The Tri in ‘TriMyData’ stands for Triathlon, my favourite hobby and what I spend most of my time doing outside of work and sleep.
I started triathlon training just under 2 years ago and raced my first Sprint Triathlon in Sydney in January 2015. Fast forward to today and I have just completed my last race for the season. Not in Sydney this time, but at the Age Group World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico.
This race is also my last competition for a while, so I thought that warrants a blog article in itself.
A triathlon consists of a swim, a bike ride and a run. Most people immediately think of ironman races, especially the iconic Ironman in Hawaii, when they hear ‘Triathlon’. But not every triathlete races Ironman distance races. And Ironman is more of a brand than a race.
But lets start at the beginning. A swim, a bike ride and a run. (Feel free to skip the following section which provides a brief overview of triathlons…)
There are 4 main distances to chose from with some variations depending on local organisers.
The shortest distance is a sprint, involving a 750m (0.47mile) swim, a 20km (12.4 mile) bike ride and a 5km (3.1 mile) run. These races happen at a very fast pace and the fastest men and women typically finish the whole thing in less than an hour. Yes, that is very fast.
This distance is my favourite and my specialty. I like it because you can theoretically race every fortnight all throughout the season because the recovery is quick with such short distances. Lots of racing = instant gratification >> I love it!
Next up we have the standard or Olympic distance, which is twice the length of the sprint: 1.5km swim (0.93 miles), 40km bike (24.8 miles), and a 10km run (6.2 miles). This is what you see in the Olympics. It is awesome to watch, because the pace is still very fast, but because of the longer duration you can observe more of the tactics of the race.
I’ve never done an Olympic distance triathlon and have no desire to do so, simply because I don’t like the idea of running 10km. Maybe I will change my mind one day when I’ve finally gotten over my plantar fasciitis.
Now it gets interesting. In German we call it the ‘middle distance‘, it used to be commonly known as ‘half-ironman’ but the new branding is ‘70.3‘, because the total race distance amounts to 70.3 miles (and no one wants to be known as a ‘half Ironman’.
Here we have a 1.9km swim (1.2 miles), a 90km bike ride (56 miles) and a half marathon, 21km run (13 miles). This format is getting increasingly popular, especially with amateurs as it allows you to still have a life outside of work and training.
Again, I haven’t raced this distance and have no desire to do so in the near future :-).
And the ultimate is the long distance or ironman distance. Some nutters came up with the idea for this race many decades ago as they thought it would be fun to combine the hardest ocean swim with the hardest bike race and the hardest marathon. It all started in Hawaii but has since spread all over the world.
The long-distance triathlon consists of a 3.86km (2.4 mile) swim, a 180km (112 mile) bike ride and a marathon, a 42.2km (26.2 mile) run.
This year, a new world record was set for this distance by Jan Frodeno (my idol 🙂 ) in Roth with a time of 7:35:39 hours for the whole thing. That’s extremely fast.
While I haven’t done an ironman distance race yet, I have done one as a relay team member, completing the swim and the bike portion of the race in July this year. It took me 7:31 hours. Almost like the world record, except I hadn’t run a marathon in that time…
So when people talk about Ironman, they tend to describe these long-distance races, but at the same time, Ironman is the biggest brand for long-distance triathlons globally, so things can get a bit messed up.
Hence, not every triathlon is an ironman.
But let’s talk about Mexico :-).
Around April last year my friend Julie-Anne whom I met in swim training suggested I should try to qualify for Age Group World Championships. Me and World Championships don’t really belong in the same sentence, but having done 3 or 4 races at the time and having caught the triathlon bug, I decided to do some research. It turns out to qualify you need to participate in qualifying races and earn points during the season and those with the most points in their age group get to go.
A country can bring up to 20 athletes per age group to a race, so chances aren’t too bad. Age groups are 5 year brackets, e.g. 20-24, 25-29, etc.
I finished my first season with 6 triathlons under my belt, a couple of top 10 finishes in my age group, a few ocean swims, a couple of fun runs and lots of experience gained along the way.
I was going to setup a training plan with my friend, but life kind of got in the way and at a work dinner I started chatting to my friend, colleague and fellow vegan triathlete (yup, what are the chances, hey?) who recommended his coach.
