Marijke Beltman takes on Challenge Herning

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I’ve known Marijke for quite a while. At first I’d find myself saying, “She’s where?” or ” She did what?” But now it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to hear that she took part in the Survival of the Shewangunks or the Enceladus Lunar Tri off the coast of Saturn. All I can say Marijke is “respect”…


ETU Middle Distance Championships, Herning, Denmark

After Italy (2015) and Austria (2016) the ETU had now chosen Challenge Herning as the location for their European Middle Distance Championships. Unlike the standard and sprint champs, the middle and long distance champs take place in Challenge races where there is an open race as well as the AG championships races, with the pro’s racing on the same day also. Challenge Denmark/Herning it was so, with Michelle Vesterby on the start list together with Camilla Pedersen and a lot of other Danish (semi) pros as well as Joe Schipper and Lucy Charles. More importantly however was of course team Ireland which we nicknamed #teamsmallbutmighty as there were a handful of us compared to the Danes, Norwegians and the always prominent team GB… The race was on Saturday morning and I flew out to Billund via Amsterdam on Wednesday, picking up my mum who came to support along the way.

I had booked an apartment via AirBnB, bit of incorrect advertising from the owner as he had it up as a 2 bed which was essentially true but there was only 1 bed available as the other one was his! Thankfully there also was a huge couch so after we had found it in Herning (this involved a lot of driving around in circles in the bucketing rain in the rental car which was supposed to be small but turned out to be an A5!) sleeping arrangements were sorted also. The bike course was 1 loop of 90 km and my plan was to drive the course on Thursday morning before registering and picking up my bike from the guys from Ship my Tri Bike. The T1/bike start was easily found but as the course signs were not up yet and the maps provided weren’t great and the landscape effectively consisted of field of potatoes and field of wheat, it was impossible to navigate so we abandoned the plan after having driven the first 10 km to look at traffic obstacles and drove the last 5 to see what it looked like in relation to where to start taking off the shoes… It was very windy and flat but supposed to be less windy on race day…

Registering was a bit of a mess – the organisation appeared to have lost the boxes with the bike and run bags but just made us wait, then said it would be 10, 20 and 40 minutes. We decided to go for lunch instead of hanging around at registration, the expo wasn’t that interesting and there would be a family fun run on the run course that evening so good to have eaten during the day. The organisation peeps got their act together (you may be married to a triathlon star but that does not mean your organisation is flawless – the theme of the weekend did become ‘ Danes can do beer but they have to work on their triathlon organisation skills a bit more’ from there) and registration was sorted, bike picked up so back to the apartment to sort out some stuff to drive back into town later for the fun run.

The fun run was a good way to potter around the run course and my mum could come as well which was nice. It also prevented me from going too fast!!! Pity it had at that point started to rain but still nice to have done the course. Basically it consisted of a 5.2km loop with an out and back outside the town with a weird loop through the town and (v quirky) through the library! Flat as a pancake with but with a fly over and through a parking garage which both were short and sweet pulls that undoubtedly were going to be torturous as we had to do them 4 times. Also a loop through a park on sand which I knew was going to be energy sapping.

Friday morning was the swim recce – no safety boats or anyone from the organisation present but there were small buoys up. I had chosen to swim in skins and not wet suit as I did not want a damp wetsuit on Saturday morning! As prep for the swimming I had done a few OW swims in the Leinster Open Water series so the 16 degree lake wasn’t daunting. Most people chose to swim part of the course but I wanted to know what on earth to sight on as the buoys that were in the lake were tiny – it wasn’t clear if they would put in bigger ones on race day so better to be prepared. My poor mum had the idea that I would only swim 10 minutes so when I got out eventually she was all worried as she had thought I had sank – and there literally was no one around safety wise! Sorry mum… When we left the swim practice it started to rain and it literally didn’t stop until the late night of Fri-Sat. That meant going to the briefing, dropping bike and bike bag in the rain to T1, dropping run bag to T2 and going to the pasta party all happened while it was lashing. General thought of everybody was: Please don’t let it be like this tomorrow…

