Mt. Kinabalu – Guest Post by BT

I promised to climb Mount Kinabalu last Christmas Eve on a whim for the same challenge that led AF to complete his triathalon. The two-day climb seemed doable, and the chance to visit Borneo while living in Malaysia was too good to pass up!

Keeping tight lips until I had bragging rights (and a photo at the summit) to pass onto AF and KT, I headed to Kinabalu with five friends at the end of October. I can’t say I really trained for the climb, but I’ve been doing a lot of hiking with a great group of people all year; there are some spectacular jungle trails in Penang accessible after work and on weekends.

The first day of the climb entails 6km on a well-kept trail. Somewhere between 4-5km, we left the steamy jungle behind for cooler temps and some cool looking vegetation (photo). Although we took lots of time to take photos and lunch, we were one of the first groups to reach the Laban Rata guesthouse, with tons of time to stretch, play cards, and enjoy a brilliant sunset.



Weird Trees

Weird Trees





We were up at 2am to reach the summit before sunrise, spoiled with a full moon and clear skies. This was lucky, as the climbers the day before described their summit experience in the rain and sub-zero temperatures as “Shit”. The summit was incredible as the sun rose over Borneo; I couldn’t help but feel accomplished at completing something I’d been thinking about all year.



Summit with a picture of the eggs!

Summit with a picture of the eggs!

Descent from the top

Descent from the top

Descent again

Descent again

After the thrill of the top, the same-day descent was rough – I almost crawled to the park gate at the end of the trail. Our last evening in Kota Kinabalu involved walking slowly, lots of sleep, and avoiding stairs at all cost. Four days of burning legs later, I had nothing but great memories and photographs of the mountain.

The tour includes accommodation at two dorm-style lodges – Sutera Lodge at the Mount Kinabalu National Park gate, and Laban Rata, way-up-high at 3272m. I had low expectations for the lodges, but they were fantastic – comfortable beds, lovely pillows, and warm blankets for those of us who had acclimatized to tropical island weather. The food was sub-par in quality, but there was more than enough of it to satisfy hungry climbers.

Many tourists consider Malaysian Borneo to be covered in red-tape – in my opinion this is completely justified once you see some of the flora and fauna of the archipelago. I would recommend that anyone visiting the area do some planning-ahead. It’s not my usual travel style to book through a tour company, but in the case of Kinabalu, you’ll benefit from the organization and stewardship of an incredible place!

Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant

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Toronto Scotiabank Half Marathon

Just a few months late, I’m finally getting around to posting on my final race of the season last year, the Toronto Scotiabank Half Marathon, which took place on a rainy Sunday, October 14th. The middle of October in Toronto is just about that time when it’s also starting to get a bit cool, and the weather was less than inspiring as I set out to walk down to the start line at 7:00 a.m. I’d gone into Toronto the night before to stay with friends and left them (and their four cats) sleeping as I stepped out into the rain.

I didn’t sleep that well before the race – my friends are big baseball fans, Detroit Tiger fans specifically, and a Detroit playoff game went into extra-innings on Saturday night – this was fun to watch, but I think that I finally fell asleep at 1:00 and was then up again at 6:00 to make sure that I ate far enough in advance of the start. That said, I didn’t feel particularly tired, and after a good breakfast I was feeling ready to go. Although the rainy weather made for a miserable walk down to the race, I was actually pleased that it was pretty cool – I seem to run a lot better in cold weather and I don’t think sun would have been very helpful in the end.

The Scotiabank Marathon/Half Marathon is a huge event, but I got myself into the corral early enough that I had time to warm-up and wasn’t too far back in the pack. This was my first half-marathon, so I wasn’t entirely sure how my body would react as the race went on, but I’d put in some good training before the race (focusing more on running after the last triathlon of the season a month before) and was aiming to go sub 1hour 3ominutes. The Toronto course is a relatively fast one, so I at least wanted to give it my best shot and not have regrets after the race.

I was feeling pretty psyched to go with about two minutes to go, when something remarkable happened: the pre-race announcer informed everyone that Doug Ford (Toronto councilor and brother of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: both less than supportive of active transportation) had come to watch the beginning of the race, at which point boos resounded throughout the start corrals. With that, and a laugh, we were off.

