EK Cross Triathlon

Today was the European Cross Triathlon Championship in Kijkduin – an event which I’d noted in my perusings of the triathlon calendar, and immediately ruled out as out of my league! A good opportunity, therefore, to grab my camera and take some photographs. I’d originally planned to be there in the morning to watch the paratriathlon, but late nights and travelling had caught up with me and I didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed until the event had already finished. So, the afternoon race it was then. Lacking a small camera bag, I wrapped up the camera and lens in bubble wrap, and got on my own bike for the ride down to the beach – a good 18km each way, although if I hadn’t gone slightly off track in both directions it would have been a bit shorter. A good workout for me also, thus.

I arrived in Kijkduin just in time to see the Elite wave emerging from the water. The event was only just getting started and already I was impressed. Swimming the best part of a kilometre in the North Sea looks pretty daunting. I shall surely draw on this the next time I stand nervously waiting for the start of a 500m lake swim. Child’s play in comparison!

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As soon as they were upright and on more or less solid ground, the athletes started to pull off their wetsuits as they ran up the beach to T1 to transition onto the bike.

The bike course consisted of 3 loops around the beach and dunes, a total of 23km. If that doesn’t sound challenging enough, a couple flights of stairs are thrown in for good measure.

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By the end of the bike course, all the athletes were speckled in mud, and a fair few were sporting muddy and bloody sides after falls. Unlike a road triathlon where the bikes come whizzing by, every ounce of strength was needed to move the bikes forward through the sand, and in many spots the most efficient way to move forward was to dismount and run with the bike.

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Without fail, the effort required was showing on the athletes’ faces as they came by, and by the time they finished their third laps, the glimmer of relief could be seen as they dismounted in front of us, and powered up the sand with their bikes to transition to the run.

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It was hard keeping track of everything going on – the race was started in 3 waves, Elites, Under 23 Elites and rather later on, the age groupers. With both run and bike courses consisting of 3 laps, it was hard to follow which athletes were on which lap, and who was heading up each race. Being a European championship, the athletes were all competing in their countries’ colours, and it was pretty exciting to be able to cheer on the British competitors as they flew by.

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I watched the finish of the Elite females, which brought me to the end of my CF card, and then fuelled up with pancakes for the ride home.

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First – Helena Erbenova

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Second – Carina Wasle

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and Third – Maud Golsteyn

Vrouwentriathlon 2012

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!

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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.

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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.

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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‘ ūüôā 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!

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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!

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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.

Maasdijk Marathon Triathlon

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 Рnot 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.

Triatlon Maarssen

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Bike

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.

Run

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.

Triathlon maarssen run

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.

Vrouwentriathlon

At the start of the year, when I set myself a ‘triathlon’ challenge of running, cycling and swimming every week, I never dreamt that I’d find myself taking part in the real thing. Nonetheless, once the idea was presented to me, I couldn’t not do it, and signed myself up for the 1/8 distance at the inaugural Vrouwentriathlon in Utrecht.

For those not in the know, that means 500m swimming (in a lake), 20km cycling and 5km running.

The preparation

After making copious reminder notes on random pieces of paper the whole week leading up to the event, and studying the photos from last year’s event in Beesd (to see how many participants were riding on standard city bikes, rather than race bikes – the answer, not many), I was finally ready on Saturday night to lay out my gear, and panic when I couldn’t find my running shoes. ¬†They did turn up, eventually, in my wardrobe. ¬†Not a usual place to keep them…

En Route

Sunday morning dawned very early, after a very broken night in which I kept waking up and panicking that I’d overslept. ¬†I got myself together, swimming gear under my jeans and t-shirt, and headed off with my bike to Ypenberg station, 7km or so away. ¬†Given that I have a perfectly good station 5 minutes away, that might seem crazy, but there was method in my madness – I had no desire to lug my bike up and down stairs, so I plumped for a station with a lift! ¬†Despite problems with roadworks which send me off course, and problems with the ticket machine at the railway station, I made it up onto the platform with about 10 minutes to spare before my train left. ¬†Missing it would have meant cutting things very fine indeed – although my race didn’t start until 11am, the registration desk was only open until 9am.

I’ll say one thing for the new sprinter trains – they may not be pretty, or particularly comfortable, but they do have plenty of room for bikes, and easy access for getting them on and off.

Registration

Leaving the train at Utrecht Terwijde, I found myself in the lift with another participant and her father. ¬†We set off together but were a little flumoxed a few minutes later to see someone cycling towards us on a fancy race bike and carrying a banana – looked awfully like another triathlete, but going in the wrong direction. ¬†After checking Google Maps, and chatting to another rider who stopped, we quickly concluded that in fact we were the ones cycling off into the distance. ¬†After taking another look at the map I eventually cottoned on to the cause of my confusion – Utrecht is of course to the east, not the west! ¬†Fortunately we hadn’t gone that far, and we had plenty of time.

