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Saturday October 18th, 12:00, Paguera-Mallorca.

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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.1395158_10153238453411679_1849690160603102546_n

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)20x30-CHPC1713

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).

20x30-CHPE0502Deflating 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.

20x30-CHPD2166The 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). 20x30-CHPG0835

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.20x30-CHPF0341

Cheers everyone and go race.
You can find the full results here
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Young Bull and the Old Bull

“De 15 van Wassenaar” was my last preparation race before the ITU Half-Distance European Championship in Peguera – Mallorca (Oct 18th, 2014). As the name suggests it is a 15km run, the only running race organized in our town. I had done a rather mad workout 3 days before (14x1000m with 90 sec intervals) and my legs were telling me that racing on Sunday was not the idea of the Century. Fast forward. 15:15 on Sunday, perfect weather conditions, 320 athletes lining up and booom! I had posted myself in the first block (ETA 1:00 – 1:10) and start in the first group of 15 athletes.

I assess the field and quickly put my “Macca” hat on (see previous post). I spot a fast looking guy (I will call him “El Greko”) and ask him what is his expected time. He tells me “1 hour”. I answer “hmmm…”. Shortly after this, 4 runners take off at a 3:40 pace. I let them go as I know I could not hold at this pace for 15km. My pace is nonetheless around 3:50 to make sure I do not lose eyesight. El Greko is also clearly pacing himself and backs off. I am staying behind him in 6th position.

3rd Km of the run in 6h position

KM3: the distance between the first 4 stabilizes to 25 seconds.

KM4: 2 of the 4 are starting to struggle and loose contact with the lead. 1st internal maniacal laugh.

Km5, El Greko slows down slightly and I overtake but he stays on my heels, soon after we both overtake the struggling runners paying a high price for overpacing so early. So I am now in 3rd after 5km!!! not bad at all for the oldest runner in the leading group with shot legs. My HR tells me I could catch, but I do not need to as we are now gaining 1-2 seconds every 300m or so.

KM6: what’s that? a new runner comes from the back and starts running by my side. He is clearly panting from the catch-up effort. I take a deep breath and speak to him in a calm matter of fact way: “we will have caught up on the lead in 3 km…”. 2nd internal maniacal laugh.

Km7: the young runner that had caught up falls back. El Greko overtakes him as well but is not keeping up with me anymore. I am now chasing the first 2 runners alone.

Km9: As predicted, without increasing the pace, or just slightly, I am on the heels of a tall, slim runner in his mid-20’s and another runner in his forties. The older runner is just hanging in there by a thread.

Km10: I therefore force the pace and go for the first time “in the red” just to see what will happen, the older runner (or should I say my peer as I was probably as old) loses contact. It is the beginning of the end for him (he will end up in 5th or 6th place).

Taking the lead ater 10km

I am in the lead!!!!

Km11: The young runner stays on my heels…hm…smart…so I slow down a bit. He seems happy about this and run alongside.

 

Km12: Mother Trucker! the young buck takes off like a bullet!!! I feel tricked, getting a taste of my own medicine. Was he running so easy? I try to follow him, my watch says 3:30…no way I can hold this, so I back off and go back to a 3:50 pace. I lose quickly 30 meters on him. At the same time, I decide that the guy was bluffing. Not only was the gap not growing but I also felt that he would have taken off much earlier, if it had been so easy for him. And then a small miracle, a female supporter on the side of the street shouts to me in English: “CATCH HIM”. She is right!

12th km of the run, the young buck accelerates and passes

Km13: I catch him! and my mind projects immediately pictures of Andy Raelert catching up on Chris McCormack at the end of the marathon of the Ironman 2009 in Hawaii. Andy does not  make the pass… in the end he loses in the last mile.

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I will not make the same mistake and plough on accelerating for the final 2 KM.

KM15: I run the last one in 3:45, looking back, making sure he is not making a last surge on the final meters. No, he is 80 meters behind. The final straight line, my friends are here, both daughters are here completely surprised to see me just behind the lead motor bike announcing the first runner in the finish chute. I relax in the last meters, soak it all in, smile and get my first win at a running race. Time: 1:00:12. It is a small local race, but a race nonetheless. After the finish line I turn around, wave and clap to the (huge) crowd (of 250) totally happy. A few minutes later I am on the podium with my daughter and a crown on top of my head like they do for the winners in Hawaii… A good omen?

