That First Spring Weekend

That first weekend , when its sunny and just barely warm enough for shorts is very special here in the Netherlands. Everybody will go out dressed way to optimistically, the terraces will be flooded with people and the atmosphere is very jolly. Last weekend was suck a weekend. As a mountain biker, its also a great opportunity to do some riding.

This year we were lucky in that it has been dry for a few days leading to this weekend. The trails were proper dry by the time weekend was upon us.

Saturday I did not have a lot of time so I managed a short ride on my fixie. Even though it was short it was very relaxing. There is something to be said for the simplicity and focus of riding fixed that really helps clear the mind. I checked later and it was exactly a month ago that I last sat on a bike saddle.

Sunday the weather was even better and I had more time on my hands and so I rolled to Amerongen. The last few days have been dried and so I expected the trail there to be in good condition. I was not disappointed. There was very little mud and I could push hard. It was months since the last time I rode my mountain bike so I considered taking it easy. For the first 20 seconds. Then I put the hammer down.

The last few months have been incredibly busy (home renovations, a new baby). Training had to take a back seat. Having trained very little the last few months, I was curious as to how much my fitness has regressed. The only way to find out was to push as hard as I could and see what happend. I hammered through Amerongen, pushing as hard as I could. By the time I was up the Amerongseberg I was feeling low on energy. I ate half a bar, took a few deep breaths and continued to Leersum. I started Leersum pushing hard. I could feel power returning to my legs. These new duursport bars were proving their worth. The Leersum trail flew by and in 20 minutes I was finished and ready for round 2 of Amerongen. By now my legs were in constant, but manageable, pain. Munching on the second half of the bar, I started my second run of Amerongen.

About half way through, I started getting cramps. It was time to go over to chill mode. Pushing really hard voor over an hour without warming up (I know I know, bad idea), and without some training buildup was taking its toll on my legs. I finished the trail run in chill mode, crawling up the last climb.

Only when I got back to the car and got of the bike did I notice I was grinding like an idiot. It think the grind took hours to disappear. It felt so good to be back on a trail. When I got home I looked at my data. These runs were my 3rd fastest ever runs on both Amerongen en Leersum. Not bad. I even managed to ride a few PRs, which is a great boost to motivation. I can't wait to get back.

Utrecht Triathlon

This was it. My first triathlon. Almost a year's worth of training was coming to conclusion. It was time t see what this was really all about. Having given up on actually getting a good time due to my horrible swimming, I was relaxed. I felt almost free. Tim has cancelled at the last moment and so I was going at it alone.

There are a big advantage to racing in your own city. you know the terrain, you can easily practice the route and the registration station is close by. I cycled there early to pick up my racing plate and went back home to get everything ready. My bag was already packed so it was a question of doing a last check and heading for the start for warm up.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the order of things, and still I managed to make mistakes. I knew the warm up order should be reversed to the order in the race. Running -> Cycling -> Swimming. I don't know if its normal to triathlon or not, but this race had 2 different transition zones for biking and running. For some reason I started by laying down my running transition, even though It should have been my first warm up.

Half way to the bike transition area I realised I was doing it wrong but figured I'd just put the bike at the bike transition area and go back to my running shoes later. Only once I was in the bike transition zone I saw you cant actually get material out before the race. So I had to live the bike there, with the bike shoes and the only pair of socks I had. No warming up then.

Lesson 1: Set up your transition after you warmed up.

Lesson 2: Have a pair of sock per transition point.

I walked barefoot back to the running transition. Luckily it was on grass so I could run barefoot. I managed to get a bit of a warmup in the transition area running barefoot. It was actually quite relaxing to run like that.

About 10 minutes before the start we gathered at the entrance to the water and got a short briefing. The water was quite cold when we got in, colder than it was tuesday when Tim and I swam in the canal. Listening to the advice in the Triathlete Training Bible I settled somewhere at the back and to the side. A few more seconds and then the gun shot.

