Coming home at the end of June after the Challenge Walchsee triathlon race (3rd place AG) it was time to focus on training for the next race. I had qualified for the Challenge world triathlon race The Championship at the end of August in Samorin, Slowakia, so ideally I would find a race in early August. There were a few middle distance (70.3) options for the next race: Ironman 70.3 Maastricht in the Netherlands, Gdynia in Poland, and Tallinn in Estonia. I’ve never been to Poland or Estonia before so those were quite attractive to me. What are the conditions of these races according to the Ironman site:
- Gdynia: Bay swim, rolling bike, rolling run. Air temperature: 25 degrees, water temperature: 19 degrees
- Tallinn: Lake swim, flat bike, rolling run. Air temperature: 17 degrees, water temperature: 18 degrees
Ok, I’m certainly not getting enthusiastic about cold temperatures for triathlon races and Estonia is a bit more difficult to travel to… This meant that Ironman 70.3 Gdynia was my next destination!
Unfortunately the last few training days in Austria and during the race in Walchsee, I was starting to feel pain in my left knee and right shoulder. Not wanting to ease off for the Walchsee triathlon was probably not helping the situation. Was it being overtrained, some bad technique, or just unlucky, I don’t know but even after a few rest days and easy training workouts after coming back home, the injuries didn’t go away. A visit to my sports physiotherapist (Profess Fysio in Alkmaar) helped me mentally and physically. Of course, the injuries weren’t gone directly but it was helping me in the right direction.
In the middle of July, I had my second Covid-19 vaccination, and have had quite a few vaccinations for my work traveling around the world and never had any issues and having no issues after the first C-19 vaccination, I didn’t expect any complications… Well, unfortunately, the second gave me tiredness, a weak body, and not being focussed for almost a week! That is not what I could have only 3 weeks before Ironman 70.3 Gdynia!
I hit a sharp rock in choppy waters and the rock won. I was bleeding and with some bandages around my fingers and foot, I drove home and couldn’t train for the next few days. That was on the Tuesday before traveling to Gdynia.
At least I was now in complete balance: recovering from injuries on both legs and both arms… 😉
On Thursday evening, 29 July, I drove off to Gdynia. It’s over 1,200 km and mainly through Germany where they have had so much road construction work recently. The drive up to Kozalin in Poland was all highway and went pretty fast (except for those road works of course). For the last 180 km, I was directed over B-roads and through villages with lots of traffic lights, slow traffic, and traffic jams… The amount of traffic and traffic jams increased coming closer to Gdynia. This last section took me well over 4 hours. If there ever is a next time I drive to Gdynia, I have to drive via Bydgoszcz because then you drive on a highway all the way up to Gdynia (although that route is longer, I’m pretty sure it’s a faster and more relaxing route).
After arriving in Gdynia early afternoon and I couldn’t check into my apartment (Kamienna16 Topaz in the very quiet Kamienna Góra district and very close to the Ironman event area) until mid-afternoon, I decided to go for an easy bike ride to explore the bike route of the Ironman 70.3 Gdynia race.
In the following week up to the race weekend, I did cycle the route and parts of the route a few more times in order to remember the challenging sections of long climbs and descents. Especially the descents with a lot of bends where you can’t see the whole turn, I find it’s giving me a confident feeling to know how the bend turns out and if I have to slow down or can continue full speed.
Also finding out there are so many pretty long sections of the route where the asphalt is just beyond terrible (either just on the right side of the road or even the full width of the road) was quite a shock to me. Ok, I might be a bit spoiled living in the Netherlands (and even there I do complain sometimes about the asphalt cracks but after riding in Poland I’ll never do that again…) but this wasn’t even anything close to that. Beyond, beyond terrible. That said, some other sections had brand new asphalt and were a pleasure to bike fast. Hopefully, for next year’s race, all these terrible asphalt sections have been renewed as well… I’ve seen at many other events that the bike route was marked with small signs for athletes to follow but not here so I had to rely on the route that I copied into my Garmin bike computer. Cycling in Poland (at least during the rides I did) isn’t really the safest thing to do. Car drivers are driving like maniacs, they speed everywhere, they cut corners and they cut just in front of you because of oncoming traffic. Even cycling through the city center is a challenge. No, Gdynia and this area of Poland are not bicycle-friendly!
