Almere, The Netherlands – 226k Challenge IM Triathlon – 12 September 2015
by Chris Jamieson
The Fast and the Furious 226
Not the latest Vin Diesel car chasing escapade but The Netherlands newest city Almere (Amsterdam), playing host to Europe’s Oldest 226k Triathlon.
It’s a flat course with potential for fast times but very exposed particularly to the Polder Winds, so the weather gods get to have their say first before you get to the finish line (in 2013 there were over 10 DNFs due to hypothermia! Hopefully this year they were going to be a little kinder…)
Arriving a couple of days early to recce the course proved less useful than planned. Some of the roads the course uses are only open to cycling on race day itself so I improvised a recce route…all good til the Garmin directed me onto what became a dual carriageway. Lots of horn blasts and a couple of close passes later discretion being the better part of valour I bailed over the barrier onto a track back to the hotel. It turns out the Dutch may love their bikes but they love them segregated even more! Plan B’s ride the next day to stick to cycle paths just added more confusion. They had course markers laid out perfectly along the way…but for a different race?! So onto Plan C…hope there were enough marshals on the day and follow someone with a race number.
Racked up Friday evening for bagged transitions (complete with improvised bike cover using a couple of garbage bags). And, as a Challenge Event, slightly different transition styling to the Ironman branded version: The T1/T2 bag colours were reversed and you were to change at your bag rack point rather than grabbing it and running through a change tent. Ahead of time this didn’t seem as easy but on the day it worked just as well.
Started with sharing a taxi to transition with one of the other hotel guests, so some usual small talk:
Me: “This your first Ironman?”
Dominic: “I’ve done it a couple of times now”
Me: “So what’s the goal for today?”
Dominic: “Well top 3 would be ideal but I’d be happy with a top 5 finish”
(I was a bit quieter after that…thought “Probably enough tri chat. Best let him concentrate on his race plan”)
Turns out that’s what you get for sharing a cab with one of the pros.
Swim Time: Into the wetsuit and time to line up for the swim entry. No warm up swim allowed, so a bottle of water down the top of the wetsuit to help it seal and then into the Weerwater lake for the 450 person massed start. The gun went and the 3.8k two lap course began. Sighting was pretty easy with the large marker buoys and otherwise an uneventful steady swim, except for the last 300m to the exit as the front end of the Half Ironman field that set off after us piled through like frenzied tuna taking no prisoners.
On to the Bike. This must be pretty close to time trialing heaven…two flat 90k laps, mostly on good coastal roads with the only elevations being a couple of small bridges, just enough to give you a few seconds out of the saddle to let the blood flow and ease the back strain. Otherwise it was pure tuck positioning, pace and nutrition management. Without hills to overcome or as targets to tick off, it was much more mental pacing, along the lines of: “You feel good now but how are you going to feel in another 50k….” and trying to judge the wind’s impact on the different sections into your overall pacing.
Today, the weather gods were kind with the rain holding off and the wind starting mild (by Polder standards) at 20-25kph with the full selection of head, cross and tail available on the lap. It did pick up a little on the second lap so the average speed bled off a touch but the bike leg was running well ahead of plan and felt good so just thought “Keep it steady and get ready for the run.”
Back through T2 and out onto the 6 x 7k laps of the Weer Water. After stomach cramps last time around, my mantra was “Start slow! Start slow!” but even holding down the heart rate to plan the first 2k were at about 4:40 pace, way too fast! So backed off even more and then settled in for the distance. Brilliant support on the way round particularly as you passed the crowded finish area each lap and at the aid stations every 2k. A lap running alongside the lead woman gave a different perspective too, as her coach and the marshalls gave her regular updates on her competitors’ positions it really made it feel like a race, whereas for almost everyone else it’s against themselves or the clock.
Into the last lap, and at about 2k to go my body’s telling me to walk. That was NOT going to happen! So I resorted to a Jens Voigt style “Shut UP Legs!” and forced myself to keep running until at 500m to go the end is in sight and you get to enjoy the finishing straight. 10:37:44 Job Done! Shattered but Very Happy!
The final thought (running through my head at about 1k from the finish line) “Did I really sign up to do this again at Ironman Copenhagen next year?”…