Tri-Pfalz Kaiserslautern

Gelterswoog Beach

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:

The View from the Swim Start

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:

Swim View 2

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.

Transition Zone 1 – Gelterswoog

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):

The Stairs at Kaiserslautern (from below)

The Stairs at Kaiserslautern (from the top)

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:

Shirt and Medal!

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.

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Ramping up the Kilometerage

Heidelberg Schloss – Lit for Fireworks

I woke up today with a sense that time is really flying. This feeling was no doubt due in part to the incredibly strong cup of coffee I made at breakfast, but also brought on by the realization that it’s now officially the middle of June. In just a few short weeks, KT, NP, and I will be packing our bags to head back home to Canada, after a year in Germany. And almost 15 days have already passed since we watched a fireworks display over the old bridge from our window in Heidelberg (a picture of the Heidelberg castle, lit for that event and visible from our back window, is to the left). At the same time, it seems like there’s still a lot to come in our German adventure: before heading home, we’ll be off to Berlin for a few days, I’m racing in three triathlons, and KT will be off for a few days in July for a solo trip.

A lot of my time recently has been going into work and cycling. On the work front, a colleague and I organized a conference, which took place last week: successful and enjoyable, especially as it wasn’t too large and allowed for some good discussion, but also hectic and exhausting in the way that hosting a conference always is. It was also an opportunity to see some good friends and involved a couple of nice dinners. At the same time, I’ve been fitting in a lot of cycling.

A week from this coming Sunday, I have another Olympic-distance triathlon, this time in Kaiserslautern, to which I’m looking forward. But my training programme has been steadily building up the kilometerage (a fine word for those of us who find it hard to think in miles, despite 10 years in the UK and 3 in the US, even if it hasn’t yet made it into the OED) in the past few weeks with a view to the Challenge Roth race on July 8, where I’ll be doing the 180km bike portion as part of a relay team.

Since getting back from Greece, I’ve put a reasonable amount of time in on the bike. And time really is the issue when it comes to training on the bike for the long-course distance: run and swim training takes time, but nothing compared to the longer bike rides of 3-6 hours in duration. Fortunately, after my wet and cold 100km ride of a week and a half ago (described in my last post), I’ve had much better weather on my bike days, which has allowed me really to enjoy the time out there. Last Thursday (and this Thursday too), I was out for a 75km tempo ride but then this past Sunday upped the distance for the longest ride I’ve thus far ever done, 152km by the time I got home (in just under 5h 25min.).

The intensity of the ride was set to be slightly above lower heart-rate zones, which felt pretty relaxed as I set out. I was a bit tired from all of the conference activities, but after I was out on the bike for about an hour I actually started to feel like I had more energy. The route was the same one I had done for my 130km ride before going to Greece, with the difference that at the 95km mark, there was an extra 25km loop up through the hills. The first part of the route had some smaller hills interspersed with flats, then after the 55km mark there were flats back along the river, followed by the big hill, after which there were about 20km on flats for a cool-down back home.

I was fortunate to have company for the first 95km of the route – on the smaller roads, it’s nice to have someone to talk to, and it’s just generally nice riding in a group: I think I ride harder and better when I’m not alone. My friend had, however, bravely come out for the ride after having already been out for over a 100km the previous day (she’s a pretty talented cyclist), so she opted out of the hill at the end and I was on my own for the last third of the ride.

The first third of the ride felt really easy: I pushed up some hills, but generally felt relaxed at the planned pace. Things changed when we crossed over the water and headed back down towards Heidelberg along the river. On the previous long ride, I had pushed at this point in the course and so decided to pick up the pace this time too. In hindsight, I picked it up a bit too high for the plan going into the day. Maintaining my pace in this section was also made a bit harder by the wind coming down the river, the brunt of which I was getting in the lead position (I had agreed to ride lead for this stretch, as my riding partner was tired from the day before).

By the time I reached the hill section 40km later and bid farewell to my friend, my legs weren’t exhausted, but I could certainly tell I’d been working them. The biggest problem I was having at this point was that I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable in my seat, as I’d been in a pretty locked position for quite a while. In this respect, the climb was just what I needed, as it gave me a good excuse to stand up off the seat now and again. The belief that ‘this climb is just what I needed’ only lasted a short while though……the elevation on the climb went up 340 metres over 8 kilometers and there were a few sections on the way up where I was really working hard. I knew I could make it, but I didn’t feel I was keeping a very good pace.

