The problem with triathlons is that they have a habit of starting early in not very convenient places. Today’s was near the village of Maarssen, on the outskirts of Utrecht. Not that far, in fact, from the place where the Vrouwentriathlon was held.
When my alarm went off at 4.45am, I was sorely tempted to roll over and go back to sleep, but instead I dragged myself out of bed, put on my tri gear, threw a pair of jeans and a hoodie on top and staggered downstairs. Even the cats were looking bleary-eyed, though once they realised the potential for an early breakfast, they seemed to wake up remarkably quickly.
I had everything packed up and ready to go – krentenbollen (teacake like things), banana, towel, goggles, plastic bags with money and cards in. In pitch darkness I got the bike out of the shed, and headed down to the train station, where I appreciated greatly the lightness of my new bike, and smugly carried it up the stairs onto the platform. If you remember, when I did the Vrouwentriathlon with my old bike, I cycled an extra 7km to the station just to avoid having to take my bike up and down stairs.
Up on the platform, I was just contemplating the fact that I had 15 minutes until the train was due, when I noticed someone else bringing their bike up the stairs, with considerably more difficulty than I’d had. I also noticed that he had a helmet hanging off his handlebars. Helmet? Crap. My helmet was still hanging off the back of the other bike. Back home then, grabbed the helmet, back to the station… phew, still had 5 minutes before the train was due.
It was only when I was on my second train, half an hour or so later, that I realised my second mistake – I’d forgotten to buy a ticket for the bike. Luckily the ticket conductor took pity on me, and neither fined me nor kicked me off the train to buy one. The latter would have been a disaster, as it probably would have meant that I didn’t make it to the start in time, trains to the middle of nowhere being few and far between at that time in the morning.
I finally arrived at the start at about 8am, a good two and a half hours since I’d left the house. The triathlon was taking place by a lake with a small park and recreational centre. The facilities were rather limited (one toilet!), but there was a small beach, and space enough for all the bikes. We had to rack the bikes by number, and I found myself next to a very professional looking set up – fancy bike, shoes already clipped in, and a space age aero helmet lying next to it. Oh, yes, and a wetsuit plonked on top of my number sticker (and therefore my bit of rack). I have to honestly say, that it was cold and windy, everyone around me looked very professional, and I wondered what on earth I thought I was doing there.
After a failed attempt to fill up my water bottle with water, I managed to procure some sports drink from a stand, and given that I only managed to force down half a banana as fuel, I figured that the extra sugar might be advised, even if the drink was a worrying yellowy-green colour.
This triathlon involved my first ever beach start. In the last one we all got into the water and waited for the start signal, whereas this time round everyone waited on the beach and then ran into the water when the start was given. I was pretty nervous about that – the last time round I had time to adjust to the cold water and learn how to breathe again before we started, and I was scared that I run in, not be able to breathe, and panic. In fact it was fine. We had the chance to go in and warm up first, and that made all the difference – plenty of time to adjust to the water temperature and lose your nerves.
I hung to the back and enjoyed watching everyone else rushing in in front of me. In fact the air temperature was lower than the water temperature, so it was quite pleasant to get in and get moving. We were accompanied by quite a few kayaks and a lot of guys with diving gear to rescue us should it be necessary. One of the other swimmers was using a snorkel and float which I thought was quite hilarious, although I was rather surprised that it was allowed.
The swim felt like harder work than the last one, and I did end up doing some breaststroke in there to keep my breathing steady. I had the feeling that I was making very little progress, and indeed I was one of the slowest swimmers, but after emerging from the water and running into T1, I was amazed to discover that I’d knocked off about 2 minutes from my last swim time. This was particularly notable since this swim was 50% further than the previous one.
One third of the triathlon done, it was time to get on my new bike and see what it’s really made of.
The cycling route was nice, with some of it on the main road, and some on bike paths. As with swimming, I enjoy cycling a lot, but I’m still rather finding my confidence. With swimming I worry about running out of steam and not being able to breathe in the middle of a lake, and with cycling I’m nervous about skidding or being run down by the fast scary people!
