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.
Key words: solutions for swimming, dogwalking without a dog, posture and the home-gym; Stoïc philosphy; the art of doing nothing; bad habits.
The Olympic open water swim champion Sharon Rouwendaal and myself have been in a neck-to-neck race in our search for a solution for the closure of the pools. While she got pulled out of the French Mediterranean sea by the military, I conquered the Gooimeer. Not that we plan on racing Ironman or Tokyo this year, but people like Sharon and other IM-gekkies understand: It is easier to start a bad habit than to keep a good one, so I planned on fighting for my Spartan rhythm of getting up at 6am and swim.
When the pools closed, dry land cords seemed the easiest solution. Lying on my belly on a yoga mat was quite convenient untiI it gave me bed sores (doorligplekken). Having put on a bit of insulating bodyfat, I couldn’t find a reason not to try the 6 degrees Celsius open water. With two wetsuits on top of each other, a neoprene cap, gloves and socks my training buddy Nick and I were pretty optimistic we’d be able to handle the Gooimeer. Within 5 strokes the brain freeze spread from the frontal lobes all the way through my spine to the L5-S1 hernia. It took 30 mins in a hot bath to thaw.
So, two weeks after the shut down, I decided to fall back to my Stoic philosophy: “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are motivation, desire, opinion, aversion, and whatever is of our own doing; not within our power is whatever is not of our own doing, you should learn to accept.”
sharon on a leash in inflatable pool
Then this video (above) of Sharon pops up. My friends commented: She is mental. How on earth can you motivate yourself to do that? But I thought: This is a champion. And how much does such construction truly differ from 5hrs on the TACX, or running 2.5hrs on a treadmill? IM-gekkies do that all the time. So I’m saving a bit of money for an inflatable pool and just checked my back yard to see where it will fit.
The next hurdle: finding alternatives for cycling. The problem with cycling is that I tend to produce quite a bit of snot* and it is absolutely a no-go in this corona-era to look backwards and use your index finger to close one nostril to empty the other behind you. Supported by the research of the Irish neuroscientist Shane O’Mara who claims that people should take 15.000 steps a day, I introduced hiking to my daily Spartan rhythm: one hour before work and one hour after work.
After two months of walking everyday, I found that the animals are even more into rhythms than professional athletes. The deers, buzzards and owl seem to have an in-build atomic clock and global positioning system, enabling nature lovers like myself to pick the routes in such way that spotting them is guaranteed. Feeling an obedient citizen, however, I don’t feel very much accepted by fellow pedestrians, or more precisely: the dog walkers. They give me the looks like I’m a wandering lost woman. So again I found myself looking for a solution. This time Rodaan Al Galidi, a Dutch writer and ex-refugee from Iraq, had the answer. Not entitled to work and waiting for a residence permit, he was a lonely man, ignored by others on the street. Things changed when he had to look after a friend’s puppy: people suddenly started talking to him. He turned into a trustworthy man. When he had to return the puppy, he bought a leash. Ever since, without a dog to the other end, he walks with a leash. Tomorrow I will buy a one too.
I have more new habits and ideas to share. Pretty applicable to everyone in a full lock down, who is self-conscious of posture and shape, is the golden combi of the cross-trainer and the table-on-desk setup. My brother in law found me a crosstrainer at marktplaats for 150 euro, he dragged it to my attic (it is impossible to do that with the standard machine for running, i.e. a treadmill). At first, I refused mounting such 65+ machine, until I discovered that it is just perfect for watching Netflix (as your head doesn’t bounce as with running). It is also fantastic for anyone with a running injury as it brings your heartrate up to 130bpm easily and has no impact on the tendons and joints. I’m convinced that this will be saving more lives than any covid-19 vaccine. Finally, the table-on-desk setup (pic below) is the one of the few solutions I invented myself. Perfect for alternating standing/sitting without needing to buy an adjustable desk.
15000 steps and working 8 hours a day still leaves too much home-bound time for a triathlete. Hence I’m enrolled in a course on “the art of doing nothing”. The course material is mainly provided by Sporza Retro, the tv channel that solely broadcasts old bike races; I napped for a full hour whilst rewatching the 2015 Gent-Wevelgem bike classic. For the second day in a row I didn’t made it to the Hornbach before closure time. I’m SO mastering this lock down.
