Race Report: The Graben Duathlon 2010

I was standing chatting with some friends at my running club right after a run one night a couple weeks ago and heard RB talking about a duathlon that was being offered in our area on July 24. For those that don’t know a duathlon is a run-bike-run combination, not to be confused with the biathlon, which is the official term for the Olympic sport of skiing and shooting.
In any case RB was interested in doing the running part as a team member of a relay team. No one responded when she asked around if anyone wanted to do the cycling part, so next thing I head was my big mouth saying I would do it, “By the way, how far do I have to cycle…?”
I then learned it was 34 kilometers, yeah 21 miles how bad could that be, right! I mean I just cycled 20 km during my Triathlon the week before…in any case I would be doing it with RB, joy! We quickly formed our strategy, which basically consisted of showing up at the event.
So this past Saturday I picked RB up about an hour and half before the duathlon was to start and we made our way to the next town, Graben where the event was held. Several members of the cycling club are also members of our running club, so we were among friends as we signed in. One of our running friends showed me where to park my CUBE and walked us through the event. Then we chilled out and waited for the briefing that was to be held at 1:30 p.m., a half hour before the start. After the briefing we made last minute checks and got ready to race.
The duathlon consisted of 34 km (21 mi.) of cycling sandwiched between two 4 km (2.5 mi.) runs. RB would start the event with her first 4 km run, which consisted of a 2 km out and back course. The Graben Duathlon is a small event, this year there were 72 individual starters and 14 relay teams. I heard there was more signed up this year, but it had rained the morning of the event, so I guess several decided to stay home.
As RB lined up at the start I stood with other friends from the running club that had arrived to lend their support. We sent RB off with our cheers, than I went to warm-up. The other relay team members were lingering or warming up, the most taking a small loop with their bikes. I warmed up with a short run, than rode around the block with my CUBE just to make sure everything was set.
I had estimated RB would need around 23 minutes, but knew never to underestimate her. Shortly after 22 minutes she rounded the corner and I was ready, she only needed to run over to my bike and tap my shoulder and I could set out. This accomplished, I ran with my CUBE across the small parking lot to the mounting point where I could mount my bike and take off. An official made sure I had my helmet and I was off.
I did my best to pick up the pace, but right away was fighting a headwind that my friend Joseph had warned me about earlier. As I left town I passed an intersection where a roughly 10K loop began, from Graben to Liedolsheim to Russheim, then back to Graben. Cyclists had to complete three of these loops.
This was the second year of the duathlon and friends had mentioned that the road to Liedolsheim was the fastest part of the loop. Unfortunately on this day this was the part with the strongest headwind, rather than making time I grew slower! By the time I completed the roughly 3 km to Liedolsheim I felt like I had just cycled through the hills of the Black Forest, despite the relatively level course. I tried not to think about the fact that I had to repeat this two more times as I entered the town. In Liedolsheim the organizers had closed one lane of the local road to traffic for the event, I was able to weave my way through unbehindered.
I was able to gain speed as I left Leidolsheim and made my way over the 2 km to Russheim. About two minutes out the first wave of cyclist on their second loop flew by, amazing! I tried to pick up the pace a bit, with limited success. Soon I reached the outskirts of Russheim, where we turned right and headed over an approximately 4 km stretch that would complete the loop. Part of this was over open fields and I was again fighting a headwind. Cyclist continued to fly by on occasion as I completed my first loop.
Upon completing the loop I was quite surprised to see that I had only cycled about 6-7 kilometer, I thought the course was longer, but at the pitifall speed that I was cycling I was glad. During my triathlon I average around 27 KPH (kilometer per hour), I was barely managing 17-18.
Discouraged I rounded the corner and tried to push harder as I began my second loop. I pedaled and pedaled, feeling like I was making progress, but couldn’t get any faster than 18 KPH. Even on the faster stretch between Liedolsheim and Russheim I could only manage 21!
I fought these demons as I circled, I didn’t feel like was going any slower than by my Triathlon. My thoughts were interrupted as I rounded the corner by Russheim and sas a cyclist on the horizon, finally a chance to catch someone! I sprang forward with renewed effort and managed to catch and pass the cyclist after a few minutes, she was breathing hard, easy prey. I fixed my sights on the next and soon forgot about my pitiful speed problem.
