Tribute to Stefan Keul

 

Stefan Keul. A genuine craftsman. An honest and charismatic man needing few words. Always helpful and careful. Not just as the private mechanic for the world champions but for everyone. Someone who makes you feel confident and secure. Totally okay with interrupting his hiking holiday in the Himalaya to help you out with bike parts for your race. A passionate person lifting your cycle experience to another level. He meant so much to me and the team. 

We lost him today. He was hit by a car that drove on the wrong side of the road. It makes you realize how vulnerable you are as a cyclist. Just simply doing what you enjoy most.

My love and support goes to Nina and everyone else who is flabbergasted with this loss. 

Confirmation bias in bike and DIY land

Bussum – A dark winter’s evening. Almost home from a run session on the track, I turn right to enter my street. In the distance there is a vague shadow of someone in the middle of the road. He seems to carry a long leash-like thing, but I don’t see a dog. Perhaps it is a chain lock. Or a weapon…

Come on, Hooijman. This is Bussum, not Baltimore. I should stop watching all those crime series on Netflix.

I decide not to take a detour, to be brave, and continue on my way. When I pass the shadow, I see a man struggling with his bike. I stop and ask whether he is okay. He replies: “Yeah, I’m fine thanks. I just have a broken bike chain”. He explains he had just returned the car he borrowed, and wanted to bike home to Hilversum. He says he will ask if he can borrow the car again, in order to get home now. I smile and say: “I see. But that is not a very efficient way of returning a car”.

Then I ask him – in my opinion a very logical question – whether he happens to have 10 or 11 speed on his bike*. He seems very confused with this question so I continue: “Since I may have some spare chains, or quick-links at home”.

I’m afraid he doesn’t know what 10 or 11 speed is, so I just offer my help again to have a look at my place to see how we can fix it. He hesitates, but two minutes later we stand in my hallway repairing his chain. It turns out he is also a triathlete and that we have some mutual friends. Once we have the chain replaced, he admits that he was utterly surprised to be offered help by a woman to replace his chain.

After he has gone, I’m confused. His own wife used to be a professional triathlete. She must have known how to replace a chain? Or am I a super McGyver here?

The next day I’m enjoying a bike ride in my new cycle area (we just moved out of Amsterdam). It is fantastic. Within three minutes you’re out of the village and have empty, bike-friendly roads all for yourself.

When I start climbing the Stichtse Brug (a big bridge) I see a cyclist in front of me. I like his red Cervelo P5 a lot. I approach him with a speed difference of 5km/h. By the time I pass him, I kindly greet him and compliment him on his bike, while he shifts up and goes bananas on his pedals (I think to keep up). By the time we nearly reach the top of the bridge he pulls out a sprint and passes me while screaming: “I’m sorry but I cannot allow myself to be taken over by someone like you”. Again I’m confused. What does he mean by ‘someone like you’. A girl? Or by someone on a time trial bike? Or by someone cycling in zone 1? Or by a wildlife watcher enjoying the scenery? Knowing it is the first option, I let it go and continue to look out for eagles and deer, which happen to spend a considerable amount of time at this area in Flevoland.

Arriving home from my ride my new neighbor greets me and says: “Ow wow, I didn’t expect to see a woman underneath a helmet!”. I remember I heard this before (see this French Alpes blog), but this time I’m not worried about my looks, but rather by the thought of under which stone she has been laying the past century.

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The rest of the afternoon I have reserved for DIY’ing. I need to replace a few electric wires, lamp fittings and the lock of the back door. Also the toilet seat needs to be replaced. And so I go to the Karwei. The toilet seat collection is more diverse than the supermarket’s shampoo collection, so I cannot make up my mind and I ask for a bit of help. “Ma’am, they all fit on any type of toilet”, and the clerk walks away. This doesn’t only make the choice even harder – it would have been nicer if he said “Deze hier, die heb ik zelf ook”**- but I also think his assumption is wrong.

With the Post-It in my hand on which I’ve written all my toilet’s dimensions I scan the labels of the 40 toilet seats. There is only one that fits exactly. I consider walking back to the clerk to provide him with my latest insights, but I choose to keep this valuable information to myself.

