Confessions of a Novice Part I – Or, how I finally learned to swim properly

I had a swimming breakthrough this week, which I am super excited about.

Time and time again, I have had people give me pointers or talk about good swim technique in general. A consistent message is this: keep your elbows high.

To be honest, I always thought this was a bit strange, because I thought they were referring to keeping your elbow high when in the recovery position – i.e. when your arm comes up above the water and you get ready for your next stroke. Of course it’s going to be high, I would think, it’s above the rest of your body.

Anyhow, this week a post on Twitter caught my attention: how your catch should feel to you  Standing in the line at the work canteen, I opened the link.

I looked at the pictures and read the words. Oh my goodness! I thought excitedly. You keep your elbows high when they’re IN the water doing the stroke! Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get to the pool. Swim training was not until the next day, however.

I left a note on my door on a post-it, “Elbows high!” to remind me in the early hours of Wednesday morning. I got to the pool, and it was amazing! Doing the stroke, I knew immediately: this was new to me – I was engaging different muscles, I was using less strokes to reach the end of the pool.

I was reticent to make it all about timing myself (and I mis-fired the stop watch a few times!) but I managed to take 10 seconds off my best 200m time. The rest of the session I just spent time really getting the feel of the stroke.

That’s one step closer to the Ironman Dream … I’ll take it.

Gluten Free Triathlon

Four years ago, I spent four months feeling absolutely miserable: I was tired all the time, and my stomach was constantly bloated. A blood test revealed my iron levels dropped to almost anaemic levels for the first time in my life. My diet had not changed. Apparently my body had though: I had developed an intolerance to gluten.
Dealing with the symptoms

When I first received the results, I was disbelieving. “I’m a long distance runner,” I told my doctor. “Pasta is my friend. The test results must be wrong.”

Apparently they weren’t, for after a week of being gluten free, my stomach went flat again. In the next month, I noticed I was feeling a whole lot better. As my body returned to a healthy state, I realised that while I had being going about thinking I was “normal,” I had actually been living with a really stressed out gastrointestinal tract for a long time.

When I tried reintroducing gluten a month later, my body did not react well. Not only did I experience cramping and gastrointestinal upset, but I felt mentally upset, had some nasty temper outbreaks, and just felt like the energy had been zapped from my body. Every time I have accidentally ingested gluten since then (okay, sometimes it’s an actual “cheat” where I really, really feel like having malteasers), some or all of these symptoms return. Sometimes I will out of the blue hear my stomach gurgling loudly, find myself feeling blue, or throw something across a room in rage. When that happens, I go back carefully over what I have eaten in the past few days – sometimes it’s finding a hidden ingredient on a label, and other times it’s acknowledging that the restaurant I thought was so good would be better without a second visit …

So what’s my diet like?

Probably not that much different to yours, actually! A typical day would be:

Breakfast: gluten-free breakfast cereal with fruit and yoghurt
Mid-morning snack: rice cakes with peanut butter and honey
Lunch: my big meal – perhaps rice, quinoa or gluten free spaghetti with vegies and tofu or lean meat
Afternoon snack: banana with peanut butter
Evening meal: maybe a smaller version of what I’ve had at lunch, or soup with gluten free bread
So what do I differently as a Gluten Free Athlete?

1. I pore over ingredients like they’re the most riveting news story of the year!

In Australia, there are strict food regulation laws, requiring all products to clearly list whether a product contains any of the main allergens. Life is easy: I turn a product over, it states in big capital letters CONTAINS GLUTEN, and I put it back on the shelf. Since moving to the Netherlands, things have been a bit more difficult for me. Occasionally, I will find a product stating “Gluten Free”, or “Contains wheat” but more often than not, I am scanning through the ingredients – in Dutch. Sometimes I will find English or American products with the ingredients list covered over with by a sticker with the ingredients in Dutch. I have to admit I am a bad shopper: I remove the label and read the ingredients list in English …

