Sunday, July 12, 2015

Challenge Roth 2015

Challenge Roth is one of the most spectacular long distance triathlons in the world, mostly due to the large number of spectators lining the course: the latest estimate I heard was of more than 250,000 this year!

This was the reason why I chose this race for my first Ironman distance, and I was lucky to get one of the coveted starting places when I signed up about a year ago.

So after one year of training, race day was on July 12th, and I could finally prove that I could swim for 3.8km, cycle for 180km, and run a marathon (42.2km), back to back, and in under 15 hours!

So this is it: my race report. I got up at 3:30am on race day, and only got back to bed at 1am. A long day. But one I'm mightily proud of!

After applying the start number tattoo and anti-chafe cream, it was time for breakfast: 2 rolls with strawberry and apricot jam. Then a short drive to the swim start, followed by a bit of a wait filled with putting water bottles, gels, and electrolyte tablets in place on the bike; leaving the bag for the first transition in the transition area; waiting; and finally, putting on the wetsuit.


Fairly quickly after that the swim start happened, and the race was underway! Orientation in the canal was straightforward, the water nice and warm, and so I could swim at my slow but comfortable pace. Until the first turning point, when the starters from the following start group caught up with me (they had all announced a sub9 finish, so were expected to be fast), after which swimming became somewhat less comfortable. But overall an ok swim, and after 1:31 I was on land again.


I didn't focus on speed during the cycling - conserving energy and staying within the time limit were my main concerns. The first few km I spent calculating the portion of distance already covered. After 6km: one thirtieth already. After 12km: two thirtieth, that was quick! etc.

Another attraction were the race judges who frequently passed by me. They always observed the groups cycling in front of me for a while before making a decision on whether or not to give a time penalty to someone. Once a cyclist near me got a time penalty (the drafting was done behind me, so I cannot judge whether it was justified), very good entertainment for a few minutes ;)

To my great surprise, I had an average of 28km/h for the first hour, much faster than in training. How did that happen?! Then the tallest hill in the course came close, the 'Kalvarienberg'. I had quite some respect for the hill, so arrived there with some anticipation. The atmosphere cycling up was great: an announcer, a group of cheerleaders, a samba group with drums, and a bunch of other people cheering. Whether it was the atmosphere or the power in my legs, I found the hill to be demanding, but very nice and very doable. The hill flattened out towards the top, and I even managed to pass a few people, very good for (my) morale.

Starting from km40 I remember sitting on the saddle became more and more painful. No surprise, and luckily 'only' caused by pressure, not chafing. From around km130 every change in sitting position was really painful.

Towards the end of the first loop I approached the famous Solar hill. A great view from the bottom: lots of space to cycle, and crowds lining the hill up to the very top. Very impressive. Unfortunately I don't really like it when there's little space and lots of noise at the same time, which is what happened during the top part of the hill. I cycled as fast as possible just to escape this mess.

In the second loop there were markedly fewer spectators (which finally made Solar hill a great experience!). Starting from the top of the Kalvarienberg (~km30 in the second loop) there was a vicious headwind during much of the second loop. Not nice. But I was used to winds from cycling in England, so I suffered less than many of the others. The wind was probably the main reason why the second loop was slower than the first (3:11 vs. 3:25).

Overall my average speed was 25.5km/h, much faster than in training. One factor contributing to this probably was the quality of the road surfacing, which was very markedly better than in England. After 7 hours on the bike I arrived at the second transition area, about half an hour faster than the plan!

I took my time again during transition. A helper applied a new layer of sunscreen, while I discovered that my right foot was hurting badly. The outside of it was cramping and I had to switch to heel strikes for the first 3-4km of the run.


My plan for the run had been to keep a pace of 6:30min/km (a 10:27 mile), and I was able to keep this pace throughout (overall average was a 6:26). Andrey found me at several aid stations and gave me ice water - a very welcome refreshment, and talking to him while he ran next to me was a welcome diversion!

I entertained myself by controlling my pace using my GPS watch and passing all the walkers. Many people were walking, starting as early as few km after the start. I definitely had not expected this! I didn't have major problems. Sure, the legs hurt towards the end, but by then the finish line was almost in sight. The worst part were the last 6km, where my lungs were acting up and made breathing difficult. I repeated calming words almost like mantras, and succeeded at least to the point that I could keep the pace, and smile for the finish!

Comparison of the disciplines

In comparison to the other female starters, swimming was my worst discipline (423rd out of 429). Totally fine, because it is the shortest anyway. Next was cycling (371st), and by far my best discipline was running (165th). Keeping running was key to success here. And mental strength helped: I was convinced that I could keep a pace of 6:30, and did not have self doubts whatsoever. Overall, I finished after 13:14:51 hours, 62nd out of 90 in my age group - a great result for my first long distance triathlon!