Perhaps it was because my parents only had four daughters and no sons, but I’m very grateful my dad taught us some basic skills and that I can do a sport I feel like doing – whether it is a man thing or not.

* This concerns number of sprockets located on the rear hub of your bike.

** Quote of an old Gamma commercial.

Finisher vacuum: silence before the endorphine ecstasy

The days after finishing a race my emotions and dopamine hormones are so piled up that it keeps my brains from functioning. Hence I need to structure my thoughts (and laugh/learn from my mistakes) in the shape of a race report. Many athletes suffer from this form of post-exercise ADHD, resulting in thousands of blogs about motivational quotes, ferrari’s pulling caravans, run courses resembling a drawing of a 2yrs old, and the like.

Interestingly, I don’t recall anyone ever writing about what happens to the athlete directly after crossing the finish line. It is a strange silence before the endorphine ecstasy. In this space and time vacuum the athlete chooses to let his/her supporters – that spent the whole day in the burning sun – wait for another 45minutes. For an outsider, observing the vacuum in the finisher area must be like watching an episode of Dawn of the dead*. For the athlete, it is a very intimate moment before converting into the extrovert talk-machine that wants to share emotions and experiences, and to hug the support crew.

The Finish line

You are head over heals that the suffering has come to an end, but before you know it you’re forced to make a difficult decision:

(A) Press the stop button of your Garmin at the finish line and having an awkward finisher photo staring at your watch.
-or-
(B) Push the button after the finish line, and having an underestimation of your running pace on Strava**.

Sometimes you feel like fainting and medical aid worker will drag you onto a brancard. In that case you can’t be bothered with your data. Been there, done that.
If you make it to the podium you also won’t be bothered with your data. Then you just want to find out when the award ceremony takes place. Those that win must be puzzled what to do with the finish line tape in their hands through which they just ran, I assume. I’ll write a blog about that when that happens.

Once the data is saved you just want to lie down at the carpet underneath you. But there is always a safety guard preventing you from doing so. Instead, you get an executive order to move on to the next stage. During your crawl to this stage you somehow get a medal around your neck.

stage 1 the Tantulus tent

In the first white tent the Tantalus experience is waiting for you; There is a huge banquet with tables filled with food and beer, you’re craving and thirsty, but can’t eat as you have a saliva-free mouth and are too tired to chew. Luckily, I found a loop in the Tantalus-system. And it resides in my streetwear bag (the bag you hand to the volunteers prior to the start and that you retrieve straight after the finish): a delicious 500mL of chocolate milk. The magical mixture of milk and cacao is somehow the only form of nutrition my body can handle after finishing. While ad fundum’ing it, it feels as if the 20gr protein is enough to repair the 20kg of muscles that just got destroyed during 226 kilometers of racing.

Experience thaught me that a sip of chocolate milk isn’t the only thing that can make you happy as a child when you’re exhausted from doing extreme sports. At such moments the stupidest most common things are priceless. So I make sure my streetwear bag is full of such stuff. I happily carry the bag to the next stage.

stage 2 The shower

It takes about ten minutes to get to the showers, that are typically 20 meters away from the previous stage. Here, one of the most epic things of being a girl is waiting: plenty of space in the showers (there are usually only 10-15% female participants but an equal amount of showers for males/females). On top of that, if you performed well there is a bonus reward: having these showers all for yourself. That is even more luxurious than at home.

I take my time to have a seat and slowly install all the items from the happiness bag for the most joyful moment of the day:

(1) to undo your smelly trisuit in which you swam in salty water, vomited, biked, peed and ran for a full day, to take of your wet socks and shoes, (2) to put on your most comfortable flip flops and (3) shuffle into the shower.

 

Here I take 15min to inventorize the damage I did to my body, to count blisters, scrapes, wounds and missing toe nails. To use betadine scrub and Sudocrem, to wash my hair thoroughly, to rub myself with body lotion, to brush my teeth and to leave the showers in a dry hot pants and my favorite t-shirt. There was one very special occasion that I made it to the podium in a full triahtlon, after having an awful crawl-marathon, and didn’t have time to go into this procedure as the first and second women had been waiting for me for a long time. An hour after the ceremony my sister took care of me in the showers; She sat me on a chair and washed my hair and scrubbed my body. At that moment, it felt like the happiest 15 minutes of my life.