2. I check the ingredients of race day refreshments!

This one is a biggy. With all the random products they put into electrolyte drinks, I will sometimes find gluten is amongst them. When I look to sign up for a race, I need to check the refreshments sponsor, look up their ingredients online if possible, or contact the company directly to find out if I will need to supply everything myself. If it’s a short race, I can deal with it (have my own stuff on the bike, take gels for the run). But if we’re talking a long race … that might not work out so well …

3. I have to figure out how to deal with the effects of gluten “poisoning” while training

Last week was a bad week of training … I had some chips on Wednesday which turned out to not be gluten free. On Friday, I was absolutely wiped out when I should have been doing my big brick session for the week. I had no energy to carry my bike down the stairs, let alone put in a big effort, and I was close to tears most of the day. This is where I have to learn to be kind to myself – I’m not doing myself any favours going on and doing a punishing session when I’m feeling like that … I decided to take myself to the swimming pool: at least there if I felt like crying no one would notice;-)

I’m feeling much better now, and ready to go for another week!

And finally, a word of advice …

If you know anyone, or meet anyone who is gluten intolerant or celiac, may I pass onto you the two most annoying things you can say to them? (in the hopes that you never do!)

What happens when you eat gluten?
Well … the politest way I can put it is this: it affects my gastrointestinal tract, so I’m pretty sure you don’t want to hear about the symptoms – and I certainly don’t want to talk about them!

2. “Oh, I wish I were gluten intolerant!” (this is usually said at a social occasion, when the person is gorging themselves on pizza and beer, or cake, and I am chugging the sparkling water.)

Yes, you might be healthier if you didn’t drink beer and eat pizza or cake, but really, imagine not ever being able to eat them – for the rest of your life! (plus I’m rather hungry right now!)

See above re: symptoms – does experiencing that through accidental ingestion really appeal to you?

It’s Not about the Bike … Or Is it?

I want to share a series of fortuitous events from my last weekend of triathlon, and I’m keen to get people’s opinions.

Some Background

I ride a Specialized Dolce. It’s not the Comp or Elite model, so it is bottom of the range Specialized. Now I know Lance Armstrong said it’s not about the bike, but it is not the lightest bike in transition, and it’s not helping me be much faster …

Anyhow, on Friday night my new bike computer arrived. I could not set it up properly, despite working on it for an hour. I determined to try again when I got to Ieper the next day, the day before the triathlon.

So I headed to Ieper for the triathlon on Saturday morning. When I arrived in town, rather than go to my hotel I pulled my car over to the side of the road quite randomly, close to where I knew the bike transition area was. I pulled my bike out of the boot, and started working on the placement of the speed sensor and cadence sensor.

Suddenly, I heard a police siren. I turned around, and suddenly a police motorcycle went past – along with a mass of cyclists, and then support cars. What was this? A Tour of Ieper bike race?

Fortuitous Parking

I went back to working on the computer. What was wrong with it? I couldn’t sense speed or cadence! I looked up, and across the road, a van was parked. On the side of the van, it read, “Estonian Cycling Team.” A guy wearing a cycling jersey sat in the driver’s seat, reading a newspaper.

How fortunate! I walked over to the van. “Hi!” I said with a smile. “You look like you know a bit about bikes! Can you help me with my bike computer?”

Fortuitous Computer

The guy, Andros, told me he was more than happy to try, but not sure if he would be that successful. As we crossed the road, he told me he was a former Junior World Championship cyclist, and now acted as support crew for Estonia’s Juniors team. This was a prep race prior to their trip to Copenhagen next weekend.

He looked at the computer. “Would you believe,” he said, “I set up this exact computer on my bike a few weeks ago?”

Sharing of a Mechanic

Within twenty minutes, the computer was up and running. Andros was concerned about my bike however. There was a lot of instability in the forks – could I need new bearings?

“You know,” he said, “the Estonian team has a great mechanic. Maybe he could take a look at it for you after this afternoon’s race finishes?”

Meeting the Mechanic

By the time the race had finished, the mechanic looked quite exhausted (he had been following the team around in the support car all afternoon). Andros asked him if he could take a look at my bike. The mechanic looked slightly put out. “Where is it?” he asked.

“Right here!” I responded with a big smile. I had parked right beside the Team Estonia van.

