Coach’s Remarks: Some Emotion here in Batmans report right from the get go.. Great Tony and thanks for nver quitting with all those knee issues that you brought to me I must remind 🙂
The Race Report: Sorry if this is a bit on the long side, but this was my first 70.3!
Arrived in Brussels from AD on Friday morning. Uneventful flight, other than being slapped with a crazy excess baggage fee, thanks Etihad! Golf bags are sports equipment but bikes are not! Is golf a sport anyway??? Checked in. Put the bike together, BAMMM! Seatpost clamp shatters, at just 3Nm!! So ductaped it and headed out.
Met the team and we went to drive the bike course. Had some amazing and hilarious adventures driving around Antwerp, courtesy of Mr National (pilot) and Venny (co-pilot and 70.3 and Antwerp veteran!). I’ll let them elaborate on that, which you all got a taste of on FB! Ask them about how we almost got flattened by a massive digger and National’s evasive offroad driving.
Sat we all headed to the 15s, dreading the cold and wind. The swim wasn’t so bad, water didn’t feel too cold (emphasis on “too”). Tested arm warmers+sleevless windbreaker combo on the bike, felt warm enough. Run was ok in tri kit. Very happy we did the 15s, massive confidence builder (for me at least), so special thanks to Venny and Mr National, and Ahmed and Lisa for that. After the 15s, we headed to registration. Expo was a bit of a disappointment, pasta party was basically a prison cafeteria, but we did get a nice Ironman backpack and a bottle of sparkling wine!
Sat evening: everyone was doing their own thing. Picked up a bit of plain pasta with some protein and headed to my hotel to prep my kit. Transition bags were trash bags, and I was trying to figure out a way to fish my running shoes out of a massive trashbag when I get to T2…
Sun morning: woke up around 6:30, light breaky, prep bike, meet the team and we all headed to the race. Quick run through race centre to drop run kit and bodymarking and headed to T1 to rack bikes and set up. We had 2 hrs to kill and it was freezing cold and the wind was already blowing hard. We all put our wetsuits on and tried to stay warm, counting down the time.
Pros were going at 11, followed by age group waves at 10min intervals. I was set to go at 11:20. Before heading to swim start to watch the pros go, I did a short warmup running up and down transition and tried to warm up my arms (useless attempt in that weather). 2min before our start we were allowed into the water. It felt colder than the previous day, but it was actually the same temp. I let my HR settle, was glad that I put on 2 swim caps, and positioned myself around 8 rows back on the inside (anti-clockwise 1-loop swim). Our wave was large, I think the largest with around 400 people.
The Swim: 38:35 – 847 overall
Gun goes off (barely audible) and we’re off. This was by far the most violent swim I’ve ever been in and it was the first time I felt the need to be aggressive to carve some space for myself. The funny thing is that I wasn’t getting swum over from the back (I went out full on), but people were swimming diagonally and hitting each other in the face! (Those Sat sea swims paid off big time here). By the time I got out of the mess I had lost the first 2 or 3 packs. I swam solo for probably 1k or so, pushing to catch the forward packs. I catch the first one and they won’t let me in! It seemed purposeful: people blocking you (marshals repeatedly said “no blocking” during swim briefing, so seems there are precedents?). I overtook a couple of packs and around 500m out I settled into one for the rest of the way home.
T1: 5:17 – 839 overall
It was a looooong run in the wetsuit to get to my bike. Fingers so numb I dropped my goggles twice. I get there and someone had knocked it over. Don’t know how much time I lost picking up my kit: helmet, sunglasses, arm warmers, race belt, windbreaker, and the bike. Finally got it sorted and ran towards the mounting line, painfully stepping on a few stones strewn around the carpet. Jumped on, feet in pretty quickly, and settled in.
Bike: 2:55 (my Garmin says 91.1k mount to dismount) Avg HR 80.4% – 682 Overall
The bike course was: ride out from T1 to the docks (around 20k I think), 3 loops in the docks of around 20k each I think and back towards T2 (in a different location than T1). As I was going down the tunnel to go to the other side of the river, a cyclist passes me on the descent (I was doing around 50kph so he must have been going 55+). Then I don’t know what happened to him but he flipped in the air and landed hard, tumbling for a long time. It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen. I found out this morning that a triathlete passed away in the tunnel. I’m not sure if that was him. Further down the tunnel there was another crash, and police were directing us into a single lane. It wasn’t comforting.
Straight out of T1 I felt the wind. My God, I had never felt anything like that in my life! And it was all headwind all the way to the docks and the far turnaround point.
I figured I had to battle the wind for a long time so I decided to keep my cadence up against the wind and push hard with the tailwind. I maintained a steady effort throughout, hitting 51kph on the flats with the tailwind! Aid stations were a pain: regular water bottles were too small for my bottle cages and were splashing everywhere (I only take water from aid stations).
