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Antwerp Race Report!

August 1, 2011

Hi everyone,

I wrote this race report for the Half Ironman training program, where people have been sharing their reports following races. I figured I would share it here and post some photos as well. Enjoy!

Race report: Antwerp, Belgium Ironman 70.3

I was pretty nervous/excited for my first 70.3 race and also excited to be in a new city. I arrived in Antwerp on Friday evening with Bram, my fiancé. We took the train from Amsterdam and had two large backpacks on our backs. Luckily, we found an apartment to rent so didn’t have to pack much food as we could cook and prepare food there. The forecast for the day of the race was rain, rain, rain. I was mentally preparing for this, but hopefuly Mother Nature would cut us some slack.

On Saturday, we registered and dropped off our sneakers + nutrition and other gear for T-2. This would all be there waiting for us when we arrived in the transition area. We grabbed some pasta at the pasta dinner and I scoped out the competition. One thing I miss about Tris in the US are all of the other female athletes. I think of the 1500 participants in this race, maybe 300 were women, but even that number seems a bit high to me. Coming from DC and the DC Tri Club, the gender imbalance throws me off a bit. Other than that, everyone is super fit, super tall, and pretty European looking.

The night before the race, my nerves were on edge and I had a tough time sleeping, but luckily on Sunday I woke up to cloudy skies and no rain. For the rest of the day, not one drop of rain would fall either, which was amazing!

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The swim

After racking our bikes we headed over to the swim area where I was one of maybe five people with a sleeveless wetsuit. Everyone else was in full-sleeved suits. I was nervous I would have trouble breathing due to the cold, but the water was about 63 degrees and didn’t bother me much. The toughest part was the wind. The water was the choppiest open water I had ever swam in, and I had trouble at times keeping on the correct side of the buoys. The waves were 10 minutes apart, which was great, as it gave us all time to spread out. I noticed that swimmers seem to be more relaxed and less aggressive in the US, but still super fast.

I’m a slow swimmer so was happy with my time of 48 minutes.

T-1

Getting to my bike was not a big problem, and getting everything set to go was simple. We had to put all of our swim gear in a blue bag provided to us, so that everything could be transported to T-2 to be picked up after the race. The biggest issue with T-1 was the fact that it was a cobblestone area. Its not really possible to run very fast in bike shoes to the Bike out.

T-1 time: 4:55

Bike

I really loved the bike course, but it was unbelievably windy. After about 3 miles, we headed into this tunnel and on the downhill I got up to 33mph, which was very very fun. The two rows of lights that lined the ceiling of the tunnel and seeing bikers everywhere, made it a bit surreal. Unfortunately, a man did crash this early on in the bike and I saw his extremely still body lying on the ground with a lot of blood. It turns out, this guy was a medical student living in Belgium and passed away in the hospital later that day. The race organizers have donated money to his family and the race is also soliciting donations for them as well. I feel terribly that something like that happened during the race.

The rest of the bike course was a good challenge. I felt like I was being put through a wind tunnel most of the time and on the slight downhills that came around every so often, I usually felt that I had to pedal hard just to go 15 mph. My speed on the course ranged from 22-23 mph with a good tail wind and dropped down to 11 mph at times because of the headwind. Of course, it always feels like most of the course has the head wind sine it takes longer to get through.

The course was three loops for the most part and went through a very industrial port area of Antwerp. I loved this. It felt like I was biking through a transformers’ playland, with colorful cargo containers juxtaposed against the grey clouds, wind turbines spinning at a pretty decent clip, huge tankers and ships in the water, and random machines and trucks I had never seen before. With all of these huge buildings and machinery rising over the course, seeing these wee little bikers going back and forth through this landscape was pretty powerful. It was inspiring to see all of the power that was coming out of us wee humans.

At around mile 50, I calculated in my head that I could finish the bike in under 3:30 so I just pushed, and pushed and pushed. For some reason at mile 55.5 I realized I wasn’t that close to the finish yet. I’m not sure if my bike computer was screwed up or if the course was a bit longer, but I ended up clocking 60 miles on my computer. Whatever the case may be I was very frustrated as I wasn’t sure how much longer I had to go and was pushing as hard as I could to get it done. I ended up finishing the bike in 3:38.

T-2

Nothing really to write home about. Slipped on my shoes and was off. 4:51

Run

The run was very different than the bike. It was three loops through old, historic Antwerp, which is a pretty beautiful city. There were patched of cobblestone here and there, but for the most part the course was flat and smooth. The sun started to shine which was nice.

A few things made the course tough. I’d been having some pain in my knees and ankles after about 8 miles or so on runs, and Sunday was no different. We also had to pick up these bracelets and could only finish the race when we had three on our wrists. There was no sign or indication of where this area was and over the course of the run I kept wishing this area would come sooner than it did, which I think also had to do with the lack of adequate kilometer markers. I first saw the 10km marker, then the 5km marker and completely missed the 20km marker. Even though they were loops it was a challenge to figure out exactly how far I had run.

Another challenge was the fact that for the entire course we were running by restaurants, bars, and cute shops. Running has become my least favorite of the three sports and I felt like the Belgian-beer drinking tourists were a big tease. Another thing I have notices about races in Europe is that the spectators only cheer for people they know. There aren’t throngs of cheering people just screaming for anyone. Because of this, I felt like we runners were a big tourist attraction.

I reached the finish with a run time of 2:19. Considering that I just barely broke two hours at the National Half Marathon back in March, I was happy with this time. Overall, I finished the race in 6:54:27.  Woo hoo! The winner of the race finished in 3:45 and the first female finished in 4:21. I was 1095 out of 1149 finishers. So, yes, I’m pretty slow. However, I have to say I absolutely loved the race and the distance and am more committed to the sport (and getting faster) than ever before. I was also super happy for Bram who finished in 5:35 with this 70.3 being only his second triathlon ever.

I would not recommend moving overseas a month before ones first 70.3 as it kind of threw a good deal of my training out the window. But I have no regrets. I think the Antwerp course is really great and is organized well, so if anyone from DC Tri is interested in racing it next year, let me know!

After the race, we walked around the center of town, found a restaurant, locked up our bikes and proceeded to drink Belgian beer and eat some good ol’ Belgian fries. It was great!

The rest of the season will hopefully include an Olympic distance or 1/3 distance race later this summer or early fall and also the Amsterdam half-marathon, where I aim to beat my previous time of 1:58.

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