Start shot

Swimming

Even though I was at the back it was still one big mess. People swam over me, I swam over other people. It took a few minutes for everything to calm down. As I expected I was in the back. I was going slow, and not in a straight line. I was in damage control mode. Half way through, I was the last, and by a big margin. about 300m before the finish, I switched over to breaststroke. That's the one swimming style I actually learned as a kid. I managed to pass 2 people just before getting out of the water. At least I wasn't last man out. My swim time was 178 from the 182. Bad.

Climbing the stairs up I was feeling dizzy for a moment. Luckily there was a volunteer there to give me a hand and help me with the last two steps. I wanted to run to the transition area. To my surprise everything felt stiff. It was like I was going through jelly. Slow and tiring. Never had this feeling before. I got to my spot and took a gel. Then it hit me.

My stomach all of a sudden blew like a ballon and it hurt. A lot. It was difficult to move form the pain. I took my time at T1 trying to manage the pain. I figured I would best put the cycling gloves on while running to the exit. Bad idea. I had to stop twice as my bike almost fell.

Lesson 3: Either get completely dressed before leaving your transition spot, or put it on while riding.

Biking

Biking is what I knew best. Its also where I was hoping to climb up in position. My stomach unfortunately had other ideas. It was hurting a lot. It was difficult to remain in aero position, and it was hard to push. Time trial riding is a lot about managing the pain in your legs. With my stomach hurting so much it was hard to push my legs to hurt. I was also unable to drink. Every time I drank I almost threw up. I had to accept I was not going to get a lot in and just make with what I have.

The biking part was made of a 10km course we had to lap four times. The first lap I took it easy, adjusting to the change in sport and doing mental damage control. The second lap I was able to speed up and lap three was even faster. In preparation for running I reduced the speed slightly in lap 4, getting ready for the switch to running

Running

Running I got of the bike and took a step. My stomach exploded in pain. No way I was going to be able to run 10k like this. I walked slowly to my transition spot and took my time changing shoes. I tried to run and had to stop again. To much pain. The thought of dropping out crossed my mind. Just for a second. Enough for me to know I was not quitting no matter what.

I started with the light jog. The pain was there but it was bearable. As I took a gel out of my pocket and slowly started sipping from it. As I got more into the run the stomach pain was getting to more manageable levels. Again it was hard to push with the pain. I was passing people, but not as fast as I had hoped. halfway round 2 I spotted a group of about 8 men about 200m ahead of me. I really wanted to pass them so I sped up. My body would have non of it. My legs protested, as you'd expect, but this time my stomach was supporting them. I was not going to catch them. That broke my spirit and my speed dropped. I just wanted to finish the race. It felt a relief crossing the finish line.

Finished

I finished 144 of 182. Not great. However considering my swimming performance I am not unhappy. The experience was not what I expected. A triathlon is quite different from a duathlon. Swimming really has a big impact on how the race feels. It might be that as I grow in distance that impact will lessen as the percentage of total race time decreases. I will have to wait and see. I learned a lot from this race and I am looking forward to my next triathlon.

Cross Duathlon Norg

The winter here is to cold for swimming and so I was going to try duathlons as an alternative to triathlons. Its definitely not the same but it is as close as I can get. Its a good way to learn transition which at least partially (bike to run) is identical to triathlon. A cross duathlon was even more up my alley as it involved mountain biking instead of road biking. And so I found myself heading to Norg, a 2 hours drive, for my first ever multisport event.

Parcour

The race had two loops. A running loop and a mountain bike loop. The running loop is 1.5km long and the mountain bike loop is 5km long. The race is 4 running loops (6km) followed by 4 mountain bike loops (20km) and then finishing with two more running loops(3km). I figured I can do this in 2 hours in my current state and so set that as my target time1.

I arrived about 40 min before the start, got my start number and changed. Something I noticed in the dressing room was that the racers here had a belt around their waste. The belt is used to hold your number. This is useful not only for protecting your clothing from needle holes, but also to shift the number to the back when you are on the bike. I got into the transition area and tried to decide where would be the best place for me to place my bike. I figured that taking as straight a line as possible through the transition area should be the best line. I placed my bike accordingly, putting my helmet and shoes on the far side from where I expected to come. By this time it was 5 min to start. Damn, there would be no warming up. I jogged a bit until we were called to the start line to get ready.

