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Tri Ginger

A man on an endurance mission, first stop Turkey, twice

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AlbExtrem 26th June 2016

Although I have embarked on a few long bicycle rides in the last couple of years I have yet to take part in an actual endurance bike race, Albextrem would be the event to put that right.  Albextrem has a certain reputation in the area of Baden Wuerttemburg east of Stuttgart that I now call home. This area sits at the foot of the Schaebisch Alb which provides a great playground full of weekend challenges for masochistic cyclists. In the case of Albextrem the organisers plan 3 routes through (actually up and down, many times) the alb.All routes start and finish at the same point,  the small town of Ottenbach and run along the same roads until two splits in the route,  leading to a ‘classic’ version of 200km and 3300m altitude, ‘mid-size’ 250km 4400m  and the ultimate ‘Traufkönig’ (untranslatable, but you get the idea from the numbers!) 300km 5600m. Map of the routes and an altitude profile are below.

Much like my failed attempt to enter the Transcontinental race in 2016 I was also too slow in entering the Albextrem this year  but luckily for me, and unluckily for him,  a fellow member of my triathlon club had to pull out with an injury,  so after a bit of a fuss to transfer his participant number I was ready to roll and attempt to conquer the ‘mid-size ‘Albextrem’

As I am slowly but surely finding out,  endurance sport is only partly about the physical training to ensure your body is capable of carrying you through to the finish, but equally important is the planning phase.  You can undo all your hard work pounding the tarmac for hours and hours if you neglect to also put in the time to preparation. In the case of Albextrem this manifested itself in getting myself and my kit to the start line on time and in a decent state.  In order to give the participants a fighting chance of getting round their chosen route the start is at the slightly ungodly hour of 0630.  Seeing as the start is 40km away from where I live and the trains only get me to within 10km and even then they certainly do not run before 6am on Sundays,  then I decided to cycle to the start the night before and kip there in the hope of catching an about an hour and a half more sleep compared to making the journey on the Sunday.  According to the website,  this plan of action was catered for and those of us unwilling to travel on the race day could stay for free in the sports hall adjacent to the start area,  you just need to bring your own sleeping bag etc.  I really wasn’t expecting much when I arrived,  laden with an overfull rucksack,  but was greeted by wha felt like a mini festival,  a tent full of people eating and drinking (beer,  although I could not tell in most cases if it was alcoholic or not) and a german band running through a medley mixture of german oompah music and Abba covers.

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Band,  pasta and beer (alcohol free of course)

Before I settled into a bowl full of spaghetti and a cool non alcoholic beer I scoped out the accommodation,  as the sunset.  Once I found the sports hall I discovered about half a dozen guys had already staked a claim to a segment of floor space,  some with their bike propped up against the wall next to their sleeping bag,  like a loyal steed.  There was still plenty of space left so I found a place with a respectable distance to my new neighbours and laid out my stuff and then wandered back to the tent.  I paid only a cursory attention to the fact that the hall was split in two by a large curtain,  with sleeping on one side and a projector with chairs on the other side.  It wasn’t until later that I realised the significance.

After enjoying the atmosphere for a while the time came to get some shut eye,  especially important for me as someone who really loves their sleep and generally I am an early to bed, early to rise sort of guy. However,  as Albextrem took place in the middle of the Euro 2016 football finals, the half of the hall designated for sleeping was also being used as by a number of die hard fans to watch the latest game.  So a group of u tried to turn in and hope that the game would not be too exciting or go to extra time!  Luckily I can fall asleep pretty easily and the noise was not enough to keep me awake for long.  Sleeping on a yoga mat however does not lead to the most restful of nights sleep and after rousing from a light sleep a multiple times I decided to get ready for the start as the sun rose over the sports hall.

We had arranged with a group of the other Trias Wernau club members to meet at the startline just before 0600 so I made my way to the main tent again to take advantage of the breakfast on offer, 5 euro all you can eat affair and try to resist the temptation to eat everything, thinking I can fuel up like an oil tanker to carry me through the day. With a reasonably full belly and caffeine in the blood I head off to the start to meet the group after kindly asking the race organisers to look after my rucksack containing the yoga mat and sleeping bag (I am one of the very few who stayed the night and did not come by car,  extra effort points I feel, shouldn’t I get a head start?)

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Slowly but surely they all arrive, all having made the journey that morning from their homes.  Pleasantries are exchanged,  enquiries are made about how everyone slept and if they had enough breakfast, how chilly it is but that the weather looks like it is going to be perfect.  Forming ourselves into groups according to our expected route (the small, middle or long loop) I get together with the guys who are planning the middle route and then we slot ourselves into the slow moving queue to the official start around 0600(see above).

