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Welcome to the Holland Long Distance Classic - 29 August 2009

I first heard about this race about 18 months and with it being in my 'home' country of The Netherlands, it was worth checking out. However, when you are going to do any Ironman distance race (3.8kms swim, 180kms cycle, 42kms run) then you want to make sure the organisers have the logistics spot on because I'm sure there is nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of nowhere after many hours of racing with no aid stations in sight. So for the 2008 event, I rode my bike up to Almere for the day to see what the execution was like, get myself an idea of the course, and gauge the crowd support. All in all, including the weather, looked pretty good.

Running the event on a Saturday instead of Sunday is unique for almost any triathlon and it made the lead up a little bit different to normal minus that extra day of preparation. However, registration and briefing on Friday was quick and easy, with race gear and bike all checked and handed in. Nothing else to do but relax at the hotel....and watch the unkind weather set in! Being The Netherlands, the course was always going to be flat, the weather was going to be mixed, and there was always going to be wind. How much was the question everybody was asking and Friday provided a very good indication with very strong winds you could barely walk against. Well, at least it wasn't raining...yet.

The few hours sleep on Friday night was interrupted by the continuous thunder, lightning and downpours that was moving through the area. First light on Saturday morning revealed the front was moving very slowly and driving to the start at 6am was through heavy rain. At this stage, I'll point out that I didn't have my usual support crew of Nicki as she was away in South America for work. Two mates had kindly agreed to drive up on Saturday and support / emergency contact / photographers / drivers (thanks Jim and Josh) but I was all alone to worry about all of the things you worry about pre-Ironman. My hat goes off to people that are able to prepare, travel, race and recover from Ironman all by themselves. 

josh
What your friends get up to when you're burying yourself out on the course! Tough day, Josh?

BREAK OUT THE SURFBOARD
I was determined to have a solid swim as my last few outings had been disappointing. However, a glimpse of the open water during the one kilometre walk to the start from transition revealed this was going to be anything but easy.  Strong winds was making the water very choppy and we had to swim 600m directly into it on the first lap. I felt good during the first part of the swim but, like everyone, was battling my way through the chop to the first buoy. The plan was to complete a 1.1km loop, then a short beach run, then head back out the same way for a longer 2.7kms leg finishing into the harbour. The first loop took a massive 23mins which I think was made up of 21mins heading out and across, then 2mins coming back into shore with the waves. Which we had to repeat! It was going to be a long swim, and despite feeling really strong, it was hard to get any real momentum. Probably 3.4kms of the total swim was either directly into the chop or had it coming from the side, so not much fun. I battled through (unvoluntarily drinking much of the murky Dutch sea water) and climbed the stairs in 1:31. I was glad to be back on dry land.  I don't know what times the pros swam, but I guess they are pros for a reason, so probably didn't find the going that tough. I must admit I have swam in heavier chop in Melbourne (St Kilda beach for all you Aussies reading this) but that was Olympic distance with a 1.5km swim. A little less time in the drink than Ironman.

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TURN ON THE HEAT
Into transition and no hurry to leave. I spent the longest I think I ever have in a transition (almost 10mins) trying to warm myself up as I knew the bike was going to be cold initially. I'd been through this at Ironman UK (teeth chattering is always a good indication you're freezing) so didn't want to get out on the bike. It would be soooo easy to just say 'what the hell', dry yourself off and get a coffee. No one would care. But some little idiot inside your head forces you to get out there. So I got my bike and jumped on for the first of 3 x 60kms loops out and around the flat farmland of northern Holland. Again, the wind was going to be your friend or your foe, depending on which direction you were riding. Sometimes, you would be cruising at 40-45kms/hr, other times 20kms/hr but I think it was a pretty reasonable bike course. The organisers had enough twists and turns to make it interesting and that you wouldn't sit into a headwind for 60mins (just a headwind followed by a crosswind!). If the feared winds in Hawaii are any worse than this bike course, then there is no way I am going to the Big Island! The only consolation would be the winds in Hawaii are probably warm, but in Holland when the rain comes down sideways on the bike course, the winds are anything but warm. Without killing myself on the bike this time (as I've often done in the past but was experimenting more this time) the end came in 5:30 which was fairly slow considering I went faster in Switzerland and Austria, and nearly France, all of which had decent climbs. Another part of experimentation was having far fewer calories on the bike in the hope that I wouldn't feel as ill or bloated on the run. I limited myself to two SIS gels and a Performance Bar on the bike (combined with limited water and electrolyte drink) and felt less bloated as I headed onto the marathon. I also experimented with the timing, type and amount of food in the days leading up.

all good on first loop
Yeah, all smiles and thumbs up on the first loop of the run. You've still got 42kms to go, you idiot. 

LAST ONE
Two down and one to go. Unfortunately, that one to go is going to take at least another 4 hours but I headed out of transition with the objective of just cruising through the marathon. As it turned out, I was able to run quite strongly for the first half, completing the first 14.1km lap in 1:11, then going through the half marathon mark in 1:50. My first walk was at 16kms, although I was certain it would be 3kms after running into a headwind, but then the legs really started to feel the effects on a long season. Perhaps climbing mountains in the French Pyrenees two weeks before this race wasn't such a good idea? It didn't matter, I was giving everything and I was satisfied that pushed out as much as I could. I think in everything you do you always say (after the fact) I could've done better or I could've gone harder, but at the time, you give what you have. Again, the wind was a challenge here with around 7kms of each loop into the headwind. The saving grace was the last 5kms of each loop was with a strong tailwind, so a little helper on the way home. Crossed the line in in 4:02 for the marathon and, although sore in the legs, I felt ok and was happy with my run.

Total race time: 11hrs 22mins (swim 1:31, T1 9:52, bike 5:33, T2 4:49, run 4:02)

coming down
This is the only type of hill you'll find in a Dutch triathlon - a man made one.

THAT'S ALL, FOLKS
It was strange to be back home in my own bed the night as normally I travel and holiday around Ironman. But being only an hour drive away, I had recovered, showered, eaten and was home by 9:30pm. Unlike other races, I had an appetite (perhaps cutting back on calories during the race made me feel better at the end?) and slept like a baby that night. Two days later as I write this, all of the sore points in the legs and shoulders have gone and I'm back to normal. No training for a while though, but contemplating the Amsterdam marathon in mid-October, so will have to do some maintainence soon.

finished another
That's it! Over the line again and it feels good.

Over the past 3 seasons, I've started and finished 5 Ironmans which I think is a pretty good effort. My best and most enjoyable was Switzerland (2007) and then France (first one in 2008). My times have gotten slower since then due to a combination of things, but more importantly, some of the desire has also disappeared. So in 2010 I'm going to have a complete break from Ironmans, perhaps compete in one or two half distance (70.3) events with some friends here in Europe, then see if the desire and time allows for more IMs in 2011. The good thing is that you are never too old to do Ironman, so maybe it will be a few years down the track before I return. It's time to do something different for awhile. In saying that, the last few years have been an amazing experience that I've enjoyed...in a strange way. I've learnt a lot about myself both physically and mentally and I hope it positions me well for the challenges still to come in life.... 

cool down
A look of discomfort as reality sets in immediately afterwards with race-issued space blanket to shield the wind. Note the Finishers t-shirt shoved in the front of my shorts.

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