PodiumA few minutes later…my wife crosses the finish line exhausted but with a huge smile. The kids are filled with pride and happiness. What more can I wish for? Life is sweet.

On the podium my wife!
2 hours and a few Grimbergen beers later. The prize ceremony. Daddy gets the trophy and is handed the mike by the super friendly organiser Bernard Menken …oops, what should I say. I have immediately pictures of Roger Federer always polite thanking the great crowd and the ball boys so I try to do the same: “Thank you to the organisers, the volunteers, great race, etc…” but in the end, I cannot help it “..and you…young runners….train harder”.

Prize Ceremony

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A woman is comforted by a man near a triage tent set up for the Boston Marathon after explosions went off at the 117th Boston Marathon in BostonJust a quick note to share that I passed the finish line more than 1 hour before the blast and was staying with a friend in a restaurant 2 blocks away when it all happened. It is a sad scene, unrealistic. Things are sinking in right now. It is all too sad. Just to think we ran past these bombs. Chill in the spine. What should have been like every year a celebration of the running sport changed in  a day of sadness. My thoughts are with the volunteers, the supporters and the family members that cheered us at the finish line. Unbelievable.

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This is why we love to be in Saas-Fee…so much:

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1. 300 days of sun. That is probably the number one reason. When you live in The Netherlands, you want to make sure of one thing when you go places.: you want to see the sun and the deep blue sky. Because there ain’t such thing up North like a deep colour…apart from deep green maybe.

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2. There is ALWAYS snow and the ski-station is open all year round. How? The upper part of the resort is on a glacier. And on the top of this glacier, there is the highest turning restaurant in the world at 3500m. It has just been renovated and finally lost its 70’s groove. The food is very decent for a decent price (to Swiss standards).

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3. The mountains are specatacular. There are 47 mountains over 4000m in Switzerland and there are 14 of them just around Saas-Fee. It protects the resort from changing weather…hence the 300 days of sun.

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4. It is not the largest ski resort of Switzerland. Far from it. Around 100km of pistes and something like 30 lifts. But you nonetheless have it all. The easy slopes for kids and beginners, the bumpy runs, the steep runs, the wide runs for carving, the specatacular runs amidst the glaciers, the hard runs and the amazing off-piste (if you know to avoid crevaces).

5. Saas-Fee is a place with more than 100 restaurants. It prides itself of having a 1 star Michelin restaurant, The Fletschhorn. This restaurant has recently acquired a smaller restaurant on the slopes and you can enjoy gastronomic kitchen with your ski-boots on. Weird but a somehow a must-do. There are romantic restaurants like La Ferme but there are also of course plenty of Swiss traditional cusinie eateries with the expected smell of melted cheese. Nothing for dairy-allergic though.

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6. We of course love Saas-Fee because that’s also where we have our chalets

…doh… Fasan & Eichhörnchen are their names. Those are super cosy little chalet 1km away from the centre and the après-ski music at the edge of a larks’ forest where squirrels and wild goats can be spotted. http://www.atraveo.de/objekte/714124.php

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7. The kids love to stay up there. Its total freedom for them, they open the door and can disappear in the fields and the forest. The resort is car free, so no danger there either.

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8. We have a skate-skiing loop in front of our door. Its is a 5.5 km training course, with one lane for classic skating and one for skate-skiing. We call it our private house loop as not many people use it. My wife and I just love to exercise here. The loop goes 120m up, then flat, then down..it throws your heart out of the chest the first time you do it. After a few work-outs, you feel stronger and it becomes a matter of who is going to beat the loop record (24:30).

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9. And then, there is sledging. This is basically also a few steps from our house. A cable cars takes you up for 15min and you then have a joy ride for about 15-20min down a relatively steep course. Helmets recommended!

10. Last but not least, Saas-Fee is in Switzerland. This is where we come from. This is what we call home. And because we have enough beds (the chalets can accomodate up to 11 persons), the family is coming to visit us as well as friends. So it is a place where we celebrate and enjoy the company of those who are dear to our heart.