After passing through the start line,  which is more a formality to enable the organisers to hand out the wristbands that will allow access to the food and drink stations along the way,  the route winds quickly up a local climb giving a taste of things to come.  Overcome with enthusiasm I step up on the pedals and start to climb at a normal weekend pace,  only to be rightly told by the far more experienced (and fitter!)  Andi that I should save the juice for later….noted, for now and always,  I am no hare,  and this type of event calls for tortoise type tactics. Taking a slower and more considered pace also allowed me to really appreciate the great views over the valley as the sun rose and clears the light low level mist,  sadly I didn’t stop for a photo,  but it was a great advert for starting your ride before the sun peeps above the horizon.

Although the start number we have all tied to our bikes has a timing chip on it, this event is not a race and the organisers are at pains to remind you of this,  no doubt this is part of the deal with the police and local authorities to allow so many cyclists on the road at one time.  Furthermore,  given that alot of people dont tackle this length or toughness of route very often (if at all) then it is probably better to avoid encouraging people to ride too fast.

Nonetheless,  shortly after the start the siren of an ambulance could be heard,  and sre enough,  on one of the early descents,  a small group could be seen tending to someone who had overcooked it going into the curve,  such a shame to see but it did seem at least that they were in one piece.

Our group tended to disintegrate up most climbs and by the time we came to the first aid station after 50km we were in groups of maximum 2 people.  The aid stations were a well organised affair (next two photos below) with plenty of calories and liquid to suit your needs,  even bretzels and cake on offer!  Sadly I was toward the back of our strung out group and therefore had less time to take advantage (this would haunt me a little later on) before we assembled ourselves to take on the next leg.

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2016-07-02 (2)

And basically so we continued for the next 100km……not much to report,  except the experience of trying to master drafting behind other cyclists long enough to have the energy to bridge up to the following group.  This is a skill I have yet to master,  and having talked to my boss after the event,  who also took part,  he had a much higher average speed than me and he puts it down to being more efficient in his drafting.

After about 150km you come to the decision point,  although you have registered as wanting to do one of the three length variations of Albextrem,  you are allowed to freely choose which one you do on the day (this isn’t a race remember,  just you against yourself) so when we reached the third aid station we had to decide who was going to do the mid size and who would head ‘directly’ for the finish.  Luckily for my flagging power levels the decision was made for us,  in the sense that the organisers take away the signage showing the longer routes after a certain time of day,  to avoid people attempting the long route when there is only marginally enough to complete the route,  and certainly insufficient time in the highly likely case that people hit the wall on the way.  So luckily for me,  but disappointingly for my group we had to head for the finish at this stage,  I tried to contain my pleasure that the end was now in sight,  since I have slowly lost my mojo with every climb.  Not to say that it wasn’t still fun at that point, but the thought of and extra 50km and more than a kilometre of climbing was not appealing.

The organisers dont let you get off lightly even if you are ‘just’ doing the short route,  and everyone has to make the final tough climb just before reaching the start/finish area.  I felt like a snail going up that last steep climb and Andi’s earlier words of wisdom when I foolishly sped up the first climb of the day echoed loudly through my sweating and panting.  But all in all,  getting over the finish and back into the festival atmosphere around 1600 made it all worthwhile and the sense of achievement began to sink in,  along with the feeling that next year,  I can do better!

Albextrem website

https://www.strava.com/activities/621748652/embed/a55a78c2900f516efca9daff18e68ec6ffd48c20

Losing my Triathlon Virginity

You never forget your first time

Having set myself the tough turkish targets I duly realised that I needed some help.  So I asked around at work and found out that there was a local triathlon club (TriAS Wernau) which was open and friendly and always looking for new members.  So I took the plunge in January and went along to my first group track running session (I figured I should put my best foot forward by going to a running session first,  before I unleashed my awesome doggy paddle on the other members).

Getting used to the club and getting used to training is a topic for another post,  but needless to say I quickly plucked up the courage and signed up for my first triathlon,  a local sprint triathlon (mz3athlon in Steinheim)

500 m swim (10 lengths)– 20 km cycle (2 loops) – 5 km run (2 loops)

Here is how it went :/

Day before: planning the planning

I am a planner,  just ask my girlfriend,  so having read the competitor leaflet online for the umpteenth time I finally decided to lay out what I would need for the race day. I had most things already,  although a trisuit (planetx had a great offer,  as always), a race number holder (decathlon to the rescue) and some tinted goggles (decathlon again) were late purchases. As a runner the kit was a lot for my little brain to comprehend,  not only did I need to take all this stuff (and forget a few things too,  oops) I had to plan in my head what needed to be left at transition,  when I should apply suncream (would it survive the swim??) etc etc, for a nervous planner it was quite the trauma,  not to mention planning to get there without a car…..

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Compulsory Kit Grid photo for Instagram

Reaching the startline

As I mentioned,  I don’t own a car. I am a man,  and an engineer,  I have owned and tinkered with my fair share of automobiles,  but currently I have decided to forsake motorised personal transport. Normally this is not a problem since I have a manageable 11km cycle to work and live in an area with a great public transport network (Stuttgart, DE).  And luckily in this case the local train network came to my rescue along with a civilised begin to the bike check in of 0900.

