Saturday October 18th, 12:00, Paguera-Mallorca.
My last Half-Distance (1.9 Swim, 90 Bike, 21.1 Run) was in Cologne early September 2013. I decided then to take a break for half a year. I am not sure I would recommend it. I lost a lot of endurance, muscular mass and gained weight on top of feeling less happy with my life. Getting back at it had not been easy either with some injuries and bike crashes. So, October 16th in Mallorca was for me a symbol of coming back and I was race hungry.
My goal time was 4:45. I crossed the finish line in 5:15. Sometimes, things do not go to plan…This race has been humbling.
But first things first. A late start, on a cracking day. Sunny, hot, no wind, no waves, warm water, no wet suit. Perfect! The gun goes off. A good beach start, with nearly 50m of dolphin jumps exactly as trained. Perfect! The water: ridiculously clear. This is not racing, this is snorkeling! Perfect! I swim relatively easy as usual and get out after 1.9km in 35.12. This is 1 minute slower than expected. But within the time plan. A quick casual high five with my daughter (while leaving the German competition behind 🙂 and a dash to transition.
Summary: A good start in the race overall. I exit in 32nd place with 60 other competitor in the category M40-44.
A very long transition (literally – the transition zone was 285m and the way to it around 400m) where unbelievable bikes were racked. And on to a tough technical course in the heat (29 degrees). I knew this would not go well as I had scored an auto-goal in the transition zone before the race even started.
My special pump for the discwheel (Lezyne and usually reliable) shoots off the valves after 5 bar of pressure. No way to put anymore air. Going into the race with a half-inflated wheel is not only going to cost me a few minutes but also increase the risk of sliding in the curves or worse getting the tyre out of its rim.
ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER ONE: CHECK ALL YOUR MATERIAL BEFORE THE RACE.
The first 15km feel like a nightmare, out of breath, heart rate constantly in the red while being passed by competitors, my mind set on the wheel issue. Am I going to make it? The mindset thankfully changes in the first long descent. Cool air, time to hydrate, heart rate going down. I will get this distance done, this is the European Championship and I wear for the first time the Swiss jersey in an official ITU/ETU. Mantra Number 4: Get to the finish line, no matter what (or quit only on a stretcher)
KM25: What is this noise in my front fork? Oh no! the front tire is rubbing against the top of the fork!!!. I stop quickly to check for dirt stuck between the tire and the fork…nothing really. I get on the bike again and the tire keeps rubbing. Darn, what is going on today! – I will find out after the race that the mechanic (former pro cyclist) who serviced my bike before the race had mounted the rear tyre in the front. So the thin narrow tyre was in the back (bad for grip) and the thick large tyre was in the front, hence rubbing against the fork.
ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER TWO: SEE ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER ONE. Norman Stadler would confirm this (the famous “too much glue” episode).
Deflating the front tyre is out of question. I cannot ride a bike with front and back tyre deflated: this would be suicide in fast curves and downhills. I am telling myself that friction will cease once the “excess” rubber will be rubbed of the tyre (which happened in the second hour of the bike race).
KM30: Confusion between traffic, police & volunteers. All agitating arms. Me and 2 other cyclistS take a right turn, right into the party city of Magaluff. Once in traffic, we knew FOR SURE we had taken a wrong turn and lost a few precious minutes. Not a great bike leg so far… (especially when I took a wrong turn again at km 65 after a police man indicated to the athlete in front of me to take a deviation, I followed him but it turned out the cyclist was not a competitor and diligently taken out of the race road….)
ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER THREE: GO FOR A RECO RIDE PRIOR TO RACE DAY.
The worst mistake comes at km 50, just after the second long climb when I was sure to have taken 3 bottles at the aid station: 1 water, 1 coke and 1 iso-drink. I shower myself with the water, throw the bottle away, want to grab the iso bottle in the back, fumble for a few seconds, look back… the bottle cage is empty!!!! and the coke bottle in the front has max 2.5dl. … this is what I would have for the next 25km… a huge rookie mistake that nearly costed my to bonk completely on the run afterwards (I bonked but not completely)
ROOKE MISTAKE NUMBER FOUR: FOCUS ON YOUR NUTRITION PLAN.
The last mistake…and it starts to be embarrassing, is related to the tail of my aero helmet. It can be opened for better airflow in the heat or closed to retain warmth when cold. Guess what? yes, indeed the lid under the tail of the helmet was closed. My aero helmet had also become a pressure cooker.
ROOKE MISTAKE NUMBER FIVE: SEE ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER ONE.
Having said all that, I was still very happy with my bike fitness on this 860m elevation course. Most inclines were not more than 3% so it was like riding in the wind. Total distance on my Garmin Edge 90.2km in 2:44 against a planned time of 2:35. So I was now 11 minutes behind my time plan + 3 minutes due to long transition time. Goal time was now out of the window. BUT glad also that no major technical issues happened, it could have gone horribly wrong with that rubbing front tire and a deflated back tire in descends.
Again 600m of transition before starting a long, long half-marathon
The course was not only 22km long it also was very hot AND it had 250m elevation! What a hard course for everyone. The stupid mistake with the closed aero helmet had as consequence that I overheated and I now looked like an overcooked lobster. (A supporting friend said he had never seen me glowing like that…) I did not have much in the tank, cramped, etc..but got it through and was very happy to finish this EU-Championship as an official Swiss Age Grouper. I passed Nicki, my racing buddy for this ETU on the 3rd loop of the race and she was having a ball. We chatted for a bit, I was then sure she was going to have a great finish and although I was tempted to slow down and talk for a bit more I pushed myself back in that 5-ish min/km shuffle of mine. There was nothing more I could do. I finished with my worst half-marathon time ever in 1:49 (- but believe it or not it was the 16th fastest run split in my age group, crazy!!!). I ended overall 22nd out of 57 in my Age Group. 183rd out of 880 overall (+ 100 who did not finish on that day! obviously I was not the only one with issues).
I had never raced with such a density of good athletes!!! Many racked bikes of had a World Championship- Kona-Hawaii sticker on, or Mt-Tremblant (half distance world championship) bottles, bags etc…so happy to have been part of it all. Challenge organised a great race and this whole Championship in this small town with the heat felt like a”Mini-Kona”.
I take away many learnings and as a total fan of Challenge races. But the biggest learning for me is finally understanding what Chris McCormack had said in an interview last year in Challenge Roth, Germany. He said “as many Age Groupers are not racing for the podium the only thing that counts for them is to beat their PR. They are therefore entering flat, fast courses and shy away from the challenges triathlon offers. Ironman-WTC has recognised this and is planning more and more standard flat races across the world. As an ambassador of Challenge and course advisor I hope we can avoid to do the same as Ironman”. In my case, I felt so happy and proud of myself despite my 2nd worst time at the half distance in 8 races. I found it very rewarding to cross the finishline. This is what triathlon is about, get to the finish line, no matter what. Loved it here and hope to be back in the coming years.