After 5 or 10 minutes cycling we found the start without any further difficulty, picking up another couple riders on the way. ¬†I was already disconcerted to see that my standard city bike stood out in the crowds… I’d had the feeling that with this being a good ‘starter’ event, more people would be using their normal bikes, but it appeared that I was wrong.

After picking up my race number and collecting my commemorative bike shirt and goodie bag, I decided not to hang around, but headed straight down to the start area at the beach.

 

The pre-race jittery part

The first thing to do when I got down to the beach was to set up my transition area Рthe place where you leave your bike and everything you need for the bike and run part of the course.  Before being allowed in our bikes and helmets were given a quick once over, and we had our hands stamped so that we could have free access to the area for the rest of the morning.  I got things set up as best as I could, trying not to panic at the professional looking girl next to me preparing her wetsuit, and then looked up and caught sight of my friend Anna disappearing into the distance.  I decided to leave the rest of my prep until later, and rushed off to find her.

Anna was volunteering at the event as one of the traffic people on the bike course – equipped with t-shirt and whistle!

We hung out together until the first race began Рshe needed to leave for the bike course, and I wanted to watch the start of the 1/16 race (250m swim/10km bike/2.5km run).  After a general briefing, all the participants of the first race headed off to the far end of the beach for the start of the swim.  Despite the weather forecasts, it was still rather cloudy and ominous looking at this point.

After final instructions on the course, the racers all entered the water, amidst gasps and shrieks.  Apparently 18C is not all that warm, when it comes to water temperature.  Looking out into the lake and staring at the buoy further out which I was going to swim to, I had my first moment of real panic.  Swimming out into the open water, with nothing to hold onto if it all went wrong suddenly seemed very scary indeed.

With a lot of whistle blowing and shouts that people were going out too far, finally everyone was ready for the countdown to the start.

3 minutes… 2 minutes… 1 minute… 30 seconds… and with a blast of the horn, they were off in a sea of bobbing pink hats.

Along with the rest of the spectators I walked back to the transition area and waited for the swimmers to come in. ¬†With one girl far out ahead of the rest it didn’t take long before she’d covered the 250m and was running up to transition. ¬†I waited for the last swimmer to come through and then left to make my own final preparations.

The swim

Back at transition I found that the area around my bike had really filled up.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw that the girl who had set up next to me in my absence was also using a normal bike.  We got chatting, in Dutch, and then happily switched back to English when I recognized her accent and discovered that she was Scottish!  Like me, she and her friend were doing this for the first time, and so after getting our last things together we hung together at the start.

Like the first set of participants we made the walk down the beach together, got our final briefing and then entered the water. ¬†Up to the knees it didn’t feel too bad. ¬†Further in up to the neck, the cold took my breath away and I had to fight the panic. ¬†I stopped and trod water until I felt my breathing relax, and then distracted myself by chatting to the people around me. ¬†I put my face in the water once, recoiled at its greenness, and wondered if breaststroke might not be such a bad idea after all.

Like the other group we had a countdown, but I never heard it. ¬†All I heard was the horn blowing, and we were off! ¬†On automatic pilot, I put my face into the water and started swimming front crawl. ¬†3 strokes, breathe. ¬†3 strokes, breathe… each time I came up, checking that I was still heading towards the big purple buoy.

Scared of being run over by people at the start, I’d placed myself at the back of the pack, and found myself actually overtaking people. ¬†Not being used to swimming in open water, I didn’t really know how to pace myself, so I took it gently, just keeping a nice even rhythm. ¬†As we passed the first buoy and headed out into the middle of the lake, I suddenly realized how much I was actually enjoying myself, and how comfortable I felt out there.

Before I knew it I was rounding the buoy and on the final stretch towards the pier and the shore.  I watched the woman in front of me rise out of the water, then it was my turn, barely noticing the cheering spectators, I jogged along the grass into transition, dripping all the way!

(the wiggles in the course are more down to the Garmin getting confused by constantly going in and out of the water, than by my bad sighting… I think)

The bike

Coming into transition, I was immediately aware how much fewer bikes there were than at the start.  That said, my bike was far from alone!

I dried off my feet as best as I could, pulled on my socks and shoes, swapped the pink swimming cap for the bike helmet, and started wrestling with my start number. ¬†We’d been given race belts in our goodie bags, and I’d pinned my number on earlier. ¬†Unfortunately, one of the safety pins came out, and after jabbing me in the finger, vanished into the grass. ¬†I replaced the remaining one in the centre of the number and hoped that it would be sufficient.

I wheeled my biked out of the transition area, managed a reasonable proficient looking mount at the start line and I was on my way for two rounds of 10km each.

