Sunday, 31 July 2011

Ironman Antwerp 70.3 Race Report - The Bike

I left the water feeling very happy. I didn’t feel dizzy, which is something about which the books warn you. We had to leave the swim caps in a barrel and I fussed with it for a moment, trying not to dump the Tempo Trainer into the barrel along with my cap.

While I was waiting to start, I got to see the handicapped athletes finish. They had teams help them to strip their wetsuits, change clothes and get into their bikes. I was so inspired to see these men racing.  That feeling stayed with me all day as I saw them on different parts of the course – kicking my slow butt, of course.
I found my bike. It’s not usually too hard for me to find my bike. Being in the back of the pack and in the last starting wave means the Transition Zone is fairly empty by the time I arrive. Though tempted to ride without socks, I took the time to put on my favorite wool cycling socks. I chose these because of the temperature and forecast of heavy rain. I also wore a light-weight cycling jacket that I borrowed from my husband (after promising to take good care of it and not throw it away on the course if I got too hot).  

As I mentioned before, I had clipped my shoes into the pedals before the race started.  This is what the clips look like - so you can see why I can't run in them.
my shoes might be a  little nicer than these well-loved items.
Clipping my shoes on the pedals enabled me to jog my bike to the mount zone, whereupon I tried to put my foot into my shoe instead of trying to ride with my feet on top of my shoes.  This picture shows an athlete doing a flying mount correctly. I, of course, had only practiced on the bike trainer, which doesn't tip. 

someday I will have a pointy time trial helmet, cool wheels and a flying mount.
I burst out laughing at the difficulty of trying to put my shoe on. I  told the Race Official watching me that this looks cool in magazines, but in reality, it’s much harder to do than you might think. I took the shoes off the pedals and put them on, then got on my bike.  My shoes have a strap that makes it much harder. So it’s not really my fault….

Off and riding!  Having my hair pulled back in a pony tail initially made for a poor fit for my bike helmet, demonstrated in the picture below. As I was riding away from T1, I saw this photographer stepping out in the middle of the street. Turns out it was my husband. As I flew by, it registered on me that my kids were standing near him. I tried to wave to them without dropping the gel pack I was tearing open. 

The first order of business on the bike is to eat and drink. I had remembered to start my Garmin watch, which I had cleverly programmed for the bike and run legs. (Garmin warns against wearing the watch during the swim. Something about risking electrocution.)  I needed to hit the lap button on the watch to get the course segments to progress, and remembered to do that. 
There were lots of turns and corners in the beginning of the bike leg.   I reminded myself to spin fast before changing gears (spin high, then gear up, rather than the other way around).  The heart rate information from the watch seemed way off, as did the cadence.  I am quite convinced that my average heart rate for the bike leg was more than 69 beats per minute with a high of 144.    

Regardless, I like having all this electronic information, but I am ready to race without the numbers too. A couple weeks ago, I fiddled with the information the watch would display and didn’t change the settings. So the watch would read one “page” steadily until I tapped it to get to the next page.  That’s okay, just not optimal. Anyway, I eventually realized that what I thought was cadence was actually calories burnt.  Not the settings I usually use.  And riding without my reading glasses means I can’t read the fine print. Oh, the joys of the +45 age group.

I had programmed the bike portion of the course with the min & max heart rate range. The watch kept signaling that my heart rate was too low. Maybe that was correct. Or not.  Maybe there was electronic interference, which happens sometimes, or maybe I should replace the battery in the chest strap. Going by feel and breathing (Rate of Perceived Exertion), I seemed to be going hard enough.  And besides, I knew what minimum pace on the bike would keep me ahead of the meat wagon, and I was fine.  So I concentrated on maintaining an even pace.

Again, on the bike I experienced a lot of negative thoughts. These included, just finish the bike leg, you don’t have to do the run. The run will be too hard after 90 km. I won’t be able to do it, etc.   One reason I was racing Antwerp was last year’s DNF in a middle distance triathlon in Weymouth.  I timed out after riding 60 km of the most difficult hills I have ever attempted.   That race had category 4 and category 5 hills. I trained entirely on flats. So I picked the Antwerp course because it was most like where I live (The Netherlands).
After listening to this on-going debate in my head –quit –no-quit-no –  I told my brain it was time for “No Thought.” The only thing I needed to be thinking of was what I was doing right now. Cycling. Against. The. Wind.  There were several small climbs on bridges that I could crank out in 20 or 30 strokes out of the saddle; small descents. Mind the railroad tracks. Keep to the right.  I saw some cyclists receive a drafting penalty. I enjoyed the fact that many cyclists were wearing nicely-scented deodorants.   I passed some cyclists. Mostly I got lapped by really big guys on really nice bikes.  I enjoyed looking at the numbers on people’s calves as they passed. Hardly anyone seemed to be in my age group, so it didn’t matter they were passing me. On the contrary, I passed some people in my group.