The next stage is the massage tent.

Stage 3 The massage tent

Dozens of physio’s and massage therapists are positioned in the final white tent, ready for the happy ending of the finisher vacuum: a very gentile massage. It is the first moment where you can finally lie down, not having to do anything. The therapists usually are very quiet and zen. It is perfect. My leg-caressing usually takes twice as long as that of the other participants. Credits for my the showering products in the bag. Most other finishers skip stage 1 and 2 and carry their smelly bodies straight into the massage tent.

Dear support crew, my apologies for the extra 45 minutes of waiting.

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* Zombie movie. Which may explain why Ironman shields this zone with big white tents like a crime scene.

**Yes those 3 seconds on 8 to 16 hours are relevant for most people on Strava

***Tantalus (Ancient Greek: Τάνταλος Tántalos) was a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.

“Flexibility runs in the family” – Ironman Barcelona part 2

According to the script my sister Evelien arrives at the start area at 7.15am to French brade (NL: invlechten) my hair. The start is at 8.10am.

At 8.00am she arrives.

Fortunately, flexibility runs in the family: we perform better under unexpected circumstances. The pro’s of being late are that I don’t have the time to get nervous about (1) the huge waves (athletes that tried to do a warm up are thrown at the beach like hopeless little seals under attack by killerwhales) and (2) the other pros. And that is a good thing: “They think you care, they’ll walk all over you” – quoting my Netflix addiction

 

 

I’ve always been of the opinion they’d better take out the swim and the run of a triathlon. This time it is different. This swim has nothing to do with suppleness or technique, it is about strength. I may be a clumpsy swimmer but I’m a strong girl. Each stroke I’m getting more confident. The sight is extremely poor: I can’t even see the coastal line or buoys. The good part of that is that the leaders in front of me are invisible as well. So I don’t feel like Tom Hanks in Cast Away losing his only friend (a football) into the ocean. Only when situated at a wave top I have the chance to look around and I notice some arms and white caps behind me.

Ow I love this swim. It is epic! It takes me 64mins. That is 5 mins slower than my PB but I don’t care. I’m here to have a decent race, not to break the world record. Most importantly: I feel great and of the pro women I’m 9th out of the water.

 

After 50km on the bike I find myself in a pack of agegroup men. I take the obligated 12m distance with the rider in front of me, but it still feels much lighter than cycling all alone. My new Irish friend and myself seem to be the only athletes chasing others, so we do most of the front work. But the legs don’t complain. Instead, my stomach uses up all the complaint cards.

It is carrying some fish that are trying to swim their way out. I’m glad the way up, and not the way down, is the one of the least resistance; vomiting is fine, diarrhea is not. I’m wearing a white trisuit and according to the script I will be live-streamed on the Ironman race viewer – I need to consider my looks today.

I may be a (semi) pro now, but I will always be a scientist that likes to do maths. Using the back-and-forth loops I calculate the gap with the leading women. It is decreasing. On top of that it starts to rain. Epic. My weather. Dozens of athletes crash at the wet roundabouts, but then I remember a quote of my addiction again “You always have a choice” and so I take a bit more caution. After 4h52 I descent the bike as third woman.

 

The marathon consists of three laps.

Lap 1: A spectator screams at me:”Enjoyyyyy!!!!”

Enjoy? It reminds me of my training squad. We always say that as a joke when someone is about to be start an Ironman and suffer all day. Today it is different. I AM ENJOYING THIS MOMENT: I’m positioned third in an Ironman. At 10km Yvonne van Vlerken crosses me on her loop back. “Heeeeey Pleuni!!!”, she screams out loud: “Aaah! It is so cool that you are at third position!!!”. And she gives me a high five. Wow. That was an unforgettable moment.

Lap 2: My algorithm predicts that the girls chasing me from behind will take over shortly with their 4.00min/km running pace. And so it happens. But I’m too busy trying to ignore the fish that are trying to escape. This time through the lower exit. I’m scared like Will Smith for his skydiving experience that this marathon will result in a port-o-pottie (NL: Dixi) crawl, or that my legs will cramp if I stop. I’m puffing the stomach pain away until I feel like colapsing.