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I have been dragging my feet since January. No blogging, no serious training, no real motivation. There are heaps of research explaining what is happening after a successful ¨ A ¨ race. A drop of motivation is absolutely normal. This is not the difficult part for me. What I find hard, is how to get out of this groove. It usually is an external factor, that gets me out of it. I thought the receival of the confirmtion of acceptance to the Boston Marathon would do it, but it did not really. I continued to drag my feet and train out of routine, out of specific work-out plans, out of structure. It is only after the recieval 10 days ago of my official Boston Marathon Athelte passport that the motivation kicked back. Great! I am back at it…but….but with these months of unstructured training my body is not the one it was only 3 months ago. Less mobility/flexibility, less strength, less speed, more nagging little pains… The negligence spread to maintenance of the equipment. My only usable running shoes have over 800 km. Not surprisingly, I exposed myself to injury. And, ding-dong, here it came. Three weeks ago I started to feel some quads pain. I ignored them and ran further. I cannot feel the pain during training but afterwards, it is there and intense. My therapist says it is an ¨ awakening ¨ of the quads still somewhat atrophied from the crash I had 4 years ago. Regardless what it is, it is frustrating to have my motivation back, but realising that I cannot feed it with a fit body. Yes, I ran 89 min at the half-marathon in The Hague 3 weeks ago, but it does not mean that I am marathon fit, even less triathlon fit.

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I am now 2 weeks before Boston, sitting in our Chalet in Saas-Fee and enjoying doing nothing, hoping that doing nothing will heal my quads. At least, now I look at these pictures and they talk to me, they say. Get back where you belong, in the world of acceptance, satisfaction, strength, high energy and good rest.

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It was D-day at last. The time had come to face the music, to see how the training, the race plan, the nutrition plan and the material would hold. The time had come to see whether I would have to double the money raised for my charity action with Malaika Kids (see banner).

The start was planned at 05:45. It was not before 05:25 that I walked to beach, my swimsuit on. FIrst surprise of the day, the sea was not calm as forecasted. LIttle waves rolled on to the beach and it meant, that 2km outside in the ocean it would be a very different story. I did a quick warm up 200m and went back to the beach. Off the gun goes.

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As expected, a choppy swim to start the Ironman Western Australia with up to 25-50 cm surf. The Official distance: 3900m to go around the beautiful and longest jetty in the Southern hemisphere. I mentioned in a previous blog post, that I dropped the ball on the swim training to concentrate on the bike and that I may regret it 2000m into the swim. This is EXACTLY what happened. I needed just 33min to reach the end of the Jetty and thought I was doing great in the waves, but I did not realise there was a slight side current. The way back was exhausting and I had to fight my way back to the shore. The time reflects my training. Finished 602nd!!! in 1h11min. from 1515… hopla.

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After a relatively quick transition of 4min, I unracked my bike for an official 182km ride around Busselton and into the scenic Tuart Forest National Park. As mentioned earlier in my blog as well; a beautiful course but exposed. And today the wind blew up to 35km/h for the first 4 hours before starting to fade. For someone who trains in the Netherlands, this was an advantage. Everything went perfectly to plan. The nutrition plan worked this time and I negative split every 30km feeling stronger and stronger. Moved from overall 605 to 444 position. I really wanted to hammer the last 30km, just to beat the clock and manage the course under 5:30. But I kept a cool head and instead cruised to transition 2 in a time of 5h34m. The temperature during the bike leg between 24 and 29 C. Ideal!
Again plenty of inspirational moments on the bike, as you can see on the picture. I finally pass a hand-biker after 120km!!! This also meant, he was ahead on the swim, just working with his arms…humbled.

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Another transition to put some running shoes and a ton of sun cream. Here the only big change versus plan. My little left toe was hurting for a couple of days so I chose to wear a pair of Mizuno Wave4. The advantage: a bigger toe box and super light weight (154gr). The issue: a super light weigh shoe ideal for a 10k run on fresh legs…(This will be a subject for a separate blog post but in short I would not recommend to run a marathon in those shoes and definitely not on hot roads). Because that run was a real scorcher. The wind had died and the temperature had raised to 32C. No cloud, no shade on black roads along the shore.
At this time, after feeling real strong on the bike I thought, that a 10:30 was possible so I deviated from plan and ran 15 seconds faster (5:00 instead of 5:15 pace per km). But the heat got the best of me and instead of negative splits I faded in every single round of the 4 course loop. The other competitors had obviously more issues with the heat than me.