A couple of phone calls and emails later I was discussing my goals with my new coach, Craig Percival, who is based in Melbourne. He was keen to take me on board and help me qualify for ‘Worlds’. I had added another goal and that was to compete in the relay at Challenge Roth, the most popular long-distance triathlon in the world.
So we went to work and I started training according to his program. I loved it. I didn’t have to think about anything, I just followed his plan, which helped me improve the quality of my training and concentrate better on life and work. I started competing again in September 2015 when I won my first duathlon.
Then in November 2015 I had my first qualifying race, in Canberra. I came 5th which was enough to get some points. Competition was tough, but it was a good test.
In December I came second at a Sydney race, my first podium and proper medal.
In January I broke my elbow which meant no running for 6 weeks, no water/swimming for 2 weeks and after that only using my legs, no arms. I cycled furiously on the indoor trainer, doing everything to keep up my fitness.
Once I had recovered there were a few ocean swims but when I started running again, I was soon in agony with plantar fasciitis.
My physio had me building up very slowly and there was no racing happening. I was devastated and thought ‘Worlds’ was never going to happen.
Craig and I started instead to focus on long distance swimming and cycling in preparation for Roth.
In April I received a surprising email from Triathlon Australia, informing me that I had qualified for the national team to go to World Champs in Mexico. I couldn’t believe it!
The only catch was that Australia only takes citizens into their team, so I qualified but wasn’t eligible.
Immediately I started a furious phone marathon with the relevant organisations in New Zealand and Germany (the countries where I have citizenship) to see whether I could be part of their team. Talk about desperation…
I had missed the deadline for NZ by 1 week. Noooooo!
But the Germans? Well, their deadline wasn’t until July, so I had plenty of time to submit my race results.
In May this year, Paul and I moved to Germany. Once there we headed to France where I trained like there was no tomorrow. I rode 1,300km (800 miles) in 3 weeks and swam in pools, rivers and lakes. Back in Germany that continued for a couple of weeks in the lead up to Challenge Roth.
Race day was amazing. It really was and I loved every minute of it. Especially the recovery afterwards.
Not much of a break though and I was back into it. Shorter distances now, swimming, cycling and running.
The day after Challenge Roth (18 July) I received the confirmation from the German Triathlon Union that I am in the national team representing our country in Mexico. So I got on the phone to the travel agent and booked Paul and myself onto this trip to the Caribbean…
On August 1 I started my new job. From now I needed to precisely plan all my training sessions because I needed to factor in the daily commute and allow for enough time to eat, sleep and recover. Oh and spend time with Paul of course.
I became super efficient at doing everything. The washing machine ran on a timer, I ran to work from the train, ran to the pool from the office and to the tram from the pool. Fitting in running sessions didn’t prove to be a problem.
I started riding to work, which is a 60km (37 mile) trip each way. I did a double (there and back) twice a week and drove on the remaining days. This meant I got the bike kilometers in and on the ‘car days’ I swam.
Cycling to work meant leaving the house at 5.30am and returning at 8pm. Happy and hungry.
Swimming days meant driving to Nuremberg at 6am to swim from 7-8am before driving straight to the office from the pool and using the car as a transition area where my swim gear got to dry while I was working.
It was military precision but actually quite fun as well. Paul’s support meant there were always plenty of bananas and apples in the house and I used ‘car days’ to move gear (towels, clothes, shoes) and food from home to the office and vice versa.
Mexico came closer and closer. After my first week of work I raced a sprint triathlon about a 90min drive away from home in Kitzingen. I won my age group, Finally! My first trophy, oh the glory!
A month later I was on a plane to London for a business trip. I had scouted out the local pool – a 2km run from the hotel to the pool and back, which meant I had my running and swimming sessions covered. Lucky me!
And finally, 10th of September, the big packing day. I packed my bike in its bag for the big trip and gathered all the essentials for myself. I like to travel light and managed to keep my check-in luggage including all the racing gear, to 10kg.
On September 11 I took the train to Frankfurt where I met up with a few other German representatives, including Age Groupers and Elite athletes. We flew directly from Frankfurt to Cancun, then jumped on a bus to the ferry, crossed over to Cozumel and were driven to the hotel.
A day later, Paul arrived from New Zealand and ahead of us we had an exciting week of holidaying and racing.