Nutrition was another key to success. Because I didn't like the energy drink the organizers supplied, I made a bike bottle of High5 'syrup', which was enough for 5l of High5 energy drink. So whenever my aero bottle was getting empty, I added syrup, two electrolyte tablets, water from an aid station, and blew bubbles into the bottle to mix the stuff. Worked great, but I only needed about a third of the syrup.

In addition, I had two soft flasks with High5 gels, 5 with caffein and 8 normal ones. Every 20 minutes I ate a normal gel, and when I felt tired I ate a caffeinated one instead. I drank some plain water with each gel, which explains why I didn't need as much sports drink as anticipated. When my soft flasks were empty (around km110, as planned) I took gels from the aid stations and ate those.

At some point during the first loop I forgot to eat gels, and as a result felt my energy levels drop. I noticed it in time to recover and from then on paid great attention to not missing the 20 minute marks.

I also found a very helpful and memorable tip before the race: whenever your mood changes during a race: eat! Especially when the mood changes to the negative. I found this extremely valuable and applied it a few times during the race. Without fail, my mood improved with an additional gel in my belly.


There were several people there to cheer me on: Andrey (of course), my family, and some friends from my crazy sports forum. All of them said they saw me several times. Except for Andrey -- who spotted me, and then came to talk to me and run beside me -- I only saw the fast twitchers once, and my family zero times. I was quite focused on doing 'my thing' and hardly noticed specific faces in the spectator crowd. Especially on the run, there was a lot to do (in order of frequency): think hard about what food and drinks to take at the next aid station (gel+water? sports drink? salt? coke?); control pace; pass other runners; calculate how much distance is left, and how long it will take; etc.

Even so, I found the spectators in general very motivating, especially those who cheered me on with my name. Being a girl was a definite advantage here, because the guys around me mostly only got general cheers, not named ones.


I started preparing for the race in January and trained for a total of 175 hours and 35 minutes, an average of 6:16 hours per week. About 60% were done on weekends, and 17% (32:15 hours) was high-intensity non-specific training (weight training, plyometric training, core training, sessions similar to Crossfit,... designed by a 'guru' in my crazy sports forum).

In kilometers, I spent:
16km swimming (4.2x IM distance)
1531km cycling (8.5x IM distance)
508km running (12x IM distance)
Putting it in relation with the race distance, it is no surprise that swimming was my worst, and running my best discipline.

Considering that there was a lot going on besides training (a new job and moving between cities, among other things), this kind of training meant I could still prepare properly for the race and finish much faster than planned, without being in too much pain during the race.

Results are online here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 491: Back in Germany - or: Time for a Summary!

So, about three months after the end of my big trip I guess it is time to get my lazy ass back to the keyboard for a final wrap-up.

When I got back to Germany, the weather put on its best behavior to greet me with a sunny day and heaps of fresh snow. So beautiful!

Unfortunately, I wasn't used to the cold anymore. At all. So for a week or two I sat around indoors wearing two pairs of pants, long thermo underwear, a t-shirt and two fleece jackets, all the while still being cold. Luckily, the body can acclimatize to pretty much anything, so this phase passed, too.

In total, my trip lasted 16 months. Here's the list of the fifteen countries I visited and the time I spent in each of them:
Cuba: 30 days
Argentina: 57 days
Bolivia: 43 days
Chile: 43 days
Peru: 35 days
Ecuador: 64 days
Colombia: 25 days

Costa Rica: 23 days
Guatemala: 8 days
Mexico: 23 days
Philippines: 21 days
Vietnam: 28 days
Laos: 13 days
Thailand: 46 days
Cambodia: 30 days

In total, I traveled 95.000 kilometers (I had a perl script add the distances between all pairs of subsequent pictures I took - possible thanks to my GPS-enabled camera - so in reality it was probably even more than that). Of those, 54.708km were done in planes:

Frankfurt - Holguin7.902km
Habana - Panama - Buenos Aires6.939km
La Paz - Rurrenabaque - La Paz478km
Lima - Easter Island - Lima7.534km
Guayaquil - Galapagos - Guayaquil2.346km
Barranquilla - Medellin - Panama1.083km
San Jose - Guatemala856km
Mexico - Los Angeles - Hongkong - Manila15.327km
Manila - Puerto Princesa584km
Coron - Cebu - Manila1.035km
Manila - Ho Chi Minh1.614km
Bangkok - Frankfurt9.010km

The remaining 40.000 kilometers involved countless long-distance bus rides, some trains, some boats, several bicycles, a few cars, my own two legs, and on one occasion even a horse.

