 50 seconds off my previous time.

The final day of riding was a three peaks ride – for those at the front of the pack. For us at the back, we were told to turn around once the first of the group started to descend, except for the final climb, Col de Rates, where we would be rewarded with apple struedel. So we called it “Three Climbs/One Peak” day.

The apple struedel was a BIG reward – each piece almost as large as a dinner plate!

Overall, the camp was a great success. For most of us, the rides, company, and post-ride food were above our expectations. I’m looking forward to heading back in 2015. Hopefully this piece will encourage a few other “back of the packers” to give me some company ;-)

Elbaman 73: Race Report

My dad and me on the ferry to Elba. Yes, that t-shirt reads "Team Haydock" - and yes, I had them made especially for me and my parents to wear :)
My dad and me on the ferry to Elba. Yes, that t-shirt reads “Team Haydock” – and yes, I had them made especially for me and my parents to wear :)

My last “bonus” end of season race was only three weeks after Vitruvian.

When my coach Scott and I had first started talking about an end of season race, the two races we talked about were Elbaman or Lanzarote 70.3. Both had big hills on the bike course, but Lanzarote is known for a strong head wind as well. I decided to limit the negative factors, and opted for Elba.
As it happened, this coincided with my parents’ trip to Europe, so they got to come along with me. How nice it will be, I thought, for them to have a weekend on sunny Italy and to watch me triumph in a race. They got neither of those things.

Our first issue was a ridiculous hire car which I managed to stall eight times in the three hour drive to Elba. Clearly mechanical error nor driver error – this would be a theme for the weekend!

By time we got ourselves to the town of Marina de Campo, it was late. We went to a supermarket in the hope to pick something up to cook for dinner at our apartment, but all the supermarkets had closed: it was just on 8pm.

Being super-organised as I am, I had of course brought some gluten free pasta which I could cook, but my parents picked up some takeaway from a little trattoria: lasagne, potatoes and chicken.

We booked an apartment at a campsite close to the race start, but when we arrived at 8.15pm we were horrified to find the office closed at 8pm. We tried calling the number on display at the office, but received no answer.

Great. Now we had nowhere to stay. And worse – I had nowhere to cook my dinner!

We headed down the road to a hotel, and found two rooms for the night. But of course no kitchen. So I left my parents in their room and headed to the restaurant … where – of course! – the kitchen was closed.

I started panicking: I should be carb loading! I imagined bonking in the race due to lack of carbs… I thought back to the food my parents had ordered. The potatoes!

I raced up two flights of stairs and started banging on the door of my parents’ room. My mum let me in. I brushed past her and raced to the balcony where I saw my dad raising his hand toward with mouth, with a potato on it.

“No!” I cried out, reaching forward to snatch the potato before it entered his mouth. “I need all the carbs!”

The next day followed in the general series of small mishaps which were tainting the weekend: we got to the campsite for the manager to insist someone had been on duty the night before; I was refused entry to bike check on because I had left my race belt number on the apartment; the car stalled some more; and heavy clouds hung ominously above us…

Lucky number????
Lucky number????

Sunday morning dawned – and surprisingly the clouds seemed to have drifted away. Could our luck be changing?

When I started the swim, I felt strong. Until someone kicked me in the head. But I managed to stick with a group of girls, and got to shore in a relatively good time.

I was shocked when I reached the transition area: I have never seen so many bikes still in transition when I came back from the swim. I was going strong.

No disasters in mounting the bike this time.

The disasters all happened after that. For some reason, I could not find any power in my legs … Or really, any speed on the bike. On the flat I was struggling to reach 25kph, but even going downhill I was struggling to get to 30kph. And for all those who have ever ridden hills with me: I can confirm that for once I didn’t have my hands on the brakes!

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me to check the mechanics of the bike until the 80km mark – i.e. after practically everyone had passed me. I started listening, and could hear a faint sound. Was the brake pad touching the wheel? I stopped and pushed the brake slightly and got back on. I seemed to be moving a bit better. Oh dear… Was that it? Why hadn’t I thought of that earlier?

When I came into transition more than an hour behind what I was expecting, I was sad to see that once again, all the bikes were racked in my area…

I changed into my running shoes and took off, quickly taking off my watch so I wouldn’t have to see the disappointing time I was posting. Without the watch, I ran to my own pace and just marked off other competitors. The only good thing about going so slowly on the bike is that when you hit the run course, most of the runners still out there aren’t competitive. So it was a nice change after the soul destroying bike ride.

As it happens, I wasn’t just running fast only in comparison to the folks still out there: I was one of three women to break the previous run course record that day.

As if the indignity of the race itself wasn’t bad enough, by the time I had eaten, “iced” my legs in the ocean, and collected my stuff, the skies above opened up and let down a thick blanket of rain, which my dad and I walked through as we made our way back to the hotel…

I could add in another couple of anecdotes about how I also managed to break my laptop screen, how both my parents’ backpacks broke, and how when we got to the dock we couldn’t get onto a ferry for five hours … but you would surely think so much bad luck couldn’t happen to one family in one weekend, and assume I was making it up. I’m not.

