My first [Backyard] Ultra

I heard of backyard ultras a year ago or so. It was clear to me instantly that that is the kind of  folly I simply cannot resist participating in. But it took until I saw Jesse Itzler’s Instagram-Stories of his backyard ultra on September 1st for me to go and look for one to sign up for. Luckily I found one just within my reach about a 6 1/2 hours drive into Germany. In the little town of Rettert in the vicinity of Frankfurt Alexander Holl or simply ‘der Schinder Alex’–Schinder being the german word for tormentor, how quaint–was hosting the Schinder Trail Backyard Ultra.

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It was only during the week leading up to the race that I started to grasp the extent of my blunder in signing up for this. Never had I run farther than a marathon and in addition I began to think through what it means to start at the race where the finish line is not defined as a location but by your personal mental or physical breaking point. A point that you might reach from time to time in other long races, but that you never intentionally work towards arriving at.

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My gear. As usual in situations when I do a race for the first time I prepared by packing everything.  Photo: Alexander Holl

So I packed everything I thought I might be able to use during the race in my car and drove towards Frankfurt. On the way I picked up my girlfriend at the train station in Wiesbaden, she had graciously agreed to hold my hand through things to come.

The race-start was scheduled for 8pm. We had some pasta and then I was off on the first laps on the 6.7km loop through the adjacent woodlands. I do not remember exactly when the reality of the situation really caught up to me, but on the seventh lap we had only just ran a marathon’s distance, but I started to feel really drained. It must have been the hardest earned marathon I had ever run.

In the breaks I tried avoid cooling down too much by wrapping my legs with an blanket and ate as much as I could. I think being a triathlete gives you a bit of an edge here, because you are used to just eat from the first minute and stick to a nutrition plan religiously no matter if you are hungry, full or almost ready to puke. I certainly never felt anywhere near hitting a wall, nutrition-wise.

While physically everything went quite well, apart from those first few hundred meters at the start of each lap on slightly cold legs, the race started to give me a taste of the mind games to come. After about 8 laps and as many hours the experience of racing without having a finish line had begun to take its toll and sewn panic in my mind. How long will it go on like this? And why do I worry about this so soon in the race? Nine laps done, 5am and all that kept me going was my desire to finally run a lap in the light and to see more than what was illuminated by the cone of my headlamp.

By that time I had already developed a strict routine to keep me going. Three times before the start of each lap a whistle was blown. 3, 2 and 1 minute before the lap started. At the second signal I would get up no matter what. At the third I would leave the building and walk to the start-line. For each ascent along the route I memorized some significant piece of vegetation or other markers at which I would start to walk and begin to run again once passed the ascent. This helped me a lot when each time I had to pick up the pace after walking uphill sent a jolt of pain through my legs. I can really recommend that approach to anyone doing this race.

After lap nine it would take another two hours until we were granted the sight of our surroundings. At the end of lap eleven when we exited the wood to run the last kilometer towards the loop’s finish the landscape had started to reveal itself. It gave me some relief but not as much as I had hoped for and I felt spent. From that point on starting every additional lap felt like embarking on an odyssey. Had I not firmly committed to running until I was unable to finish within an hour I would have been done right there and then.


Start of lap 12.

After lap number twelve, which was the first lap after dark only 13 of originally 107 runners turned up for another lap. The following laps I barely remember running. All I know is that I had engaged auto-pilot and thanks to the unfaltering help of my one person crew, Nina, who diligently fed me each break and tried to ease my suffering with some consoling words I was able to continue without running out of energy.

Lap 15 had us reach 100km. I was barely able to hold on mentally. Lap 17, 17 hours of running. 17 hours is the official cut off time at an Ironman, but at the time I had much rather been in an Ironman than in this stupid race against my own mind. On the other hand though, this was the state I had signed up to experience. How long could I go on on nothing but the past decision that I would?

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Lap 16, maybe. Foto: Eventfotografie24.de

Lap 18, one of the things that bothered me most, was that I wouldn’t get slower. Each lap ended in 48 minutes. How much longer would I have to run until I finally start to slow down? My feet had started to hurt long before lap 18. Running on anything but soft cushy grass felt like running barefoot on broken glass and the first 3k of each lap had lots of that glass. My training and strong focus on running technique during the years before working with my trainer proofed invaluable. My auto-pilot had built in running form and that let me continue to run somewhat smoothly and efficiently. So had all that work paid off now? Or was it at fault for me still being in this stupid race? It was hard to maintain a positive perspective.