He looked it over, tightened the handlebars, fixing the problem. He also tidied up the job we had done on the computer. I asked if he could see anything else wrong with the bike. He took it for a spin, and tightened a few other things.

A Word of Advice …

When he came back, I asked him, “How often should you replace a bike? Like, I’ve had this one for two years – when do I need a new one?”

He looked at me. “You need to replace this one yesterday. You cannot race competitively on this bike. It’s too heavy, it’s not aerodynamic, you need new wheels, and a new saddle.”

Wow … Tell me what you really think! I did really appreciate his advice. It was unbiased – not like if I were to ask a mechanic at a bike shop. I had often wondered whether a new bike would make a big difference …

In this Race, it WAS About the Bike

For those who read my pervious entry, you will know I got a flat tyre in the race … Even the spare tube couldn’t save me.

A New Bike?

So the question is … do I take the mechanic’s advice and get a new bike? In light of the fact that he told me I needed a new bike, and this one failed me. Now, admittedly, any bike can get a flat (and this bike actually didn’t get one for two years!) but I am always open to the idea that God, or fate, or the universe – whatever you might think is out there – might be guiding me in a certain direction.

Plus, I am going to do Austria Ironman 70.3 next year … I need a good bike for that.

Have I found it?

I started doing a brief search online last night, and found a Cervelo on sale – like a 30% saving. There’s only one frame size left … and it’s my size … What should I do???

Welcome back to Racing!

This weekend I had my first tri in 18 months. I borrowed a friend’s car for the weekend, and drove the 300km from Amsterdam to Ieper/Ypres, Belgium, for the In Flanders Fields Triathlon.

The race plan: get through the 1km swim, race the 40km bike like I’m a cyclist (since that’s where I’ve been doing my hard work), and see what happens on the 10km run when I put serious effort in on the bike. If I fail, it’s a learning experience for Barcelona – my first Olympic Distance tri in four weeks.

So here’s my race report:

After a bright sunny morning, the temperature dropped dramatically and the clouds started moving in as we gathered in the transition area. As soon as the first wave was allowed in the water, the rain started coming down. All the women were in the third wave, and as we were held in the pen it started to hail. A bad omen?

Winning at Swimming

Suddenly they called us through, and the gun went off. “Survive the swim” has a nice ring to it, and I’ve always kind of used that mantra in tri’s. For me, finishing in the top half of the swim is considered a good result. But obviously all my plugging away in those crowded Dutch pools is paying off: as I continued to sight the buoys, I was sighting – not too many women in front of me.

I made it out of the water in 16:15 – which was four minutes faster than my goal!

In the run to the transition area, I ran past four other athletes. (With a loop back on the cycling course, I was able to count 15 riders ahead of me – meaning I had finished in the top 20% of the swim!)

Now About the Bike …

I got to transition and looked down. My carefully laid out arm warmers to deal with the cold on the bike were SOAKED through. Okay, they were not going to do me much good. I had planned on socks due to the cold, but they were also wet. So straight to the shoes, and I was off!

Within 1km I caught another female on the bike. Unfortunately, by the time I reached 10km a couple of females had passed me too – one on a downhill, which always seems to happen since I don’t weigh that much, and a few others around quite technical areas of the course. There were lots of hairpin turns and narrow paths. But I was feeling strong. This was a much better performance on the bike than I had ever had before.

Around the 14km mark I felt it:

KA-TUNK! from my back wheel.

Every few seconds … KA-TUNK! KA-TUNK! KA-TUNK!

No, no, no! I thought to myself. This is NOT a flat! In two years I have NEVER had a flat with this bike! I am just riding over some bumps!

A little voice in my head replied, Then why is it only your back wheel feels these bumps?

I was in the middle of a hill, so I cycled to the top. I had a spare tube, so I figured I could change it and then cycle off on an easier section of the course – no point having to get back on the bike after I fixed the tyre and climb this stupid hill!

At the top, I pulled the wheel off, got rid of the inner tube and replaced it. Next step: put some air into it. My fingers were freezing by this point, and perhaps that had something to do with it. But I had trouble affixing the pump to the needle, and when I looked at it again, I noticed the needle was broken.

