Note: Click on any image thumbnail to obtain a larger version.
Note to triathletes: This story is for triathletes and non-triathletes as well, so there are a bunch of descriptions of things that are obvious to you, but not to non-triathletes. Be patient; there's stuff for you, too.
Another note: I've tried to imitate my friend Isa with suitable documentation of the food, as well as the race.
The images on the right show the ancient stone bridge in Regensburg, said to be the oldest remaining bridge in Europe. One is a view from a distance and the other is a view of the old part of the city standing on the bridge. Until just a few years ago it was open to auto traffic, but now only foot traffic is allowed. Thank goodness the race itself did not go over the bridge; there were enough cobblestones as it was!
I delayed for a month or so, waiting for at least one other friend to commit, but finally decided just to sign up for it. Things came up that prevented my friends from registering, but Ellyn and I were still really excited to go. Not only were the dates for the race good (IM Canada conflicts with Burning Man, which we like to attend), and we've got some good friends who live near Heidelberg and we figured we could spend a few days with them before the race. Finally, I knew that there would be folks to train with since three other members of my triathlon club (the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club, or SVTC) had signed up for Ironman United Kingdom which was to occur on exactly the same day. And of course the folks doing IM Canada (and there are lots of those in SVTC) would want to do workouts similar to what I needed to do since the date of Ironman Canada is only a few weeks after Regensburg.
One other advantage of racing in Regensburg (if you're as slow as I am) is that it's earlier in the year, and north enough (even farther north than Canada) that it's light much later on race day so I was pretty sure I'd finish in daylight, even if my time was an hour slower than the previous year.
As soon as I signed up Ellyn located and reserved an apartment in town which was right on the run course and within easy walking distance of all the places we'd need to go. It turned out to be great: living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen (with stove, refrigerator and dishwasher), and bathroom, all for about a third of the price that the main race hotel would have charged.
Training did not go as well for me as it had for IM Canada the previous year. Not only had I signed up to help lead two week-long math workshops for middle-school teachers during the part of the training schedule when I needed to be working the hardest (and luckily, I had begged off doing a third in Washington DC the week before we were to fly to Germany), but my father died a couple of weeks before that, so not only was I with him for his final week, but there were a bunch of death-related things to take care of immediately afterwards.
On the other hand, since I had finished at IM Canada, I was not totally freaked out by the upcoming ironman and I was virtually certain I'd finish it, although not necessarily with a spectacular time. (I finished IM Canada in about 13:22 and at Regensburg we were allowed to finish in any time under 16 hours.) For those who don't know what they are, every ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile (3.8 km) swim, a 112 mile (180 km) bike ride, and finishes up with a marathon (26.2 miles, or 42.2 km). Not all are identical, of course, since the bike and run courses may have varying amounts of climbing and the swim may be relatively easy (in a lake) or in rough ocean waters. IM Regensburg had a course similar to IM Canada: the swim was in a lake, the amount of climbing was about the same on the bike course, and the run was a little flatter, although more psychologically challenging: it consisted of four loops of a bit more than 6 miles each, plus a little coda at the end. By the fourth time around the loop, you've learned to hate every aspect of the course.
At IM Canada I fell apart on the final "run", which I write in quotes since it consisted of quite a bit of walking. I thought I might be able to help that in Regensburg by working harder on my running, but in retrospect, I think I could have done better by becoming a better and more efficient cyclist. If you burn yourself out on the bike, you will really pay for it on the run. The previous year I had done a lot of 90-mile bike rides, one of 100 miles, and one 112-mile test-ride of a different IM course with a few friends who were racing it and wanted to see what it felt like. This year for IM Regensburg, the longest ride I did was a single 90-mile ride and quite a few in the range of 70-75 miles. I did get a lot of good running in: although the longest run I did was only 19 miles (I'd run a 23-miler in preparation for Canada), I did do a lot of shorter (10 miles) high-intensity runs with my friend Alessandra who was training for her first marathon (at which she performed spectacularly). I'm also indebted to Kristen who did most of my longer runs with me on the weekends and to the SVTC folks who did the 75-mile rides on Saturdays, most of which were far more brutal (in terms of climbing) than anything I'd face in Regensburg. I'm particularly grateful to Christina, Norm, Isa, Warren and Erica, but there were many more. Perhaps the most interesting of the "many more" was Nina, with whom I only did one longish ride, but she's German, knew I was going to race in Regensburg, and offered to help me get ready by riding behind me while screaming at me in German ("Schneller!", "Nach rechts!", "Arschloch!"). She also said that when she races, she just converts to "lizard-brain" mode, and that sounded to me like a good race strategy on the run when I knew things were really going to start to hurt. Also thanks to Katherine, who did a lot of long slow rides with me, and to the "Safety Third" bike club members (Debra, Chris, Denise, Connie, Tammy, Laura and others) with whom I rode, pretty much rain or shine, year-around, every Tuesday and Thursday morning at the ungodly hour of 6:00 am.
As the summer wore on, I began to get frightened about the weather: Germany (and other parts of Europe) was suffering from a terrible heat-wave, with temperatures in the mid-90's day after day after day. I'm allergic to heat, and have had serious cramping problems when it gets too hot in a race, so I was really worried, right up until about a week before the race when the temperatures went down and the heat was replaced by heavy rain, day after day after day. I wouldn't mind rain during the swim or run, but it's a real pain in the ass to ride a bike in the rain. Not only is it dangerous because the roads are slippery, but it can be cold, and besides, it's just no fun.
The only good thing about the heat wave (from my point of view) was that it was heating up the waters of the lake in which we'd swim. If the water temperature is too high, wetsuits are not allowed, and it would be great if that were the case. Obviously, I swim faster in a wetsuit, but many triathletes are notoriously weak swimmers, and I'm sure that a wetsuit-free swim would gain me a nice chunk of time, relative to my competitors. The cutoff temperature is 24.5 degrees (C) and any temperature above that forbids the use of wetsuits. A few days before the race, the temperature in the lake was 25.7 degrees and I was jumping up and down for joy, dead certain that I'd gotten my wish. The final decision on wetsuits is made based on a temperature reading taken the day of the race briefing (Friday) so that everyone would know what they'd be faced with a couple of days before the race. I figured it was almost certain that we'd be swimming in Speedos, since I couldn't imagine the water temperature could drop more than a degree (Celsius) in just a few days.
I prepared for the race this time without a personal coach, although I did sign up with "Mark Allen Online" for a series of semi-personalized workouts to prepare me for an ironman on the appropriate day. The suggested workouts were ok, but I found that it couldn't be personalized enough. If I did an extra workout that wasn't listed, I couldn't add it, and although you could indicate that you'd only done a fraction of a workout, there was no way to tell it that you'd done a harder workout than was specified. Finally, there was no way to tell the program that I really didn't need a complete set of swimming workouts, or that I needed to worry about the run at the end, due to my IM Canada experience. But the workouts were reasonable, and I followed their spirit, doing most of them, but skipping a lot of the swimming and doing extra runs or bike rides in their place. In my age group, it's been more than a year since I wasn't first out of the water in every triathlon, and I didn't do much swimming to prepare for those so I wasn't worried at all about the IM Regensburg swim.
If there's a next ironman, I think I'll concentrate more on the bike to get used to really long bike rides so that I'm not as tired at the end. In any case, I sure enjoyed the training, which I did almost entirely with friends, and I hardly ever did a workout by myself. Although I didn't feel as prepared as the previous year, I was confident of finishing, but perhaps with a time that wasn't as good.