That was the wrap up of my new good habits, but I find it hard to stop my bad habit of using Strava. I know it is a bit uncool to record walks and cross trainer sessions, but I just can’t help myself.
*Well, I cannot bike or run at all at the moment, minor detail 😊
I happen to be paying a maternity visit at a friend’s place when the doctor calls. “Hi there. I’m just going to tell it to you straightaway.” As a Dutchy I appreciate this kind of directness, but there was a little bit of hope in me that there would be some anatomical weirdness in my body that could be fixed with supportive orthoses (steunzooltjes) and two weeks bed rest. But these words don’t seem a logical introduction to that conclusion.
I hold my breath. “At the MRI we saw a severe hernia and two partially ruptured hamstring tendons.” Her words slap me in the face but I’m relieved to finally know what is the matter. It is a legendary maternity visit; At our whatsapp-group my friends joke that this is the first time a visitor cried more than the baby…
Things slowly fall into place. In the train rides to work I had been puzzling for months how the other commuters manage to sit consecutively for the entire 18.5 minutes, how people in the pool’s changing room can put on their socks without rolling onto their backs, and why nobody else in the office feels like walking loops around the table during a meeting. The ruptured tendons surprise the doctor “It is strange as we barely saw a difference in strength between your left and right leg” – perhaps my dedication to my physio’s drills and getting used to twinges upon sprinting may explain. On the plus side, I’m glad I don’t suffer from imaginary phantom-alike pain, which a manual therapists thought I had, or ‘cortisol imbalance’ which a chiropractor came up with.
Knowing something wasn’t right, I used the readily scheduled trip to my sister in Singapore last week to ease my mind and to prepare for changing this year’s goals from getting on the podium at Ironman Cork and qualify for the World championships to getting healthy again. It is kind of a 180 degrees change in mindset since – even though I struggled with pain – I did have a good amount of practice this winter and made huge steps in my swimming skills with the help of Tracy Markham and running technique with the help of Bram Wassenaar. Instead of a heat-camp in the tropics I spent my time sight seeing and visit roof top bars and hang out with ‘normal’ people that have very cool expat lives with impressive careers.
The amount of support from the people close to me is amazing. It makes me happy to see how much they understand how I’m feeling at the moment. They cheer me up and show me there is more in life than just sports. Also, it is great to spend more time with them. The response of people less close to me and non-athletes puts everything nicely into perspective. They shrug their shoulders when I tell them about the injury: “Ah my neighbor had that too, it is not such a big deal right: you do some exercises and it will pass”. I’m doubtful whether some back exercises will aid the rehabilitation (30-45 minutes has been part of my daily ritual the past years), or whether surgery may be necessary, but if I’m honest to myself: they have a fair point. It is not the end of the world. Everyone will face challenges along the way and for me this is one of them.
I consider getting over this injury as a race season. It is just another mission that I will fully commit to. Whether I will try to go back to pro level again, or whether I will continue with my professional social career only: I need a fit body. So my aim for this year is getting healthy. Luckily I can still swim – as long as I don’t push off the wall or make flip turns – so I do that everyday now. And who knows. Healed tendons and no restrictions in my back; I might even get out of this as a stronger athlete, and surely as a person.
In the meantime I continue taking the opportunity to motivate others to define and chase their dreams. I visited my nephew’s and niece’s school in Singapore and had a chat with the kids (of which 8 of 48 already had done a kids triathlon!) about what it takes to do triathlon. The responses were just brilliant:
Best guess how long the swim takes: “15 days”.
Most relevant question: “What is your favorite colour?”
Most philosophical question: “Why would you do an Ironman?”
Gezien je je voor triathlons minimaal een half jaar, soms zelfs een jaar, van tevoren moet inschrijven en je vaak honderden euro’s inschrijfgeld betaalt, en er niet echt een goede tri-advisor website bestaat, leek het me handig om nog wat race reports te delen. Wellicht kan ik een keer een overzichtje plus waardering maken met alle races die ik (en andere sportvrienden) gedaan heb(ben).