Even though I had my watch and could follow my pacing all alone, I decided at first to follow the 1:30 pace-bunny. This was a mistake in some respects: the pace-bunny, while a nice person, was a bit annoying and I got pretty tired of his commentary after two or three kilometres. He also wasn’t pacing very well, as we ran the first 6-10kms well below 1:30 pace – after a bit of an incline, a gradual decline down to the waterfront facilitated 4:00 kilometres for a little bit. This was actually fine with me, but I do think pacers should stay as close to schedule as possible (I imagine that some people following him really felt that pace increase at about km 15!).

The advantage to following him was that I got in with a group of runners, who helped me to block the wind. There was in the end a pretty strong wind on the day (which slowed down everyone, including the pros: the winning marathon time was, dare I say it, a mere 2:10!), and I was able to conserve energy by running within a group through to km 12. After that, I was feeling strong and so decided to move ahead of the 1:30 pace group to try and aim a bit higher. I made this move at the same time as a very solid marathoner running at the pace I wanted to keep (she also agreed that the pacer’s banter was a bit annoying!) – having someone to run with helped me pace and my legs were feeling strong.

At km 20, with an incline, I started to notice that my legs weren’t as fresh as they once were, but I still felt pretty good and was on pace for 1:27. I only felt really tired when I turned the corner to head up an incline for the last kilometre: when I did so, I hit a wall of wind and felt like I was standing still for a few seconds. I therefore dropped my pace a bit in the final km and had to let 1:27 slip, but I nonetheless crossed the finish line in 1:28:28 (net time). That was well under my goal of 1:30 and I was pretty pleased with it for my first half-marathon race. That put me in place 151 out of 9690 entrants.

After the race I went for brunch with my friends hosting me and an old friend from high school, which was great. I ate a lot and then hopped on the bus home. The race was really a lot of fun, and it was a great way to end the racing season for me. I’m already looking forward to next season!

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Long ago (in blogging time: i.e. three months), I promised a post on the trip KT, NP, and I took to Berlin. Due to various time constraints, I kept putting this off, but I’m now finally getting to it, better late than never. This one’s for you MB……

Potsdamer Platz Berlin (Wikimedia Commons)

I first visited Berlin in 2001 and I should admit up front that I love the city: it’s an exciting mix of old and new, ever expanding and fascinating architectural gems, a wealth of cultural sites and museums, clean, easy to navigate, and (as big cities go) very affordable. When I visited the first time, it was for a friend’s wedding. This time, KT, NP, and I were visiting for the annual networking meeting of the foundation that provided my fellowship. We had a full three days of travel, sightseeing activities, dinners, talks, and more travel planned, and the foundation advertised that there would be child care programmes. It was a promising layout.

Given the hassle and expense of flying (not to mention the environmental impact), we decided to make our way from Heidelberg to Berlin by high-speed train, which is about a six hour journey each way. We booked well in advance and paid the little bit extra to have a seat booked also for NP, which gave us a much appreciated cushion with space. As we set out NP was quite willing to sit quietly with her bear and read – she was even interested in the train magazine:

NP reading on the train to Berlin

This quietude, and the equivalent calm created by the novelty of looking out the window, lasted for approximately 30 minutes. With five and a half hours to go to Berlin, we realized suddenly that long-distance train travel with a walking 16-month old is not for the fainthearted. Unfortunately, we also realized at that moment that we were fainthearted. The remainder of the journey consisted of KT and I taking turns walking NP from one end of the train to the other – some grandmothers managed to smile at NP even on the 48th pass down the aisle, while most younger observers of our peregrinations developed a frown after just the 4th pass, which deepened each time we forced them to draw in their extended (and in many cases still growing) feet from the corridor and remove their eyes from the movie they were watching on their youth-distraction-device.

Before you could read War and Peace twice in Russian, we’d arrived in Berlin and were headed off to the hotel, not far from the central train station, to get settled. The hotel was very close to the Zoologischer Garten and was very attractively equipped with a modern style. The foundation had organized things well and we were soon settled in our room and thinking of exploring Berlin a bit.

The first activity on our plate was a trip to the Schloss Bellvue, the residence of the German President, where we were treated to a reception and speech by the President. The Schloss has exceptionally gorgeous grounds and the foundation had organized activities for the older children. KT and I realized at this point that we would not have the freedom we’d expected by the advertised child-care, as the activities provided were not suitable for kids under 4. NP nonetheless got into the spirit of things and insisted on doing all the things she was too small to do. I helped her along the large red balloon snake of death:

At the Schloss Bellvue

We were fortunate to have a nice day (if a little hot) for the event, and NP (at least in our unbiased opinion as her parents) looked exceptionally cute in her flower-patterned dress. Having climbed the red balloon monster, NP then set off to explore the less populated areas of the garden reception:

NP and the presidential tent peg

It was at about this point that the German President emerged to give his speech. This was quite difficult to hear with the wind and speaker system that projected only so far. NP therefore decided that she would focus her attention instead on the drinks tent. To be more specific, she attempted repeatedly to pull out the tent pegs – KT and I were happy that these had been pounded in sufficiently that even a grown 125-kilo man couldn’t have removed them, not that we didn’t hold some suspicion that the 10-kilo NP might just find a way to get them out anyway. Fortunately, I only had to imagine and not actually live out the scene in which KT and I apologize profusely for the fact that our child knocked down a tent on hundreds of international scholars as a leading political figure gave a speech. Of course, having missed this opportunity, I have no doubt that NP is already plotting another such attempt for the future!

The next day, we found time amidst the busy schedule to take NP to the Berlin Aquarium, a visit which she (and we) enjoyed immensely. She could run around and look at the fish without much fear of getting into trouble and she was, I think, amazed by the colours and variety of the fish. Reading the descriptions of the fish also gave NP a chance to work on her Latin:

NP and I with the fish

She was particularly taken with the fish who were bigger than her, an interest, I assume, that comes from her recent fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick (Toddler Quarterly has recently accepted her research paper on the topic, entitled ‘Wale, Big, Stinky…Woah’):

NP finds Moby Dick, the toddler version

After the zoo, we were quickly back to the hotel and then off for a day of activities with the foundation, which included a boat cruise (with lunch) around the city. Seeing Berlin by boat is fascinating, as you pass along part of the historic division between East and West and see even familiar elements of the rapidly expanding city from a different perspective. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard on the day, so we weren’t able to go up on the deck but had to watch from inside the boat. This became rather torturous with NP, as the inside of the boat became incredibly hot and noisy, with the windows closed and everyone talking. To make matters worse, a guide with a microphone tried to talk over the babble of the crowd and countless children screamed. By the time we got back to the hotel that night, we could barely move from fatigue. I somehow managed to pick myself up enough to do a quick tempo-run in the nearby park, but we all had an early night.

The next morning we had breakfast in the Canadian embassy with other Canadian scholars, thanks to a generous and kind invitation of the ambassador, and then it was time to make our way to the train station for the journey home. The trip home, I’ll admit, was a bit rough – NP wanted to walk from the outset, and the energy we had on the outbound trip wasn’t there to buoy us through the first few hours – throughout those six hours I kept praying that a Mary-Poppins-like nanny would swoop down and do a bit of the walking with NP (a bit of dancing with animated figures too and perhaps the odd walk on the ceiling, I presume). But then time, even excruciating time, has a habit of passing quickly and we were home before we knew it. Overall the trip was an eventful and interesting one and Berlin remains one of my favourite cities in the world.

Back to the present, more on half-marathon training soon……

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Lakeside Triathlon

Sunova Lake – Lakeside Resort

A few weeks ago I awoke one morning to a bit of a scare. KT and I, still deep in our we-just-moved-to-Canada-from-Germany-and-have-way-too-many-things-to-do mire, had been exploring the possibility of making a few minor plumbing changes in our house. For that reason we had called a few plumbers to come and give us a quote. I had spoken with one of these plumbers the day before, who told me that he would phone me first thing in the morning to confirm what time he would be able to come to do the quote. At 7 a.m., just as I had re-entered the world of the conscious, that phone call came. It went something like this:

“Mr F.” …. “Yes, speaking” …. “This is so-and-so from such-and-such plumbing” …. “Oh, hi” …. “I believe that we ran into your car last night” …..groggily “You what!?” …. “I believe that we ran into your car last night” …. “You ran into my car!” …. “Um….oh, sorry, you’re the customer who wanted the quote?” …. “Yes”…. “I mixed you up with someone else”.

Now, to make my early-morning heart-attack even worse, as KT and I were going to sleep the night before, we heard a car alarm nearby going off for quite a while, a fact which I then recalled vividly as images of an evil plumber (imagine something like the clown in the film-version of Stephen King’s IT, but a plumber) ramming his van into our car ran through my head. Needless to say, we did not employ this particular plumber’s services.

Fortunately, I had a lot of exercise planned for later that day, to bring my nerves back under control. I’ve been training this past month for an Olympic-distance triathlon this weekend, but also for a half-marathon in October (Toronto Waterfront), so my coach has had me doing some longer 18-22km runs off the bike. Training has been logistically more challenging since I’ve been back teaching full-time, also given that the light in the day is steadily getting shorter, but I’ve also felt that the training I’ve been doing has been pretty solid. In the end, the break (for the most part) I took in the first 10 days of August recharged me physically and mentally. And training at the beginning or end of the day really does keep me stress-free at work.