We had a good wide road all the way along, although we did have to share it with a lot of other Sunday traffic Рfamilies, mostly, with children on scooters, bikes and roller blades, all forming obstacles to be avoided!  There was also a fair supply of runners and cyclists, many of whom offered encouragement along the way.

Although I kept a good pace up, as I’d expected I was easily overtaken by a lot of people on race bikes. ¬†Not letting it bother me, I kept my own tempo and just enjoyed my own race, waving at all the volunteers along the way. ¬†Reaching the halfway point of the loop I saw Anna holding back the traffic! ¬†I waved madly to her, and as I passed, she, and the onlookers all cheered me on.

(photo by John de Boer)

My bike not really being set up for this kind of thing, has no water bottle holder, and having taken my bottle of custom made sports drink out of my back pocket, I never managed to get it back in again. I ended up holding it the whole way!


Before I knew it I was already back to the starting point and halfway through the course.  By this point I had the distinct feeling that there was no-one behind me anymore.  I kept pedaling away, this time having a better idea of what was coming ahead of me, passed Anna again, to more cheering and kept on going until yet again the beach came in sight.  This time I veered off to the left, over the bridge, and managed a smooth running dismount at the finish line.

The run

This was where things really got tough.  As soon as I was off the bike I could feel how stiff my calves were, and my attempts at running were pretty pathetic.  By now it was after midday, the sun was shining, and it was very hot.  Setting off along a rather boring pathway, I could hear them announcing the arrival of the fourth finisher.  There were already four people in, and I had still had 5km to go.  Coming towards me was a stream of exhausted looking women, all of whom were within a couple minutes of finishing.  After really enjoying both the swim and bike legs, the run was already proving tough, both physically and mentally.

I tried to listen to the encouragement being thrown to me by those runners who still had enough energy to do so, but the little voice in my head reckoning up how far I had to go proved louder. ¬†After rounding the first corner, I came to the conclusion that I would be almost as fast walking as running, and since I was certain that I was already last, and I couldn’t see anyone going in my direction up ahead, I didn’t think I had any chance of really closing the gap.

I stopped running, and walked as briskly as I could.  Every few minutes when I could bear it, I ran a little again, and then slowed down to a walk.  The stream of runners coming towards me thinned to a trickle, and I saw more and more people walking.  I made the turn off onto the grass, and enjoyed the feeling of something soft under my feet.  The change in surface loosened things up again and I made some more attempts at running.

Finally I reached the turnaround point, and took the cup of water being held out to me by a young kid. ¬†It was the last thing I wanted, given that the portaloo at the transition area was out of order, and I was pretty much bursting by this point in the day, but I didn’t have the heart to refuse.

With the encouragement of the volunteers behind me, I made the turn and set back off on the homeward stretch.  Just 2.5km to go.  I ran as much as I could, but by that point my neither my legs nor my soul were really willing!  Eventually I made the turn back onto the road parallel to the beach and the end was almost in sight.  I could see the blue shirts of the volunteers up ahead at the turn-off and I willed myself to keep running.

I took the corner, and there was Anna waiting for me. ¬†Never have I been so glad to see a familiar face. ¬†She ran alongside me at the start of the finisher’s chute, spurring me on when I thought I had nothing more to give.

(photo by John de Boer)

I approached the finisher’s arch, cheered on by all the spectators who kindly waited for the last person to come in! ¬†The officials called out that they needed to see my race number, so I unfurled it and held it out as best as I could, and crossed the finish line.

The clock read 1:59:50, and it’s official – I’m actually a triathlete, albeit the slowest one on the course. ¬†According to my Garmin, the times were as follows:

  • Swim: 18:26
  • T1: 4:06 (overestimate since I hit the lap button as soon as I exited the water, and didn’t hit it again until I was on the bike and moving)
  • Bike: 54:56 (less a minute or two in T2)
  • T2: (no idea, completely forgot I was supposed to hit the watch)
  • Run: 42:38 (absolutely the slowest 5K I’ve ever done!)

The aftermath

Anna and her Dad (who I hadn’t even seen cheering me on, so focused as I was on finishing) caught me up on the other side of the finish line, and walked over with me to the transition area to try and get my stuff in order. ¬†Fantastically prepared, he’d come armed with sandwiches, and I wolfed down one with peanut butter and hagelslag (hundreds and thousands) – best sandwich I’ve ever tasted! ¬†I truly have fantastic supporters.

Everything together, we headed our separate ways into Utrecht, found a terrace and enjoyed a drink in the sun, before I headed off back home.

The long-term aftermath

It’s official, I’m hooked. ¬†Even though the run felt pretty brutal, I had a really fantastic time and enjoyed it far more than any running event I’ve done.

I think my future holds a new bike.