After years of focusing at my personal goals in my triathlon career it is time to use my physical power for someone else. I found a new goal to train for: Move4AIR, a foundation that helps the battle against Cystic Fibrosis (CF). As a scientist I fully support the newest project: it contributes to a solution for CF patients with very rare mutations that due to the complex regulations of clinical trials might miss the boat of a newly found drug.
What’s the plan?
I’ll be swimming the Channel distance twice (total: 66km) in the month of September.
Watching the Amsterdam Marathon last weekend, seeing people nailing / suffering during / not finishing 8, 21 or 42 kilometers of running I realized it is NOT very normal to run a marathon after 6 hours of swimming and cycling. You seem to forget that, when you know so many people that just do that all the time.
So I thought it would be nice to show how you prepare your body for a 3.8k swim, 180k ride and 42k run.
You may have read in these blogs about the DIY mindfulness course I give myself every day, that there always is “a race plan” needed that you must try to stick to, that you need to weigh down 700gr of carbs for your race nutrition, and that there about 28 items you need to bring to a race in order to finish. That is about 30% of the procedure. The other 70% comes down to: Train. Eat. Social suicide. Repeat. Very simple.
Let’s have a look at a week of training, I picked the week prior to Ironman Copenhagen.
To keep it visual: I merged all swim/bike/run gps files into one and then converted it into googlemaps file. >> It may be a nice idea for Strava and Garmin to generate such images at the end of the week by the way 👌.
If you happen to be one of my friends you have experienced that I usually skip your birthday, or are the first one to leave (but that I always promise it will be different once I retire from racing). So what is causing this social suicide exactly?
Putting it in a brief table it looks like this:
*I never really count the hours because hours aren’t the greatest indication of how hard a week feels. If you bike a lot during a week, for example, the total hours will go up easier compared to having a week with more run sessions as cycling has less impact on your body and recovery. The intensity of the sessions also really makes a difference.
Below a bit more detailed description. Feel inspired to join a session one day, or sign up for a sports event yourself, or just only do the core stability every evening. You may even enjoy it.
Legend: z=zone, refers to heart rate zone, so basically level of intensity, z1 is low, z5 is high W=watts, refers to power
Disclaimer: This week was very specific towards the race and looks very different to a week during the off-season. It wasn’t my longest or hardest week it but this pretty intense.
Swim Technique 60min: 2500m as (10min warm up, 50m and 100m variety of drills) .
‘Arms only’ using a pullbuoy, a floating device that you clamp between your legs, so you can swim with arms only and focus better on technique.
Drills: Swim with fists, doggy stroke, sculling, pulling hands over the water, focus on keeping elbows high.
The rest of the day I spend in the office.
Before going to bed: 20min drills for my glutes and hamstrings, core stability and stretching.
I start at the office early and leave at 17.00 to start training around 18.15
Run Intervals 100min: 10min warm up, 5min drills, 4*(90sec accelerate into z4, 30sec walk), Followed by: 4*6min z3, 4*6min z4 with 4min rest after each interval (walk/jog).
Before going to bed: 20min drills for my glutes and hamstrings, core stability and stretching.
Non working day so more time to train.
Bike Intervals 150min: 30min warm up, 6*10min tempo progressive with 5min rest as: 2*z3 (Ironman pace), 2*z3-4 (Half Ironman pace), 2*z4 (Olympic Distance pace)
Followed by 30min cool down
Swim Endurance 75min: 3600m as: 5min warm up, then the following set: 2*300m pull buoy + elastic + paddles, 2*300m pull buoy + elastic, 300m full stroke 4*50m sprint out, easy back, 100m easy
Repeat entire set 2*, everything easy apart sprint, focus on technique.
Another non-working day.
Core/stretching 75min: Variety of drills and streches in the gym. Sometimes I do this at the end of the day. Depends a bit on other planning.
Run Tempo 120min: 1st hour z1-z2 as: 3*20min easy with 2min walk 2nd hour as: 3*20min as (5min 5:00/km, 10min 4:45/km, 5min 4:30/km)
I nap for half an hour.
Swim intervals 85min: 4*300m, 4*250m, 4*200m, 4*150m, 4*100m, 4*50m In each set: 1st 70%, 2nd 80%, 3rd 85%, 4th 95% 20sec rest after each interval
Before going to bed: 20min drills for my glutes and hamstrings, core stability and stretching.
A day at the office!
