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Saturday October 18th, 12:00, Paguera-Mallorca.

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My last Half-Distance (1.9 Swim, 90 Bike, 21.1 Run) was in Cologne early September 2013. I decided then to take a break for half a year. I am not sure I would recommend it. I lost a lot of endurance, muscular mass and gained weight on top of feeling less happy with my life. Getting back at it had not been easy either with some injuries and bike crashes. So, October 16th in Mallorca was for me a symbol of coming back and I was race hungry.

My goal time was 4:45. I crossed the finish line in 5:15. Sometimes, things do not go to plan…This race has been humbling.

But first things first. A late start, on a cracking day. Sunny, hot, no wind, no waves, warm water, no wet suit. Perfect! The gun goes off. A good beach start, with nearly 50m of dolphin jumps exactly as trained. Perfect! The water: ridiculously clear. This is not racing, this is snorkeling! Perfect! I swim relatively easy as usual and get out after 1.9km  in 35.12. This is 1 minute slower than expected. But within the time plan. A quick casual high five with my daughter (while leaving the German competition behind 🙂 and a dash to transition.1395158_10153238453411679_1849690160603102546_n

Summary: A good start in the race overall. I exit in 32nd place with 60 other competitor in the category M40-44.

A very long transition (literally – the transition zone was 285m and the way to it around 400m) where unbelievable bikes were racked. And on to a tough technical course in the heat (29 degrees). I knew this would not go well as I had scored an auto-goal in the transition zone before the race even started.

My special pump for the discwheel (Lezyne and usually reliable) shoots off the valves after 5 bar of pressure. No way to put anymore air. Going into the race with a half-inflated wheel is not only going to cost me a few minutes but also increase the risk of sliding in the curves or worse getting the tyre out of its rim.

ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER ONE: CHECK ALL YOUR MATERIAL BEFORE THE RACE.

The first 15km feel like a nightmare, out of breath, heart rate constantly in the red while being passed by competitors, my mind set on the wheel issue. Am I going to make it?  The mindset thankfully changes in the first long descent. Cool air, time to hydrate, heart rate going down. I will get this distance done, this is the European Championship and I wear for the first time the Swiss jersey in an official ITU/ETU. Mantra Number 4: Get to the finish line, no matter what (or quit only on a stretcher)20x30-CHPC1713

KM25: What is this noise in my front fork? Oh no! the front tire is rubbing against the top of the fork!!!. I stop quickly to check for dirt stuck between the tire and the fork…nothing really. I get on the bike again and the tire keeps rubbing. Darn, what is going on today! – I will find out after the race that the mechanic (former pro cyclist) who serviced my bike before the race had mounted the rear tyre in the front. So the thin narrow tyre was in the back (bad for grip) and the thick large tyre was in the front, hence rubbing against the fork.

ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER TWO: SEE ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER ONE. Norman Stadler would confirm this (the famous “too much glue” episode).

20x30-CHPE0502Deflating the front tyre is out of question. I cannot ride a bike with front and back tyre deflated: this would be suicide in fast curves and downhills. I am telling myself that friction will cease once the “excess” rubber will be rubbed of the tyre (which happened in the second hour of the bike race).

KM30: Confusion between traffic, police & volunteers. All agitating arms. Me and 2 other cyclistS take a right turn, right into the party city of Magaluff. Once in traffic, we knew FOR SURE we had taken a wrong turn and lost a few precious minutes. Not a great bike leg so far… (especially when I took a wrong turn again at km 65 after a police man indicated to the athlete in front of me to take a deviation, I followed him but it turned out the cyclist was not a competitor and diligently taken out of the race road….)

ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER THREE: GO FOR A RECO RIDE PRIOR TO RACE DAY.

20x30-CHPD2166The worst mistake comes at km 50, just after the second long climb when I was sure to have taken 3 bottles at the aid station: 1 water, 1 coke and 1 iso-drink. I shower myself with the water, throw the bottle away, want to grab the iso bottle in the back, fumble for a few seconds, look back… the bottle cage is empty!!!! and the coke bottle in the front has max 2.5dl. … this is what I would have for the next 25km… a huge rookie mistake that nearly costed my to bonk completely on the run afterwards (I bonked but not completely)

ROOKE MISTAKE NUMBER FOUR: FOCUS ON YOUR NUTRITION PLAN.