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The last 10km were trying. I was running on dead legs with blistered feet from the heat and trying to keep cool by storing ice, where ever I could and drinking liters (literally) of Coke to keep to body going. I finally saw the 41km mark. 1.2 km to go! My wife and daughters, who had shouted words of encouragement for the last 8 hours or so, shouted even louder. This gave me enough energy to motor my way to the finish chute, with the knowledge that I would beat the clock and indeed race as planned under 11:00. The commentator at the finish line said: ¨…and here comes a very happy Ironman¨. I was indeed over the moon and I came across the finish line laughing out loud. I did not assess properly my level of exhaustion. Within a few second my legs decided to sail without the rest of my body and I collapsed into two so called ¨catchers¨ (who decide whether you go directly to the massage, the medical or the recovery tent). Thanks goodness they brought me to the recovery tent for drinks and food (and not for an iv).

So the final result: I move with a marathon time of 3:44 from 444 to 227 rank overall (1510) and 45th in my age group (first15%). Happy with the overall result. A PR by exactly 1 hour. Total time 10:38:59.6 So many things could have gone wrong and racing so far from home was a risk….but all went well. What difference it makes whent the family is along the course, following your every meter and getting the best support you can wish for.

Next IronMan, June 29th with my buddy Joel in Klagenfurt, Austria.

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The nerves are kicking in… The 1000 questions and scenario how things could go wrong hit home….but actually, it is too late too worry now. The bike is racked in transition zone, the transition bags are hung in the transition areas, the training is done, it is actually all about not worrying and relax AND enjoy. Well…that is easier said the done, but there are 2 things that helped me taking my thoughts of the race: The talking with fellow athletes and Pros as well as my daughter participating in The IronKids Race.

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1. I met some very inspiring people: a 60-65 lady age grouper, who answered me after asking her what was her goal for this race. She said ¨this year is all about not getting a glow stick before the finishing line¨. A glow stick is something you receive after darkness as settled over the running course in order for the helpers to identify the athletes still in the race. I hope I will also be fighting the glow stick receival at 60!
I also met Luke McKenzie and his wife. Luke is a 5 time Ironman Champ, 6 time Hawaii finisher (ranked 9th in 2011) and is currently 37th on the 2012 IronMan Pro Ranking Male (http://www.lukemckenzie.com). We chatted for about 10 min. Totally relaxed accessible pro (like many others). He took time to give me some advise on the course, his wife was playing with our kids, etc.. There is just no other sport where pro, all age groupers, male, female, disabled, etc…are all racing together at the same time and share the experience in such a way. The 3rd person is Paul Perrett. He lost his father at the age of 13 from skin cancer, took on weight up to 130kg, became a chain-smoker and workoholic on the border of exhaustion. Then he realised ,that he would not re-produce the same story and have 3 fatherless kids. So, he got out of his couch (and office chair) and started training for Ironman. What made it more difficult is that he was born with clubbed feet. Multiple operations left him with a big challenge to run, but he still did took on the challenge and finished his first Ironman a year ago. We checked in together and I will drive tomorrow morning with him at the start (planned at 5:45…aaaarrrghh!). What willpower (not the early wake up part…)! Simply Inspiring.

2.  We supported our older daughter to start her first triathlon.

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At the beginning, she was not sure whether it was a good idea but she gradually became more and more excited as the day came. IronKids age limit is 7, so she was one of the youngest in the race and she did awesome as you can see in the pictures. The swim was the toughest piece for her. Surrounded by Aussie kids, most of them butterflying their way out of the womb, it was difficult to compete,. Once one the bike though (after a very comfy break in transition chatting with her wonderful helper), she was flying, overtaking a few and giving it all.

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The run, like dad, was her best discipline. A dash from start to finish under the real arch of the Ironman finish chute. She finished as her starting number indicated: As number 1 in Mom’s and Dad’s heart. We are so proud of our daughter.

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She cannot wait to go back to school after the break and show here finisher T-shirt and her medal to all her 1st grader friends (a special greeting to Ann and her class here!).

So tomorrow is the big day… I don’t think I will be able to blog much afterwards…

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