My race this morning was the Lakeside triathlon, held at the Lakeside camping resort in Ontario (very near to St Mary’s, and well-worth considering for a holiday!). Lake Sunova, where we did the swim, was clean and picturesque (as in the photo above). Sadly, this was my last triathlon of this season, but happily it went really well. When I went into this first season of triathlons, my initial goal was to go sub 2:45 in the full Olympic-distance. When I reached this in June, my next goal was to go sub 2:30, and I did that today! Here are the numbers:

Overall time: 2:25:31, Overall finishing place 49/249 (12/25 in age group)

Swim: 25:09 — Bike: 1:11:30 — Run: 44:34

T1 2:49 — T2 1:32

Now, each triathlon course is different on any given day, such that simple comparison of times from one race to the next, or even the same race from one year to the next, is not always a reliable measure. That said, this time takes 12 minutes off my previous best, and this was without a doubt the most solid race I’ve ever done. In my first triathlon race back in May I was unsure how to pace myself throughout the race (how much and when to push on the swim, bike, and run), but today I felt much more confident than I ever have before.

On paper, I wasn’t thrilled with the swim time, but it seems like the swim wasn’t a fast one today – even the pros (the winner, by the way finished in 1:56:52) didn’t break 20 minutes. The bike was great for me and I felt strong, even through the 10-15kms with a strong head-wind. Once again, I was on a pretty inexpensive road-bike, which probably made it a bit more difficult going into the wind, and makes me pretty satisfied with the overall time. On the run, I went out at a 4:00/km pace and, although I still feel that I didn’t nail the run, I worked hard on the bike and the sub-45:00 time was still a PB off the bike (this will come, I think). One aspect of the race that was still pretty bad for me today was transition. In my first transition, the zipper on my wetsuit stuck again (something I need to solve), which left me in the transition zone for almost 3 minutes. The second transition was also about a minute slower than those of others finishing around me. In fact, with reasonable transition times, I would have finished about 7 spots higher! This is definitely something to work on.

Reaching that goal of sub 2:30 pretty comfortably today has given me great motivation for  off-season training and confidence going into my second season. If I work solidly in the pool, on the bike/trainer, and on the run, I think I can make a lot of improvement. On the run in particular, I’m aiming to get a sub-40:00 time off the bike – that may be ambitious, but I think it’s good to have goals.

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be putting my feet to the road a lot as I prepare for the half-marathon. I’ve run this distance several times in training this year, but have never raced the distance before, so I’ve got a time I’m aiming for, but will also be treating it as a learning experience. I didn’t have photos today, as KT and NP couldn’t join me, but they’ll be there in Toronto to cheer me on and capture all the action.

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Homeward We Bound

It seems I’m always making excuses for not blogging more frequently. I know that there are those bloggers out there who would fight through natural disaster, power loss, or even temporary dactylic paralysis (with effort, it is possible to type with the nose) to keep churning out regular posts. I, on the other hand, am without doubt at this point in my life a medium-core blogger. Not that I couldn’t be hard core – it’s just that, for the moment, I’ve got my hard core placed elsewhere (and no MB, I didn’t intend for that sentence to be taken in the rude sense that just flashed through your mind!).

That said, I think that this time I’ve got a particularly good excuse. Since my last race and blog, KT, NP and I packed our bags once again and made our move back to Canada from Germany. Making an international move, especially with an 18-month old, is a lot of work, between packing, jet-lag, unpacking, getting settled back in at work, and getting a home set up again. On our first night back, NP went to sleep finally at 9 p.m. (3 a.m. German time) and woke up cranky but bushy-tailed at 1 a.m., bang on her usual 7 a.m. wake-up time in Germany! As my eyelids were unwillingly pried open by NP’s plaintive wailing (it was as if there really were a creaky lever connecting my ear drums and eye lids), I experienced that all too familiar feeling brought on by excessive travel and limited sleep of having no idea where in the world I was. Only pity righted my senses, as I considered how very lost poor NP must have been feeling.