Bike Endurance: Commute to work on bike, on return ride I do 30min tempo z2/z3 with low cadancy 50-60rpm. To be honest the ride towards the office is alaways a full out session because I tend to leave home too late. I skip the stretching in the eve.
This is a big day.
Bike 270min IM specific: 30min z1 Followed by 4* 40min z3/IM tempo (225w) 10min z3 half IM tempo (235w) 10min z1/z2 (190w)
Normally, if I struggle to get the right wattages/heartrate I take it a bit easier. Today was a special day because there 6Bft tail which made it hard to pushing enough power (going 55kmh at one point), but with headwind I stood completely parked. At least I had a lot of QOMs.
Directly after the ride I put on my run kit and leave for a tempo run.
RunTempo’s 45mins 5min warm up 25min z3/IM tempo 15min z3/z4 half IM tempo 10min easy
20min stretching before going to bed.
Today I go for an open water swim at the Spiegelplas in Nederhorst den Berg before breakfast, then I have a brunch and go for a nice easy ride.
Barcelona, 8 October – In my active wear in the airplane I sleep half of the flight and the other half I’m writing this and other blogs. When I look around I notice it is pretty typical for triathletes to either refresh their socials each 30secs or to to be passed out completely.
So I have two modes now: sleeping or writing. I’m not writing for the kudos or likes but to structure my thoughts. There goes a lot around in your head when you are racing and writing your experiences down helps you to get into your rhythm again and to learn from each race. This blog is a wrap up of this season.
Albeit with a pile of pain killers in my bag as opposed to an ironman trophee I can look back at my most successful year to date.
A wrap up:
I turned 2nd at Ironman Ireland – my first Ironman podium as a pro – and I improved my PB with 11 mins at Ironman Copenhagen. But little did I know at the end of 2018 that my job, coach, training squad and place I live would be completely different by the start of the 2019. But these things happen and when combining a professional (I have a background in science) with a sports career things need to be balanced perfectly. So it was a rocky start of the year, but in the end things would work out great!
The full overview:
12th Challenge Salou half triathlon, April
It is the first European pro race of the year and hence very competitive (20 pros). I left the water and the bike course at the front of the race but lacked speed at the run and lost 7 spots there. However, I was content with the improvement of my swim.
1st – Time trial Almere, May
On our new FFWD F9R tubeless ready wheels I won the Almere 42km time trial race with a 1.5min gap on the number two.
2nd – Triathlon 111 Bilzen, May**
I finished 2nd, behind the Dutch pro athlete Sarissa de Vries. I felt very bad prior the race and after the race decided I needed new input on my training plan and more confidence in the process. Mark Oude Bennink becomes my new coach.
2nd – Ironman Ireland, June
With a 30mm rain and 9 degrees Celsius this was a tough day out. Dressing up like racing the Ronde van Vlaanderen turned out to be a good idea as I managed to survive and get my first Ironman podium.
I finished the coaching programme at de Sportmaatschappij (an organization that helps athletes in their social careers) and in July I started with my new job at ttopstart – a consultancy firm that advises scientists in Life Sciences and Healthcare on funding and business strategy.
PB and 7th at Ironman Copenhagen, August
I had a good race and improved my PB with 11 minutes (9:21), with Anne Haug (the World champion) breaking the records the field was a bit too strong for me and I turned 7th pro.
*4th at The escape from Marken, August*
I finished 4th in a 3km open water swim race through the choppy Gouwzee (Zwemmeland).
At the end of the September I severly snapped my back and worked really hard with my physio and manual therapist to recover. Things seem to work out and I felt better in a few werks.
Crash at Ironman Barcelona, October
Aiming for a top 5 and/or PB. I got out of the water 6th and was going smoothly until I crashed at full speed at a roundabout at 15km. I got myself together and completed the ride in 4.44h but after an hour on the run course I had to give up. My hip and back where getting too stiff and painful and I couldn’t continue the race.
I happily look back at a successful season where I improved a lot on my swim and in racing itself. Things in my life have settled now and that has created a good base to continue into the next season. I still need to evaluate with my coach Mark and make a plan for 2020 but I’m super excited about it.
I’m weighing and mixing my race nutrition: 5 hours ride – 400grams, 3.5hr run – 300gr. Total: 700 grams of carbs; The equivalent of 7 liters of Coke. So if you’re the BOB* and you drink along with you’re mates, and say you drink 2 cokes per hour on a festival, you drank enough sugar to finish an Ironman.