So that was it: race over. That’s triathlon for you. Welcome back to the sport.

And I began the long, cold walk back to transition…

No Run Today …

Learning to Train with a Heart Rate Monitor

My primary race this season will be Barcelona Olympic Distance triathlon. While I have a fairly good aerobic base and training experience for endurance events, you will know from my previous entries there are a few difficulties I’m contending with …
·         I’ve come into the season late
·         I have some serious work to do in swimming and cycling
·         I don’t really seem to have many options when it comes to joining a group or finding a coach in Amsterdam.

So what’s my plan? I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and think I can coach myself for a while. I figure I’ve been coached for long enough by some truly excellent coaches that I can work on my own for a while. (Plus, my new ironman training buddy coached himself to a 10 hour ironman, so I know it can be done!)

I’m reading Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt, and making my training plan around what I learn from them. They recommend a lot of stuff by heart rate training, so the first thing I had to do was take out the heart rate monitor strap that accompanied the Garmin I bought last year. And I was kind of shocked. Both Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt recommend a lot of training in Zones 1 and 2. Basically, at this rate: Breathing rate and pace increase slightly. Breathing slightly deeper. Conversation still possible. Legs still comfortable. A lot of the workouts are in this zone.

Running in Zone 2

When I run, I’m having a lot of difficulty training at this level. I feel like I’m not working at all, and therefore couldn’t possibly be getting fitter. But according to Joe Friel, this is a really important level to train at:
Riding two or more hours at this effort challenges the body to make some improvements. One is to become better at using fat for fuel while sparing muscle glycogen stores. The longer your races are, the more important this shift is. The other critical shift has to do with increasing the capillary bed in the working muscles. The more capillaries you have the easier it is to get fuel and oxygen to the muscle.
See: http://www.trainingbible.com/joesblog/2009/11/aerobic-base-ride.html

Listening to podcasts and doing some other reading where triathletes find gradually their pace increases within Zone 2. So I’m tryin’!

Cycling in Zone 2

On the other hand, I realise I have barely worked at all when I have done cycling training in the past. Wednesday night I had to do my training at the gym, so sat on a spin bike and started “working”. My heart rate was exceptionally low, and my cadence exceptionally high. I know your cycling heart rate is lower than you running heart rate, but not by 50 bpm! I started increasing resistance, trying to find the resistance where I was in Zone 2, with cadence at 90. I eventually found it. Immediately, I thought, “How on earth am I going to sustain this? I’ve never even cycled this hard in a race!” Yep – it seems I’ve never cycled at even Zone 2 in a triathlon … No wonder I’m so slow on the bike!

Conclusion?

So here’s what I’m going to do: for running – slow down to get faster; for cycling – speed up to get fast (yep, not just fastER – but FAST)! And how does this fit into my training? Quite well – considering my issues dealed with finding running partners it’s good I can run by myself and not be pressured to run faster; and for cycling I have a small group who will push me to reach my potential.

So I’ve done two weeks of solid training. This week I take my foot off the gas – until Sunday, when I have my first triathlon in more than a year: the In Flanders Field Triathlon in Belgium. 1km swim, 40km bike, 10km run. Wish me luck!

Time to Tri Again: Part 3: The Run

So I guess some people could be reading my blog, thinking, “This girl doesn’t seem to be a strong swimmer, or cyclist … Why is she doing triathlon?” Well, sometimes I think the same thing!

I can run though. Generally in triathlons in Australia I would pull myself from the end of the field as I came in on the bike (once dead last), to mid-field by the end of the run. Sometimes a bit better. And that was over 3km – 5km runs. So yeah, I can do okay in a triathlon. Should I focus all my energy on running? Possibly … I ran a 3:01 marathon last October, so logically the next step is to go for sub-three hours. But there is something about triathlon that is so addictive … so compelling … And I am convinced if I get the cycling up-to-scratch, I am going to be a real competitor.

But I digress, I want to fill you in on how I am fitting in my running training in Amsterdam …

Talk about the loneliness of the long distance runner! It is virtually impossible to find running groups here in Amsterdam … Let’s review my options …

Swimming (Tri)athletes?