With that, and at that hour, we arose for our first full (oh so very full) day in Canada and have been going at full-speed ever since. In my life thus far, I’ve been resident in 6 countries (7 if you separate Scotland and England) and had extended stays in many more, so I’m familiar with the ambiguous feelings of the leaving process: in a move there’s always something to be lost and at the same time always something to be gained. The hardest part, of course, is leaving behind good friends, even when this time we were also looking forward to seeing old friends once more. I’ve really been missing all the friends I trained with and got to know through triathlon, as well as other friends and colleagues, but then there are also lots of opportunities to keep in touch these days and I hope they will.

NP also had to say goodbye to good friends. Now, perhaps it’s easier to say goodbye to friends when you’re at an age of parallel play rather than interactive play, but she still did seem a bit wistful when she got together with her best friend AN for a parallel reading party (a toddlers book club) just a few days before we left. As you can see from this photo, AN was carefully engrossing himself in his book in order to mask his underlying emotion at losing his first girlfriend to a distant land, while NP, having exhausted her interest in duck and spider narratives (incidentally, she takes a firmly post-structuralist reading of The Very Busy Spider in her toddler thesis entitled ‘Duk, Spida’), was wondering when he was going to start paying attention to her:

Book Club

In the end, however, they said a fond (parallel) goodbye and agreed to keep in touch on IBabble.

The first weeks after my move took a toll on my training. With everything we had to do to get settled, I simply couldn’t keep up the intensity of training I had been doing since March. For one thing, I didn’t have a bike when we first got back – I left my road bike in Germany and had to purchase a new (to me) one upon getting back, which I did a week ago (more on that soon). But I also just didn’t have the time. I decided, therefore, that the first three weeks after getting back would have to be about basic maintenance rather than serious training – I got in a number of runs when I could and a bit of swimming.

This past week then has been my first full week back to steady training. I’m still working with my coach Katja Schumacher, who has been sending my programme from Germany, and who is getting me back in shape. As a first week back after three off, I’ve been quite pleased with how I feel – in some ways, the break seems to have done me good, as I’ve had a lot of energy when training and I haven’t felt unduly tired or sore (in fact, I’ve been feeling really great on my runs). But it’s also been strange getting used to training in a new place – new run routes, new bike routes, a new bike, and even new pools take a while to feel comfortable, and I’ve frequently found myself missing the ideal training terrain and scenery I had in Heidelberg.

Moving always exposes my roots and shows just how much I am a creature of habit.

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Misty Heidelberg

My posting activity this past month has been nothing short of appalling, for which I would like first to apologize and second to offer excuses: following the Roth race, KT went to Switzerland for a much-deserved solo holiday; near the end of her time away, I had a quick bout of flu/sinus cold, which involved me trying to stay mobile enough through the chills to care for the ever energetic NP; then came the packing and preparations for our move back to Canada, all the while trying to keep up training for the Heidelbergman race on July 29th; and post-race came the move, with which we’re currently still occupied (at least the getting settled part) – ADVICE TO READERS: never make a transatlantic move with an 18-month-old child if it can at all possible be avoided! With all this keeping me busy, something had to break, and it was the blogging. But here I am back with a report on my race last Sunday.
This race was bittersweet for me: the race took place in Heidelberg, where I had lots of friends to cheer me on, but I also knew that I was soon to leave those same friends due to the move back home. That said, I was really looking forward to this race. The course was a hard but beautiful one: a 1.6km swim down the Neckar, a 35km bike with 800 metres of climbing over two loops up to the Königstuhl, and then 10km up the Philosophenweg with 250 metres of climbing (see detailed course information here). My training hadn’t been particularly good in the two weeks leading up to the race, as I’d been ill and wasn’t out on the bike as much as I would have liked, but I was nonetheless feeling pretty good as the weekend of the race arrived.

The weather in Heidelberg was great leading up to the weekend, until Saturday brought a torrential downpour and some pretty strong winds. When I woke up on Sunday, there was still a bit of rain and the mountains surrounding the city were covered in mist (as in the photograph above). I’m always happy to avoid the sun on a race day, but I was a bit concerned that the roads would be wet and visibility poor in the mountains, conditions which aren’t ideal for fast descents on twisty roads.

