This blog is derived from my contribution 'A bloody great season' to Dutch Triathlon Federation's bimonthly magazine Transition #15.
I hear the raindrops fall on the colorbond roof of the chalet. First slowly and softly. Then quicker and harder. The wind increases and gusts through the trees. Unfortunately, the weather forecast seems to be right for once. I look at the alarm clock. 3:02am. I want to sleep for another two hours, but the typical pre-race questions are going through my head. What will the swim conditions be like in a few hours? Should I still swap my wheels? Anyhow, it promises to be typical Dutch weather to finish the Aussie tri season today.
Dutch weather conditions. I wasn't used to that anymore after moving to Perth in September 2015 when Milou got a new job. A few months before departure, we both enjoyed the triathlon introduction course at Hellas in Utrecht. And guess what? Triathlon just turned out to be the ideal sport to further discover in Australia.
Fast forward to August 2017 and the triathlon fever developed itself into a virus that I can't and don't want to get rid of. A rigid breaststroke in the pool has made way for a inflexible freestyle in the ocean, the roadie now has TT bars, and it appears that I'm a reasonable runner. Two IM 70.3 finisher medals hang above my bed. But just like all those other passionate triathletes in Australia, I want to be quicker, better, and faster.
I decide to take the plunge and send an email to Mike Gee, head coach and founder of Pursuit Coaching. I tell him I want to get the maximum out of myself this season and ask if there's a spot for a Dutchy in his squad full of fanatic age-group triathletes. "Sounds like you'll fit in," is his answer. And before I know it it's half September and I find myself standing on City Beach at 6.30am on a chilly Saturday morning.
A first day at school is always a bit scary. Especially when that first class is in the by me feared water. Not because of the daily shark sightings here in WA - I don't have that much meat to offer anyway - but more due to the anxiety that sometimes takes over in the water. While not being the best swimmer of the bunch, I immediately feel welcome and comfortable in the squad. I have definitely found a new group of friends and training buddies for the season.
It soon turns out that they are top of their respective age-groups. In a first head-to-head, I am facing one of the guns in a matchup. I see his feet for the first ten metres of the 500m swim, and next time I see him is when I cross the line out of breath while his sweat is already dried up. Work to be done.
Way of life
The next few months the alarm goes off at 5am almost everyday and at 9pm I am laying knackered in my bed. I keep Monday as my traditional restday. To the surprise of the rest of the squad: "Seriously? Do you still get to have a rest day?". All other days of the week are a matter of train, work, train, eat, sleep, repeat!
Tuesday morning is wind trainer time and the evening is for interval run training. Wednesday mornings I jump in the ocean or in the pool, while doing strength training at night. Thursday mornings is a group interval bike training and during my long run in the evening along the coast I am enjoying the sunset. Friday morning I see the sunrise from the ocean to enter the weekend full of energy.
Weekends are flying by. Saturday mornings feel like a sleep in with the brick session starting at 6.30am. A swim, strength ride on the bike and a 30min brick run. I lose track of the amount of Saturday afternoon naps. After waking up I try to squeeze in a late afternoon swim to hopefully reduce my deficit at the start of a race.
Sunday remains the day for my favourite training. A long hills ride. Another 6.30am start to be back before the heat kicks in during summer time. The Perth hills offer heaps of demanding short climbs that go up to 300m elevation. With a lack of stops for apple pie underway, I have to settle for banana bread and smoothies afterwards.
More than last season triathlon becomes a way of life. And I love it. To swim in a crystal blue ocean, riding on my new time trial bike (finally!) in the sun, and a run to cool off with the ocean breeze. What's not to like?
Icing on the cake
The races are the icing on the cake. Pre-season I decide to go for a good result in the Tri Series WA, a mix of sprint and standard distance triathlons. Next to that, participating in the worlds' biggest Olympic distance triathlon in Noosa and doing Ironman 70.3 New Zealand are a great excuse to discover a bit more of the continent.
Early on in the season it's time for Noosa. A race that should be on every triathlete's bucket list. The relaxt surf town breathes triathlon for a couple of days. About 8,000(!) people take part in one of the races during the festival. The friendly and sportive atmosphere in town and the support from the local community make the race unique. Just as the challenge to find your bike in T1...
Unfortunately Mother Nature decides to ruin some of the other events during the season. The ocean is twice considered too dangerous to swim, forcing cancellations of the swim leg. And on the blistering hot day of Ironman WA a shark is spotted forcing the 70.3 competitors to get out of the water as soon as possible. It gets even more Aussie that day when one of the Pursuit guys gets knocked of his bike by a kangaroo, while later on a small bushfire starts along the course. That's Straya for ya, mate!
Meanwhile all the training leads to several age-group podium finishes so it is in good spirits that Milou and I jump on the plane early March towards Taupo for Ironman 70.3 New Zealand and a holiday. The stunning surroundings, the favourable weather conditions, the support of the residents, and two team mates who manage to qualify for Kona, make it an unforgettable race day. Over the next two weeks New Zealand confirms why it's known as the worlds most beautiful country.
Back home there are a few weeks left to train all out for the traditional season ending in WA: Ironman 70.3 Busselton. Summer had to make way for autumn, but it still very much an upgrade from a Dutch summer. The longer and colder nights are slowly starting to make it a bit harder to get up when that early alarm goes off.
But every happily makes the sacrifices. For a lot of the local triathletes Busso is the big day of the season. The race where are all the hard work should pay off. The race that might even decide if you want to register for the full in December. Personally, I want to test myself one more time against the others in my age-group. I drop my restday and an extra hills run it is. Everything that might help me to run a better half marathon coming off the bike.
A week before the race it starts. The oh so recognisable messages are starting to come in: "Have you seen the weather forecast yet?". The local weather app shows sunshine and 23 degrees for the upcoming week. Except for the Sunday. Stormy winds and rain.
I decide to leave the borrowed disc on the bike and start to pump my tires when an official walks by: "Swim is canned! It's a run-bike-run!" It's too dangerous to send 1,200 participants in to the ocean in these conditions. A huge disappointment for both organisers and participants. I quickly shift my focus to what I do can control today. And hopefully I can still control my bike later on in these winds!
The gun goes off and after a 3km run I grab my bike. It feels like I'm lost in the 2015 edition of Gent - Wevelgem. The open areas with cross- and head winds are absolutely brutal. While I definitely feel the legs after 90km, I find my desired rhythm early on during the run. All the hard work pays off! After I cross the line finishing 7th in my age group I see my coach coming up to me: "Congrats mate, it's been a bloody great season!". And that ain't no lie.