Pumped up grandpa

I’m not really sure what to make of this guy:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/16/sports/weight-lifter-80-labeled-a-cheat-but-he-has-a-story.html?pagewanted=1&tntemail0=y&_r=1&emc=edit_tnt_20130915&

To quote: “But most of the athletes caught in recent years for using steroids and other banned substances have been little-known amateurs in small-time competitions.”

So, what does this mean for everything that just went down in London? Checking the results, there were plenty of men in the open age group race who ran faster 10 kms than some of the pros. They also had considerably faster bike times over 40 kms – keeping in mind that the age group race was (supposedly) non-drafting. What does this mean? Are the top guys in the age group race actually pros? Or…?

No. I really don’t want to think the worst, as with Don Ramos. It was a such a great five days in London. I really don’t want it to be tainted somehow.

Yet, how, as an amateur athlete with a full-time job, how do you run and bike faster than the pros? Because, if you are faster, why aren’t you a pro?

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London V: The last shall be first

Sunday:
The old Swedish man was really working hard. I’m a slow runner (got passed by just about everyone), but I somehow managed to lap the old Swedish man. Both times I passed him, I patted him on the back and gave him some encouragement. He probably finished way back in the field, but he has my full admiration. There were so many talented athletes on the course today, but not all were supremely tuned and primed machines.

The Swedish man was a reminder that you don’t need to finish first to be a winner. In fact, you can get up way to early in the morning, swim in brutally cold water, negotiate some rather crazy riders who threaten to knock you off your bike (the wind also trying to do the same thing), have a bad day, finish way down in the standings, and still come off the course a winner. Because there are all these people lining the course shouting out your name and waving flags, and they really make you feel like a champion, regardless of how fast you’re going.

It was cold. It was windy. It was muddy in the transition area. But the supporters made this such a great day.

Let me hear it: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie (like in this photo).

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I can’t emphasise this enough. The supporters on the course were fantastic. I huge thanks to all of them.

This was an altogether much more serious race than the sprint on Friday. I was very glad to finish.

Some stray post-race thoughts:
– It was surprising to see what I had thought to be experienced triathletes make some very bad errors, especially on the bike course. Namely, coming in way too fast for tight corners; overtaking without checking over their left shoulder for other riders; drafting; using discs in very windy weather; and riding in the middle of the street.
– On that note, the swim also had its problems. Namely, people who can’t swim straight; people who can’t seem to navigate in the water; people who breath on one side. Hey, folks, these are things you can train.
– I mention the above because this is what you see in some village triathlon, where many novices take part. I didn’t expect it at the World Age Group Champions. Next time, I’ll learn to say “Keep right” in as many languages as possible.
– 5am is not a time for athletes to get up.
– I’ve been wondering why I wasn’t asked to pee in a cup. Is there no drug testing done?
– The good organisers, team managers and support crew of Team Australia deserve a massive thank you. They did such a great job for us.
– This has been a great experience, and many thanks to Triathlon Australia for allowing me to be part of it.

London IV: The eye of the storm

Saturday:
A blessed day off. There’s one thing on the schedule today: check in bike for standard distance. Okay. That I can handle.

Honestly, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by all this scheduling. Be here at this time with these six items, and if you’re at the wrong time with the wrong items you will not pass GO and you will not collect $200. Sure, these events are tough to organise, and there are a lot of rules and regulations to follow, but hey, we are all amateurs, aren’t we? We’re not racing for any prizemoney.

During the sprint on Friday, an American who finished the bike just in front of me was given grief by two different officials: the first for taking his helmet off before racking his bike, and the second for not securing the replaced helmet. Yes, those are the rules, and he should have known better, but the American still had my sympathy.

So, I’m not sure where I stand with the organisation. Truth be told, I’m a little weary of shuffling in and out of Hyde Park. Walking and walking and walking (often in drizzle), when I should be resting and gathering my remaining strength. The transition area is rather difficult to access (and it’s here I really miss the Hamburg City Man, with its paved, carpeted transition area positioned right next to a station exit).