Since Gdynia is at the Baltic Sea, the swim section of the race is in the sea. The water temperature was around 22 degrees so perfect for me 😉 The waves during the first swim were pretty high but they eased off during the week. The weather was actually very good for the first week with air temperatures in the high 20’s (Celcius) but unfortunately towards the race weekend, the weather was changing.
On Friday the wind had picked up a lot and the sea was closed off by the lifeguards (red flags) due to the high waves. On my bike training that day, I can confirm the wind was pretty strong 😉 The forecast of the race day on Sunday wasn’t overly promising either with chilly temperatures, lots of rain, and windy. I decided not to use my disc wheel in these conditions but to rely on my Edco 8 cm high rims instead. They are lighter which is nice for the climbs, fewer issues with side winds but still have the aero and part of the ‘sail’ effect.
For run training in Gdynia wasn’t that easy to find nice roads except for the boulevard along the Baltic Sea but that stretch isn’t that long, unfortunately. I tried to run in the Kępa Redłowska forest but that wasn’t a success so I’ve been going up and down the 1.5 km long boulevard quite a few times instead. There must be more interesting run routes, but I just couldn’t find them close to my apartment 😉
Picking up the start package on Friday afternoon went all ok. Due to the Covid-19 measurements, you had to register for a pickup time slot and there was a long queue but it went pretty fast. After picking up the start package, I went through the Ironman shop, bought an event t-shirt, and received my backpack. The Challenge organization can certainly learn something from Ironman in regards to an event/organization (clothing) shop. That was quite a disappointment at the Challenge Walchsee actually.
The next day was the online athletes briefing which was a bit chaotic and not all questions were answered. Let’s say, I’ve seen better presentations of online briefings. Just the race director talking on camera and no visual presentation of the layout of the transition area, swim bike run courses, and special attention to take. (they should see the presentation of the Challenge Walchsee which was a lot better, although there were some time discrepancies between the Challenge Walchsee athletes guide and online briefing!) After the online briefing was the bike check-in and hanging of the blue and red transition bags on the dedicated racks in the transition area. My spot for the bike was on the rack closest to the swim exit which meant that I had to run with my bike through the whole transition area to the bike exit and of course, after the biking, all the way through the transition from the bike entrance to the rack… Normally the Pro’s and AWA (Ironman All World Athletes) are racked close to the bike exit but not in this race. Not really a problem, but you can run faster without having to take your bike with you compared to running with a bike.
My alarm went off at 2 am… Not normally the time that I wake up 😉 Eating my breakfast and slowly preparing the last few things for the race. At 04:30 hrs, I went to the transition area with a full bag with bottles of NutrID Kerosine, HUUB wetsuit and other swim gear, bike and running shoes, and more things I needed for the race.
The transition area for Ironman 70.3 athletes was only open from 04:30 until 05:30 hrs but my apartment was not far away and I completed all my preparations well in time. No stress and afterward some time to relax, do some stretching, and find a toilet. I don’t know why, but so many events have a very limited number of toilets… Only at Challenge Walchsee, I saw a long lineup of toilets, but in most races, you have to queue up for quite some time. I give feedback after each race but so far I haven’t seen any improvements. Just before 06:00, I put on my wetsuit and dropped off my ‘after race’ bag close to the swim start. It was not that warm (…) and had started to rain and the sea had a nice swell build up.