The top of the hill brought a sense of accomplishment, and a certain joy at the thought that I could now speed along on some flats and descents back down to the river. From that point on, it was really just a matter of turning the legs, something which becomes almost involuntary after a few hours on the bike. There’s a concentration that goes into cycling, but also on long rides an automation, as the scenery of varied roads, fields, and towns come together to form a panorama that is timeless, in the sense that it seems almost to stand outside of time altogether. Only when I stepped back into our flat after the ride, did it strike me fully that I’d been on my bike for almost one quarter of a 24-hour day.

A lot gets done in 5.5 hours, and KT had kindly (and bravely) during that time seen NP through the trials and tribulations of teething – training for a long-distance triathlon is a commitment for the whole family, and I can’t thank KT (and NP) enough for being supportive. I improve my fitness and get to see some nice countryside, while I’m riding, but what do KT and NP really get out of my long bike rides? I undoubtedly owe them, but take some consolation in the joy they have in laughing at me, when I display what might be the worst bike tan in recorded history (yes, my toddler laughed at me):

Terrible Bike Tan

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The Perils of Optimism

KT and I recently completed an online version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. We discovered that, according to this test (whatever its validity), we have extremely similar personalities, a fact which came as no surprise. Perhaps most expected was that we both identified as introverts: we both enjoy spending time with friends, but prefer smaller groups and also need a lot of time on our own. Generally, KT and I are frequently on the same page when it comes to personality.

One area in which we differ, however, is in our balance of optimism and pessimism. KT is a person who, while generally very positive, at times approaches a situation from the angle of pessimism. I, on the other hand am a person who, while (I think) realistic in my expectations and goals, am frequently indefatigably (KT might say insufferably) optimistic: not only do I look at the prospects of a future event with optimism, but I also strive to find positives in the results of past (sometimes not ideal) happenings. Usually, this serves me well, as my optimism can give me a lot of motivation and helps me to work flexibly towards a goal.

This past Sunday, I had cause to question my optimism. I had a relatively long ride (100km) along the river and through the hills planned for the day, a workout which came at the end of a hard but productive week. Unfortunately, as I reported in a previous post, the weather in Heidelberg these past days hasn’t been great. It was cloudy all day Sunday and, as the time came for me to go out on my ride, the sky began to look more black than grey. In my typically optimistic fashion, I nonetheless got my bike ready, put on my gear and headed out the door.

Within three minutes of clipping my shoes into the pedals, it started to sprinkle. Once again, my optimistic side said, “it will probably only be a light shower, and at least it’s pretty warm today”. I pushed on and in my mind pictured the future of the ride with skies like this:

Blue Heidelberg Sky – Courtesy of KT

Within a half hour of cycling down the other side of the river, the weather actually looked like this:

Miserable Rainy Weather – Courtesy of KT (the photo, not the weather)

Not only did it not stop raining altogether, as I had hoped, but it turned into a torrential downpour. I was in a very short time soaked to the bone, with the rain pelting my body in a rather painful manner. To make matters worse, there was a strong wind coming up the river, which was starting to make me rather chilly. “At least”, I thought with ironic optimism, “I remembered to put on my sun screen” (I kid you not, I was that optimistic heading out). Actually, at that point in the ride I was starting to doubt my optimism, and was beginning to feel pretty miserable. But 40 minutes into a 3.5 hour ride, I wasn’t about to turn back. I picked up the pace a bit to keep warm and pushed on.

At the 1.5-hour mark, as I was heading up through the mountains, things got better. The rain and wind were blocked by the trees and the rain also started to let up somewhat. The temperatures got cooler the higher I went, but I also was working harder on the hills, which was keeping me warm. At the 2-hour mark, the rain had stopped and I was beginning to dry off – and then, a vision, a hazy circular shape through the clouds that appeared to be the sun. My optimism had, in the end, not been mistaken!!

10 minutes later it was raining again. I was beginning to have thoughts at that point that I would once and for all give up my nasty habit of optimism – what good had it done for me on the day, and what real positive could I take from the fact that it was raining: a fresh shower en route with no need to bathe after the workout was the best I could think of, but then I’d forgotten my shampoo, which would in any case be awkward to apply while wearing a helmet.

