Triathlon. About a year ago I set out to fulfill one more of my childhood dreams. I think to remember watching some live coverage on a 13″ small TV screen when I was a kid. The Middle Distance now was my second step towards this goal.
The Ironman 70.3, also called half Ironman, is about 1900 m Swim, followed by 90 km bike ride and completed after another 21,1 km run.
I did the Olympic Distance Triathlon last year, as a preparation, to get to know the whole procedure before attempting the middle distance Triathlon. This can not be much different, just a bit longer, can it? One day before the event I got up at 4 a.m. to catch my train. When I arrived at about 12:30 p.m. in Bad Schönborn I soon realized that this is quite a bit different.
Ironman waypoints at every corner leading my way through the small lovely city of Bad Schönborn towards the event area. The sun shines hot and no activity is needed to bath in sweat. About 4000 Athletes, 2400 Agegroupers for the Ironman 70.3 with friends and family fill up the area, just giving a taste of what is to come.
An hour of race briefing, is followed by a couple of lanes to wait in for hours to register my self and receive my transition bags and race numbers.
“1204” is the number I receive. But the journey started 10 month ago.
Training for A Middle Distance Triathlon
I believe with all my heart that anyone can do whatever (s)he wants just on his(her) own without supervision successfully only limited by his(her) power of will. But guidance might shortcut your way, save you form injuries and make the whole experience more enjoyable.
My professional Triathlon Coach Vladimir Savic gives me consistency, plans my session efficiently and deliberately builds up my swim, bike and run abilities. He gets the most out of my time and potential without compromising my health. With his availability he gives me security and with his knowledge he makes me fast as possible on my way to reach my goals. Do not get me wrong, he makes me suffer as I never would be able to do myself. I trust him with my health and consider him a friend.
The 3 weeks training before my first Olympic Triathlon in Bremen last year, have been just a warm up. I love to tell I was a semi professional swimmer in my youth. But this is much exaggerated, as I stopped when I was about 11 years old. I was mostly doing breaststroke only back then. 11 month ago getting back into swimming I was out of breath after a few lanes in freestyle. I had to relearn freestyle and I still have a lot of technique training and drill sessions ahead. My bike was okay but so far I was given the impression that I am not made to be a runner.
My Training volume raised to an effective 8 to 12 hours a weeks, with a maximum of 16 hours in race preparation.
While the training time remained consistent. my swim distance got longer. My usual swim workout raised to about 3000+m. I always loved water more than I fear it. Now I also love doing freestyle. I get into flow, my breathing relaxed and natural, as I would not even move the head sideways to breathe air. The surface tension and resistance of the water on the skin of my hands feels like pushing away a very soft pillow. I watch the light sparkle in the air bubbles rushing from my finger tips towards me. It is like dream you do not want to wake up from.
I started to swim butterfly, another goal from my childhood just along the way. I remember the sessions when I first flied like yesterday. The moment when I broke the surface and everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The head followed by chest and arms break out of the water. The whole body is tense while my arms open wide like wings over the the calm surface of the water in front of me. Just a few drops of water flying ahead, leaving raindrop like rings on the surface. It felt like an eternity but it was a short moment to fill my lungs and pierce back into the water. Just to fulfill another wave like motion before breaking out again.
I was eleven years old when I quit my swim training. Somewhere in Berlin in a big indoor pool with broken windows in the roof and a very yellowish light, I was swimming breaststroke on a 25 m lane. My friend Robert (Schwarz?) was on the lane next to me. Both of us have been selected from the team for individual training. At the end of the lane was my trainer yelling the time of my split, pointing out exactly how much my lane neighbour was faster and the other way around.
Out of the water the cold grip of winter air blowing through the broken windows makes me shiver. I walk over broken floor tiles to the shower. We do not look at each other anymore. Not in the shower, not the locker room and never again. I felt like crying when I left the pool, maybe I did.
I am riding my bike at any season, weather or daytime. But with the raised training volume I started to stick to the plan. Most of the last cycle my swim and run abilities have been in focus and the overall training volume of my bike much reduced.
