This blog isn’t about my challenge, but that of a new friend Jane. She is a client of a colleague, and we used to just say hi in the gym until a few weeks after lockdown when I got a message from her asking about whether open water swimming was possible because the pools were closed. It was still cold so I wasn’t quite ready to give it a go. I got another message about 3 weeks later saying her new wetsuit had arrived and could I take her swimming. I thought it funny as the pools had just announced they were about to open again. But we organised to meet up for a swim and we ended up open water swimming throughout the year until we did our final wetsuit free dip on New Year’s day morning.
Back then, due to the uncertainty of racing, I had planned to do 3 challenges – a 200km cycle, an ironman distance triathlon over 3 days, and then a few weeks back a 60km when Jane cycled the whole way with me as support (https://wilsonsworkouts.nl/my-experience-of-running-60-km/). So now it was payback time…
Initially, when Jane told me she was going to swim 5km, bike 500km and run 50km, I was very impressed. She wanted to do this to raise money for a Parkinsons Charity and because it was just before her 50th birthday. I knew if she was doing it around Amsterdam I’d help her out a bit. However, as the time got closer, I realised I hadn’t taken time off work for a while and thought it might be fun to take a holiday to be, as much of a support as I could manage myself. So, below is an account from my point of view, as an active supporter of this big challenge.
The first step was to plan it out. I had assumed she would be doing it in order, however, it was her challenge, her rules and as long as she could add it all up at the end, she didn’t mind the order. So, one afternoon we sat down and planned it all out. This is when I realised the enormity of what she had planned. My intention was to join the cycling and swimming part, but would just do a little bit of running and cycle with her for the rest of the runs. This was because I didn’t want to have a too long recovery period afterwards and having taken about 3 weeks to fully recover from the 60km run, I didn’t want to repeat that. Also, I am now training for hopefully racing later in the summer.
Even though this challenge was a big deal for me as well, the difference in how I felt leading up to it was quite different to if I had announced it as my own goal. I was way more relaxed and I knew that there were no expectations from me – external nor internal from a performance point of view. Although, I was aware Jane was relying on me to be around to support her.
Because Jane wasn’t feeling as confident about the running, she had decided to get a half marathon out of the way first (21km). Jane is a member of a local fitness group – November Project. I met her the first morning along
with a couple members of the group and a friend of hers Robbie, who was making a video of the 5 days. I wasn’t running this one, but was supporting her from the bike. My mind was already on the afternoon of cycling though. Even cycling to meet them was very windy and I was wondering how that was going to go. I was a bit nervous.
Once the run section was done, I left her. It was then my time to get some lunch in and get myself organised for the 70km bike. For this leg we were going to cycle to the beach and back with Jane’s husband and their friend Ewan. And yes, again it was super windy. The guys were amazing at blocking the wind for us, but it was also really hard because sometimes we would drop off the back of them and find ourselves trying to get back on. On a normal day that would be fine however, with four more days to go, I was trying to look after my energy and balance it for the coming 4 days. We had a quick pit stop at the beach for coffees and to refuel. It was finally a relief to be on our way back aided by the wind
I joined the run with a couple new members of the November Project. This leg was a nice chatty 10km run round the Vondelpark in the centre of Amsterdam. This was followed by Jane having brunch made by my husband and I gave Jane a massage. It helped her calves as they were feeling a bit grump from the half marathon on day 1.
In the afternoon we did our 5km swim. I think Jane had had the idea, when planning, that it would be warm enough to do this in a lake. However, it had been a much colder start to the year so, it was done in a 50 metre outdoor pool. We had to book 2 slots and when we arrived the staff was really nice and helpful but doubted we could do 5000 metres in the time we had. That made me determined to prove him wrong.
We jumped in and got started. Because it can be a bit cold I wore my wetsuit, while Jane went hardcore with just her swimsuit. After a few lengths, I realised I had forgotten to start my watch to keep count of the laps, so I lost some of my swim. But I was determined to get it all counted so I started the 5km from there. When I started I felt tired in my shoulders really early, which worried me but, as I became more relaxed, I ended up finding the distance quite easy to complete and I finished in about one hour and a half. I did a little sprint for my last 50m and then got out and dried off while Jane finished hers. She also had had some watch problems, so although she did the 5km I think she also did too many lengths. She came out of the pool frozen, but elated that she had done it.
The third part of her day was a 5km run while her daughter cycled. I had the evening off to relax and get ready for day 3. My relaxation time included a nice online yoga session from a friend of Jane.
