8 hours, 26 minutes and 20 seconds, are the Norwegian long course record, set by Gudmund Snilsveit in 2014. Beating that time was my goal. I believed (and still believe) that it was possible, but it turned out to be impossible. This is my race report from Challenge Almere.
Usually everyone in the pro field are ready as the cannon, indicating the start, goes off. This time most of us was caught by surprise as the start went of right before 7:20 and we was so far out in the water that we did not hear the speakers message of one minute to start. The loss and chit chatty mood suddenly changed and we were of. The swim played out like it normally does for me. I try as best I can to hang on someone’s feet, but after about a minute or two my breathing is maxed out and I have to find my own rhythm. The field is away. Then I swam alone until about 2300 meters when I was caught up by Llona Eversdijk, a female pro with the perfect drafting pace for me, but my poor drafting skills made me loss her with only 400 meters left. The help definitely made me nearly hit my goal of a 59 minutes swim ticking over the timing mat at 59:28. By no means good, but the best I could expect.
On the bike I get my fears confirmed. My shape is not good. My heart rate is higher than normal and my watts is lower, much lower. Why I usually go out at around 280 watts I now only had around 240. It have been years since I have started that weak. With only three weeks since Lofoten Triathlon and a flu in the family the last one and a half week I just have not been able to recovery well and get my energy level in surplus. After about 3 km my bottle with liquid gels flies of the bar as I hit a bump on one of the bridges to hard. Surprisingly many people do not take the time to stop when that happens but with 1100 kCal, three quarters of my energy consumptions on the bike, it would be very unwise to get my nutrition from whatever I can pick up in the aid station. While it somehow feels very wrong to stop and turn around, that was best choice. Since I was not able to push good watts I had to focus on something else. Getting my head down and shoulders tucked in. The bike course on Almere is a very well suited place to do just that. While there are some parts that you need to have your eyesight a bit in front of you, most of the time you can have your head nearly clued to the aerobars with just a quick look ones in a while. Especially the 25 km stretch a long the dikes. Some people find that segment a bit to monotonous, but personally I loved it! My watts did actually increase just a bit and with 245 watts and a low riding position my speed was quit good. At the best with some light tailwind I averaged 44,5 km/h on 10 km segments. Of course, when we turn around going south again the former tailwind turned into a headwind. Still the speed was good and I overtook several competitors. I was not crushing it, but my watts were steady and I did not feel horrible. After 105 km it got a bit tougher and with gradually declining power and a small increase in wind strength the last part with headwind was hard. I lost a bit more time than I hoped and came in to T2 with a riding time of 4:28:20, 3 minutes slower than I estimated after the first lap but still nearly two minutes head of schedule. The Norwegian long distance record was my to grab!
I “only” needed to run a 2:54 marathon to reach my goal. That should not be to hard since I ran 2:59 at IM Barcelona last year with poor form. Well, it turned out to be quit hard. I started the first four kilometres at a 3:55 min/km pace and feeling fairly good. The muscles in the inner tights were cramping lightly but nothing major. The fifth kilometre went on 4:02, but after that it went downhill, rapidly. It was hot, but not extremely hot. I recon 25 – 26 degrees and not a single cloud on the sky, but at least some good parts of the course was shaded by trees or buildings. The conditions was similar to IM 70.3 St.Pölten when I ran a 1:15 half marathon just 2 min and 15 seconds slower than Rudi Wild (who finished third in IM 70.3 WC), so in general I am not hopeless in this weather.
The heat hit me brutally, and that is the thing. If you have a weakness in form or a light infection in your body, the heat strips you down to your skin and gives no mercy. My weakness was revealed and I was slowly fading away. Every kilometre was a fight and I was pushing as hard as I could, even if the pace was slow. I knew my goal of 8:26 was clearly out of reach and my PB of 8:36 the same. So why continue? I asked myself the same question a lot of the times. Would it not have been better to call it the day and reduce my recovery time towards Ironman Barcelona three weeks after? I guess regarding performance in Barcelona it would have been better to call it the quit after 7 kilometres, the first of the six rounds. Having my very first DNF at Norseman this year indicate that I don’t quit easily. Quitting is not an option, unless I actually am not able to continue. I have never needed to fight so long and hard to keep going. It was suffering at least 35 of the 42 kilometres. Even if my goal was out of the reach suffering for 35 km has a value. To be able to motivate yourself and to keep going when there is no light in the end of the tunnel is a skill that can be trained as anything else. There is no other way to train it than actually suffer. The run course was nice, and getting cheering from my support crew consisting of Jenny, Jonas, Siri and Michael each 7 km was motivating. Other than that, it was just painful. I was running as hard as I could at 5 min/km, which is 30 sec slower than my recovery pace. Even with 800 meters left I struggled to see the light in the tunnel and had to get all the way to the red carpet, with 100 meters left, before I could slightly increase my pace and cross the finish line. Never before have I longing to cross the finish line for such a long time. It was a major relief to finally be finished. I was nr. 11 in a time of 8:48:52 with a 3:16:29 marathon. Not a performance I will get printed on paper and put up framed on the wall, but an experience I never will forget, and a race that I am proud of finishing.
My goal was not reach, but I am not disappointed. With the shape I turned out to be in it would not have been possible to reach it. Still, that was not known before the race, so it was definitely worth a try. Sitting in my couch feeling sorry for myself and be depressed of failing is not very constructive, is it? There are a lot of positive things to bring out of the race. Swimming was not hopeless. My aero position and bike/gear worked very good. I kept my motivation and had did my fastest 180 km ride despite a bad start. I really tried to reach my goal with the offensive start on the run. I motivated me for a good 2,5 hours of suffering. I experienced a new (for me) and wonderful competition and saw beautiful Netherland. What was not to be happy about again?
In three weeks I am off to my seasons last proper competition, Ironman Barcelona. I am pretty certain I will be in better shape by then. With some easy weeks with strong focus on recovery and quality time with family and friends I am sure I will be motivated to one last hurray this year.
Thanks to my sponsors and everyone who are following me and cheering me along! Thanks also to the Challenge Almere organization and all their volunteers for throwing down on a magnificent triathlon race!