Now, one really great thing about this race is that the swim start was immediately outside my front door! I went down at about 7:00 in the morning to rack my bike and get things set up in the transition zone and then headed back home to relax in the comfort of our flat while others waited in the rain for the swim to start. At 9:15, I strolled out the door in my wetsuit and jumped in the water to warm up for the start at 9:30. Before I talk about the swim, here were my times for the day:
Overall: 2:37:58

Swim: 20:41

Bike: 1:31:56

Run: 45:22

As the swim was about to start, KT got this photo from the Heidelberg Old Bridge:

Heidelbergman Swim Start

The swim went under the Old Bridge. My time, on its own, looks really great for 1.6 kilometers, but it’s important to note that the swim goes with the current in the river, which is a great help. That said, this was a pretty good swim for me on the day. Given the current, my plan was to take the swim at a pretty relaxed pace, especially in the last 100m, so as to have more energy going into the bike (in previous races, I think I’ve gone out a bit to hard in the swim). I did feel very relaxed on the swim, but maybe too relaxed – this is something I still need to play with, as I think I could have had a better swim than I did and still have had energy, but hopefully this will come with experience.

NP and KT, after watching the start, headed down to the transition zone to cheer me on with some other friends. Given the weather, NP was a pretty stalwart fan, although at times she gave the impression (so I later learned) that triathlon spectating was not number one on her list of Sunday activities (that or she was just bummed that she wasn’t racing on the day):

KT and our friend AD (in the great wellies) Spectating

One great thing about swimming down a straight river is that sighting is pretty easy. My line was great, right up until the end when I went a bit wide heading towards the swim goal (which was unfortunately black and not that easy to see in goggles). Here I am near the end of the swim, sighting while taking a breath:

Heidelbergman Swim – photo courtesy of MD

With the swim over, I made one of the best swim to bike transitions I’ve ever done and was off on the road:

Heidelbergman – Heading out on the Bike

As you can see in the photograph, the roads were wet for the bike, although the rain had stopped. This made me a bit more tentative at times, especially on my bike that had a few lingering mechanical deficiencies, but I felt pretty good initially heading out on the bike. The course went along the river for a kilometer, then across the Old Bridge and through the city centre on cobblestones, and then up the mountain, past the castle, and onward to two loops up to the Königstuhl.

As I hit the first major climb of the first loop, I realized that this was not to be my best day on the bike – despite feeling okay starting out, I just didn’t seem to have it in my legs to push on the hills like I have done in training. It’s really frustrating to know that you have gone harder in training and don’t have that on race day, but I had also not trained well on the bike since Roth because I’d been ill, so I perhaps shouldn’t have been too surprised. Things were also a bit slower on the descents than usual because of the wet roads – when we reached the top on the first climb the fog was still thick, which also made for uncertain visibility. All in all, I was about 10 minutes slower on the bike than I wanted to be, but on the plus side, I felt like I got stronger as the bike went on and the second loop was a lot of fun!

With the rain out of the way, the roads down at river level were pretty dry by the time I came off the mountain and transitioned to the run. I was also pleased to discover that, perhaps due to my slower bike, I felt strong on my legs heading out:

Heidelbergman – Off on the Run

The initial climb up the Philosophenweg is pretty steep, after which there is a less dramatic if steady elevation increase. My plan was to take the first section at about 90% and then pick up the pace heading towards the turn point. I had done a lot of hill running in training, especially in the two weeks following the Roth race, and this seemed to pay off: I was able to pass quite a few people on the run and generally felt stable throughout. After the 6km mark, we were then heading back downhill, which allowed me to pick up the pace with a quicker leg cadence. The increased speed was pretty exhilarating at this point, after the slower pace of the climb, and it must be said that the view of Heidelberg in the last few kilometers of the race is really something special.

I did have a few unexpected technical issues on the run: my right shoe lace came undone in the last two kms, which slowed me up a bit, and as I rounded the corner coming down from the hill, my Garmin watch fell off my wrist (!) – the pin had fallen out of the strap – so I had to go back and pick this up (I was not happy Garmin). That said, I was relatively pleased with my run in the end, even though I think I could have pushed harder up the hill – I wouldn’t have been happy with 45:22 on flats, but given the steep hills, this was a good run for me.

And perhaps the best thing about this race was seeing my family and friends as I came towards the finish. I was even able to give NP and KT a high-five on the way by, although, unintentionally, I dissed these kids looking for high-fives a few seconds earlier (I feel badly about this, but at least they had balloons!):

Heidelbergman Finish – photo courtesy of MD

And with that, I was eating watermelon and chatting with family and friends, as I started to turn my thoughts to the final preparations for our move less than 48 hours after the end of the race. It’s been a great year in Heidelberg, and I’m really going to miss the many friends we made there. If you’re reading this, friends, keep in touch!

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Challenge Roth

Katja Schumacher Relay Teams – All Set to Go!