This will be my 10th race, but the pre-race feeling hasn’t changed over the years. I’m not nervous, but I just feel very uncomfortable. Maybe the excitement of closing a huge deal is another life situation where non-athletes experience this, but this is one where you have a 100% chance of getting physically exhausted.
I know it is horrible feeling. But trust me: once you decide to stop competing you crave for more adrenaline in your life. Try to enjoy it.
Ironman Copenhagen is the next goal, a race I choose because of the weather stats, relatively flat course (1100m of altitude) and short travel distance.
Upon arrival in Denmark I have the lyrics of ‘You only got one shot do not miss this chance to blow” of an Eminem song in my head. I turn on reggae music instead, in an attempt to relax. And it helps: I sleep at least 12 hours a day. Perhaps also because I’m a dead fish from all the training and work. My coach Mark reminds me: “I know it is horrible feeling. But trust me: once you decide to stop competing you crave for more adrenaline in your life. Try to enjoy it.”
My competitors (Michelle Vesterby, Anne Haug, Camilla Pedderson etc) are seriously strong so Mark’s advise is to catch the feet of some girls in the back of the pack at the swim. And so I do. But the last girl slowly drifts away and I cannot stay with her. This is going to be a nasty 3.8km. I’m repeating my slogan “Sometimes in life we’re gonna start slow. And that’s okay. But we are always finishing fast” of Appolos Hester in my head.
This is what they mean with slipstream. It just feels too easy.
Just when I processed my loss two girls slowly pass by. Huh? For a moment I wonder if they are two paralympic athletes who started behind us (that happens sometimes, f.e. a blind athlete and a guide). I don’t care whether they are disabled, agegroupers or whatever: I’m going to swim my socks off to catch their feet. Surprisingly, it feels like I’m going slower whilst swimming with them. It just feels too easy. I try to take over and set a faster pace several times, but there is no way I can accelerate and pass them. This is what they mean with slipstream. It is so relaxed. There is time to spot some jellyfish, navigate, and sometimes I even need to do some breast strokes not to hit the girl in front of me. Leaving the water I see there are 4 pro female bike bags still on the rack. So they weren’t para-athletes and I’m on 7th position. Nice! Time: 59min.
That is ‘one down’ taken a bit too literally.
The congested roads of the city have been cleared for us to pave our road to the Danish rolling hills. It is a magic moment to race full gas through an empty capital. The first 1.5 hours I ride with Angela Neath. At each climb or corner she puts me on a few seconds. I thought I was a punchy rider, but this is another level. I have to let her go before I blow up my legs or hit the asphalt; Several ambulances pass by to pick up crashed athletes. The road is slippery. One girl lays alongside the pavement in a pool of blood. I quickly look at her number and conclude she is a pro. That is ‘one down’ taken a bit too literally. I hope she is doing okay again.
I’m checking the facts: I’m riding 37.1km/h and my average power is 10 Watts above my planned targets. Cycling is my best discipline. But the gap with the leaders doesn’t get any smaller. What can I do?
The last athletes seem to be teletransported from the highlands of China
second loop some agegroupers help me distract from my own worries and put a
smile on my face. The last athletes seem to be teletransported from the
highlands of China and appear to have no clue how they ended up there. Sitting
right up on their bikes, hello kitty outfits, looking around as if enjoying a
ride in a city sightseeing bus. There are athletes cycling on their running
shoes – aiming at the fastest transition – and at least five athletes carry a
filled backpack. One guy has a rain coat and jacket on, while it is 19 degrees
and sunny out here. Many of the agegroupers I pass wish me all the best. I find
that very intriguing.
My race spirit gets back at me. I imagine I’m Julian Alaphilippe: I’ll never win the Tour but I will go ‘strijdend ten onder’**. I also realize if I keep riding like this I may get a PB here. Bike time: 4h51
All the blonde girls here are exact copies of my sisters
The marathon course takes us right through the center of Copenhagen. It is a true festivity. My dad is there (also a slogan from my motivational inspirator). I recognize him from miles away. His proud smile is very supportive. I miss my sisters but all the blonde girls here are exact copies of them so I just smile at them. The surrogates don’t know how much their cheering helps me. Although I allow myself to absorb energy from the audience at times I’m very focused on myself and my technique. The additional data of my Garmin on my cadence and vertical oscillation is super useful. Each 2km I get my splits (4:45/km). Exactly as planned.
