Lap happy

Following the Hachede Triathlon in Geesthacht yesterday, I received lots of congratulations, with many kind people wishing me well for finishing second in my age group. Yes, sure, it was good, but first in my age group was the winner, who finishing the sprint (750m, 20km, 5km) just about 13 minutes ahead of me.

This super-human-42-year-old even lapped me on the 2.5km run course. So, he’d finished, having barely worked up a sweat, and I still had another 3km to run. WTF???

Anyway, on my second lap – running pretty well, feeling good and enjoying the race – I thought a bit about what it would take to be that fast in your forties (or even in your twenties). I concluded it would have to be a full-time commitment. There would be no time for a job, a family, friends or anything else apart from triathlon. There would only be training, racing, sleeping, eating and taking “vitamins”.

And what a boring person that would be.

So, as I loped through my second lap, I was completely fine with being lapped by the winner, who had probably already packed up and was heading home to spend the rest of the day training. I don’t want to be that guy, and I don’t want to take anything that would give me an unfair advantage.

On that note, I’m seeing this year that, while my results are pretty much the same, I’m finishing further down the field, often being beaten by guys far on the other side of 40 and by guys who don’t look like athletes at all. This makes me wonder if these triathletes, fed up with being unable to compete or improve, have reached for the “vitamins”. You know, if you can’t beat them, join them. If this is the case, and from the times being posted, it looks like it is, then I think it’s a real shame.

 

 

 

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Methods of madness

I’m currently reading Blitzed by Norman Ohler. This fascinating book is all about the use of methamphetamines during the Nazi era, and how everyone from soldiers and workers to grandmothers and children were using the widely available meth drug Pervitin (also available in chocolates) to stay alert for longer and maintain their positive moods.

This goes a long way to explaining how the army at the time could move at such speed (with tank drivers and infantry able to go all night) and that the soldiers could be numbed to the effects of war. The book shows that the German army and the SS were using performance-enhancing drugs as they blitzed Europe.

Ohler’s book was very much on my mind as I got blitzed during the Auetal Triathlon, the winner of which was born in 1964 and was almost four minutes ahead of second place. I was back in tenth, a good twelve minutes behind, and I was beaten by another 50 year-old.

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While in former years I would’ve been very angry about this, these days I’m disappointed and confused. There’s no way someone who is 53 years old can be almost as fast as a professional triathlete. That does not compute.

For someone in their fifties to win a sprint triathlon with such a time, blitzing a strong field, should be a feat worthy of being reported in the local news. I mean, taken for what it is, it’s amazing. “Super-granddad wins triathlon”. He should be on television; he’s some kind of medical miracle.

It’s much more likley he’s mad. Because it would take a serious program of magic beans, special sauce, vitamin “D” and hard training to even get close to posting such times. A small motor in the bike would help as well.

Every weekend, I seem to end up in triathlons racing against a few guys like this. It’s such a shame, because these races, including yesterday’s very enjoyable Auetal Triathlon, are organised by volunteers with a passion for the sport. They run these races with the best of intentions, and then these amateur athletes show up pumped to the nines and posting pro times. These shameful athletes make a complete mockery of the fun weekend sport triathlon is.

If you’re stupid enough to fill your body with chemicals, that’s your problem. It’s a real shame that you then bring your madness to the race and ruin it for everyone else.

 

The joy of suffering

Training daily is hard, and I think it gets progressively harder each year past 40. It takes a lot of motivation to run, swim or bike each day when you’re not up for it. And if you train hard, it takes a few days to recover. Of course, all of this would be made a lot easier on the juice. But the juice is not for me.

While out today on my usual long Saturday morning run (this time, a 15km slog through Hamburg’s harbour), I got to thinking about suffering. Because after the first 30 minutes, I really started to suffer. My pace slowed, my breathing was laboured and my thighs burned. I enjoyed the run a lot, but it was tough.

As I suffered, I recalled some things Greg LeMond said when he was interviewed in the excellent Australian documentary Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story. When commenting on how Armstrong, at the height of his (fraudulent) dominance, was powering up the hills during the Tour de France and leaving a trail of cyclists in his wake, LeMond made the observation that Armstrong wasn’t suffering. It was easy. Armstrong was incredibly fast and he was barely breaking a sweat.

I’ve seen this in a lot of triathlons, where some of the participants seem able to excel far beyond their age, body type, and perceived athletic ability to post amazing times and results. And they do it all without suffering. I’ve seen these guys at the finish line, fresh and seemingly ready to do the whole race again. They’re on the juice. There’s no doubt in mind. At the finish line, I almost always collapse on the my back, unable to move, and smile broadly. I’ve suffered and survived and I’m happy.

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That’s me in green. Happy and with nothing left in the tank.

Armstrong was a professional athlete determined to be the best in the world, and there was a lot of money that came with his success. I can understand why he and other athletes got on the juice in order to compete, succeed and earn the money. I fail to understand why some amateur middle-aged triathlete pumps his or her body with performance-enhancing drugs just to do well at some small town race on a Sunday morning. I also fail to understand how they can do that and feel proud of themselves. There’s absolutely nothing at stake. It’s cheating, and it’s shameful. They should be suffering along with the rest of us.

While I’ll refrain from quoting the Bible, I do think there is joy in suffering, especially when it comes to sports, and not just during the race but through all the training as well. The suffering leads to happiness: the runner’s high at the end of a long run, the euphoric feeling of hitting the line in a race, the pride of doing your best, regardless of the result. For me, all of that would be tarnished if it was chemically driven, at which point the drugs were achieving the results, not me.

Armstrong ended up going through a very public downfall. His name is tarnished and he lives in shame. To all the amateur triathletes out there using performance-enhancing drugs, you should be ashamed of yourselves. To me, you’re a thousand times worse than Armstrong.

 

The green whale

Saturday saw me in Brunsbüttel for the third year in a row. The Waltriathlon, which takes place in a pool next to the Elbe River.

With my eyes on Rotterdam, I decided to get into the Aussie spirit and wore my green and gold suit from the 2013 Age Group Championships. The good news is it still fits, though it’s a little tight around the middle. I felt a little like this:

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It’s also a bit attention grabbing. Athletes came up and asked me if I really was from Australia. One young participant wanted to be photographed with me. And then, wearing such a suit raises the bar of how well I should do in the race.

While I had fun, my time was considerably slower than last year.

I got through the 500-metre swim and onto the bike. A tailwind meant the first ten clicks on the bike were easy, and the second ten were laborious. I got passed by quite a few athletes on the way back. This continued on the five-km run. I ended up 16th, with a time of 1:08. Not terrible, but I’ve really lost a few minutes on the run, and I was a full ten minutes behind the winner. Four out of the top five were all over 40 years old. Make of that what you will.

The nice folks in Brunsbüttel shall be commended for hosting such an enjoyable race.

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.

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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.

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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.