By lap 19 I had known for several laps that by the feel of my feet one wrong step could trigger my feet to cramp up. The muscles along my soles where clearly overworked and just 200 meters ahead of the end of the lap the first few steps of running after a walk gave me cramps in my left foot that sent me falling to the ground screaming. I was barely able to walk and limped to the finish. And this is when I broke. Because to start another lap I had to make a deal with my tormented mind. One more lap. And if I finish it, even if I somehow manage to finish it, I will have earned to stop.

My 20th lap was not pretty. I was barely able to walk in the beginning. When I forced the pace a little bit I had to fight tears shooting into my eyes. It took a kilometer of this to loosen up my foot enough for the pain to become manageable. I walked and ran like on egg-shells as I knew that those cramps could be brought back by any just slightly imperfect step. Down the first 3k. Up the big climb and then a few ups and downs. My watch showed numbers that gave me just enough hope to continue pushing. Finally on the paved descent it became clear that even if I had to start walking I would probably make it.

Together with two other runners of the seven remaining I pulled out of the race after completing my last lap in 55 minutes, tying 5th out of 107 together with them. I sat down at the start and saw the remaining four runners off, three of which would finish 24 laps and one even 25. On my way to my comfy chair that I had avoided for the last breaks fearing its fatiguing effect I had already decided: this was not my last backyard ultra. Then I sat down and while my similarly exhausted girlfriend watched over me I closed my eyes, finally, and slept the sleep of the just.

I had lasted 134 kilometers and 20 hours. Three full marathons and then some.

This race was such a mental challenge and there is nothing else that keeps you going other than your willpower. There are no distractions left on a 6.7km loop after the fourth time around and the finish-line is were ever you say it is. It was a fascinating experience and I was able to go beyond some boundaries. Next time around I won’t be happy with 20 laps though!

The race was set up really well and I think I will return next year. I have actually just signed up. *facepalm* The organizers had even decorated the course with miscellaneous scary stuff. This race is also set up as a fundraiser for the reforestation of the heavily damaged woods in the area that have lost many hectares to a storm and the influence of bark-beetles. For each of the first 16 laps one has to donate 3€ which is enough for one sapling. Hence this years motto of the race ‘The forester’s vengeance’ followed by next year’s ‘A fistful of trees’. What am I getting myself into… again!

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DNFs of prior years? Photo: Alexander Holl?

 

Race Website

Registration for Oct. 2nd 2020

Schinder Trail on Facebook

 

3rd Vienna Triathlon 2019 – Olympic Distance

For the last triathlon event this year I started at the 3rd Vienna Triathlon on Vienna’s Danube Island. It was a really nice mid-size event with 235 starters for the Olympic Distance race. They also offered a race over Sprint distances.

_BRP8505After 1500m of swimming in the New Danube, a human-made side channel to the main river that together with the latter creates the Danube Island, the race consisted of about 37km/23mi of cycling and 10k of running on the Danube Island. The bike course was pretty much completely flat and I was excited for that, as I had never raced on a completely flat bike course before. The run had a little bit of up and down, but I would still call it mostly flat.

During the days leading up to this triathlon I was not very motivated or excited to race. The weeks before already had two other races, 5k airport run and 5.4k business run, and I was not very focused on this event. Nevertheless I somehow made it to the start line. 

ef6313b0-9a93-48b3-b191-a5b971d1108eIt must have been because of somewhat low excitement about the race that I did not do proper prep-work and did not study the course sufficiently. The result was that I lined up facing the wrong direction, counter-clockwise versus clockwise and once I realized my mistake it was too late to reposition myself and had to start swimming from all the way back in the pack. It then took at least a lap until my motivation to race started to show up, too late for a good swim, but still in time for everything else.

I felt ok coming out of the water and did not mind running up the sharp incline to the transition area too much. I got out of my suit quick enough and hopped on my bike in 32nd place._MG_6032

On the bike I had a lot of fun speeding around 4 flat laps. I was really happy to hold 234W NP over the entirety of the course and every look on the speedometer made me smile, it barely showed anything below 35kph/21.75mph. I ended up averaging 36.4kph/22.6mph which still makes me smile!

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DSCF1511Back in the transition area I had lost 7 positions nevertheless and was then in 39th overall and 9th in my age-group. Managed to make up 6 places overall and 2 places AG through the transition though.

d743ab5c-94da-4824-8596-cbe5e36bc75aThe run started as uncomfortable as all tri-runs start. I aimed at running under 41 minutes, which demands a sub 4:06min/km [6:35min/mile] pace. 

