This time last year I was psyching myself up to take part in my first triathlon, the slowest runner in the world complete with my great hulk of a bike. A year later and I was ready to line up again, this time with a streamlined road bike and more regular running training under my belt. Whilst I’m still far from athletic, I was keen to see how I’d shape up on the same course from last year, and was hoping that I might manage to scrape a time under one and half hours.
I’d been under the weather since my last triathlon 3 weeks ago, had no appetite for 3 weeks, and for two weeks hadn’t managed to train at all. With one week to go before the race, I had a lazy weekend, slept a lot, and thought things were returning to an even keel. And then, life threw a spanner in the works – Rasha developed an abscess on his neck and a visit to the vet was required. Catching Rasha is always a challenge, he’s rather timid, but this time was ridiculous. It took 20 minutes to get him into the travel box, and in the process he scratched up one of my arms, and graced it with a vampire bite.
After first aid at the vet, followed by a visit to the doctor, both Rasha and I came away with a course of antibiotics and I had a rather dubious prognosis for the triathlon on Sunday. Rasha was bouncing around like nothing had happened by Wednesday morning, it took me a bit longer!
After a day or two in a sling, and the rest of the week sporting a rather unpleasant wet bandage, the bite was healing nicely, and on Friday I took the plunge and went for my normal Friday lunchtime swim. The arm held up fine and I deemed it good to go.
As ever I found myself lacking anything to eat on the Sunday morning before the race. After all the excitement of the previous week, I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, and ended up napping on the sofa on Saturday evening rather than visiting the supermarket as originally planned. I thought I could at least pick something up from the snack machine at the train station, but the small station I used was lacking the amenities I’m used to taking advantage of in Delft. Luckily there was a little stall selling food at the race, not a lot of choice – muffins and gevulde koek, but anything will do when you’re desperate.
As I was hanging around before the race, someone came and tapped me on the shoulder – a Scottish girl who I’d met last year. Like me, she’d raced on a standard bike last year, but upgraded to a road bike for this year’s race. It was really nice to have someone to hang around with and chat to during the long wait before the race. Although I wasn’t as early as last year, there was still a long wait since registration closed an hour before the start, and of course I was dependent on train schedules.
The water was a balmy 21C – warmer in fact than the surrounding air, which was lovely. All the other tri’s I’ve done it’s been 18C, which is doable without a wetsuit, but it certainly takes your breath away. Today, especially with the wind, it was nicer waiting in the water than out! I made the mistake of going into the shallow bit and standing up though, and then could’t get warm again, in the five minutes remaining before the start, I couldn’t stop shivering.
The Vrouwentriathlon uses a deep water start, so we we all entered the water and waited patiently for the start. Just as I was getting tired of waiting the starting horn went off and we were on our way. As I took my first strokes I heard my new pal call out ‘was that the start’?
There were about 150 of us signed up for the 1/8th distance today, and the swim was pretty crowded at the start, even though I stuck to the edge. The first 100m I was stuck in the melee and struggling to find clear water to swim in, so I deliberately hung back a little to get away from the person next to me who kept switching to breaststroke and kicking me.
I had to take a short breaststroke break to catch my breath part way through but basically did the whole thing in crawl. Once I was about 200m in I found my groove and managed to keep going pretty nicely. I noticed in the pool last Friday that I’m beginning to be able to swim a little further without having to stop and gasp for breath at the end of each lap, that definitely pays off in the open water! Of course, when all your training is in a pool, you’re used to having the chance to hang off the wall now and again to rest. None of that in the middle of a lake!
There was a lot of wind, but it wasn’t as rough out there as I’d feared from the shore. I had no feeling how fast I was going, but it felt like I was in the water for ever. Finally I reached the turn around point, and knew that there wasn’t far to go. There was a good number of people behind me. While I wasn’t super fast, I did respectably, I’d say. I don’t really have a strong leg in triathlon, I’m pretty weak in all disciplines, but of the three, I’m probably relatively speaking best in the water – or put otherwise, more people are weak swimming than on the bike or running!