Taking a bike to Germany was a bit of a pain. No, that's not right; it was a royal pain in the ass. The bike has to be partially disassembled and packed into a fairly large padded bike box which I borrowed from my "Safety Third" friend Connie. Although the bike itself weighs only a bit over 20 pounds, when it's in the box with all the extra stuff, including bike shoes, water bottles, pump, spare tire and tools to put the thing together again at the other end, it must weigh something like 50 pounds. The bike case has wheels, but it's large, clumsy to steer, awkward to lift, and hard to fit in most vehicles. But we got it to the airport and it was checked through all the way to Frankfurt, no questions asked, as our second piece of luggage.
Of course the bike box was only the biggest problem. To race a triathlon, you need to be prepared for three sports, including running shoes, a wetsuit, and all the other stuff you need for the bike. The helmet, for example, did not fit in the bike case, and it is pretty large. I also brought along a lot of Hammer Perpetuem (a sports drink) since I was used to it and knew it would work for me for 112 miles of racing on the bike. I also carried two sets of bike clothes: one to race in and one to do any test riding. Since I didn't know about the weather, I was ready for heat as well as cold, and that required still more bike wear. With all this extra stuff, my suitcase was already two-thirds full, and then we had to pack everything you'd normally pack for a two-week vacation in Europe. Thus we had the monster bike case, a heavy and fully-jam-packed suitcase, and one carry-on (also jam-packed). I figured we'd bring more stuff home than we took, and that would account for an additional carry-on for the trip home.
On the other hand, if you are only interested in doing the triathlon, you could fly directly to Munich, take an airporter to your apartment/hotel in Regensburg, and get there and back with much less hassle. If I do it again, that's an attractive option.
We had arranged for a pickup at the Frankfurt airport in a van to drive us from there to the house of our friends Freddy and Barbara who live in a small town called Edingen-Neckarhausen, a few miles from Heidelberg. They weren't home when we arrived, so we took a little walk around town, and when we returned, Barbara was there. Freddy was in the United States at a conference and was due to arrive the next morning.
We had a great time there, just goofing around, and spent three nights with them. The only tiny bit of exercise I got was with Freddy when he and I rode a couple of his bikes to Heidelberg to show me the university where he works and other interesting places in town. The bike I borrowed must have weighed double what mine did, and in addition, it had a huge baby seat mounted behind my seat. We climbed one hill and I didn't manage to get it in a low enough gear because the shifting mechanism was unusual for me, and when I came to a dead stop, my reaction was to step off the bike before I fell. Well, there was a huge baby seat in the way of my dismount, and down I went: not a good omen for what was to come! Freddy had apparently raced that same bike in a local Heidelberg triathlon a couple of years earlier, with a much nastier hill than the one where I fell, and I'm really impressed by how strong he must have been.
We had a great time, mostly just talking and drinking lots of beer and wine, and trying to get un-jetlagged. I did pretty well on the jetlag front: I took a couple of sleeping pills on the plane and slept for the entire ride over, and then managed to stay awake until about 9:00 pm the first night in Germany. I was careful not to take any naps. Then I did the same thing the second day: awake all day and a normal sleep, and after that I wasn't too far out of it. Ellyn did take a few naps and was a little slower to get synchronized with German time, but for her it didn't matter so much: she wasn't going to be racing.
Finally, it was time to get to Regensburg and Freddy was very nice and drove us all the way back to Frankfurt so that we'd be able to get a direct train to Regensburg without having to worry about changing trains with the bike box. We caught the train with no problems and three hours later we were at the Regensburg station. The taxi driver had to mess around for quite a while to get the bike box in his car, but eventually he got it loaded and took us to our rented apartment which was all we had hoped for. The only minor problem was that our room was on the second floor, but I managed to wrestle the bike up the stairs without incident.
I assembled the bike and took it out for a half-hour spin to make sure everything seemed to work: shifting, brakes, and to make sure there were no "funny" noises. It was a little nerve-wracking, since I'm not the greatest mechanic in the world, and the bike had to work well under intense use for 112 miles. But everything seemed to work. I had to ride the bike on cobblestones for a ways to get it out to a decent road for a test ride, and I was really thankful that the entire bike course was to be on asphalt. There were supposed to be some cobblestones on the run, but not too many. I remembered doing the Rome marathon a few years previous where there were about 10 kilometers of cobblestones, including the final two or so right at the finish, and I did not enjoy running on those.
We arrived on Thursday with the race scheduled for the following Sunday, August 1. We were a little worried that some things might not be as well organized as at other races where they'd done it a few times and had gotten all the kinks out, but at least the organization in charge had run other successful ironman races in Germany.
On Thursday, I registered for the race and picked up my race bags, racing chip, numbers for my bike, helmet and bib number to attach to my running belt, and assembled and test-rode the bicycle. In the registration area I was asked to fill out a personality questionnaire, presumably to find out what quirks triathletes have that are different from other folks.
I decided to take it for fun, and it consisted of a fairly bizarre set of questions. There were a few obvious ones at first to see just how much training I did and to discover my level of experience with the sport, but then the weirdness began. It was about five pages long, each one packed with statements, to which I needed to indicate a level of agreement or disagreement.
Some of the questions were about my degree of competitiveness (whether I competed to win, or simply to keep in shape or to feel a sense of accomplishment), but most of them, it seemed to me, were designed to determine my level of paranoia relative to all sorts of things:
* Was I worried about my body image? Was I too fat, too out of shape, too weak? * Was I worried about getting sick by being in the cold air? Cold water? Near other sick people? Breathing bad air? * Was I afraid of being in contact with dirty things?
It seems to me there were plenty more, but it's been a bit too long since I took the test to remember. In any case, I did complete the questionnaire, since by a random drawing, one person who filled it out got a free entry to IM Regensburg, 2011. But apparently, it wasn't me!
We then had a meal at a supposedly famous wursthaus (the "Historische Wurstküche" -- see the image to the left) where all they served was small sausages, sauerkraut, buns and beer. The only real decision we needed to make was how many sausages (well, and how much beer). We ordered eight between us (they were pretty small) and it wasn't quite enough, but they were very, very good. The image on the right shows me with a platter of 6 of them. (And the race headquarters is in the background to the right.)
After that, I decided that we needed a pastry and coffee, so we found a suitable place (see image on the left) and while we were eating, we struck up a conversation with a woman at the next table who was from Canada and she, and most of her family was in town to watch her husband and son race. Her husband had done a lot of ironmans in the past, but had had heart trouble about a year previously, and this was to be his first major race after the event. Her son is a triathlon coach (and her husband, too, to a lesser degree -- in other words, probably mostly for fun), and he (Bruce) and his son Paul were going to race it together. Bruce was one age group older than I. And for one time in my life, I knew that I'd not have any trouble remembering a name: their last name is Regensburg (pronounced differently, but spelled identically). They figured that even if Bruce didn't place, he'd get in the news for his name alone, since they were all wearing identical shirts on race day saying something like "The Canadian Regensburgs."
On Friday was the race briefing for athletes where we learned the detailed rules for this race. They were fairly standard, except that the drafting rules in Europe are a little less stringent than in the US. Most was the same, except in Europe, you've got 30 seconds to make a pass, rather than 15 in the US. We got detailed descriptions of all the penalties one could get on the bike and which ones, or combinations thereof, would get you disqualified from the race.