I’ve had two busy weeks with work, training, and visitors since my last race, and my last post. With so many things happening all at once, my blogging time has had to take a back seat, but I should have some more time to get posts up in the next week (including the report on our Berlin trip promised in my last post).

Although these past two weeks have been busy, they also excitingly were building up to the Roth Challenge Long Distance Triathlon (=Ironman distance, just not branded). I took part in the race as the cycling member of the Katja Schumacher Triathlonakademie’s men’s relay team, so I wasn’t doing the full distance across all three events – just the 180kms on the bike. Above is a photo of our men’s and women’s teams just before the swim start yesterday morning, all ready to go!

We drove down to Roth on the Friday evening and stayed together as a team in a hotel, with a few people arriving on the Saturday. The Challenge Roth is the official European long-distance championship and is a big race with over 5000 competitors, and includes pros. My coach Katja Schumacher won this race as a pro, so knows the event well. The men’s pro-winner today was James Cunnama of South Africa, who won in 7:59:59. The women’s pro-winner was Rachel Joyce of Britain, who won in 8:45:04. Our relay times didn’t come close to the pros, but we were still pleased with how it went overall. To get the times out of the way, here they are:

Overall: 10:40:11

Swim (3.8kms) – 1:09:17

Bike (180kms – me) – 5:46:30

Run (42.195 kms) – 3:40:48

Our women’s relay team also finished in a great time of 10:43:36!!!

On Saturday we picked up our starter-packet, I had a quick light ride on the bike to keep the legs fresh, checked in my bike, and then we had time to explore the expo. With such big crowds, the atmosphere in Roth was electric even on the Saturday and it was fun to wander around.

Challenge Roth Expo

One downside to the Saturday was that I ran into some mechanical issues with my bike. In the morning, the shifter for my front ring was locked and I couldn’t switch out of the big ring at all. Fortunately, I was able to take the bike to some mechanics on-site at Roth, who were heroically able to get the bike back into a state where it would keep together (mostly) for the 180kms of racing ahead of me. Many thanks, therefore, to Tobias Ullmann at the Freie Fahrrad-Werkstatt in Hilpoltstein – visit him if you can!

My Bike (the old red one in the back) Getting Fixed at Roth

My bike is in many ways not the best (about which more later), and although I was remarkably relaxed in the situation (due in large part to the help of my swim coach Erica Hemmy), I did have a few worries about how my gears would hold up the next day. On a quick test ride, I still had one problem with the chain sliding off the ring, but for the most part it was shifting reasonably well. With that, I went and checked my bike in and racked it.

Racked at Roth (4395 – the red Cannondale)

After taking care of all such logistics, we headed back to the hotel to have dinner and make an early night of it. After a long week at work, I really felt like I needed to sleep well on Friday and Saturday – on both nights, I did sleep well, if not plentifully, and felt pretty good when I woke up on Sunday at 6:00. The pro-starts were at 6:30, with the single starters heading out soon after that. The relays, however, didn’t start until 8:45, so we didn’t need to be down there too early. After a relaxed breakfast (and I did feel oddly relaxed), we went down to the swim start for about 7:30, where we were able to see the last of the single age-group starters take to the water (the pros were already out on the bikes).

Swim Course at Roth – from the bridge

Swim Finish at Roth

Our women’s relay set out in the first group at 8:45 and we started five minutes later at 8:50. Having never done a relay before, I found it very different to be hanging out in the first transition zone waiting for our swimmer, as I’m more used to being warmed up from the swim before getting on the bike. But this also gave me lots of time to make sure that everything was set. Our swimmer Axel put in a very respectable swim time of 1:09:17, and after a quick hand-off of the timing chip, I was away on the bike.

The Roth bike course is a lot of fun to ride. It’s a rolling route with only two hills that really involve a climb, and even those are a lot smaller than the hills I’m used to training on in Heidelberg. Riders complete two loops, which are then followed by a short section to the second transition zone in Roth itself (the swim starts in Hilpolstein). Here is a map of the course:

Challenge Roth – Bike Route

In training, I had only done a maximum distance of 150km, as I’ve also simultaneously been training for shorter distance events, so I wasn’t sure exactly how my body would hold out over 180kms in a race. It was my plan therefore to make sure that I kept my heart-rate below threshold (for me we estimate about 155bpm) for the first loop and then take it up from there as I could. This plan went somewhat out the window five minutes into the race, when I looked at my watch and saw my heart-rate sitting around 160. Part of this can be blamed on the excitement of the start, but my heart-rate did stay higher than I wanted for the first hour. That said, I was feeling pretty good in that hour and didn’t have a sense that I was pushing too hard – I climbed the hills on the first loop in reasonable time, but didn’t climb too hard, as I knew that I had a long way ahead of me.