Start

I had no idea how fast people start on these events so I placed myself at the back of the pack and a little to the side. If I am faster, ill pass people easily enough on the side, and if I am not faster, well I’m at the back anyway. The start sign was more a yell then a shot, which was kinda sweet, and reflects the small and friendly nature of this race. The start went pretty good and within seconds I already passed a few people. I looked at my watch, I was already almost at zone 4. “Start anxiety” I told myself. I was keeping pace with the lead group and it felt good. I did have to let them go though as I was trying to stick to the plan. I failed and spent most of those 6km going to hard. Still people were slowly passing me.

These kids were a great chear

Finishing the run and getting on the bike took 1 min. Not fast, but not bad for my first transition ever. Getting on the bike felt great. “I know this” was echoing in my head. Even though I was still going hard I was more relaxed. The mountain bike loop was a good mixture of short technical passes with rolling hills and lots and lots of single tracking. Passing was tricky in most parts of the loop. Normally thats not really an issue for me but here, I was passing people regularly. I was passing people and that felt good. I know I am not racing the other people2 but hey, who doesn’t enjoy this? Close to the end of the fourth and final lap my stomach started hurting so I decided to skip the last gel. I entered the transition area running, set the bike in its place, switched shoes and I was off. Again, less then a minute on transition.

Loved the mtb part

In the middle of the first loop my legs started cramping badly. Skipping that last gel was a mistake. And so with cramping legs and pain in my stomach I finished the first loop. Nora and Rob have arrived and cheered me on, and that sure did help. The pain was still there but my spirits were up as I did the last loop. I even managed to sort of sprint to the finish.

And I'm done

It was great fun and a good experience for me. I learned a lot and I met my target time of 2 hours.

Lessons

  • Arrive more than an hour in advance
  • Make the race plan a week ahead of race day
  • Try better to stick to the plan
  • Don’t skip your gels

Looking forward to my next race the Hilversum Duathlon next month.


  1. Not having run in over 2 weeks, and this being my first offroad run in years I figured a pace of 5.40 is reasonable. 

  2. Not on my level. I am racing myself and the clock. At least I’m suppose to. 

Been out jogging

It has been over a year since the last time I went for a run. It was never really my favorite sport, and once I started cycling, there really was no point to it. Since I am on a bike break, I figured I would go for a jog. I didn't go fast nor far but somehow ended with real muscle pain. I would have thought all that cycling would have helped, but it seems there really is a big difference here.

Eiger Challenge

This was it, the big one. What I have been looking for all season. Even though it is not the last season of the race, and is not included in any cup or championship I am participating in, it was what I had set as my main target. This is the real deal. Mountain biking in actual mountains. And there are few places in the world with as famous, or beautiful, mountains as Berner Oberland.

Eiger Trail

The original plan was to go 4 men strong. Then Erwin broke his arm, Tim his kneecap and Sophia realized she just does not have the time. So here I was on friday 13 of august sitting alone in my car on the way to Switzerland. And I was glowing with joy. Because I was going to Switzerland, to ride my new mountain bike, that I got two days before. In view of the Eiger. This was happiness.

And yet I was also worried. There was a time limit set for the 88 km race. The course was basically a big loop and a small loop. To be able to continue to the small loop, you had to pass back through Grindelwald within 6 hours and 15 min from start. This mention I had to be way faster then I ever was in a marathon. The distance, 54km was not that long. However there were around 2700hm in that distance. That alone is more then I have ever done in a race. An then there were the extra 1200hm waiting on the other side of the time limit, which I needed to do if I managed to make the time limit. You can see why I was worried.

The day before

Saturday I wanted to get to know some of the course and also to get to know my new bike. Like I said I just got it two days before so I was still not completely comfortable with it. Looking at the course I decided to take the bus up to Grosse Scheidegg, thereby skipping the first 1000hm climb, and head out from there. On the way up I saw some bikers practicing the climb. Respect for whoever climbs that much the dat before a race.