The last mistake…and it starts to be embarrassing, is related to the tail of my aero helmet. It can be opened for better airflow in the heat or closed to retain warmth when cold. Guess what? yes, indeed the lid under the tail of the helmet was closed. My aero helmet had also become a pressure cooker.

ROOKE MISTAKE NUMBER FIVE: SEE ROOKIE MISTAKE NUMBER ONE.

Having said all that, I was still very happy with my bike fitness on this 860m elevation course. Most inclines were not more than 3% so it was like riding in the wind. Total distance on my Garmin Edge 90.2km in 2:44 against a planned time of 2:35. So I was now 11 minutes behind my time plan + 3 minutes due to long transition time. Goal time was now out of the window. BUT glad also that no major technical issues happened, it could have gone horribly wrong with that rubbing front tire and a deflated back tire in descends.

Again 600m of transition before starting a long, long half-marathon

The course was not only 22km long it also was very hot AND it had 250m elevation! What a hard course for everyone. The stupid mistake with the closed aero helmet had as consequence that I overheated and I now looked like an overcooked lobster. (A supporting friend said he had never seen me glowing like that…) I did not have much in the tank, cramped, etc..but got it through and was very happy to finish this EU-Championship as an official Swiss Age Grouper. I passed Nicki, my racing buddy for this ETU on the 3rd loop of the race and she was having a ball. We chatted for a bit, I was then sure she was going to have a great finish and although I was tempted to slow down and talk for a bit more I pushed myself back in that 5-ish min/km shuffle of mine. There was nothing more I could do. I finished with my worst half-marathon time ever in 1:49 (- but believe it or not it was the 16th fastest run split in my age group, crazy!!!). I ended overall 22nd out of 57 in my Age Group. 183rd  out of 880 overall (+ 100 who did not finish on that day! obviously I was not the only one with issues). 20x30-CHPG0835

I had never raced with such a density of good athletes!!! Many racked bikes of had a World Championship- Kona-Hawaii sticker on, or Mt-Tremblant (half distance world championship) bottles, bags etc…so happy to have been part of it all. Challenge organised a great race and this whole Championship in this small town with the heat felt like a”Mini-Kona”.

I take away many learnings and as a total fan of Challenge races. But the biggest learning for me is finally understanding what Chris McCormack  had said in an interview last year in Challenge Roth, Germany. He said “as many Age Groupers are not racing for the podium the only thing that counts for them is to beat their PR. They are therefore entering flat, fast courses and shy away from the challenges triathlon offers. Ironman-WTC has recognised this and is planning more and more standard flat races across the world. As an ambassador of Challenge and course advisor I hope we can avoid to do the same as Ironman”. In my case, I felt so happy and proud of myself despite my 2nd worst time at the half distance in 8 races. I found it very rewarding to cross the finishline. This is what triathlon is about, get to the finish line, no matter what. Loved it here and hope to be back in the coming years.20x30-CHPF0341

Cheers everyone and go race.
You can find the full results here
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Young Bull and the Old Bull

“De 15 van Wassenaar” was my last preparation race before the ITU Half-Distance European Championship in Peguera – Mallorca (Oct 18th, 2014). As the name suggests it is a 15km run, the only running race organized in our town. I had done a rather mad workout 3 days before (14x1000m with 90 sec intervals) and my legs were telling me that racing on Sunday was not the idea of the Century. Fast forward. 15:15 on Sunday, perfect weather conditions, 320 athletes lining up and booom! I had posted myself in the first block (ETA 1:00 – 1:10) and start in the first group of 15 athletes.

I assess the field and quickly put my “Macca” hat on (see previous post). I spot a fast looking guy (I will call him “El Greko”) and ask him what is his expected time. He tells me “1 hour”. I answer “hmmm…”. Shortly after this, 4 runners take off at a 3:40 pace. I let them go as I know I could not hold at this pace for 15km. My pace is nonetheless around 3:50 to make sure I do not lose eyesight. El Greko is also clearly pacing himself and backs off. I am staying behind him in 6th position.