But just as I was about really to despair, the rain stopped again, and this time for good. This was particularly welcome as I came to some of the steeper descents. The roads (and I) remained wet, even when the rain stopped, so I took it easy on the descents, so as not to wrap myself around a tree. I was soon down from the hills and on the flats heading home with just about 10km left in the ride, and starting to feel much more positive: it hadn’t been a pleasant day, but the workout had been a reasonable one, and at least it gave me some experience riding in really wet conditions.

With about five kilometers to go, I came to a small roundabout that I’ve gone through many times on my bike. The roads were still a bit wet, but by that point I was in familiar territory and almost home. I wasn’t paying attention like I had on the descents and perhaps took the turn a bit too quickly. I may also have hit the white line (which is always very slippery). In any case, before I knew what was happening, my back tire slid out from underneath me and I fell hard onto my left side.

The initial impact hurt a lot, especially up around my hip – my Lycra fortunately hadn’t ripped, but I had scraped skin off my ankle, knee, and (as I learned later) a large chunk off my left hip/buttock under the Lycra (I will spare readers photographs, which were not taken – but KT’s initial reaction to seeing it was ‘Ohhhhhh… ohhhhhhh…..that’s disgusting….”, before recovering her innate sensitivity and making me a bandage). As the bike just slid out lightly, there was no damage to it, and I soon realized that, although the fall stung, I wasn’t seriously injured in any way. There were fortunately no cars around and, after 30 seconds of swearing and checking out my bike, I was back on the saddle and pedaling home.

This, needless to say, was a serious test of my optimism, but even then I couldn’t let it go. I reflected that, although I’d had a fall, it wasn’t serious and there appeared to be no damage done. Overall, it was still a good workout, and I’d soon be enjoying a warm shower and a nice meal. It’s just so much more pleasant to look on the bright side. The bruises have hurt a bit this week, but they haven’t stopped me from getting on with things. After a rest day on Monday, I was back to the track for interval training on Tuesday.

And, after all, optimism does sometimes really pay off. The skies were grey today when I set out for a shorter 75km ride followed by a 25-min. run off the bike, and I was actually myself feeling a bit low on energy at the prospect of another rainy ride. But KT pointed out cheerfully that the skies were looking brighter and it would probably be okay – in fact, my ride was a dry, and after about an hour, even sunny one! I’m glad that KT’s optimism is coming around.

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A Freakin’ Amazing Feeling

Image

Rainy Heidelberg – Courtesy of KT

The weather in Heidelberg has been unpredictable and often rainy in the past couple of days, which I suppose we deserved after a stretch of incredibly nice weather. Yesterday, I avoided the rain as I had a rest day in my training schedule. Today, however, I had scheduled a 60km cycle followed by a 30-min. training run right of the bike. The temperature had dropped overnight to 13 degrees Celsius and dark clouds threatened from the time the sun rose. I can report this, because the day got off to a start today at 4:50 a.m., when NP mysteriously (a loud mystery it was) woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep. KT recently looked after NP solo while I was in Greece for a week, and I generally tend to need less sleep than her, so I volunteered to get up with NP and let KT sleep until 7:00 a.m. (luxury…..cue Monty Python).

Now, as many of my readers will know through personal experience, getting up at 4:50 a.m. with a toddler requires a certain patience, for it is almost a certainty that the toddler will for the next few hours have 2 to 3 times the amount of energy you have. Not only that, but the energy of the toddler will be directed at tasks of repetition manageable for adults at noon after a reasonable sleep, but a bit like water torture prior to 6 a.m. After a rather lengthy breakfast, designed to keep the noisy NP in the kitchen away from the sleeping KT in the bedroom, it was my pleasure to read every book NP owns at least three times (including one book, a gift [title omitted], whose sing-along progression causes a small part of my non-sentimentally oriented self to die every time I read it). This brought us to 6:15, at which point NP made a move for her cymbal-shaker, an instrument deftly removed by me before it could be shaken and replaced with her stuffed cat, innocent except for the fact that it reminded her once again of all the cats in her books…. and so the cycle continued. When KT arose at 7:00, I had been reduced to lying on my back on the carpet, with NP running joyfully around me.

