Finishing my first triathlon
On the second Sunday of July I have finished my first ever triathlon in general, but it was also a full distance race. It has taken me quite some time to get the whole process lined up in my head to be able to write it down. Lets go from the start!
End of May 2011. I got promoted at my job at the end of 2010 and from that day on I had put all my focus on the project I became responsible for. I didn’t take days off, I worked some time during most of the evenings and weekend and my main food had become beer and take aways. The result of that became a painfull reality when I was dragging ±95 kilos up the slopes of the Alpe d’Huez in France. I was lucky of having a sports background otherwise I wouldn’t have made it and probably had to have stopped to cry somewhere halfway.
We were there with a large group of people of which most had never ridden a bike before in their lives, so I was one of the faster riders in the group. But from once being fit and faster I was feeling terrible and on top of that one of my friends had beaten me by a minute! Something started boiling inside me.
A few weeks later when I joined Stans (van der Poel) to the Iron Man Austria competition. I was not there to race, but to have a week of vacation and to accompany and help Stans during the race. In that week she challenged me to race a full distance triathlon. I had gained a lot of weight, I wasn’t speedskating anymore and why the hell wouldn’t I just do it. I basically tried to avoid doing it by saying I was too young and lacked the mental and physical needs to do it. Both arguments got swiped away for being total bullish*t and I now know that she was right.
Since the Iron Man Austria is sold out within a few hours we, Stans promised to guide and race with me, decided to pick a different race. It became Challenge Roth 2012, because of the reviews, the pictures and the world records. Not that I would be anything close to the worldrecord though ;-) Having registered, paid and my registration was confirmed I kind of freaked out. Preparation started.
Stans, who has tons and tons of experience in guiding triathletes, marathon runners and athletes in general promised to help me out on two conditions. I train the way she tells me too and no matter what I will make it to the finish line. Knowing Stans for many yearsand even working for her in the past I fully trusted her program and the first part of the program was simple. Serious training will start in January 2012. Untill then you are free to train, but never run more than three times a week don’t run long distances.
So I started learning how to swim. I swam when younger but have not done freestyle for ages, so I was afraid of the 3.8 kilometers I would have to be swimming in less then a year. I bought a Wattbike because of the Dutch winter weather and because I am a sucker for numbers (Personally this has been my best investment in 2011). I also started running, short distances and simple drills to improve my posture and strengthen the right muscles.
With the main goal being ten months away I subscribed for a half marathon race in October 2011 and January 2012. The first was a drama, I went too fast and had problems even before the start. I had cramps in my feet and lost much time in the last 9km. My parents came by to support me and after they left my place I became sick. I was in bed for 5 days and started getting scared of the triathlon, properly scared. Lets jump to January.
The week before my second half marathon I finally felt good again. I had some pains in my knee and had taken some time of running and cycled a bit more. But since I was pretty sure that I was never going to be fit to run it I planned a party. It was no option to call off the party and I was fit enough to run. So I ran on just 3 hours of sleep. Stupid, but I just did it and ran the first 15km on the heartrate for a marathon. To my surprise I was faster in the second part of the race but pretty slow overall. I am not a very talented runner you know..
Serious training has started. I was getting programs and completed them and measured and communicated how my body was responding. Because of my demanding job I had to get up early to swim or run and on some days I would have already trained two or more hours before entering the office. I started losing weight and was able to run a reasonable amount of kilometers per week and swim for 30 minutes or more at once. The cycling was never a problem. I had been doing that since I was 13 years old. The Wattbike gave me a great insight in how I was cycling and how I was progressing.
On the mental part I started noticing changes. From my perspective I have always been a non-guided-missile. Always doing several things at once, never keeping an agenda, forgetting important stuff and most of all being almost unable to say the word NO out loud.
During the trainings, of which I have done 95% alone, I specifically trained on the pace I was doing the race on. This pace is fast, but not really intensive so you are still sharp and your brain is pretty active and extremely rational. This can be explained because you bring yourself into a mild version of the fight, flight, fright status and a situation like that demands rational and sharp thinking. So when cycling on my own for three or more hours and not listening to music because my phone can’t handle that gave me all the time in to think things over and make decisions. The same goes for running, but that gives you less time.
I can say that I made some big decisions while training. I made the decision to quit my job, finish the education I hadn’t been looking at for years, ending a relationship, stop looking for an apartment to buy and so on. Having a large goal and systematically training towards that goal makes you more structured and it takes a lot of your dedication to do so. It’s a lesson for life!