Navigating the bike route may have been a little easier if I had studied it more closely before the race. In training, I rode half the course on TACX bike trainer care of Google Earth.  So I was surprised to see that it was three laps, after I had read somewhere on the race instructions that it would be two laps.  The bike course went through a shipping harbor with lots of container storage areas. It was a boring area in which to ride, but eminently within my skill level.   I saw the hand-cyclists on the course, inspiring me again to continue doing my best.  My last long training ride (75 km) gave me a lot of confidence that I could complete this distance at a higher pace. And I also felt confident after the Olympic distance duathalon in June. I drew on these experiences, plus the idea that I had made a lot of deposits during my training sessions. And now it was time to make a withdrawal. 

The wind was awful. It was blowing hard – seemingly in all directions. Mostly there was a steady crosswind that caught us in both directions. Some parts of the course had a beastly head-wind, but the reward for enduring that was the effortless ride in the opposite direction.   I tried to connect with the surroundings to pull energy from the Earth but the cargo areas seemed so lifeless. And the air quality wasn’t terrific either. Sometimes it smelled like glue or a particular smell I associate with electrical transformers. 

Laps on bike courses can be a lot of fun because they give you a good sense of how far you’ve gone.   The last lap I didn’t see a lot of other cyclists, but the route gave me the chance to see that there were people behind me. And I was able to see how far ahead I was of the last rider.  He/she was followed by a huge parade of course officials and emergency vehicles with their lights flashing. I rang my bike bell and flashed thumbs-up.  At this point, the sun came out and I began to look around. There was some sparkling water and lots of ships. It was sort of pretty for an urban environment.   Last year’s race in Weymouth was gorgeous but impossibly hard. I’ll take urban and flat – at least until I’m faster and stronger.

I was quite successful picking up food and drink from the aid stations while riding. Unlike some of the hammer heads, I slowed down a lot, made eye contact, shouted out what I wanted and said thank you.  I don’t like Isostar, the brand of sports drink being offered. I got one bottle and drank some of it, which made me start to burp. After that, I stuck to water and the gel I was carrying. I didn’t eat as much gel as I had planned since my stomach was bothering me. And I felt like I had good energy.  So I didn’t force it down.  I also ate a couple pieces of banana, which I liked very much until I got one that was quite starchy and unripe. Yuck. But I didn’t drop anything. Nor did I hesitate to toss empty bottles. Plenty of volunteers were out on the course picking up all the athlete-trash.

Now, if you’re a sensitive sort, skip ahead to the run because now I’m going to talk about peeing on the bike. Yes.  When you’re riding 90 km and drinking enough water, eventually you’re going to have to pee.  I first heard about this aspect of racing from a podcast by a triathlete about her first Ironman race.  I asked my coach about it and she said, yes, people do that. During this race, I saw some competitors jump off their bikes and dash into a bush or lean up against the wall.   And I saw some others just kind of standing on their bikes for no apparent reason…. I decided that I would try this sneaky tactic since maintaining a constant pace is easier than stopping and starting, and besides, you can keep moving forward, which is the name of the game.

The other problem I faced was my one-piece zip-in-the-back tri-suit. If I got off the bike to pee in the bushes, I would have to either pee in my suit or quickly remove my race belt and struggle out of my tri-suit.  Peeing through the suit to save time starts to look like peeing on the bike. So after about 50 km, my bladder was complaining. And if I let it go too long, it can be painful. So I tested the situation and found that yes, in fact, it was possible to pee while on my bike without slowing down.  In small quantities, it seemed quite discrete.  At 75 km, I thought I was alone on the course and it was time to get to Really Empty before starting the run.  I let loose an indiscrete, splashy stream, and felt very pleased with the instant relief.  But I was immediately passed by some guy who had apparently been riding behind me.  I thought I would die of embarrassment.  But I didn’t. And my bladder was very happy.

After three laps, the course heads off toward the old city center of Antwerp and the second transition zone. The ride into town seemed to take forever - much further away that the roughly-ten kilometers remaining.  I was glad there was a racer in front of me to follow to T2. The signs were difficult to spot and it was fun to chase this guy and keep up.  So much of my time training is spent at a low heart rate (under 136) that I don’t often ride in groups. Nor do I chase other cyclists since it’s not on my training plan!

I looked at my bike time and current pace and realized I was doing really well against my race plan and felt confident that I would have plenty of time to run the half-marathon.  I finished the bike in 3:43:53.


  1. Yay! Well done on the bike leg, and I look forward to reading about the run.

  2. Nicely done Chris. I was fascinated by the "peeing on the bike" segment. Your reasoning made sense. You're a great writer!


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