doubleultratriathlon Emsdetten

When I planned my 2019 season, the main focus was originally the Swissultra Continuous Deca (38km swim / 1800km bike / 422km run). In preparation one or two ‘shorter’ ultra-triathlons seemed like a nice plan…
When it turned out that the Swissultra wouldn’t host a ‘Continuous’ this year the plan changed (and my Deca moved to 2020), and the ‘doubleultratriathlon Emsdetten’ changed from a ‘training race’ to an ‘actual race’… But still with a focus on gaining experience towards next year!
‘Emsdetten’ is completely different from my previous ultra-triathlons: when I did the Double and Triple Brutal, there was a lot to distract me from the race itself; since that event takes place on such a beautiful course it has always felt more like an expedition than a race. Next years Swissultra has a slightly different format (a pool swim, and insanely short bike and run laps), so ‘Emsdetten’, which has equally short laps, is a perfect race to see how the mind deals with that mental game…

Preparation has been going pretty well; physically I’m in shape, although there have been some ups-and-downs, but that’s part of the game, so I try not to focus on those (a hard crash on my shoulder during a trail-run last month had me a bit worried, and the last two weeks my achilles has been acting up, so I haven’t been running as much as I wanted…). Mentally I’m stronger than ever; since next years Deca is such a big plan, where (obviously) the physical part is important, it’s sometimes more about the mind staying strong enough to push the body forward. So since my Deca-ambitions became more and more real, I’ve been working with Daniëlle (animo sportpsychologie) to build my mental power (you can train your body, but you can also train your mind!). And for this race there’s a plan, and I’m excited to go out and see how the head reacts to a multi-short-lap course!

 

The Emsdetten DoubleUltraTriathlon – IUTA world cup race

7.6km swim – 360km bike – 84.4km run

Part 1 – The Swim
7.6km in a 50meter pool
(152 lenghts)

Saturyday morning I find myself poolside, surrounded by an awesome support-crew (Daniëlle, Linda, Thijs and Daan), ready for a weekend of racing… There’s nerves, of course, but it’s the right kind of pre-race nerves, and I feel pretty good. I enter the pool, have a short chat with the fellow-swimmers in lane 8, and of we go!

…the calm before the storm…

My swim-plan is insanely simple; just try and relax, take it easy, and don’t get distracted by other swimmers… Don’t try to follow a faster group, don’t get frustrated when stuck behind a slower group, it’s a long race, and the swim is all about conserving energy! So I start at the back of the group, and after a few laps the group splits. When I get overtaken for the first time I’m surprised. Not surprised to be overtaken, but surprised how I’m overtaken… Although there’s plenty of room, it seems that overtaking here is done with a lot of pushing… Or, in another few instances, overtaking is done exactly at the turning point… It’s a messy swim (with even one athlete who thought it was a good idea to stop in the middle of a lane a few times to chat with his support), and I’m completely frustrated by it (when I later see videos of me swimming my stroke is pretty uncontrolled, so clearly I’m not doing what I normally do in the pool!).

…it might not look good, but it gets the job done…

But there’s a plan, so I try to ‘block’ everything that happens around me, and focus on the task at hand: swim 1500meters, eat, drink, swim another 1500meters, eat drink, and repeat that until done… My crew is providing food at the right times, and before I know it it’s time for the final 1500m.

…food, food, food…

With 100meters to go the ‘lap-counter’ will put a sign in the water to warn you that you’re nearly done, but with just over 200meters to go I start to wonder… “What if I miscounted, and this is actually going to be my final 100m, that would be nice…” Then again, I hardly ever miscount in a pool (give me a 19km pool swim, and I swim 19km, not a lane more or less), and this time I counted right as well… 200meters to go, but still, I’m disappointed that I don’t get the ‘100meter-to-go’ sign. On the bright side: this ‘doubting my ability to count laps’ made me smile, so I did enjoy the final 200meters (where, for the final 100meters, I eventually did get the sign…).