After my last day at the office I stayed in Amsterdam for a few weeks and then left for a full month of training in the south of Spain. This was something I was looking forward to but it also scared me a bit. Stans could tell from the first day if I had been doing my programs well and communicating the results honestly. There was nothing to be afraid of because I did that, because of being afraid myself ;-)
Spain was a blast! 28 straight days of training in the burning sun. Days were scheduled as running and cycling days and we swam at least 1k every day. Swimming in a 10 meter pool went better then could have ever dreamed of and if the pool was boring us we went into the nearby sea to swim. Not much to say on the swimming besides that the 10 meter pool trains you to regain rhythm and technique quickly and you will get sick of doing turns, but that’s about it.
When it comes to cycling the area of Javea (Denia, Calp) attract large groups of pro and competitive cyclists during the winter because of the friendly climate and the not to steep and long slopes. A perfect area to do longer rides and climb some mountains. The favorite mountains are the Coll de Rates, Coll de Bernia and I went on a hunt for new mountains and found the Vall d’Ebo climb which is just beautiful. It takes you through a green urbanization full of pretty villa’s and with Alpe like turns the 13% incline part of the climb feels like a curvy road. There are little cars on the climb ande the last kilometers are out on a treeless road with the sun burning your skin.
I did many long rides on my bike and with at least 3 to 5 serious climb (3km or longer) in them. But the largest part of my rides were 2 to 2.5 hours at racing heartrate. I wish I could tell you more data from these rides but I ride very lean. Just a stopwatch and my heartrate monitor are needed to do my trainings, no GPS, speedometers, powermeter or such. These just freak me out and make me push my boundaries too much. My Wattbike is a different case the numbers there help me because its inside and the conditions are always sort of the same. I just need to focus on the amount of energy I’m spending during my rides, the rest is distraction to me.
The bike I’ve bought in March 2012 is just plain amazing. It’s light, pretty aero, good looking, handles great, is fast and it’s French. I had it made to fit me first thing out of the shop and that’s been a smart move. When I tuck into my position I just feel comfortable, fast and my legs are the only things working hard. I will tell you more about my material later.
Tanning the legs and losing some extra kilo’s made me a better cyclist during the stay in Spain. No wonder the pro’s setup camp there during the winter!
Running is my weakest link. As a former speed skater I never ran distance and my legs were pumped up by weighttraining and sprints. At its peak the circumference of my upperlegs was 64 centimeters (per leg). Running was getting one leg around the other and that takes energy and was not needed. Untill September 2011 I had only ever ran further than 10k once and was wrecked for two days after that.
Needless to say I had to build the running up slowly and hold my horses not to get injured. In order to not get injured I used the following rules: Never run when in a hurry, No half marathons or races from January on, no trainings longer than 12k and never run two days in a row. This seems strange to anyone who I tell this to. The most common reply is: “Wut? You have not done the slow and long Sunday trainings and you have never done a marathon before? You must be out of your mind!” Maybe I am, but the explanation is simple. I don’t have a history in running, I don’t want to get injured and I want to train as much as is needed. Long trainings increase the risk of injuries if you have no history of running and long trainings take long recovery.
So for instance I did a 30k training in three hours. I would need 48 hours to refill my energy reserves but how long would it take to recover the damage in my feet, ankles, knees and hips? From what I know after the race, it took me about ten days before I could run half an hour at a normal speed. Think of all the running I could have done in ten days!? Bottom line: If you are a very experienced runner and you need the long trainings to become better go ahead. I am by far not an experienced runner so it wouldn’t work for me.
In Spain I just ran laps of 1050 meters around the block. The lap was not flat at all so that made it a little harder than flat runs, but getting to know the lap makes it easier to control my heartrate and speed. Running laps gave me opportunity to get used to eating/drinking about every two kilometers and trying different drinks. Water and Coca Cola are favorite by a mile.
After Spain it finally came down to keeping the level I have reached up by training. No tapering and now new material or food from now on. Spain has changed my fear of the distance into respect of the distance and slight hunger to race.
Waking up at 3:45 in the morning is no problem after having a terrible night sleep. Stuff is flashing through your head like a film. I managed to think of other things then the race itself and when thinking of the race I imagined myself going smooth and easy. In the days before the race you take your bike and running gear to the Parc Fermé were it’s waiting for you to pick it up during the race.
So in the morning you only bring your race kit, swimsuit, goggles and some clothes to wear after the race. Its enough to make you stressed about forgetting something. I didn’t forget anything, luckily because I have a talent for it ;-)
My Mother and brother who came all the way to Roth to support us and that’s really cool. After the race my mother confessed not having much fait in my adventure at first. When I told her I registered for it she told my dad I was going mental for real.