3rd Km of the run in 6h position

KM3: the distance between the first 4 stabilizes to 25 seconds.

KM4: 2 of the 4 are starting to struggle and loose contact with the lead. 1st internal maniacal laugh.

Km5, El Greko slows down slightly and I overtake but he stays on my heels, soon after we both overtake the struggling runners paying a high price for overpacing so early. So I am now in 3rd after 5km!!! not bad at all for the oldest runner in the leading group with shot legs. My HR tells me I could catch, but I do not need to as we are now gaining 1-2 seconds every 300m or so.

KM6: what’s that? a new runner comes from the back and starts running by my side. He is clearly panting from the catch-up effort. I take a deep breath and speak to him in a calm matter of fact way: “we will have caught up on the lead in 3 km…”. 2nd internal maniacal laugh.

Km7: the young runner that had caught up falls back. El Greko overtakes him as well but is not keeping up with me anymore. I am now chasing the first 2 runners alone.

Km9: As predicted, without increasing the pace, or just slightly, I am on the heels of a tall, slim runner in his mid-20’s and another runner in his forties. The older runner is just hanging in there by a thread.

Km10: I therefore force the pace and go for the first time “in the red” just to see what will happen, the older runner (or should I say my peer as I was probably as old) loses contact. It is the beginning of the end for him (he will end up in 5th or 6th place).

Taking the lead ater 10km

I am in the lead!!!!

Km11: The young runner stays on my heels…hm…smart…so I slow down a bit. He seems happy about this and run alongside.

 

Km12: Mother Trucker! the young buck takes off like a bullet!!! I feel tricked, getting a taste of my own medicine. Was he running so easy? I try to follow him, my watch says 3:30…no way I can hold this, so I back off and go back to a 3:50 pace. I lose quickly 30 meters on him. At the same time, I decide that the guy was bluffing. Not only was the gap not growing but I also felt that he would have taken off much earlier, if it had been so easy for him. And then a small miracle, a female supporter on the side of the street shouts to me in English: “CATCH HIM”. She is right!

12th km of the run, the young buck accelerates and passes

Km13: I catch him! and my mind projects immediately pictures of Andy Raelert catching up on Chris McCormack at the end of the marathon of the Ironman 2009 in Hawaii. Andy does not  make the pass… in the end he loses in the last mile.

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I will not make the same mistake and plough on accelerating for the final 2 KM.

KM15: I run the last one in 3:45, looking back, making sure he is not making a last surge on the final meters. No, he is 80 meters behind. The final straight line, my friends are here, both daughters are here completely surprised to see me just behind the lead motor bike announcing the first runner in the finish chute. I relax in the last meters, soak it all in, smile and get my first win at a running race. Time: 1:00:12. It is a small local race, but a race nonetheless. After the finish line I turn around, wave and clap to the (huge) crowd (of 250) totally happy. A few minutes later I am on the podium with my daughter and a crown on top of my head like they do for the winners in Hawaii… A good omen?

PodiumA few minutes later…my wife crosses the finish line exhausted but with a huge smile. The kids are filled with pride and happiness. What more can I wish for? Life is sweet.

On the podium my wife!
2 hours and a few Grimbergen beers later. The prize ceremony. Daddy gets the trophy and is handed the mike by the super friendly organiser Bernard Menken …oops, what should I say. I have immediately pictures of Roger Federer always polite thanking the great crowd and the ball boys so I try to do the same: “Thank you to the organisers, the volunteers, great race, etc…” but in the end, I cannot help it “..and you…young runners….train harder”.

Prize Ceremony

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20x30-CTGT0675I wonder why I write race reports, I suppose it is usually more for myself than it is for potential readers, as souvenirs I will keep, like my medals. But this time, there is also something that I would like to share, something I had the privilege to discover by being now closer to the front of the field: race dynamics.