Now out of the water, and into transition…

Transition runs smoothly; it takes me about 10 minutes to get onto my bike, which is not too bad in an ultra (where on a ‘normal’ distance every second counts, on this distance the plan is to be as ‘comfortable’ as possible, since that’ll save energy in the long run!). I get dry, get a change of clothes, get a bit more nutrition in, and then go for a long run with my bike towards the start-line… (the ‘exit’ of the transition area feels almost as long as the entire run-course!)

Now onto the bike!

Part 2 – The Bike
360km on a 4.4km lap
(82 laps)

The bike-lap is pretty straightforward; first a 300meter ride through what I started calling ‘the pit-lane’ (a short out-and-back section where all the support-crews pitched their tents, so it’s quite crowded), then turn right onto the lap, a short and steady ‘climb’, turn left, turn left, turn left, and straight into ‘the pit-lane’ again.
The bike-plan is as simple as the swim-plan; stay in my comfort zone, don’t get distracted by what others do, and just ride and eat… From the first lap on I’m completely in my own little bubble of happiness; I ride, and I decide to use 2 points on the course as my ‘markers’ for nutrition. It doesn’t matter what happens today, after the first and third turn I have to get food in!

I have divided the 82-lap course into chunks of 10-laps, and after every 10 laps my crew hands me new food. The first series of 10 laps are gone before I know it, and so are the second 10 laps. Funny to see that the volunteers who are directing traffic at the turns are really supportive, and I’m wondering how long they can maintain that energy (it turnes out they can maintain that energy throughout the entire event!).
I’m riding steady, and even with some light rain in the morning I’m just really, really happy on my bike…
People have asked me before if such a short-looped course wouldn’t be boring, and I can now answer; yes… but… It’s also very ‘easy’ on the mind; I find it strangely comforting to be in my bubble and not be distracted by new input all the time, and just focus on the task at hand (although I do love the distraction of a nice long ride with beautiful views, but that’s just for another time!)

After 180km I stop at my support-crew for a short ‘break’. The plan is to put on some fresh socks (not to get into details; but I’ve learned over the years that riding for a long time with wet/sweaty socks can cause all sorts of foot-issues… and there’s still a long day ahead!), so I get off the bike, get some new socks on, and get handed a small bottle of electrolytes. I drink a bit, and it doesn’t feel like a smart plan, but I try to do as my crew tells me and try at least to drink half a bottle (which I’m not sure I actually did… but I did try!). Back on the bike it takes me about 10meters to know something is going wrong, and is going wrong fast… Food is coming back up, and I feel as if a will be vomiting any second now… This is a “logistical problem”; I’m in the ‘pit-lane’, with traffic going both ways, so on my left there’s cyclists passing closely, and on my right are the crew tents, so closely packed together that there’s not a space between them… Then again, I know that these support-crews have probably seen worse, since this is all part of the game… Luckily I make it to the turn-around point, and my stomach slowly seems to settle down… Until 150meters later, right in front of my own crew, it all comes out…
I feel miserable, and for a second I fall into the trap of ‘feeling sorry for myself’. I’m lightheaded, and when I ask for a sip of coke one of the other support-crews hands me a can (I just love the camaraderie of these ultra-events; everyone is helping everyone!). After a few sips I feel ok, and I start riding again, feeling as nothing ever happened… Apparently the electrolyte-mix just didn’t agree with me today…

180km to go, and the body and mind feel strong. The only issue is that my stomach is slightly upset, so I can’t really eat solid foods now, and am stuck to liquids. Even the drinking is hard, but I try and stick to the plan as well as I can; there’s 2 points on the course where I have to take in nutrition, no matter what happens! And it’s better to get ‘just a bit’ in than not to get anything at all…

…through the ‘pit-lane’…

During the second 180km I’m still completely in my own little world; I try to get my food in as much as my body lets me, I ride my laps, and I count… My world is only 10 laps big, everything else doesn’t exist…
When I ride the final 12 laps (this is my only set I don’t do as a 10-lap ride, since the total number of laps is 82) there’s a short extra break to put on my bike-light, and I ride to the finish… The final lap is awesome, I thank the volunteers on the course, and with a big smile I ride into transition. On earlier races I’ve been happy to finish the bike since I was just fed up with it, now I’m just really happy to finish the bike, since it’s been a near-perfect 360km ride…