Een paar vrienden hadden de Grafman op het oog voor 2020. Ik vond mijn raceverslag uit 2017 op mijn facebook tijdlijn, hopelijk heb je er wat aan als je je aan het orienteren bent voor een race, of op deze koude dinsdag behoefte hebt aan wat race-vermaak. Ik zou dit event 3.5 stars out of 5 geven, Komt ie:
“Zo’n innovatieve sport is het ook. Na het Bob Marley dreadlock-meer in Wales en de Alice in wonderland waterplanten van Almere komt Cambridgeshire nu met een superfood variant: het spirulina meer. Het onderwater-zicht in het pikkedonker doet de naam van het event, Grafman, eer aan.
Voordat we worden overgeleverd aan de duivel toont mijn beschermengel zich nog even door het ‘s nachts te laten regenen en de spirulina shake af te koelen tot 12 gr. De zwemafstand wordt gehalveerd. Excellent. Vol overtuigd van mijn eigen richtingsgevoel volg ik los van de kudde mijn eigen zwemlijn. Bij de eerste boei zie ik dat ik zo mijn eigen graf graaf en dus wil ik toch wat voeten opzoeken, maar ik voel die van mezelf niet eens meer – laat staan die van een ander. Ik voel wel de slokken algensap door mijn slokdarm glijen. But that’s totally okay voor de eiwit-intake van deze semi-vegetarier.
Na 30km op de fiets komt de eerste drankpost. Ik test de tactiek van Eric vd Linden (1 bidon met al je carbs en electrolyten opgelost, verder alleen water aanpakken van de organisatie) en mijn ‘water, water!’ wordt ontvangen als een roep in de woestijn door de glazig kijkende vrijwilligers. Dan roept iemand achter me ‘wohtuh, wohtuh’. Tuurlijk. Hoe kan ik het vergeten.
We rijden een kruis-vormig heen-en-weer parcours, ook in het kader van het graf, waardoor je de verschillen tot de andere deelnemers kan klokken. Dit is trouwens het grootste verschil tussen de beleving van je middenafstand-debuut vs je 10e keer: als beginner ben je alleen maar bezig met je eigen showtime, als meer ervaren athleet wordt het een spelletje van positie in het veld timen. Dat er maar 9 mannen voor me rijden geeft me een boost waardoor ik extra geniet van het door populieren, grasland en koeien versierde landschap en waan me even in de hemel van het prachtige Brabant. Als er dan ook nog 10x langs de weg hay te koop wordt aangeboden verschijnen er krantenkoppen in mijn hoofd met ‘The Flying Hayman wins the Grafman spectaculary’. Maar na een kilometer of 70 sterven mijn hersens langzaam af. De foutmarge in de calculaties van het gat met de nummer twee worden steeds groter en komen er flashbacks voorbij over de halve triathlon Almere 2016. Waar ik de trofee al een plek had toebedeeld in mn woonkamer maar nog even in de laatste ronde werd ingehaald door een antilope genaamd Leanne Fanoy.
Winst of geen winst vandaag: ik neem me voor alles te lopen in zone 4-5. Het enige waar ik aan denk is Tom Dumoulin die het roze in de Giro rijdt -die zal toch echt wel meer pijn lijden- en de helium ballon die boven mijn kruin zweeft voor een goede loophouding. Tom Dumoulin. Tom Dumoulin. Tom Dumoulin. Tom Dumoulin. Soms hapert mijn hypoxische brein en komt de naam Gerard van der Linden voorbij. Waar hangt hij uit? Na twee rondjes stuwdam, klimmetjes, gras en grintpaden staat ie nog steeds niet langs de kant en ik ben als de dood dat de Grafman hem in zijn fietstocht heeft laten meenemen door de opgejaagde paardentrucks, motoren of gaten in de weg.
