After a break from racing of a few weeks, this morning I competed in my second triathlon of the season (and my life), this time in Kaiserslautern in the beautiful Pfälzer Wald. The race, the Tri-Pfalz, was a first time event in Kaiserslautern, but it didn’t show. The course was superb and the race (which featured both Middle=Half Iron Man and Olympic distance competitions) was extremely well organized. I’m sure that this event is going to grow and I can recommend it highly to anyone in the area considering racing in the event next year. Racing in a triathlon requires attention to detail, but nothing compared to the attention to detail it takes to organize a triathlon well – congratulations and thanks, therefore, to all the race organizers and volunteers who made today such a great time!
Now, before I get to my results today, I’d like first to congratulate my friend KRB in Canada for completing her first triathlon last weekend, in which she posted some great personal times (even in some pretty sweltering weather)! Well done!
As for me today, I was racing the Olympic distance and my results are the following:
Overall time: 2:39:37
Swim Time: 25:09
Bike Time: 1:15:56
Run Time: 50:28
Age Category Place: 14
I’m overall really pleased with this result, for reasons which I’ll detail below. The only mild disappointment (apart from a terrible first transition) is again with my run time, which I think could have been faster, but my goal going in today was to finish sub 2:45, so sub 2:40 betters that significantly, and I think it is reasonable for a first proper Olympic-tri. The first race I did in Lindau in May was billed as Olympic distance, but with the swim there being moved to the pool and cut in half, and the bike course that was 2.5kms under the normal 40, I considered my race today to be my first proper Olympic-distance race.
I traveled over to Kaiserslautern yesterday afternoon and stayed overnight in a hotel. It’s only about 1.5 hours by the slow (and cheap) train, but without a car it would have been hard to get to the race on time this morning from home. Staying in Kaiserslautern also gave me a chance to explore the city and to enjoy the pre-race festivities out at the lake where we swam. It also gave me a chance to get a good look at the swim and transition area and check-in my bike the day before so that everything was set to go when I arrived this morning.
The swim took place in Gelterswoog, a small lake outside of Kaiserslautern. The lake is surrounded by forest and the area is really idyllic – on Saturday, there were families and kids swimming and enjoying the lake, which was a great temperature at 20 degrees Celsius. They apparently also have mini-golf there, which I was sad not to have a go at! Following the swim, the bike course then took us through the Pfälzer Wald in a loop around to Kaiserslautern. The second transition zone was at the famous football stadium in the city and the run was through the city itself. We therefore had two transition zones and the race worked on a system of clean-transitions, with different coloured bags (containing your race number) for gear that were transported to the appropriate transition zones. The clean transitions took a bit of extra organization (for me and the race organizers) but I have to say that I really found the system efficient.
This morning, I was out at the course at 7:15 and so had lots of time to warm-up and relax. It was cool this morning (12 C: when I arrived, there was steam rising off the lake in a truly majestic manner) but sunny and the weather turned out to be great for the whole race, except for a bit of wind.
Now to the three sections of the race:
Swim: I was in the first Olympic-distance start group that set out at 9:30 in the morning. The Middle-distance groups went out an hour earlier at 8:30. Here is the Swim Route, which had a lot of turns but was well marked. We started off in the water and swam first down to the hotel, around the buoys and back down to the beach. The view heading down looked like this:
You can see the hotel in the distance, where the turn was. After swimming the length of this and back, there was a short 50m run on the beach before jumping back in to complete the swim, this time heading to the right instead of down towards the hotel, with this view:
The swim went well, although it was more challenging than I expected. I’m a relatively confident swimmer, but I learned today that to swim in an open-water race brings particular challenges. I was in a big group near the front of the swim and on several occasions in the first leg of the swim I got mauled from behind: at one point, someone came from the side and pulled the back half of my body right down. This made it hard to get a good rhythm and I drank a lot of lake in the mayhem. The second leg was better, as the group separated out a bit and I felt I finished better than I started. My sighting was pretty good, although I lost a few seconds near the end as I took a wide turn around one buoy. All in all, however, I’m not displeased with 25:09. I’m also sure I can better it.
My first transition was a bit of a disaster, as the zipper on my wetsuit stuck and I couldn’t get it down – in the end, I just asked a fellow competitor to give me a hand, which he kindly did. I also had some trouble getting my leg with the timing chip out of the wetsuit. This transition therefore cost me a lot of time, and this is one area I can really improve on. This said, the transition zone (pictured below) was well organized, and I was before too long out on the bike.