Briefing was weird – points of interest were that we were supposed to move forward at swim start after the claxon (seriously who swims backwards?!), peeing in public wasn’t allowed but it was ok if you were moving (this led to giggles and I actually had a Danish man ahead of me in the last 15km of the bike that kept looking around at me –he clearly needed to pee but didn’t want me to report him!) and the more serious note about the 20 meters between 2 bikes and 25 sec to get across (this was impossible to adhere to). We took the team photo in the rain, tried to rise the 240(!) athlete strong team GB and each of us went off to get our bikes and bike bag for the drop off in T1. That went relatively smooth, I realised when I hung up my bag that I had forgotten to put my sunglasses in my bag so went back to get them – even though it was lashing then I did not want to chance it for the next day. The run bag got dropped to T2 on the way to the pasta party. Post pasta party it was a matter of home, bed and trying to sleep…

Team Ireland aka #teamsmallbutmighty

 

Photobombing team GB with a team selfie

Race day

My wave wasn’t off until 10.25 with the pro’s starting at 10 so we all met in T1 and nervously hung around. My wave was all women aged 18-40 and the next one was 40 and older, the men were off before us. Into the water, swim out to the start; wait for the claxon and off. Finally! Did my usual thing of taking it handy at the start and letting the others sprint off knowing I would likely overtake them at the 1st or 2nd buoy which I did. It became obvious that the team GB selector had selected on strong bikers and runners, same for the Danish selection as I ended up overtaking loads of girls and a few men (also got overtaken by a few women of the wave behind me). Out of the water, locate bag, strip wetsuit down and run into the tent to change out of wetsuit. Heard someone shouting my name – one of the Scottish guys that I met last year! Wetsuit off, shoes on, helpet on, glasses on, sip from my energy drink and tuck my banana up my tri suit. There was no mention of bananas at the aid stations on the bike course and the Irish tri suits have no pockets so this was my method of still having my banana. Locate bike, run to the mount line, get on and start pedalling. My mum was at the corner coming out of T1 which was nice.

Start of the bike…it was going to be a long day….

Out on the bike it was clear that we were going to be exposed to the wind for the whole route – flat country and little shelter does have that effect. Don’t know whether it was the wind or the many 90 degree turns where you really had to slow down, get around the corner without hitting the grit and then getting back up to speed but I never could settle into the bike. I was also worried about pushing too hard early on with the wind factor and having no legs left for the run… Either way the bike took longer and became a mental battle were I had plenty of time to have and fight negative thoughts….I made it through, not in the time I wanted but I got there, had my shoes off on time and handed over my bike to the volunteers who were storing all bikes in a parking garage while pottering to my run bag. On with the runners, bag back to the volunteers and out on the run course…legs felt ok which was a relief after my bike experience! I had planned to try and run the 1st 2 laps before stopping for water at the aid stations and that worked.

Start of the run – not boiling yet here

It was warm…I was warm…but the cups of water helped to cool… At the start of the 3rd lap I grabbed a cup of coke and a cup of water to drink – coke not flat which meant I burped my way through the 1st km after that! The 3rd lap went ok, a toilet break and another stop for water and I finally could start my 4th lap which I knew was going to hurt… It did! I slowed down but was happy to have collected my 3 coloured bands and head towards the finish line.

Last lap!

 

Done! 5.48 – no new pb and not as fast as I hoped but under 6hrs so happy enough considering! Into the recovery tent for some water and coke, then down into the parking garage to collect my bike and bags…where was my blue bag? Most of them were there but numbers 800-1000 were missing…. Ironman Dublin 2016 all over again – not there yet. Ah here!!! Solidarity in frustration amongst everybody, when the wheelie bin with the blue bags finally came the volunteer who wheeled it down got an applause and we helped unpacking – teaching the Danes a lesson in efficiency…

Bags and bike collected – off to find my mum and to pack everything as it had to be with Ship my Tri Bike at 7pm! Not a lot of time.

 

Bike, bags, medal, sunburn…

Finally home for a shower after that…under the hot water I realised that I was quite badly sunburned – ouch! We knew we had one of the ladies that had podiumed so went back for the prize giving – I wasn’t the only one sunburned! When Siobhans name was mentioned we definitely were the ones to cheer the loudest and broke out in an Ole Ole. We asked Siobhan later if we were loud enough – she was slightly mortified but chuffed all the same. Legend so she is – took up triathlon at 60 and has podiumed at every race she did since! We gave the oldest contestant (who of ourse won his AG) a standing ovation and then left to go to the pub or home (in my case).

Am I happy overall with my performance? I would have liked a better bike – its my weakest discipline but I worked hard on it. It just didn’t happen on the day. Still I learned a lot and got through a mentally hard period on the bike. The 2nd degree sunburn hurts more than my body but overall I got through all ok! And it is and will always be cool to race in an Irish vest…

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