Just because I want to explain the people at home why I’ll drop a few minutes on the athlete tracker, and that they don’t need to worry about me going K.O. again, I scream to my sisters that I need to go to the toilet. They interpret my message that they need to arrange the key of the toilets of a neighbouring restaurant. 😄  At 23km I take a seat at the port-o-pottie. The experience I have there is unforgettable. I may have passed out at an Ironman, but I’ve never sat down. The legs are shaking with an amplitude of 10cm and a frequency of 20 times per second. Is this what an epileptic shock feels like? When I get up I see my face in the mirror. Another shock. I better get out here and fight for my prize money.

At 24km there is a Hooijman sister waving with the keys of the loo of a local tapas bar. Speaking of being brilliant under unexpected circumstances.

Lap 3: I calculate that the chances are small that another girl could pass me now. I take look at my watch and to my surprise I see that I might make a 3h24 marathon. That would be such a huge PR that I find a new motivation to keep on pushing. There are no further cramps or toilet breaks needed. Hooray! I complete the marathon in 3.28 (3.26 if we take out the pit stop) and finish with 9h30 and 5th position. Woopwoop!

 

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‘Get your shit together’ – Ironman Barcelona part 1

Monday. When I return at my desk from a meeting with my boss I see I’ve got a missed call from my coach. Having strong suspicions why he phoned I wait a few hours to return his call. “What’s going on?”, he says,  “you were avoiding eyecontact this morning at the training. You’re acting indifferent and apathetic”.  I feel guilty and caught red-handed sabotizing my own dreams. At first I come up with vague excuses about work. He remains silent and patiently waits for me to correct myself . “Okay, you’re right. I’ve been acting like an ostrich*. I’m digging my own grave”.

The truth is, I don’t feel like participating an Ironman this weekend at all. Let alone thinking of it makes me feel tired. My shoulder hurts, I barely recover from the trainings and I can burst into tears about nothing. In an attempt to taper I started binge watching Netflix. It surely has a relaxing effect but it also kills the tri mojo. Also, having spent the weekend at the wedding of a friend, talking to non-triathletes I suddenly want to have a regular life. Dancing at 6am instead of getting up to swim.

The coach is very clear: “Get your shit together. Now”. I feel like Mike Ross being reproved by Harvey Spector. And the fact that I feel like this charachter that makes me feel even more guilty of binge watching.**

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Tuesday. I’m blessed with a boss who approves taking two days off to ‘get my shit together’.  I delete Instagram and Netflix and use the time I would have pissed away on those apps to sleep. DHL rings my doorbell to deliver my new Bioracer trisuit.

 

 

Wednesday. For the first time in my life I’m packed and ready to fly 14hrs – instead of 14mins – before departure of my flight. Wow! Not working on packing-day is awesome! I’ll put this in my script***. This means I’ve got time left for a short run, another nap and I can start to look into motivational videos (FYI: these I found this one brilliant (where it is pointed out that it doesn’t matter whether you’re  relaxed or full adrenaline, but you need to be on the good side of the positivity scale, and this one where I feel that Will Smith’s fear for skydiving is exactly the same as the fear before an Ironman).

Thursday. With Tomas Pantalonas, Andre Kwakernaat, Evert Schelting and his gf Romy we fly to Barcelona. Everything is taken care of by team manager Andre: from taxi to a luxurious hotel far away from the chaos in Calella. By assembling the Speedmax alongside the pool I feel like I’m reconstructing my tri mojo. It may not be too late.

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Friday: I write a monologue to my swim buddy Tracy, as I need to release some doubts and worries about the swim. Her reply is clear: Look back on all the sessions that went well, forget about the bad ones. And during the race: don’t think, just swim. Roger that.

Saturday: using The List instantly pays off at bike check in.  By hugging my ADHD sisters I download a bit of their positivity, perfectly timed to be charged up for  tomorrow.

*Dutch expression: putting my head into the ground and ignoring stuff
**Characters from the Netflix Series Suits
*** To reduce race-stress I’ve typed out every hour of preperation in a script, and a packaging list (The List) for each race-bag, the bike-case and personal belonings.

How the Ferrari and the caravan dare to win

It’s like pulling a caravan behind a Ferrari. Two bottle cages at the seatpost of an aero time trial bike.