At 06:00 the Pro athletes start and are followed by the first wave of age groupers. The first wave is up to AG 35 and I had to wait for the start of the second wave at 06:30 hrs. The swim start was a rolling start, meaning every 8 seconds 10 athletes were allowed to start to spread the group of athletes in the swim but also in the transition area.
I started at 06:35 hrs and after a short distance of dolphin jumps and ‘running’ in the shallow water, I started to swim the first long stretch away from the beach. This stretch was about 1 km long, then a few hundred meters across, and then back to the harbor. The swell was pretty annoying! The length was short meaning you’re rocking in the water and it was difficult to find a good rhythm and pace. The sighting wasn’t that easy either. The yellow buoys were the boundary on the left side followed by a red buoy to mark the turn. That one was difficult to see and not much help from canoes. The across section had 3 red buoys (I think) but just after the last one, there was a lifeguard in red, in a red canoe/boat which I shortly mistook for another red buoy but quickly realized I had to turn left to go back to shore. This section had wind waves against us, next to the swell from behind, spraying water over us and rocking us even more. I was very happy to make the last turn towards the marina! Getting out of the water was easy and helped by strong volunteers.
I couldn’t see my swim time when I exited the water but it turned out that I swam the 1,900 meters in 34m29s with an average pace of 1:49/100m.
The blue transition bag wasn’t far away and quickly I got out of my wetsuit (and put it in the blue bag), put on my helmet, put back the blue bag on the rack, and ran to my bike which wasn’t far away either. Then the run with the bike through the transition zone to the bike exit (overtaking other athletes that were slowly walking to their bike).
Since my bike shoes were already clipped on my pedals, I did a smooth flying mount. Then the first few hundred meters was over cobblestones, rocking the bike and athlete until we arrived on the asphalt. Finally getting my feet in my shoes and properly close them. During the bike training, I had to cycle next to the cars and on the bike paths of course and didn’t really have a good idea of the road conditions when there weren’t any cars but it was positive that I could get quite some speed during this first section of the bike route. Leaving the city of Gdynia and biking on the country roads changed this sometimes to the earlier experienced poor road conditions. Especially on the right side of the road where you have to cycle when there are cars on the road as well. Since I was still able to overtake quite some athletes, I was cycling mostly in the middle or left side of the road, staying away from the bad asphalt as much as possible. I was able to overtake so many slower athletes but many of these were of course from the first wave.
I had my own NutrID Kerosine nutrition with me, so I didn’t have to take anything at the nutrition posts along the bike route. My saddle bottle was secured with an elastic band luckily because I saw so many water bottles laying at the sections of poor road conditions. Not 1 or 2, no, 10’s of bottles lying around… If that doesn’t show that the road conditions were bad then I don’t know anymore… I’ve had experienced loss of nutrition during the Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne in 2020 and I know it isn’t great to suddenly swap using organization supplied nutrition if you aren’t used to that brand, type or mixture.
Due to the constant rain and chilly weather, I was struggling on the bike. I was shivering and had chattering teeth almost the whole ride… That drained a lot of energy out of me and I couldn’t really give the power that I was planning. I didn’t really want to ease the power and kept hammering as much as possible. If that was smart or not, I’m not sure. Of course, some athletes were overtaking me but I was overtaking so many as well. Also on the section going back to Gdynia which is a lot of downhill, I was able to get some good speed and overtake some more athletes that were braking all the time. Yes, the roads were still wet and I had to be a bit more careful in the bends as well but my pre-race bike training on the Ironman 70.3 course helped me a lot to have enough confidence to maintain a high speed. The section going through Gdynia, on the railroad bridge which is normally closed for cyclists, and towards the transition area, I finally had a bit more temperature in my body.