There was a major bummer for me at the race briefing. The announcer, to much cheering, announced that the water temperature had dropped to something like 22.5 degrees and that wetsuits would be allowed. Now I'm not claiming that anybody cheated, but I can surely imagine that a little extra stirring might have occurred at the site where the temperatures were taken to bring some cooler deeper water to the surface to get the temperature down. To my mind, it's impossible that the temperature could have dropped that much in so short a time, even with a couple of days of rain. I'm sure the officials wanted us to be able to use wetsuits, too, since with a wetsuit on, you're far more buoyant so it's like everybody is wearing water wings, and it's much, much harder for weaker swimmers to get into trouble. And, as I joked to somebody, the dead bodies would tend to float rather than sink!
This was the first race I'd ever done where the swim-bike transition was at a different place from the bike-run transition. The swim was in a lake about 20 km out of town called "Guggenberger See." Regensburg is right on the Danube, and at first I thought that the swim might be in the river, but after getting to town, it was pretty clear why it was not: the Danube is barreling along pretty fast, and I'm not even sure I could have made any progress swimming upstream. And swimming downstream sure would have produced some record 2.4 mile splits! Double click on the image below to get a video of the Danube in motion (with Mallards in motion as well)!
After the swim, we were to pick up the bikes, ride two 80 km loops in the local countryside, and then ride into the center of Regensburg for the transition to the run. That meant that the bikes had to be delivered to the lake the day before the race, and there was a shuttle out to the lake that ran all day long. As I was going through the steps mentally, I realized that I should have brought another pair of shoes, since I had to check in the bike (with the bike shoes) at Guggenberger See, and I had to check in my running shoes at the bike-run transition in Regensburg. Normally, at a race with a single transition area for both transitions, I can wear my running shoes to the transition area and leave them there. After the swim, you put on the bike shoes and ride the bike course, and finally, at the end of that, put on the running shoes. I didn't want to wear my dress shoes to the race, so I bought a pair of flip-flops that I used to get to the start of the race on race morning. Other than that, I had brought just about everything I needed. The only purchase I had to make (other than the flip-flops) was some CO2 cartridges to take on the bike in case I got a flat during the race. You can't carry those on an airplane, so I bought a couple at the race expo on Thursday.
The race expo was not nearly as commercial as they normally are in the US/Canada. At IM Canada, we probably spent $500 on a great set of cycling clothes, a backpack, and a bunch of other stuff. At Regensburg, we couldn't find much to spend money on, and most of the stuff for sale was generic ironman stuff: very little of it even referenced Regensburg. I would have purchased a bike jersey and shorts with "IM Regensburg" on it, probably even if it had been really ugly.
At the expo, there was even a dearth of gels, et cetera, and I might have purchased a couple of those to put on my bike for the race, but the main food sponsor was PowerBar, and they only seemed to be selling the PowerBar stuff.
On Friday at noon we were walking back to the wursthaus to make up for the mistake of ordering too few of the sausages the day before, and we ran into Marsha the Canadian Regensburg again, and walked with her all the way to lunch. She didn't eat with us, but she and Ellyn agreed that if they saw each other they could watch parts of the race together.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, I checked in my bike-to-run transition bag consisting of running shoes, the Garmin wrist GPS/heart monitor, a pair of socks (in case I decided to change them after the bike), and running shorts (in case I decided to take off the bike shorts and change to them). Then we took the bike and the swim-to-bike transition bag out to Guggenberger See, and I checked those in. In the bag, I had my bib number attached to a race belt, some socks, my cycling shoes, some arm-warmers (in case it was cold or raining in the morning), and a towel and bottle of water (to wash/dry my feet if they got sandy in the swim exit).
I was very impressed by the security and was glad to have it. At the ironman level, there are very few people who are willing to race 112 miles on a crappy bike, so I'll bet the average cost of the bikes in the racks there is between $3000 and $4000, and maybe more. It's certainly possible to spend $12000 on a triathlon bike if cost is no object. Mine was right in there, since it cost around $2000 but I replaced the wheels with some carbon-fiber racing wheels and enough more stuff (pedals, hydration system, et cetera) to make it worth about $4000. Multiply that by 2000 entrants and you're talking about eight million dollars worth of equipment. We showed ID to get in, and were each escorted by a person to make sure we got our bike in the right slot (all the racks were numbered, in order) and to help us set up. Then, since the weather was unpredictable, each of us had a big plastic tub to put over our swim-to-bike bag of stuff, and with that under the bike, every bike in the transition area was covered with a large plastic bag so the bikes were completely shielded from rain, if that should occur. There was no need to set things up in their final configuration since we'd have access as early as 4:30 am on race morning to rearrange things, fill bottles with fluid, add electronics, et cetera. After that, I just got on the next available bus and got a ride back to town. Most of the Germans who were racing drove themselves to and from the start, so the shuttle busses tended to be filled with non-Germans, and almost all spoke English. I met a couple of nice guys that way.
On other thing impressed me, security-wise: after each of us had shown ID, we were photographed with our bikes on entry, and the same thing was to be done when we exited from the bike-to-run transition area after the race. To recover your bike, you had to bring a ticket with your race number on it, or, if you couldn't do it, you had to sign it over to somebody else who needed to show photo ID in order to get the bike. That way, although it might have been possible to steal a bike, as least they'd have ID of the thief. I thought about whether it would be possible to enter the race with a crappy bike and after the swim, just to take a really fancy bike out and leave, but since we'd had to check in with our bikes and were escorted to our spots and then out of the transition again, the bike we'd checked in with would be there at the end of the race, and they'd have photo ID of everyone who did so. Maybe it wasn't perfect, but it was sure better security than any I'd ever seen at any other race.
Maybe it's just the Germans. I was also wondering about whether they'd be much more stringent on the drafting rules. We were told at the pre-race briefing that there would be between 80 and 90 course marshals out there on motorcycles and that's way more than I've ever heard of in a race in the United States. A couple of years ago in a race at home (the Vineman Aqua-bike), I had some bastard locked to my rear wheel for miles and miles, and I kept praying for a race marshall to come any give him a drafting penalty. The drafting penalties were big in Germany, too: six minutes at the next penalty box, and disqualification on the second offense.
The race marshals had three levels of penalties: a red card meant immediate disqualification, and you could get that for unsportsmanlike conduct, for passing on the right, or for taking a shortcut. A black card was for a drafting violation, and the second black card got you disqualified. When you got a black card, the marshal drew a slash across your race number. Finally there was a yellow card for minor crimes: littering, riding too far to the left, peeing in the open, and perhaps others. The first yellow card simply got a "P" printed on your race number, but the second got you a six-minute penalty. The third (of either sort: three yellows or a black and two yellows) was good for a disqualification. After any sort of card, you had to stop at the next "penalty box" of which there were about six on the course, to report in, and serve your six-minute penalty, if it wasn't your first yellow card. It was made clear to us that we couldn't even use the bathroom in a penalty box (or we could, but it didn't count toward our six minutes). If you got a card and didn't show up to a penalty box, you'd be disqualified after the race when the marshal's notes and the penalty box notes were compared.