I give it a try anyway. “Nein. Das geht nicht. Nicht aero und zu schwer.” The Canyon mechanic of Frodeno and Lange* is unpursuadable. He continues: “Ploiny, es gibt es 10 Tränke Stations am Rad Strecke!” I stare at my nutrition / hydration calculation sheet again. With a sweat rate of 2L/hr** there is no other way out: I have to pull that caravan.

I’m preparing for my 7th full distance triathlon, Ironman Maastricht. The Netherlands has been in a 2 months heat wave and I’m taking precautions.

 

My coach Chris Brands assists me with my heat wave battle plan. He tells me about the Danish triathlete Torbjørn Sindballe (1.90m 80kg***) who turned 3rd at Ironman Hawaii wearing long sleeves, that he watered every ten minutes. I cannot believe it and so I google “Sindballe, Kona”. Indeed, it looks as if he was racing in his pyjamas but he succeeded. I try it out with a pair of bike sleeves that last time I used them saved me from freezing to death at the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Now at 36C they help me complete a 2h30 run, to the surprise of the staring bikini’s and naked chests in the Vondelpark eating ice cream.

 

Sitting in my pyjamas in a Ferrari, pulling a caravan: I don’t care what people may say. I’ve put my career on a lower level, I barely see my friends, I biked 7840km, I ran 1600km and I swam 330km this year: I am not going to dehydrate and loose this race because of aerodynamics and looks. If I want to look pretty, I should have become a model, not an athlete. I’m ready for the heat.

So far the physical part of my prep to compete as a pro triathlete. “But the mental part is just as important”, I’ve been told. Sure, for weak people that part may be difficult, but not for me, I thought for years. It took me 6 months to realize my coach wasn’t talking nonsense when he told me that mentally I too could improve a lot. Why would I need to change mentally if I don’t suffer from depression, I never had a DNF, never cried before a race, I don’t have fear for failure, and I’m always happy when competing?

One mental point of improvement I realized my coach was right about came to light when I started training with him and a top runner and swimmer in my squad. Each and every session they were hundred percent focused, as opposed to me, spotting birds in the sky, making jokes and chatting about the news. I guess it makes a huge difference if you didn’t do sports on a competitive level as a child, start triathlon at the age of 26 and tend to be an extremely outgoing/externally oriented person. But that is not limiting you to learn it. So for the past months I started imitating them, tried to focus a bit more and more, and by now it almost has become part of me and the next years I hope to be excellent in it.

Another aspect he was right about came to light when I had my first ever mental milkshake experience during a full Ironman I did earlier this year in Italy. A good friend from the UK heard what happened (and already saw this coming) and sent me a book that was delivered right on time before my next race. It was about an athlete that stopped dreaming and believing in himself, but then meets someone who gives a new twist to his life, that changes his mindset and teaches him to only accept thoughts that nourish his inner power and how to take steps to continue chasing his goals. It almost felt a bit as if that friend was here the past weeks and that I went through a mental metamorphosis while reading the book: I slept like a baby, I trained like a pro and I was willing to win, daring to lose. I explored the course 4 times and have never been as prepared as this time.

So, I was ready to test the maximum speed of the Ferrari. Pulling the caravan. Wearing pyjamas. With an iron will to succeed. Regardless of the temperature.

How the race went in the end? You can read that here: in this interview.

 

*The number 1 and 2 at the Ironman World Championship

** I tested how much sweat I lost during my trainings the past weeks, which was 2L/hr.

*** If you are taller and heavier you tend to have more difficulties racing in hot conditions. Most triathletes are very small and light (say 1.60 and 53kg instead of 1.85 and 73kg like me) so Sindballe was exceptional as well.

Report Forest’Cime cycle challenge

Report of the Forest’Cime, a 3 days ultra cycling challenge: 450km with 9000m of climbing, with each day a timed climb for the ranking.

Day 1. 90km down, 40km to go.  I’m just taking a bite of a potato and Morbier cheese – local products that the French organization serves us 👌 – in an attempt to repatriate my legs when the American girl with the bleeched teeth comes up to me.  I have to put on my sunglasses when she smiles. She says: “Hey you! Aah are you a girl?! I thought you were a man!”