Four weeks ago, I contacted Amsterdam’s only triathlon club and asked if I could attend their one run session for the week. Today, I finally heard back from them.

“Did you already get an answer from one of us? I was on a holiday so didn’t see your message. Sorry.

You’re more than welcome to train with us but we have mainly swim trainings so if you only want to do running you should better go to AAC. At the run training there are not a lot of triathletes.”

Bizarre … How can you be a triathlete if you only swim? Isn’t that a mono-athlete?

Smokers?

I recently met a guy at a barbecue, who told me he ran with some “Run Holland” group. I was immediately interested, and asked him to tell me more about it.

“Well,” he began, “there are five levels. I am in Level 5, the fastest level, but you would probably be in Level 3.”

Given that I hadn’t told him anything about my running background, I asked why he thought that.

“Most of the ladies are in Level 3 and below. Only a few fast ones are in Level 2,” he responded.

Alright, so I’m not a raging feminist, getting up on my high horse demanding women should be allowed entry to Level 1. I know the differences between fast men and fast women can be large. But still, I was curious.

“What do I have to run to be Level 1?” I asked.

“Oh, 10km in 40 minutes,” he responded, pushing his chest out proudly.

Now, let me take a moment to tell you about 10km. The US qualifying times for the Olympics for 10km are 27:50 for men; 31:45 for women. So you see 40 minutes is good … but it’s not that good. It’s not what I would expect for the “top level” in a running group.

In Melbourne I trained with a group of 15 girls, more than half of whom could run sub-37 minutes. My PB was 38:50.

Getting back to the Level 1 runner… “I run that,” I responded.

“Oh,” he responded … And pulled out a cigarette!

This time I did get on my high horse, and advised him, “You could run a lot faster if you didn’t do that.”

“Well, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. Most of the guys in the group smoke.”

Scratching that one from my list!

Ironmen? Sure!

I recently met a guy at the gym after a spin class, who came up to me and asked if I was a triathlete, based on my clothes (I wear a lot of 2XU stuff, which is primarily a triathlon brand). He explained he was training for a half ironman – which was going to be his first triathlon. He was doing this training with his friend, who had recently completed an ironman race in 10 hours (that’s fast – 3.8km swim/180km bike/42.2km run).

I jumped. “Do you want to train together?” I asked.

And so these are the guys I train with when I get the chance. I just kind of invite myself to their Sunday runs, but they don’t seem to complain:)

… And so here I am, finding it’s time to “tri” again …

So I’ve now introduced myself to you as a runner, cyclist and swimmer. Join me on my endeavours as I train for Ironman 70.3 Austria in May 2012 … and beyond!

Time to Tri Again Part 2: The Bike

Often in a triathlon, as people surge ahead of me on the swim, I think to myself, “Swimming is my weakest leg!”

Unfortunately, when I get out on the bike, it becomes evident that swimming is not my weakest leg, and I find myself thinking, “No, cycling is definitely my weakest leg!” It’s really depressing. To the point that after I had my road bike shipped over to join me in Amsterdam, it stayed in the bike box for more than three months. The only reason it came out when it did was because a friend needed to borrow it.

After I took it out, I posted a picture of it on facebook. A girl who I’d recently met at a bbq, Hayley, immediately commented, “Monica! I have a road bike too! Let’s ride together!”

We went out a few times … and it was fun.

Now, when I trained in Melbourne I trained with an awesome group of triathletes – who were all super good on the bike. What I found was, I might stick with them for the warm up, but as soon as we started doing efforts, they left me for dead. Without anyone around to push me, I wasn’t really motivated to put in my best effort. I would tell myself I was pushing hard but … come to think of it, I probably wasn’t.

In contrast, it was lucky for me that Hayley only started cycling this year. We were about the same speed. When she would start pushing the pace, I would respond – and keep up! Suddenly I started getting more out of cycling – and enjoying it more.

Finding a Cycling Group

Finding a group to ride with has been difficult. There’s an Amsterdam Cyclist group on facebook, but no one ever seems to post anything.