Toch verschijnt daar een blonde bf aan de finish – en de tweede dame gelukkig 12min na me. We claimen de twee kampeerstoeltjes voor de massage tent. Om de tijd te doden tot de prijsuitreiking runnen we de receptie en administratie van de masseurs terwijl we ondertussen een paar liter Erdinger alkoholfrei wegtikken. Een tiental deelnemers komt ongevraagd naar ons toe om niet alleen hun raceverslag maar ook hun levensverhaal delen. Zou het zijn omdat we er zo foreign uitzien? (er wordt me 5x gevraagd die dag waar ik vandaan kom). Anyway, ik voel me een verslaggevende Jort Kelder op lokatie. Mooi volk hier.
Super goed geregeld event met honderden vrijwilligers! En ik ben erg blij met de gratis nieuwe schoenen en de bierdouche. Awesome.”
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 (but please subscribe to my blog and push the like button). 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.
Lined up with 13 female pro’s we started Ironman Barcelona last weekend. It would be my 11th full distance and my goals were to go for a PB and/or top 5.
The race nerves didn’t show up earlier than the night before the race and I felt very zen and relaxed because I had a long taper. [Tapering is the period prior to a race where you down scale your training volume (hours) but typically not training frequency (how many times you train per day) in order to peak at race day. The optimal length of a taper varies per person and training strategy.]
My approach normally comes down to training my socks off until the weekend before the race, have a short taper that comes with insane race nerves (because you feel tired) and lethargia but also with waking up at race morning like a fully charged nuclear bomb ready to explode. This time I had no choice but to do a long taper as I snapped my back two weeks prior to the race and it needed to recover. My physio Joost Vollaard and manual therapist Hidde did a great job helping me out the past weeks and we decided I was good to go again.
Having tested both types of taper now (with a huge bias obviously) I like the short taper better. Let alone because you can enjoy food better without putting weight on and you get a bigger kick from showing up at the start line feeling like a bomb. It is like the thrill when you go sky diving: the way up in the plane and the moment before the jump is more exciting than the long slow descent hanging in the parachute.
It was my third time racing in Barcelona. I was ironman-baptized here and just love the place. The Ironman speaker knows me by now, I can sing along the spanish start theme song, the hotel manager has introduced my race pasta on the menu, Andre gets to play with his drone and the other 3500 participants are thrilled to see the legendary support team of my cousin Elise and sister Floor again alongside the course. We were having a lot of fun and I was all set.
Bang! Off we went. I knew there would be a couple of serious swimmers and my aim was to be in the second swim group. It turned out to be a bit more spread out immediately. About five girls took off way too quick for me, 2 were slowly drifting away in front of me (at 15 meters or so) and I got left between them and the others. Here I managed – for the first time in my professional triathlon career 😀 -to speed up and swim towards the two girls that were about to drop me. This micro achievement really boosted my spirit!
That happiness was slightly destroyed when already before the 1km mark some agegroupers were passing by. I didn’t check how much later than us these guys were released into the sea, but it must be shortly after us as this usually doesn’t happen at all, or only at the final hundred meters. What would this imply for the crowdiness on the bike course?
Anyway, I clamped on onto the tail of my little mermaid competitor pro and left the water at 1.01.24 – 7mins behind the first woman, a gap we had anticipated on and about what I am capable of now so that is good.
In T1 I took over two girls so I think I must have been 6th. In the first kilometers the use of aerobars was strictly forbidden as it is a narrow bumpy road. Knowing exactly how to take which turn and where to pay attention I managed to get onto the mainroad very quickly. From here it is a 2 loop course along the coast with one climb onto the highway and back. There are a couple of roundabouts but for the rest it is pretty straightforward.
My wattage aim was 230 in the first loop and see if I could push more in the second. I’m in the saddle, looking at the road in front of me, neck in turtle position and letting the legs do the work, riding about 38km/h when all of a sudden I find myself smashing the ground, sliding across the asphalt towards a fence at the side of a roundabout. My first thought was this wasn’t happening to me. But you quickly realise it IS happening to you. OMG. This so came out of the blue! The road may have been slippery, but it to me didn’t look like it was. Was there a lid? I still don’t know.
A volunteer helps me to get up. He gives me my bottles back. I check my bike and see it is scratched but not too much damaged. I’m in a shock and for a moment I’m just silent and staring onto the road where I see three pro girls pass by. Then all I can think of is getting back on the bike. I check the damage to my body and flush the wounds with water. After a minute or five I realize my hip is swollen with about the size of an courgette and only now I start to feel the pain. I clamp my jaws together. The first hour my motivator to keep going is that if you stop cycling now I might become anxious about crashing, so I just have to keep on cycling.
