I wonder why I write race reports, I suppose it is usually more for myself than it is for potential readers, as souvenirs I will keep, like my medals. But this time, there is also something that I would like to share, something I had the privilege to discover by being now closer to the front of the field: race dynamics.
I read last month Macca’s book “I Am Here To Win” and it taught me to really think about my race. How can I improve versus the last time without being in a significantly better shape? I started to discuss with Isa, weighting different options and finally settling for the following one: I decided to start at the very front of swim but at the farthest possible from the ideal line and swim easy, not because I wanted to save energy for the bike or for run, but because I made the bet that the better age group bikers are usually not the best swimmers. And if I could start riding with a group of strong bikers I would be much more likely to be faster than racing on my own. For the bike leg, I had asked Isabel to position herself with my friends just in front of the hotel to cheer me on, as it was a place where I could see them 5 times and that would give me 5 additional boosts of energy. I also decided, based on the experience of last year on the same course, that I would give myself time in the first 2000m of the run to adjust from the horizontal to the vertical position and make sure that I was “all systems go” before increasing the pace and try to finally go under1:40 for the half marathon. I also realised that Isabel, who did her first triathlon the day before was out of transition faster then I usually would (I know…it is somewhat embarrassing after 5 years in the sport) and told myself that I was really trotting too slow in T1 and T2. So, this time I would sprint through transition. So, This was the plan.
At 12:15, I kiss Isabel good-bye after a quick warm-up and I swim my way up to the starting line. I love the start of the 1.9km swim in Cologne at the Fühlingersee. This rowing basin is used as a drinking water reservoir for the city. The water is clean, clear, smooth. There are buoys every 15m. so you just need to position yourself at the start along one of the 8 rowing corridors and get ready for a straight swim. I decide to go at the farthest right, to stay away from powerful swimmers. I also know, that is the spot were the weaker swimmers will go. I am therefore able to position myself right at the front of the pack. The gun goes off.
No surprise here, I stay in the front apart from 1 or 2 swimmers passing me. Perfect! I can use them to slipstream and I put myself behind for the first 400m. Unfortunately, the swimmer in front of me starts to slow down too much and I need to make the pass and swim on my own. At mid-point, I look at my watch and see 18 min. This is TOO SLOW! I have taken it too easy. My plan is to exit in 34 min. I increase arm cadence and concentrate on long strokes. I do the second half in 16 min. and exit the water in 34:06. As promised to myself, I rush through transition and exit after just a bit more than 3 min. This was good. The better news though is that my bet was turning in my favor. I need to explain this in details:
There are 3 waves of starters. The first wave with number from 1000 to 1070 (the pro + elite age groupers), then a second wave from 1071 to 1650 and finally the last wave from 1651 to 2200. The bikes are racked according to the numbers and the numbers are allocated by ascending predicted times. My number was 1101, so 30 atheletes had predicted in the second wave a faster total race time than me and 550 a slower time. From the previous races I did, I noticed that bikes did not exit in this expected sequential order. I always saw triathletes spread in the transition zone. It became clear to me, that there was no logical link between a fast swim and a fast overall predicted race time for age groupers.
My bet, as said was that I would be more likely to meet in T1 good bikers with similar bib numbers, if I would swim easy. And, at least for this race…I WAS RIGHT!! I saw plenty of fellow competitors left and right getting ready to push mostly beautiful bikes with disc wheels out of transition. I told to myself this was the chance to ride with a great bunch.
