Guy Coughlan, GBR

Coach’s Remarks: Here is the Mr National tale from Antwerp. Thanks Guy for sharing this mate, you have blown me away with your improvements. I believe you have shaved off close to a 1/2 an hour over the Tulip course in a year. You read it right team, 30 off mins PB over 12 months of flogging.

You know the secret, National never misses a session unless his Chromes disease puts him in hospital and even then, I have to tell him not to bike or swim, he has rarely missed a JBR swim and I sound like a broken record however, this sport is set up in the swim. JBR gives you confidence and supreme swim fitness, not to mention the horrible starbucks coffee after.

This is my not-so-short race report. Marshal, eat your heart out!

Feel free to share. If you only have an espresso then skip the intro….

I travelled to Belgium with Venny via Abu Dhabi. We decided to fly on the night flight which delivered us to a grey overcast Brussels Airport at 7am on Thursday 21st. We collected the bikes and promptly headed to the National/Europcar desk to sort the car. The Renault Scenic was brilliant, it had GPS and swallowed two bike boxes with the rear seats folded. Venny slipped into the co-pilots seat and changed the GPS to English whilst I tried to remember how to drive a car with a manual gearbox.

Antwerp is about a 45 minute drive up the motorway, heading north towards the Dutch border. That bit is easy, but I’d like to meet the bloke who did the street planning for Antwerp, it’s a lovely city, it really is, but the road network was obviously designed to ‘integrate’ with the Tram lines and the guy that did it obviously doesn’t drive! Throw in the cycle routes, the pedestrians and the odd horse-drawn cart plus a sprinkling of buses and a few trees and it’s like picking your way through a minefield. The GPS did its job however and we were soon parked up at the Hilton Hotel in the centre of the city and adjacent to the stunning main square where the race finish was located.

The room was easily big enough for two fat boys and their bikes, so before we did anything else we decided to get the bikes assembled and make sure we had all the kit we needed. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city centre and getting important data on who served the best food & drink! (Da Giovanni).

Friday was ‘Drive the bike Route Day’. Lisa & Ahmed had arrived from Oman via the UK and Batman had just got in from Abu Dhabi. We made a rendezvous at the Hilton with Tony and then set out to collect Ahmed & Lisa from the Radisson on what was one of the most hilarious, stressful and down right crazy route inspections of all time. You’ve seen the Italian job right? Well no Mini’s this time, but a little black Renault Scenic crammed with T2A hopefuls. Up front, yours truly, Captain National at the wheel with co-pilot Venny and then the 3 Musketeers rubbing shoulders in the back. My wife and I squabble a bit in the car, the usual stuff, I should have turned left here or why did I not take that parking space that we have now driven past and I have 3 cars right on my rear bumper etc. Replace Fabienne with Venny, double the amount of ‘advice’ I’m receiving and then throw in a few screams and shouts from the back seat and you get the picture. I wish we’d taken a bloody cab!

Venny kindly reminded me that I was a total gay boy for not driving through the tram station as we headed out to find the bike route. After dodging a few cyclists, sending a couple of pedestrians diving for cover and scaring the pants off poor Lisa, we finally made our way out of the city centre. Ironman had kindly placed very small, yellow, arrow-shaped signs on the lamp posts and traffic lights to help people with bionic vision find the route. Sadly I was fitted with standard eyes at birth so I needed to get within 2 metres of the lamp post in order to see which way they pointed! A few shouts of abuse from Venny and the back-seat drivers soon had me back on track.

The route was largely flat but is punctuated by a series of intersections as it winds its way through the dreary port and industrial area. Train tracks are embedded in the road surface and cross the route several times, a real hazard for the race on Sunday. Venny assured us these would be covered with carpet on the day. He was right….damn I hate that! Despite having a copy of the bike route in his hand, the co-pilot clearly had the same map reading skills as a dyslexic gerbil. We drove into a few storage yards did a few U turns and then finally got back on track thanks to someone spotting one of Ironman’s secret yellow signs. Last year competitors did a loop in the docks and then headed out into the lovely countryside. This year the organisers had clearly decided that the best way to promote Antwerp as a city was to let international competitors from all over the world see the bloody port and a few container ships!

Saturday we did our 15/15/15 at the lake. The weather was totally miserable. Grey overcast sky, cold wind and the constant drizzle of the rain. I was frozen stiff and now had to get my suit on and go into the drink. One lighter moment was meeting a young Aussie lad called Ollie who was sheltering in the same Marquee by the lake getting into his wetsuit. Venny and I decided he looked a bit nervous so we cheered him up with a pep talk about how it wasn’t really that cold and ‘don’t worry mate you’ll be fine’ etc. We thought we’d really done our bit for charity until we found out later that day that he was a top Pro who was in with a potential race win (he came 6th). To say we laughed was an understatement; Two fat old blokes telling a Pro how to do Triathlon!

Race day we all met at 0830 and headed to the ‘YMCA’ building which was race registration HQ where we dropped off our run kit for T2 before riding back to T1 to rack the bike and freeze our nuts off for 2 hours whilst we awaited the start in the lake which was a few hundred metres away.

