It’s been 10 months since I did my second and most recent triathlon. Since then I’ve made leaps and bounds with running, but hadn’t been near the swimming pool in months. Having discovered a new pool near the office, I’ve finally recovered my swimming mojo, but with only 3 swims in the lead up to the triathlon, things were going to be interesting.
One of the most appealing things about this triathlon was that the cycling course was a point-to-point, unlike the two I did last year, both of which involved cycling 2 loops of a 10K course. The route for the Maasdijk Marathon follows the course of the Maas river, and is very scenic. As luck would have it, the weather was beautiful, and although windy, nothing like the storms of the previous day.
My bike and I left the house in good time, and battled for space in the train. Even this early, we were crammed in with a couple other bikes, and despite my first class railcard, staying with the bike meant sitting on a fold out chair in the door space – not so comfortable. You have to wonder at my planning. For a race of about an hour and a half, I spent 2 hours on the train in each direction.
Arriving in Oss, I set out on the bike for the yacht harbour in Lithoijen, where the swim would be taking place. It was a ride of about 7km, and fairly straightforward although I did get a bit turned around along the way. I had a reasonable amount of time, but didn’t want to hang around too much in case I’d miscalculated. I had no choice but to stop, though, when I came across this orange monstrosity half way.
This was, you understand, during the period where Euro 2012 fever what at its highest. Given another week or two and the Dutch were sadly dispatched from the competition. Not only this street, but also the one joining it on the left had orange sleeves on every single tree. What a horrific sight!
Arriving in Lithoijen I picked up my starters pack – commemorative t-shirt, yet another icky pink swimming cap, start number and the all important timing chip, and was tattooed on arm and leg with my start number. This is one of those things which I’ve read about in other people race reports, but it’s the first time I’ve been body marked. It’s not uncommon that your age group is also written on, but that didn’t happen here. Not that it would have mattered – no chance of me being competitive enough to worry whether someone else is in my age group or not!
Formalities dispensed with I took my bike to the transition area, where we each had our own numbered spot, and a box waiting for our gear. Because the bike course was point-to-point, everything in the boxes would be transported during the race to the second transition point, ready for the run.
Everything ready to go, there was nothing to do but nervously wait for the start. We’d be swimming in the harbour, a nice sheltered area, in idyllic countryside. Whilst it’s been a while since I’ve swum in open water, I’d swum 2km in the pool two days previously. Not that it’s really comparable, but at least I knew that the distance (500m) on its own wouldn’t be a problem. The water was 18C, the same as at my two previous triathlons, and although it’s a bit chilly, it’s doable without a wetsuit. Which is good, since I don’t own a wetsuit!
Learning from my previous triathlons, I took the opportunity during the wait, and around the start of the Police Triathlon which started 15 minute before us, to warm up a little and acclimatize to the water. This is something that at least for me is really necessary. When the water’s that cold it takes your breath away and you need some time to adjust before starting to swim.
Finally it was time for the start, and we lined up on the beach waiting for the starting signal. I made sure to start at the back, I have no desire to get mown down by the speedy people. Despite trying to take it at my own pace, I went out pretty fast, spurred on by everyone around me. I did have to take a couple short breaststroke breaks to catch my breath, but I was happy with how it went, especially considering how little swimming I’ve done this year.
I certainly came out of the water at the back of the pack, but there were quite a few people further behind. I did have some hassles with a few breaststrokers near the end, couldn’t get past them, but wanted to swim a notch faster than they were, and their legs got in the way! You never appreciate was a space consuming stroke breaststroke is until you’re stuck trying to pass a breaststroker!
11 minutes after running into the water I was emerging again, pulling off my swimming cap and in transition. After the cold of the water, my fingers were numb and I had a terrible time tying up my shoelaces. I definitely need to invest in some elastic quick tie laces. Shoes finally on, I fiddled with my race number, which I’d strung on a chain of plastic ties, since I couldn’t find my race belt. You have to wear the number on your bike on the bike, and your front for the run, so you need a way of moving it without having to unpin and repin it mid race!
I was pretty surprised when I came out of the water into transition to find it quite crowded, a novel experience for me, since I’m used to everyone being long gone by the time I get this far! By the time I was ready to leave though, many of the other triathletes had already left. But still…
I ran with my bike to the mounting line, jumped on, and then headed up a short slope on to the dyke running alongside the Maas. The other great thing about this bike course, was that there was no traffic. Aside from some walkers (taking part in a walking event also organized under the banner of the Maasdijk Marathon) we had the road to ourselves.
The course was mostly along the dike running along the Maas, meaning that every now and again we left the dike (steep downhill) and then joined it again (steep uphill). Very often, these two things happened more or less straight after each other, with a tightish turn, but for the rest the course was easy and fun to ride. Although we were hit by the wind at some places, the course was fairly sheltered which made the ride very enjoyable.