The pace felt a bit risky to start with, but I tried. After two laps and 5km I was pretty tired. I dreaded the 10 meters of thick soft carpet they had put on a little stretch of grass where every step felt like running through shallow water. The third lap was a good 10 seconds too slow and after passing the transition area I felt terrible. Once I was on the long straight stretch of gravel for the last time though I was able to collect my energies and squeeze one more quick lap out of my legs and was very happy to finish 10 seconds within my goal time at 40:50. Overall 2:09:25.

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I had also consistently caught people on the run and every lap I worked myself up in the ranking. It seems however, that I was too exhausted to realize that I had ended up third in my AG and unknowingly forfeited my first triathlon podium to getting food at @swingkitchen. Not the worst alternative one could think of and I still got to collect my first trophy afterwards!

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Ironman Austria 2019

The Swim

This years Ironman Austria started off with a non-wetsuit swim. Last year, with the wetsuit, I swam just over 1 hour and 6 minutes. So I guessed that I might just make it under 1h10min this year. The rolling start was organized in such a way that there were areas for people to sort into depending on their expected swim-times. I picked the 1:00 to 1:10 area and waited for my turn. Starting at 6:40am they let 4 athletes into the water every 5 seconds. It took until 7:02am for me to reach the start line and off I went.

I felt great during the swim and continuously kept passing people so I thought I am doing fine and don’t have to push it too much more. In retrospect I think it would have been ok to swim a bit faster, but I was not unhappy with my time, especially because I had nothing to compare it to. It was my first non-wetsuit swim in an iron-distance race. And now that I have done some analysis on my swim relative to the field I have found out that I actually performed quite a bit better than last year. This year I finished with 37.2% of my age-group’s finishers ahead of me compared to 48.3% last year. Ranking 11% points higher is a result I did not expect.

The Swim Exit
Running to T1.

Transition 1

Map of the Transition Zone

The distance to cover from the swim-exit to and through the transition zone and to the mount line was approximately 740 meters.  I took 4:20 to get on my bike and did not have any problems in T1 other than the fact that my transition-bag was once again in the area with those really painful to run on cobbles. Better luck next year!

Just after the Bike Start
Leaving Transition 1

The Bike

It did not take me too long to settle in on the bike. I already knew the new part of the bike-course well, because I had come to Klagenfurt two weeks earlier to check it out and had ridden it twice at that occasion. I find it very nice and the landscape is very pretty. The only part I had not known prior, at least not from the perspective of a cyclist, was the S37 highway. It did not turn out as exciting as expected but it was still very cool to be able to cycle  such a huge piece of infrastructure without any cars.

Going over the cobbles in St. Veit.
Going over the cobbles in St. Veit.

I did slightly high power for the first hour. I aimed for 175-180 Watts NP and until about 90 minutes before the second transition I was able to stay in that zone. When I realized that my numbers where dwindling I did not try to push myself much. My main aim for the race was to do a great run and was able to accept the low numbers around 145-150 Watts and just finished my ride. I averaged 173 Watts Normalized Power overall, just a little nudge under my expectations. Time-wise I was quite a bit slower than the year before, but again in terms of my relative position in the field everything was fine. I lost 23 positions in my age-group on the bike, but that’s ok.

On the bike after the first half of the bike course.
Starting the second half of the bike.

The Maurten drink that I used to fuel myself on the bike together with some Clif bars and gels worked quite well. My stomach was able to take it well and even the combination with a bunch of half bananas I took from aid-stations in the later stages of the bike-race was not a problem.

Me on the bike in front of mountains.
The always windy slightly uphill straight just after Faaker See. This is where I started to slow down.

Transition 2

Just before reaching T2, however, the weather had started to change and while it was nice and sunny through most of the bike it started to pour now and gusty winds emerged. I was already drenched when I jumped off the bike at T2. Once I had reached the changing tent the rain got even stronger and we now had a full fledged thunderstorm at our hands; lighting, intense gusts and all. While changing my socks–which would stay dry for about the first two to three steps outside the tent–I heard the wind howling and barriers being blown over.

The Run

When I left the tent I found the world quite differently than on the other side of the tent and I ran the first part of the marathon between blown-over barriers, the atmosphere seemed almost apocalyptic. It felt like running in a shower. I was starting to worry that the race might be canceled. In spite of the meteorological turmoil I felt great, my legs felt fresh and the crowds had gathered anywhere where they found shelter and seemed to enjoy to defy the weather and cheer us on with even more fervor.