I had, perhaps foolishly, decided to wait to make coffee until KT got up. But, whatever the wisdom of my initial abstinence, KT, perceptibly noting my state of dishevelment (I think it may have been the prone position that gave it away), quickly put on the kettle and soon handed me a cup of coffee. Elixir of life acquired, I retreated to bed for a few minutes to sip my coffee in peace, and as I contemplated my present state of fatigue and the dark clouds out the window, I thought ‘training today is really going to be miserable’.

I had, it so happens, just yesterday been reading a list of 30 reasons to cycle, which DCRainmaker included as a link in his Week In Review. This (sometimes funny) list includes numerous health and other benefits to be gained from regular cycling, many of which apply more generally to regular exercise. This in itself should be enough to get one out there on the days when it might seem preferable to stay indoors and read a book. But I had cause to reflect today that there’s another very good reason that I’m doing triathlon and getting out on those less palatable days.

First of all, what seems bad at first may not be so bad in the end. As it turns out, despite the threatening clouds, it didn’t rain at all today, and we even saw occasional sun in the afternoon. I was in the office all morning, but came home after lunch in order to head out for my ride at 2 p.m. The ride started out with a 30-min. warm-up on flats, before the route headed up into the mountains (with elevation increasing 300m from the flats to the highest point), and back down the other side. Even with a few pushes up the hill, the ride somehow felt great today, despite the early start. I could feel that I’d worked my legs on the bike as I transitioned to the run, but after just a couple of minutes on my feet, I realized that my legs felt great on the run too – unlike Tuesday at the track, when I was really tight after my travels, my flexibility was back (as I ran by a window on the way home, I could see that my form was good). My training run was just 30 minutes at lower heart-rate zones, but I felt like I could have kept going and going.

So, what’s my reason: it feels really freakin’ awesome to be able to cycle for 60km and then run for 6km and feel great both during and after (exercised but not spent). Just to repeat, really freakin’ awesome (and those of you who know me will be aware that I seldom use the word ‘freaking’, and then even less often without the final ‘g’).

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Thessaloniki and the Holy Mountain

Thessaloniki from above – Wikimedia Commons

I spent the past week in the north of Greece, principally in Thessaloniki where I attended a conference for work. I have good friends in Thessaloniki, so was able to combine work with a personal visit. I should say that I’ve in my life spent a lot of time in Greece – my research relates directly to Greek culture and language, and throughout the decade I lived in Europe I would spend time in Greece at least once per year. Since moving back to North America, it’s been more difficult to visit, as the cost and time involved are much greater. This year in Germany therefore provided a good opportunity to return to Greece, a country and culture to which I feel very close. And it really was great to be back.

I set a busy programme for myself, as I also planned, apart from my conference, a three-day visit to Agion Oros (Ἅγιον Ὄρος), the Holy Mountain (also known as Mount Athos). The Holy Mountain is a peninsula located in Halkidiki, about 2.5 hours east of Thessaloniki. Having arrived on Monday afternoon in Thessaloniki, I set off the next morning at 6:15 on a bus from Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis, from where I took a boat to enter Mount Athos, which is a self-governed geographical area home to Orthodox Christian monks. The roots of Christian monasticism on Athos stretch back to the early decades of Christianity and today there exist 20 major cenobitic Orthodox monasteries as well as a number of smaller communities across the peninsula, which is only accessible by boat.

Due in large part to its seclusion, Mount Athos is an area with remarkably pristine nature, although this has been threatened in recent years. It is also a holy place with a spiritual tradition of prayer so established that it is tangible in the air. On this trip, I visited Simonopetra, which was founded by Saint Simon the Athonite, who originally lived as an ascetic in a cave on the spot where the monastery now stands. The monastery is majestically, one might even say miraculously, built into the side of a rock face overlooking the Aegean.

Simonopetra

I have visited this monastery several times before and know the monks there well. Simonopetra is very well known for its Byzantine chanting, a sample of which can be heard here. Removed (for the most part) from the bustle of the modern world, one finds time on Mount Athos to look inward rather than outward. It is a spiritually relaxing place to be. A quick trip to the Holy Mountain can, however, be physically tiring, as the journey is a long one, after which one has to adapt to the monastic schedule. The Matins usually begin at 4 a.m., which lead directly into the Divine Liturgy finishing around 7:00 or 7:30. The days are largely a time for work, and in the evenings the Vespers begin at 4 or 5 p.m.. One night while I was visiting this time there was a vigil service from 8 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., followed by the Divine Liturgy at 7:00 a.m., for the feast of the Pentecost. The services are deeply meaningful and beautiful, but the combination of long hours standing and the lack of sleep can leave the body fatigued. If one spends more than a few days, it is possible to adapt more to the schedule.