But the event has great people. The weather hasn’t been kind, but the volunteers remain cheery and accommodating.

Last point on the organisation: in my opinion, it’s really asking a lot of the athletes to get up at 5am on race day (when there’s no tube, and when you could see stars, if there weren’t any clouds) just to position bike shoes, helmet and running shoes, a task that takes about five minutes. Then have them trudge back out of Hyde Park and back to the hotel or whatever accommodation to wait around for start time (in my case 10:10am). Surely there must be a more efficient and athlete-friendly way to rack bikes (without leaving them overnight) and set up gear.

The other athletes I’ve spoken to are also peeved by this early morning task. But most of them shrug their shoulders and roll with it, having travelled so far and put in so much effort just to get here.

I’m wondering what others think about the organisation. Any thoughts? Am I the only one who thinks bike check-out resembles terminal 5 at Heathrow?

London III: Come on, Aussie, come on

Friday:Well, I aint never done a race quite like that. In the damp of the evening, I’m still not sure what to make of it. There wasn’t really time during the race to savour the moment. The pace was frenetic, and it took all my power just to keep up.

Yes, it was great. Seeing the Aussie flags waving. Having complete strangers (and not just fellow Aussies) see me in my suit and supportively yell out my name. Watching the other competitors rise to the occasion, racing proudly, giving everything. And seeing others who struggled or had bad luck, but still went on and gave it their best. The supporters who braved the weather and cheered everyone on, not just those of their nation or relation. The good-spirited volunteers, dispensing drinks and urging you on.

The Aussie cheer squad deserves an extra special mention.

Just brilliant. There aren’t really words to describe it.

And yet…and yet it was not all positives. The bike course was troublesome. I kept thinking of Austin Powers and the Russian bombshell Ivana Humpalot. It was bumpy, and it was really wet. Two hairpin turns. Athletes crashed. I was glad to get through it unscathed.

The transition area was churned into a muddy cow paddock. Heading downhill was a bit like a slip-and-slide. Everything got dirty, but the showers were warm.

I have come to conclude that there appears to be two groups of racers: grimacers and grinners. The grimacers have trained really hard, invested time and money, and are determined to do well. I respect that, and I wish you all the best (but perhaps not when you cut dangerously in front of me at those sharp turns). Nah, even with that, I wish you all the best. Go as fast as you can.

The grinners are just out there having a ball. Like this doofus:

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Playing in the mud, running in the rain, having fun. Well done to everyone and a big thank you for the support.

Some stray pre-race thoughts:
– The undergound in the morning resembles a steamed-up sardine can. Pointy bike helmets become dangerous weapons in such situations.
– Those like me (a total goose, that is) who don’t read the instruction manual carefully end up arriving at the race way too late to do the final bike set-up, and have to beg to be let in while loudly admitting to being a total goose, but are allowed in and get a friendly volunteer like Paul to stand guard as you get the bike ready. Thanks, Paul.
– It gets pretty hot when you stand in the swim line-up for 20 minutes in a wetsuit.

London II: “Very Tall Cyclist”

Thursday:
It was a grey morning. Wet streets. Rubbish collection. Construction and renovation are boom industries in London, so one doesn’t need an alarm clock. In Hyde Park, junior racers were hard at it, and I didn’t envy them. Though, the weather certainly improved as the day went on.

I built the bike, not without a bit of struggle. Thanks to the Team Oz bike mechanic for giving the bike a once over. Said hi to the nice gals at the team desk. Thanks again to Hayley for hauling my suit half-way round the world.

I got myself to the athletes area to pick up my starter kits and received my first slap in the face for the day. There are some seriously fit individuals here, of all ages, and they are proud to represent their countries. I witnessed our show of pride last night at Gibson Hall, but today, I saw it from nations far and wide. And it’s great. (Love the Mexico training suit.)

