*** many thanks to Finn Zwager for this race report ***

Race Venue

After racing IM South Africa in April, I decided to do a half distance and The Holland Triathlon early September seemed a good fit as they were putting on a half distance for the first time in their 30 year history.

Despite being such a long standing race, attendance had suffered over the last few years. The race organisers appeared to lack (marketing) money. This was perhaps because it’s not a 'branded' race such as the Iron Man or Challenge series.  Also, as Almere (close to Amsterdam) is not a particularly interesting place to visit it’s likely nobody outside of Holland has ever heard of it.

In fact, there were such money difficulties that the race very nearly didn't take place. But, by moving the race venue from the outskirts to the centre of town at the lake, and by adding a half distance race, and throwing in some entertainment, they managed to get close to a 1000 participants over two days (there was a school and business tri as well). Hence the 30th Holland Triathlon, which also served as the Dutch (and more or less Belgian?) National Championships went ahead.

One advantage of a non-branded race was that the entry fee was 100 euro only. A nice change from the hundreds normally needed to compete in an Iron Man branded race.

Preparation

Training for the race had been going quiet well over the summer, with a ‘secret training camp’ during a two week holiday in the Dutch province of Zeeland.
[Yes, the province New Zealand was named after when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman set foot there on behalf of the Dutch East Indies Company in 1642. He didn’t communicate well with the Maoris and after a few seamen and Maoris got killed he left in a hurry - what a shame!]

Zeeland, like the rest of Holland, has hundreds of kilometres of cycling tracks. Perfect for hanging out with my girlfriend, which is what Sam (my wife) calls my bike as it gets more time and money spent on it than her, apparently.  Perhaps to keep an eye on me, Sam came along every morning. Being a very fit and competitive girl, she was a great training partner. Every morning started with at least an hour on the bike and I just added the rest of the T2A training program to that. That hour or so extra every day in TZ1 probably added a bit to my bike fitness and negotiating some of the narrow and bendy tracks to my bike skills.

After a quick two weeks of work in Dubai, I flew to Dusseldorf to pick up my hire car (thanks Mr. National car hire Dubai!) and drove to my parent’s place in Holland two days before the race.

Planning a 15-15-15 swim-bike-run I used the Friday to check out the course and register. The swim course proved very straight forward and the water a pleasant 20 degrees. The visibility under water was enough so see the very shallow bottom and all the weeds. 

Checking out the bike course turned out to last 45 minutes, but was well worth it as it covered all the tricky bits in and out of town over cycle paths, bridges and roundabouts, with a couple of sharp turns. I didn't bother with a run course reconnaissance after that as I had done too much already and I didn’t expect any surprises there. Almere is after all built on reclaimed land and is dead flat.

As I was drinking lots and lots of fluids to be fully hydrated for the race, which came in handy for the run, the rest of the day was mainly filled with finding places to pee.

Race day

A 4:30am start to the day with breakfast in the car. I could park the car 100 meters from the transition/finish area - another advantage to a smaller race with 364 participants in the half distance, 77 in my age group of 45-50, plus only another 300+ competing in the full distance or the relay race.

Bike check-in was at 6:30, two hours before the race. An hour later I watched the full distance triathlon get under way. The weather was brilliant, with the sun rising over an almost flat lake and a temperature of 17 degrees, heating up to 25 later in the day (that is a cold winter’s day in Dubai!)

Swim, 1.9KM, 31min 35sec

GPS plot of swim leg

I got in the water 15 minutes ahead of time for a warm-up swim. The start from the water was quite civilized, not much pushing and shoving at all. The first leg went to a buoy 500 meters straight ahead as you can see in the GPS plot below (I carried the watch under my swim cap to get accurate readings). 

I found a good rhythm soon, but never any nice feet to follow. Everybody was too fast, too slow, or going in the wrong direction.  That was my excuse at least, but swim positioning and drafting is a skill I need to work on. More on drafting later...

Although I worked hard and the swim felt quite fast, I was bit disappointed looking at my watch when running out of the water at 31 minutes and a heart rate of 142 BPM. On the swim leg I was only 110th fastest overall, but at least still 19th in age group.

I thought I’d better not waste time in transition and managed to get wetsuit off, helmet and shoes on and run to the bike mount line in 2min 54sec.

Bike, 90KM, 2HRS 31MIN

As I mentioned, the start of the bike course had a couple of sharp bends, and some small bridges to cross. In fact, the first 15km and the last 10km of the two 45km loops were on mostly very nice and smooth, bicycle path. As you can see from the Google Street View picture with my GPS track overlay below, the cycle paths are quite narrow, which could have been a problem for over-taking. But, as there were not so many participants, it generally worked out fine. 

Google Street View with GPS overlay

[No, I did not swim across the water nor plough through the bushes, the GPS overlay just didn’t line up perfectly with Street View. ]

As I wanted to get to the part of the course where I could just stay in the aero bars, I pushed hard the first 15KM. I then eased off a little to keep my heart rate under 140. That was going on feel rather than science, as my last aeroscan had been 6 months prior and I didn’t know exactly what my training zones were (140BPM on bike had been close to anaerobic zone during the last scan).