My mum says we will look back and laugh at this experience one day. Yes, my dad and I agree, after someone has forced laughing gas upon us …

Vitruvian Race Report

When I first started writing my blog about the Vitruvian race, I found myself bored: apart from a crazy work schedule interrupting my training, this was the perfect race. But after experiencing the disaster of Elbaman 73, I thought a boring but happy story wouldn’t go astray…
I returned from my holiday in France toward the end of July. Of course, holiday for me means doing an Olympic distance triathlon and a ten day cycling camp in the Pyrenees. At work, I discovered my latest tour of Europe wasn’t even over yet, and I was about to begin a new one: this time four, rather than two, nights away each week… Until December. I emailed the new schedule to my coach Scott. “Just some things to take into account when setting my training schedule!”

He wrote back, do you realize you’ve only got 16 days at home over the next 10 weeks?

No… That was a calculation I was unwilling to do, for fear it would freak me out completely!
Since the next five weeks would be in London, we came up with a plan: I would drive my car over to London, allowing me to take my bike & turbo trainer for my hotel room, and give me flexibility to drive to parks for run training, rather than wing stuck running around Gatwick airport car park again.

The programme he devised was really effective in the end, and I found myself excited as the Vitruvian race approached. Similar in distance to Austria 70.3, this Vitruvian involves a 1.9km swim, 85km bike, and 21km run.

Race Day

I was once again racing with my friend Ironman Rich. We met at race transition at 5am Saturday morning. I love the fact that at triathlons at 5am, everyone is as perky as I am:)

I got my transition area ready, then headed down to the start to cheer Rich on in the swim.

The Swim

After having got in the water way to early for Austria – and a little bit late for Paris – I seemed to get it just right for Vitruvian.

Unfortunately, the swimming is the one part of my training that really has suffered amidst my travel schedule. When I have been training, I’ve seen my times balloon out. For this swim, every time I felt myself finding my rhythm, I also found myself off course.

I exited the water in just over 38 minutes, but minus the black eye of Paris!

Lesson learned: don’t skimp on swim training!

Transition to the Bike

I raced into transition, and as pleased to see there were still a few bikes about. Some work to do, but not quite at the back.

I grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line.

Despite the fact I had seriously considered putting my bike shoes on in transition, I had made the decision to attach my shoes to my bike and put them on as I cycled. It was the wrong decision. I made a complete mess of it, and had to stop, unclip my left foot, thread the Velcro straps through my shoes, and start again.

Lesson Learned: practise the transitions, get triathlon-specific bike shoes, or put your shoes on in transition

The Bike

Finally settled, I headed up the hill and onto the course. Thankfully Rich has done this race the last few years, and gave me some insights. I knew the first few kilometres were into a headwind, so I couldn’t expect great speeds.

I turned a corner and hit the “Rutland Ripple”, a series of hills. I love the hills – even more so after my time in the Pyrenees in July. Well, more specifically I love going up hills. Down, not so much. So I powered up the first hill, passing a number of other athletes… Most of whom passed me again on the way back down. But this time, I swear it was a result of weight alone – my hands were off the brakes. Yep, seems I may be absolutely terrified with high speeds associated with going down hills, but my competitive spirit kicks in when I race, and I’m able to forget my fears. Or I just think that racing is more important than being scared.

After the Rutland Ripple, you turn a corner and the wind picks up behind you, lifting your speeds. I hammered along at 35-40kph, and came to the end of the first lap bang on target.

The second lap was even better, as others tired and I stayed strong, again doing a lot of overtaking on the hills.

The Run

I started off strongly in the run. I raced past two men early on. One commented, “Good running!”

I replied, “Thanks,” and because I think you should always return a cheer, “You look strong too.”

As I was racing away, this guy’s mate said after me, “Show off!”

“Jerk,” I thought.

I kept up the pace but felt myself tire at the twenty minute mark. “Stay strong,” I told myself. But it wasn’t working. By the time Rich and I crossed paths, he running in the opposite direction, I could only manage a grimace and a half hearted high five to his smile.

Nevertheless, after I got a gel and some water into me at the thirty minute mark, I was fine again. And thus it went: twenty minutes following my gel feeling fine, ten minutes of misery.

I looked down at my watch and could see hope was fading for me to reach my time target of under five hours. Given my ten minute waves of misery however, I was just happy to see the finish line come up. I finished in five hours and one minute.

The Result

It seems “plus one” was order of the day for me:
Top ten? No, 11th place
Top three in age group? No, fourth
Fastest run split? No, second fastest

I was rapt with the result, and happy to catch up with Rich so we could start talking 2013 races…