As efficient indoor training might be and since Lionel Sanders even fashionable, it was a relieve to get out again and I enjoyed my sessions a lot. Though something had changed. I remember killing hours on my bike in the Berlin Grunewald or around Belgrade in the very early morning without ever getting bored. Suddenly I feel a need for speed, or at least intensity. Most challenging sessions now are not when I have to leave my comfort zone, to make use of every fiber of muscle in my leg, overcome the pain to reach the right heart rate zone for this days training purpose. I am challenged by “LSD” sessions. Long slow distance, building base endurance. There are so many things on my mind I want and got to do, that being out there alone, just listening to my inner dialogue feels cruel at times. I think these have been the only sessions I cut short sometimes and not because of exhaustion.
My run workouts are mostly about an hour and every month I seem to cover some more distance in that time. No other discipline showed such obvious progress. One of my best moments was when I realized that my feet have changed back from flat and over pronouncing to a neutral healthy shape again and my dynamic X-leg is straight as it can be when my feet hit the ground. I assume it happened in the last 3 years by walking in barefoot shoes and a healthy approach to raising my training volume slowly and a lot of core strengthening. I am not sure what it was exactly, I am not a doctor but the moment I got my first pair of neutral shoes, ON Cloudflow in my case, I made a big leap forward. My whole technique seems to have change, I got less to no problems and I swear I got at least some 10 seconds faster in average on 1 km. Maybe it is psychosomatic, ON has quite some good marketing, but so be it. I love to fly ON clouds.
…and no they are not paying me…
There was way more on my mind and schedule while training for an Ironman but training. There is core training to stay away from injuries and imbalance. Body composition or just proper daily nutrition was one of the hardest parts for me, especially because I love to cook and bake and chocolate. Then there is technique knowledge, mental training, equipment and general coordination and organization.
But before I get lost lets talk about “Raceday”!
Raceday – My first Ironman 70.3
It is a beautiful sunny morning. Bright saturated green covers the hills along the roads towards Ubstadt-Weiher. I am sitting in the car of my friend, starring out of the window. While I tried to visualize what lies ahead of me, I did not realize that I will hammer down the very same road a few hours later.
I drop my white after race bag on a loading rack of a truck. The event area is packed. I enter the transition area to load my bike with gels, hydration and my Garmin device. Hundreds of bikes around me, and as many athletes. Everyone was laughing and joking around the day before. The mood has changed. There is tension and anxiety written in the faces of the athletes. Their expression serious and their eyes look mean while they focus on their minds.
I check the place of my blue transition bag before I leave to get to the beautiful turquoise Hardtsee. I am nervous. There elbows and shoulders, everyone seems to be somewhere else. But some are carrying a smile. I try to get in my wetsuit, it feels much more difficult then ever before. Somehow I lost quite some time walking around this mesmerizing atmosphere. Suddenly I have to hurry up as they start counting down the time for the warm up. I manage to jump into the water and do just a few strokes, before I have to leave it again to enter the rolling swim start area.
There are lanes according to your own time estimate for your swim, somewhere behind a wall of hundreds of athletes in black neoprene suits. We are lucky just one hour later it would have been to warm and the wetsuits forbidden. But there is no way I get further to the front. Man and women standing shoulder to shoulder and chest to back.
A shiver runs down my spine as the sudden stunning sound of the canon explosion announces the start. My hair would stand up if it would not be shaved off or pressed down by the super skin tight neoprene suit. Every five seconds four athletes at a time enter the water. There are at least around 500 people in front of me. But we can watch the pro field thundering through the Hardtsee.
My lungs contracted, exhaling all air, leaving me unable to breath in again. I remember this early morning in the already hot Serbian sun in Belgrade. I got a panic attack in training in 1,5 m deep water when the white pebble ground was broken up by dark algae spots in the clear water of Sava Lake for no comprehensible reason. It must be some kind of deep water phobia.
