70.3 Kraichgau Race report
Where do I start? I guess I have to start by somehow explaining where this place is. So many people thought I was racing in Kraków in Poland, which is a completely different place, but it’s known by a lot more people, not because of triathlons but because of the WWII concentration camps. Kraichgau is a region, not a place. It’s located about 20KM northwest of Karlsruhe in Germany.
This post will not only recount my race experience but I will also write about the differences between racing in America (North, Central and Puerto Rico) and racing in Europe. I didn’t really thought about this until, my friend Kenny, told me: “Enjoy the experience, not many people get to race in Germany”. When he told me this, I didn’t think much of it, but once I experienced racing there, I finally understood what he meant. Although it’s an Ironman branded race, things are very different.
So why race in Germany? I was supposed to race 70.3 Boulder a week later. I even thought I had signed up for it at the same time I signed up for the Boulder Ironman, but once the race sold out I wanted to double check my entry. I looked for it and it was nowhere to be found, so at that point, I had to find a different race where I could get some 70.3 racing experience before Boulder Ironman. I was told by one of my work colleagues that a group of them would be racing at Kraichgau. I looked it up and from a scheduling perspective it was perfect. For those of you that don’t know, the company I work for, Brainlab, is based in Munich, Germany. So for my colleagues it was a short 3 hour drive from Munich, which made sense. Below the full Brainlab roster:
Michael Stead, Bastian Hennig, Sergio Goncalves and Sharan Konerira (left to right)
Sharan Konerira, Thomas Back and Sergio Goncalves (Left to Right)
Nils Ehrke and Sergio in this picture. As you can see we are all wearing the same kits, they were sponsored by Brainlab. It was so nice to race with people I knew as well as to see them on the course.
Every triathlon I’ve travelled for, I’ve been able to stay at an American brand hotel (Marriott, Hilton or Starwood Properties) I always use my points when I travel privately, so I look for those brands. Racing in Europe is a little different, especially if you aren’t racing in a big city. I started looking for hotels about 1 month before the race. Which I now realize, that was too late. I am used to waiting until the last minute to book hotels as I’m usually always able to find something. If you are travelling to Europe…don’t wait. The hotels I did find seemed to be so far from the race start or they were very expensive, so I started looking for an Airbnb. I am so glad I did, I found the cutest room that had absolutely everything and was relatively close to the swim start (15 minutes away). It was the roof apartment, here you can see the bed and a little of the desk, but it also had a private bathroom, little kitchen a big storage area and AC, yes an air conditioner unit, which I used for a short period of time at night, to stay cool.
Only downside was the in the little town where there was really nothing other than houses, no restaurants, supermarkets, only 1 ATM, but it didn’t matter. I felt at home and went grocery shopping, so I could have everything I really needed.
I arrived to Kaichgau pretty late on Friday, after I left work from Munich. The 3 hour drive took me 4+ hours, as traffic was very bad. When I woke up Saturday morning I wanted to go for a bike ride, but it was pouring rain outside, so I decided to wait it out and stay in the apartment and try to fix an issue I was having with my breaks. Registration opened at 10am and since I couldn’t figure out what was going on with my breaks, I made it to registration right as it opened. After “fixing” my bike I made my way to the registration tent. Some very nice differences between registering in Europe vs the US. First they checked my ID and USAT license and didn’t have to pay for a German or European triathlon license, nice touch. Second, after they gave me the little piece of paper with my number on it, they directed me to the designated AWA table (All World Athlete), this early in the morning, it didn’t make much of a difference but I can imagine it being a nice time saver if there are a lot of people trying the register at the same time. I only had to sign 1 piece of paper and then they gave me my packet with a backpack, which had everything in it. They told me that I would get the timing chip at bike check in, which made things even quicker. The whole registration process took 3 minutes, I had never registered so quickly before, it was pretty amazing. I was so surprised, I didn’t know what to do with the extra time, so I decided to go for a swim. T1 and T2 were about 6KM apart, T2 is where registration was and T1 where bike check in was. So I made my way to the lake.