On the run, there weren't too many things you could do to get a penalty. Perhaps peeing in the open would give you a "P"? But there were at least three things that were absolutely forbidden in any part of the race. One was to take food or water from any outside person except in the "special needs" zones or to take anything other than food or water (like extra clothes) anywhere. Another was to use things like cell phones, MP3 players, iPods, et cetera. If you got caught doing so, it was an immediate disqualification. The announcer emphasized especially the cell-phone part: a lot of people call their family in the last kilometer or two to let them know they've almost finished and can be met at the finish line soon. But if you did it, no questions asked, you'd be disqualified then and there. The third was to have any non-athlete pace you during the race: they could yell information to you (your time, your relative position in the race, et cetera), but if they got on the course and started running with you (or biking with you, I suppose) that was an immediate disqualification. That even, supposedly, applied to people who wanted to run the final 100 meters with their wife or kids or whomever. That was considered "pacing", and was sufficient grounds for a disqualification.
I did note on the bike course that there were a large number of indications on race numbers of black and yellow cards (in other words, slashes and P's on the bib numbers), at least compared to what I'd seen in other races. I liked that, since I am very careful about drafting, and I tend to get pissed off when others are flouting the rules with no consequences. It's probably part of the German mentality and my grandmother was German.
That reminds me of a joke that's based entirely on cultural stereotypes which are often more true than we'd like: What's the difference between Heaven and Hell? Well, in Heaven, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the administrators are Swiss, the lovers are Italian, and the police are British. In Hell, it's almost the same, except that the cooks are British, the mechanics are French, the administrators are Italian, the lovers are Swiss, and the police are German.
I did see the "no cell phones" rule, or maybe the "no pacing" rule enforced about two kilometers from the finish: A guy's friend started jogging with him on the course, handed him a cell phone, and he started talking, right in front of a referee. That was it for him in the race: disqualified 2 kilometers from the end of a 226 kilometer race! Maybe that's why you should go to the pre-race briefing.
On the other hand, Ellyn, who was at the finish line for a while waiting for me, saw some violations that weren't enforced: lots of folks jogged across the finish line with friends or family, and one guy even grabbed a beer from a spectator and jogged across the line. So it seemed that the enforcement wasn't 100%.
One great feature of the race is that all the roads for the bike and run course were closed to automobile traffic. We were still to stay to the right except when passing, but it meant that the other lane, normally traveled in the opposite direction, was available for the course marshals, trucks with repair tools, police and ambulances. In all the other triathlons I've done, the roads have been open to traffic: usually the races are not on heavily-traveled roads, but it was nice to know that when you are about to make a pass that you aren't about to get killed by a motorist.
There was a pretty good pasta party on Friday night which we attended, and the food was good and (unlike it would be in the US) there was all the free beer you could drink. Here's a photo of me tucking in on the left.
On Friday night I made a pile of the stuff that I'd take to the race on Sunday morning and the stuff that would go into the two transition bags and went through a couple of mental rehearsals to make sure everything was in the correct bags. The next morning, before checking in the transition bags I did the same thing again, this in spite of the fact that I've done quite a few triathlons, and am pretty sure I've got it down. As far as I could tell, everything was ready.
The only thing I wished I had done before the race that I did not do was to preview the bike course by driving it in a car. We had no car, and I suppose we could have rented one for a day, but we never got around to it. The race materials did include not only a map of the bike route, but an elevation profile that didn't look very frightening at all. There are about 4500 feet of total climbing over the entire 112 miles, and one of my very typical rides at home climbs 3200 feet in 22 miles. I also ran into a Scottish guy on the bus who had driven the course and he confirmed what I'd guessed: that there were no hills at all worth worrying about: they were all gentle and wouldn't even require the lowest gears. My plan, of course, was to ride the bike conservatively, and to not race up the hills as I tend to do on normal rides, and I also figured that I'd ride them in lower gears than I was used to at home, just to save as much as possible for the run.
Finally, on Saturday night we went out for "carbo-loading": pizza and beer; image to the right (and it was surprising how many pizza places there were in town: later we looked for specifically non-pizza places and it was a bit difficult to find them), after which we returned to the apartment, I laid out all the stuff for the morning, set the alarm for 3:00 am, and tried to go to sleep at 9:00. With no luck: I tossed and turned and just couldn't sleep (which is not normal for me), and finally, at about midnight, I finally dozed off. I do remember getting up sometime between 9:00 and midnight, paranoid that I didn't have the safety pins in my bag. I had decided that I really did not want to lose the race number, so in addition to the clips that are supposed to hold it securely on the race belt, I decided to add a couple of safety pins to make absolutely sure that it didn't get ripped off in the wind on the bicycle ride.
I normally don't awaken to an alarm, but three hours was not sufficient time, and both my alarm clocks went off. I ate a fairly large breakfast (a hard-boiled egg, a big load of cereal, a chunk of bread, a chunk of cheese and a couple of cups of coffee). I've had troubles with cramping at various times with all three disciplines, so I also swallowed a couple of salt tablets which seem to provide some protection against cramps, although not 100%. The photo on the right is my legs with the timing chip on. Of course I got it on the wrong leg at 3:00 am: it's better to have it on the other leg so that there's less chance of tangling it up with the chainwheel of the bike.
Ellyn then went back to sleep, and I grabbed my pre-swim bag, put on my flip-flops, and walked the half-mile or so to the shuttle bus that would take me to the start. I really shouldn't have gotten up so early, since 3:30 or even 4:00, in retrospect, would have allowed plenty of time to set things up. But I was on the bus with a fellow (named Ryan) whom I'd met on the previous day on the shuttle and we yakked the whole way out to the start. He was from Georgia, but had gone to Stanford as an undergraduate, so with Stanford and ironmans in common, we had plenty to talk about. Once we got into the transition area we said good luck to each other and I never saw him again.
Just before we left for Germany, I did something that wasn't very smart: I loaded the "latest" version of software on my bike computer, which is a Garmin 705 Edge. I didn't realize it at the time, but somehow the reloaded software returned the device to its factory settings. I realized that in the morning of the race, standing in the transition area, so I spent a few minutes without the manual, trying to get at least the data fields I wanted on one of the screens. I wanted total time, total distance, heart rate, and cadence, and in addition, I wanted to have it do an "auto-lap" every mile and to give me a time alert every 20 minutes. The time alert was to remind me to eat something in case I'd forgotten, and I actually managed to get all the settings working without any chance to test them on a moving bike.
It was a little chilly in the morning, so I put on the arm warmers that I'd decided to use on the bike if it was cold, and organized everything. I checked and rechecked, and then had time to visit the bathroom three times to make certain that I'd unloaded every possible gram of extra weight before the race. Of course that's never any help; as soon as the wetsuit was on, I had to pee again, but not enough to be able to do so. (It's a dirty secret among triathletes that a large number of us pee in our wetsuits, especially when the water is cold, we step into it, and the bladders tighten up. If you loan your wetsuit to another triathlete, it's understood that it'll probably get peed into.) When I stepped into the Guggenberger See to warm up, it was almost like getting into a bath, but it don't think the warmth was due to 2000 triathletes peeing into it.
Although it had rained, and heavily a couple of times during the days before the race, the weather on Sunday was supposed to be warm, and maybe too warm for me: in the low 30's (C, or high 80's, F).
I warmed up for a relatively long time: perhaps 400 meters, to be sure that I was completely loosened up, and that the wetsuit wasn't binding anywhere. It felt very good, and I was confident of a good race. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, so I was sure there'd be no rain, but there was certainly the possibility of pretty hot weather, especially when the marathon finally came around.
