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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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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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Had we known that we would ride in a 35 degree furnace, battle head wind for 60km and for Joel to crash into a car 100m before the end of the ride, would we have started riding on that foggy Monday at 07:30, the 9th of May from Saas-Fee to the Grimselpass? Probably not, but that’s what an adventure is about, I guess (and that’s why I do not understand people reading the last pages of a book before actually starting to read it).

I had been thinking to ride to the Grimsel Pass for the past three years.  Joel – a training partner and founder member of our Windmill Warriors Triathlon Club – and I could not have picked a better day to do this ride.  It all started the evening before, with some serious carb/protein-loading with our families in front of the chalet. Joel, is a Masterchef when it comes to marinating meat and BBQing. We limited our beer consumption and went up to bed fairly early.

We started to ride with a 26km long descent from Saas-Fee (1800m) to Visp (500) before taking a right turn and started a 65km climb towards the Grimselpass (2164m). The climb was gentle at first along the river Rhone. We passed Brig and were surprised how fast the temperature was rising. It was 11 in Saas-Fee, 15 in Visp and already 23 in Brig. The first “hills” showed up after Brig. Quads were warmed up by then to tackle the first serious climb until Bellwald. 800 m elevation gain in 16km. Joel was quite surprised to hear, that this was the “easy” part of the climb. From then on his requests for short stops increased 🙂 . The real deal started after Oberwald. There is even a sign warning cyclists of the 1000m upcoming climb averaging at 7.6%. It is long and it is quite hard but the view is breathtaking and seeing for the first time from a “saddle perspective” the famous switchbacks of  the Grimsel were very rewarding.

And because every ride has its loads of surprises, we suddenly encountered, crossing the road, the first trains constructed to pass the Furka Pass (same road as the Grimsel).

We manages those switchbacks without problems and finally arrived to the Pass after riding for 4 hours and 1800m of elevation gain. It was a perfect day to be up there. No violent winds, no snow, nearly no clouds. Just Perfect. We quickly ate something before moving to our main activity of the day: photo-shooting.

Now that the battery of my camera was empty, we could get back on the saddle and ride down. Joel acquired his downhill riding skills in The Netherlands. Going down the Grimsel was slightly out of his zone of comfort, but after training twice down from Saas-Fee to Visp he managed pretty well (although it took him a while to unclasp his hands from the drops afterwards).

We thought we had done the hardest bit, but the weather decided otherwise. The wind picked-up together with the heat and every km we rode down we faced more heat and more wind. We ended up in the valley with the watch registering 35 degrees in the shade. I believe we each drank about 3 liters for the 6h45min ride. It was thougher than expected, especially for my fellow riders who challenged a car in the last 100m before our arrival to the bus station in Visp. Joel does not know exactly what happened. I was in the front, unclipping my shoes when I heard a metallic thump about 80m behind me. I hoped for the best but feared the worst. And yes, it came out to be the worst. Joel on the ground with a bruised shoulder. But the car was bruised too! A good dent in the side door and a broken mirror. Joel 1 – Car 1.

I have a bit of a reputation back where I train in The Netherlands. “They” call me the Swiss Assassin, because I provoked a fall of 2 fellow bikers by braking in front of the group without (a lot of clear) advance warnings. I just would like to clearly state, that Joel decided to take on this car on his own free will. Namaste.

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leukerbad le memont 060

80 days have passed now since my bike crash on June 8. A lot happened in between. We have now left Vienna behind, the international furniture removal is now behind us, a large part of the administrative work related to expatriation is now done. Today is the first day, during which, Isa and I truly feel  on vacation… and there are good reasons to let these feelings invade us.

It is June 27th, the 4th day we spend at the farm in the French Jura. Not a cloud in sight and we decide to discover the surroundings. We find a few kilometers away from our place a  a small quiet river. We decide to picnic there but do not find immediately a convenient place to park the car and sit comfortably next to the river . We suddenly see a rather idyllic garden at the river. The only issue: a big sign marked “PRIVATE”. Fortunately the owner is mowing the grass and we ask him whether we could stay there. To our surprise he answers that he likes Swiss people and that we should sit at  his table by the river. We spend a great 2 hours there, kids playing along the river while we rest on the blankets.

796px-Brücke_in_Saint-HippolyteWe decide in the afternoon to explore a bit further and discover a lovely small city called Saint-Hipployte . We stop to take an ice-cream on the terrasse of one of the restaurants of the main square and just love it. This square is for boh fo us the stereotype of a traditional French square, with a bakery, a florist, a traditional deli, a couple of terrasses with people drinking Pastis and of course people walking across the square carrying their baguette under the arm pit.

We travel back to our spartan farmhouse at the end of the day and have some second thoughts about the level of comfort there.

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leukerbad le memont 034We had planned to spend the whole summer in this farm, but due to my bicycle accident, we only arrive on August the 24th. We take possession of our rented flat in this “Pipilangstrumpf-Heidi-House”. It is very basic and not for anyone that could not live with all usual urban-flat amenities. It has electricity but no hot water, no bathroom, no central heating system, no TV, no internet connexion, no dishwasher, no washing machine, no luxury.

We love it at first, but also quickly feel the necessity for home improvement…which is our main common hobby! Anyway, back to the simple life (without  Paris). We try the first two days to personalize the place and we now feel a bit more at home. We love in the meantime to make wood fires for everything (heating water, washing clothes and ourselves, cooking, grilling. The kids, impressed by the fire in the first day are now helping and throw more wood in it.

leukerbad le memont 052leukerbad le memont 056But it is now 21:30, time to go to bed.

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