The weather on the day had its good and bad points. Starting with the positive, we fortunately had cloud cover for the first 90kms, which really kept the heat down. These clouds disappeared for the second half of the ride and the temperature difference was stark. The heat also unfortunately continued into the late afternoon, which made things hard for the marathon runners. The big down-side to the weather on the bike was that there was a strong wind – this significantly slowed down overall times on the day and made for some hard sections on the flats in exposed fields. The wind perhaps hurt me particularly, as I didn’t have an aero-bike or bars.

At the 90km mark, I felt really strong and was on track for a 5:33:00 finish. I was extremely conscientious throughout the race to keep up my nutrition – I ate a gel or Power Bar like clockwork every half hour and took in water and electrolyte-drink regularly. I have never consumed so much on a long ride, and being so careful about this made me realize how important it is. My body seemed easily to digest what I gave it – some people find it hard to eat as much as I did, but I have a high metabolism and I never felt uncomfortable in the gut. On the contrary, my energy felt pretty consistent. Katja had set up her Triathlonakademie tent at the 125km mark and Erica snapped this action photo of me as I went by:

Roth Challenge – me (in red) at the 125km mark on the bike

My pace did slow somewhat over the second half of the course by about 10 minutes (calculating a few minutes for some mechanical issues – on which below), but the drop wasn’t too bad. I still felt relatively strong on the hills, but heading into the wind on the second loop I felt like I was moving slower and my heart-rate was lower than it could have been. I think I could have pushed harder at this point, but then I often feel like this after a race, so it’s hard to know exactly why my time dropped a bit. In any case, I finished the bike in 5:46:30, which I’m pretty happy with considering that this was my first race, the windy conditions, and my bike……..

My bike is an older aluminium Cannondale 5 with a Shimano 105 groupset. I bought it secondhand for 360 Euros from someone selling it on Ebay, and it’s allowed me to get in some good training and gain experience racing. It has been very functional. But it is, as one person put it this weekend, a bit of a ‘rough’ bike. There’s a debate as to whether my bike was the cheapest one in the race (see here) – at any rate, it came pretty close (I may be looking for a new bike in the near future!). As I said above, after my mechanical issues on Saturday, I was uncertain how it would hold up in the race. For the first 155kms, I had no problems, but at that point, when I shifted into the big front ring, my chain fell off on the outside – in the end, this only cost me a minute or two, as I was able to stop, flip the bike over, get the chain on, and get back on the bike pretty quickly, but it did cause me some worry for the final 25kms – it would really suck to have a serious race-ending mechanical issue at any point in a race, but especially that close to the finish.

The worry increased when the chain shifted back into the small ring without me having touched the shifter. This was a problem also because I needed the big chain for some flats and mild downhill sections over the remainder of the course, and I was afraid to try switching back into the big ring again. I put this off a bit, but as I was loosing time in the smaller ring, I decided I’d better risk another switch. And….. the chain fell off the outside again! This time I swore inwardly (there were spectators, so I refrained from doing so out loud), but I once more got the chain back onto the big ring and was off again pretty quickly. After this, the chain stayed on the big ring and I left it there for the remainder of the course – at this point, I was afraid to shift gears at all, which wasn’t ideal, but I did make it to the end of the course without having to run the bike in!

Once off the bike, I quickly found our runner Volker who set off on the marathon. As I said above, the conditions were really hot at this point, and he ran a great time of 3:40:48! While he was doing this, I got a massage and ate whatever I could get my hands on, including a lot of watermelon (kindly cut up by this volunteer):

Post-bike Watermelon – Thank You Volunteers!

This was a really fun race in a lot of respects: 1) the big enthusiastic crowds — one group of people on a narrow street through a town did the wave as I went by and on the climb up the famous Solar Hill the crowds along the sides of the road were so big that I felt like I was in the Tour de France (that such a crowd was there long after the pros went through is remarkable). At the end of the race, Axel and I joined Volker for the last 400m of the run and all crossed the line together. 2) a great course and a well-organized event. And last, but not least, 3) the great group of people (relays and single starters) with whom I went to the race! Our coaches Katja and Erica (to whom many, many thanks!) did a lot to get our best performances out of us on the day, but also to make the weekend a lot of fun. The race this year is an experience I’ll never forget and one that gives me a lot of motivation for the future!

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