The start was supposed to be from the edge of the water with the professionals given a 20 meter advantage: they got to start about 20 meters into the lake. But I lined up right on the water's edge and of course there were a lot of folks in front of me, some in up to their knees. The start was a little unusual: the announcer counted down every minute from about 10 minutes before the start, but he said that when he announced "one minute", that the race could start at any time between one second and one minute after that final announcement. The reason for this is that in almost every other race I've entered, as the announcer is counting down the final seconds: "5, 4, 3, ...," that at about two seconds somebody takes off and it's too late to restart the race. This German scheme makes the start a surprise, so there's much less chance of somebody jumping the gun. Of course in an ironman, a couple of seconds is unlikely to make much difference in the final standings, but this was Germany, after all. The actual start, I'd guess, was about 20 seconds after the final "one minute" announcement.
The start was the usual chaotic thing, but within a minute I was free of congestion and able to swim exactly as fast as I wanted. I drafted a few people as the swim went on, and maybe that helped me reserve energy. I was not going all-out, as I noticed at the end when I decided to kick a lot harder at the finish to get my legs warmed up for the bike, and since I wasn't going to need my arms for much, I stroked harder, too, and could definitely feel a speed increase for the final 200 meters or so.
Normally, I do a two-beat kick: one kick for each arm stroke to save energy, but I went to a six-beat kick for the final part of the swim portion. That seemed to work well, since I had no trouble jogging through the swim-to-bike transition whereas sometimes I'm a bit wobbly on my feet after swimming hard for 2.4 miles.
I only had one major screwup on the swim: the course was marked with yellow buoys on the way out, and they were in a perfectly straight line to the final one where we took the first turn. But on shore, beyond the final buoy, was a bright yellow structure that sure looked to me like another buoy, and I'm sure I swam another 50 meters or so toward it before I noticed that I was all alone, and had to swim back to join the race. That probably cost me about a minute of time.
The Guggenberger See is pretty small, and the course was a weird horseshoe shape, where we sort of swam around the outline of an imaginary giant horseshoe. But all in all, the swim went very well, I felt quite strong the whole way, and even had plenty of energy for a nice quick jog through transition to get to my bike. It turns out that, as usual, I had the fastest swim leg in my age group: 1:03:20.4, which was a little faster than I'd done the race at IM Canada, but not quite as fast as in the full aqua-bike at Vineman a couple of years previously. I had no way of measuring my swim time, but my guess, from the way the swim felt, was right in that ballpark; I thought it was 1:04 or maybe 1:05 due to the "extra credit" I got swimming toward the non-buoy "buoy". On the left is a photo of the swim start, and it's easy to see in the background the giant fake buoy. In that image you can also see the first turn of the horseshoe-shaped course. The image on the right is me at the end of the swim, trying to find the "rip cord" to unzip the suit. It's coming down on my front instead of behind me where I expected to find it.
I had a lucky bike placement (which was determined solely by race number, and the race numbers were assigned alphabetically) and I got to run through almost all of the transition in my bare feet as opposed to in bike shoes with cleats. I got changed pretty quickly and didn't need to do anything about my feet since the grass in the transition area cleaned off all the sand from the beach of the lake. I heaved everything else (wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, et cetera), into the plastic bin and took off on the bike. Race volunteers would later pack it into the bag and deliver the bag to the finish.
Since I'm a fast swimmer, I knew that especially for the first part of the bike race I'd be passed by lots of people who are much better cyclists. It's not easy, psychologically, to be constantly passed on the bike and run leg, but at least if you know it's going to happen, you can be ready for it. In most other triathlons, there is not a mass start, but a wave start, and being an old geezer, I get to start in one of the final waves, so can spend my time passing slower people in the younger age groups. With a mass start and a fast swim, I'm doomed to spend most of the bike and run portions being passed.
The only things I thought about on the bike race were to take it easy, to ride without pushing it too hard, to take the hills slowly, and to eat as much as possible so I'd be fueled for the run. I started the bike race with one bottle of water, one aero bottle of water in front of me with a straw pointing at my face to remind me to drink, and one bottle of 4-times normal strength Hammer Perpetuem (a mixture of carbohydrates and protein in a 4:1 ratio). The Perpetuem worked well for me in Canada, and I'd had another bottle of the same delivered to the special needs area in Canada at mile 80 or so.
There were three areas where the Canada race was better than the Regensburg race, and one of them was the special needs area. At Canada, you had two additional bags that you delivered at the beginning of the race to be delivered at mile 80 on the bike and about mile 13 on the run that could contain anything you wanted. At Canada, I had an additional bottle of concentrated Perpetuem, initially frozen solid, but merely cold when I got there, and a bag of Pringles potato-chip-like things for a huge salt load (to avoid cramps). I also had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which didn't look so good at mile 80, so I passed on that. On the run I had a couple of caffeine-containing gels in case there was no other source of caffeine on the course. At IM Regensburg, there was no official special needs area, but friends of the athletes had particular places they could stand to hand food to the racers (but only food: no clothes or rain gear or similar), but the bike special needs was out of town, so it was impossible for Ellyn to help there, and the run special needs area was a long way from the apartment, so I just decided to do without. At Canada on the bike, I drank only Perpetuem (a little sip, followed by a big gulp of water) and that made the aid stations easy: I only picked up water, and didn't have to keep in mind what was where: one bottle of concentrated food, and all the other bottles were water.
At Regensburg, I knew I'd need more calories than I could get into one bottle, so I just tried everything that was available, depending on what sounded good at the time. There were a lot of possibilities: every aid station was organized identically: first, a bin in which we could toss the empty bottles, then three toilets, then a few folks handing out pure water bottles, then bottles with the PowerBar version of an electrolyte drink, then bottles with fairly flat Pepsi Cola, mixed half and half with water, then PowerBar gels, then bananas, then more water, and finally three more toilets and another bin into which you could chuck empty bottles.
Since almost everyone picked up a bottle at each of the bike aid stations, that meant that almost everyone tossed an empty at each aid station. In one of the towns, a group of kids was amassing a huge collection of used bottles to take home that the athletes were tossing, and they had their stash all lined up: there must have been about 20 of them. The guy in front of me tossed his empty to the kids, and his aim was a little off: the kids missed it, but he managed to achieve a perfect bowling "strike": his bottle knocked down every one in the kids' collection.
I had four slots for bottles: one in front of the handlebars that always had just water in it, and I refilled it at every aid station. There was a bottle on the down tube that always held the concentrated Perpetuem, and there were two bottle slots behind my seat where I stuffed anything else I picked up: water, electrolyte drink, or diluted Pepsi. Surprisingly, I never got mixed up about what was where, and I was very careful to keep eating and drinking on the ride. It always felt like I was on the verge of needing to pee, but it never got serious, and I held it for the whole ride. I must have been sweating like crazy, since I started out having to pee, ended with the same desire to pee, but probably took on 15 bottles of fluid on the ride.
A few weeks before the race, my friend Connie and I attended a talk by Chris McCormack (a well-known and excellent pro triathlete) who advised us that what worked well for him was to eat and drink what sounded good to your body at whatever point in the race, and that was exactly the strategy I followed. He said to ignore the advice to stick to your pre-race diet plan if it seemed wrong during the race. Just listen to your body!
To finish an earlier thought, the other two things I missed at Regensburg that we had at Canada were strippers: folks to pull off your wetsuit at the end of the swim, and bike catchers: folks who took your bike at the bike-run transition and racked it numerically so it would be easy to find. At the end of the bike in Germany, we just racked the bikes in the order in which we finished, and you could figure it out later since the times of day of arrival represented by each rack were listed on the racks themselves when we returned at the end of the day.