I therefore returned to Thessaloniki on Thursday spiritually refreshed but physically somewhat exhausted, with the prospect of a three-day conference ahead of me. In the end, I felt fine the next day giving my paper, which went well. But I still did feel tired. The week of rather special travel required a break from my triathlon training and I didn’t get any workouts in for a five-day period from Monday through Friday. This in itself made my body feel sluggish. On Saturday, however, I got out for my planned run, a relaxed 14kms at low heart-rate zones to get back into things, which I completed in a stadium in the north east of Thessaloniki, where a decathlon competition was just finishing up. On Sunday, I got out again for a short run, which included a few short sections at higher speeds.

I can’t say that I felt great on these first two runs back, as my body still felt drained from the travel and continued full-days at a conference. After getting back to Heidelberg on Monday, I still felt tired on Tuesday for my first proper run workout in a while – my coach had me run 15 x 200 easy/200 fast at a 38-sec. pace, and let me tell you this workout hurt!! I felt terrible. My muscles were so tight at the outset that, as I ran my 7th 200 quick I could see the noticeable lack of extension in my legs in my shadow at the side of the track! I took a couple of quick breaks, however, to stretch (one after the 7th set and then one after the 11th set), which really helped. And the good news is that, although I occasionally thought I might collapse, I managed to keep the pace at the planned 37-8 seconds throughout all 15 of the quick 200 sets with the exception of one at 40 seconds.

Amazingly, however, my legs didn’t feel tired the next day, and my bike and swim yesterday felt great. I’ve been eating well since getting back and keeping myself hydrated, which has also helped. Ultimately, the harder run workout seemed to wake my body up from its travel lethargy, and I’m now excited for a solid push in training leading into my next race at the end of this month.

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Sunday in the Park with NP

NP shares her wisdom about life

I should first apologize for not having posted for a while. Life has recently been very hectic, as I have tried to fit all of my training into a busy work schedule, including a week-long trip to the north of Greece (on which more in a next post). I often thought of putting up a short post, but somehow the time in my days never allowed for one. That said, now that I’m back from my travels, I should be more regular with posts in the coming weeks.

A week ago last Sunday, before I left for Greece, KT, NP and I, along with two Heidelberg friends RW and SW (of whom the former is an academic and mother, the latter an academic and four-year-old girl) made an afternoon trip to Schwetzingen, in order to visit the beautiful and extensive castle gardens. Reminiscent (for me at least) of the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, the Schwetzingen gardens turned out to be a real treat. Buoyed by the warm and pleasant weather, we wandered in a very relaxed way past fountains, terrifying (to NP) ducks, peacocks (oddly, having cried at the sight of an approaching duck, NP bravely stood her ground and smiled at a peacock with its plumage spread), across bridges, and through caves.

It was a wonderland for children and adults alike – I still, I must admit, find something magical in the shadows of topiary and the damp summer air of a cave. Of course, walking through gardens can be tiring, so we occasionally took breaks on benches. During one such break, as in the above photograph, NP sat me down, the wise sage she has become at 15 months, and filled me in on some of her thoughts about life. I listened attentively, and, having taken to heart her musings, agreed to buy her an ice-cream: which, I learned, stands second in her list of steps on the path to happiness and fulfillment in life.