Some athletes, however, seem to do other stuff than executing their plan. Or perhaps they didn’t have a plan. In the first lap I hear a peristaltic “bleeeeuhkeeeeuhk”. Someone is throwing up in a container and has a long way to go. Then someone –bib number 240 – comes running next to me , wishes me luck and gives me advice – each bloody kilometer. I wonder whether this is a voice in my head or whether it is real. And why someone would coach me. Another coach today is Gerard – who informs me of the girls chasing me. One of them is Krivankova***, known for her impressive running skills.
At some point I feel like we are truly doing this race together.
Number 240 appears to be Dutch. I’m one lap further in the race, and hence slightly more cooked, but we run at the same pace. As long as we stick to 4:45/4:55 per kilometer, I happily form a duo with him. At some point I feel like we are truly doing this race together. I pass the aid stations faster, but he doesn’t need to stop at the Special Needs, so we align perfectly. It isn’t fastest run course (in my opinion, not when you look at Anne Haug’s finish time) but the cobbles, bridges and U-turns really fly by.
At 39km also Krivankova flies by. I push for the next three kilometers but there is no way I can run any faster. As I enter the finish area I say goodbye to 240**** and wish him luck at his final 10 kilometer. I finish in 9:21, a new PB, 7th pro!
Sugar goes well with fat and salt. After 7L of sugars, I think it would be appropriate to ask for some fries.
As soon as I cross the line, the legs shut down completely. As I crawl to the douches, I pass two spectators eating french fries with mayonnaise. Sugar goes well with fat and salt they say. Well, as I just had 7 liters of sugar I think it would be appropriate to ask for a bite. They allow. It makes my day.
Inspecting the wounds and blisters under the shower the happiness that comes with the reward of achieving a (intermediate) goal kickes in: I challenged myself and I got the most out of it. It feels so good.
I got the most out of it. It feels so good.
* DDD: Determined not drinking driver. 700 grams of sugars: no wonder why athletes have the best looked-after but worst teeth, as published in a scientific article last week.
like a hero to the very last end
improved 15 mins compared to last time competing with her, closing the gap to
only 2 min now.
**** I feel
bad for my best-friend-for-a -day that he needs to do his final lap alone. 240
(Lionel Wille) couldn’t maintain our pace, but finishes a decent sub 10 hours!
If, by coincidence, you were to pass by you’d think this is the apocalypse of Ireland: thousands of people running around desperately with their heads down, hands in gloves, winter caps on their heads and having numerous futile attempts to keep their flapping ponchos down. Many athletes drop out.
If you happen to be Dutch you’d associate the spectacle with just a typical early January semi marathon. Known for its brutal storms and icy conditions, but that is just what we do in winter.
I’m still warm and feeling fine. The parachute jacket is starting to pay off. This is may be my day.
After 2km the first of eight 3-level climbs is to be taken. Somehow it helps to loosen my sore hips. At the top there is a cyclist of the organization joining me. It is always great to run with a race leaders cyclist alongside. It gives a little extra mental support. People scream: ‘Best of! Best of!’ and: ‘Well done! Well done!’. The first comment reminds me of music albums and the second makes me want to reply: ‘Done? Done? I’m sorry guys but I’m FAR from done yet!’, but it is very supportive anyway.
Compared to this morning’s roller-coaster ride where we needed to be a rally driver, -navigator and race motor all in one, the marathon is pretty simple:
1) Focus on execution. With my new coach we’ve worked on changing my technique to improve efficiency. I set the display of my Garmin at cadence.
2) The 2k game. Each 2 kilometer my watch will give a notification with the past split: I shall only compare my current 2km split with the previous one and try to optimize it (i.e. slow down if you’re overshooting, speed up if you’re going too slow). As an ex-rower I still measure all distances in rowing course lengths (2k), so this works perfectly for me.
3) Nutrition. Each lap take 2 Sanas gels from my own bag at special needs; consume one at each far end of the run course, drink 2 cups of water or coke every aid station.
So far the plan on paper. Now the implementation.
1) I wish I had such marathon mindset before. It is super relaxed to only think of your movement pattern. Unfortunately, my cadence and technique are totally off and in the reflection of the shop windows I notice I’m running electric boogie style again. This brutal bike course has some after effects. I don’t care; I’m continuously trying to improve my technique and keep running efficiently. Time flies.
