My first triathlon : l'Ironmanneke

On Sunday 15 May I did my first triathlon, the Ironmanneke. Here's my account of that thrilling day, which is sure to become the first in a long line of triathlons!


Preparation before the triathlon

I got up at 6:30 a.m. so I'd have enough time to get everything ready. OK, there wasn't a lot to do, but I always prefer to get up and get ready too early and have a bit of extra time, rather than be late and have to rush around, adding unnecessary stress to proceedings. As my dietitian advised, I drank 500 ml of water before breakfast, and I had a meal of rice cakes, black coffee, yoghurt, honey and protein-rich cake - the breakfast of champions!

Once I had finished breakfast, I prepared the meal I would eat three hours before the event (rice, peas, turkey and spices to add some flavour) and I started to get myself ready.

Julien laughed when he saw my leaving checklist. "Bike? Do you really think you'd forget your bike?!" Well, you never know! It's so big that I might just overlook it! I prefer to write everything down - at least that way I won't forget anything! I had everything I needed: helmet, sunglasses, visor, cycling shoes and running shoes, a change of clothes and wash kit, ID card - and I was ready! Nervous, but ready!

We left the house at 9:45 a.m., so we'd have time to load up the van, get some fuel and stop off quickly at the shops to buy some fruit (yes, I'd gone shopping the day before, but I hadn't got enough fruit to last until Monday…).

It was almost 10 a.m., time to eat my meal and then set off for Evere! Of course, as it was Sunday, the roads were pretty empty and we got there in good time. We arrived at the NATO building at 10:40 a.m., and were "gently" reprimanded (you could see the hate in his eyes though) by the guard at the coach entrance "The event opens at 11 a.m.... you're early... it's a bit of a problem... there's a race on... it's not the easiest thing to organise... well, you're here now... too bad... in you go..." OK, but I was like, dude, if the event opens at 11, people aren't going to arrive at 11... but, anyway, he still let us in after all that.

An hour later, with my bib, electronic chip, sticker and box of chocolates in hand (Newtree chocolates were given out with the bibs) I went back to the van to get changed and go on a recce around the course on my bike. In theory, it was supposed to be 18 km long in two loops. After the first lap, I found out that it was actually shorter than that, because at the end of the course I had only clocked up 16.8 km. It was quite a comfortable course, but I had to be careful, as there were a few holes and bumps to avoid if I didn't want to damage my bike! But there were quite a few places where you could use your large chainwheel and small cog and go like the clappers, if you know what I mean!

At 1 p.m., after dropping off my things at the transition park, I decided to go straight to the swimming pool to soak up the atmosphere and get rid of some of my nerves.



I started at 1:30 p.m. and we had to "hit the water swimming", so to speak. We didn't have the chance to get into the water to do a quick couple of warm-up lengths. Instead, I was still putting on my goggles (non even in the water) when the lady started the five-second countdown! A girl was blocking my way into the water, so I politely made it clear she should move, otherwise I was going to dive onto HER, but by hook or by crook, I was in the water four seconds later. I had planned to dive in and push directly off the wall, swim for my life until I'd overtaken everyone, and then go at a more leisurely pace after that.

Except... Except two other girls in my lane had the same idea! We were all doing front crawl for the first 100 m. I was swallowing water, I couldn't breathe, I pushed my arms so hard that it started to burn, and at the back of my head I was saying to myself "Come on, you don't need your arms to cycle and run, so go for it!" Except that it was impossible to breathe properly. I wasn't taking in enough oxygen because of the swell, the effort, and the water I was swallowing. I knew I could keep up the pace for another 25 m or so, but I was going to burn out for the rest… So I decided to let the other two go ahead and kill themselves trying! I wanted to get my breath back and save my heart rate... and my arms too. I finished my 500 m in 9’14". I pushed my arms so hard that I was worried I wouldn't make it out of the water (at the deep end)! I took my hat off quickly and ran off. The path to the transition park was quite long (OK, 1 minute) but I couldn't run fast because I'm not so hot at barefoot running and I was scared of falling over.

Swim-bike transition (T1)

I got to the bike park, which was when I had to pull myself together. I was trying not to waste time, but not forget anything either. I grabbed my socks, shoes, helmet, sunglasses, had a quick drink, and then I was off. The girl who had got out of the water first was still in the park and we left at the same time. At the end of the day, it's all well and good to swim fast, but if you don't practise the transitions, you quickly lose your advantage… (note to self... note to self…). My first transition took over two minutes, and because of the weather conditions that day (grey and cold) I'd packed a jacket and thermal for the cycling. I was so fixated on not wasting time, that I managed to leave without them!


I took off on my magnificent B’twin Triban 540 to conquer Evere, and as I was cycling alongside the NATO building and building up speed I suddenly realised how cold it was, and looking at my bare arms I thought "Dammit, I've only gone and forgotten my jacket!" OK, I told myself, never mind, let's look on the bright side: fewer clothes meant I would dry off more quickly and they wouldn't slow me down as much (and my present self is ever so grateful for the cold I caught…). Despite doing a recce on my bike (during which I'd focussed mostly on the holes it turns out) I was switching too often between my small and large chain wheel. I would whack on the large one, then think a climb was coming up, or an easy stretch, so I'd switch down, but no! It was further along... So I didn't gain much time on the first lap, but on the second lap I really tried to push harder, while still keeping in mind that I had to run 6 km after that, and that I'm not used to running that far (especially not after swimming and cycling). On Julien and Nicky's advice, I started pedalling fast before the end to warm up my legs, so that the run would be less of a shock! It took me 38’34" to do 16.84 km! That gave me an average speed of 26.2 kph with a top speed of 38.3 kph. I think that must have been the wonderful straight, flat section where I used my large chainwheel and small cog to the max.