I later learned that the organizers even had to temporarily evacuate the finish line stadium for the danger of tents being blown over by the strong winds. They also permanently changed the marathon-course which left it about 900m short of the original distance. This also meant that we did not get to run through the finish line stadium every lap.

On the run course after the first loop through Krumpendorf.
Coming back from Krumpendorf for the first time.

It turned out that the rain and thunderstorm would only last for half an hour and when I came back from Krumpendorf after the first 11 kilometers the clouds started to break up and here and there the sun came through.

The one thing that was a problem for me about the changed run-course was that the special aid station was in the area that was no longer part of the course. It had been moved to a place that we did come by, but in the confusion I missed it and had to change my strategy. I had bad memories from the year before when I forgot to eat and hit the wall after the first half of the marathon. That motivated me to stuff myself with almost anything I could get my hands on. Mostly watermelon, bananas, pretzels, coke and red bull plus 4 gels I had grabbed from my transition bag in T2. It turned out that that was good enough and my stomach was able to take this adventurous mix.

I felt great for about 26 kilometers, but then I started catching myself thinking about finishing and that’s never a good sign. I saw my pace reducing slightly, but enough to push my average above 4:59 which is the pace necessary for a 3:30 marathon–my target for the run-portion. I had to work hard to think only about the next step rather than the finish.

The second loop to Krumpendorf was still ok but once on my way to Klagenfurt’s center again I was starting to get nervous about wether or not I would have to slow down significantly. The up and down just before the city center when you go through the underpass underneath the road hurt a lot and the way to the turn-around was the slowest I ever got in the race I think.

Ringing the donation bell during my second pass through the city.
Ringing the donation bell during my second pass through the city.

When I reached the 36km sign, I looked at my watch and saw that I still had more than 30 minutes to finish under 3:30 and it was like a switch was flicked in me. I was able to just let go and while I started to feel a bit sick and slightly dizzy from all the red bull and the mix of things I had eaten I just ran hard, hoping that I wouldn’t have to throw up and if still, that I would be able to get done with it quickly.

On the red carpet.
Reaching the red carpet.

But this time everything worked out without a problem and just a little later I came across the 41km sign and was still going strong. Several hundred meters I reached the red carpet, one more turn and I was on the finishing straight.

Finish Line
The finish line.

The Conclusions

I was very happy and I felt so much better physically than the year before. The race felt very stable and I never had much trouble to keep running. It also gives me a lot of confidence that I was able to execute the race much closer to what I had intended. My main goal was to have a good and strong run and the fact that I was able to still start pushing hard on the last kilometers was very satisfying.

Now I am excited about improving my bike-legs. I think the bike is the part that I am still quite bad at, so there is a lot of room to improve. It would be nice to be able to hold the good rank I usually am able to finish the swim at throughout the bike portion.

Also I am very grateful for the experience of this race and all the people who helped organize it. Throughout the rain the volunteers at the aid station stayed put, threw over a plastic poncho and kept providing us with everything we needed. But also the general organization of the race did not leave me wishing for anything. And yes of course, it is not exactly free to participate in an Ironman event, but a lot of people still give their time and energy without any compensation to make these events happen. I had a lot of fun and all of you kept me smiling throughout most of the race!

The cold facts

Ironman Austria 2019

Swim: 01:12:07 (+06:02) Rank after Swim: 96 (M30) 463 (Overall Men) 512 (Overall)
T1: 00:04:20 (-00:21) 
Bike: 05:45:51 (+08:34) Rank after Bike: 119 (M30) 649 (Overall Men) 688 (Overall)
T2: 00:03:47 (+00:34)
Run: 03:27:43 (-31:01) Rank after Run: 79 (M30) 366 (Overall Men) 389 (Overall)
Total: 10:33:48 (-16:13) 79/258[314];30.62%[25.16%] (M30) 366/2155;16.98% (Overall Men) 389/2488[3424];15.63%[11.36%] (Overall)

Numbers in [] are registered athletes versus finishers before the brackets. Percent values indicate percentage of the field ahead of me.