 

It’s OK if you don’t recognize me at first sight as a girl. To be honest I’m kind of proud of my muscled legs. But there is no need to explicitly mention it into my face. I’m doing my best to look elegant; I pulled my pony tail carefully through the hole at the back of my helmet, I polished my nails and I’m even wearing a pink jersey. 

I laugh a like a farmer with a sore mouth and I dont know what to say. She seems to interpret my silence as a request for further explanation 🤷🏼‍♀️. So she continues: “You know. It’s like. When you passed me on the climb I thought like: ‘Okay I can let go of him, its not a female competitor anyway’ .” 

My prayers are heard when Bram rescues me from this awkward conversation. He is about to leave the aid station, trying to catch up with the men who just dropped him on the climb. 

The teeth keep on talking.  “I think it was because of your height, and also your …”. “Speed? Bike? Lack of cellulite as opposed to your legs?” –  some bright replies occur to me now but at that time I just wanted to leave. So before she finishes her sentence I’m already back on the saddle. Trying to hold on to Bram. His pace is uncomfortably fast but I’m willing to blow up my legs as long as the bleeched teeth dont steal my slipstream. 

Before he disappears at the horizon, Taxi Bram delivers me at another cycling group, led by a French woman. She directly recognises me as a fellow female, we chat about cycle gear and compliment each other‘s legs and pace. There is space for female friendships here 🙏🏻. 

Without making it to the podium today, the bleeched teeth, my french friend and myself receive an applause at the awards ceremony, as all women are giving an applause for participating. Again I smile like a farmer with a sore mouth. I dont know whether I’m happy or insulted with this form of positive discrimination. 

Day 2. 165km with 3400m of climbing. Stunning hot conditions. 

The reason I personally went to the mechanicers of the Canyon Factor in Koblenz, to let them put 34/50* on my bike, is on the agenda: the Col du Grand Colombier. It’s one of the spectacular climbs of the Tour de France. 

The last time we did this climb, my Strava switched to auto pauze and I had to cry. Partially because I was one of last ones reaching the summit.

I clearly remember what fellow Ironman Klaas screamed to me here while passing me on his TT bike: “You should have brought lighter gear”. Back then, I didnt even had enough oxygen to confirm that.

This year, with cadence 90, I take over Klaas. Klaas wouldn’t be Klaas if he didn’t had something to comment on again. “What a choice of wheels! Way too heavy”.  I know he is right but I try to not look annoyed. I just bought this set of FFWD carbon wheels with 6cm rims, which are slightly heavy for climbing. But I think they look very cool and I just want to use them for the sake of it. 

Klaas sticks to my rear wheel. Ow men. I dont want to make this a race. But even more so I do not want Klaas to be right again. So I shift up. By now, I must be pedaling on the same heavyness like my 39 front and 25 back gear like last time**. And it hurts. But my GPS doesn’t auto pauze and after a few km’s Klaas is left behind. I catch up on Gerard and I even dont have to cry at the summit 🤙🏻. 

 

The downside of going flat out on the Grand Colombier with 33 degrees Celcius is that my intestines switch to Ironman mode. As in: the cheese and potatos don’t make it to my blood. They take a shortcut upwards towards the asphalt instead. 

Meanwhile, artistic patterns of salt crystals accumulate on my clothes. After 6 hours I’ve got a Van Gogh landscape of salts on my bib shorts. But it still doesnt ring a bell. Only when I reach the finish, dismount my bike and have a fainting Kona-feeling again I realize I’m dehydrated whilst not noting it. And this may have been happening at some of my Ironmans too. Lessons are better learned late than never. 

The last competitors reach the finish line 4 hours later. Some need to be taken for medical examination. So for safety reasons the organization decides to shorten the course of the last day.

Day 3. 120km with 1800m climbing but also 2200m descending.

Starting with a long descent on ‘gravillons’ roads, my brake pads scream like hungry babies when they hit the rims. It scares the shit out of me so I stop to see what the problem is. The brakes and brake pads look fine though. I dont want to die so I continue turtle-style downhill waking up the entire departement of the Jura, including the Swiss neighbouring region, towards the Col de Faucille, which is the last challenge waiting for us. 