Hayley and I post rides to a meetup website with an Amsterdam cycling group. The group has 33 members. About five of those are active … So that’s our crew! But they are nice guys, and we all ride well together.

The downside of the meetup group

A couple of times, we have had people turn up on their Dutch bikes for a relaxing Saturday morning ride … only to see the rest of us with fast race bikes decked out in lycra. Most of the times, they have gracefully bowed out …

One time, however, an English guy decided he would still join us. This bike he had must have weighed about five times what our bikes weighed – before you added on his saddle bags filled with who knows what!

He was determined to prove he could keep up for the whole 70km ride. Unfortunately, in order to prove this, he pushed himself to the front of the pack at every opportunity – and particularly when either Hayley or I was in the lead.

I will give him credit for the fact that he kept up for a long time. However, he was one of those real talk it up types – at one stage he spent 15 minutes telling me about his running prowess. This included telling me of his fastest marathon which he ran in 3:35. I decided that would be an appropriate time to speak up.

“I’ve two marathons,” I said.

He pounced, “Oh yeah? What’s your PB?”

“3:01.”

Silence. “Wow … Um … That’s pretty fast,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied laconically.

To my amusement, he obviously felt the need to reassert his manhood, and he picked up the speed, cycling ahead of me.

At last the moment came when he couldn’t keep up any longer… “Go ahead!” he called out. “Next time I’ll bring a race bike!”

You do that …

Young Men Pushing out Young Females …

Hayley was recently on a ride with one of the guys from our meetup group, Brendan. They came across a big peleton, and started to ride with them. They moved through the pack steadily, and went out wide to take the lead. Brendan moved in smoothly. The next cyclist – a young guy looked over at Hayley, did a double take, as though thinking, “What? We’re going to be led by a girl?” He moved up quickly and closed the gap, keeping Hayley out and forcing her to move back …

Unfortunately this was not an isolated incident, and we often find if we ride up beside young male cyclists they will do a double take and pick up their pace … Or if we start drafting behind a young guy, if he turns and notices we’re girls he will pick up the pace and zoom off.

Old Men Helping out Young Females

Fortunately, the old man are much more helpful! On a difficult ride this weekend we had about four old guys go past us at various points, and yell out, “Kom mee” – come with me; jump on my wheel (draft off me). I sat behind one old guy on a difficult, windy stretch, and he kept turning to make sure I was still on his wheel, and still feeling okay.

Hitting the Hills

The Netherlands is known for being particularly flat. Occasionally we will be faced with a minor rise, at which point we tend to get really excited. “Hill! Get in the biggest gear! Make the most of it!”

Whenever I ask Dutch people where I can go for hill training, they suggest the sand dunes at Bloemendaal. We headed out a few weeks ago, joining up with some new triathlete friends who were training for a half ironman. These guys are tough. The weather that day was absolutely awful, and I realised that as they were leading us to the sand dunes, they were inadvertently leading us into a storm. When I pointed this out, their response was to grin and pick up the pace – taking us to that storm faster.

I think the weather was the worst bit however. There was a bit of undulation, and the wind was strong … But it was not really much more than cycling along Melbourne’s Beach Road. In fact, I thought perhaps we’d only done a small section of the dunes (and an easy section at that) and suggested to Hayley we go back again and do the whole thing. She looked at me like I was crazy, “Unfortunately, that was the whole thing!”

A Lack of Coffee Culture …

In Australia, a huge part of cycling is the visit to a café at the end of a long ride, with a delicious coffee and breakfast. A lot of bike shops have a good coffee machine and a decent barista. Many rides start and end at a café. Now I know a lot of you who read the blog are probably not the biggest fans of the lycra-clad cyclists clomping around in their cycling shoes in your local café every Saturday and Sunday morning … But I miss it! There’s no good coffee here, and most little cafés don’t open til after 11am – which can be a little bit late!

But despite the lack of hills and decent coffee, it’s all good. I’m getting faster, making friends and having fun … and actually a bit sad that winter is approaching and I won’t be getting out on my bike so much!

Tonight’s “Swim” In

A quick addition to my first post about swimming in Amsterdam’s overcrowded pools … Swim rage!