2) The splits aren’t even close to what I had in mind. Luckily I’m flexible and realize that with these insane conditions this race isn’t about the fastest splits. It is about reaching the finish asap. Give what you have, and be satisfied, it is what it is.
3) The special needs department is like a well oiled machine*. During my first lap I make friends with the volunteers and each subsequent lap they recognize me, know exactly what I need and hand me my stuff. So it doesn’t cost me extra time to stop and search for my bag.
Although I’m much focused at myself, I feel a lot of love and energy from the spectators. I believe that if you’re good to people, people will be good to you. Especially during such race. So whenever suitable I give a smile to the people alongside the course. They give an applause and support in return. Especially Dorothy and Giacomo give me goose bumps. I start to feel great!
Then I see my sister who flew over from Singapore. The water from the rain puddles has soaked up from the bottom of her trousers all the way up to her underpants. She is wearing two rain coats but looks like a drowned cat anyway. “I do NOT understand how you like SUCH conditions!”
She screams. I smile. With each droplet pouring down on us I feel extra the support of Zeus and other gods helping me towards my first Ironman podium as a pro.
Some people mistake me for male and scream ‘You’re doing great, lad!”. Personally I don’t care, but the woman on the bike gets irritated by this and as a precaution she starts screaming: “Third woman! Third woman!’ to everyone.
“One of the leaders is in trouble! She is exhausted and started walking!”, someone screams at me. I’ve gotten into troubles myself during Ironmans multiple times and always found a way to get myself together. So I don’t assume I’ll move a place up. Just stick to the plan. First we’ll see who will reach the finish line, and then in which order.
But then it turns out I actually am at second position. Nice!
Every 5 kilometer the cyclist asks me how I’m doing. “Yup fine!” I say. At some points I feel horrible but I learned to never express your feelings of discomfort (edited by Gerard and my physio: during a race). It will only pull yourself further into the pain zone. From kilometer 7 to 17 I cannot feel my feet and ankles. They’re tingling and I cannot sense how I place my feet. It is tempting to tell my sister and mom about it, but I keep it for myself. They will see it anyway.
At the back and forth part, I see number three. She is approaching steadily. I time our difference: 80 seconds. She started 60 seconds later than me. So I’m only on a 20 seconds lead. Crap.
A little devil climbs onto my shoulder and says: “Hey Plowny. What about slowing down a bit? Wouldn’t that be relaxed? Number four is far behind, number three is a faster runner than you. So why don’t you let her take over. Third is also podium!”.
Luckily, a miniature me climbs onto the other shoulder. She has little wings and an aureole. She has trained an afwul lot and has a unrelenting facial expression: “How often did you commit social suicide the past year as you needed to train? How much sacrifices did you give? Didn’t you fly over here to explore the course? The weather cannot be more perfect for you! You’re already in pain, get a reward for it.”
The angel is way more convincing than the devil and so the last 12 kilometer I shift a gear up and run away from number three. My sister is positioned at 36km: “It is getting REALLY close Pleuni! If you keep this pace you will lose 2 minutes on her.” (The support office at home informed her about the stats). As I already came to that conclusion myself I scream back: “I KNOW, I’m already accelerating!”.
Now a motor with a cameraman for the live stream starts riding next to me. This means that Emma must have finished. Wow. She is fast! Amazingly great job from her! But FFS… Will 20.000 people see me running at the very last bit of my capacity? I’m in pain and there are three more hills to climb. Whatever, keep focusing on technique. And look at the bright side: how many times in your life will you experience this?
I decide not to look around anymore. If number three sees my suffer face and knows I’m worried about her, this will give her extra energy. Just run your socks off now!
39km. My quads are cramping. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Just get to that bloody finish. Not before kilometer 41 I actually believe I might get my first pro Ironman podium. Is this truly happening?!
As I nearly reach the finish I skip the hand claps and cheering. I consider making a belly slide finish but there is no time for jokes now. As I pass the line I first look back. Where is number three? Can someone tell me where she is? The interviewer starts talking to me, but I first need to know whether I’m second or third.
It feels like forever until I get an answer. But then: 2nd it is! Yay! I have to suppress some tears as I’m about to cry.
The microphone man asks me about the race. All I can think of is that I really wish the Irish will have a some positive exposure as the chances of such bad conditions again are about zero, and they did such a great job organizing this event. The audience and race setup has been amazing and they really deserve a place in the Ironman calendar the coming years. But above all: I’m so happy!