Now those of you who know me, probably agree that I have pretty high expectations of myself and tend to put a fair bit of pressure on myself to do whatever I do really well. This race was no exceptions, so the days leading up to September 15 were fun and somewhat relaxed but in the back of my mind I kept playing through the race, thinking, planning, checking, organising and fine tuning.
On race day everything went off without a (technical) glitch. My transitions were fast, I had no mechanical issues on the bike and only felt my blisters after I finished :-). They came mostly due to the soaking wet shoes I ran in due to constantly pouring ice cold water over myself on the run.
I wrote the following race report for my friends and family, so I will share it here as well for those who are interested in how the 78 minutes unfolded…
So it was place number 32 out of 45 for me today. Not quite the result I hoped for as I expected to get to the mid field, but it was the hardest race I’d ever done and after leaving everything out there on the course I am still happy with and proud of my performance.
The swim started really well but I didn’t manage to stay with the lead group, so stuck with the others and held onto someone’s feet (not literally) for the second half.
I came out quite well and had a speedy transition which I was pleased with.
Imagine having a nice bath for 13min in warm water followed by an immediate sprint once around a running track, in full sun, including running up 20 steps. Yup that was T1.
Mounted my bike with a quick step and leg over and off I went.
It took 5km of furious riding before I had a small group to ride with. The Canadian girl was a pain in the ass, only pulling for about 100m before she asked us to change, while the girl from GBR and I did more than our share in comparison.
At the turn around we had caught up to another group and unfortunately I was at the end of the pack at the time and couldn’t hold on as they sped off, so here I was again, working by myself for the rest of the bike leg.
Feet out of and on top of the shoes for the last few hundred meters, a graceful leg swing over from the right to the left – frantic whistling and arm waving by the technical official who was worried I would continue past the dismount line (as if…) – and I came off the bike straight into a run through a bit of chaos at the dismount line with girls left and right and shoes flying.
Bike racked and running shoes on, I grabbed my visor and water bottle (which by now was only cool and not frozen anymore) and ran off onto the run course.
The heat was there on the bike but didn’t bother me so much. On the run it was a different story. We had about 32 degrees which, with the added high humidity felt like about 36 so at every aid station I grabbed ice packs which were melted already and poured the water over myself. That helped for about 10 seconds.
I know I can run faster – about 30sec per kilometer faster. But not today. I tried to pick up the pace but it just didn’t happen.
So I ran steady and kept the consistency, while trying to not be disappointed when my watch announced another slow kilometer.
When I finally turned the corner towards the finishing chute, I found some sort of reserves from somewhere and started to really run.
I was chased by ‘the Canadian’ (who had dropped me on the bike so god knows how she ended up behind me on the run?). I didn’t know what was going on behind me and what age group she was in until she managed to pass me on the final 3 meters. We hugged it out after the finish line. But I haven’t forgiven.
Looking at the results I saw that some girls who rode in a group for most of the bike leg still finished with me or slightly behind.
I’m proud to have given absolutely everything out there. I worked hard and by myself for a lot of the time. The heat and humidity were relentless – give me cold water and 20 degrees air temp out there and I’ll be much happier.
It was a very special experience to race here in Cozumel, it was fast and furious and the Mexican girls really owned us! But the event was fun, the spirit was friendly and in the end we all got our medal.
What’s next? I don’t know, but I just had a 6 hour nap in pink compression socks after eating onion rings and vege fajitas. So everything is good.
A huge thank you to my coach Craig Percival who got me here in the best shape of my life! I couldn’t have done it without you!
The official results can be found on the World Triathlon website if you want to check them out.
So that was my experience in Mexico. We had an additional 4 days on Cozumel, during which I watched the elite women and men and cheered on my fellow German age group competitors and new friends in the Olympic distance race on Sunday.
I’m really glad I gave this a go and ended up travelling to Central America to experience it all.
I know I said I would take a break from racing for a while. But after this week I don’t know if I can. Sure, the winter break is coming and I will just train for fun and keep my fitness up as much as possible. I want to focus on work and family without trying to fit in training sessions wherever possible. No pressure for the next few months.
But 2017 World Champs are in Rotterdam. It will be flat and cold, just how I like it. And then there is the European Championship in Düsseldorf… And I really liked hanging out with other triathletes and making new friends. So I have serious doubts that this was my last competitive effort…