I read last month Macca’s book “I Am Here To Win” and it taught me to really think about my race. How can I improve versus the last time without being in a significantly better shape? I started to discuss with Isa, weighting different options and finally settling for the following one: I decided to start at the very front of swim but at the farthest possible from the ideal line and swim easy, not because I wanted to save energy for the bike or for run, but because I made the bet that the better age group bikers are usually not the best swimmers. And if I could start riding with a group of strong bikers I would be much more likely to be faster than racing on my own. For the bike leg, I had asked Isabel to position herself with my friends just in front of the hotel to cheer me on, as it was a place where I could see them 5 times and that would give me 5 additional boosts of energy. I also decided, based on the experience of last year on the same course, that I would give myself time in the first 2000m of the run to adjust from the horizontal to the vertical position and make sure that I was “all systems go” before increasing the pace and try to finally go under1:40 for the half marathon. I also realised that Isabel, who did her first triathlon the day before was out of transition faster then I usually would (I know…it is somewhat embarrassing after 5 years in the sport) and told myself that I was really trotting too slow in T1 and T2. So, this time I would sprint through transition. So, This was the plan.

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At 12:15, I kiss Isabel good-bye after a quick warm-up and I swim my way up to the starting line. I love the start of the 1.9km swim in Cologne at the Fühlingersee. This rowing basin is used as a drinking water reservoir for the city. The water is clean, clear, smooth. There are buoys every 15m. so you just need to position yourself at the start along one of the 8 rowing corridors and get ready for a straight swim. I decide to go at the farthest right, to stay away from powerful swimmers. I also know, that is the spot were the weaker swimmers will go. I am therefore able to position myself right at the front of the pack. The gun goes off.

No surprise here, I stay in the front apart from 1 or 2 swimmers passing me. Perfect! I can use them to slipstream and I put myself behind for the first 400m. Unfortunately, the swimmer in front of me starts to slow down too much and I need to make the pass and swim on my own. At mid-point, I look at my watch and see 18 min. This is TOO SLOW! I have taken it too easy. My plan is to exit in 34 min. I increase arm cadence and concentrate on long strokes. I do the second half in 16 min. and exit the water in 34:06. As promised to myself, I rush through transition and exit after just a bit more than 3 min. This was good. 20x30-CTGO0571The better news though is that my bet was turning in my favor. I need to explain this in details:

There are 3 waves of starters. The first wave with number from 1000 to 1070 (the pro + elite age groupers), then a second wave from 1071 to 1650 and finally the last wave from 1651 to 2200. The bikes are racked according to the numbers and the numbers are allocated by ascending predicted times. My number was 1101, so 30 atheletes had predicted in the second wave a faster total race time than me and 550 a slower time. From the previous races I did, I noticed that bikes did not exit in this expected sequential order. I always saw triathletes spread in the transition zone. It became clear to me, that there was no logical link between a fast swim and a fast overall predicted race time for age groupers.

My bet, as said was that I would be more likely to meet in T1 good bikers with similar bib numbers, if I would swim easy. And, at least for this race…I WAS RIGHT!! I saw plenty of fellow competitors left and right getting ready to push mostly beautiful bikes with disc wheels out of transition. I told to myself this was the chance to ride with a great bunch.

We have tail wind for the first 15km towards the city centre of Cologne. The group is moving fast in an orderly manner. At the point, where I expect to see Isa and the Goldberg family, I see nobody. That surprises me a bit but I think, I would see them when I ride bike out of town. I look at my Garmin and see average speed 39.2 km/h. Ooopla. Even with the wind in our back, this was fast.20x30-CTGH1141 First turn of the 2 loop course and out of the city. Again, nobody to support…hm..As soon as we exit the city the 15 km/h wind hits us in the face and within 2 min the train becomes a pack. Race referees on their motor bikes appear from everywhere and start shouting to keep distance and make passes. It was clear to me, that staying in this situation would only get me a yellow card and 4 minutes penalty. Afterall, living on the coast of the Netherlands with the constant winds, should be an advantage for me now. So I decide to attack. I pass the pack in less than a minute and push the pace. I look behind and nobody is following me. Bummer. While I look back, I see that I have lost my spare kit. Double bummer. If I have a flat now the race is over. Anyways, my quads are on fire and I start to wonder how the hell I will run after this. The roads slowly changes direction after 10K, I am in cross-winds and decide to let off the pace for a few minutes. The stronger bikers of the group join me and we decide to race together. The remaining bikers had obviously more issues with the headwind. And from then on, I had a great time. We were riding clean, respecting the minimum distance. It took me a while to understand why the race marshalls were constantly on us, but then a light bulb went on: The first wave with the elite athletes started 10 minutes ahead, so no surprise, that I was seeing bikers riding in the opposite direction on this loop course. But fact was that WE were the leading train of the second wave and that special attention was given to us by the referrees. I was so excited, I was picturing myself on the Queen K highway in Hawaii with an helicopter on top of my head. I had a great time.20x30-CTGF2272
We enter for the 2nd time the city and this time, the support team is there. They are screaming words that I do not undestand and I shout back raising a fist “CHAAAARGE!!!” and take the lead of the train at more the 42 km/h. We make the turn in the city and knowing that Isa and the crew would be there screaming like histerics in a few seconds I put the hammer down and ride on their energy past them. On the last 20km I distance the lead pack by 3 minutes. I finish the 90km bike leg in 2:25, 66th fastest split of the day and dash through transition in barely 1:30.