As I rounded the curve and started my third loop I was soon upon the next cyclist, but they were giving up ground without a fight, I needed almost 3 kilometers to catch and pass him. I continued to pump my legs through Liedolsheim, hoping to catch another cyclist or two before the finish. As I rounded the loop by Russheim I saw two far ahead of me, it would be rough.
My quads were crying by the time I reached the end of the loop and turned back into Graben, around a kilometer to go. The two cyclist had maintained their lead and I was pumping like crazy to try to give RB a good start on her second 4 km loop.
I wound my way back to the small parking lot and dismounted, tapping RB on her shoulder as she asked me how I was, out of breath I grunted and she was off. I returned my CUBE to the rack and caught my breath, chatting with Joseph for a couple minutes.
I stowed my CUBE in the car and grabbed RB’s sweater, thinking she might need it when she’s done, somehow my brain didn’t register that it was 27°C (80°F) outside. My sanity was again tested when Joseph asked me what my average speed was, I said around 17 KPH. He said that’s not possible, I had finished the 34 km in around 1:14:00 (later it would dawn on me my Odometer was set to miles)!
I waited for RB for a bit with Joseph and started wondering if she was suffering on the course, so decided I needed some fresh air and ran out to meet her. After 3-4 minutes I came up on RB and we ran to the finish together, I stopped just before and let her cross the finish line.
We chomped on some watermelon and chatted a bit with Joseph, until he had to leave, then picked up some food. We listened to the awards ceremony as we ate, we were the 13th relay team out of 14, the most were members of triathlon and cycling clubs, we had little chance of keeping up with them. We were pleased that we beat at least one team, and by over 5 minutes! A friend of ours that also did the relay won a 5th place prize, but had already left, so we collected it for him – we could drop it off on the way home.
After the awards ceremony we said our goodbyes to those we knew and I drove RB home. It was a nice change of pace from our normal running, I hope we can do it again next year.

Race Report: The Stutensee Triathlon 2010

I have long admired Triathletes and have great respect those that have accomplished the Ironman discipline. My friends Uli and Bernd from my running club are Ironman finishers and my respect is not lost on them. Over the past several years I have spent many, many hours on the trail with them, particularly Uli, as we ran a marathon together last year. When you run with Ironman sooner or later trail chatter lands on this subject. Their experiences at the various triathlon distances fascinated me and somewhere on the trail I stumbled over the idea to try a Tri myself.
For those who swim regularly, or take to water like a fish, a simple sprint triathlon would seem to be an easy task, particularly when one is not worried about finishing times, placement or other distractions. But a year ago I rarely went swimming, mostly because I swam so poorly. I decided if I ever wanted to fulfill my new goal to complete a sprint triathlon I would need to take another swim course. I accomplished this over the winter, taking a freestyle course at an area pool. I continued to swim at least once a week since then and through encouragement from my Ironman friends signed up for the 18th Annual Stutensee Triathlon.
This past Sunday was my debut in a whole new world, one that dragged me far out of my comfort zone, humbled my swollen pride, and allowed me to feel new life as an athlete.
As I met Uli at 4 p.m. on Saturday to pick up our start packets for the Stutensee Triathlon the temperature was hovering around 37°C (99°F). I was grateful that Uli also decided to do the Triathlon; she generously shared her experience with me and showed me the transition areas and finish area for the next day. Her husband Bernd had previously prepared a list of what I would need and we practiced the transitions together, I was as ready as I would ever be.
On Sunday I arrived at the Bike/Run transition point and deposited my baseball cap, the only additional equipment I would need for the run. I then drove the 2 kilometers to the parking lot bordering the quarry pond (Baggersee) where the 500 meter swim would take place. The Swim/Bike transition point was across the street; I unloaded my CUBE and went to the check-in. At the check-in point the officials checked my bike helmet and I parked my CUBE off to the side in the transition point. The group of starters was large this year (206), so we would be starting in two waves, the first at 10:00 a.m. the second at 10:40 a.m.; Uli and I were in the latter. The second wave could lay their stuff out only after the first wave was through.
