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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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20x30-CTGT0675I 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.

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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. 20x30-CTGO0571The 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.20x30-CTGH1141 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.20x30-CTGF2272
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.20x30-CTGN0851 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. 20x30-GTGJ3300We 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)20x30-CTGA0589

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.

Race Stats:

Swim: 34:06 (224), Bike: 2:25 (62), Run 1:36:14 (82). Total 4:40:55. 11th in AG40-44 and 70th overall.

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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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As mentioned in a previous blog post some 12 months ago, I am racing this Ironman for myself and for a small UK/NL led charity, MALAIKA KIDS, that takes care of Tanzanian orphans. I proposed to whom ever would sponsor me, that I would double the money up to the charity target of 2000 pounds unless I race the Ironman under 11 hours. I raised money over 2 web-sites, a UK based and a Dutch based one. More than 40 different individuals donated generously to a total amount of 2’100 .-GBP. I would like to thank you all for your donation and I take the opportunity to remind you of what you have just done. You are supporting children that cannot hold a father’s or a mother’s hand for comfort, for security, for re-assurance. You are supporting an organisation that gives it to those children. It certainly will never replace the real-thing but, if only, will restore a feeling of normality. So THANK YOU! And as someone said: ¨I hope you will succeed in your endeavour for your own sake but I also hope you will fail for their’s. For once, those children can only win.

An Ironman under 11:00 means to swim 3.8km in 1h15m, bike 180km in 5:45 and run a marathon in 3:50 (+9min of transition from swim to bike to run). This is without considering a possible flat tire, windy conditions on the bike or choppy sea conditions during the swim. This charity action has been a great motivation and I have trained between family and work the best I could to achieve those goals. So, a huge thank-you also goes to my wife, Isa, that has supported me unconditionally during the last 12 months as well as my daughters. A big thanks to my Windmill Warrrior buddies, that have trained, supported me as well as advised me on new training methods and gave me tips -especially on the run and the bike (because those guys cannot swim so well…). A moderate thank you to the ¨Windmill Warrior Widows¨ that relentlessly gave us a bad conscience about our training, but also prepared great restorative food and made us laugh so much. A big thanks to all others that have been involved directly or indirectly in the preparation and the fund raising action like my neighbours Helen and Klaas or the Chairmen of Malaika Kids Nigel and Ton.

4 days to go; tomorrow is my last swim training along the world famous jetty of Busselton. Pics to come.

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We finally arrived to our destination. It took us 4 days to fly from Amsterdam to Singapore, Singapore to Perth. Rest for 2 nights in Sorrento (North of Perth) and then travel from Sorrento to Dunsborough (20km South of Busselton). Dunsborough is a very laid back location on the coast of the Geographe Bay. Its beach is considered to be one of the top 10 beaches in the world. As far as we can tell, it could be true. It did not take our girls long to discover the fun of a low tide. Hopping from one sand bank to the next, catching small shells, jumping into deeper pools of water. SO, it is not all about the Ironman? Definitely not: what an unbelievable feeling to be back in the Summer, living outdoors, looking forward to a cold shower to wash the salt away. Isa is soaking the sun in. Zoe told us she likes the place because it is so wonderfully hot and everything is so quiet. Dunsborough reminds of Hanalei on Kauai. Beautiful beaches with surf possibilities, great yoga places with organic food.. a slow-down-relax-breathe kind of place.

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I went to Busselton this morning for a first ride to check out the course. First impressions. Gorgeous course across The  Tuart Forest National Park (50% of the total course), the rest of the course is exposed to prevailing South West Winds and has a remarkable absence of shade. Temperature this morning at 11:00, 31.5 degrees. Oh yeah. Despite the wind, I could keep a good pace at a very low HR. It is so much tougher to ride in the cold-wind-bashing green heart of The Netherlands. It feels that I can cut right through the wind here…. Anyways, it also felt great to see other participants. I usually feel pretty lonely mostly riding solo back in The Netherlands.

The Ironman in Busselton is definitely a big thing here. EVerybody talks about it. You hear about it on the radio, there is a special edition of the local newspaper, everybody cheers and say hi when they see you on the bike. People understand what we do and do not consider those strange bikers with tailed helmets as aliens. It is a great feeling for a change adn definitely a great place to race. I CANNOT WAIT!!!

It’s now snack time for the girls: Fresh pinapple and…Philadelphia spread over bread…there are also things that really don’t change…

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I never considered myself a big fan of beaches. The idea of spending a day at the beach never really appealed to me. I even used to say that I was not a participant to a skin cancer contest. Spending 6 weeks on the Sunshine Coast of Australia has changed it all. I must sadly admit that I am a beach boy now…still better than a lying on a plastic long chair under a striped umbrella by the pool. One has to understand the beach culture first and I did not get that until now. First, you come to the beach equipped:

Body board & fins – Surfboard – Sun Shelter – Cold Drinks – Wet shirt and heaps of sun cream – bucket and shovel – Running Shoes – Sunglasses – 3 Sherpas.

When the base camp is set, it is just about deciding in which sequences you are going to build a sand castle or a sandy pool for the kids, swim, surf, bodysurf, jog/stroll, eat, drink or sleep in the shelter. All this is only valid if 2 parameters are in spec: The sea must throw big crystal clear waves at you, the sand must be white and real smooth. Take out these two parameters and you take the beach boy out of me.

In the end, I felt that I could not spend enough time at the beach to do all this. It happened actually two times, that I walk up at 4:45 AM to go with a neighbour down to the beach to swim in the calm ocean before starting the day.

Here a small gallery of our past activities on the Eastern Beaches of the Sunshine Coast:

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