As planned, I force myself to slowdown on the first 2000m, and again, I see that I had taken the right decision. Like last year, my liver starts to send large pain signals. But this time, I know what this means. I stop at the first aid station and drink about 500ml of Coke. The pain disappears quasi instantly. The problem is: the Coke is not degassed. So the liver pain changes into stomach pain, but I can handle stomach pain. With liver pain the worst that can happen is ending on a stretcher, with stomach pain the worst that can happen is shitting my pants, so just an ego issue, really.

The operation costs me most of my 3 minutes lead and I start to see familiar faces from the bike leg passing me. At this time, I only worry about my health, which seems to improve by the minute. I can now settle in a 4:30 pace.20x30-CTGN0851 My legs are fresh and I start calculating my expected finish time. My head is numb and it takes me forever to figure out that I might make it under 4:40. This motivates me massively and 12 km in the race I see Isa and the Goldbergs supporting me. I am flying from km 12 to km 14 and I pass them again. Joel run for a few hundreds meters next to me. He asks me how I feel. I tell him that I may go under 4:40 but that I also may blow up. This is a very thin line now. I am exhausted and tempted to slow down, telling myslef that 4.45 is also good and that I will set a personal best anyways. And just when I am about to give in to this rationalisation I see an athlete with a green jersey who had done all the biking with me and passed my after 5km in the run. This was the kind of bait that I needed. I am trying to go faster, but he seems to always stay about 150m in the front. It is only 1.5km before the finish line that I manage to catch-up. 20x30-GTGJ3300We climb together stairs to cross the final bridge of the Rhein before the finish line and those stairs litterally kill my legs. I have to stop panting like a giant pregnant walruss. He is now 25m in the front, 50min in the front. This is not OK, I will not let him go away and decide to chase him one more time. 150m before the finish line, I sprint to overtake him and try to finish under 4:40 (I had my watch wrong and 4:40 had already passed :-))). Anyways I manage the pass 10 meters before the finish line. I cannot control my legs anymore and crash into the catchers and into the Finisher T-Shirt boxes. Totally exhausted but so happy about my race and my best half-marathon at the half-iron distance in 1:36:14 (82nd fastest split of the day)20x30-CTGA0589

I see the smiling faces of Nicki, Isabel, Joel, Aaron and their kids. I know I would never have been able to race that hard without them and feel thanksful for their presence. I was also happy to have taken certain dynamics of the race at my advantage to beat my old personal best by over 11 minutes.

This was the last race of the season I had wished for. I am now looking forward to a long break from triathlon.

Race Stats:

Swim: 34:06 (224), Bike: 2:25 (62), Run 1:36:14 (82). Total 4:40:55. 11th in AG40-44 and 70th overall.

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The nerves are kicking in… The 1000 questions and scenario how things could go wrong hit home….but actually, it is too late too worry now. The bike is racked in transition zone, the transition bags are hung in the transition areas, the training is done, it is actually all about not worrying and relax AND enjoy. Well…that is easier said the done, but there are 2 things that helped me taking my thoughts of the race: The talking with fellow athletes and Pros as well as my daughter participating in The IronKids Race.

