Red letter day

A few weeks ago, annoyed at being trounced by more super seniors, I decided to write an open letter to NADA and the German Triathlon Union. Here’s what I sent:


To my great surprise, I received a reply from NADA. Many thanks to Dr. Lars Mortsiefer for allowing me to publish his letter on the purathletes site.



So, what to make of all that? The focus is on professional sport, as it should be. But, and here’s what’s interesting, there’s no flat-out denial that drug use is happening in amateur sports, or any claims that I’m yelling smoke when there’s no fire. NADA knows about this problem, but doesn’t have the finances or resources to do anything about it. At least not yet. It might be one of things that won’t be addressed until something goes wrong.

I greatly appreciate NADA taking the time to read and reply to my letter.


The good oil

The Hamburg Triathlon is my favourite race of the year. I’ve done the Olympic distance every year since the event began in 2002.

It’s a massive event, held over two days, with around 10,000 competitors and a very large crowd. The swim is in the murky waters of the Alster (your favourite triathlon suit will be lined with green-brown sludge by the end of the race) while the bike and run take in the best parts of Hamburg. The only downside is that for many of the competitors, this is the one triathlon they do in the year, and thus they are not very educated about the rules and etiquette of racing; namely, keeping to the right during the bike, or glancing over one’s left shoulder before overtaking another rider.

Fortunately, I got through the bike unscathed (a couple of hairy moments) and started the run second in my start time. I lasted 6 kilometres, then tanked. At 28°, it was just too hot for me. And it looked like everyone was labouring in the heat. I finished with 2:24 for place 50 from 1200. A very good result, considering the heat, and considering I had the worst possible start block, right at the beginning of the transition area, which meant I had to run about 600 metres with my bike, twice.

No matter. I really enjoyed the race. And I learned something. While checking in my bike, I asked the mechanic for some oil and he looked at my chain and said I had way too much oil. “Less is better,” he said, and he wiped all the oil off. I had a pretty fast bike leg as a result, so thanks to the mechanic.

And thanks to Hamburg for once again putting on a fabulous race.

Satan’s river

Another weekend, another race, and the risk of another race report sounding like all the others. The 41 year-old winner, the 45 year-old runner-up, the unathletic guys flying past me in the run, the incredibly fit middle-aged men, and blah blah blah. So it goes doing triathlons in this part of the world.

I’m thinking about writing a letter to NADA, the anti-doping authority in Germany, imploring them to come to a race and do some testing, just to see what the results would be.

The race, organised by the Triabolos triathlon club (not my favourite club by a long stretch for a variety of reasons), was held in the south-east of Hamburg, swimming in the Elbe River at the rowing centre. It meant a long, straight swim (where you don’t feel like you’re making any progress) and having to dodge all these little buoys that mark the rowers’ lanes. Amazingly, I had the 8th fastest swim, but then got overtaken on the bike, and overtaken some more on the run, to finish 19th.

It rained. It was a fun race, well-organised. Good course. Only problem was that at the finish line, you could have alcohol-free wheat beer or some foul-tasting coconut water. There was nothing else to drink.

Because it rained, and was pretty cold, there was a race for the showers afterwards. The showers were a circular design; five streams from on central pole that reminded of a prison shower. Don’t drop the soap, but I could barely stand. The other guys showering were energetic and scrubbing animatedly, looking like they were ready to do the race again. Gawd.

Right. That’s it. It sounds very old-fashioned, but damn it, I’m going to write a letter.


Holy age-group, Batman

Two years ago, the Baltic Sea resort town of Heiligenhafen held its first triathlon, called Fisherman. It was all very un-serious, with around 50 starters. A lot of holiday-makers stopped and stared, and some stood on the run course, baffled by what was going on and getting in everyone’s way. I was out of shape (recovering from chronic back problems) but still finished 12th. It was a really enjoyable race, done with the right spirit and with a great atmosphere.

Two years later, there were 200 starters in what was suddenly a very serious race indeed, as shown by the quality of the field. There were teams from all over northern Germany, with matching uniforms and coaches holding stopwatches (they all did warm-up runs together, sticking to their groups, discussing tactics). There were some very fit-looking middle-aged men (the ultra-serious age-groupers), and expensive carbon bikes up the wingwang. Aero helmets, disc wheels, roid rage. Not really much fun. But worse was that the great spirit of that first Fisherman was lost.

So, into the race. 200 swimmers churning the water in the tight harbour course. I was somewhere near the front, but still had to round the bouys three-wide. Onto the bike, getting passed by people with intense grimaces on their faces (like they’re really not enjoying themselves at all), I got to wondering about their lives. Okay, they don’t look like great athletes, but they’re really fast; going by me in a spandex-carbon blur. Do they just spend every minute of their free time training? Get up a 5am and run? Come home from work and sit on a bike all evening? Sleep in a pool? Maybe. And then I thought, how freaking boring is that? What kind of life? And then I thought: but what about the rest of their life? They have jobs, partners, families, responsibilities. How do they manage to train like idiots with all that going on as well?

And after all that pondering, the bike leg was over. On the run, I did more cursing than thinking. I got passed by a 48 year-old with a slightly atrophied left leg. He ran the 5km two minutes faster than me. It was all just a little too much for me to handle, all these middle-aged guys flying through the run. 1st was 45, 3rd was 46, 8th was 46, 12th was 51, 14th was 43…need I go on?

But I took a cold plunge in the harbour afterwards and calmed down a little. I think my time of 1:09 for 29th place is best described as honest. I was ten minutes behind the winner. He did the 750m/20km/5km course in under an hour, as an amateur, at age 45. To do that, he must be in the top 0.0001% of the world’s most gifted athletes. Good for him.

I guess there’s something in the water in northern Germany, because there seems to be quite a few middle-aged triathletes who are in the top 0.0001% of the world’s most gifted athletes. What are the odds of that?

All the king’s men

I like Schwerin, the lakes and the castle. Especially the castle. I booked a hotel that offered a great view.


This photo was taken the morning of the race. The swim was in the lake in front of the castle. Water was 16°.

Yes, I like doing the Schlosstriathlon in Schwerin, even though it’s always a very strong field. This year was no exception. The winner clocked 1:52, which for an Olympic distance race (non-drafting remember) is just ludicrous. The top 7 all did the 40km bike leg in under an hour. 5th overall was 45 years old, 8th was 47, 12th was 54 (in a time of 2:12).

I was very proud of my 2:14 for 18th place. During the race, I watched the guys passing me and took mental note of their body types. The standard pro triathlete is basically a middle-distance runner who swims. That is, they’re very lean with the shoulders that come from pounding laps in the pool. The guys passing me in Schwerin were solid, muscular guys, who look like they spend more time pounding weights in the gym than swimming laps. A couple of guys who passed me on the run had the kind of bulky calf and quad muscles that the All Blacks front row would be jealous of. It struck me then, as I gasped for air, that there just seemed something unnatural about a person of that size, weight and age moving at that speed, and with such ease.

But whatever. Good on you, super fast big guys. I enjoyed the race.