By Lenka Plavcova
Last weekend Jan and I took part in the Einstein Triathlon in Ulm, Germany. It was the grand premiere of the sport of triathlon in Ulm and the organizers promised a great race of magnificent proportions. There were 3 different distances (Sprint, Olympic, Half-Iron) to choose from. The highlights of the course included a swim in the Danube (downstream), a challenging bike course with 14% and 16% grade hills and a flat run course winding through the historic center of Ulm. We decided to sign up for the race in May. At that point, the sprint distance was already sold out, so I opted for the Olympic, whereas Jan chose the less dynamic Half-ironman distance.
Since we left Canada, we slipped out of the influence of crazy sport geeks from the UofA Tri Club and Fiera and lost our weekly triathlon routine. Actually, some of those geeks surprised us in Europe and we got some good training hours with Mike and Emily and we suffered in the X-trail marathon with Dave and Bridget http://roder-blog.blogspot.de/2013/06/v-behaviorurldefaultvmlo.html. Anyway, our training for the race consisted mostly of running. Besides that, I bike to work almost every day. The commute is about 10 km long (one way) and includes 2 km uphill with 150 m elevation gain, so it is a quite good morning workout for me. I largely neglected swimming – my favorite part of the triathlon (blink blink). Since we returned back to Europe last September, I went to the pool twice I guess. In early June, the race organizers put on a test swim in the Danube. I was glad to finally try out my wetsuit that Jan won as a door prize in Canada and that I didn’t have a chance to use during the ITU Triathlon in Edmonton because water in the Hawrelak Lake was too hot. Water being too hot wasn’t really an issue in the Danube in June as the temperature during the test swim was only 15°C. I blamed the cold temperature for not allowing me to submerge my face in water and swim freestyle. So the test swim was very informative, telling me that I should practice cold water hardening and perhaps even swim more often than twice a year. Having learned this, I went open water swimming 3 more times in July. The good news was that I could swim freestyle in open water; however, all those swims were rather short.
With the race day approaching, things changed slightly. Because of the dry and hot summer this year, the river temperature rose to unusually warm 21°C so I didn’t need to worry about the cold hardiness any more. Instead, I started worrying they will ban wetsuits. The day before the race we learnt that the wetsuits would be still allowed (good news). However, the organizers also confessed that the swim would be longer than the indicated official distance (bad news). When preparing the race, they decided to account for the river current and extended the swim course by a factor proportional to the typical flow rate. But because of the drought, the Danube discharge was now extremely low, providing almost no advantage to a swimmer. Oh well, bad luck…
A sweet thing about this triathlon was that it started late and directly in the middle of our home town. Jan’s race started at 9:45 and mine at 11:30, so we didn’t need to get up crazily early. I went with Jan to the start line to cheer him on and also to see the main star of the race – a former ITU Triathlon world champion Daniel Unger who was competing with Jan in the Half-ironman race. Unger was actually the big teaser for the race as there was a 5,000€ prize awarded to those who beat him. I watched the start and then walked along the river towards my starting spot just 1 km downstream. I still had plenty of time so I sat down at the river bank and waited. The time passed quickly and shortly I was standing in my wetsuit on the pontoon. We were given enough time to jump in and test the water, which I appreciated. The race went off and I started with my excellent freestyle technique. The first 20 meters went fine, I enjoyed the bubbling water around me, but then people started to cross in front of me and bump into me which I found annoying. I had to constantly look up and started to run out of breath, so I switched to breaststroke. I tried to switch back to freestyle again but I could not get into a comfortable rhythm, so I finally gave up and continued with the breaststroke. 20 min into the swim I started to feel tired and gave freestyle one more try. However, when I realized that I was swimming into the bushes rather than straight ahead, I surrendered again. The swim started to feel really long and I was looking forward to seeing the exiting pontoon. To my great relief, that happened after long 47 minutes. As I was exiting the water, my head was spinning and my legs were cramping. I guess I used mainly the legs to power me through the water. I toddled into the transition zone and grabbed my bag. There was a line of chairs to sit on while taking the wetsuit off, which I gladly accepted and sat there for a little while.
I put on my Fiera jersey and ate some gummi bears that I had in the pocket. I started to feel better so I ran for my bike and out of the transition area. I mounted on and quickly headed out on the bike course.
