Trondheim Triatlon 21.8.2016
FOTO: OLE MARTIN WOLD
On the perfection of race preparation for rookies, and in particular, the swimming part if you are planning to participate in Trondheim Triatlon.
Italy, July 29th. Email. “Velkommen til Trondheim Triatlon 2016”. Oh my! Three weeks only from now and here I am, seriously holidaying by the side of a fancy pool, burning Italian sun precluding any type of serious activity, delicious ice cream, fabulous pasta and liters of cheap prosecco at hand…
Last summer, my foot hurt. Lacking any competitive sports background, I had taken up running at 40, because it seemed like the most efficient way to get fit in a busy life with three kids and a full-time commuting job. It went surprisingly OK, and after three years I was secretly beginning to think of doing a marathon, when an injury made me rethink how much strain that could be on a foot. Looking for a new challenge and believing myself a natural at cycling because I am Dutch, doing a triathlon sounded like a good idea. If in addition some crazy freaks from the local Triathlon club arrange a race that makes you swim from the landmark island right in front of the city you live in – where you have stood wondering sometimes how it would be to escape from the dungeon in that damp castle, and try and swim ashore, well then…
November come, I sat in front of my pc-screen, ready to push that button and make it happen. While at it, I casually asked my husband whether I should sign him up too and he sort of absent-mindedly grumped: ”Yeah, OK, whatever…
So now it was on.
I gave my husband the book “Your first triathlon” by Joe Friel for Christmas and gathered information on all sort of sites. The most common advice to beginners was something like:
1) Focus on your weakest spot, and
2) The swimming is the shortest leg so don´t bother too much about it.
But what if your swimming is your weakest spot? I did not even know if it was a weak spot, I had never swum any length before!
I also became aware that there was a time-limit of 3,5 hours on coming through the swimming and biking legs at Trondheim Triathlon. 3,5 hours, hmm... 50k of bicycling I must be able to cover in two hours. But 2,4 k of swimming – is that far? I didn´t have a clue. Internet again. I looked up “swimming speed average person” and found someone saying “Hey, I am a really slow swimmer (3km/hrs)….” Well, if that is slow, and I am slow, it should be doable… Right? Maybe? With some training perhaps?
I signed up for a beginners´ crawl course.
Meanwhile, we started gathering gear. Bike, shoes, clothes, a more comfortable helmet… We justified our expenses with arguments like: riding a new bike to work is way cheaper than buying a second car, we save lots of money not going to the gym, and hey its has been twenty years I´ve been riding that old tank of a bike of mine!
Of course we also needed wetsuits. My midlife crised self-confidence was craving to worm myself into a rubber suit that would transform me into a Lara Croft look-a-like. And one beautiful spring day there I was, complete with neoprene cap and goggles, at Trondheimsfjordens shore, standing straight, lifting my face to the sun, basking in the glory of perfection. Not.
My boys got a laughing fit. All three of them. For at least twenty minutes they kept pointing at my cap and goggles, rolling over the beach, new outbursts of high-pitched laughter springing from their tiny chests as they were holding their tummies.
You think that put me off?
No Lara Croft look-a-like
My inner Lara Croft got out in the water and tested my wetsuit. Cold at the feet. Cold at the hands. Cold in the neck – eeks! Cold on my back creeping in. I did not put my head into the water, why get my hair wet? I had tried my wetsuit. It fit. And it was tight.
The swimming gradually got better. From never having swum crawl before, choking, inhaling and gulping up water when trying to follow instructions in the pool, after some months I managed to swim a whole length of crawl, 25 meters, without stopping when breathing or going over to breast stroke. I tried to go swimming once a week in the free training hours our municipal swimming pool so gracefully offers.
I swam a hundred meters and realized I had never consciously swum that far before. I went on to five hundred, a thousand. A whole kilometre of swimming! I tried 2,5 km, to know how it felt. One hour and 15 minutes later, the pool was about to close.
I found a cycling pal, or better said, she found me. Friend of a friend, connected on Endomondo, saw my bike rides and took contact. The renewed contact resulted in beautiful trips, her knowing of roads I had never been before. What a present to unexpectedly find a friend and training partner alike!