Bike Check in
After a nice , calm swim, I drove the whole bike course. This is when I realized it was going to be a hard bike course, more on that later. I grabbed some lunch and headed back to the house as bike check in didn’t start until 4pm, so I had some time. It had been raining all day, so once I got home I took a nap, when I woke up at around 3:30pm the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. I wanted to ride my bike to make sure that the brakes were working, so I went out for a 45 minutes ride, getting some good efforts in to get the blood flowing.
Got back to the house, took a shower and headed to bike check in. When I got there the line was very long, luckily they also had a “Pro and AWA” line and there was nobody there. Made it to the person checking the bikes in and I was asked to take out my helmet, I showed it to him and he told me to put it on and strap it on. He also asked for my bib number. He made me fill out all my contact information, as well as my emergency contact and any medical issues in the back of the number. This makes so much more sense as if anything happens during the bike or run you have the number with you. And yes, you must wear your bib number on the bike, not only the run, like in the US. After I had filled out my info in the back of my number and strapped my helmet on, they finally let me through. I asked why I had to wear my helmet and the response was: “For your protection!” What? I’m not going to ride my bike in the transition are with 1000 other athletes with bikes everywhere. Then they checked that every single sticker they had given us was placed in the correct place. This is the German way, I guess. Looked for my bike’s assigned spot, dropped of both my bike and run bags, which I had to prepare in advance of course. I also found out that I wouldn’t have access to the run bag to the next day as they were going to take them to T2 later that evening. This was very important to know, as I have nutrition in my run bag, always. So I was lucky that I had prepared everything in advance thinking that this was going to be the case. After all of that, I headed out, but at the exit they scanned my bracelet and gave me my chip. All in all a pretty easy process, other than the helmet and bib number situation. Later that night I had dinner with some of my colleagues and went to bed.
Weirdest thing for me was not having to set an alarm to wake up before the race. Why? Because the race wouldn’t start until 9am and transition didn’t open until 7am. I’m a morning person, I did set an alarm just in case, but I woke up on my own before it went off. Usually the night before I also put my Tritats (Race number tattoos) on, but because I had so much time in the morning it did it then. Grabbed breakfast and headed to the lake (T1). Parking was so easy, they have a huge field where people could park, I was also surprised to see the amount of athletes that had camped out also. Even though I didn’t make it to T1 until 8:15am I was able to park within 200 meters of the swim start. I went to check on my bike and my bike bag to make sure everything was ready. Once I got there I noticed that I was the only one with numbers on my arms and calf. Apparently the Germans think sharpie marked numbers are so ugly that they don’t even use them at all. I was the only one with numbers, some people did notice them and they commented how “cool” and “pro” it looked. So it didn’t bother me. Now it made sense why they make you were your bib number on the bike, although it would be facing backwards so it would still hard to make out the number unless you are coming from behind. I have to admit it’s very annoying having the number on the bike as it flaps and makes noise when you are going fast.
After I had checked everything I met up with my co-workers and took some picture with them. Saw the Pros start and everyone went their own way.
The swim start was in the water, we lined up in between two buoys. The swim course was a little weird, it hard 4 turns, instead of the regular 3 turns from a rectangular swim. We had to keep all the turning buoys on our right except the last one, that one we kept to our left.
The pros started at 9am, but my wave didn’t start until 9:40am, which meant I was going to have a lot of people in front of me, but it was something I was mentally prepared to have to deal with. As usual, I lined up at the very front, I was terrified I was going to get trampled like I did in Austria for the 70.3 World Championships, the previous year, so I was ready to sprint out of the start. When the gun went off, I sprinted for about 150 meters, I didn’t feel anyone hit me or even get bumped so I looked around and realized I was all by myself, so I slowed down. I was pretty happy it had been such a “civilized” start, or maybe I just really went very fast because of fear. Before we got to the first buoy, I noticed another guy had caught up to me and before I knew it, we were swimming the same speed, stroke for stroke. Before we made our first turn I breathed to the other side, my left, and I saw someone very far off on the left side a little in front of us, I hadn’t noticed him before and couldn’t make out the color of his cap, so I just keep swimming next to my newly acquired friend and didn’t pay much attention to him. Right before the second buoy we caught up to the wave that had left 10 minutes ahead of us, they were very spread out so it was easy to swim around them. I stayed with the swimmer until before the 3rd turn buoy. It was so weird, I felt so good. I decided to push it a little, as soon as I sped up I was a body length ahead of him. At that point I thought: “I think this is the best 70.3 swim of my life”, kept passing a ton of people with ease and I was feeling great. As I exited the water and pressed my lap button and looked at my time, I knew why I had felt so great. My swim had been so slow! “If you take it easy, it will feel easy” I thought as I made my way through transition. I was first or second out of the water as I hadn’t seen anyone else with an orange cap go by me. Having said that I had no idea, the last 500 meters I passed so many people that I could have missed someone swim by me. As I was still cursing myself for having swam so slowly, I made it where my bike bag as, grabbed it and ran into the changing tent. Looked around and everyone was piled on top of each other at the entrance of the tent. I ran past everyone and made it to the closest spot I could find to the exit, to my surprise, it was empty. One thing that stood out to me was that there were no volunteers in the tent. I’m used to the volunteers being around and helping out, if nothing else just to talk to you.
