Thursday, 19 August 2010

Germany 70.3 Race Report

Wiesbaden, Germany

My second 70.3 of the season, and ever for that matter felt like a long time coming. The memories of pain and achievement from Austria in May had long since faded and I was really excited about making this trip (on my own this time) to Germany to test myself over what looked to be a much more challenging course than previous effort at this distance.

The last month of training prior to this race was pretty solid. I think I managed to hit all my sessions bar one swim day when an extra couple of hours just seemed like it would do me more good that 3km in the pool, and my last OD training race had gone fairly well. I had also been paying attention to my diet, with some focus on the idea of ‘racing weight’, a concept and goal that requires some deep thinking and effort (see forthcoming post on this topic) and went into this race at 177lbs at last weigh in, feeling quite trim.

Arriving in Wiesbaden after a great journey (blown away with HRW T5 – drop off to departure gate in about 15 minutes!) I walked the 2km from my pretty decent and inexpensive hotel to the centre of town where the Expo and registration was. Given this area was in the town square it was quite compact but had a good vibe already with lots of athletes milling around, loads of different languages being spoken and despite a forecast to the contrary, sun shining. Registering on the Friday is always a good idea, as no que’s or commotion make it pain free and it’s always a bit exciting to see what swag is given out – for this race a rather fetching black and orange duffle bag which I’m sure was made just for me in Dundee United colours. And checking in early means that the helpers have a bit more time for you so I was able to properly get the lie of the land which was important as the swim start/T1 and the finish line were about 7 km apart so it was good to understand the bike check in and very efficient bus shuttle system that was in place.

On Friday evening I took full advantage of the Pasta Party (I may even have eaten a bit too much) before heading back to the hotel to rest up, where I met a very friendly German couple, Frank & Kat and we arranged to share a list to the start in the morning.

Usual rules applied to sleep ie: it seemed short and restless. I tend to toss and turn from excitement, which then turns to worry about not getting enough sleep post-midnight. But as always, the alarm is always a shock for a few minutes before excitement and a coffee kick in.

After arriving at the swim start with my new friends Frank & Kat we walked the length of the Schiersteiner Hafen towards T1 to check over the bikes etc which had been racked and serviced the previous day. Our timing was great, and we watched the pro’s and elite’s start their wave. This is always exciting and impressive and made me super buzzed about my own start at 08:55. A check over the bike (all fine and ready to roll), adding my drinks and food, clipping my shoes into the pedals, toilet stop and wetsuit on and it was time to get the game face on!

Schiersteiner Hafen (harbour) is a long, thin man-made lake which runs off the Rhein and is used for boating etc. As such, the swim course was a dead straight out and back meaning sighting would not be a problem. Standing in the holding pen watching the wave ahead enter the water and start seemed like forever, but was only 10 minutes. As my wave walked down the ramp into the water I got a great vies of al the yellow markers laid out dead ahead and at that the skies opened and the rain came down in sheets. I could see the dread this caused some of those around me, but it really made me smile and I was happy to embrace the elements.

I had a fairly central position in the water and despite over 500 athletes in my wave the start didn’t seem like the usual washing machine car crash. For he first 10 minutes or so I struggled to get a rhythm, and it was harder work than I wanted at that stage. I think this led to a drop in focus and I realised I wasn’t heading in quite the right direction and was pulling to the right. It wasn’t quite a Def Con 1 situation though and I corrected and seemed to settle down a bit, finding clear water and starting to pass a few swimmers. I have never managed to get a draft in the swim, so made a mental note to self to work on that over the winter. The rest passed uneventfully and I felt like I’d had a decent swim, managing a PB of 00:33:52.

The rain wasn’t a surprise (forecast for days) and I had decided to pack a cycling top in my bike bag, with waterproof gillet and arm warmers already in the pockets in anticipation of things getting chilly on the bike. This proved to be a wise move later but certainly cost a little time as I struggled a little to get it on over my wet kit.

I love the bike, and always feel good when that part of the race starts. A slight wobble when I couldn’t get my foot into one shoe straight away soon passed and the first couple of km’s were flat and fast but it wasn’t long before the climbing started, and that was definitely the theme of the bike leg with around 1500m of climbing overall, hitting 12 degrees at one point. With the rain battering down it definitely made for a tough day but I felt pretty good throughout the 90km’s and found that elusive sweet spot for much of the bike. I find that singing helps, and a selection of Dundee United FC , Stone Roses and The Alarm songs were the choice de jour. It also draws looks of incredulity from other athletes as I go past which I like. The flipside of climbing is that you get some great descents and this proved to be the case in Germany. At times the rain was coming down so hard that I could barely see at it felt more like hail than rain but I didn’t let that slow me down and with some great local support in many of the really pretty little villages up in the hills, I was happy enough with my bike time of 2:58:40.

This didn’t go a smoothly as planned. First slight hitch was on dismount of the bike, one shoe came unclipped from the pedal so I had to stop and retrieve that. In this race, one great feature was that athletes don’t rack their won bikes – a helper takes it and does it for you. However, as I handed my helper my unclipped shoe I saw him throw it in a box of random shoes which made me think I would never see it again, so that was a bit of added stress. And for the first time ever, I had to stop for a pee during the race. Of course, with a one piece tri-suit on, this is not convenient, but when you’ve gotta go….

The run was 4 loops around what looked like a nature trail/walk within a local park and was mostly gravel footpath with a couple of sections on the road, before arriving back in the central town square where the expo was for a lap before repeating. It was fairly flat, but definitely uphill for the first 2km, then slight decline before levelling out a little near the end. These very mellow inclines didn’t feel so mellow to me, as the effort on the bike really hit home on lap 3. My split times went up by about 4 minutes at that point and I was starting to hurt. I had told myself the 3rd lap would be the hardest and embraced the pain as much as possible and it was a great boost when my new friend Kat gave me an unexpected cheer from the sideline. Different coloured bands were being handed out on each lap, and I was deeply envious of those athletes around me with 3 and 4 bands but just kept telling myself that it would be me soon and sure enough, eventually I collected my 4th band with about 500m to go. A slight downhill, then flat before funnelling off onto the blue carpet and into the square which was filled with spectators in a grandstand and by the road side who were great at cheering every athlete over the line. I think I managed a fairly nippy last 500m and was delighted to cross the line at which point the ‘central governor’ kicked in and the legs decided it was sit down or fall down.

I had hoped to post a better run time than in Austria but could only manage a disappointing 01:45:20. Looking at my splits on the run, I went from 00:24;50 on the first two laps to 00:26:10 on the third and 00:29:46 on the last so it’s clear I need to work on aerobic and muscular endurance on the run. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll compete on many courses with as much bike climbing and my overall run performance might even have been a bit stronger than before, bearing that in mind.

A final time of 05:24:46 feels like an under-performance but I probably would have taken it before the race, and even managed to bring me in (just!) within the magical 120% of age group winner.

Finally, I have to mention that the organization and service to the athletes at this event were great. Lots of personal help, brilliant and plentiful nutrition and a tough but well thought out course, so props to the organisers.