Bike – run transition (T2)

So then I found myself back at the bike park for the bike-run transition. This was by far my fastest transition. I took off my shoes, put on my running trainers (thank goodness for elastic laces), my visor, had a quick drink and I was off! My second transition took around 30 seconds, and I was quite happy with that compared to the first one.


Then I set off for my 6 km run. I didn't even know if I had to do one or two laps. Inside, I was praying there would be just one, because that's less discouraging if you know what I mean! I set off very slowly. The running was the part of the event I was the most apprehensive of. It's not my usual sport, and with my history of weak cruciate ligaments, I took it really really gently (perhaps a little too gently, but I'm fond of my knee), so I was really careful. But, in fact I was feeling great and I kept saying to myself "If you are tired, slow down, take shorter strides, but whatever you do, don't give up before the end." I was running, feeling good, feeling lighter and lighter, and my feet weren't hammering the ground (unlike many of the runners overtaking me). It gave me the impression that they were exhausted and that they were finding the race difficult. One of my aims was to finish the race feeling good. I really wanted this first time to be a pleasant experience, a good memory and especially, something I'd want to do again, but better next time. I also wanted to see what time I could get without pushing myself too much (well, I pushed a little if I'm honest.)

Getting back to the running, we ended up cutting across a path that we took during the cycling, and that's when I knew there wasn't too far to go and that it was going to be OK. I quickened my pace a little, and tried to run more rhythmically. I thought about what Julien had told me "Stand up straight, keep your head up" (yeah,because otherwise I run like an old lady - what of it?) When I felt I was getting near the finish line (or at least, what I thought was the finish line), I tried to up the pace again a little. Except that the finish line was further than I thought, and I still had another lap round the track to go, durrrr! I told myself that it wouldn't kill me to keep going, so after my lap on the track I pushed ahead again to cross the finish line, completing the 6.01 km race in 36’39"! I surprised myself because I was running at between 9.9 kph and 11.2 kph, and never went over 177 bpm!


photo running

So I completed my first triathlon (500-16,8-6,01) in 1 hour and 28 minutes (on the clock)! My aim was to finish in two hours tops, and ideally in 1 hour 45 minutes. And I wanted to finish without completely burning out. In fact, I finished with 17 minutes to spare, and what's more, I felt great when I finished.

As for the official results (I still haven't synchronised my watch…)

17th out of 30 in my category (Ladies Seniors)

Swimming: 00:10:16 9th out of 30 getting out of the water

T1: 00:02:50

Bike: 00:36:56 and I arrived 12th out of 30

T2: 00:02:24

Running: 00:36:47 26th out of 30

Total time: 01:29:12

There are some discrepancies between these times and the times on my watch, because I didn't necessarily scan it when I went past the terminal. I scanned my watch at the transition park entrance and exit. For example, my second transition was really fast, but the time spent on the path makes it longer.

I think I could have done better, pushed harder on the bike and increased my running pace. But that wasn't my aim. Not for the moment anyway. For my first triathlon, I really wanted to get an average reference time, to see what I'm capable of and also see how the stress would affect me.

In any case, I am so grateful to Julien who took loads of photos of us, and supported me during the day and the days leading up to it (I'm not the easiest person to live with when I'm stressed, except if you give me chocolate… hmm) and to the people who were there and who cheered us on. It was a real pleasure to share this day with the other members of the club and our dietitian (an absolute machine - he finished second in the overall rankings and first in his category, completing the race in an hour), our partners and children, those who were beginners and those who had come with their eyes on the prize. And, as well as having a great time because it was my first triathlon (and I still can't believe I did it), it was an amazing day because we did it together, all different levels in the same race, and I'm sure we're all proud of each other! Well, I'm proud of you all anyway! Thanks too to the people who encouraged me with comments on the blog, Facebook and even Snapchat! Thanks to Manu, my coach since March. I think that the fact that I was able to really enjoy this day from a physical point of view is down to his training from the start. It's getting a bit like the Oscars with all these dedications!

I'm already looking forward to the next one, and it's providing me with more motivation and goals in my training! During the race itself, I couldn't wait to finish it to see how it was going to turn out. But once I'd finished, I was a bit disappointed that it was over already. I'm already thinking about doing longer distances, but as usual, at my own pace. Why not aim for a 70.3 in 2018-2019? I've got time to do some sprints this year, some olympics in 2017, improve them in 2018 and run some half-marathons, and do an Ironman 70.3 in 2019. And if I feel ready before then… Watch this space!

Sorry for the long article, but to be honest, it was impossible to sum up the day in just a few words. I wanted to share all the details with you in this article! The short version is on Facebook.

Now I'm a real triathlete (a slow beginner one), but a triathlete all the same!