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1. I met some very inspiring people: a 60-65 lady age grouper, who answered me after asking her what was her goal for this race. She said ¨this year is all about not getting a glow stick before the finishing line¨. A glow stick is something you receive after darkness as settled over the running course in order for the helpers to identify the athletes still in the race. I hope I will also be fighting the glow stick receival at 60!
I also met Luke McKenzie and his wife. Luke is a 5 time Ironman Champ, 6 time Hawaii finisher (ranked 9th in 2011) and is currently 37th on the 2012 IronMan Pro Ranking Male (http://www.lukemckenzie.com). We chatted for about 10 min. Totally relaxed accessible pro (like many others). He took time to give me some advise on the course, his wife was playing with our kids, etc.. There is just no other sport where pro, all age groupers, male, female, disabled, etc…are all racing together at the same time and share the experience in such a way. The 3rd person is Paul Perrett. He lost his father at the age of 13 from skin cancer, took on weight up to 130kg, became a chain-smoker and workoholic on the border of exhaustion. Then he realised ,that he would not re-produce the same story and have 3 fatherless kids. So, he got out of his couch (and office chair) and started training for Ironman. What made it more difficult is that he was born with clubbed feet. Multiple operations left him with a big challenge to run, but he still did took on the challenge and finished his first Ironman a year ago. We checked in together and I will drive tomorrow morning with him at the start (planned at 5:45…aaaarrrghh!). What willpower (not the early wake up part…)! Simply Inspiring.

2.  We supported our older daughter to start her first triathlon.

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At the beginning, she was not sure whether it was a good idea but she gradually became more and more excited as the day came. IronKids age limit is 7, so she was one of the youngest in the race and she did awesome as you can see in the pictures. The swim was the toughest piece for her. Surrounded by Aussie kids, most of them butterflying their way out of the womb, it was difficult to compete,. Once one the bike though (after a very comfy break in transition chatting with her wonderful helper), she was flying, overtaking a few and giving it all.

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The run, like dad, was her best discipline. A dash from start to finish under the real arch of the Ironman finish chute. She finished as her starting number indicated: As number 1 in Mom’s and Dad’s heart. We are so proud of our daughter.

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She cannot wait to go back to school after the break and show here finisher T-shirt and her medal to all her 1st grader friends (a special greeting to Ann and her class here!).

So tomorrow is the big day… I don’t think I will be able to blog much afterwards…

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My friends told me to race hard, to kick butts, so I did my best and enjoyed every minute. It was Ironman Day. I am over the moon.
I stayed the last 3 hours in the public at the finish line, cheering fellow competitors and I seldom felt such true simple joy, without any selfishness at greeting them with my guts and heart. I cheered every one of them, until the last. What a party. This distance is magic. I love it.

But back now to 07:00 on July 4th 2010 in Frankfurt.

It was a big surprise for all of us at the pre-race meeting. No wetsuit because of a high water temperature was one thing. But also, as of July 1st this year NO tri-race suit with any neoprene or plastic of any sort. And you know what: it WAS GREAT!!! The good old way, most of us, like in the early 90’s just with a Speedo. Apart from the fact that I had a great swim, taking all corners rather wide from the buoys to avoid contact with the other 2351 athletes, the most interesting thing about this swim was to realise exactly how much the difference a wetsuit makes. I exited the water after 1:14 in 827th position. With the same time last year with neoprene I would be 1550!!! Now, last year the 827th position swam in 1:06:35. (I had planned 1:07). So it is confirmed. I swim close to 2min faster with a wetsuit per km! For all who asked my how big the difference is, this is it. It is huge in my view.

And now to the bike after a rather lengthy transition. The weather conditions were perfect for the bike course. Heavy clouds, low 20C, light North-West wind blowing 10-15k. The course itself is a relatively hilly one with 1000 meters of elevation over 4 hills: the Beast, the Hell, the Hünerberg and the real bad one; the Heartbreak Hill). Two loops (8 hills 🙂 and exceptionally, an additional 5K because of road works, hence 185 instead of 180. I had very good legs. I paced myself and stayed for the entire bike course at 144 avg bpm, NEVER going in the red. 31km avg over 185km is an excellent result for me BUT it was only the 1250th time. I lost basically 400 positions during the ride. OK, I derailed twice, went to the loo, had to unclip my front wheel due to a stone that was stuck between the wheel and the fork. But apart from that cycling remains my weak discipline and I need stronger legs. Morale was great all the way apart from KM120 to KM140, but I pushed through that too. I had excellent support from my former osteopath, who flew especially from Vienna and motivated me the whole time.

