I find myself in a silent march of middle-aged men with compression socks and neoprene catsuits. We’re walking along the canals of a deserted tourist-free beautiful Venice, I’d say experiencing the city in this way is a once in a life time opportunity cause I won’t wake up voluntarily at 3 am as a tourist myself neither.
Just underneath the rising sun a shiny wooden boat comes sailing towards us. It is captain Andre delivering my fans from Holland. They catch me doing a final prayer in front of the Maria statue. While standing there I think of my mom, also called Maria, and how much she regrets not being here today. Not that she loves standing in the sun all day – I still remember her complaints at Kona :p – but she is just very worried about me. And she has a point because today I almost entered the gates of Hell again.
Speaking of Hell… the organization’s race song is “Highway to hell”. I try really hard to ignore this tune, as it is a tune you do NOT want to have on repeat in your head all day. Instead, I’m trying to squeeze in Queen with “Don’t stop me now”. At 6.30am I am ready to embrace the torture waiting for me. Without starting pistol shots but with the Italian anthem we take off.
The swim is a straight line from Venice to the main land.
I have to force myself not to look at my watch (it doesnt help to know how slow I swim, I just need to focus on my stroke) but by the time we passed the island located at 1/4 of the course I’m quite sure we must have about 20-30min down. My lord, this is going to take long*. But that shouldn’t matter, as I only have one task to complete here: I’m visualising the feet of the girl of my training squad who I’ve been trying to stick behind in the pool for the past 6 months, and I must hold on now too. In reality there are only choppy waves and crazy current in front of me, and definitely no feet because the field is extremely stretched out.
The announcer says I’m the second woman out of the water (in 1.12 🤔**) with nr 3 closely behind me. While I see number 3 taking over, my sister is panicing: “Number three is taking over now!”- there are some things this fantastic supporter needs to learn. Such that I stopped running to take off my wetsuit straight after the swim so I’ll be faster out of t1 in the end. And that at a full triathlon being 2secs behind someone isn’t a disaster. But she’ll found that out herself later and her intensions are wonderful.
Then our bike skills are challenged. A 9k rollercoaster over bridges, curbs, grass and a highway takes us to a cycle criterium. If they wouldn’t serve panini proscuitto at the aid stations and if it wouldn’t be over 30 degrees I would say we are at the Criterium of the harbor of Oss in the Netherlands. I must admit, at first I was a bit upset about the decision of Challenge to swap the inital 2*90km bike course for a 7*24km loops in an industrial area, but after exploring it with the team captain I felt quite confident about it. I have a background in field hockey and rowing so I’m a rather explosive type of cyclist, which is useful when you need to accelarate after each turn. The diagonal railway crossings remind me of the Amsterdam tram rails and the potholes look like those I survived in London, so this is my thing; I take over the first girl after about 15k. Cool! A full triathlon and I’m in the lead. Now it’s simply a matter of doing the trick seven times and keep on sipping from the PleuniMix, that our nutrition sponsor developed for me.
Tutto a posto! My legs and stomach are feeling fine.
Surprisingly, by the sound of the voices of my support crew they seem to enjoy themselves. So as long as they have enough energy left for the hardest part of today, I don’t have to worry about them.
At 170k I suddenly see a pony tail approaching me, indicating that I must have lost some power towards the end***. But that’s okay, after the rollercoaster towards t2, I’m still the first starting with the run. Let’s see who is a better runner and will win this race.
This is where I totally under estimated my opponents and over estimated myself.
The real highway through Hell is the run course: Imagine a typical Dutch grass field with grazing cows. Take out the cows and let your right-handed 2yrs old nephew draw a big circle on it with his left hand. Then, put a huge greenhouse on top of it to heat everything up. Run this drawing 4.5 times until you have completed a marathon.
Number 2 takes over after 1 kilometer. At least I’ve had the ‘First Woman’ sign in front of me for 4min30s. She runs like a Kenian olympian and this is where I hear the first crack in my ego popping up. But it is still all okay, I just need to stick to the plan I had here: to imagine Kim, the fastest runner of my squad, in front of me. But then I realize she only runs 5k’s, and there goes my mantra.
Dizzyness takes over, I feel like I can’t control my brain and my view gets more blurry with every step I take. Hell can come when I’m older, but today I prefer to stay on earth so I just have to start walking.
That means I have 34km to go, that is a 6hrs walk 😱. This was NOT the plan. Every cell in my body is lobbying to step out, go home and hide under a cloud, never to be seen again by anyone. Gerard tells me I cannot allow any negative thoughts, I have given up all my social events for the past six months for this, that every girl is suffering here, that the number 1 could still get a cramp and that I still could win, that I’m capable of doing this and that I have to be positive. My sister is mainly screaming: “JFDI! JFDI!” **** (as if it is as easy as finishing dinner). Nevertheless, she is a master in ‘handing out the sheets’ and she is strategically positioning the support crew throughout my nephew’s drawing on the field in order to support me and hand out the ice cubes which they have made overnight. The crew-leader herself gets her fair share of exercise for today as well, with 24.981 on the step-counter. Cousin Elise runs a PB on the 1 mile and has found herself a new job as photographer-assistance, aunt Jozefien is of great support during the day but I think she agrees with the majority of the people seeing triathletes: doe effe normaal joh.
I try to focus on my own run so I don’t look at them. But by the sound of their breath and tramping feet when they try to run along I just really hope they are wearing flip flops and a backpack, because this doesn’t sound too well. From kilometer 8 to 34 they are the only reason I do not give up. Then I finally can imagine Kim again, and I’m pretending we are doing laps on the track. Meanwhile the legs are totally screwed. Number 3 takes over at 28k – but by now this race is just about not going to hell but stay on earth so it doesn’t bother me.
After 9hrs the organization has made progression with their playlist, when I hear at the only spot where they play music “You only got one shot do not miss this chance to blow this opportunity comes once in a life time”. Ow yeah, Eminem is so right! I guess I am still on third position!
Okay Ho-wi-ji-men, this is the final call to get yourself together. From km 38 to 42 I’m running again and I have in my mind YOU WILL START SPRINTING, think of the crawl****, if the 4th woman would come any closer.
The last kilometer I smell the podium and nothing can stop me now. *****
Someone from the organization comes up to me directly after the finish, apologizing he wasn’t there when I crossed the line. “I’m so sorry, we were already handing flowers to the men.” I told him: “As if I care! I’m just glad I made it.” I’m trying to find some chocolate milk or non alcoholic beer, but the guy just keeps on walking next to me and apologizing.
I am SO not aware that he is trying to get me to the podium too, for my flowers, until my sister gives me a shoulder and directs me to the stage, which is 100m away. This seems like another marathon. Once I’m dragged at the podium, I realize how epic this is. My facial muscles are not sore yet, and I can put a huge smile on my face.
“Can anyone help me off this podium too, please?” Again my sister is the one supporting me. Even in the shower she arranges me a chair to sit on and she soaps in my back. *****
What a day. I owe the support crew and team manager so much. Thank you!
Last but most important: my coach started today as well but got seriously ill and needed to pull out early and receive a 1.5L IV salina bag. He had an even closer look into hell today, and this entire week probably. Get well soon!
* Normally I would do an hour on 3.8 k, so this would mean it would take 20 mins longer.
** The fastest male did 56min so I guess there must have been change of tide/current.
*** 4h50min bike time
**** just fckng do it
**** 3.53 marathon 🙀
***** This is a mad sport.