We have tail wind for the first 15km towards the city centre of Cologne. The group is moving fast in an orderly manner. At the point, where I expect to see Isa and the Goldberg family, I see nobody. That surprises me a bit but I think, I would see them when I ride bike out of town. I look at my Garmin and see average speed 39.2 km/h. Ooopla. Even with the wind in our back, this was fast. First turn of the 2 loop course and out of the city. Again, nobody to support…hm..As soon as we exit the city the 15 km/h wind hits us in the face and within 2 min the train becomes a pack. Race referees on their motor bikes appear from everywhere and start shouting to keep distance and make passes. It was clear to me, that staying in this situation would only get me a yellow card and 4 minutes penalty. Afterall, living on the coast of the Netherlands with the constant winds, should be an advantage for me now. So I decide to attack. I pass the pack in less than a minute and push the pace. I look behind and nobody is following me. Bummer. While I look back, I see that I have lost my spare kit. Double bummer. If I have a flat now the race is over. Anyways, my quads are on fire and I start to wonder how the hell I will run after this. The roads slowly changes direction after 10K, I am in cross-winds and decide to let off the pace for a few minutes. The stronger bikers of the group join me and we decide to race together. The remaining bikers had obviously more issues with the headwind. And from then on, I had a great time. We were riding clean, respecting the minimum distance. It took me a while to understand why the race marshalls were constantly on us, but then a light bulb went on: The first wave with the elite athletes started 10 minutes ahead, so no surprise, that I was seeing bikers riding in the opposite direction on this loop course. But fact was that WE were the leading train of the second wave and that special attention was given to us by the referrees. I was so excited, I was picturing myself on the Queen K highway in Hawaii with an helicopter on top of my head. I had a great time.
We enter for the 2nd time the city and this time, the support team is there. They are screaming words that I do not undestand and I shout back raising a fist “CHAAAARGE!!!” and take the lead of the train at more the 42 km/h. We make the turn in the city and knowing that Isa and the crew would be there screaming like histerics in a few seconds I put the hammer down and ride on their energy past them. On the last 20km I distance the lead pack by 3 minutes. I finish the 90km bike leg in 2:25, 66th fastest split of the day and dash through transition in barely 1:30.
As planned, I force myself to slowdown on the first 2000m, and again, I see that I had taken the right decision. Like last year, my liver starts to send large pain signals. But this time, I know what this means. I stop at the first aid station and drink about 500ml of Coke. The pain disappears quasi instantly. The problem is: the Coke is not degassed. So the liver pain changes into stomach pain, but I can handle stomach pain. With liver pain the worst that can happen is ending on a stretcher, with stomach pain the worst that can happen is shitting my pants, so just an ego issue, really.
The operation costs me most of my 3 minutes lead and I start to see familiar faces from the bike leg passing me. At this time, I only worry about my health, which seems to improve by the minute. I can now settle in a 4:30 pace. My legs are fresh and I start calculating my expected finish time. My head is numb and it takes me forever to figure out that I might make it under 4:40. This motivates me massively and 12 km in the race I see Isa and the Goldbergs supporting me. I am flying from km 12 to km 14 and I pass them again. Joel run for a few hundreds meters next to me. He asks me how I feel. I tell him that I may go under 4:40 but that I also may blow up. This is a very thin line now. I am exhausted and tempted to slow down, telling myslef that 4.45 is also good and that I will set a personal best anyways. And just when I am about to give in to this rationalisation I see an athlete with a green jersey who had done all the biking with me and passed my after 5km in the run. This was the kind of bait that I needed. I am trying to go faster, but he seems to always stay about 150m in the front. It is only 1.5km before the finish line that I manage to catch-up. We climb together stairs to cross the final bridge of the Rhein before the finish line and those stairs litterally kill my legs. I have to stop panting like a giant pregnant walruss. He is now 25m in the front, 50min in the front. This is not OK, I will not let him go away and decide to chase him one more time. 150m before the finish line, I sprint to overtake him and try to finish under 4:40 (I had my watch wrong and 4:40 had already passed :-))). Anyways I manage the pass 10 meters before the finish line. I cannot control my legs anymore and crash into the catchers and into the Finisher T-Shirt boxes. Totally exhausted but so happy about my race and my best half-marathon at the half-iron distance in 1:36:14 (82nd fastest split of the day)
I see the smiling faces of Nicki, Isabel, Joel, Aaron and their kids. I know I would never have been able to race that hard without them and feel thanksful for their presence. I was also happy to have taken certain dynamics of the race at my advantage to beat my old personal best by over 11 minutes.
This was the last race of the season I had wished for. I am now looking forward to a long break from triathlon.
Swim: 34:06 (224), Bike: 2:25 (62), Run 1:36:14 (82). Total 4:40:55. 11th in AG40-44 and 70th overall.