I walked back over to the car, stopping to chat with another participant that I knew. As we chatted Bernd and Uli arrived and I chatted with them as they unloaded Uli’s bike. I gathered my swim cap and goggles and walked over to the check-in with Uli. After she found a spot for her bike we rejoined Bernd and walked over to the Baggersee for our 9:45 a.m. briefing.
Swimmers were already out in the Baggersee warming up, or perhaps cooling down, it was already hot outside! We were soon joined by my Running Buddy (RB) and another friend Paul from our running club, who had come to offer us support. I was happy to see RB, we haven’t been running together so much this year since I have been preoccupied with Tri training.
At 9:45 a.m. the officials gave their briefing, basically a review of the rules and walked us through the three events. We waited with RB and Paul as the first wave got ready and finally headed off into the water. I was fascinated as I watched them start, other than on the television I had never seen a Triathlon start. I sat down and tried to relax, it was slowly starting to hit me that I would be doing the same in a little while, up to now it seemed more like a dream.
After a short 7 minutes and 15 seconds the first swimmer popped out of the water and made his way to the transition point. After 17+ minutes the last swimmer made her way to the transition point, Uli and I followed so we could set up our bikes and stuff. Most of the second wave was already busily laying out their things. I found a spot not far from Uli and laid out my “stuff”. For this short triathlon I decided it was enough to use just my running shoes, the bike shoes stayed home. I set my running shoes out, with running socks on top, followed by my bike helmet and sunglasses, my start number on a waistband and finally my running tank top. I realized I had forgotten my towel, so laid the old T-Shirt that I had been wearing out, it would do to get most of the sand off my feet. I rechecked my water bottle on the CUBE and made sure I was set in a lower gear.
When Uli was finished we walked over to the Baggersee and warmed up with a short swim. The water was quite warm, neoprene was not allowed or needed. I wore my running shorts, goggles and swim cap.
Shortly before our start we were herded into the start corral and before I had time for a second thought the starting pistol went off.
I ran out with the other swimmers as far as I could and began my rendition of freestyle swimming. The wave quickly left me behind, then way behind, as I paddled my way around the pond. When I signed up for the event I anticipated being the last one finished with the swimming, based on the times from swimmers from previous years. This turned out to be the case, but I was okay with this. I had good company as a diver accompanied me most of the way, occasionally asking me if I was okay – did I look so bad? I concentrated on my breathing, occasionally switched to the breaststroke to sight or rest, but mostly kept up a steady freestyle. After an eternity I arrived at the last buoy and turned towards the shoreline, another 50 meters and the swim would be behind me. I tried my best to speed up and finally arrived at the shore. I dragged myself out of the water and jogged up the bank, passing my arm over the timing transponder as I went, then over a short wooded path to the parking lot beyond.
I was happy to see two participants still there as I ran to my bike. I pulled my tank top over my wet skin then put on my helmet, sunglasses and start number. I attempted to wipe the sand off my feet with the old T-Shirt, and then pulled on my socks and running shoes. I stuffed anything remaining, including swim goggles and cap, into the blue trash bag provided and quickly ran with my CUBE to the edge of the parking lot.
At the edge of the parking lot we were allowed to get on our bikes, so with the adrenalin pumping I jumped on my CUBE and took off in pursuit of the two that had just left.
I sprinted to the end of the street, turning left onto the local highway that had been closed for our event. I slowed as I climbed over a bridge, then flew down the other side, riding down an underpass and climbing out the other end. The first part of the 20 km course was a 2 km stretch that would bring me to the other side of Blankenloch. From here we would ride three 6 km loops. As I arrived at the edge of the loop the forerunners were already heading on their second (or third) loop, I merged and stayed on the left side, English left was the rule of the day for cycling and running.
I settled into a good pace, trying to push the pace on the first kilometer or so of the loop, slowing on the climb over the bridge traversing the Autobahn. I flew down the other side of the bridge, pedaling like a Wildman until gravity took a hold. Soon I arrived at the turn around point and did my best to make an unnatural right hand turn, almost landing in the field. I pumped the pedals again and soon was climbing up the bridge again, then sailing down the other side. The road climbed gently for a bit, then leveled out, I fought to keep the pace going as I arrived at the turn around completing the first loop.