Ironman Austria 2018

Swim: 01:06:05 Rank after Swim: 111 (M30) 627 (Overall Men) 693 (Overall)
T1: 00:04:41
Bike: 05:37:17 Rank after Bike: 124 (M30) 712 (Overall Men) 747 (Overall)
T2: 00:03:13
Run: 3:58:44 Rank after Run: 105 (M30) 521 (Overall Men) 557 (Overall)
Total: 10:50:01 105/230[261];45.65%[40.23%] (M30) 521/1977;26.35% (Overall Men) 557/2315[2761];24.06%[20.17%] (Overall)

 

Preparing for the first race of the year

In less than a month I will have my first race of the season. I am so excited! It is not what I had hoped for, the Ironman Austria 2017, but after the last 8 months and the injuries and accidents I went through I am so glad to be able to do anything at all. So on September 17 I will start at the Ironman 70.3 in Pula, Croatia. Not a full distance Ironman, but still the longest triathlon I have done so far. And my third triathlon after two short distance races last year. It will also be my first race with my TT bike. Last year I still used my fixie.

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In these weeks leading up to the race I have a lot of fast sessions on my training plan including some brick trainings. I always find it so satisfying to have do fast sessions after months of slow endurance training. They make you realize how much your body has changed and how you can “suddenly” do things you would not have expected. Last week I had a 2×60′ race pace session on the bike and I averaged way north of 35kph. That would have been unthinkable just 6 months ago for even 30′. So I guess this is the new reality, again. It is really the most rewarding part of endurance training that it completely changes your relation to your physical environment.

Also my running seems ok after the long break. I pretty much did no serious running for just over half a year. If you had told me that half a year ago I would probably have jumped off a cliff. But this way I had time to get on top of my swimming which is pretty decent as well now. I run slightly asymmetrically right now though. My right calf is visibly thinner than my left one and I feel how I don’t push off as firmly with the right foot. My Garmin watch has this feature letting you know about the balance of your ground contact time and my right foot touches the ground about 10% longer each stride according to it.

I think if all goes well and I don’t have any mechanicals or other issues I might be able to break 5h in Pula. That would be the best case scenario. But I’ll take any finish as a success this year!

 

 

6 months, 2 accidents, 1 persisting injury, 1 startled dog, 3 DNSs and counting

 

This season I had to learn humility. It all started with an injury that I had first felt at a race in October of last year. I had persistently ignored the pain in my foot during harder efforts but in January I finally did go to see a doctor. After X-rays, ultrasounds and an MRI the diagnosis was ‘stress-fracture’. Actually it was ‘fracture de fatigue’ because it was made when I was still in France.

The doctor prescribed 6-8 weeks without running. I might even be able to run the Vienna City Marathon if I am very cautious for those 6-8 weeks. I did not see any of my ironman plans in danger, a 70.3 in May and a full ironman in July. I focused on my cycling and swimming and got myself some cissus extract capsules. Cissus I had heard is a great plant for bone health.

Five weeks later I am out on a ride in the hills when it starts to rain. The roads are wet but I make it down the steep descent. Just when I feel the worst is over I slip on a wet stone surface and land on the back of my head. My helmet gets cracked but I recover within half an hour and can finish my ride. For a second there I had felt that my plans for the season were foiled.

Four days after the fall my new helmet arrives. The latest POC Octal with all the safety features one can imagine. I want to make sure that my head is safe and my triathlon goals won’t be impeded by another slip. Good thinking because the first real world test of my helmet happened after 5km. A car came out of a driveway. The driver just did not see me coming. I was going about 35km/h and was barely able to break before my shoulder hit the driver’s side window of the car. An ambulance ride and another set of x-rays later at least I knew that nothing was broken. The serious contusion of my shoulder and rib cage made it impossible for me to swim, bike or run—or get dressed without help. That meant a total training stop for several weeks and it would take more than a month until I could swim again. Somehow my bike had survived with damages taken by outer chainring and handlebar.

Was my season done at that point? Yes pretty much, but I was in deep denial. I still thought I might at least make it to the start line. So I started to run as soon as the pain from the accident allowed me to get out of bed again. Every step made me pull faces and sometimes groan with pain but at least I was back on the track.

But soon I felt that something was still wrong with my foot. And another MRI delivered the final blow to my season before it had even started. It found that there were still significant bone marrow edemas in several of the metatarsal bones in my right foot. The doctor suggested another 6 to 8 weeks without running.

This was really devastating for me. I had to come to terms with the fact that all the work that I had done throughout the winter would not come to fruition any time soon and that I would not even make it to the start line of the race that I had been looking forward to for a year. For quite a while I was frustrated, sad and even angry. To my surprise none of that made the situation go away. So I started training for the next year.

