This was the first time I tried an Olympic distance triathlon. And it was an “off-road” or cross-country event, which is unique. I had a lot of fun – I am feeling better about the event as time goes on. (time heals all wounds?) But I was plagued by a huge number of negative thoughts during the event itself. My mantra was “I won’t quit yet.” As it turned out, I placed second in my age group (W +45) (there were only two women in this category, including me). I give myself credit for going out there and trying something new. I had fun and tried my best – persevering despite wanting to quit. (My 15-year-old son cheered me on, repeatedly telling my husband, his dad, that “Mom’s bad-ass”, a compliment of the highest order). Only 14 women and 85 men registered for the long course (there was a short course too, with a 300m swim for the chickens).
Swim: The waves in the North Sea were enormous. The lifeguards were patrolling with the “DangerousSeas” sign to keep the public out of the water. I kept hoping they’d cancel the race. No chance. I went for a warm-up swim out towards the first buoy, saw that others were under-shooting the buoy due to the current, and planned accordingly (swim to the right, rather than straight at it). The water was a great temperature and I actually liked the swim once I remembered how to breathe (the first 30 seconds of the leg were breathless and disorganized).
Like many others, I swam nearly the whole course in breast stroke, finding the crawl too difficult in the steep chop. Sometimes the water had a washing machine action. I was happier under the water, going under the waves breaking over me, rather than turning my face into the wind and the waves. At some point, I remembered I had legs that I could use to swim too. I passed another swimmer, and felt happy to see the rescue kayak shadowing me and the others in the back of the pack.
The wind was against the current, which was itself very strong. I covered the distance in under 40 minutes (from beach start to chip – pad at the transition zone), so I was pleased with my time. Some of my speed is attributable to the strong south-bound current. I felt strong and comfortable in the water, and managed to keep the water out of my nose and mouth. Well, most of it anyhow. I liked my rental wet-suit – an xterra – so now I will go shopping for something to use in my September event.
Bike: I used a million-year-old hybrid mountain bike for the event, which sank in the sand. Part of the course was along the sea in the hard pack at low tide. Then the course went up into the hills in the dunes, sometimes on the path, sometimes in very soft dirt through brambles (particularly on the down-hill bits).
Or you had to carry the bike up 20 or 30 stairs to the top of another hill and then ride down in the dirt. Some tracks were sandy gravel. I was very cautious to avoid injury and kept reminding myself I was in it for the fun. I got lapped by the other competitors (it was the Dutch off-road national championship). Repeatedly, I stepped out of the way to let folks pass me. Most said thank you.
I kept looking for a place to quit the race. I had to walk my bike on portions of the beach track since there was so much soft sand and I had the wrong (knobby) tires, rather than the recommended slicks or semi-slicks. And I have no experience in off-road bike handling. It’s nothing like leaning onto my aero-bars and flying smoothly down the road. Nothing at all in common, except for perhaps the wheels and pedals. Anyway, needless to say, I worked very hard – too hard. And never found a turn-off place to quit. (remember the mantra – “not yet. You can quit later, but not now. Keep moving forward”). Looking back, I want a new bike & to try it again. It was a blast.
However, in the middle of it, while on the bike, I decided I had to quit everything: the event, the middle distance next month. Training. Everything. (I’m too fat, too slow… I’ll never be ready for September. This is awful.) Thankfully, there was no place to turn out. And I reigned in my thoughts – reminding myself to keep my focus on the here & now, and to just keep moving forward. And to remember I was out there to have fun. Which I did. I thanked every volunteer I passed on the course – dozens of them -- and paused at the top of the various hills to admire the view and the beautiful sunset and the fabulous contestants. What a good looking group! And of course, I immediately felt better at the finish line. Is it really necessary to race with your head attached? The mind is not terribly useful while out there!
Taking in water & food on the bike was really tough. I needed both hands to keep control of the bike. I imagine that some of the negative thoughts probably could have been avoided with better fueling. Because of the time limits, the course was modified to direct me and others into the second transition zone instead of a second bike lap (thankfully!). As this was contemplated by the rules, it did not result in a DSQ, However, I realized this only afterwards. (It’s really difficult to read rules in another language that I don’t understand very well.) The thought that I’d be a DSQ stung a bit during the race, but I toughed it out and started the run.
The Run: I started the run on empty – I should have grabbed a gel pack out of my back pocket, but I was out of water and decided to rely on the water and sports drink further up on the course. I felt (and was) painfully slow. I walked & ran in 30 – 60 second intervals. It took me 45 minutes to run 5 k. And again, if you were starting the second loop after 9:00 p.m., the course was modified so that you couldn’t run the full 10k. Which is just as well for me, since I don't think I had the wherewithal to run another 5 k. The course just naturally guided participants to the finish chute, a pleasant surprise.
Transitions: I will be faster in September. I admit I didn’t hurry during this race. I felt pretty relaxed (stopping to put on bike gloves, putting my gear away).
I enjoyed the experience socially. One of my colleagues from work was racing – plus a trainer from my gym, and I recognized a lot of folks I swim with at the tri-club. I received a lot of encouragement on the course (as my friends lapped me). My family was also there. I felt quite happy and ate lots of fruit at the finish line. We all rode our bikes home afterwards.
I am concerned though that I need to get faster in running or next month I will time-out. With the heart rate training – during my training sessions I walk and run (really, I should call itjog). It’s a little frustrating. I am happy that the plan now moves into the speed work, and I hope I can develop enough consistent speed to improve my pace. So, I won’t quit. I will trust the process. During the run, I had difficulty getting my heart rate up into race zone. It was a pretty calm 122 or so. Out of fuel, I think.
Injuries: none. My "easy" 500m swim on Sunday felt good – afterwards however, my hips were really stiff. The North Sea wasn't as rough, but the swim wasn't that "easy". No problems with my left hamstring during the run or afterwards. (I suppose I wasn’t going fast enough to even bother it.) I have a bit pain in one of my toes on my left foot – I think I got a stress fracture during the April marathon and it’s never completely gone away. It bothers me only when I’m barefoot.
On the whole, I felt really good Monday, which means I probably could have tried harder! But it was a “training race”, so I’m satisfied.
Next Steps: I’ve looked at my training schedule for the next three weeks before the taper period starts. I’ll give it my best. I had thought my swim would be the weakest link, but I certainly feel more confident after the rescue swim & this event. And I'll start saving up for an All-Terrain Bike. What a blast. Next year!