Another thing that’s different in Europe is that you are allowed to have your: helmet, shoes and number on your bike, but nothing else. Everything else must be on the T1 bag. I find this rule idiotic and this is why: After putting my wetsuit in the bag, putting my shoes cycling shoes on and running to find my bike with my helmet in my hands I was stopped by a volunteer. They forced me to put on and strap my helmet on before getting to my bike. Why? What about the people that placed their helmets on their bikes? They don’t have to have them on yet. My number also had to be around my waist already, again, the people that left their stuff on their bikes don’t have to have them on. It’s just very inconsistent, I understand having your helmet on and strapped with your number on, once you have gotten your bike, but not before. That bothered me for a second but brushed it off, got to my bike and ran out.
I knew the first 10KM of the bike were pretty flat. So I wanted to make sure that I stayed as aero as possible and wanted to keep my watts in control as I knew the course was very hilly. From the beginning I was passing people like they were standing still, it is such an amazing feeling that I don’t get to experience very often, as I’m usually the one being passed. It’s dangerous though, you can get on a high and without noticing it you are going harder than you are supposed to. At around mile 3, I saw Stefan, the CEO of our company, who was there taking pictures. He called out my name and snapped a couple of shot of me as I went by. I was so glad to see a familiar face on the course, it put a big smile on my face. As I approached the first hill, I kept wishing that the course had been flat. I was averaging 25mph, keeping my watts under control and was feeling great, probably because I had gone a little easy on the swim. As the first hill came I hadn’t gotten passed by anyone, as soon as we started climbing, people that I had passed with ease on the flats were passing me without any problem. I kept telling myself to keep my cool and my watts controlled. It wasn’t until mile 15 when the first guy in my age group passed me, again on a hill. These guys were just flying up these hills, I mean flying, like they were trying to get a Strava KOM (king of the mountain) segment or something similar. I couldn’t understand it. One went by, then shortly after the second one, then a group of 3. There was nothing I could do, I was already going a little too hard and I knew the hills would keep coming, so I had to save my legs and race my race. In the flats or downhills I didn’t get passed once though, I was trying to make up some time, but I guess I had lost so much on the hills I never really saw the guys that had passed me.
The aid stations are very different in Europe also. They hand you real bottles with water or ISO as they call it (Powerbar drink). I don’t have a regular size water bottle holder, I have 1 in-between my arms and an aero one on the frame, so I couldn’t take advantage of them handing us the real water bottles. It was OK though, it’s what I’m used to doing at races in the US anyway, but knowing that they hand real bottles, means that they fit perfectly in regular size holders and you wouldn’t lose them if it gets bumpy, unlike the little plastic disposable water bottles they give you at US races. Back to racing, not sure if this was a coincidence but every time I would past a French guy before a hill (other age groups) they would pass me on the hill, as soon as we were over the hill they would be going so slow I’d pass them again. I played this game with at least 3 French guys but all of them eventually faded. On one of the hills I even got passed by two 40-45 women but then the same thing happened, they were riding the hills just as fast as the flats. They just love to pound those hills, I guess, or they weigh 50lbs less than I do, which is also a possibility. The last person from my age group that I saw pass me, did so with about 10 miles left, the last 10 miles were pretty flat. The picture below, shows me struggling on a hill, I probably got passed by both of the guys behind be right after the picture.