I waited patiently for another 8 weeks. Again focusing on cycling and swimming, but also physiotherapy for my injuries from the accident as well as my foot. After 7 weeks I started to carefully run again.

And everything might have been ok then if faith did not have more to dish out still. On my third run my dog decided to bite my left leg. He is not to blame though. He got startled when I pulled him off of his favorite compost and must have been in a lot of pain from his bad hip so he suddenly snapped in all directions and caught my leg between his teeth. The result were stitches in three places and another two weeks without any training.

This time it did not even bother me any more. I have had become used to much worse. Two weeks later I started running for the third time this year and it felt ok(-ish) for the first couple runs. Then my right foot—the formerly broken one—started to send mild signals of distress once again. Not wanting to risk anything I got right back into an MRI-machine. Expecting the worst I was pleasantly surprised this time for a change. It turned out that this time it was false alarm. There were still minor residues of the edemas the radiologist told me, but nothing that would stand in the way of slowly starting to run again.

injuryCalendarBWSo with the first piece of positive news I am now happily starting the build up for my replacement goal this year, the Ironman 70.3 in Croatia in September. A little less than two months to go and if everything goes well I should be able to still actually make it to a start line this year. And I am really excited about that!

 

Cycling is dangerous—duh!

Two accidents in one week and another break from training.

Last week I was really excited about getting in a lot of kilometers on my TT bike but it was not meant to work out quite that way.

On Monday it was overcast when I started my ride. There was a chance of rain for the upcoming hours in the forecast but nothing mayor so I took the winding road up to Saint Antonin. I had only a short session scheduled so I planned to go up to Maison Saint Victoire and then turn around to go back home along the same route.

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When I reached the turning point it had already started to rain lightly and just after starting my return the drizzle had become a respectable shower. It turned out to be only short-lived but more than enough to make the roads wet and the descent treacherous. I am running Continental Grand Prix tires on my TT bike which have decorative profile at best. In addition to that I am not the most experienced road cyclist and hence was quite tense about getting back down safely.

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The beautiful winding road between Le Tholonet and Saint Antonin sur Bayone

The more I was relieved to reach Le Tholonet after a cautious and slow descent down the hairpins of the beautiful route. With a smile I got out the saddle to power towards the town exit and up the next tiny ascent towards Aix en Provence—suddenly I pedaled into air. My bike was gone and I landed on my back followed by the terrible sound of my head whiplashing back onto the pavement.

I had missed to pay attention to the big white rectangles of a crosswalk underneath me that had become as slippery as ice because of the rain. So slippery in fact that with a standing pedal stroke I simply pushed my bike sideways out from underneath me.

2017-02-27 15.57.38Like a bug on its back I was lying in the middle of the road. Temporarily paralyzed by pain in my back from the impact I stuck my hand up moaning just in case there were cars behind me. There were not. Somebody from a nearby office had heard my accident or my groans thereafter and had coming running out on the street to my aid. By that time I was able to get up again and slightly perplexed agreed to come inside to sit down for a bit.

I think for several minutes I just ran my hand up and down the back of my head after taking off my cracked helmet. Staring blankly at a wall the decision was made, I will never get on a bike without a helmet again. Forty minutes and a couple of phone calls later I was able to get back on my bike and cycle home. Two days and a long headache later I was back on my bike.

However, the week had more adversity in store for me. On Friday, 2 rides later, I once again found myself on my bike cycling out of the city towards the west. I was going along a road through a little town just outside city limits doing about 30kph. With my arms on the aerobars I was looking forward to the start of the descent just ahead when suddenly a car came up on a driveway on the right just ahead of me, but it stopped abruptly, wheels right on the curb seemingly waiting for me to pass. My hand went back from the break onto the aerobar. Then, half a second later, the car pulled into the road. I still managed to reach my rear break again. The back wheel skidded for a meter or two then my shoulder hit the window on the driver’s side of the car. My hip struck the door. I somehow stayed on my bike rolling until I dropped on the ground behind the car. All the while screaming something like “You must be joking, not again!”.

And again I was lying on the ground, in pain, unable to move. This time the pain did not just go away like 4 days earlier. After some time two men who had witnessed what had happened where able to help me up and lead me to a curb to sit down on. My back and my shoulder were still in terrible pain and I was barely able to keep myself up. After I had seen the crater-like indentation on the side of the car I hit I was sure that this time I had not been so lucky and that there had to be something more seriously wrong with me.