I overtook a grand total of 2 people during the ride, another lady right at the start (fantastic, knew that I wasn’t in last place!), and then a guy halfway through my second round. That overtake was on the road, and I had to wait a while for my chance because of the traffic. As a motorbike with jury on the back overtook me, I had my chance… they were looking back at me as I passed, and I was scared they’d write me up for (accidentally) drafting (gaining an advantage by riding behind someone – like with geese flying in formation), because of having to wait so long.
At the end of the first lap I was overtaken by a fast lady, aero helmet and all, who called out to me – ‘mooi shirt (nice shirt)’ as she flew by. She came over and talked to me at the finish – she’s one of the people who organized the Vrouwentriathlon, from whence the shirt came.
All in all, the bike ride was fun. I’m sure I lost some time on the corners, because I’m a wimp and I neither ride in the middle of the road (don’t much fancy being mowed down by oncoming traffic, unlike some of the faster guys) nor whizz around them without slowing. We had a tough headwind on the return section of the loop, and I really felt it at the end of the second loop.
The end of the first loop was rather annoying – the volunteers blocked my way and tried to herd me into T2, but of course I needed to do another lap. I had to come almost to a complete standstill, which was frustrating. I don’t know how they could mistake me for the second fastest women, but apparently they did!
When I finally did reach the finish, it wasn’t very obvious where I was supposed to dismount. At the Vrouwentriathlon they had a clearly marked line on the road. This time round the volunteers just shouted to dismount where the road stopped and the grass began. By the time I got that message, I didn’t have long to act. Distracted by the guy who screeched into the tiny narrowed down space next to me, and no doubt suffering from legs which hadn’t done anything but pedal for 45 minutes, I dismounted, got my left leg tangled, and went down. Accompanied to all the ‘are you ok’ shouts, I nodded yes as best I could, disentangled myself and limped off into T2.
Ouch, ouch, ouch… nothing like a shin bruise to make you feel every step, and the blood was already trickling down into my socks. On the bright side, the sharp pain distracted from the muscle ache a little.
Bike racked, I limped off for the run. I grabbed a cup of water on my way out, a good excuse to walk for a few metres! Unlike the last tri, I wasn’t in the state of near bladder explosion, which made the run much, much more pleasant. There was a constant stream of men overtaking me, no surprises there really. Most of the woman were, of course, much further along.
There was one girl up ahead of me the whole way, alternating running and walking just like I was. I was hoping at the start to narrow the gap and overtake her, but I never did manage it. At around the 1K mark the woman who I overtook on the bike breezed past me. She shouted some words of encouragement as she flew by and then I never saw her again. That was a pity – up to that point I knew that I wasn’t last.
The run was pleasant, just a loop around the lake, mostly shaded, so we could enjoy the fact that the sun had come out without suffering from it. I kept up a (very slow) run/walk for the whole thing, and did at least manage to run the whole of the final km, which was gratifying. My calves were really stiff, and I wasn’t a whole lot faster than in the other tri, but the run was definitely a far more pleasant experience, so I’ll take that as an improvement, however small.
I finally came round to the last section, and accompanied by the cheering of all the supporters, put on a little sprint for the finish, and did my best to read the time on the clock. 1:45 or so, I thought. I was very confused about the time registration. We were all given wristbands which were supposed to be scanned in transition and at the finish. I never did see anyone scanning, and found out later that the system had broken down so they recorded all the finishing times by hand. A pity, since I was looking forward to having some hard numbers for all three legs, as I screwed up with the lapping on the Garmin, plus I was never really sure when to start and stop for transition anyway. Ah, well.
All in all it was a good race, and I’m glad I took part, despite all the qualms I was having beforehand.
My final times, as best as I recorded them, were (Vrowentriathlon times in brackets for comparison)
Total: 1:43:31 (1:59:50) Swim: 16:06 (18:26) Bike: 45:07 (54:56) Run: 37:14 (42:38)
Final position: second to last (such an improvement after coming last in the Vrouwentriathlon!). but last of all the women.