The course started with a 12km-long flat section, followed by a rather short but steep hill. The organizers set up a prime there to spice the race up. I felt pretty well on the flat part and climbing the hill was not so bad either. The course then went over some rolling hills in the middle of fields. Uh, did I mention that it was 35°C and burning sun that day? It felt pretty hot so I made sure to drink enough water. I also started to wonder if I should perhaps eat something. I reached for an energy bar and started to chew on it bite by bite. I don’t like eating while moving. Even when I buy an ice cream on a normal day I prefer to sit down or at least to stop while eating it, so gulping down the energy bar was not a big pleasure, but soon I could feel the new energy in my body. I knew that one big hill is still waiting for me at the kilometer 35, so I decided to have a gel. It was the first energy gel I ever ate and I can tell you it won’t become my favorite treat (yes, I know you’re not supposed to try out new things during the race but I have an adventurous spirit). Maybe thanks to the gel, climbing the 18% grade hill was not that hard. I even overpassed two riders there which was an occasion that didn’t occur during the entire ride so far. The last stretch of the bike course was a nice long descent towards the stadium. Overall, I really enjoyed the bike part. The course was interesting and diverse and closed for traffic which was really sweet. In contrast to my swim experience, the bike felt nice and easy.
Bike to run transition went smooth. It was really nice to run on tartan through the track and field stadium. The first kilometer of the course was shaded by trees. I met Jan heading in the opposite direction and waved at him. I was running 5:26 min per kilometer pace and was passing people. However, then I hit the sunlit pavement and started to feel overheated. I had to stop in the aid-station at 2.5km to have a drink. I continued running at a pace of around 6 min/km but felt pretty awful so I stopped occasionally in the shade to cool off. It was too hot. There were a couple of sprinklers set up on the course, which was awesome but didn’t help for long. Thanks God for the aid stations! I had Gatorade and water at every 2km and was wondering if I should also eat something but my stomach didn’t feel so happy about this idea and was cramping every now and then. I kept running and was very happy to see the mark for the last 3km. Shortly after Jan passed me from the back and asked how I feel. I said that I feel awful and that he should run ahead. So he ran and I ran too, just a little bit slower. I skipped my obligatory rest and drink at the last aid station and ran into the stadium for the final stretch on the oval track. Hooray! After 3 hours and 37 minutes finally crossing the finish line!
To sum it all up, the race was a great experience. The organizers did a great job in all respects. I was particularly impressed how promptly they responded to the unusual heat wave and reinforced the aid stations and cooling possibilities along the course. This race was the first Olympic triathlon race I’ve ever done if I don’t count our family triathlon last September that admittedly is a bit less professional and less competitive. It was definitely the longest and hardest race I’ve done so far. So here is my take on it:
Swim: I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to swim freestyle during the race. I learnt how to swim freestyle just 4 years ago thanks to the awesome swim coaches from the UofA Tri club and my technique has been improving since then. I’m able to swim 750m freestyle in a pool and I’m still secretly hoping that a day will come when I complete a race swimming freestyle in open water. Sadly, it didn’t happen in this race. Maybe I need to practice more, or maybe I just need more mental toughness to get over the initial discomfort. My only excuse for the 47 minute swim is that it was not 1.5km but almost 2.5 km according to Google maps.
Bike: When I looked at the results, I realized that feeling great and relaxed on the bike might not have been such a positive thing. I didn’t have a bike computer and I wasn’t monitoring my speed during the race but I was hoping my bike split would be better than 1 hour 37 minutes. I don’t think it was the uphills where I sucked the most. I suspect I was losing mainly on the flats and downhills. Next time, I should try to wake up my inner ‘fiera’ and ride more aggressively pushing a bigger gear. Learning how to ride with aero bars might also be helpful.
Run: I finished the 10km course in 1 hour and 4 minutes which corresponds to a pace of 6:24min/km. This is definitely not a great split and I can run faster than that. I’m not really sure if it was the heat that killed me or if I was too tired from the previous disciplines. Result-wise, the run was still my best discipline and I managed to move up in the result list to a nice 72nd spot out of 86 women.
Also, here are some details about Jan’s race: The only training Jan did was that he bought a Tri suite a week before the race. He struggled on the swim, although a bit more successfully than me. On the bike, Jan focused on getting the hill prime. He started his mad climb! The crowds went nuts! However, 50 m before the line he ran out of gas and had to slow down. In spite of this, he had the 19th fastest time (out of 861 contestants) and even beat the world champion Unger by one second. Unfortunately, this heroic effort wore out not only Jan but also his bike and a couple of kilometers later he had a flat. He managed to fix it but knew that his race today will not be the fastest. With these thoughts, he went into the run. He ran nice and easy, not on the edge of collapse as he usually does. So in summary, Jan had fun out there and the final time of 5 hours 15 minutes was not a disappointment for him.
The results are here: https://www.abavent.de/anmeldeservice/einsteintriathlon2013/ergebnisse
And finally I want to take the time to congratulate Joe on making the cover of Alberta Outdoorsman!