Here are a couple of images of my on the bike course, in one I'm taking a swig of Perpetuem and in the other, I'm climbing the first hill on the course.
I enjoyed the bike leg: the roads were great, there appeared to be no broken glass on them, the hills pretty easy, and there were some really fun downhills. As usual, as in most races, I didn't have time to take in much of the scenery, but what I saw was pretty. There were fans here and there along the entire course, and especially large crowds in the small towns through which we passed. There were a lot of noisemakers, including at least one vuvuzela, an accordion, drums, and all manner of other stuff. I rode the whole race without worrying about who passed me or whom I passed, and worked as hard as I could not to overdo it. I only had one annoying interaction with another rider who turned out later to be one of the professional women. I had a swim that was quite a bit faster than hers (about 8 minutes faster) and since she's a pro, it's easy to guess that for such a poor swimmer to be a pro, her bike and run times were going to be great. She caught me about 30 km into the bike course and passed me just before we got to the crest of a hill. It turns out that although she's strong, she was a timid descender, and I easily caught her on the downhill, but she basically made it impossible for me to pass, constantly moving to the left when I moved to the left to pass. Maybe she was freaked out by having an age-grouper, with a gray beard, no less, trying to pass. If a course marshall had seen her, she would have gotten at least a yellow card, but I never got past. If I had risked passing her on the right, I'd have gotten a red card and would have been disqualified. At the bottom of the hill, however, she took off and I never saw her again.
I got to the half-way point in just under three hours which was a lot faster than I'd planned. At Canada, I'd ridden about a 6:22 and so figured I'd be halfway through at about 3:11 or slower, since I was really trying to control my energy output. But I was feeling fine, not stressed at all, and repeating my mantra: "You're doing fine, relax, don't push too hard."
The unfortunate part about the bike leg of a triathlon is that you hardly get to talk to anybody due to the anti-drafting rules. Any conversations you have are limited (if you want to be completely draft-legal) to at most 15 or 20 seconds. On the run, you can talk as much as you want, but I didn't do much of that, either, with most of the other runners having German as their native language, and I don't speak it at all.
But on the bike, a guy came up from behind me and shouted "Hey, Tom!" It was some other guy named Tom and he remarked that I was the only other Tom he'd seen on the course (our first names were printed on the race bibs that we wore on our backs during the bike leg). There were lots of guys named Thomas, but hardly any Toms, so I guess "Tom" is only a nickname for "Thomas" in the US and the UK (he was from the UK). I passed him back later on the bike, and then he passed me on the run, and we shouted encouragement to each other each time, so I did have a tiny cheering section on the course.
The second loop was even easier, psychologically, since I knew what was coming and especially, I had a good idea of which downhill turns I could take a lot faster since I knew what the exits looked like. I did slow down a tad for the second half, and finished the bike course in 6:00:30.8: about 22 minutes faster than I'd done at Canada. I figured if I could put in a good run, I'd really have a spectacular time. Also, by the time I was on the second bike lap, most of the slow swimmers/fast bikers had passed and I spent most of the final lap passing and being re-passed by the same set of people who were about equally capable as I am on the bike. Every now and then I'd be passed by a much faster rider who had previously passed me, but this time had a slash across his/her race number, indicating that he/she'd done a six-minute penance in a penalty box.
The bike-run transition was amusing to me. It is specifically against triathlon rules to be naked in public, and for that reason, if you want to, say, change from cycling to running shorts, there are changing tents that you go through between the bike racks and the beginning of the run course that are filled with benches and volunteers. You change what you want, dump your bike-specific stuff (like the helmet) into the bag, hand the bag to a volunteer, and take off on the run. Normally, there are two changing tents: one for men and one for women, but here there was only one, and although the spectators were "protected" from nudity, that sure wasn't the case for the athletes! What I saw didn't burn my eyes out, so I took off on the run and felt surprisingly good.
Often, when I've gone on a long (but usually hard) training ride at home, I'll dump the bike in the car, change to running shoes, and do a short run (15 or 20 minutes) to get my legs used to the change from one discipline to the other. For the first few hundred yards of this, in training, nothing seems to work right: my back is sore, and feels like it's going to spasm, I'm wobbly, and very slow. (This bike-to-run practice is usually called a "brick", for some reason, by triathletes.) But I didn't have any trouble starting to run, obviously at a jog, at first, but with none of the usual side effects. I have to conclude that I really did manage to keep the lid on during the bike segment, in spite of the fact that it was quite a bit faster than the course at Canada (which I'd judge to be of approximately the same difficulty).
I had one major screwup in the bike-to-run transition: I forgot to put on my timing wrist watch (a Garmin Forerunner 305), and I left it behind in the transition bag. That meant that during the entire run, I was running blind, with no idea of how I was doing.
I figured that I was about 20 minutes ahead of my time in Canada, but had no idea other than my estimate, which turns out to have been pretty good, of what my actual swim time was since I wasn't wearing any timing device in the water.
The run course was a loop a bit more than 10 kilometers long that wound its way through the old part of the city, through a park, and across the Danube a couple of times. A marathon is about 42.2 kilometers, and four loops amounted to almost that and to exactly that with the little finishing chute at the end. To keep track of the number of loops, about two kilometers through the course was a station where they had colored elastic bands to put on your wrists: first a green, then a yellow, then blue, and finally red. There were also chip-sensing stations at a bunch of places on the course to make sure nobody took any shortcuts.
During the first lap, I felt pretty good, and was beginning to think that maybe I'd actually run a half-way decent marathon, but about 15 or 16 km into the run, I started to get cramps in my hamstrings. I'd walk slowly, trying to stretch the muscles and then try to run again and I did that for a while. I took a couple of salt tablets (I carried 10 of them on the run) and hoped that would help, but I think at that point I'd overloaded myself with electrolytes, and I started to feel like I needed to puke. I saw Ellyn in the middle of each lap, and I may have looked about my worst then. I started to walk/run, trying to run more than I walked, although that wasn't always possible. I stopped taking in any sorts of electrolytes, using just water and that seemed to work as my stomach stopped feeling so bad.
On the right is an image of me at the beginning of the run (I hadn't even gotten to the place where I got my arm band for the first lap). I was still feeling pretty good at this point.
I liked the photo on the left that Ellyn took during the race at the aid station that was on the street right in front of our apartment. It was getting hot, and the expression of the runner, getting some wet sponges to try to keep cool, makes the photo. I felt about the same. In fact, in the image on the right, here's what I looked like at my low point during the run; I'm about 50 meters away from picking up my third lap wrist band.
I tried using some lizard-brain mantras, "You have the brain of a lizard: no brain, no pain", but I really couldn't make it work. Also, since I first had to start walking due to cramps, I then had a mental excuse to start walking due to other things. I'm sure there's some lizard-brain mantra that works; I just haven't figured out yet what it is.
The third lap was by far my worst, and at one point I think I walked for almost an entire kilometer, but by the fourth lap, although I was not running all the time, I found that I could alternate about 200 or 300 running steps with 100 of walking. Luckily, there were aid stations approximately every mile so I had 41 chances to refresh, and I walked through most of those. They all had ice, and at the early part of the run when it was still stinking hot, I put ice cubes in my cap. They also had sponges soaked with cool water which I stuffed into the shoulders of my jersey, so there was cool water trickling down for quite a good portion of each lap. In addition, there was, at every station, water, electrolyte drink, diluted Pepsi, pretzels, fruit, and salt. I took in water at almost every one, and if something else looked good to me (and less and less did, toward the end), I'd eat/drink some of that. For some reason, one of the stations had Red Bull, and in desperation, I tried some of that, hoping that a bit of caffeine (or caffeine-like chemical) would help.