There we were, waiting for the canon (yes a real canon) to go off. 3500 athletes, ready for a long day and some for a longer day. I was happy that we started in groups of 350 athletes per group and one group per 10 minutes. I was in the group with the white caps and was allowed to leave at 7:10.
Finally getting in the water the little nerves I had were getting stronger for a while. The canon did its thing and we were on our way. I tried not to leave too fast and get a stable rhythm with little movement of my legs. Because it was the second time I had my wetsuit on I was feeling like a boat and the swimming went pretty easy at first. No idea of the time and distance I just followed the people in front of me. Before the 1.4k turn I had already passed loads of swimmers from the previous groups and shortly after even from group that have started 20/30 minutes before I did. Still clueless about the time, but it felt so natural and easy. My arms started feeling a bit tired after ±1k but that feeling never progressed and it stayed that way until the T1 transition.
Volunteers helped us out of the water en passed our stuff in the changing tent. Within a minute I was out of the tent running towards my bike. In my head I was going over the routine of putting my number on, helmet on and put the glasses on the face. I had torn the number, but didn’t care and went on.
The first thing I noticed on the bike was that my heart rate was too high. It was around 160 and needed to be around 150. The first 10k were needed to get it to the right level. In that 10k I had taken my first gel, saltstick and energydrink to fill the engine with some fuel. After 18k I passed Stans who started 20 minutes earlier, she was having cramps and wanted to quit (but she didn’t) I screamed that she should keep going and went on.
The feeling of being in the zone you trained for feels so good. The breathing goes easy, you are focused yet time goes fast, your legs are moving at a steady pace and it doesn’t matter if the road goes up, down, to the left or right. Your body just uses the same amount of energy and your speed fluctuates according to the conditions. Many riders are using their speedometer and waste energy on the hills and in the headwind and lose free speed in the downhill and shallow wind parts.
Just using my heart rate to monitor my use of energy and the time to eat, drink and take my salt pills on time was all I needed. There was a long steep climb were I geared down early and was taken over by like 30 other riders in the begin of the climb. My heart rate even lowered so I geared up one or two and passed every single one of them before being halfway the climb. I felt invincible for a moment :-)
The last part of the course was practically flat and about 27k in total. I would have never in life thought I would be able to average that last bit with 42.34kmh. My heart rate didn’t move a beat and was flying into the transition. Not one moment I have been thinking about not being able to run or the distance.
Passing the bike to (again) one of the volunteers and running toward the tent to put my socks, shoes and cap on. This went very smooth even though I had switched left and right at first.
Since I am a reasonable cyclist and did the 180k in just over 5 hours the fellow competitors around almost all are way better runners. So I was being passed by guys that were half my weight and looked like flying! Just focussing on my own race and keep running. I had promised myself to cut the race up into four 10k runs and a 2k finish sprint. Little did I know.
It went according to plan for large part and I was still feeling great at the 12.8k turning point. Taking some water and a banana at the aid station and moving on in the same pace. At the 19k mark I got punched in the face so to say. My legs just protested and told me to stop this nonsense and lay down for a moment. I didn’t listen and kept walking for a while to reload a bit. I drank Cola, ate bananas and told myself that no matter what I would make it to the finish line. I couldn’t go any faster and ran from aid station to aid station and had cola and water at every post. I was feeling empty and my legs were at the verge of cramping. But to be honest I never thought about giving up.
With the new strategy of running from post to post I started passing people again and picked up some speed, but not much. At the 33k point I knew I was going to make it and I was ready for the last k’s to come, seeing my brother at 37k was cool. I could talk some Dutch to somebody and he cheered me on. My mom was at 38k and she confirmed I was going to make it, which I already knew of course.
Just a small lap through the city left to do and I would be done. I started thinking about what I would do after finishing. I had no idea. At 41.5k my mom and brother were cheering again and I was calculating in my head about my time.
Running into the stadium for the first time I could see the real time and calculate my end result. I gave it my everything to finish within 11 hours and was happy to have made that just by a few second. Funny thing about that was that I had miscalculated my time with ten minutes the whole day :-)
It had taken me 10 hours, 49 minutes and 39 seconds to overpass 3.8 kilometers of swimming, 180 kilometers of cycling and 42,2 kilometers of running. I did it and I will do it again.
The days after that were painful but so worth it!
I want to thank Stans for challenging, guiding and supporting me. My parents for thinking I am a fool but supporting it all the way en my mom and brother driving to Germany to support me. Handmade by van der Linden for giving me excellent advice and service on my beloved bike. Last but not least all the people that have send me kind messages and replies about finishing the race.
ps. Later on I will tell you about the things I’ve learned from sports, personal and business perspective and gear.