I was so glad that the weather had held up during the whole bike because the turns were very sharp and dangerous, most of them were 90 degrees but some of them had a sharper angle. At least 8-9 turns as I came downhill over 35mph then, I would have a 90 degree turn, which made me almost stop and then straight into a 10 degree uphill. All the momentum you had you’d lose before going up. This was very frustrating and with all the people around very dangerous. I’m so used to using my momentum to propel me through most of the hills, but this isn’t really possible with on this course, not with all the people around you. Every time I got off my saddle going up hill and say my power meter go into the 300s I could envision my coach saying: “NEVER go over your threshold power and if you do stay there the least amount possible”, but these hills made me stay in that upper threshold a lot longer than I wanted to. So Eric, my coach kept coming back in my head repeatedly, At least I felt like I had some company, someone yelling at me, but still in good company. During the last 10 miles I had already heard some thunder, when I finally saw the sign for “Dismount 200 meters” I was so relieved that I hadn’t had to deal with the rain.
Got off the bike, ran for about 20 meters and started to wonder where I was going to have to “drop off” my bike, luckily they had bike catchers, “nice touch” I thought, gave them my bike and ran to look for my run (T2) bag. Which I had no idea where it was either, because if you remember, I had left it in T1 the night before, but once they saw my number a volunteer quickly pointed to the correct row where I was supposed to go, I still had to find my bag next to a ton of other bags, but it wasn’t too terrible. Went into the tent, again, no volunteer in sight. Changed out of my bike shoes and helmet, put my visor, running shoes and sunglasses on and started running out. I saw the bathrooms right outside the tent and I thought: “should I stop? Nah, I’ll hold it or sweat it out in the run” I actually really needed to go, but didn’t want to waste time. The 21KM (13.1 mile) run was 3 laps. What was really nice about the run course, was that 80% of the lap was packed with spectators, however unlike races in the US, people don’t really cheer for random people like me, so even though I couldn’t find an empty spot of people along the sidelines, nobody was really cheering unless I was next to someone they knew.
I was feeling pretty good, even though I had pushed the bike harder than I was supposed to. About 10 Watts over plan, which doesn’t seem like much, but it could have a catastrophic impact on the run. The run started with a little downhill, which felt great. Right off the bat, I got passed by 3-4 people, not my age group, but I was ready for that mentally, this always happens to me. What was surprising, was that before the first mile was over I had caught up to them and was keeping up with them, eventually I ended up passing all of them. My HR was under control and I was feeling great, my watch beeped, looked down and it said 6:39. “Oh no” I thought “too fast”. I was still feeling pretty good, so I kept it up, second mile beep 6:45, third 6:43 and I was still feeling good. At this point I was getting close to finishing my first lap. I saw Nils, one of my co-workers, he yelled my name. Such a good feeling, to hear your name, it gave me a little bit of a boost.
The run was pretty good, packed the whole time with athletes and spectators. The aid stations were awesome. They are so consistent, first they had the cold wet sponges, this felt AMAZING, then water, then Powerboat ISO drink, then I have no idea as I never grabbed anything else, at the end water and sponges again. Each station was amazing, I never missed water or the sponges. It was so refreshing and kept me cool though out the run. I saw Nils again on my second lap, then 2 other co-workers, Sharan and Thomas. Mile 7 beep 6:41, I was still feeling great. On my last lap I saw Stefan again with the camera, I saw him before he saw me and I even called out his name. I never really do this as I’m not in a good place usually by this time. Also, on my last lap I passed 1 guy in my age group, he wasn’t looking too good when I passed him. With 3 miles to go, I made my only big mistake of the race. I was still feeling great, so I pushed a little too hard as I saw another guy from my age group at one of the turn arounds, and he looked like he was hurting. “He’s right there, maybe I can catch him” I thought. At mile 10, that effort caught up to me and I started to fade, I struggled to keep the same pace. On the final stretch I saw another co-worker, Bastian, he called out my name. I must have been so out of it, when I realized it, he had already gone by but I vaguely remember waving back, or at least that’s what my brain remembers I did. With 1 KM to go I could see the guy I was trying to catch, right in front of me, about 15 meters away. I tried to push harder but he did the same thing, almost as if he knew I was right there. Right before the turn off to the finishing chute, someone passed me. Not having their age on their calf and their number facing forward it was impossible for me to see which age group he was in. I tried to keep up but my legs didn’t have anything left in them. At the end there was a 180 degree turn to reach the finish line, when he turned I saw he was in my age group, I tried one final push but we were both running sub 6’ miles, so I definitely couldn’t catch him, at the end he beat me by a 1 second and the other guy by less than 5.