I started feeding on the bike straight away sipping from the litre of Ensure+, the high calorie formula for malnourished babies and sick people (and triathletes). I finished my Ensure+ towards the end of the bike ride and drank some water as well, which meant I didn’t have to stop for additional food or drink at the two bike aid stations.

After the first 15KM, I just raced my own race using my heart rate and power meter for a bit of guidance. That is what long distance triathlon is supposed to be, right? Clearly not everybody had the same idea though…

Drafting

Drafting 'Dutch Style' is something else! On this race I lost many places on the bike ranking to drafters. Not only was I was passed by groups of two/three mates working together, which perhaps can be expected from time to time, but also by 10 men pelotons. Some of those pelotons had a system going of taking the lead in turn and the cyclist at the back looking out for the draft busters. The race was ‘perfect’ for drafting as there seemed to be only one draft buster on the whole course and, since the half and full distance were held at the same time, it was easy to form a natural alliance if you hooked up with a cyclist who was definitely not a competitor. I didn’t join the crowd!

GPS overlay of the two lap bike course.

After some time my back started hurting, but I knew from Iron Man experience it likely wouldn’t bother me during the run so I mostly ignored it. I did slow down somewhat towards the end of the bike leg, which was mainly because I lost focus/concentration a bit and because I was (trying to) pee on the bike. I’ll spare you the details of the latter, but what I will say is that I never stopped for a break during the entire race.

In the end I only had the 129th fastest time on the bike overall, 25th in age group. Definitely still room for improvement. T2 went smooth again at 2min16sec.

RUN, 20KM, 1 HR25MIN

Yes, the run distance for a half is supposed to be just over 21KM, but I only measured just over 20KM on my watch. The organiser must have created the course slightly short. Nobody complained.

My run strategy was simple: Go hard the first 10KM and harder the second. I had no target heart rates or speed, just go! And that is what I did.

two lap run course GPS plot

What made that all a lot easier is that I was passing people all the time and nobody ever overtook me. That is an advantage of my run being my strongest triathlon event and of being a bit back in race position after the bike. This way, I always had somebody ahead of me that I could focus on to run down next and I was steaming through the field of competitors.

I drank water the first 10Km and switched to coke on the second lap. I was aware I wasn’t drinking quite enough as it was difficult to drink from cups handed out by the aid stations while running fast. I thought it was worth the risk as it was sunny, but not too hot compared to training in Dubai. It worked out and perhaps the hydration the day before saved me from disaster.

The run became really tough in the end as I gave it all. I was put in the medical hall straight after the finish, but that wasn’t as serious as it sounds. There were quite a few people in there and all it really meant was a seat and free food including ‘Limburgse Vla’ (a Dutch treat from the South of the country) and drink.

After eating some of that ‘real’ food, a nice change from baby formula, and chatting to other athletes, I left to pick up my bike and drive back home.

My run was the 24th fastest overall and 2nd fastest in the age group.  A good day’s work!

Dataman

Despite my best efforts Coach keeps insisting on his nickname for me: “DataMan”. This paragraph is to make sure I don’t disappoint him…

Be warned, unless you are a tri nerd, you should probably skip this part.

Swim

Not too much to say. The Garmin 310XT swim data isn’t very sophisticated and not quite what I’d like to see, but I doubt that buying the 910XT will make me swim any faster.

The speed was quite fast in the beginning, which is logical. I probably let it drop a bit too much until about 8 minutes. Then I had a reasonably stable portion up to 25 minutes, followed by a more erratic one towards the end. That could be a combination of some course corrections (looking up) towards the finish ramp and getting tired.

Bike

Cadence: Pretty constant around 80 rpm. Maybe I should push a bigger gear next time?

Speed: The average speed of 35.5 km/hr was not too bad. The drop towards the end was likely due to a lack of concentration, getting a bit tired and having a pee in the saddle. 

Heart rate: The drop in the last half hour was interesting. Partly it was due to the factors above, but partly it may also have been efficient (low drag) biking, as my power output was still fairly constant.

Power: I was quite pleased with the average watts. Producing 262 Watts for 2.5 hours is not nothing!

Run

Cadence. One of my tricks for running fast is high cadence. I kept mine at an average of 89 with very little variation.

Speed. Pretty constant with an average of 14 km/hr (4min17sec per km). I died a bit towards the end, but managed to find something for the sprint to the finish.

Heart rate: Science was out the window here and I ran as fast as what I felt I could survive. The plan was to run the second half faster, which didn’t really happen, but the heart rate shows that is certainly was a harder effort the second half.

Bike fit

Wired up for the bike fit

After four 12KM time bike time trials the week before the race, I felt that I was using too much power for speed. I had a bike refit at Retül and ended up with a lower position on a new aerobar. This was taking a bit of a risk and I normally wouldn’t experiment with new gear and set-up so close to a race, but I think it worked out. But, for real proof I need to repeat the 12KM time trials in the next few weeks.  Koos gave great service and I’ll go back from some fine tuning.

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