If I was patriotic yesterday, what I’m feeling today is a wonderful feeling of solidarity; all these people united by triathlon. It’s a commonality that has nothing to do with borders, political systems or religions. And this is important for us triathletes because our endeavours are often solitary. We may train in groups and be members of clubs, but it’s a very personal kind of motivation that gets each of us up at dawn for chilly morning workouts. It makes me feel good to see all these others who have a similar kind of self-motivation and a passion for swimming, biking and running.

Second slap in the face came when checking the bike in for tomorrow’s sprint. Some triathletes really invest in their bikes, which left me calculating the possible net value of all those bikes racked in the transition area (more than $1 million??).

My ye olde Trek is ready for any weather.

SAMSUNG

Notice how it’s racked handlebars first. This is because the seat is too high to get it under the bar. It’s not allowed to do it this way, I discovered, but a very nice official came over and marked my bike with tape and pen: “Very Tall Cyclist”. This allows me to keep the bike as it is, tomorrow as well, which is good, because it’s much sturdier this way. The bike next to mine is hanging by the seat and swinging left and right.

So, I may not get Age Group Winner next to my name, but I have received the title of “Very Tall Cyclist”.

One sleep left until the sprint. Surprisingly, I’m not nervous. I’m actually fully keen for the experience. My goals are simple: enjoy, survive, finish. Time and placing be damned.

Good luck to all.

Some stray London thoughts:- Riding a bike in London is about on par, risk-wise, with bungee-jumping, yet many people do it.
– The traffic is relentless.
– If you walk around for an hour or two, the inside of your nose becomes slightly black. Gawd, what do your lungs look like then?
– A lot of the food in the supermarkets is pre-packaged. Do Londoners have an aversion to cooking?
– The water is not quite drinkable (this said by a boy from country WA who grew up drinking all types of weird, tainted water. “I know it’s brown, son, but it’s rain water”).
– The Oyster Card is great.
– A standard hotel room is about the size of a second bathroom back home.

London 1: green and gold brightens the gloom

Wednesday:
It was a hectic day, one that included a four hour airport delay and the incredible hassle of lugging a bike box around (hint: stairs are nigh on impossible, and it brings to my attention that London stations are not terribly disabled friendly). Boris, get it together, man.

Once landed and settled, London seemed more welcoming. And then some. At Gibson Hall for the Team BBQ (for those late-comers sneaking in after lounging at various airports and train stations surrounded by piles of gear all day) the opulent room was a refreshing and tantalising sea of green and gold, the waters rippled here and there by the familiar blue of Aussie flags and the white of the team polos. Smiling faces all round. Well, don’t we just look marvy and smashing, while outside the Londoners in grey suits and black pantsuits are walking head-down into the mineral rain.

Now, I’m feeling patriotic. I’m feeling Olympic. This thing is on. What has required so much planning and waiting is upon us. Oh yes, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. All these fit and dedicated people; these committed individuals who have trained so hard and travelled so far. And those who have given their time to make this possible, the organisers and team managers. It’s Team Australia. Look at them. Look at us.

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This is something we can all be really proud to be part of, regardless of results or tenths-of-seconds or flat tires or goggles filling with water or grey clouds dribbling rain. This is a fantastic experience.  

The weather is not clouding (groan) our spirit. We’re all smiles at the opening ceremony at Trafalgar Square, and our gear really makes us stand out. Get into it Team Oz. Do us all proud.

Thursday plan: put bike together, check-in at athlete hotel, get starter kits, team briefing, bike check-in for sprint, sleep the sleep of champions.

Good luck to everyone competing today and tomorrow. Race with a big cheesy grin on your face. I know I will.

Patriot games

Just a few days out from London. Getting nervous, but trying to tell myself it’s no big deal. Just another race. I’m actually of the mindset that the races will be more fun and fair than the ones I’ve been doing in Germany. Because I checked the times from last year’s World Champs in Auckland, and the top dogs I race against here every weekend would’ve finished way out in front in those races. But none of those top dogs are racing in London. Hmm. Funny that.

So, I’m looking forward to it, getting more patriotic than I’ve ever been. I even decked out my helmet.

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And bought some appropriate running shoes.

SAMSUNG

Now, just have to pack everything together.