The beginning of the end

I did my first triathlon in 2001, riding a mountain bike and running in tennis shoes. Since then, I’ve done around 10 races a year and was lucky enough to represent Australia at the World Age Group Champs in London in 2013.

After nearly 17 seasons competing in triathlons, I can feel my enthusiasm for the sport waning. Sure, I’m kind of fed up with racing against people on the juice, and the seriousness and aggression of these people also take a lot of the fun out of the races, but I think my time has just about come. I’d also like to start playing sport again, namely basketball and tennis.

I thought a lot about this while racing the Ostseetriathlon in Eckernförde yesterday. This race makes a good example of the current state of triathlon and my feelings towards the sport.  This small town on the Baltic Sea attracted some amazing athletes, and also plenty of ordinary-looking athletes who could somehow pull off extraordinary feats. There were old men running faster than guys half their age, while the elite in the field would have been competitive against professional athletes.

But the real problem is that it wasn’t much fun. Because triathlon used to be fun. Now, it’s a very serious affair, with athletes who have invested in their gear (and in what goes inside their bodies), and they’ve invested lots of time into training, and they’re determined to do well. They are racing for success, and not for the joy of taking part.

It used to be there were a few guys in each race with that attitude. In Eckernförde, it seemed just about all 300 had that attitude. It was a very serious, competitve race. Nearly everyone was grimacing and not grinning.

So, I’ve decided to sell my triathlon bike and will next year participate in only a few races, if any. Those races will be selected on how much fun they are, and Eckernförde won’t be on the list.

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The old man and the Kiwi

7am really is too early to be pulling on a wetsuit and jumping into the water. But the Hamburg Triathlon is the world’s biggest race of its kind, with 200 eager athletes starting in waves of 200 every ten minutes, from 7 in the morning until around lunchtime. That’s the better part of 4,000+ people. I had the second slot, at 7:10am.

The winner of the whole day was a young lad from New Zealand, with two first names, or two last names, depending on how you take it: Saxon Morgan. Good on him!

He scorched the sprint field, clocking one hour for the 500m swim, 22km bike and 5km run. His bike and run splits were comparable with the lower finishers of the elite mens race. He’s clearly an up and coming young racer, and is certainly a name to remember. I just managed to see “Morgan” on the back of his triathlon suit as he flew past me on the run. He was motoring.

In his wake was a parade of grumpy old men, who were (somehow???) able to match this soon-to-be-pro athlete despite them being twice or maybe even three times his age. Yes, all within striking distance of the Kiwi with two first names were men aged 40-55. I guess Saxon will have to wait another 20 years or so before really hitting his prime.

And sure, I was one of the old men in pursuit, but I was a fair way back, loping along as best I could.

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Old “Chicken Legs” was good enough for place 241 overall out of some 2,700 men, but I was 17 minutes behind the Kiwi, which was how long it took him to run 5km. It took me 24 minutes.

No matter. It was fun and I was glad to get through it. I even met a couple from Queensland at the start of the race, who also had the early start time I had. I hope they enjoyed the race.

There were eight Aussies in the sprint, and I was lucky enough to be the first. So, in some way, I got to share the podium with Saxon, as the first from our respective countries. That’s worth smiling about.

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Tough luck

In German, Glück is one of those words that has several meanings. Depending on the context, it can mean luck, happiness or chance.

Located 60 kilometres north-west of Hamburg, Glückstadt, hosting its first triathlon, was a little down on its luck. The day before the race saw torrential rain, and this rain washed all sorts of crud and dirt and detritus into the city’s harbour. Thus, when the athletes got into the water to start the race, they stuck their faces in the most disgusting of water. It was also very cold.

In fact, the water was so bad, I had to swim stretches on my back, because I couldn’t keep my face in the water. It was like swimming through farm mud. It became about survival: getting through the swim without swallowing any water. Not easy, and not exactly a lucky day for all the participants.

The swim was disgusting, and the bike leg wasn’t much better, followng a dyke where sheep regularly graze. The rain combined with the droppings to send a not-very-nice spray up onto my legs and back. And I have to add here that there were some guys on their bikes who had no reason to be as fast as they were.

You could say the same about the run. When the day comes that I stop racing, it may well be because I’ve grown tired of being beaten and/or passed by old men and guys carrying ten kilos too many and not running like athletes at all.

So, not such a lucky or happy day in Glückstadt, and I didn’t feel I had much of a chance against athletes who are somehow able to defy their age, body type and ability to post exceptional times. To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the state of triathlon.

Glückstadt is certainly a nice city, but I don’t think I’ll be back to race there again.