I have trained harder and sacrificed more than ever and this makes the reward for making it to the podium beyond what I expected. However, I also get very emotional thinking about previous events. Albeit a bit less, also then I gave all I had. But I unfortunately suffered a lot from heatstrokes. The bitterness after those events truly sucks. Not only do you really get a lot of negative responses from others, but you also need to cope with a huge disappointment for yourself. It is fantastic to finally get a reward for your hard work.
Most exciting for me is to finally hug my mum and of course my sister, who also had a heck of a day: “Today we explored the borders of how much fun it is to support you. This was the absolute minimum.” She is exhausted. She is fantastic. I am so blessed with her.
When number three finishes, 9 minutes later, we may mount the podium. There is no way I can climb 30 centimeters without using my arms. Let alone manage to get off the podium again. I also need to work on my champagne spray skills. But so far that was least of my worries.
For those who made it to the final line of this way too long story: Does anyone know whether my course-explore buddies Keith and Ian have made it? I don’t know their surnames and it is impossible to find these names in the results page.
Race morning, 3:30am – The weather app states: “27 millimeters of rain expected for today”. I think they forget the dot between the 2 and the 7. So I open another app. Again: twenty seven milimeters of rain. Nine degrees Celsius, 7 Bft wind. I look up, and notice that the lighthouse is barely visible from where I stand, which is at 50m distance.
06:30 amIrish spirit
During my warm up run at the beach I bump into a woman from my training squad in London. She flew over to volunteer at the swim, which is cancelled at the very last minute. “It’s such a pity. The water is absolutely lovely. It is 14 degrees!”, she comments without seeming to make a joke*. Then I remember this woman went swimming every day in the Hampstead Heath pond in London without wetsuit. That is 8 degrees Celsius in winter. She has Irish spirit. I turn my head and stare at the ocean where a couple of other lifeguards are smashed from their surfboards. Damn. We had such waves in previous races, where I performed really well. Also, I’m a bit grumpy I cannot show my swim progression now. But grumpiness doesn’t bring medals. I need to have a positive Irish spirit.
Drizzle or rain, to swim or not to swim, grumpy or not, there is another key choice to be made: aerodynamics or bodytemperature. After many rides in the British and Dutch weather I also got a PhD in rainy conditions. So prior to the start I squeeze myself into my Bioracer gloves, toe covers, sleeves and even a body warmer. Hey! That is a positive thing about cancelling the swim. No first transition so I’ve got plenty of time to dress up.
But what do I do with the rain coat my boyfriend handed me? It is two sizes too big and is kind of a parachute. But then I recall: You will never warm up once you get cold so I put the parachute on. When I’m ready to jump I look around the start area and notice the fear in the eyes of other athletes. Damps of cold sweat rise and mix with the other clouds in the sky.
As I join the queue for start it turns out other pros are only wearing extra sleeves. What am I doing here in my Ronde van Vlaanderen-proof outfit? Whatever. I made up my mind and cannot bin the brand new 300 euro jacket now, so I stick to the plan.
I start third, one minute behind Linsey Corbyn. At the first kilometers there is a tunnel of cheering people along the course. Immediately the grumpiness disappears and I start smiling. This is so cool. I feel like a champ.
After an hour on the bike I feel totally overdressed. It is so warm with all these layers on. I’m even sweating more than I counted on and hence I need to take more bottles at the aid stations. Cycling on the left side of the road, the bottles are handed out on the left as well. I’m a righty and hence miss three bottles in a row, only when I slow down drastically I finally manage to grab one. It is a waste of time, but I got to stick to my nutrition and upgraded hydratiom plan.
9:30 am Signs and spectators Riding in the middle of nowhere. Again, many spectators. Is there a fine for locals for not cheering and making flags and banners? I’ve never experienced so much support. Banners at Inch Hill say: “It’s just a hill, get over it” and “Bike like you stole it”. They make me laugh. But “Pain is temporary, results are online forever” is the one that strikes me most.
At 60km Emma Bilham passes me. She started 30s behind me. I haven’t googled her, so I wasn’t aware she has won Alpe D’Huez triathlon and I have no clue what type of climbing goat she is. But I can tell she weighs about half of what I weigh. I stick to her side and together we ride up Wind Mill Hill. Later I see at strava that I went 30 secs faster than my previous attempts, on a segment of approximately 2 min 30. Racing is so mental. At the 100 km point, however, I cannot keep up with her and I’m riding alone again.