After an eternity (but I had no idea how long, having forgotten my watch at transition), I picked up the final red arm bracelet, and at that point, there were only about 9 kilometers to go. I was able to count them down, and was able to do more and more running as the end came nearer and nearer.
At what was the final aid station where I stopped (there was one more just before the finishing chute, but I knew I wouldn't stop there with only a couple of hundred meters to go) I took on a couple of sponges, but instead of putting them under my jersey shoulders as I had been doing, I decided to clean off the sweat so I'd look good for the final photo. I commented about it to a couple of guys who were speaking English nearby, and one of them noticed that I had a jersey on that said something about "Silicon Valley." (It in fact said "Silicon Valley Triathlon Club.") He said that it was funny, but his mother had met a couple of people from the silicon valley a couple of days before, and that's how I met the father/son Regensburg-of-Canada team. They were on their third, rather than their fourth, lap, and I said goodbye to them when I entered the finishing chute. I also learned from them that just before I turned into the chute that the elapsed time was about 12:52, so I'd have no trouble breaking 13 hours, which was great! As horrible and slow as the run had seemed, I had apparently done it faster than the previous disaster in Canada. My goal at Canada had been to break 13 hours, and this year I didn't really have a goal except to finish. Before the race, some friends had told me that I might actually do better, going into the race more relaxed, and I guess they were right. I still have a lot of work to do on the mental part of racing: I almost surely could have run for longer portions of the marathon, for example. Overall, I was quite happy with the swim and bike portions. Here's the finishing photo, and I did remember to keep my hands up and to keep the horrible grimace off my face for a few seconds after I crossed the line, to make sure they got a good finishing photo. At Canada, I crossed the line triumphant, but a half second later, dropped the pose, and only then is when the camera took the photo.
In fact, my marathon time was 5:40.08.3 which was about four minutes faster than the previous year, and that, combined with my good bike split, gave me a final time of 12:54:38.8, which was about 26 minutes faster than before. I was sure happy with that!
After the finish, there was a person assigned to every racer to make sure he/she was ok. My guy walked with me through the process of getting my finisher's medal, the timing chip removed, et cetera, and he kept asking me if I felt ok, which I really did, at least in comparison to the previous time when my legs were threatening to cramp at any instant. After the race, there was chocolate milk available (a great recovery drink, so I had two) and some other stuff to eat that didn't look so good at the time. They had a shower with about eight stalls, so I took one of those and changed into my warmup gear, since the pre-swim bag had been delivered to the end. There was massage available, but I didn't feel like that, and I did get the finisher's t-shirt and a printout of all my splits. Here they are:
Swim: 1:03:20.4 T1: 0:05:07.1 Bike: 6:00:30.1 T2: 0:05:32.9 Run: 5:40:08.3 ---------------------- Total: 12:54:38.8
This was ninth place in my age group, and when I checked, there were 26 people who finished out of about 38 who started or at least registered.
The relatively long T2 time was because I finally peed after holding it for 180 km on the bike, and I also spent a bit of time slathering on some sunblock on my arms and shoulders before the start of a long, exposed run. I didn't notice it until I got back to the apartment, but I had a blister on my foot that normally would have bothered me quite a bit. With the water dribbling down throughout the marathon, I guess my running shoes were soaked the whole time and I felt so bad anyway that the blister didn't even register. Other than that, a little sunburn in spots I'd missed, and a few sore muscles the next day I was pretty much injury-free.
Since I didn't wind up in the medical tent and I didn't hang around for a massage, I just left the segregated finish area and met Ellyn who had seen me finish. One option after that was to go to the "Party Tent" for a meal and beer, but I really didn't feel much like that, so we checked out the bike (complete with photos to assure I'd gotten the right one), and got the other two transition bags. Then we walked back to the apartment where we dumped the stuff, and I finally felt like eating something. Right outside the apartment was a restaurant, but there was a hand-drawn international "no" sign across the word "ironman". I was foolishly wearing the finisher's t-shirt, and the owner showed no interest in serving us, although he was serving plenty of others, and seated two people after we arrived. I guess he was pissed off that his street was blocked for the race, but I can't imagine that it hurt: there were spectators all day long in front of it who probably needed to eat from time to time. Anyway, we just had to walk a block and found an open Italian place that was willing to take our money. I ordered a pizza, but was only able to eat about a third of it, so we returned to the apartment and I just went to bed.
The next day at 11:00 was the awards ceremony and lunch, and I found that my appetite had returned completely. Again, there was free beer and people seemed to be partaking a lot more of it than they had at the pasta party a couple of nights previous. By pure chance, as we walked into the huge party tent, we immediately ran into the Canada Regensburgs and sat down with them. This time we met the whole family, including the daughter and son-in-law of Marsha, the woman we'd first met. It turns out that her husband Bruce placed third in his age group, and got to go up to the stage to get his award. He seemed pretty pleased with that. Not bad for less than a year after a diagnosis of heart trouble!
Apparently the cleanup team missed a traffic-control cone: on the left is a statue of Don Juan d'Austria (whoever he was) complete with a new hat!
The awards ceremony was one of the most efficient I had ever seen, in spite of the fact that there were three winners in each category (male and female, and 5-year age groups from 15 to 70 and above). What pleased me most about this awards ceremony is that the folks who got the most cheering and standing ovations from the crowd were not the pro triathletes, but the oldest age groupers. They were doing it out of pure stupidity instead of for monetary gain. Of course the pros got cheering, too, and the male winner, Faris Al-Sultan, seemed like a really nice guy since he hung around after the ceremony, was willing to have his photo taken with almost anyone, and really seemed to be enjoying himself. Maybe that's partly because he's a Munich native and this was his home course.
We stayed after the ceremony to watch the process of handing out Ironman Kona slots, with a roll-down if the top finishers in any group didn't want them, but not too many folks turned them down, and it would have been a miracle if all eight guys in front of me had refused.
I was lucky and didn't get a flat during the race which wasn't too surprising: the tires were both essentially brand new: I figured that the cost of a couple of tires amounted to nothing compared to what the total trip was costing and the costs of all the preparation I'd done. So at the end, I had a couple of CO2 cartridges I couldn't take home. As I was finishing breaking down the bike and fitting it back in the box, Ellyn took the two cartridges out on the streets and looked around for people wearing the finisher's t-shirt. She offered the cartridges to the first pair she found and they were really pleased to get them.
It was a very well organized race, and the only thing about it that would make me think twice about doing it again is what a pain in the butt it is to get a bicycle from California to Germany. I'm writing the first draft of this in Germany, and of course am still looking forward to the pain in the butt involved in getting it home...
A combination of ham hock, bacon, sausage and liver pate.
Steak and potatoes.
Shrimp, mussels and fish.
A photo of some interesting stuff in a butcher shop. We didn't try this during the trip...
On Tuesday after the race, we travelled to Munich. We took an "airporter" that picked us up at our apartment and took us all the way to the Munich airport for 67 euros. Then we figured that a quick taxi ride would get us to our hotel, but the airport is a bit out of town, and that final ride cost almost as much as the first 90% of the ride.