By its name I expect it to be easy. After 2k Matty Matintho passes me. It is impressive to see the ease with which he pedals through this event: he just finished Ironman Nice 6 days earlier. “Come girl, stick along”. This works likes a red flag for me and so I shift up and tell my legs to shut up and push. 

I’ve never seen so little of the views during a climb. I don’t allow myself to leave more than 20cm between Matty and me. I think I may apply for a PhD in outer tubes as I know every micrometer of the rubber by now. Matty’s pace is above what I would consider do-able for me. Although I still dont make the climb ranking today, the satisfaction at the summit is huge. It is excellent for my “failing is better than what if” mindset Ive been focusing on lately. 

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At the top I really want to check my brakes again. There is a Belgium/Dutch train of men waiting for me and it would be a pity to miss this downhill experience due to poor brakes. I take off one shoe, pull out my sock, push it against the rim and spin the wheel. A black syrup of dirt draws a couple of stripes on the white cotton. 🧐

I dont know where that mucus came from on these new wheels, but I do know that removing it just saved my day. If not my life. I mount the train and fly to the finish, where showers and meals are waiting for us. 

Together with all the other participants we give a standing ovation for the volunteers. This adorable group of french pensionado’s have thought of every detail you can imagine, making it one of the best organized event I ever attended. 

We plan on leaving to our next destination after our friend Meindert received the 3rd prize – a bag full of local products, such as the cheeses that were handed out at the aid stations, sunglasses, a jumper and a locally brewed beer👌- when I hear something like “Ploeny Oisjtman”. Huh!? 🤔

Apparently sticking to Bram and Matty pays off and gives me a third place overall. Nice! All supermarchés are closed but we have food at the campsite tonight!

 

 

*This is the amount of “tandjes”/“teeth” on your front blade and impacts on how tough it is to spin your wheels. The smaller the number, the lighter. 

** 39 as smallest blade at front is pretty common for pro cyclists. Here, 25 denotes the number of tandjes on the rear cassette. The higher the number here, the lighter. This year I put 28 as lightest gear. 

Report Challenge Venice 2018

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.0598BD43-8635-41D4-8C50-FC57A4128666

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.

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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.

 

 

Race report Challenge Roma

Italy – We are in Ostia, one of the sets of Netflix’ mafia series Gomorrah. The concrete jungle with graffiti and weed growing everywhere looks pretty dodgy and is in strong contrast with Ostia Antica, the well preserved ancient village just outside the town. It seems road workers and plumbers have been on strike for decades, but the Italians can get away with it; The food, the endless handing out of compliments, the brilliant weather and the relaxed vibe compensate all. The vibrant restaurants and beach houses are filled with Romans that want to escape the city, and in the end it is the people that make a place.

One of my hotel neighbors is looking at the ocean from his enormous balcony. I need a hand to prepare my bike. The Italian kindly follows my commands to firmly push the valve extender of my disk wheel while I blow up the tire. I wonder whether he has a clue what we’re doing but it works out perfectly. Grazie mille. The neighbor on the other side, a 40 yrs old Londoner, also escaped his tiny sixties-style room and is installing his girlfriend’s super posh zipp-wheeled carbon DI-2 shifted timetrial bike*. I’m sharp on spotting competitors so I ask him: “Nice bike! It looks very profi, is she competing tomorrow?”. He replies: “No no, she is doing her first triathlon, the sprint this afternoon.’” I think about the old roadbike I borrowed for my first triathlon, which I equipped with aerobars for my first Ironman and with which I qualified for Kona. I ask him to wish her all the best. Two hours later he returns with a blush on his face: “I forgot it is a drafting legal race, so no timetrial bikes allowed and so I had to rent a bike for her”. I cannot hide a loud laughter: that was easy money for the bike shop, bike case manufacturer, the airline and the bike rental store in Ostia.

Under the guardiancy of our teamchef, who also functions as taxi-driver, photographer and supporter we carefully explore the courses. The ocean looks calmer and easier than the road, but once we get acquainted with all the potholes we feel confident we will be doing fine. We carbo-load at our favorite restaurant where the instructions for a pasta pomodori and birra non-alocholica are well received. They are also fine with postponing the prosecco they offered until after the race. No problemo! – you see, relaxed folks those Italians. On race morning I finally feel recovered from last week’s the insane training volume, and I listen to my friend, Appolos Hester. “No matter what the score is, you are going to finish fast. Its an awesome feeling that you know you are going to be successful” – his sentences will be the headlines in my thoughts today.