As I circled around to the right I heard Bernd yelling encouragement, this spurred me on. As I again approached the bridge the sun was beating down, I took advantage of the slowed pace long enough to drink, before flying down the other side.
I managed the next turn around much better as with the first loop, so was soon on my way back. My quads complained as I fought the bridge, but I ignored them and was soon flying down the other side, enjoying the brief wind that ensued.
As I arrived at the turn around point at the end of my second loop I noticed how few cyclist were left on the course. I ignored this and spun around the turn for my third loop. At some point during this last loop I realized in my sun-baked brain that I was actually enjoying myself! Even my complaining quads did not alter this feeling as I crawled up the bridge the last time. As I sailed down the bridge towards Blankenloch I realized this would not be my last Tri, I was hooked!
I fought the feeling to slow down and pushed hard to the end of the loop and sailed at frightening speed around the left turn that would bring me to the transition point. I arrived at the dismount point out of breath with heart pumping and adrenalin flowing, I almost removed my helmet, but a kind official warned me before I got that far. I ran my CUBE over to my stall, hung it up, removed sunglasses and helmet, grabbed my baseball cap and wobbled with stiff legs to the edge of the parking lot. I passed my hand over the timing transponder and set out over the 5 km course, two loops in the sun, legs don’t fail me now!
The first place runner was just arriving at the finish line as I ran past, I tried not to let it shake me. My legs were stiff as I ran, it is a strange feeling to suddenly switch from cycling to running. As I left the comfort of the shade trees near the finish line I noticed how hot it was, the sun was beating down on the asphalt path – while cycling I at least had some breeze to cool me. I quickly caught the runner in front of me, I had seen him leaving the transition point, he was struggling in the heat. As I ran I reminded myself of the training runs that I had done in the heat to prepare just for this occasion, I pushed on.
The running course was two loops, so it was only about 6-7 minutes before the first turn around point arrived. Shortly before this was a water point, I grabbed a cup, drinking a swig and poured the rest over my head. I ran around the turn around and caught another runner just past it, they had stopped to walk! I grabbed another water on the way by then headed back to the finish. As we entered the edge of town there was another water point, I grabbed a water-filled sponge and tried to cool off as I ran. Shortly before the finish was a turn around point for the second loop, we were required to grab a hair band as we went around, I let them slip it over my hand as I ran by.
I grabbed another cup of water as I ran out of town, again pouring most of it on my head. I passed a couple more runners before reaching the final turn around, then slowed for another cup of water, this time drinking most of it. With less than a mile to go I fought to increase my speed, I was well under my 10 km pace, but I couldn’t seem to get my legs to move any faster.
Finally, I saw the finish line up ahead and made a final attempt to speed ahead. As I ran over the finish line I heard my name and something about being an ultra runner, I guess they know me. I spotted Uli as I grabbed some more water and we congratulated each other. Soon Bernd, Paul and RB joined us.
On the one side I was relieved to be done, but somehow I was a bit bewildered that I was already down, I was just getting into it!
After cooling down a bit Uli and I collected our bikes and joined the others for some food. Somehow we forgot about the heat as we shared our experiences and time together. This was one of those days that will linger long in my memory, my first triathlon.
In comparison to most of the other Triathletes my performance was laughable, but for me my accomplishment was extraordinary as I reached far out of my comfort zone to overcome the fear of swimming in open water that I have had since I was a child. I look forward to doing my next event, I have tasted triathlon and it is good!
I was truly impressed with the organization of the event, the organizers and helpers outdid themselves! As the last swimmer I felt as welcome as the first, they patiently waited for me to come through, this meant a lot. Despite the heat there were still lots of fans shouting encouragement during all the events, you all deserve our thanks!
I especially want to thank Uli and Bernd for their support. They took time with me to help with my swimming and transitions, offered invaluable advice and believed in me when I had my own doubts. I may never be competitive in the sport, but I have found a new love, one that I know they share. Thanks again guys, you are my heroes!