She passing me and me not passing others means I’m at 4th position. Ow men.. Cycling is my strongest discipline. I am supposed to nail this! I cannot see my heart rate or power as the screen of my Garmin is too wet. I’m struggling to push and have little motivational crisis when I think about the marathon. Then I suddenly see Linsey Corbyn. She looks like suffering from hypothermia and really exhausted. I wonder if she had a crash or had a mechanic, so I ask if she is okay. She ignores me completely so I assume she isn’t hurt and doesn’t need any help. Somehow this situation helps me get myself together. The race is still very very long. Keep going.
1:00pm Transit 1
After 180km I dismount my bike, and have no clue what my time position compared to the others is but I do know my hips feel very sore and there is a marathon to run. I tell myself: Have faith that it is just a bike-to-run transition pain and that it will disappear shortly. Keep looking after yourself now.
* FYI: average pool temperature is 28C, on average open water is about 21-23C
Sometimes you find yourself starring in a movie. Today it is in Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis Y’al*.
The main character is exiled from the sunny South to the rainy North of France. In this version, it is my own decision to go to where the weather is horrible** (the south coast of Ireland) and where Ironman advertised with a bike course of only 1000 meters of climbing***.
It starts with a long journey to the island.
As in the movie, it seems everything is trying to prevent me from getting there. Firstly, there is a long queue at the border control as Ireland appears to not be part of the Schengen agreement. Then, the plane leaves from gate D31, a 30min walk. The crowds at the terminals and the chocolate in the shops try to slow me down. But I catch the flight.
Looking over the green hills from the airplane I think of Frankie McCourt. A boy living in Ireland in the crisis of the 30’s. In his autobiography he describes how they tried to survive on bread and tea, being hunt by fleas and diseases, starving to death. Such a sad story.
But I have other issues.
I realize my valve extender (ventiel verlenger) doesn’t work with the little hand pump I brought. As you have to release the air from your tires during a flight, I need to find a bike shop asap. Google replies to <Youghal, bike shop, 50k radius>: “two sports bars”. Okay. That implies two things: 1) I need to find a solution, 2) there must be a reason why cycling isn’t very popular here.
I take a bus to Cork centre, where I need to switch lines and have 5 minutes to find a bike shop. I politely ask an older couple from which platform the bus to Youghal leaves. I get a deafening silence and two strange looks in return. Perhaps there is still a crisis going on here. They could be too hungry to talk?
The bus driver seems less shocked by strangers. He helps me around and nods when I ask whether I can leave my luggage (23kg, not easy to run with) with him until the bus departs.
I take my wheels from my bike bag, jump over the ‘do not walk’ fence of the bus station and sprint to the nearest bike shop and ask if I may use their pump. I consider myself risk seeking, but solution-oriented at the same time. While I’m filling the tires with air the mechanic comments on the bike course: “It is a monster”. I give him a smile, assuming he is joking.
I get back at the bus jùst on time. The driver asks me where I’m heading. I say: “Youghal” (Joe-gal). The passengers in the bus bursts out into tears. When they finally stop laughing the driver corrects me: “We say: Y’al”. That explains.
A smell of fried food slaps me in the face when I get off the bus.
The village makes me feel a bit unheimlich. But I’m here for business, so I get over it and install my bike and take off for a bike course recon. The landscape is gorgeous. Green fields, cattle, and mysterious little villages. Enormous bursts of wind all over the place. But I love wind. So there is nothing wrong with this course.
Then the tide turns.
After 34km there is a sharp turn right, the asphalt seems fine. However, halfway through the corner, the road suddenly turns into a gravel path and my rear wheel slams a hot pole. In a moment of inertia my body is preparing to fall, tightening my muscles and looking out for the best way to hit the floor, when a little Peter Sagan in me gets control of the handlebars and rescues me.
I stop the bike, take a deep breath and text the hostess that I’ll give her a call in case I crash. I’m traveling alone and suddenly realize how vulnerable I am.
Luckily there are Irish Ironmen around here.
While I’m gathering the courage to get back on my bike a group of cyclists passes by. They allow me to join them. They know each pot hole, scary crossing, gravel path and climb. They have been preparing for this race for over a year and are so kind to help me.