I forgot to stop the Garmin until I almost ready to exit transition. At that point it was showing 12 minutes plus something. I managed to derive the time from the logs afterwards though, and it turned out that I swam the 500m course in 10:13min, my fastest swim yet and 8 minutes faster than last year when I was too scared of floundering in the middle of the lake to push myself.
photo: John de Boer
I managed to get through transition pretty quickly, my hands weren’t as stiff as the last tri, thanks to the warmer water temperature so I didn’t fumble so long with my laces. A quick swig of water and I was off, much faster than a lot of the other girls around me. There were still quite a few swimmers in the water.
I grabbed my bike, ran out to the mount line, jumped on, started pedaling and BOOM! I was hit by a huge wall of wind. The bike was a real struggle today, I never really felt that I manage to get into a groove, and was fighting the wind much of the way (I read later that is was gale force 5/6). It was pretty weird to find myself in the middle of the cyclists, having only ever been right at the back thus far. Whilst I did spot some Ironman trisuits, and there were some fancy bikes there, this triathlon is also aimed at first timers and aims to encourage women to have a go at triathlon whatever their level of experience.
photo: John de Boer
For some unknown reason I had the oddest mantra running through my head the whole bike ride – ‘Remember you’re a womble‘ 🙂 I’ve no idea where that came from, to be honest, but it stuck. Before I knew it, every time the wind strengthened, I found myself muttering, “come on womble. you can do this. remember you’re a womble”. I think the stress of the past week caught up to me!
photo: John de Boer
The bike course is a nice, mostly wide, recreational path, but has the disadvantage of being very busy with roller bladers, pedestrians and many small people on tricycles. You really have to watch out, and there were times when I had to slow quite a bit because of little people wavering from one side of the road to the other, or family groups riding 5 abreast.
I managed to pass a couple girls, but was overtaken by many more. If I want to improve on the bike I really have to a) train more (since my normal training involves riding to work and back each day, a round trip of 13km), and b) buy some clipless pedals. For my feeling the bike was tough and I was slow. Actually, my average speed turns out to be slightly higher than the tri 3 weeks ago, so I’m pretty happy about that. My legs were pretty tired when I finished, though, and I felt that far more than 3 weeks ago going into the run. I managed a good dismount, no wobbling, and no falling over and gouging holes in my shin so all good!
I left wobbly as anything coming off the bike, but I didn’t hang around. I racked my bike, took another quick swig of water and ran out again. Straightaway I could feel my stomach beginning to cramp a little, thanks to the antibiotics. Fortunately after one little grumble it settled down and let me finish the race in peace.
It took a good km before my legs felt like they loosened up a bit, but I just kept plodding along. I did the first km in 6:11, which for me is pretty good in the circumstances. At the start of the year I couldn’t have run this pace even without the swim and bike beforehand. As with the bike I was overtaken by more girls than I managed to overtake, but at least I reeled in a couple!
The course was a bit annoying, last year it was an out and back, with the furthest part being along a field. This year it was a shorter out and back, which we had to do twice. Personally I like running on grass, plus all that back and forth is a bit boring and the turn points grind you to a halt.
Still, I managed to run a pretty steady 5K, and whilst I was ready to be done, I wasn’t miserable like the last time around either. By the end I was really getting into my stride, but it took a while! This time is still almost a minute faster than last year’s 5K PR and a good 11 minutes faster than my time at the Vrouwentriathlon last year.
Finally, I was making the approach towards the finish line. I managed to overtake one girl on the final stretch, and finished in 1:34:28. I finished 89 out of 129 (plus 4 DNFs), a definite improvement on last year!
photo: John de Boer
All things being equal I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t reach my goal of sub 1:30, but given the circumstances leading up to the race and that I nearly didn’t manage to race at all, it’s an ok result. Not to be daunted, I signed up for one final triathlon this year, in the middle of August, and I also have a swim-run event in the beginning of August.