The night before
The race briefing took place at our hotel (Arts VIP Exec), where we learned that the course is a little bit quirkier than advertised at registration. Apart from switch back corners of the bike and run, we were also told that there will be no toilets available from the minute we are in the water till we get to the first aid station on the run... that is 1.9 + 90 + about 3k into the race. And this after spending the last 4-5 days hydrating ourselves to the max, which meant going to the loo every 20 minutes. Lovely. Traditionally there is also a pasta party before all the long distance races. What we didn't expect is the funeral-like feeling at dinner - perhaps we weren't the only ones nervous? We forced some pasta-looking food down that tasted of absolutely nothing and went back to our rooms to prepare for the next day.
Wake up at 4.45 to beat the breakfast queues, then dash back to the room, pick up bike and everything else that we will need during the race and head down to rack the bike. We got there around 6.15, only about 20 people in line so got through swiftly. There were race staff walking around, made us move bits in our designated basket if it stuck out by more than a cm... I guess they didn't joke about regulations. The sun was just coming up, and by the time we finished there was a 400m queue to get into T1, so we took our time to go to the loo one last time.
Because of the long queue, the start of the race was delayed by about 20 minutes. There were no clocks anywhere, nor was there any announcement on what is going on. The Olympic race competitors were in the water first, had three waves before we got in. The water was cold, and we could barely find other women amongst the crowd of men around us. Manuela and I got to the start line, about third row slightly to the left. We barely starting sculling when the start horn went off. Lots of feet in front of me, so I was going to keep my head down for a while and just follow the white water. After about 20 strokes though I had a feeling we are not going straight and sure enough, looked up and the group was going to the left too much. So I left them, found clear water and went on my own till we had to swim under a bridge. The first turn was coming up, so things got a bit cozy with others around. Made it through and waved at Kenny, our Lisbon Aquarium mascot that sat in the water close by. I found some draftable feet for about 1/3 of the first loop, then abandoned him as well as he was not going the right way. Second loop was done without any drama, except that I touched something hard when swimming under the bridge. I was later told it was a pipe under water. The exit from the swim was on this rather narrow ramp up next to the wall. We had to get in line in the water even to get to it, and were not allowed to run up as it was a bit slippery. This was wasting a bit of time, but could not do much about it. Unfortunately there were also rocks underneath, and I managed to cut the bottom of my foot slightly. But out of the water, straight into T1, which was an amazing sight with the majority of the bikes still in. Felt strong, took the swim conservatively as planned, so was ready to tackle this little bike coming up.
The bike started uneventful, apart from the roughly 200m cobble stones we had to get through to get out onto the roads. My heart was pounding in my chest, but I kept hearing my boyfriend's voice in my head telling me to just calm down, not to start eating yet, just get the legs going. Got through town, bit undulating roads with a few speed bumps, then onto the highway. Aaaaand into the headwind. (Thank you Lanzarote for preparing me for this with your relentless headwinds this last training camp!) Whoever wrote '100% flat' for the bike course, must have been doing a different route because after about 3-4k, it was gradually going up. The last 4k uphill lead us to the welcomed turn around point. What goes up, must come down, and sure enough we were all getting as low as possible on the way back, enjoying the speed again. My max speed on the bike was 51.3k/h, felt like a dog sticking its head out of a car window. The first loop my legs felt very tired, wasn't sure whether this is normal, so just kept the speed low, then gradually picked up. Had some hip pain, I think it was mostly due to my saddle setup, made mental note to move it back a bit and higher for next time. To make the bike course the required length, we had to do a couple of switch backs, which meant single line and speed reduced to almost zero as the turns had some gravel too. The bike course was 4 loops, the aid station was at the end of each loop, offering bottled tap water, banana and I think some energy bars. I had two of my own bottles prepared so ended up taking only one water bottle from them. I also had 6 gels in total, the last one I forced myself to eat before getting off the bike. The entire bike course was basically watching the latest bike magazine live, everyone had amazing bikes, there was an orchestra of disc wheels flying by. On the second loop Manuela passed me on the way back to the city, she is a beast on the bike so was fully expecting it. I witnessed a very nasty crash in front of me as three speedy guys were ever so slightly drafting, and all of a sudden they heard the hum of the course referees coming up from behind on a motorbike. It was a non-drafting race, and they were in the red. However, something flew off of one of the bikes, they all swerved and one of them ended up on the road, skidding for a painfully long time as this was just in the middle of the downhill section. The motorbike stopped right away, and I had enough time to get around it all. A little bit freaked out, kept my head higher to watch for anything else happening ahead. The last turn to T2 took us back to the cobble stones, which after the almost 90k of smooth surface felt like was going to break me AND my bike. But all went well, didn't fall off the bike (which is what I was afraid of), and even stopped a few metres from the dismount line.
Unfortunately T2 looked the same as T1 did... except it meant the opposite this time. Most bikes were there, though I have noticed a lot of bikes missing from the row around us (women, my age group). Changed shoes, helmet off, neon orange cap on, extra shorts off, some more sun lotion and I was off.
My legs were tired, but didn't feel as bad as I thought they would. As you can see on the picture, the run started on cobble stones... and continued on cobble stones... then gravel, and then back to cobble stones and uneven concrete somewhat broken up by tree roots. Never ran on anything like that, it made me look where I step the whole time. The first two laps there were a lot of incredibly fast runners around still, then they probably finished and those of us who were doing it for fun rather, stayed. My knee pain was coming and going but it was very dull, so didn't give me too much grief. There were three aid stations - the first one didn't have water (?!?!), but offered FIZZY coke. I'd like to know who came up with this idea and make them run whilst drinking that. It made me burp for half the run, even though I tried to swoosh it around in the cup to make it as flat as possible. I didn't feel like taking any gels, just wanted (flat) coke and water. I dumped 2 bottles of water on me each loop of the four, and drank about a bottle too. On the first loop I ran straight into one of the 4 toilets on offer. I cannot believe that the entire race had 4 loos in total to use, for competitors and supporters together. The heat rose to about 30C, so sunscreen was a must. Lan had finished her race already by then (she came in 3rd female, and 17th overall in the Olympic race, so not a beginner!!). I asked if she had any cream on her as I ran past, my underarms started chaffing as I washed off the suncream with my regular showers. Lan had some 50+ suncream, which was squirted on the back of my shoulders and armpit and life was much better again. Well, considering. Manuela and I saw each other once or twice during each loop, she was going strong. I noticed a few girls around me, some who were in my age group (whom I overtook), and some who had remarkably fresh clothing... then I realised there were a lot of relay teams. As I started my last loop I saw a muscular dude bent over at one of the corners, red and probably just feeling dead. Everyone said a few motivating words, patted him on the back... I had a bottle of water in my hand still so I thought it will probably help as I dumped half of it on him. :) Never looked back, but I'd like to hope that he appreciated the cold shower and helped him to get going again in the heat.
- Swim: 33.13 (can definitely push it more next time)
- T1: 4.26 (no, I didn't have tea, but I was very nervous about forgetting things so took my time)
- Bike: 3:04.09
- T2: 2.39
- Run: 1:58.59 extremely happy with a sub-2 hr half marathon within a triathlon
- TOTAL: 5:43.26
(All pictures courtesy of our amazing support team: Lan and her magic bag that has all you will ever need - from pins, loop counting bands, suncream and a very good phone camera.)
Thank you for all the believers, all the help and support and my trusted little group of advisors, Chris, Martin, Manuela, Lan and Harry.