The only challenge remaining is to answer their questions. I have NO CLUE what they are saying. So I just give random replies to questions I would have loved to ask myself. I also do my best to repeat the traffic warnings they use. “Kaaabaa. Kaabaa!”, I find myself screaming full out to the cyclist in front of me. It reminds me of Matt, a Welshman of my Amsterdam triclub who joined a training camp in Limburg and repeated “Paataa. Paataaa!”, when we warned for a paaltje. A car passes from behind. Right. ‘Kabaaa’ apparently means ‘car back’.
At 45km, halfway the first loop, my Garmin says we have climbed 500m and so I ask my buddies whether the big hill we just passed was the last one. Ian and Keith start laughing: “Y’call tha hill? We call tha ‘drag’****.” Then I realized the mechanic was not joking about the course and that Ironman has falsely advertised with 1000m meters of climbing in total (as it is 1000m per loop… 2000m in total). The fireworks of this course hasn’t even started yet.
Then we pass a sign saying “inch: two kilometers”. Perhaps Ironman didn’t downscale the altitude meters on purpose, but they just had issues transferring imperial to metric distances.
At 89km Keith says something about a mill, or perhaps hill and something about wind, and he gets a smile on his face. They obviously know what is about to happen. Three minutes later I also know it, and I like to keep this little secret to myself not to give my competitors inside information.
Keith and Ian are also of great help the next day, when they allow me to join their club’s ocean swim. It feels very safe to have two lifeguards, a boat on the water, and about 40 others that don’t seem to mind the chilliness of the water (13 degrees Celsius).
At the end of the weekend I’m a little sad I need to leave the cute town and the friendliest people I ever met. Luckily it is almost race day and I may travel here again.
* Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis is a great movie, worth a watch.
** 4 out of my 4 races where the temperature was >35C I had issues with overheating so I studied all weather stats and chose cold races this year.
*** Laws of Physics imply with my height and weight I’m better of with windy and not so steep bike courses.
**** Dictionary explanation of ‘drag’: something that slows you down.
There was a time my mojo was pretty constant and mainly depended on daylight. Now that I’m a full time athlete there are motivational bursts that can launch my spirit out of the earth’s atmosphere within the blink of an eye, and there are moments you better stay out of my sight.
Since I spent some time analyzing time series data at the Exchange, I thought let’s draw a graph.I think the curve makes a perfect design for a rollercoaster. Perhaps I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie, but I assume other sporty people experience the same. This weekend I flew to Spain to race and I instantly went from phase IV to V.
￼Photo made by Ingo Kutsche, Challenge Salou
Phase 1: Autumn and good memories.
Life is good. Outdoor swimming. Looking back on race achievements. Time for a beer, of which you enjoy èvery single droplet. Plenty of day light, zero pressure.
Phase 2: Early winter.
Very unnoticeable but slowly there is a little caterpillar taking small bites from your motivation. As daylight reaches zero, indoor trainer and treadmill hours reach maximum.
Phase 3: Late winter.
At the beginning, things are still fine. Your baseline mojo is pretty normal but the memories of races are gone. The return of daylight helps but each time a sign of spring shows up it is flushed away by rain and snow, and this hits us harder than others as we athletes spend half of our life outdoors.
Phase 4: Silence before the storm.
Getting closer to race day.
Will the hard work pay off? You haven’t had the chance to confirm your progression in a race setting.
You’re excited, but there is a lot at stake. You’ve decided to take the plunge. All you need to do now is to turn the thought “I’ve given all I have so now I MUST succeed” into “I’ve given all I have so now I WILL succeed”.
Then taper week kicks in. The deepest dip. You’re forced to lay flat and be bored. Then, very contra-intuitively, you feel extremely tired. At this stage I start to over-think like an unemployed philospher.
So imagine me sitting in a Plato cave in Bussum wondering why I’m doing this. Last week I had an interview with a magazine and I couldn’t formulate an answer to this question. It shocked me.
Phase 5: High peaks!
This weekend the return of the mojo finally happened. I had my first race. Some force of nature pushes you straight into phase V 🚀.
The feeling after (admittedly not necessarily during) the race is so fantastic! Your hard work is so extremely rewarded. You feel awesome. Fit. Healthy. Cool. Love it. Just like my fave race motivational speaker Appolos Hester. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X7ymriMhoj0
The spirit stays pretty high all season, with some dips during taper weeks. I think what I go through now is a destructive and unhealthy, but wonderful and intense live life to the max experience.