We got there in the evening, and took a quick walk around near the hotel, had some dinner and went to bed. The next day, we went to the "Deutsches Museum", which was fantastic. We spent at least four hours there, and saw less than half of what we wanted, but we were so tired out from standing and reading about the exhibits that we gave up and walked back to the hotel.
The museum is amazing! It's mostly technical stuff, including exhibits about machinery, electric generation, aircraft, ships, spacecraft, geology, optics, photography, musical instruments, and on, and on, and on. It was the high point of our Munich visit. In spite of the fact that we completely wore ourselves out on the first day, we decided that we wanted to make a second visit.
Since the bike box was such a hassle to deal with, we toyed with the idea of changing our flight reservations to return from Munich instead of from Frankfurt. We figured we'd save a four-hour train ride and a night in Frankfurt near the airport, and so in addition to the hassle, we'd save around 400 euros. When we checked with the airline, we were told that the penalty for changing the flight would be $400 (quite a bit less than the 400 euros, since at the time, the exchange rate was $1.30/euro). We'd also have to pay the difference in cost between a flight from Munich instead of from Frankfurt, since Munich is a couple of hundred miles farther from San Francisco. Then we asked what that difference in cost was, and it turned out to be $4000! I think that's because the change of a one-way ticket is insanely high, and (as we discovered when we were making reservations and trying to use frequent-flyer miles for one way, the cost of a one-way trip is double the cost of a round trip). There's absolutely no sense in airline prices. Needless to say, we kept the Frankfurt reservations.
On the second day, we went to the toy museum, and spent most of the rest of the day wandering around the city looking at random things. We had a bunch of nice meals, trying to try different things each time, and trying to find things that are not available in the United States.
We spent most of our final day in Frankfurt at the Deutsches Museum again, and after another five hours, still had not seen everything. It was pouring rain, so we didn't do too much more exploring outside. I did get a chance to reread on my iPad Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and really enjoyed the reminder of "The horror! The horror!" and of Kurtz' "unsound" methods.
When we were in Munich, we were staying at the Platzl Hotel, which was very nice, but being cheapskates, we decided that instead of going to a bar for a glass of wine in the evenings, we'd purchase a bottle and have a glass in our hotel room. The only problem was that we did not have a corkscrew, and of course the hotel room was not equipped with one, so when we were selecting our bottle, we had to be sure that it met our "standards". Our key standard for a bottle of wine is that it have a screw top.
We got to the Munich railroad station with plenty of time, but it took nearly an hour to purchase tickets. The automated ticket machine had an English language option, but all the information was in German anyway. So we started working through that, and it seemed to be impossible to choose the Frankfurt Airport as a final destination. Ellyn got in an amazingly slowly-moving line with a human at the end, and when she got to the front, she asked about which car had a luggage compartment for the bike box. At that point, the agent refused to sell her a ticket until we'd gotten the box "ok"ed -- to guarantee that it wasn't too large. Telling him it was no problem on the way out meant nothing.
So we stood in another line to make sure the box size was ok, and the gal at the front just snorted: of course the box was small enough. I guess the guy at the ticket station thought the bike was fully-assembled inside a giant box or something.
But then it was back to the end of the slow (English-speaking) line, but you could take a number to be taken care of by one of the standard lines. Ellyn took the ticket, but stood in line in the English line, planning to use whichever one she got first. It was one of the German lines, so she went to that, asked for the tickets, and asked about the cars with a cargo department. Of course then THAT person freaked out about the bike box, but luckily, the gal who had snorted about the size of the box came over and blessed our box. So although we arrived at the train station with an hour and ten minutes before our train left, we got on the train with 10 minutes to spare. And the sad thing is that it was pointless to ask: none of the people knew anything about the carrying capacities of the various cars on the train.
Next time we just won't mention the bike box: one person buys the tickets while the other one "hides" with the box, out of sight. This is just another case where the old saying holds: "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission."
Since we didn't know which car(s) had extra storage space, we walked down the train, Ellyn would jump on each car, check, and then jump off to report. We found a car with a nice open space and loaded the bike and heavy suitcase. I arranged them relative to other suitcases already in the area, and was forced to support the bike case with existing suitcases and our own. Then, of course, there weren't any empty seats on that car, so we sat one car away. Since the support of the bike case depended on suitcases other than our own, I felt compelled to check the structure of the suitcase arrangement after each stop, in case exiting passengers' removal of their boxes rendered the pile "unsound". At the first stop, I foolishly walked back on the train, and with all the people entering and exiting, it was a very slow process to traverse the necessary two cars. So at the following stops (there were about four), I jumped off the train, walked on the outside for a couple of cars, and then hopped back on. Then I usually returned inside the train, so the people between our two seats must have been a bit confused to see me regularly passing their seats, but always in the same direction.
The trip to the Frankfurt Airport was uneventful (it took about 3.5 hours) and we just stayed in the airport hotel, and it was as grim as you'd expect it to be: everything insanely expensive (for example, to watch a movie, and not even a pornographic one, the price was 21 euros: about 27 dollars at the exchange rate at the time), we basically had airport (or worse, train-station) restaurants, and the most exciting thing to do would be to wander inside a combination airport/train station. We did have a clever idea to reduce the number of euros we were carrying almost to zero: we got the total down, and planned to pay the final hotel bill with those euros and the remainder on a credit card. Of course when we tried to check out, we found that the room had been paid for already via PayPal, so we went home with way more euros than we wanted to. I guess we'll have to return to Europe to spend them!
After the final haul of all our junk to the check-in gate, we had some very good luck: the plane was packed, and we were upgraded to first class for the flight across the Atlantic.
Regensburg is a great venue for an ironman, and the organizers did a great job. Penticton (where IM Canada is held) is a nice city, but there's not much exciting to do or see there. In Regensburg there are museums, the oldest bridge in Europe, the Kepler Museum, and lots of interesting places to eat. For me, as racer, this wasn't terribly important, but for Ellyn, there was a lot to do, especially during race day when a spectator often has long stretches with nothing to do.
It was a beautiful course, and all of it was completely closed to auto traffic which was wonderful. The roads were in good condition, and the run course ran through pretty parts of the old city, through a nice park, and over the Danube a couple of times.
The race missed a couple of nice features that were present in Canada (see much earlier in this document), but that's probably because Canada has been running so long that they've got enough volunteers to provide folks to do "stripping" and "bike catching". On the other hand, in Canada there are around 4000 volunteers (and only 2500 racers), so it's pretty unlikely that you'd get that many volunteers in Regensburg, especially the first year that the race is run.
Ellyn speaks German well, and that was handy, but I got along just fine on the race course by myself with no German at all.
It was a pain carrying the bike box, but as I said earlier, if I'd just wanted to race, it would not have been too bad: fly to Munich, take an airporter to Regensburg, race, and reverse the process to get home.
This year we tried an experiment that was only a partial success: instead of taking a laptop for communication, we just brought iPhones and an iPad. Even though we paid for 50 megabytes on the phones, I ran out of that too early in spite of the fact that I was fairly careful, and the overcharge was insanely high: about $5 per megabyte. If somebody sends you a short video clip, it could cost you $30, even if you don't look at it. The iPad was great to read books and stuff, but it's heavily dependent on a WiFi Connection, and we only had that at our friends' house and at the final airport hotel. But the iPad is sure a lot smaller and lighter than a laptop, and it allowed me to type the majority of this race report relatively shortly after it occurred, so I didn't have to rely on my senility-impaired memory.