In fact, I didn’t really need much convincing to buy an ice-cream, as my morning activity had turned me into an eating machine for the rest of the day. I had set out earlier in the day (quite early in fact), to do a 130km cycle, the longest ride I’ve ever done and another step in my preparation for the Roth Ironman race coming up in July (in which I’m doing the 180km cycle portion as part of a relay team). I still have another Olympic distance triathlon at the end of June, but I’m doing a bit of mixed training on the bike to accommodate both distances. My route on this particular ride took me through some small hills toward Bad Wimpfen, at which point I crossed over the Neckar and headed back home up the other side of the river (about 75km on the return). Here’s a map of my route:

For the first half of the ride I settled into a relaxed pace in lower heart-rate zones, as per the plan, and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery. The route was for the most part easy to follow, and I only once took a wrong turn, which was quickly righted. After I made the turn at Bad Wimpfen, I then picked up the pace for 70km on the way home – I didn’t take my heart-rate too high, so as to remain aerobic, but kept it just under threshold to maintain a pace below 2min./km. Overall, it was a really good ride, and my legs handled the distance well. In the last hour, I had a bit of discomfort from the seat, but nothing unexpected or particularly grievous. The ride took me 4.5 hours, and I must admit that I was surprised that my body took this longer ride as well as it did – the steady increases in training, it seems, have paid off, and I felt at the end that I could have kept going. I ate well along the way, although I could have been more careful with hydration (two water bottles did not suffice for a 4.5-hour ride given the sun and elevated temperature).

After a stretch and some lunch, it was off to the park for a relaxed stroll, which felt very relaxed indeed. Due to my trip to Greece, after this long ride I was off the bike for over a week, until this morning, when I went out for a quick 50km ride at lower heart-rate zones: two months ago I wouldn’t have called a 50km ride quick, but with the memory of the longer ride still in my muscles, it flew by today. I had been afraid that the time off the bike would make me feel sluggish, but I actually felt great today on the bike. Let’s hope that continues as my training picks up pace again in the next couple of weeks.

More on Greece in a post tomorrow……

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Lindau am Bodensee – Race One

Lindau am Bodensee

This past Sunday I had my first triathlon race of the year, which was also my first triathlon race ever! With four months of training under my belt, I was anxious to get into an actual race situation relatively early in the season. The Lindau race seemed a perfect venue for a first time: the field was relatively small (around 140 participants split between the middle- and Olympic-distance races, and then another 200 in relays and shorter sprint distances), it offered an Olympic-distance course, and it was one of the few races in Germany in May that promised an open water swim. Lindau is also a beautiful place to visit, situated as it is on Lake Constance (Bodensee) at the point where Germany, Switzerland, and Austria meet. In the post-race photo above, you can see the Bodensee behind me with the rising hills in the background, a nice backdrop while racing. A friend from Katja Schumacher’s Triathlonakademie was also doing the race, so we drove down together on Saturday evening and came back Sunday afternoon.

I should say upfront that the race was a lot of fun (!), and I learned several important lessons about racing a triathlon from just this one experience. I came away feeling that I could have bettered my times (especially on the run), but overall I’m pleased with the race as a first experience (my overall time was 2:14:24). One lesson I learned was in the area of preparation. Driving down late on Saturday, although it saved a lot of time, perhaps wasn’t the best idea for race preparation. For one thing, I had a day off from training on Friday and was scheduled on Saturday to do a light spin on the bike and then a quick swim in the lake on Saturday, but going down later on Saturday meant that I didn’t get any light training in at all that day: two days of inactivity at the end of a tapering week perhaps left my body a bit sluggish going into the race. Arriving late also meant that I slept terribly on Saturday night – maybe just four good hours of sleep. I didn’t feel terrible when the race started, but a bit more sleep would certainly have helped.

We awoke on Sunday morning to a beautiful day in Lindau, a bit cool with a chilly breeze, but sunny with the promise of 12 degrees Celsius as the day went on. We were down to breakfast at seven and then off to the race venue, where the Olympic-distance event was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. The temperatures in southern Germany in the week leading up to the race had been much warmer (25-30 degrees in some places), and the event coordinators had sent an email around just a few days prior to say that it looked like we would definitely be swimming in the Bodensee: the rule was that as long as the water was above 15 degrees Celsius, we could swim in the lake with wetsuits.

It was, then, a major disappointment to arrive at the venue to the news that the lake temperature was only 11 degrees Celsius, and that the swim would therefore happen in a 50m outdoor pool just along the beach. The added bad news was that, in order to accommodate the number of racers in the pool, they cut the swim distance in half to 750m and sent us off in groups. I really wanted to swim in the Bodensee and get the full swim distance in, and frankly I would have been up to give the 11-degree water a go, but I can understand their decision. I readjusted mentally and got ready to swim in the second group at 10:30.