Bike: I was most happy today on the bike, which perhaps wasn’t surprising as I’ve been doing a lot of training on the bike recently. The Bike Route was a challenging one, with 500m of climbing. In particular, the first 27km had some pretty steep climbs, after which there was an enjoyable downhill section before a small climb again at the end. Unlike in Lindau, I felt good right away on the bike and had a lot of energy for the climbs. My coach Katja Schumacher has given me a lot of effective bike training on hills and I feel like I’ve been developing into a decent climber. I passed a lot of people heading up the hills today, which is always a nice feeling. Unfortunately, I was then passed by a number of these same people on the downhill section: with my basic road bike, I just can’t seem to reach the downhill speeds of others on carbon time-trial bikes, even when I’m pedaling quickly in my lowest gear and trying to stay aero, but I’m sure I can also improve my form in this respect.
I was still hitting some decent splits on the downhill section, which gave me a quick time for the final 10kms. Given the climbs of this course, I was pretty pleased with the time of 1:15:56. By my GPS the bike course was also probably closer to 41 than 40 kms (let me say, incidentally, that I much prefer that they overshoot than undershoot)!
Run: The transition from the bike to the run was great. There were volunteers racking the bikes for us, so all we had to do was hand over the bike and head in to change into our running shoes, which took just a minute or two. Running into this transition, I realized that I had given quite a lot on the bike and that my legs were tired, but I didn’t feel terrible in the first kilometers of the run. The Run Course started off for the first km on a downhill from the stadium, which allowed my legs legs to settle into the run. After the initial hill, the run course was then relatively flat heading into the city centre.
My first split was 4:14, the second 4:32, and I felt at that point like I could run at least sub 45:00. I started, however, to feel a bit more tired in the fifth km, at which point I was heading back away from the city up a mild incline, and that split went up to 4:58, before dropping back to 4:44 for km 6. I’m most disappointed with kms 7-8, in which I was just sub 5:00/km and I think I could have gone faster. I may have been a bit dehydrated at this point (my only small complaint about race organization is that much of the water they were handing out at the stations today was sparkling! The first time I tried to drink this, thinking it was still, I almost vomited), but I think my slowness at this point was largely mental: I knew there was a big climb back up to the finish at the stadium over the last 1.5kms and I didn’t want to give too much too soon.
It’s perhaps good that I didn’t go too hard, as the climb turned out to be a lot steeper than I thought. I’m not sure of the grade, but I would give it the official grade of ‘damn steep’…. and it just kept going and going. They had announced in the pre-race briefing that at the end of the course we would have to climb up 70 steps to the finish at the stadium. After the initial uphill section, we reached the stairs, which looked like this (from the perspectives of up and down):
In the picture from the top, you can just make out some people coming up the climb before the stairs. I won’t lie, these steps were hard. But the really painful part for me came after the stairs. Given that my watch was telling me that I was almost at 10km, together with the announcement, mentioned above, that the stairs would bring us to the finish, I was expecting the finish to be just at the top around the corner. What I found instead was another hill and a further half km around the stadium to the finish – by my watch, the run course was 10.5km rather than 10km, and I’ve found the Garmin GPS to be quite accurate on sunny days like we had for this race.
I had bounded up the stairs with a grimace, and then almost groaned when I saw the next hill! The plus side to this extra climb, however, was that, again due to lots of good hilly run training prescribed by my coach, I climbed the final hill better than many and was able to pass several people on my way to the finish. I calculated my 10km run time at 48:19, which is not great, but not too upsetting given the big hill at the end. I also gave quite a lot on the bike climbs today. But it still amazes, and somewhat upsets, me that I can run a 40:00 10km fresh but am so much slower at the end of a triathlon.
After the finish, I cooled down, stretched, drank a lot of water, and headed down to the food tent, which was well stocked with sandwiches and fruit. I also headed over to the free physio massage tent, which I think really helped to keep my legs from stiffening up. It was also here that I picked up my finisher shirt and, the true sign that this was an extremely well organized event, my shiny finisher medal, both pictured in this photo taken later at home by the fabulous KT:
So, overall, this was a great first full Olympic-distance triathlon for me and I’m already excited about future races coming up. Next up is the Challenge-Roth Relay (180km on the bike), which should be a blast! I’ll also be posting again soon about the trip that KT, NP, and I took last week to Berlin.