I had a good transition, the helpers were fantastic and when the one that was taking care of me asked me, whether she should hand-over the Garmin watch to me, I said: “ditch it in the transition bag”. I had paced myself during the swim and the bike, now it was time to run and listen to my body and to feel how much it could take for the marathon. So there goes the heart rate, the pace, etc…I had never done that before and yet it felt just right to do that. The first 10K went very well. Slow and easy. I was still kind of checking how my legs would take the rest of the distance. Just as I wanted to accelerate, I realise with shock that I have lost my chip/transponder. Will I get a total time? will I get a DNF? what’s next? So I run (fast) to the closest penalty box. The ref tells me to stay cool. I just need to check-in at every loop, in the meantime they will inform the data centre, get me a new chip and will scan the bar code at the finish line behind my bib number (so…this is what it’s for, this little piece of paper attached to the bib number..). I “lose” about 10 minutes in the process…but you know what. Great break and plenty of time to rehydrate (very well organised those penalty boxes). By the 2nd round the sun is back. And it is pounding. 29 degrees (86F) and the trend is up. With all these emotions I am out of my rhythm and I try to concentrate. Just then, I see Andreas, my support taking pictures, and this of course, vain as I am, puts me right back on my feet :-). Now I have a good rhythm, I guess around 5:30 per km. I do not stop at the aid stations, just take every time water and ice to pour over my head and soak my entire body. The last round is the hottest one. the last 5K are hard, but I don’t stop, I have lost enough time in the penalty boxes and posing for pictures. No it is all about thinking of the red carpet, the people, the music, the finish line. I start thanking in my head all people who have helped me in the last 12 months, especially Isabel. I think of our daughters. I also see myself in the hospital and realise where I am now. Behind my cool Rudy Project glasses a few tears come out. But now it is time to go over the red carpet. The noise from the crowd is deafening, I start shouting myself, raised arms, I am overwhelmed by emotions, I jump around, slow down, enjoy the finish line. It feels I stayed for ever in the arrival arena. I cross it with the time of 11 hours and 38 min. Better than I thought I would do. I covered the marathon in 4:13. Not great but good enough to make up for most of the 400 positions lost during the bike. End result 913th out of 2351. I could not ask for more. The Catcher at the arrival said that I looked fresh, I told him that I just looked happy, (and to myself: happy to have never given up in the last 13 months following the crash). The IM Frankfurt is a day to remember as the closure of a long chapter. But it is also a day to remember because the organisers, the helpers, my friend as support where just unbelievable. I could start again tomorrow. Realistically though I think, I will only do another IM in 2012. I think Madison, Wisconsin.

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I waited (and trained) for that day since December 20th, day of my registration for the Lavaman. This triathlon is the second biggest tri event on the Big Island after the Ironman World championship. It is an Olympic distance and happens every year at the end of March. Chris McCormack describes it as follows in his last entry of his blog (April 2nd) “It is a tough, windy bike course and a super hot and difficult run. The entire bike course takes in the most difficult section of the bike course at the Ironman World Championships, and the run is mostly off road and through the thick Lava flows. It really reminds me of some of the early races I did in my career, when these ingredients seemed to be a prerequisite of a triathlon” . 1020 athletes coming mostly from Hawaii and the West Coast of Canada and the USA were gathered for this event. Chris McCormack, 2 times IM world champion was also at the starting line. The race starts at the Waikoloa Beach Resort onthe west coast and the bike course is a segment of the World Championship on the famous Queen K. Highway.

This race was for me the big test whether I had trained enough and done enough rehabilitation after the accident on June 8th the previous year. It would tell me, whether I was ready to train for longer distance and be able to be on the starting line of the Ironman of Frankfurt later this year.

I thought the race would be hard, but it turned out that it was getting there that cost me most energy. My family and I are currently staying on Kauai and I had to take 2 planes (via Honolulu) to get there. The first plane had 4 hours delay, the second was cancelled and the company had lost my reservation…In the end, I just made it in time to retrieve my starting packet, to put my bike together and to test it before sunset. I nonetheless could go early to bed and have a surprisingly good night sleep.