I step into starting position. A race coordinator places his hand gently in front of my chest. His hand goes down and he gives the way free. My feet drill deep into the dry sand of the beach. It is happening now. Every fiber of muscle tenses and the whole body seems to explode. I rush into the lake and fling my self into the dark turquois water. With one wave like motion I accelerate right under the surface before my arm break out again.
For some reason there is no sign of anxiety left. My arms propel my body forward in an even rhythm. There is no doubt of direction. My breathing aligned with my stroke. I am in flow. Just seconds in the water, I overtake the other three who entered the water with me. And another one, and another one and it did not stop. I started to smile and a deep feeling of happiness and joy gave me butterflies. Remembering my bike ride in Bremen, I would have never expected a swim to be like that. I could hardly see the buoys to figure out the direction I had to swim, but I could follow the feet and air bubbles of the others. It was exhausting to swim around all these people, some where even trying to grab my legs. But overtaking one by one gave me a lot of drive to push on.
Suddenly I see the ground, the swim is over. After roughly 2000 m and 31:04 minutes I am running out of the water. I never felt that heavy in a brick training, but I also never felt so happy about my swim.
With a slightly drunk feeling and unable to open my Roka wetsuit. I make my way back to transition on wobbly legs. I think I hardly used them at all in the swim but my legs are just before cramping and I have difficulties getting out of the suit. A few moments later I grab my bike and run to the mounting line.
I feel the beat of my heart, full of anticipation. My foot presses down the pedal. This is my discipline. One deep breath fills up my lungs. The land of the thousand hills is ahead of me. Will I handle the climbs I never practiced for in the north of Germany? It is pretty hot. I rehydrate by emptying my front tank through a straw in aero position right away. I check my heartbeat. 172. I have 4 heart rate zones defined by my coach to pace me well in the 90 km bike ride, to still have enough in my legs for the half marathon ahead. 4 Zones with a maximum heart rate of 165 for short steep climbs. Attributing my high heart rate to my swim effort, I disregard the numbers for the moment.
Two minutes in to the ride I hit 44 km/h and my heart starts to calm down. I am overtaking the first few riders. Slowly, one by one but in a steady rhythm. I consider to slow down. “Should versus could” echos in my head. But I feel good. I press on.
Not even 10 km in the ride an athlete rages at the side of the road. He is about to explode, hurling his disk wheel with a loosened tire. I feel sorry. May that never be my destiny. The field is still quite dense. The judges following us on motorcycles. I am trying hard to stay out of the 12 m wind shadow boxes of the other rides. More then once I accelerate to take over a whole group just to get them out of my way.
There it is. Some 30 minutes into the ride we hit the first accent first gradually then we approach the first proper ramp. I go down in my gears keeping my cadence up and press on. Overtaking one by one on the climb. Maybe I am pushing to hard, will I miss that power later on to keep going? I keep going up the hill, happiness all over my face like someone has given me an unexpected gift. I reach the top, push my gears up and hit my pedal with full power to accelerate again.
Seconds later I hit 67 km/h, I am still comparably heavy with my racing weight of 84 kilo. I keep overtaking people. There are a few like “Tommy”, I do not remember his racing number, a really tall super skinny guy looking like a Cheetah in his aero position, who keep coming back for a while but most of them I never see again.
I had a heart rate baseline defined for the flat. In Kraichgau there is no flat. Either you climb or go down like rocket. I eat gels and rehydrate on a predetermined pattern like a clockwork. I empty my last bottle just before the aid station, throw it right in to the bin to pick up some water on the fly as planned. The new bottle finds the cage behind my back and I get out of my saddle to accelerate up a steep ramp in a little town, overtaking another 2 competitors. Going down fast into a curve, I hit some bump in the road which slingshots the just picked up bottle out of the cage. Shock! After a glimpse back, I breath out in a relief, as no other rider is in danger to crash due to my bottle and see a volunteer already on his way to pick it up. Nobody can hear the “Thank you!” going over my lips. I push on and check my front tank and race bottle in the triangle of my bike for any remaining hydration. I am out of water.