View from Grosse Scheidegg

From Grosse Scheidegg the course goes to First, then down and back up. Somewhere after First I lost the actual race course. And frankly it was a good thing because I ended up on this awesome singletrack that was keeping me happy for a long while. Eventually it ended and since I could see no more signs for the race, realized I have gone of course. Luckily I spotted someone marking the course further down and he sent back on the right track. After a short hike up the mountain, which I will end up cycling down the day afterwards, I was back on track.

I rode for a while more until I started feeling my legs. It was time to call it a day and head back to camp. My legs will have all the exercise they will need tomorrow. Descending to Grindelwald was great fun. I rarely get a chance to descend over 1000hm in one go. Quite enjoyable. After a shower and a visit to the pasta party (yey energy) It was time for the bed. Lying in my sleeping bag I was going over the track for one last time. Opening with Grosse Scheidegg 1000hm climb at 9%. A climb to Feld, A climb to Bort that is 25%. After Bort its a descend all the way to Grindelwald for the time limit and then the last long climb to Kleine Scheidegg, 1000hm at 9%. I figured I need to be at the top of Grosse Schiedegg within 2 hours to make the time limit. Setting the alarm to 5:15 in the morning, I went to sleep.

Race day

Getting out of my tent, the moon was shining above Kleine Scheidegg, giving the world a silvery glow. I could not have imagined a more beautiful start for the day. I gathered my stuff, got my bag ready and headed to the finish zone, where breakfast was served. It is not often that I eat spaghetti for breakfast, for today I made an exception. In the meantime I was starting to feel the excitement combined with fear I feel often before a race. This time there somewhat more fear because of the time limit. Not helpful I know but I couldn't help myself. It didn't help that I go the number 23, which means I was starting at the front, with all the really fast people.

The start zone was downhill, which was good because I got to relax a bit on the bike and get everything going nice and easy. I got into the first box 5 min before start. I locked both suspensions as I knew it was going to be 11 km of climbing on asphalt and I intended to be as efficient as I could be.

Start

Start

As can be expected the start was a sprint. It does not matter how often I tell myself I am not going to sprint at the start, somehow I get carried away and do sprint the first 500m or so before I get myself under control. I got passed by most of the field right of the start, but I tried not to care. I was here to finish, not to win. The climbing started through Grindelwald and I was settling on a nice pace. We were out of Grindelwald, and I was going with a group I suspected would climb at my speed. Then this guy told me my rear wheel looked kinda empty.

And he was right. I stopped to pomp it. Next to me stopped an man whom I think was mid 60s and looking very fit. He asked if I needed help and I told him that no, I was fine, Then I disconnected my pomp and the ventil went with it and all the air was out of my binnenband in 2 seconds. "Bloody France ventils" I cursed. Luckily the older guy had a pomp that clams instead of screws on, so I was able to pomp it back up. Before I was ready to go I had already lost about 10 min to this. by this time everybody was past me and I was dead last.

The old man was not in the race, but likes doing the climb with the racers, and so we started climbing together. He was clearly a better climber then me. I refused to let a man almost double my age get away from me so I was pushing myself harder then I planned to, and he was clearly holding back so, so that we could climb together, passing a few racers on the way up. I was at the Grosse Scheidegg 1:20 after start. Way better then I dared hope. I was starting to be confident in me making the time limit. Saying goodbye to the old chap, I spent another 10 min pumping up my rear tire to acceptable level. Then it was of to First. This part I already knew as I did it the day before, so I had more time to look around. Berner Oberland is just beautiful. I did notice that even though I was pushing myself harder, I was not faster then yesterday when I was taking it easy. The climb to Grosse Scheidegg was already taking its toll on me.

Working through it

Eiger Challenge

The start of the descent from First was super technical, and like most people, I walked most of it. I think that with some more riding time on my Liteville I will be able to cycle down such technical terrain. The next few km where fire roads, gravel and some singletrack, all of it beautiful. Then I came to the climb up to Feld. The path up seemed to go on and on. I was already starting to feel the race in my legs and for the first time this race, I stopped and walked some of the part. I came across two kids offering sponges with water to cool of. Here I was on a mountain side, no building in site and these two 6 year old kids are here to help. I was moved.

