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?”
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.
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.
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.
The Run: The Hurt Locker
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.
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.