Back to school

One of the great things about triathlon is using a race to take a weekend trip somewhere. Over May 6-7, the sport took me to Flensburg, near the Danish border, and what a fabulous place this city on the Baltic Sea is. Together with the Campus Triathlon, held at Flensburg University in glorious sunshine, it made for a enjoyable weekend away.

The first race of the season, a sprint, had the 500m swim in an indoor pool. Not a bad thing at all, given the awful spring weather has the German lakes at around 10° at the moment. And pool swims are good because they’re safe and no one is freaking out about having to swim in (cold) open water.

Now into my 42nd year (and never chemically enhanced), I’m starting to feel my age. Still, I felt good in the pool, had a decent swim and got onto the bike feeling positive about the race. Of course, the guys who passed me like I was riding backwards deflated my spirits a little, but I tried to focus on my race. (Seriously, they were going so fast, I wondered if they had motors; I thought their bikes were making suspicious whirring sounds.)

As I found out earlier in the week I’ve been selected to represent Australia at the World Age Group Championships in Rotterdam, Sept 14-17, I approached the Flensburg race with the attitude that every race is training for Rotterdam. So, on the bike, I worked on my form and maintaining a good speed without pushing too hard.


If the first race showed anything, it’s that I haven’t trained enough and I’ve got a lot of work to do to prevent myself from finishing last in Rotterdam. By the time I hit the run, I was struggling, and this time guys passed me like I was running backwards. I was happy just to get to the finish line, to end up in place 17 (from about 100), and second in my age group. Sure, I was beaten by a guy in his sixties, and another in his fifties, and I was ten minutes behind the winner, and there were the usual dubious 20% who were going on far more than just power gels and Gatorade, but I was satisfied with my race.

Better than that, it was a great weekend away. Saturday was spent enjoying the unusual charms of Flensburg, which included all the small courtyards branching off the streets off the old town, finding some odd statues around town, and seeing shoes strung across the main street.


The Campus Triathlon, and Flensburg, is a find. I’ll be back next year.


Press round-up

A few interesting articles have popped up in the last month. This one in The Conversation is particularly good and features this paragraph:

“More and more, amateur competitors are prepared to spend thousands of pounds on equipment, invest 10-15 hours a week training, spend their holidays on training camps, and pay for personal coaches. It’s no great leap to seeing doping as just another opportunity for improvement. They may not be doing it for money – it seems pride and social status, and perhaps even just curiosity – are motivating principles. The paradoxical twist here is that if testing does get ramped up, then the open secret will disappear into the shadows, increasing the health risks as it goes.”

303 Cycling highlights the problems of doping in amateur cycling, while this article tries to go inside the mind of a doper.


From Sixth to the Podium

Part of the fall-out of recent doping scandals and retesting is that some of the medal-winners from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics are being stripped of their medals, bumping athletes who missed out up the placings.

Of course, what’s really sad here is that those athletes who were clean missed out on all the accolades and winfalls they could have enjoyed at the time, including sponsorships, funding and notoriety.

Take me to the river

The last race of the season was definitely the hottest. A muggy 32°, a big crowd, a warm river. Yeah, swimming in a brown, oily river is not the best, but as it was only 500m, it was bearable. And for such a fine race, the water can be tolerated.

The Elbe Triathlon has grown considerably in the last few years. Apparently, there is even some drug testing for the elite Hamburg athletes, though I haven’t found any information about the results.

Triathlon is very popular in Hamburg, and the Elbe Triathlon, held at the rowing centre 15km from downtown, had close to 1,000 participants. I had fun. The swim was chaotic, the bike good, the run hard. No matter how much work I put into my running, I just can’t match it with these guys. I was 26th overall, from about 400 who did the sprint distance, but I was 110th in the run.

This has been the story for much of the season. Swim well, bike well, run poorly. And it means I get passed a lot on the run, which never feels so great, especially when those passing me are older, heavier and (seemingly) cruising.

No matter. I’ve got 9 months to improve my running. But I give my cycling a thumbs up.



The donkey and the carrot

This report for two races on successive Sundays was always going to have me cast as the donkey. But, after I received my first ever time penalty in well over a hundred triathlons, the donkey is the referee who had the temerity to show me a card.

Truth be told, I very nearly pushed him off the motorbike.

I got the card, on the bike leg at the Qtri in Bornhöved, on August 21. This is a very nice race in a very nice small town about an hour north of Hamburg. Getting the card hasn’t changed my opinion: I still like the race and will do it again. But the referee is a donkey.

The 20 km ride was in pouring rain on very wet streets. A rider passed me, couldn’t keep the pace, was all over the road, and I got a card for being within ten metres of him. I was shocked they even gave out cards at this level of racing (it was a “Volkstriathlon” after all, with the super-fast sprinters already having raced earlier in the day, though that didn’t stop this “People’s triathlon” from being fast). Of course, that’s a whole other rant: because the usual middle-aged supermen, who push 50 (or are older), can somehow post extraordinary times.


I still enjoyed the race, despite the rain, despite the time penalty, and despite the grumpy old supermen.

A week earlier, at the low-key, and enjoyable, Bardowick Triathlon, near Lüneburg, I had the fascinating experience of receiving a bag of carrots when I crossed the finish line. After all the finisher shirts and medals, I thought this was a creative touch. Though I don’t think they’ll be renaming it “Carrot-tri” for next year’s race.


Running for carrots – a great idea!



The take-a-break race

The Grabow Triathlon was a much-needed experience, one which reminded me of why I participate in triathlons, and that racing can still be rewarding and fun. Because you have to love a race that allows you to take a break after the swim!

That’s what happened. The swim leg was organised in such a way as to allow for a staggered start for the bike leg. After the swim, and after a half-hour break, the participants were placed in order, based on their swim times, and set off on the bike at different intervals.

This was a really interesting way to organise a triathlon. And it was a feat of organisation, as almost all the participants knew what was going on. I was a little flummoxed, and had to be stopped by an organiser when I went sprinting from the pool to the transition area.

But once I got the drift, I liked the staggered start. There was also something egalitarian and communal about taking a break after the swim. People chatted. The participants relaxed. There was laughter, something I haven’t heard at a triathlon in a long time.

Sure, there were some fast athletes, and some who took it seriously, but any race where the winner goes back onto the course to clap and cheer for those still running gets my vote. Thanks for the clapping, Robert Prahl.

As the only Aussie among the athletes, I got a mention in the organisers interview: “…das Teilnehmerfeld ist auch hochkarätig und international besetzt”, ergänzt Torsten Westphal. “So konnten wir einen Teilnehmer aus Australien begrüßen…”

It was a very enjoyable race and the organisers should be commended for putting the fun back into triathlon.