Swim 32 mins
I was in the last wave, number 6 at 11:50am, with everyone from 45 – 75 years of age. One big group of wrinkles and grey hair. We watched as the early waves made there way around the marker buoys in the lake. The cold was terrible so I could not wait to get going. We got into the water and I decided that I would try and get to the front of the swim ahead of the zimmer frame brigade. Good move. ‘Bang’ off we go and I get flattened. Clearly some of these age groupers are serious swimmers! After 300 – 400 metres some gaps open up and I manage to get moving properly. I found a rhythm and from then on I enjoyed the swim. I past a few slower caps from the earlier waive and felt strong. The end approached and I exited the steps out of the lake throwing my swim cap in the allotted plastic bin along with my brand new Zoggs swim goggles…..great.

T1 4:17
I got to the bike and ripped off the wetsuit. It was freezing cold and I struggled to get the left leg off over the race chip. A quick towel down and on with my arm warmers (best last minute purchase I’ve ever made!), socks, shoes, helmet etc. The old gits had a long run to the exit thanks to the way the racks were positioned, so I spiced it up a bit by racing the bloke next to me. Very cool until I tripped over my own pedal.

Bike 2:47:58
This was without doubt the coldest windiest part of the day. We rode out through the city until we reached the docks and there we sat in ferocious wind for 3 x 22km loops. The road surface was generally good, but there were occasional tram or train tracks which had been covered with mats and a selection of nasty potholes. I felt strong on the bike despite the wind but it really was a horrible experience. The draft busters hovered constantly sat atop BMW motorbikes and I was worried about getting flagged despite making every effort to keep a distance. Imagine 1700 bikes bottled up in a 22km loop. You were constantly either being passed or passing other riders. Despite the conditions I was happy to have escaped punctures which I know blighted Liz’s race last year and Rawlie’s race in Denmark. I saw Venny and Ahmed en route but could not spot anyone else from the team. The rest of the ride was uneventful and before long I was heading down a cobbled road into T2.

Run 1:50:36
Coach had told me two things before the race; don’t over do the pace on the bike and run the half at 5:20 pace. I was pretty sure I had handled the bike well despite hating every minute of it, all I had to do now was have a steady run. As I exited T2 an official stopped me in my tracks and ticked me off for not rotating my race number to the front……obviously bored! The run took in 3 loops of the scenic city centre and I found the excited supporters and interesting buildings a real boost after the tedious bike route. I had a plan to race at the prescribed pace and then if I felt good in the last 3 – 4km’s to maybe up the pace a bit. As it turned out the Garmin does not function well in the city centre and so my pace was showing that I was either sprinting or walking which made the device a waste of time. I simply ran at what I felt was a comfortable sustainable pace and counted off the 7km loops. I ran past Lisa at one point, big smile on her face as ever and a word of encouragement went in each direction. Shortly afterwards I met Batman who seemed in good form and was looking focused. A few minutes later I saw Andy McRae pushing his bike home having done a cracking 4:28. He was a good lad and shouted lots of encouragement.

I found myself looking at the waive numbers written on the back of every athletes left calf muscle. I was a 6 so I was keen to take out as many ‘6’’s as possible along the route. Once we got to the 17km mark I was feeling strong and passed plenty of people between there and the finish. A good number were a ‘6’ so a knew that this was helping me with my age group placing. As I rounded the corner into the spectacular square where the finish line and grandstand where situated I heard two people call out to me; one was Muscat Ben who had finished slightly ahead of me and the other was Ollie the Aussie Pro who shouted ‘come on Mr. Dubai’, a nice gesture bearing in mind what a wanker I’d made of myself the day before at the lake!

The Finish 5:16:54
Crossing the finish line was a great feeling of relief and satisfaction. I recall Venny saying that his finish in SA was an anti-climax. It wasn’t that bad for me, I was just delighted to get through the whole affair in one piece. I felt very tired. I went over and shook hands with Muscat Ben. He looked fresh as a daisy and we swapped a few stories whilst I munched on a waffle and a bottle of water. I was very happy with my final time of 5:16:54. It had been a very tough bike ride and the cold was not pleasant but overall it was a great experience.

We were all conscious of the Chat Room and I think that this spurs you on a bit, knowing that your mates are all monitoring your every move and willing you to do well. I’ll be honest; I am totally hooked on this sport now. I love everything about it. I am a highly competitive person and I have a strong will to better myself, but equally I don’t like to take life too seriously, I love a good laugh and I love the people I train and race with. I know for sure that Venny, Batman, Muscat Ben & Steph, Lisa and Ahmed all had a great time. We certainly had a stack of fun in the days before the race.

Triathlon has given me a physical and mental challenge that had been missing for some years. The people I know in the team are some of the best people I have ever met and it makes the hard training all worthwhile. I think we all feel the same way don’t we?

Thanks as ever to the leader of the gang; Coach Pain. You have taken me from zero to my first 70.3 in a little over 12 months and I could not have achieved the result in Antwerp without the advice and guidance you supplied over the past year. I have also learnt to swim!

Thanks to everyone at T2A for the amazing support and kind words. Thanks to Venny for the Facebook posts and Gimp Shop photos and a big thank you to Jordo for the constant nagging to pursue a slot for Vegas. I would never have bothered to even enquire but Craig just wouldn’t let me get away with it. Chuffed to bits about that and delighted for Ben and the Wookie too!

I’ll shut up now, but before I go, a big thank you to my 3 girls; Fabienne for her amazing unwavering support. She is the counterbalance in my life and gives me the confidence to ‘go for it’ when I doubt my own ability and Alexandra and Lydia for simply being two brilliant little ladies!

Can’t wait for the next race…….

Mr. National