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?