As I reach for the second loop, I see my family and team manager. I don’t see the point in telling them what happened as it will only worry them and remind me of the situation. I ask them what my ranking is. Ninth. And 9 min behind the leader. That means I’m not cycling much slower than her. But also that I need to run really fast to get a good result. I’m nearly home now and it is so tempting to pull out.
You get to experience a lot in years of racing but this is something new to me. It hasnt crossed my mind that this is also part of racing. I’m truly concerned about my hip and my lower back during the run whereas I shouldn’t even think of the run yet. I recall the book of the “Golfer and the millionair” and remember you need to embrase yourself with love and keep the darkness out. The thought of pulling out is darkness so I try to keep that thought out. I think of the motivational song we listened when we drove to the start “When the going gets tough the tough get ready” and I put that on repeat. Think of micro achievements.
What could be an achievement? Regardless of the situation: push 230 Watts as you planned on! Okay lets do that! After an hour I find another pro girl sticking into my wheel (at 1 meter..) at the descent at the highway. Damn. I’m only losing on my ranking. And wish for her to get the hell out of my wheel, you cheater! So I brake on purpose – showing that she needs to back off. Smart as she is she accelerates, takes over and jumps to a group of men in front of us. The rest of the ride I see her doing this and it really annoys me. Stay internally focused Howijimen, she has nothing to do with you!
I recall playing field hockey when I was young. My coach once said: if you’re a point behind, don’t go running harder, don’t change your strategy, just be patient and keep doing what you planned on as that eventually is the way you can get back into the game. I think that works for triathlon too. Let’s keep that thought.
After 3.5hrs of riding I find an extra reason to keep going: try really really hard to catch up on those girls who passed you when you crashed, show them what you are made off. If they see you pass they must think you’re made of steel. And so I ride away from the drafters behind me and the cheating pro girl. It hurts me, but it must also hurt them.
However, nobody – apart from the slowest agegroupers still doing there first loop – is visible at the horizon.
Then, again out of nowhere, at the same roundabout as where I fell earlier that day (so on the way back at 165km) I see the girls again. Yay! Yay! I caught them! Finally I have a smile again I gear up and push a little more, speed through the technical no aerobars zone and start the marathon a few minutes earlier than them (after a 4.44hr bike ride).
The first 15mins of the run the hip and lower back feel horrible. But running after riding 180k is never very comfortable at the first miles so I just keep going. Think of laps, not of the full marathon. If the pain is acceptable, you have to keep going. But after an hour on the run the stiffness only has gotten worse. Running downhill into a little tunnel I feel the courgette on my hip knocking on my leg begging me to stop creating more damage.
I make the very hard decision to call it a day, let the hip and wounds recover and most importantly; give my body some rest. You only have one body. You’re here to race, you’re not here to have a heroic finish and a permanent injury. But this sounds easier than it is. It has been a 6.5hr of wrestling and there is only 2.5hr/3hr left. All I feel is disappointment and disbelieve. Looking around I see most of the agegroupers sort of crawling. How must they feel?
So I start to run again, while I burst out into tears. It is a new experience to cry and run at the same time, I can conclude that smiling and running is better for your oxygen uptake 😄. I’ll remember that for next time. But ultimately I get to a stand still.
The supporters along the course and other participants scream at me not to give up. They are all so kind but I wish they wouldn’t be there. Then I see my boyfriend, who has always screamed at me in other races to keep going even when I was dehydrated and hallucinating. Now he says: “It is best to stop. The only thing you gain is pain and a longer recovery, you’re not going to achieve anything here. We know you can finish ironmans. But that is not what this is about. Next year you have another chance.”
The next morning I can barely move my neck. And also my ribs hurt. I feel miserable, and mainly because of not finishing. However, on the plus side: I have a female hip curve now. It is one sided but the Beyonce shape looks very good on my left half 😄.
* When you crash, nothing should change in your race plan or mindset. It is still the same race.
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.