This evening I was down at my pool doing my session. I’d done my warm up, drills, and was starting my first of five 200m efforts.

I was the only girl swimming in the “fast” lane. I looked around me at the guys with big shoulders, looking down at me (when you see my shoulders, it’s clear swimming is not my strongest leg on a triathlon!). They looked like they were wondering what I was doing there, but I was confident I could keep up. I shrugged, and commenced.

40 metres – bam – my first toe tap. No, no one was tapping my toes, I was tapping toes of one of the big shouldered guys in front. I tapped once, moved back a tad, and waited til we hit the end of the pool. He stopped to let me pass.

115 metres – bam – I tapped another guy’s toes. We finished the lap … and he continued on. Hmm… This was frustrating. I stayed in his wake, and as we neared 150 metres, I tapped his toes a couple times more.

150 metres – at the end of the lap, the guy just turned around, and started swimming again. What? He wasn’t going to let me through? In frustration I screamed under water, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I turned, and it was on. Bam – bam – bam. This was no longer toe tapping. This was ankle tapping. Respect pool etiquette, dude!

Suddenly the guy stopped, stood up and looked down at me. Perhaps he was expecting me to stop so he could have a go at me. I pulled ahead. He jumped right on my tail, and tapped my ankles – hard.

“You wanna play this game?” I thought. “You can’t – slow poke!” I took off, and by the time I finished my 200 metres I was almost 10 meters ahead of him. What a jerk! At least he didn’t decide to stop and have a go at me. Speed always wins:)

Time to Tri Again … Part 1: The Swim

Last year in Australia, I dedicated a considerable amount of time to training for and competing in triathlons and then Melbourne marathon. After running 90+km a week for a year, I decided to take a break when I arrived in Amsterdam, and get back into it when I felt like it.
A few months ago, I  got back into the gym. Then one of my new friends in Amsterdam discovered I had a road bike, and encouraged me to join her on weekend cycles. Then my godbrother suggested I join him in Austria next year, and take on the Half Ironman Triathlon with him … and somehow I said yes. So here I am back in triathlon training …

What’s interesting is how triathlon training differs here in the Netherlands to Australia.

Join a Club?

To start with, the whole of Amsterdam has only one triathlon club! According to the website, they have one cycle training session a week, one run session a week, but five swim sessions… For a comparison, my group in Australia probably had five or six swim sessions to choose from, plus three bike sessions, and three run sessions… Most of the time in a triathlon is spent on the bike, then the run, then the swim. So why the focus on swimming? And how can you possibly do a triathlon on one bike session a week???

For now, I seem just as well to train myself. So first up: the swim.

Swim

The local swimming pool has a “competition pool” and a “recreation pool”. The “competition pool” is 25 metres long, with five lanes. These lanes are:

1 X freestyle lane

1 X fast breaststroke lane

1 X (slow) breaststroke lane

2 X joined up “free for all” lanes. I am not sure why these people need to do a free for all in the “competition pool” rather than the “recreation pool.”

Therefore, for the first time in my life, I am in the fast lane! Unfortunately, so are at least 7 other people every time I go to the pool…

Once you finish in the pool, it’s time for your communal shower! Yes, to get back into the change rooms, you walk through a massive shower area with about eight showers. These are the only showers. So I wash the chlorine from my hair, wash my face etc in a swimsuit, with everyone else who is there – female and male. It’s bizarre. The Dutch just take it in their stride however. Except for one creepy teenage boy who stood staring at the wall the other day, whilst stealing furtive glances over his shoulder at the ladies in the shower …

The pool opens at 7am. It’s kind of late when you consider you need to do a workout, shower, get ready for work, and be in the office at a reasonable hour… And it’s not just this particular pool. It’s not that I’ve picked a strange pool either. All pools seem to open at 7am (same with the gym). In Australia, I used to teach spinning classes at 6.15am – I was pretty much done with my workout by 7am! Anyhow, I’m learning to fit it into my schedule a couple of mornings each week …

Next entry: the bike – and how I am improving my weakest leg in triathlon in this land of bicycles …