I wake up at 5:00 AM and take a short breakfast in bed. The weirdest thing after taking a shower is to put sunscreen when it is still pitch dark outside. I do that nonetheless, because I know that today’s forecast is 30 degrees, low wind and 86% humidity. I get out of my hotel room, the sun greets me and I take a picture of it in return. Coming to the transition zone, most of the athletes are already there… loud house music is blaring through big loudspeakers and a commentator repeats with eagerness the do’s and dont’s of the day. I get myself ready in the transition zone, get body marked with the No480 and walk slowly to the start at the A-Bay, a beautiful little cove. I enter the water at 07:10 and swim 4o0m to warm-up the shoulders. At 7:36 I start in the 3rd waves (that are Male Athletes 40 and Oooolder). I don’t pace myself. Feeling strong I aggressively make my way to the front of the pack. The real good swimmers are ahead and I can keep a good pace (around 15:30 per km) for the entire 1500 with the pack. I exit the water after 23:20′ and make a 300m dash to the transition zone. The enter of T1 comes at 15:24. I exit 1:31 later to start the bike. At this time, my position is in the  first 75 or 80 athletes. The bike leg starts very well with a 37kmh for the first 8km and suddenly the wind changes. Everyone gets it strong in the face for the next 12km. The average speed drops to less than 32kmh and legs are sore. The mid-point turn comes at the right moment. From then on, it is tail wind and I finish the bike leg in 1 hour 11 minutes, which is above 34kmh avg. I run through transition very fast. So fast that I forget my helmet and have to return to deposit it next to the bike. In the end it is 1:41 in T2. The first 500m run go well and suddenly stomach cramps are coming. Strong ones. I immediately know that it comes from a new sports drink I had during the bike. I work through these cramps for the next 3km. It is hot, I cannot breathe regularly. I am smiling thinking that my knee would hurt, but no, it is my stomach that slows me down. I finally find my rhythm after 5k and start running at a 4:45 pace between km 6 and 8.5. The last mile: it is not hard surface but all lava stones and broken corals. Worse, the last 400m are in soft sand but at this point I see the 2 athletes in front of me pick up the pace and I decide to hang on, which I can and do until the finish line. 20 meters before the finish line, I raise my arms, fist closed, throat thightened. It is a great liberating moment. At this point the total time does not matter anymore. It is the knowledge that my knee held the shock of the race, it is the knowledge that I can race again, that my sports days are not over. I do the run in 50:12′.

Time overall is 2:30’10”. Position 122 out of 1020. Chris McCormack wins the race for the 2nd consecutive year.

The Lavaman triathlon is the best organised and most scenic tri-event I have done. Compare to Europe, I found many athletes very relaxed ready to enjoy the race. The quota of female athletes was incredible, something I have never seen in Europe. All in all, this triathlon is maybe not worth the trip from Europe, but it is a must do, if you are around in March in Hawaii.

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I never considered myself a big fan of beaches. The idea of spending a day at the beach never really appealed to me. I even used to say that I was not a participant to a skin cancer contest. Spending 6 weeks on the Sunshine Coast of Australia has changed it all. I must sadly admit that I am a beach boy now…still better than a lying on a plastic long chair under a striped umbrella by the pool. One has to understand the beach culture first and I did not get that until now. First, you come to the beach equipped:

Body board & fins – Surfboard – Sun Shelter – Cold Drinks – Wet shirt and heaps of sun cream – bucket and shovel – Running Shoes – Sunglasses – 3 Sherpas.

When the base camp is set, it is just about deciding in which sequences you are going to build a sand castle or a sandy pool for the kids, swim, surf, bodysurf, jog/stroll, eat, drink or sleep in the shelter. All this is only valid if 2 parameters are in spec: The sea must throw big crystal clear waves at you, the sand must be white and real smooth. Take out these two parameters and you take the beach boy out of me.

In the end, I felt that I could not spend enough time at the beach to do all this. It happened actually two times, that I walk up at 4:45 AM to go with a neighbour down to the beach to swim in the calm ocean before starting the day.

Here a small gallery of our past activities on the Eastern Beaches of the Sunshine Coast:

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