After some more climbs and descents I am alone. The first time in the race I can not see the next rider to take over ahead of me. I am rushing down a hill but closing in to the next ascent vanishing in the forest in front of me I spare my legs. Still thirsty. Suddenly, like a rolling thunder, his helmet flashed bright up in the sun when he flew down out of the forest like a hawk. Ducked deep into his aero position, Jan Frodeno already on his way back, passes by with a roaring sound. I think I stopped pedaling for a moment in awe. A few moments and another climb later I descent with over 70 km/h wondering about the top speed of Jan. Hell he was damn fast.
At the aid station, I pick up some water. Hardly enough and in the next climb my legs start to cramp. Did I lit to many matches? I concentrate on my breathing, my gears low and my cadence steady. I try to go out of my saddle, no way, my legs force me to sit down right away. A pack of riders overtakes me. I saw these guys checking in yesterday. They did sound Swedish or Norwegian to me. In their twenties I assumed, really good looking like fashion models with the best bikes and gear available. My legs hurt. Every stroke hurts. I am not feeling good but I keep going. Another rider with a broken bike at the side of the road cheering his struggling comrades. I reach the top. No rest but time to chase them down.
Before the last big climb I got them all packed in again. Looking down on my Garmin I feel deeply sad. Disappointed. Nearly 1000 m of elevation and over 80 km distance on my display. That’s it? In regret I realize that I am just about to finish the bike leg but there is a half marathon waiting.
After 2:36:17, 90 km and 1000 m of elevation I click out of my shoes and run barefoot towards the volunteers to leave them with my Canyon Aeroad and head into transition.
I am changing my gear in a relaxed manner. The guy next to me pulls out a flask of his transition bag before he runs off. I am jealous. Hopefully there is some aid station right after the tent. Some volunteer kids are handing out wet sponges but no water here.
I swallow another gel. I am thirsty but my legs are good. It is hot. Six minutes in the run my lace opens. I stop, nearly laughing out loud while I close them again. This never happened before with these shoes in training, not in the last 300 km of running. Amused I pick up my pace again.
The aid stations are packed with volunteer kids. I take my time to thank them. They are standing in the heat all day long cheering and helping the athletes. I hope they do shifts. I take a shower, then two cups of water and 2 sponges soaked in cold water at every aid station, once a banana, once a gel, once an isotonic drink to spill it out right away as it tasted disgusting. My shoes were filling up with water from the showers so I started to avoid them.
My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my knees, my hip everything seems to be busy inventing symptoms to make me stop. I keep running, constantly overtaking other runners. Constantly being overtaking by others. The field is really mixed up with paces as we are going 3 rounds between Bad Mingolsheim and Bad Langenbrücken. I think to keep my pace steady, but the analytics later reveal that the curve of my run looks more like a roller coaster due to the hills in the run. But my effort was.
1 hour and 41 minutes after one last effort to psuh my pace towards the finish line I run down the carpet and finish my half marathon. A few seconds later, not even out of breath someone puts the medal around my neck.
4 hours 57 minutes 54 seconds placing 60th in my age group.
I cross the finish line, happy.
! Small addition, I found a nic recap video by “Sportspinner” on Youtube. It focuses mainly on the pro field but gives a great impression of the mood. Thank you @Sportspinner.
What is next?
I have learned a lot in the race. One of my biggest mistakes was my salt management probably. The guys at Pushing Limits just made a good podcast about it.
I would like to look into a swet test and to try Precision hydration. When I run, I keep visualizing Patrick Lange in Kona in 2017, so I will work on my technique and maybe check in for some Seminar with “Running wolf”. I am dreaming of switching some of my equipment going more aero with a Oakley Aro 7, some Hadron deep wheel LRS by Swissside, the Myth suit by Ryzon and some TX322 kicks from Lake. But I would need to find some sponsors to make this happen.
For now I keep pushing while I have to give some love and time back to my family and kids who are enduring my dreams. Without them I would not be possible.
My next Race will be the full Ironman in Barcelona in 17 weeks at the 7th of October just before my 33 birthday.
Comment of my daughter after race…
“I would like see Papa to be the first at the finish line, I want him to win a race!”.