This, for me, was the toughest day. We had 180km to cover on the bike and, because I had a work commitment in the afternoon, we had to split it over 2 bike rides. Luckily the weather was pretty good that day. The first leg we did was 100km and it was to the tulip fields and back. While it had been fun to cycle with the guys on day 1, it was nice to just get out the two of us. Because of my commitment, we did have to keep moving along with not too many stops. We did however get some good tulip shots in, and enough time to really enjoy seeing lots and lots of beautiful colours. I didn’t know the route, so it was also a constant look at the bike computer and keeping alert for turns. We got home in plenty of time to both refuel and for me to do my work stuff.
The late afternoon was our second 80km ride. We decided to cycle out to the dunes. It was a lovely ride to do, however, t later in the cycle, I started to find the dunes, all cobbled, slow and tiring to cycle on. We also realised that we were going to be home fairly late. I found it hard to eat while cycling in the dunes as it is quite twisty and I had to keep an eye on the route. So when we came back to the main road back, I had to have a moment to stuff food into my mouth. As we knew where we were, it felt like a simple ride back, however, the route wasn’t direct. At 160km into the day we climbed the only hill in the area. Jane pretended to be put out that I would plan such a route, but I think she was secretly thrilled to have a bit of downhill to play with. And then it was just a matter of getting home.
Once home I realised it had been a tough day when I wasn’t really able to think of the right words to explain to my husband how the day had gone.
Day 4 started with another run. This time, at Westerpark. It was a nice 7km for me. At this point the weather was pretty OK, but we knew that the forecast for the rest of the day wasn’t great. And we still had a 120km cycle planned.
We weren’t very lucky as it rained for all but the last 20km of the cycle. I was glad we agreed to wear serious rain jackets as we definitely needed them the whole time. Jane’s husband Will joined us again., We needed his wind blocking skills haha. It was quite miserable and there were pretty much no other cyclists as stupid as us. The plan was to cycle to Bergen and then back again but, at Bergen, we had a few more kilometres to go so we continued to Bergen aan zee (i.e. the beach). Luckily, when we got there, there was a terrace open so we could have a hot drink and a bit of food. And then we had a head wind cycle back home. Glad of the break but also not looking forward to the coming 2.5-3 hours we set off. I must say that despite the weather being against us, I never really felt miserable during the cycle. It just felt a bit like a task that just needed to be done. We had a ferry to cross towards the end of the cycle. We had to wear our masks on it but mine was so wet it wasn’t the most comfortable. And then the rain stopped as we got off the ferry, however by this time it made no difference. So, that was day 4 done.
And I needed to clean my bike before going to bed so it would be ready for the next day…
Day 5 started with yet another cycle. We had 100km to go. I planned to combine a couple of routes that were easy to ride for the last day. I knew them well and, apart from a short section, no one had to keep track of the route.
Jane and Will picked me up from my house and we set off. We had a few drops of rain but it was clear very quickly from the wet roads that we had missed a big downpour and the sun came out so we had a really nice ride. I felt really strong for this last day. I think the other days I was holding something back for the coming days and I didn’t need to any more. I even took a few turns at the front. Our food stop was at a lovely terrace on the side of the river. It was just opening as we pulled up which was perfect. I was so happy the weather was good, I had food and drink and we were already half way through the cycle. We continued on and met up with Robbie, the videographer and he took some film of Jane for the final video. We got caught in a bit of a thunder downpour but it was warm enough for it not to bother us too much. As we got closer to Amsterdam ,Jane thought it nice to get some photos as we went past the RIjksmuseum. And as we got even closer, Will realised that we would finish the 100km, and hence the 500km of cycling at the Rijksmuseum. And as we cycled under the archway, his watch moved to 100km. That was the cycle done!
Photos and congratulations exchanged, we said cheerio and planned to meet up for the final run and the finishing line. I just cycled about 100 metres on my own and a car decided to reverse park into the side of me, so after all the cycling I found myself lying on the side of the road. Luckily I got up and surprised myself in not being either hurt nor my bike being damaged. It was quite a strange moment.
To finish we had a 3km run to do. My husband, Brian decided to cycle that one with us but I had forgotten that my town bike had a puncture. So we had to get the tyres of his fold up bike blown up and I took his. It was a bit of a moment that we didn’t really need.
Anyway, we joined a few others for the run and despite crossing the last 3km line, Jane decided she had to run all the way to a bar’s terrace! Big cheers and celebration, much to the surprise of passers by. She had done it! We had a few drinks in the park and then Brian and I headed home. Afterall, I still had to get up early the next day for clients. I had achieved a 5km swim (plus the bit that I didn’t record), about 21km running and approx 511km cycling in 5 days!
For me, the whole experience was quite different to if it had been my challenge. Being a background part in the project took
the pressure off. I didn’t have the nerves of having to complete it. No one (except Jane) had any expectations on me and that made it easier. It was also interesting to know the theory that a lot of cycling takes less out of you than a lot of running but experiencing it definitely proved it to be correct. I was tired in the days after but definitely didn’t have the fatigue that I had experienced after my 60km run.