Ten minutes later I was in an ambulance headed for the hospital. After my thoughts had slowly cleared up again I was able to walk from the vehicle into the emergency room without much help. After some time waiting for being taken care of and some x-rays, it was determined to my great relief that I had not broken any bones. However, I had suffered rather bad contusions. With three weeks worth of painkillers I was released from the hospital’s care. Feeling increasingly lucky and relieved that nothing worse had happened I stumbled home escorted by my girlfriend who had showed up to my rescue.

Also: My bike has almost no damage after these two excursions to the ground. The helmet I had ordered after destroying one during Monday’s incident and that I had worn for the first time when I struck the car: spotless. How lucky am I!?

2017-03-05 12.48.14.jpg
Left brake lever has lost its cap and the handle bar got twisted a bit. Almost everything else could be fixed with a cloth and a bucket of soap water.
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Bike still fine!

How much will this affect my Ironman in July? Who knows, but in two weeks I’ll be able to start running again after my stress fracture has healed up and by then my shoulder will have healed enough for me to train without too much pain. And that will leave me with another—knock on wood—3 1/2 months of unrestricted training. Certainly not enough to get myself to finish under 10 hours, but that would have been a far stretch in any case. There will be another year and this time I am just looking forward to experiencing and possibly enjoying my first participation!

Progression of Pace in Training Zone 1

It has been almost two months since my last lactate test, so here is the first analysis of my progress since then. My training plan has put me on a strict regiment of runs in zone 1. I suspect that has to do with my resting lactate level which is still much too high–I got that from the concern in the voice of the lady who ran my tests and went through the results with me (“Oh, but here we are still way too high!”). It was quite challenging during the first runs after the test to stay within zone 1, but by now I have gotten my pace up quite a bit considering that in the beginning when it was too hot in the sun I sometimes had to walk to keep my heart rate in zone 1.

 

I have made a plot of all the runs, which you can see below. While a bit chaotic for the first two weeks by now the trend to faster paces is very clear and surprisingly significant. While my first long run was much slower than 8 minutes per kilometer [12 min/mi] my most recent one was almost two minutes faster and clocked at just over 6:30 [10:30 min/mi]. At the same time my average heart rate for that first long run was 5 beats higher at 125. I have also found an improvement of 1 minute per kilometer [1:37 min/mi] when I compared the first short run under 10km with the most recent one which I was able to run at less than 6:15 [10 min/mi].

REGProgression
A plot of all my runs on the flat in zone 1. On the vertical axis is pace in minutes per kilometer and the horizontal axis represents the time since my test. Additionally the size of the squares indicates the length of the runs. 

 

The last months have taught me about how much of an impact temperatures have on my pulse. The two top outliers (Jul 10, Aug 8) have both been runs in hot weather. Generally it might be quite obvious that hot weather has that effect however, it always only had that effect after the first 15-20 km. In those outlier runs I have somehow hit a weather wall. If you look at the diagram below you will find my pace to have been very stable until kilometer 20. At that point there’s a drop followed by a rather steady decline until kilometer 27 or so when I started a short effort for the last bit of the run. Additionally it seems that the drop in pace had been preceded by a decline in cadence.

jul10PaceCadence2
Pace and cadence plot of my run on July 10.

I am looking forward to collecting some more data and see how this progression will go on and how my next lactate test will go in about a month.

 

Swimming in the Rain

Last Friday I swam in the rain for the first time. Two thirds into my swim i climbed onto the floating platform made from blue containers in the middle of the lake. Standing on top of it I had a series of flashbacks to the chain of events leading to me being on a platform in the middle of a lake, in the rain, in a wetsuit, because I swam there. A very unlikely combination of circumstances for me.

Point 1: I am really scared of open water. Until very recently I would have never even considered swimming in lakes. Especially not alone and certainly not with no other people around the lake. Because who knows what the fish are up to down there! And as prestigious as it might be I don’t want to make the discovery of

Point 2: I have not been a swimmer until very recently. I mean I was able to swim and every now and then I  would have been swimming, but never for the sake of swimming itself. Because…

Point 3: I had absolutely no reason to swim. Other than maybe cooling down on a hot day, but certainly not…

Point 4: on a rainy day.

The chain of events

January 2014: I become a vegan for one month. Once I see the unexpected benefits I stay vegan and am surprised by how easy the transition turned out to be in the end. I wonder what other scary changes I could introduce into my life so easily.

August 2014: After riding the longest distance I have ever ridden on a bike in one day I coincidentally have a chat with a relative who tells me about his preparations for the following year’s Ironman Austria. I am flabbergasted but have to realize that I have just done a much longer ride than the 180km ride part of an ironman triathlon. A seed is planted that Ironmans might actually not be impossible after all.

