I am so happy, relieved and surprised! Never one to pay much attention to pacing or times or even to have a clue how slow or fast I am going, it was a real test experience to compete in the Natur Energie Triathlon with my buddie Abi Hebbard last Sunday.
The evening before I managed to convince Nick Blake to lend me a front wheel because mine has been making some not so reassuring creaking due to its old age. He lent me a really fast-looking aero wheel and I got that ready the night before and hit the sack at about 11pm with the alarm set for 4.50 am to make the 5.30 train to Basel (umph) 12pm, 12.15pm, 12.30pm…you know how it goes.
Sleepless in Zurich Sleepless nights before races are common and eventually I fell asleep and jumped out of bed wide awake about 4 hours later, wishing I had slept about double the amount!
But, we made the train, I had some time to tweak my bike a little more with new brake blocks and a wheel and computer…I just wanted to make sure that nothing was going to go wrong during the race. What eventually went wrong was not the bike`s fault but my head!
We arrived in Rheinfelden Switzerland at about 6.30am.
The Confusion Begins
We got off the train, then realised we had no idea where the event was taking place! Asked a bus driver who then replied with “Tree-ath-lon? In Rheinfelden Deutchland oder in der Schweiz?” Uh Oh. Apparently the Swiss have no idea what is happening on the other side of the Rhine that separates Rheinfelden Germany from Rheinfelden Switzerland! Fortunately I remembered there was a (DE) on the registration form so I figured that it must be the German side of Rheinfelden. We then found out that it was about 4 km away so we hopped on our bikes and got moving!
Registration Confusion Arriving at the registration I discovered that I had in fact registered for the Olympic distance triathlon and not the O distance. Typical, I had tried about 6 times to register online and failed, eventually I did a bank transfer and somewhere along the way, the information got messed up.
However, some guy called Christian had pulled out and I was assigned his start number. I was going to race as a guy for the day! I hoped I wouldnt let him down.
We made our way to the transition area, got set up and ready to go. There was some confusion about whether wetsuits were allowed or not in the pool, it wasnt exactly bikini weather and we dreaded the pool would be freezing. But we were informed that no wetsuits were allowed.
Wetsuit Confusion Eventually the time came to make our way to the pool, more confusion, how fast do I swim 500metres? Less than 17minutes? How would I know? I hazarded a guess and Abi encouraged me to stand in the area for swimmers between 17-18minutes for 500metres. I just hoped I wouldnt be slowing anyone down!
This deserves an entire paragraph of its own. I still have bruises and indigestion from the amount of water I swallowed. I just wished it would be over. But it wasnt the worst experience ever. I didnt feel like panicking at least. We had to swim up and down lanes in zig zags in each lane of the outdoor pool, get out, run across the pool and repeat until we had made up 1.8km. My time in the end was 32.25mins and really, I think I could have gone faster. Its a matter of practice really.
As soon as the swim finished I ran to transition and hopped on the bike as fast as I could. Knowing that Abi had gotten out of the pool before me and it was time to play catch up. We are great friends, but I having trained with her I know she is strong and a good competitor therefore I was going to give her a run for her money!
On the bike it took me about 20 minutes to get into the rhythm. I settled into it and soon began to feel comfortable. The course was great. Quite entertaining with lots of hillls, a nice descent and a cool cycle path on a great flat little road where you could pick up quite some speed. On the second lap I spotted Abi up ahead, I knew there was about 3 minutes between us as I had timed it on the first lap when we passed each other after the lap turn. I caught her on the hill, made sure she was ok and carried on about my own business.
On the third lap I picked up a man who was going at about the same speed. Very annoyingly I couldnt break away from him and he kept on murmuring things to me and biking in front of me. I would move out, he would move out, I moved in, he moved in. This went on for about 1/2 a lap, me thinking “dont get in trouble, no drafting. Drafting not allowed. Stay away”. Unfortuntately when we pulled into transition there was a 500mtr long straight road and was too close to him. All of a sudden a guy on a bike in a red t-shirt appeared with a red card and told me I was disqualified. “WHAT?” I said. Apparently I was too close to my `friend` and I broke the rules. I explained to him what had being going on and he said “Ok, Ill let you continue but I will give you a time penalty of 4 minutes” Totally disheartened it took me about 10 minutes to get over this and back into the race. It was so frustrating to have this happen, in my first race too. But I guess I will know better next time I let someone bike even close to me!
The last lap flew. My back was very tight and sore but it wasnt hindering. I did the 90km in 2 hours 53 minutes with a lot to spare.
I came off the bike and I have never been happier to run in my life. My back was quite tight but my legs felt really really great. I grabbed a few gels and got down to work. This was so much fun! I was loving it.
I had to do 4 laps of 5km. Feeling really great I got into a rhythm and the running was coming so easily. I was moving quite comfortably. My foot wasnt hurting and yeah, I knew that I could do this. The laps were also really short. The first one was over in no time and it was time to turn around and do the third lap. There was no sign of Abi, I was really worried that something had happened to her. I hadnt seen her since the 2nd lap on the bike. Maybe she had a puncture and would turn up later on the run.
But wait, why werent people turning where I did on the first lap? It dawned on me, in slow motion, that I had only run half the distance of the first lap and I had turned mid-way. No wonder the laps felt so short, I had missed 1/2 of the distance.
So what was I going to do now? I continued, my head wrecked trying to come up with a solution. Ok. I would run 3 full laps and just when I should be finishing I would have to turn around and cover the distance I had missed on the first lap.
So that was the only solution. If I got disqualified for this, at least I would be able to put a time on my performance.
Abi AWOL Still no sign of Abi too. I couldnt wait to get in to see what had happened. I was hoping that she was ok.
On the last lap there was a guy running behind me, I asked him if he spoke English and I explained my predicament. He just shrugged and said he didnt know what would happen but what I really should do is run the last 2 laps with him and pace him! He was actually running faster than me so I told him I wouldnt take him up on that offer!
I did the last half lap and finally it was time to cross the finish line. And I heard Abi`s voice! She was ok, I could cross the line, the race was over. I felt ok.I finally found out what had happened to Abi and she had pulled out of the race due to injury. I hope she recovers soon. I need someone to chase in the Ironman. I know how annoying and frustrating it is not to be able to complete a race due to injury though and my heart went out to her in her disappointment.
Actually. I felt way too good. Afterwards I checked my heart rates and my average was 155bpm and the max was 169. I hadnt even come close to my lactacte threshold (172bpm) once. Although frustrating, I knew that it was a good indication I can maintain this pace for the entire Ironman. I also know that I need to work on this by doing some sessions in the next 4 weeks where I can become familiar with being at the limit. I tend to stay in the comfort zone, this is something from adventure racing where you know you may have days ahead of you and you need to keep a lid on the rate of exertion.
So. My final time was really 5 hours 1 minute without the penalty. I ran 1 hour 29 minutes for the half marathon at the end. I am quite happy with it and I know I can shave minutes off of that in the future. Looking forward to doing many more of these races! Wish I was 25 again but I also know that the best years are to come!
Very very happy