As the gun fired, the five swimmers in my lane set off in a pack – there was a bit of a tussle in the first 15m, but we quickly separated out. There was one quicker swimmer who finished about a lap ahead of me, but he and I were soon far ahead of the others in our lane. Generally, my background in swimming (even though I have a lot to improve upon) is an advantage for me. I always feel comfortable in the water and my time of 13:10 for the 750m (including some running to the first timing mat before the transition zone) turned out to be a respectable time on the day. I would have been happier if I had been down around the 12:00 mark, which I know I can do from training, but I did have a few moments of jostling while passing slower swimmers.

Coming out of the pool I ran to the first timing mat (we had to pass our wrists over a number of timing mats on tables throughout the race, which was a bit more complicated than having the chip around the ankle and passing over a mat on the ground) and into the first transition. I had perhaps upped the tempo of my kick a bit too high in the last 50m in the pool, which meant that my legs weren’t feeling particularly fresh, but as I’d never gone directly from the pool onto the bike, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My first transition went well: I swam in my tri-suit and had everything laid out in a transition zone with generous space. It would undoubtedly have been more complicated if I had needed to take off a wetsuit, but that is experience I’ll have to gain next time. Out of the pool I had no rocks on my feet and I was quickly in my cycling shoes, helmet, and sunglasses. I picked up my nutrition and was off on the 200m run out of transition to the bike-mount line.

The bike course consisted of five laps of a pretty flat course, with two sharp turns at each end and just one small hill in the middle. Due to street construction, they had reduced the distance on the bike to 37.5kms, instead of 40kms, which was again a bit disappointing. The bike section was okay for me once I got going, but I didn’t feel great in the first lap – there was quite a wind up, which felt especially cool as it blew through my wet tri-suit, and my legs just felt sluggish, but once I got going and my suit dried off (pretty quickly), I started to feel better.

My overall time for the bike was 1:15:45, although this includes the time for both the transition from swim to bike and then from bike to swim. On the second transition, I also lost about 2 minutes due to a ridiculous official who stopped me just as I was set to rack my bike: on the 200m run in from bike-dismount line (over grass), I had undone the strap on my helmet (it still sat on my head), and as I passed the official with about 5m to go to the rack, he grabbed my bike and informed me that there would be a brief pause until I did up my helmet. At first, I couldn’t make out exactly what he wanted – engaged as I was in the triathlon race, and knowing that my helmet was on my head, I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong. With some discussion and yelling, we finally sorted this out – apparently, the strap officially needs to be done up until the bike is racked (something I now know for the future). Realistically, of course, this official just wanted to tell someone else what to do (=was a wanker on a power-trip): the dangers of having my helmet strap undone 5m from racking while running on grass remain unclear to me.

With the second transition out of the way, I was off on the run. This was the most picturesque section of the course, as we ran along the road beside the beach and through a city garden, with the lake and mountains in the background. This scenery was appreciated, especially as I was pretty unhappy with how I felt off the bike: I didn’t think I’d pushed too hard on the bike, but my legs just didn’t have a lot of energy, and I had a small cramp/stitch in my right side. My plan going into the race was to go off the bike at a 4min./km pace. I was at that pace in my last 10km race in Hemsbach and had been feeling good with quicker bursts off the bike in training. It was upsetting, therefore, not to be able to get myself up to the speed I wanted – my legs (and cramp) just wouldn’t let me do it, and I felt like I was crawling around the course. In the end, my time for the run wasn’t terrible at 45:29, but this is one area that I’ll really be looking to improve on in the next race in June.

Overall, this was a good first race for me and a lot of fun. I am always a perfectionist and expect a lot out of myself, but I also know that I’ve been making good progress with my training. With these modest results, I finished 27th overall and 9th in my age category, which is nothing to sniff at for a first triathlon ever, and I’ve now set myself times on which to improve as the season goes on. I also gained a lot of valuable experience in areas such as preparation and transitions, so that I should feel more confident with these next time.

After a hearty post-race lunch, my friend and I set out on the drive back home. Sitting in a car for several hours after racing made for a stiff body upon arrival, but my muscles actually felt fine, if a bit sore, the day after the race. I’m now looking forward from today to getting back into some hard training for my next race (Olympic-distance 1.5, 40, 10) in Kaiserslautern on June 24! The report for that race will include action picks, as KT and NP join me as official photographer and cheering section!

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