I looked down at my watch and it said 1:25 for the half marathon. I was pretty happy with that. That was the fastest half I had ever run. I had no idea what place I was in, neither of us did. I briefly spoke to both the guys that had come in right before me and they were also clueless. I was not happy that I hadn’t been able to pass him again or catch the other guy but I knew I had given it my all, so it was OK. Although the time difference between 10th place and me, 13th, was only 23 seconds.
It wasn’t my fastest 70.3 by far, but it was my fasters half marathon ever, which made me very happy. At the end my official time was 4:31:20. I was second out of the water, apparently the guy that I saw to the left of me, was in fact in my age group and just swam a lot faster. I got passed by 12 guys on the bike and maintained that position on the run, although the Germans can really run, 6 people ran under 1:20, that’s just crazy fast.
Europeans really know how to do a post race area. They had tents with food and drinks, but also people coming around with trays of food, so that you didn’t even have to get up to get food. They also had alcohol free beer, which tasted delicious, a Redbull bar, if you are into that, a massage tent with about 50 massage therapist and showers. All of the morning day bags were waiting for us so we didn’t have to go looking for them. I was able to change pretty much immediately after finishing, which was great as it had started to rain and it had gotten cold very quickly. The last thing I will talk about, that I also really like, is the openness of Ironman Deutschland or Europe, before the race you know exactly the amount of slots that will be allocated for world championship races before the race starts, something you have to guess in the US. Then they also post who got a slot. Below is a screenshot of the people that took the 70.3 World Championships slots.
As you can see, my age group had 5 slots. I guess nobody really wanted to take them as it’s not very easy to go all the way to Queensland, Australia to race. The first slot was taken by the guy that got 113th, very interesting. I wonder if all US and European races will look like this. I didn’t take a slot because my goal, as I have mentioned it on this blog in the past, is Kona. I want to be able to qualify for Kona and if I do I wouldn’t be able to make both trips.
I am very happy with my race result. I put up higher numbers (higher wattage and lower run pace) than I expected and was able to have a great run. I want to thank my coach, Eric Kenny from EK Endurance Coaching for that. Comparing this race to 70.3 Panama 2 years ago, which was another race at sea level. I ran the half marathon 10 minutes faster and on a hillier course, that shows how much better he has made me.
Thanks to all of my Brainlab Colleagues that raced with me, Nils, Sergio, Thomas, Sharan, Michael and Bastian, it was so much fun and I’m proud of all of you for representing Brainlab very well. A very special Thank YOU to Stefan Vilsmeier, Founder and CEO of Brainlab, not only for being there with us but also for supporting us. Want to know a little more what I do, who I work for and what Brainlab does? Click on his name to find out more.
I want to thank all of my partners/sponsors: Roka Sports for the amazing R1 goggles and Maverick Pro wetsuit. Perky Jerky and Trailnuggets for giving me the best sweet an savory nutrition out there, best tasting jerky and best natural, real food nutrition bar. Newton Running for making the best running shoes, I love my Distance V I raced in. Tritats for making me look like a pro with the number tattoos. Last but not least, Castelli Triathlon for not only dressing me for training but also for racing. The SanRemo Suit SS 1 piece suit I wore for the race was not only fast, but also so comfortable, with 4 amazingly placed pockets for nutrition. I would also like to thank everyone that sent me messages before the race, Kenny, Kelly, Russell, Conor, Henrik and my parents to name a few. Then of course I’d like to thank my wife, Christelle, even though they couldn’t make it to Germany this time, I know they were cheering and thinking of me while I was away.
So what’s Next?
I have 2 more races before the big day. I will be racing Lake to Lake an Olympic distance triathlon June 25th and Steamboat Lake Sprint triathlon July 17th. Then on August 7th, I will be racing Boulder Ironman. Racing to get a Kona Slot for the Ironman World Championships. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!