During the ride I have never seen any data (so no speed, time, heart-rate or power-output), the only time during the entire race that I saw the clock was at the finish after the run… This was all part of the plan; if I focus too much on times it can lead to 2 things: the urge to maintain a (too fast) pace, or frustration that things don’t go as planned… Looking back at the data it seems that I’ve been riding a near-perfect pace from the beginning; where every lap is almost in the same time…

Now into transition, a change of clothes, a quick toilet-break, and it’s time for a little run…

…start of the run, just before sunset…

Part 3 – The Run
84.4km on a 1.4km ‘out-and-back’ lap
(60 laps)

The run is an ‘out-and-back’ loop of 1400meters, with a little loop over the carpark near the finish, where support-crews are allowed to join for a run/walk/crawl. When planning the race I was trying to work on a strategy to deal with the short laps, and I decided to break it up into sets of 6 laps. This plan meant getting food in after every 6 laps, knowing that after every set I would be significantly closer to the finish…

But, as is part of the game in ultra-racing, plans change. The run is hard; it’s an almost flat course, where the key-word is ‘almost’. When you look at the road you hardly see the incline, but when you’ve been on the move for 20 hours the body tells you that it’s there… So pretty soon I have to start walking the ‘climb’ at the far end of the loop. No problem, I just try to force myself to drink at that point! But that’s not going well either; my body just doesn’t want anything I try to put in… The first 30km are going ‘moderately well’, but at some point there’s a little voice in my head that tells me after the next series of laps it’s “only” 50km, which by now seems really far… I keep on counting to 6, but I realise that at the half-way mark it will still be ‘5 sets of 6’, where it might be mentally easier to go for ‘4 sets of 7 laps’ (and then the final two, but those won’t count, since I will be almost finished anyway); one extra lap per set seems doable, and when it’s only four sets I can break those down into 2 sets, than a final set, and then one more where I can countdown to the finish… At some point you just have to think of a way to fool yourself into making things easier!

…when your crew is running with you, and is forcing you to eat…

I tell the team, and ask if this is a good new strategy, since it’s easy to come up with the plan, but it’s hard to make the judgement if this will help me. The team tells me it’s ok, as long as I drink one small bottle every three laps. So I’m back into force feeding the nutrition (which, at some laps works, at some laps not…).

…when the sun comes up it’s a whole new day…

Meanwhile the body has broken down; I try to walk only the uphill part at the end of the lap, but I find myself walking almost the full lap sometimes. Feeling lightheaded, and my legs are killing me (as expected…). It must look terrible, but I’m still moving, and the plan is simple; never not move, unless at a stop with the crew! I stick to the plan, and count down the laps. The final few laps I get joined by Linda and Daniëlle, and then the victory lap starts…

…one lap to go!…

At the start of the final lap I get a Dutch flag; I’ve seen the other runners that have finished by now run with their flag, and although I don’t really care much for a symbol like this, the effect is awesome… Everyone sees that you’re in your final lap, so there’s cheers all around, and I’m high-fiving all other runners on the course. My team is ‘running’ with me on this final lap, and it’s just such a great feeling to share this lap with my awesome support-crew, and with the other athletes, volunteers and supporters on the course… A final loop around the carpark, and over the finish-line; another ‘Double’ done!

  • Emsdetten DoubleUltraTriathlon
  • 10th place – total time 27hours 22minutes 45seconds
  • 7.6km swim – 2hours 27minutes 13seconds
  • 360km bike 12hours 27minutes 48seconds
  • 84.4km run 12hours 02minutes 00seconds

    …what an AWESOME group of people…

Looking back…

Yes, there is a lot of room for improvement (as there always is after a race), and yes; I did make some ‘mistakes’ along the way. But overall; I had a near-perfect race-experience; the body was strong throughout (I have to work on tweaking the nutrition though, that will definitely help me later in the race!), and the mind was rock-steady… So it was a great race leading up to “The Big One” next year, lots of lessons learned!

And, as always with these crazy adventures; it’s been a team-effort; so a huge shout-out to Daniëlle, Linda, Thijs and Daan (and Stijn and Gerrit for their surprise-visit!). I’m just so happy to have such great people around me who join me on these adventures…

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