Waking up early on a super sunny Sunday and boarding the train with bike and loaded rucksack.  I decided to wear the trisuit on the way with a t shirt over the top to prevent me looking too much like a prat and also to protect my shoulders from sunburn!

Sadly the train only took me so far,  so a short 6km cycle to the event was needed,  actually quite a nice way to get your bike legs back after a night in the sack and just to check everything is running smoothly.

Registration, checking in, realising what you have forgotten

Finding the start was a doddle early on a sunday,  pretty much the only cars on the streets were going to the triathlon and the closer you get the more people you see carrying their precious transparent plastic boxes with their transition kit (seems to be standard issue this box, I felt left out without one 🙂

So having picked up the race pack and attached the numbers to my bike and helmet I proceeded to the transition area to check in my bike and set up the famous transition zone. Little did I know that I was supposed to wear my helmet to enter the transition zone, I guess so they can check I have a functioning helmet? the only other check was to check if my bar ends were suitably closed with caps. Perfunctory checking at best but rules are rules.

Although I was pretty clueless about setting up my little transition area,  I soon got chatting to my neighbouring competitors after being asked a question with the preamble “you look like you have done this before” ,  clearly reading the competition notes 30 times had paid off! And being a vaguely competent engineer I figured out how to attach the timing chip to my ankle with the two random pieces of velcro from race pack,  and then explained it to at least 3 other people. IMG_20160508_094303177.jpg

However,  as I deliberated over how to lay out my helmet,  shoes etc it doawned on me,  I had not brought another pair of shoes!  only my bike shoes and my running shoes,  both of which needed to stay in the transition area (which closes at least 2 hours before my start time) until I arrived in the race from the pool. Rookie mistake Number 1. Solution,  pad around barefoot until my start time.

Then comes rookie mistake number 2,  realising that I had to decide between wearing my sunglasses and cap in the run up to the race or leaving them in the transition ready to wear during the cycle and run legs……..solution,  leave them in transition zone and scurry from shade to shadow until the my race started.

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TriAs Wernau posse,  me on the left with the modest Flash t-shirt

Then the bit I had really not counted on,  although it was clear to see from the schedule,  lots of waiting until my start time.  The main drawback of the wave starting system in the pool,  lots of waiting. And when you are as pale and scottish as me then this also means lots of time avoiding being in the sun too long. But after a good two hours of watching wave after wave of starters swim in the pool I was almost ready for my starting time,  and I had made a mini goal for myself in the meantime,  namely not to be one of the people who takes more than the allocated 15minutes to swim 500 metres and therefore has the whole attention of the crowd and delay the next group.  “Keep a low profile” was the motto of the swim leg.

Go go go

Start time arrived! As context the system they used to ensure that everyone swimming the full 500m distance is to divide up the pool as normal into lanes in which you swim counter clockwise,  additionally they gave us coloured swim caps so the volunteers could count off our lengths and give us the heads up when the last one was coming up (with a nice exclamation mark on a stick which they put under water).  So in the water and ready to go,  except for the little ritual of politeness whereby out lane group decides who is fast and who is slow so we don’t all set off at once,  strangely in our case we all reckoned we were slower than the others!  I still decided to go at the back which had the benefit of making sure I did not get carried away and swim too hard.

 

 

As mentioned before,  I am not a good swimmer,  at least my crawl is not good, so I muddled through the 500m with a mixture of lengths doing crawl and breaststroke,  and lo and behold I did not come out of the pool last and even had 4 minutes spare before the end of the 15minute slot. Jump out of the pool,  dump the cap and run out of the pool area, across the (closed) road and into the transition area for a quick dry of the feet,  on with the socks and jog out with the bike, so far so good. We were all spread after the swim,  so it was time for me to make up some lost ground round the two times round the 10km loop. Cycling was rather uneventful all told,  enjoyable to reel in stragglers after my sub par swimming and return to transition higher up the field and ready for my preferred discipline, running.  By this time it was hot, damn hot,  hotter than I would normally consider for a training run,  but needs must so I slap on my hat and start jogging picking up drinks at every station along the way,  some of which simply went on my head for cooling. I continued to reel in more of the slower participants and despite some steep sections crossed the line in one piece.

Post mortem

All in all my first real triathlon experience was more pleasant than I had expected. I am sure the well organised nature of the event helped, and my tendency to over prepare but mostly it was probably due to the effects of being a member of an open and friendly triathlon club which helped make it so enjoyable. After all, we do it for the camaraderie as well as the competition, don’t we?

My result was something that came quite secondary to the fun and experience of the event, but nonetheless here it is……Result

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Me and the other Rookie, Daniel, smiling because I didn’t get sunburnt

The STRAVA lowdown

https://www.strava.com/activities/570229520/embed/775927755c78d5a1de5312ad563a58196d5ef0e3

https://www.strava.com/activities/570229598/embed/0d47fc6e9f5e9b00954f3a335d8527ca3855eb81

https://www.strava.com/activities/570229644/embed/92c4ae35f2ba97aa01b2db560a79d2a2d87eaaaf

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