October 2014: A dare with a friend leads me to sign up for the Vienna City Marathon 2015 and I start running.

April 2015: I finish my first marathon and there is no way that I leave running and sports at that. I continue running and sign up for my next marathon.

October 2015: Training injury prevents me from running my second Marathon. During physiotherapy my therapist mentions how he started doing triathlons as a result of not being able to run much during an injury. My thoughts shift to triathlon once more.

November 2015: I actually sign up for swim classes to learn proper crawl technique.

July 2016: I get an email notifying me of free spots for Ironman Austria 2017. It’s sign up now or wait another year after the race has sold out. I sign up.

Later in July 2016: My first olympic distance triathlon comes with my first swim in a lake since i have taken classes. I discover that swimming in a lake is a completely different affair than training in pools. I become completely disoriented without underwater guidelines to navigate and have to put a lot of effort into finishing the swim. The bike and run parts are painful, but a lot of fun. I’m sold on triathlons!

Still later in July 2016: After my races swim in combination with my registration for Ironman has instilled a great sense of urgency in me I start doing my swim workouts in a lake. I get regular panic attacks staring into the green oblivion that is beneath me. I have probably watched too many movies about what could lurk down there. By thinking about how I once felt the same way about heights in the mountains and now enjoy nothing more about mountaineering than starring into the abyss, I try to convince myself that it will just go away if I persist.

Two hours prior:  Training plan says swim. Weather says make some cocoa and hide under the sheets. However, I have bought this second hand wetsuit a week ago and part of me is excited about this opportunity to try it out. Only after staring out the window for what must have been half an hour do I ready myself and get on the bike and into the rain.

30 minutes: Changing into my wetsuit in the rain after a bike ride through the rain. I’m cold and wet. Not the mood for taking a dip in the lake.

20 minutes: My toes touch the water. It feels like entering a bathtub. It is still warm from the period of nice weather that preceded and now it is warmer than the air. I get into the water and the atmosphere is magic. The calm water and the gentle sound of  raindrops let me forget that I didn’t want to get out the house 30 minutes earlier.

Back on the platform I have to smile thinking about this two year critical path that led me to this moment. I step to the edge of the raft and dive back into the warm water.

New Lactate Test

My physiotherapist who is also my coach has introduced me to lactate testing. In a lactate test your physical endurance is tested, while the lactate content of your blood is monitored. The results of these test allow very good estimates on how you will perform in a race and which intensity you should train at to achieve the most improvement.

There are several ways in which lactate tests are executed. Mine went as follows. I ran on a treadmill starting out walking. Then the speed was increased by 1.5kph at intervals of 5 minutes until I reached my limit and had to stop. Between intervals small samples of blood were taken from my ear lobe and tested for their lactate content.

laktatTestComparison

My last test took place on July 5th. The one prior to that on January 15th. The above diagram compares the results of both. The blue plots are of the older test, the green lines represent the result of the test I took this month. My heart rate dropped by more than ten beats at respective speeds. The lactate concentration especially at faster paces significantly decreased as well. However, for some reason the lactate concentration in Zone 1 and 2 did not decrease very much. Especially the initial concentration is less than optimal so far as I was told . It should be lower than 1 mmol/liter, but it is still over 1.5.

While the overall development according to the progression of my results is really great the shortcomings of my training concerning the initial lactate value is quite clear. I think it might have to do with the long period between tests. As I have been training according to training zones determined by my test from January, in reality I might have been working one zone higher have way between tests. Researching online I found out that it is advisable for beginners to get their lactate values checked more frequently, every 3 months, because of the faster improvements when one starts training.

So I will be running dead-slow to stay in my zone for three months and then get new test results so I can run even slower!

Countless Snail-Lives Saved, Long Run done, a Week of Training done

Today was long-run day and that meant a 27k run for me. As I have just done a blood lactate test my training zones have been moved down between 10 and 15 beats so that I need to run in dead-slow mode to stay in my first zone. So longer runs take forever these days. It was also raining during part of the run so the bike-path along the Danube was full of snails that needed to be rescued from risking there lives amidst cyclists. All in all the run ended up taking almost 3 1/2 hours.

https://www.strava.com/activities/643778784

My training week consisted of a 30’ open water swim, 30’ on the stationary bike and just over 70km of running, a total of just under 9 hours of training.