70.3: A race to remember- Claire La Manach

claire race picLast Sunday I raced my first 70.3 and it was a full-of-lessons experience. I am quite a newbie in triathlon. I’ve done a sprint and a couple of OD before. And an Ironman. I know, it’s not quite in the right order but unexpected events happen and you have to deal with them.

In August, I met Neil and Diana on Bianca’s advice and have been training with them since September. Before I knew it, January was there with 70.3 just around the corner. I am getting a bit nervous about the bike course. And the run course. Well about almost the whole race.

Sunday morning, 7.50 am, wave 7 is on its way. The start is smooth; I actually don’t remember to have hit anyone. After the first buoy I am all by myself in the middle of the ocean and can only see the yellow and red buoys along with a few kayaks. I have no clue where the other ladies are, but I don’t really bother and keep swimming. As long as I can see the buoys, I should be fine. At the second buoy I catch up with the green-caped men. I manage to make my way through the green madness to the beach and go up the transition area only to meet more green and red guys. They are lying and standing all over the place. I think I actually went to the men’s tent, because there was no way through to the ladies’. I grab my bike, which Neil and Diana have desperately tried to make better. It’s fitted with Diana’s wheels, which are awesome. So off I go on the bike course that I fear so much. I put my timer on 30 min to remember to eat. Eating on the bike is not what I do best. I can clearly see Diana’s word on my last program every time the alarm goes on: NB – Don’t forget about nutrition. Yeah I’ll try not to!

The first half of the course goes well. These wheels are awesome! The wind is light at the beginning and I am having lots of fun. I am passed by a flying Kirsten Schut. I heard her coming from the back with this “whuush-whuush” sound that fast people with a fast bike tend to make. I keep riding. I am expecting other ladies to fly pass me. (I was passed by 900 people in Zurich so it doesn’t really bother me anymore. I’ve named it the “festival” and am always ready for it to happen at some point). Close to the turn-around point the wind gets a bit stronger and it doesn’t look very promising for the way back. Which is confirmed as soon as we cross the bridge. A strong head wind is blowing and I remember thinking this wasn’t gonna be fun. It goes actually quite fast to the 60km sign. And then for some reason everything seems to slow down. My timer goes on. I have to eat, except that the bars and gels don’t look very appealing anymore. I feel a bit nauseous. The wind is making my mouth dry. I have to drink all the time. I am craving a banana. Which there is not. So I go back, reluctantly, to my bars – and gels. I imagine Diana saying, “ I hope she’s taking her nutrition”. Yes, I am. I am eating right now! The last 20 km feel really long. “Where is the 80km mark?” I am starting to feel tired and the wind isn’t helping. 80km. I am hating the last uphill bits. But then it is flat and we reach the city again. Transition is coming, and the bike part is over. My plan was to come off the bike at about 3h40. I am at 3h36. Perfect timing. I drop the bike, run to the transition bags on my cotton-wool-feeling legs and wonder: “How the hell am I going to run 21km on these legs???”. I have to do a pee-stop. All the bathroom doors are saying free, so I rush to the closest one. A guy is in there.  Every time I open a door, a man is standing there peeing. “AAAhhhhh Can’t you close your door!!!”. I have to run all the way down to find a free toilet with actually no one in there.

I exit the transition at 3h40, which gives me 1h50 to do 5h30. That still seems doable. Except that my legs aren’t really there anymore. The run doesn’t start very well. We are welcome by a strong head wind on our way to the lighthouse, blowing sand all over our already sweaty-sticky body, making it itchy. My legs are weak and I feel like I am more shuffling than running. Never mind. Run. At the bottom of the hill I have what Dave Scott calls a “what now moment”. I am not running the way I want to, my legs feel like rubbish. I start to walk. I know I shouldn’t. Just for a bit. I see Tracy coming down, looking strong. Ok. Enough now. Run. At least to the next aid station. This hill is a killer. I am craving a banana. What is it with bananas when I race? I never eat bananas… Have some gel. Walk. NO! Run. Jeeez I wish there was a banana.

The last stretch before the turnaround seems really long. I thought it was at the top of the hill but it’s actually a good km away. The way back is a bit easier. Viviane Williams passes me. She is flying. It gives me a bit of a kick for a while. At 10km I am at 53 min into the run, which is still OK, considering all the walking I have done. I pass the finish area, but on my way to the lighthouse, I have a hard time again. I have to find a solution. Quick-quick. I remember an article about nutrition tips by pro-triathletes and Dave Scott (again!) talking about coke “At some point you need something that goes straight into your body – this is coke”. I don’t like coke. Have some coke. So I do and it seems OK. The acidic-fizzy taste feels actually quite nice at that stage. I finish my run on coke. I see Colleen crossing the finish line. I still have 10km to go. I walk up that hill again. “Sheesh Claire, STOP walking!” At 14km, I look at my watch and decide that if I really want to finish around 5h35 (because I am definitely out for 5h30), I REALLY have to shift into a higher gear and stop walking. So I run. Run. Run. Spilling coke all over my body at every aid-station. I am feeling better now. 16km. Run. 18km. 19km. Run. 20km. RUN! I cross the finish line in the middle of guys, probably more of the green- and red-caped ones, 3 min away from my revised 5h35 target, which I am happy with. Later I find out that I am 4th in my AG, 1min30” from the 3rd place and that Bianca was telling me to go harder from Cape Town. But I “heard” her too late. Mmmmh, surely I walked too much on that run and let it go a bit too easily… Bittersweet lesson.

I have 10 weeks to run better and faster off the bike. Which means I probably have lots of work to do on the bike AND the run.  I have 10 weeks to get stronger in my head, and to trust myself a bit more.

I have 10 weeks to make sure I can get some bananas along the way.  But I know now that coke can make you go a long way on the run and that moaning doesn’t make you go faster.

Looks like there is still a lot of work to be done! Happy training.

(Oh. At the final aid station, there were loads of bananas. I went for the watermelon!)