Allora, andiamo.

Bang! Off we go! The plan is to get out of the water with the first, or second group. The first 300m I’m still in the lead, but then the wild ocean waves destroy my rhythm. It is my second open water swim of the year and I desperately miss the lines and tiles of the pool. After 500m I’m hanging on the end of the elastic band and slowly also loose connection with the last group. I feel like Tom Hanks losing his only friend, a football, in the movie Cast Away. I want to scream but a huge sip of water fills my lungs. Over to plan B. Plan B? There is no plan B! So you better go back to plan A. Lowest resistance, highest propulsion. Lowest resistance, highest propulsion. I try to visualize the pool where I managed to stick to Tracy Markham’s** feet every once in a while.

I succeed to swim back to the group, albeit the last, but we are with 9 of us so that means I can still make it to the left column of the results if I bike well. At the turning point we finally have the current from behind and allowing us to surf back to the beach. This is particularily easy with the extra buoyancy that doesn’t only come from my new wetsuit but mainly the 2L of air that is locked up in my stomach. I regret I don’t know how to burp on command: it takes 15 minutes before it is released.

As the first girl of the last swim group I exit the transition zone to have my début at staring-at-the-asphalt-only cycling experience. This time I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether there were predator birds, trees, or beaches along the road –  the coach will be happy with that. Only some pink rays of light from Yvonne van Vlerken’s unicorn bike travel through the visor of my helmet, as I try to time the gap with her, 2 min 30, not too bad. Not knowing what is to come next on the run the words of Appolos are ‘it is an awesome feeling when you are successful’ repeat in my head – because I know this is a great bike split.

At the second transition a super friendly and top Belgium athlete, Sofie Goos, starts talking to me.

”Which position are we?” Honestly, I haven’t got a clue. “I think we’re 10th and 11th”,  she continues her monologue. “The girls up front were drafting. Did you see that?!”

I want to tell her she just used up her complaint card for the day, but I say: “Well, then we should have had a faster swim. Come on, let’s go for a run!”

She takes off and disappears at the horizon. I’m thrilled that I put some spare gels in my bra in the transition because the organisation suddenly doesn’t  hand out gels like they promised. There is only 1 aid station with one 70 yrs old volunteer who is desperately trying to help all the hundreds of athletes. I feel sorry for the poor man, but also for myself as I’m left with the choice between hitting the wall or upsetting my stomach***. I go for the 50-50 option, sucking up the gels only halfway. Luckily we have my teammate’s girlfriend supporting, who buys me a cold bottle of water. I feel like I’ve been wandering in the desert for weeks and finally find an oasis. It is in my hands. But now I need to decide whether to drink it or spray it over my over-heated body. Again I go for the 50-50 option. My teammates Mark and Milan are doing amazing. They support me during the race, which is a great motivator. But unfortunately I’m getting passed by more girls than I hoped. Technically I’m running fine, I also don’t feel empty or tired but I just cannot accelerate.  Potentially because I haven’t raced at all for so long, or because of a run injury this winter, or because of lack of talent, but I’m in team4talent so I’m sure I must have talent.

After 4h11 (the bike course was 10k too short) I finally remember why I did this to myself: its an awesome feeling when you’ve completed a race. So many emotions, feelings, happiness squeezed into just a few hours, it is so intense. And it is great to be part of the team and to compete with the pros. Some people ask me whether I’m disappointed. I executed (the majority of) the plan, didn’t make mistakes and I think I gave all I had. So I can only be disappointed in that others were faster but not in myself, right?

The race organization had some beginner issues, but as the Italians: they get away with it. Great experience and I’d do it again for sure.

* At least worth 4 to 5 thousand euros

** A South-African insanely fast swimmer from my squad.

*** If you don’t drink while taking a gel during exercising at high intensity you can really mess up your intestines. If you don’t eat carbs you may get a ‘hongerklop’.

Pictures: Ingo Kutsche and Andre Kwakernaat (and google images)