Unfortunately I was not moving fast enough. About half the climb up to Feld I did walking. At the top I met another 88km contester and we cycled on together. Going down from Feld was fun and technical. What a wonderful descent it was. A shame that this trail is closed the rest of the year as I am sure it will draw quite a crowd. Even going down I was not going as fast as I hoped, mostly due to just how technical everything was. The course was going mostly downwards with here and there some short climbs of 20-60hm (guessing here). Then we hit the 25% climb to Bort. Guess what, everybody was walking it. by now I was surrounded by people doing the 55km, that has started an hour later, but had time to catch up as their course did not include the climb up to Feld. It was a long, steep walk up to Bort. I made the top there and looked at my watch. 5:15. I had a full hour for what I remembered was pretty much all the way down. Pff, easy. Only it wasn't.

The route was going down, with a lot of small climbs on the way. It felt like for each 20m descent there was a 10m climb. This part also had the most singletrack in it. Which is great, unless you really want to make time. Every time I stared on the descent I was getting all optimistic, and with every climb I was doubting I would make the time limit. I glanced at my watch again. 6 hours flat. I had a quarter of an hour to go and no idea how much further I had to go, and in front of me was 10m, 20% climb. At this point, I gave up.

Eiger challenge

My pace went down, and I was preparing for failure. Then I heard Paula's voice in my head telling me how I give up just before it actually matter. "Not this, time", I told myself, "You are going to stop trying when the timer hits 6:15 and not a second earlier.". So I gave it all I got. I attacked everything. Uphill, downhill, corners. I was giving it everything I had. Seven minutes later coming out of the woods, I passed two regulators. One of them looked at his watch and called, "8 minutes!". " I know!", I answered going as fast as I could. Then I was on asphalt.

Putting in the highest gear I had, I was going full speed. A guy from the 55km, saw, me coming, and saw that I was from the 88km race so he got in front of me to break my wind. I was very thankful. Then I saw it, the sign for the 88km to go left. I look left, and the road was closed. "NO!", I looked at my watch, 6:10 I still had 5 min. Only then did it register in my mind that at the bottom of the sign it said 150m. I was sprinting again full of hope, and yes, 150 meters latter, with 5 minutes left I took the corner and started on the climb to Kleine Scheidegg.

Finishing

Eiger Challenge

It was another 11km long, 1000hm climb. This one half asphalt, half gravel. I half walked the way up I think. I was tired, my legs hurt and I was feeling nauseous. Nevertheless, I kept going. on the way up, I even passed someone. Its good that you can see Kleine Scheidegg from about 2/3 of the way as it helps with motivation. As I was approaching I saw the people in the post were folding their tent, and again fear struck me. Was I too slow? did I climb all this way just to be disqualified. Luckily, they were early, I still had 15min on the time limit.

The view from Kleine Scheidegg

Passing the highest point I knew it was almost all down from here, with 2-3 short climbs. The way down was fast. At the climbs I took no chances and attacked as hard as I could. The course kept going down, and down. Grindelwald was in sight! Almost there. Almost. Then I was in Grindelwald. Coming in at the bottom of the village, there was just one climb left, that to the finish. Up I went. Passing the finish line after 9 hours and 12 seconds. To me, it felt like I won the race. After just one year of cycling, I finished this very challenging race. Even now, a week later, I still feel like I won.

Self-Massage for Cyclists

Over at Bicycling magazine there is a piece about self massaging for both pre and post riding. A few years ago, when I was doing a lot of rock climbing, I got in the habit of doing self massaging before starting a climbing session. It has proven to be a very good way to not only improve my climbing on the session but also reduce injury and pain after the session. I am curious to see if this has the same effect on my mountain biking. It is certainly worth a try.

A reminder

I was feeling somewhat demotivated to ride after all the trouble I am having putting my new bike together. Today's ride in Amerongen was not only a lot of fun, it also reminded me that mouton biking is about riding your bike, not what bike you'r riding.

I needed that reminder