Halfway through the bike and my shoulders were already aching badly from gripping the aerobars and trying to keep the bike stable in gusting crosswinds. It was dangerous because as you passed stacks of shipping containers, you got hit with gusts which threaten to drive you either into potholes or numerous rail-tracks… At times the crosswind was so strong that it was tugging against the tail of my helmet causing sharp pain in my neck!! I rode past at least 20 people who were riding in tears because of the wind. Hats off to them for not giving up!
To be honest the 3 loops didn’t feel that long, I then decided to hammer it back to T2, thinking I’ll have a tailwind the whole way since it was a headwind from T1. WRONG! T2 was in a different place, so not a tailwind the whole way! Anyway, I pass quite a few people on the way back and then ended up with no one in front of me to follow. I reach an intersection and I have no idea where to go. I come to a complete stop! Then someone shouts to go up the bridge, and I set off from a standstill at the foot of a bridge in a headwind! (a lot of people probably heard me cursing as I got out of the saddle and mashed the pedals as people zipped past me having built momentum).
I finally get into what I supposed was the last 3k, and it was all on cobblestone! Shit! I have a broken clamp on my seatpost! I decide to go into an easier gear, try to keep my stroke smooth and take pressure off the saddle as much as possible. It seemed to go on forever. We finally turn off the cobblestones and into a side street towards what I thought was T2. I get my feet out of the shoes only to realize I still had around 800m to go. I get to T2, dismount line isn’t visible anywhere, and then it sneaks up on you as your turn in and find 5 people on their bikes slamming the brakes.
T2: 3:49 – 726 Overall. Damn urinals!
Jump off the bike and run in, trying to find my number. Running on cobblestones barefoot, ouch! Get to my number, rack the bike, my run bag is there but wow: they tied a tight knot into it, it really looked like a garbage bag now! Ripped it open, socks, shoes, grab gels/salt and go! Actually a stop at the urinal then go!
The Infamous Run! 2:33. Avg HR 79.6%
I had 0 expectations here. The longest I had ever run was 14k, once, and that was before the last Hafeet camp. I was injured and not running for 8 months on and off over the past year and I had worked myself back up to 10k a few weeks ago. I was also thinking that I have a race in London in 2 weeks, Crowie camp, and an Ironman in a few months. Didn’t want to take risks in something I’ve never done before. Bottom line, I decided to run a steady pace by keeping my HR below 80%. And no walking! 3x7k laps. Lap one (49:18), felt fine: settled into a rhythm around 6:45min/k, HR at 78pct. Wonderful, diesel engine. Lap 2 (51:10), felt fine initially, then started getting bad stomach cramps and bloating. Decided to drink less water at aid stations, that helped. By the time I got to lap 3 (50:14) I felt better and settled back into a rhythm and cruised into the finish chute still like a diesel engine.
It was weird to finish a race and cross the line breathing normally, but I was happy I’d run my first half marathon pain and injury free.
Total time 6:16. Rank 187 in my wave.
What could I have done better?
– Swim: should have positioned myself better (more to the front) and maybe on the outside to evade blocking
– Bike: not much to be honest. I could have pushed harder but with the run such an unknown to me it would have been a risk
– Run: don’t know! This is the longest I’ve ever run. Could have pushed harder? probably. Need to learn better pacing for longer distance runs.
Overall impressions of Antwerp 70.3:
– Organization: average. Registration and check-in a bit convoluted. Many strict draft busters who were focused on the mid-pack riders and not catching the “trains” blowing by me.
– Swim venue: fine I guess. 0 visibility in the water, somewhat smelly, and no significant landmarks, which with a light chop and small buoys made navigating a bit tricky
– Bike: a bit dangerous. The tunnel was a menace with quite a few potholes. The course itself was dotted with potholes and the mats used to cover the railway tracks were sliding all over the place. The crosswind made it risky given the gusts. Virtually no spectators on the course, and riding 90k in the docks was pretty boring (last year they rode into the countryside).
– Run: it’s nice to run inside the city. The only thing that bothered me is running on cobbles and having to jump on and off sidewalks all the time, which broke the rhythm and added to the pressure on your quads. Fantastic waffles waiting at the finish though!
Would I do another 70.3? Without a doubt. Would I repeat Antwerp? Probably not. Really liked the city and the people in Antwerp are absolutely amazing, but the course leaves a lot to be desired I think (conditions alone would not have kept me away). Looks like the quality of the pro lineup has been steadily declining over the past 3 years (it was fab to see Natascha Badman ride past me on her Cheetah though!)
First of all, a MASSIVE congrats to Venny, Mr National and Ben for grabbing the Vegas slot. It was such a proud moment.
Congrats to Ahmed, Lisa and Steph for gutting it out in dreadful conditions.
Big thanks to Coach Pain! Heck 14 months ago I couldn’t swim 100m, hadn’t ridden a bike in 15 years and had never run more than 5k!
Another Big thanks to Venny and Mr. National for navigating everyone through the whole event!
Last but not least, the biggest thanks goes to my better half Lauris, without whose support, drive, understanding and love I would not be able to train and compete in a sport I’ve become hopelessly addicted to. Thanks honey!
Bring on IMWA!