I was quite surprised that it took until the 5th km or so before i was passed by anyone. I was expecting the swim stragglers to catch up with me very quickly, but as it was I got quite far into the route. I was overtaken by one girl who I managed to stay close behind (but not too close, since I’m paranoid about accidentally drafting) for most of the race, and then another couple faster people around the 15km mark. Pretty amazing really that I held off the people behind me for that long – most of the slower swimmers make up for their weakness in the water by strength on the bike and run, unlike me who just plods along in all disciplines!
I managed to hold a pretty good speed for the first 15km or so, but after that it gradually dropped off a bit, particularly on the final km where I was beginning to doubt whether I’d somehow taken a wrong turning as I’d expected to reach the end of the course!
Around 18km I saw ahead of me a girl running with her bike, it turned out she had a flat. I offered my repair gear but she said she’d rather just run with her bike to T2 at this point. With hindsight I wonder if she knew the bike course was 22.5km rather than the standard 20km?
There was lots of support along the way, today’s race was part of a bigger event, which not only featured a marathon, but also a skate marathon, a walking event, kayaking and more besides. Clearly all the local villages were involved, and there were plenty of people dotted along the way to cheer us on. I even got handed a sponge at one point – I was quite proud of myself for managing to grab that on the way by, especially since my bike handling is rather dodgy, and I didn’t even considering trying to drink on the ride! What I did do, however, was stuff a few pieces of chocolate into my mouth for some extra energy along the way. A mucky business since the chocolate was melting in the heat of the day.
Finally, blessedly, just when I was running out of steam I arrived at the end of the bike course and came into T2. I made a very wobbly dismount, and very nearly crashed over like I did at the last tri, but managed to stay on my feet this time. Clearly I need to do more longer rides so that I’m more stable at the dismounting point. Probably braving clipless pedals would also help since my legs might be less tired too.
I took a quick slug of water in T2, looked around in some confusion trying to figure out the route out again, and I was off for the final part of the event. I was already happy that I’d managed to run with my bike to its parking spot, rather than walk, and although my legs felt stiff, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I was surprised to see quite a few empty bike spots in T2, though how many were from people who hadn’t turned up, or who perhaps had already finished and left, I’m not sure.
The run turned out to be fairly solitary, and also the least interesting part of the course, much of it being along main roads. I had one main aim in today’s tri, and that was to complete the run course without walking. I’m proud to say that I achieved it, and that although I felt slow and a little tired, I also felt pretty strong and steady. Taking into account that my Garmin recorded a slightly short course (even taking the distance in T2 into account, it would only be 4.8km), I ran the equivalent of a 31 minute 5K – pretty good for someone who at the beginning of the year had a 32min+ PR, even without the swim and bike tacked on the front!
So the run was basically a case of plod, plod, plod. I didn’t see any other competitors until the final kilometre. I can’t quite tell in hindsight if the run flew by, or seemed to take forever. I was very much ready for the finish, but not really struggling, and certainly far happier about life in general than this point in my previous two tri’s. Finally, I approached the dyke again and a lady with a checklist called out my name and cheered me on.
It turns out we were very close to the end, just a little bit down the dyke, a u-turn and then back again towards the finish. As I was running along away from the finish I heard the same lady call out someone’s name behind me. After all that solitude, finally another runner, and she was steadily gaining on me. I did my best, but I had to let her pass. I sped up a little, knowing the end was in sight, and tried to keep with her, but failed. As this was happening, we passed another lady running in the opposite direction (ahead of us) – she must have slowed a lot in the run, because there was no sign of her on the bike, and I’d not see her at all during the run.
I sped up for the finish, but but those ladies were out of my grasp! I did my best to smile and wave for the camera and then put my head down for the final sprint, as the commentator called out my name and my time: 1:34 and loose change. I couldn’t stop the huge grin spreading over my face – my last tri I did in 1:43:31, and the first one in 1:59:50. Whilst none of the distances were quite the same, I’ve clearly improved!
Final time: 1:34:53
- Swim: 11:09 (500m)
- T1: 2:50
- Bike: 50:26 (22.5km)
- T2: 3:50 (there was quite a long run in and out of T2)
- Run: 28:38 (4.6km)
Compared to my (normalized – yes I’m a numbers nerd) time from the last tri, that’s 25s slower on the swim, 3:30 faster on the bike and a whopping 7:30 faster in the run. Considering that I didn’t really train for the event, I was more than happy with that. Perhaps more to the point, the whole experience felt a lot easier than my last triathlon, particularly the run at the end.