yesterday i drove just 45 minutes down the road to stansstad, switzerland, to do an event that had been on my radar for a while, pre-COVID, but that became one of the only options around as races started getting cancelled.
the idea of the helveticman is that it's an 'extreme tri' in the style of norseman etc., but over the half distance. i'm really drawn to this sort of racing - small fields, adventurous courses, something a bit more wild - but my life these days definitely doesn't allow for IM training. and anyway, i figured this course would provide a near enough challenge:
race day conditions were perfect: warm and still with a bit of cloud. the water was just a little chilly, but comfortable. my only goal for the swim was to get out of the water having spent a minimum of energy. that strategy worked: my swim training has been really meagre, but i have a lot of open-water background and just found some good feet. the minute i stepped back onshore my calf cramped - i thought, "this is going to be a long day," but in the end it turned out that constant twinges and niggles were just the norm in this race.
after T1 we rode for a few hundred meters before we were straight up a 14% grade. the first climb of the day was a bit of an appetizer, and it was nice to not feel gassed from the swim. we then rolled a bit before the 2nd climb of the day, when things started to bite a little. it was getting hot, the descent was fast and twisty, but i was still in good spirits. before the race i'd installed a huge new cassette on my bike, and was glad for it - having a 30 back there was a relief and i wasn't too proud to use it. just about everyone was on an aero road bike, and i didn't envy the guys climbing and descending on big aero sleds with bullhorns and bar-end shifters. i was on my ancient cervelo soloist (aluminum), which turned no heads but was reliable as ever.
the final climb of the day was bonkers, crossing covered bridges, winding up tiny farmer's roads, and eventually passing by the cable car stations to move beyond the tree line. i did start to hit a low around 70k or so, but some gels and patience took care of that.
after a quick-ish transition i headed out for the run and my troubles began. not speaking the dialect and not running with a mapping GPS meant that i followed along when the volunteers said, "that way!" it turns out they sent me to do the 2nd loop first, and the 1st loop second. (the run is a sort of figure-8 with the start/finish in the middle.) i had started wondering why the aid stations weren't matching up with my cue sheet, and where all the good runners i'd seen in my first hour had disappeared to. it's too bad, as i'd held my own with those guys. the course was great - way up on an alpine meadow around some lakes, up and down some rocky, technical singletrack and cruisy, grassy trails.
almost immediately on the run my belly felt off - kind of bloated, vaguely nauseous. i was running fine but not feeling particularly thirsty or hungry, which is ominous. probably a result of having a few kilos of maurten drink and gel congealed in my gut. so i switched over to trusty old coke (don't we all?) and chugged along, but didn't get any better. approaching the finish from the wrong direction, another helpful volunteer thought i was a BOPer and sent me out for another loop. my watch said i'd nearly done the full half already - maybe i just needed to do a little out and back or something? i run-walked along for a while - suffering, at this point - before checking notes with a fellow athlete and realizing i'd been sent wrong. i turned around and ran back, having covered something like 24k by the end. i was . . . spent. it turns out a few of the athletes i'd been leading on the run were in the same boat, but being local they'd cleared things up at the finish turn off. argh . . . german lessons!
overall, a great day, though i really wished i could've tested myself against the field better on the run. i'm 40 now and did my first olympic tri when i was 15. in that time i've done a lot: coach, race director, long-course, short-course, winter, summer, indoor, outdoor, du, aquathlon, draft-legal, off-road . . . you name it. i've been a national champ and dead effing last. but lately it's been really hard to find the sense of adventure that made me fall in love with tri in the first place. well, this brought it back. low frills, great camaraderie, and a sense of "is this crazy?" that lasted all day. the course was stunningly beautiful all day, and athletes were cool.
this race was definitely what i needed, and at the risk going to far, maybe it's what triathlon needs too. it will really suck if events go under because of COVID. on the other hand, maybe this is an opportunity to rediscover the joy of multisport in a different way.
either way, this one was an epic.