Just before the bike entrance line, I conducted a smooth flying dismount (leaving my bike shoes clipped in the pedals) and then ran through the whole transition zone to my bike rack. My bike time was 2h31m01s with an average of 35.7 kmh, not really what I was hoping for. Unfortunately, I felt my stomach for the last half an hour on the bike and knew I had to use a toilet before the run. After racking my bike and only finding one occupied toilet nearby, I picked up my red run bag first. Hearing the toilet becoming free, run to the toilet, get out of my tri suit for a number 2, and run back to my run bag to continue changing for the run. Bike helmet in the red bag and the bag on the rack again. Run to the run exit with the NutrID Kerosine RS+ in a flex bottle in my hand.
The first kilometer on the run course still went pretty good and fast (between 4:00-4:15/1km) but then the long false flat road started… My speed dropped, my energy just drained even more and this was a pretty long false flat section. The way down the same road didn’t feel like it helped me much. Another shorter but steeper at the end section, then to the beachfront. My stomach was playing up again and luckily found another toilet for a number 2. The last section was along the boulevard back to the beginning for the second (and last) run lap. This was tough, very tough and my speed dropped to under 5:00/1km. Painful. But so happy to make the final turn to the finish line! My run time was 1h43m00s, and an average speed of only 4:56/1km.
I think my expression of crossing the finish line was a good conclusion of the day. I was disappointed and completely empty. My finish time was 4h57m23s. I was hardly able to stand on my feet and was lucky to find an empty beach chair to rest and recover a bit. About 5 minutes after my finish the sun came through, my body was warming up, and the weather was actually getting quite nice. Isn’t that ironic, that’s more the weather I like and can perform well. Not the rain and chilly weather we had in the morning.
After crossing the finish line and getting the finisher’s medal, every athlete received some drinks and food, and their finisher’s t-shirt. The food was a chicken or vegan salad which I really couldn’t eat at that moment. I needed some carbs so I went back home to eat, have electrolytes drinks, take a shower, and lay down for a short time.
Late afternoon I picked up my dirty and muddy bike and transition bags and brought these home before going to the prize giving and slot allocation ceremony which was held close to my apartment. There were two Dutch pros finishing with price money but they weren’t at the ceremony. I messaged one of the pros that they won some money, so hopefully, they were able to get it afterward.
In a nearby Italian restaurant, I had a good pasta dinner and by coincidence later met the two Dutch pros. Interesting to hear their point of view and race experience and also how they manage their pro athlete’s life and other topics that came up. What rested was a good and long sleep. Probably the best part of the day 😀
|Time||Average||Rank AG||Rank Overall|
|Finish||4h57m23s||15 (166)||181 (1166)|
Analyzing the results, it’s not even too bad 😉
Rank 12th for the swim is only something that I could dream of a year ago! Ok, my average of 1:49/100m isn’t great, but considering the sea conditions, not even too bad.
And rank 17th for the bike with an average of 35.7 kmh isn’t really bad either. I think in other conditions, I would be able to do better since the cold weather isn’t working out for me.
The run… Ok, not good. A time of 1h43m and an average of 4:56/1km isn’t my normal half marathon expectation.
Finishing rank 15th isn’t great but seeing the results of the other athletes, I think the competition was pretty strong at this event. The age group winner was just over 30 minutes faster than me. The swim time was about the same but on the bike and run, he gained half an hour on me. Even though I performed poorly due to the weather conditions, I don’t think it was a possibility to finish on the podium.
My overall result compared to other Dutchmen (no Dutch females in this race) wasn’t too bad. There were four pros, one athlete in AG 50 (4h53m, ranked 4th) and then me (AG 45). In total 17 Dutchmen were competing in the Ironman 70.3 Gdynia race.
The next triathlon race isn’t far away! I’ve qualified for the Challenge world triathlon race: The Championship, which is in Samorin in Slowakia in 3 week’s time at the end of August. So it’s time to recover from the Ironman 70.3 Gdynia, and then focus on The Championship! The situation will be completely different: swim in the river Danube, bike along the river (apparently long and fast straight sections), and then run around the event area.
I’m interested to see how that will go along with only other qualified triathletes to compete against but be assured, I’ll give my 100%!