I kept on running, sometimes on my own, sometimes with a friend, and once with my husband as a coach, drilling me mercilessly. I sometimes almost regretted having invited him along – all of him being so much fitter and faster in everything. Everything but the swimming, maybe. But whereas I expressed my angst and uncertainty, fearing the tightness of the suit, the cold and cramping, he just said he´d be fine, did not need much open water training, was totally happy with a wetsuit keeping him afloat, as long as he could mentally ignore the picture of the giant squid fished up in the Trondheim waters that a concerned friend had sent him.
As a try-out, me and a friend signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon in Steinkjer in June and left about 6:30 a.m. on a nice Sunday. My husband was away, but my parents were visiting and would come after us with the kids.
Was I happy they did not see me swimming.
At the start, my friend and I wished each other good luck and looked at the other triathletes testing the water while we thought we´d do like the half marathon – no warming up, just using the first minutes for coming into the rhythm, or in this case, the water, the cold, the taste.
That was a mistake.
Upon entering the water, blind panic hit my brain. All my sensations were urgently communicating the message that what I wanted to do was to get out of there immediately. It was cold, my throat felt like screwed tight by the suit and the neoprene cap, I felt I could not move my limbs, and the old neoprene socks from my caving days gathered water around my feet and felt like dragging me down. I did not for one second consider dipping my face into the water and within no time, everyone swam away from me, leaving me behind while freaking out on my miserly own.
I turned on my back, at least that way I saw the vast, open sky and got air into my lungs. That helped. I tried some backstrokes. People were cheering us on from the bridge, waving. The swimming leg looked far, the farthest buoy almost out of sight, and we´d need to swim back and forth three times. An urgent-sounding voice inside my head said “Holy sh** that is far. How are you ever going to get there? It is no use. What are you trying to prove? This is not for you. You might as well give up and get out now.” All I felt was stupid, useless and lonely. Why even try? But then another voice broke in and said: “Take it easy. This is a try-out. Before the “out” comes “try”. What´s the matter? Is this far? Maybe. But you won´t know until you try. You swam this length before. You can do it. Just swim to that buoy once, and find out how it feels. You can always drop out after that, if you really need to. Come one, this has taken long enough now. What are you doing here wasting your time whimpering? Swim!”
So I swam. All the way to the farthest buoy, and back against the current. Considered getting out, but decided to continue. Cramped, held on to a buoy and stretched. Continued. Got out of the water as the very last person, and some fantastic people in the public cheered me on as if I was the hero of the day. To be honest to myself, I really was. Dried my feet, put on my biking shoes, geared up. Inhaled with relief. I made it through the swimming! Jolts of joy shot through my body making me push my pedals with double energy and off I went.
Needless to say, I came in last that day, the running also going way worse than I had thought. But it was a magnificent try-out and perfect reality check.
Two-and-a-half months later, together with 250 others, I stand with my feet in the water off Munkholmen, dressed up in wetsuit, cap and goggles, not the least caring what it looks like. It doesn´t feel too cold. I have dipped myself in twice, head included. On the shore side, far away over the smooth water surface, I can see a yellow spot where the banner with the Trondheim Triatlonklubb logo is hanging from a rocky point near the swim finish and I decide to sight on that. I feel warm, a bit nervous, but confident enough. The sun is shining but no excessive heat is expected. I give my husband a hug and we wish each other a good race. Good luck, have fun!
It is going to be a wonderful day.
Three-but-last I finished at Trondheim triathlon. I am still a bad swimmer, but did not panic or cramp on my 84 minutes journey (Geez, was that long!). I am not more than a mediocre cyclist and must be the first nitwit in the history of Trondheim triatlon to take the wrong turn at the Spongdal crossing - Big hug to the motorcycle official who got me back! And I am a middle-of-the-pack runner at best, but crap! after swimming and cycling? Forget it.
But look at those kids fixing us a banner with my friend who took care of them and cheered us on during the whole long day! And look at us three, before the start, boldly hashtagging ourselves TeamNL as if we´re in the Olympics! Yes the men were at least an hour faster than me, and yes they were rigging down the bike stand before I got my bike back from the transition zone but do I care? It was a wonderful trip and I made it all through, enjoying every bit of it, but most of all satisfied with getting through that swim!