I shot 17.000 pictures totaling 78 gigabytes of data. Of those, I picked 410 to appear in the 365 project (the map of which gives a really nice graphical overview of my trip), and used another 1.692 in a total of 409 blog posts. 502 of the pictures were shot at an altitude above 4.000 meters, with the maximum altitude being 5.000 meters above sea level at the Pastoruri glacier in Peru.

I seriously doubt that I'll ever look at all 17.000 pictures again - so it's lucky that I have already selected the best ones on the go :-)

Taking my Kindle on the trip was definitely worth it: I read 51 books on it (not including travel guides), which is an average of a little more than three books per month. Yes, I do like to read. Here's a list of the books, if you're interested.

A comparison that I was really keen on making was the average number of words in my blog posts. Why did I want to know this? Simple: I wrote on my phone with Swype for the first nine months, and on a laptop after that. I suspected that being able to type quickly on a keyboard would lead to more wordy posts. And I was right: as my perl script tells me, the average phone-typed post has 273 words, whereas the laptop-typed posts average 382 words. This is a difference of about 40%! The delights of speed typing ;-)

Now I only have one final bit to share: the crime statistics. This is rather boring - and rather pleasant at the same time. There was one incident of theft (but I got everything back, so no harm done). Other than that, there were no robberies, no assaults, no disappearing luggage, no credit card abuse. Nothing. Very nice :-)

So, this is it! Big trip done. It is kinda hard to wrap up this big an adventure in a sentence or two. I've seen and experienced and learned so much it seems almost surreal. Most certainly it is an experience I wouldn't want to miss and would wholeheartedly recommend to everybody! Money, jobs and relationships are just excuses - if you really want to do a big trip, there will be a way!

Since I've already started a new adventure - involving a new country and a new job - I'll keep blogging here, albeit not in a daily frequency. So stay tuned and see you soon!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Days 489 + 490: Souvenir Shopping in Bangkok

My last two days in Bangkok were spent mostly on markets of various kinds. First was a huge wholesale market in Chinatown. The market was really big and really busy. It was also really focused on just a few types of shop: jewelry shops, bag shops and shoe shops. The flashy, glittering world of jewelry shops has never been my thing anyway, but this was exponentially worse than any single store I'd seen before.

Unfortunately, we didn't know which types of shops we would find in the market, and so we soldiered on until neither of us could remain standing or walking for another minute. Since the market didn't have what I wanted to buy - some nice wooden bowls and utensils - I only bought two re-usable shopping bags that can be folded into tiny bags.

After the frustrating chinatown disaster, I went back to my hostel with the intention of spending the evening putting up my legs and writing my blog. However, I made the mistake of asking where in Bangkok I might find wooden bowls. The answer came promptly and without hesitation: at the Phat Pong night market in Silom. When I got there, I found that the market didn't have my bowls either. Instead, there was a variety of bars and locations with 'adult entertainment' - almost-naked girls dancing on poles could be seen through the open doors of most of these venues. I didn't count how many advertisers tried to get me to come to their "Pussy Ping-Pong" show. I was really frustrated after a while - but at least I found a hairdresser on the way back to get a final cheap haircut ;-)

The next morning, I gave up on buying bowls and went grocery shopping instead. And what do my sore eyes see on the way from the BTS station to the supermarket? A wood-carving shop that has bowls! Chance made my day, and I happily proceeded to buying kilo after kilo of Thai groceries.

In the afternoon, I had the monumental task of repacking my backpack. Somehow, I had to put all the groceries in there, while paying attention that all the glass bottles were stowed away safely. Surprisingly, I managed to fit everything in. Granted, I had to use all of the 10-liter addition my backpack has, but: everything was in there. Lovely! The downside, of course, was the resulting weight. I can now speak from experience when I say that carrying a 25 kg backpack is no fun. For the first time ever, I was really happy about the luggage carts at the airport ;-)

Day 488: Back to Bangkok

We had booked a ferry/tuk-tuk/train combo to get back to Bangkok from Koh Tao with the least hassle possible. The ferry left in the afternoon, giving us an entire morning to swim in the ocean for the last time, hang out at our favorite restaurant for the last time, and being happy to finally escape the party island that Koh Tao has become ;-)

The ferry was crowded with the scantily-clad, drunk tourist crowd you'd expect on a party island, and so I settled down listening to music and keeping my eyes closed to avoid becoming seasick. In Chumphon, we were transferred to the train station in a tuk-tuk, and then only had to wait for about an hour for our train to arrive. Despite it being only 8:30, our made-up beds greeted us already, and I fell asleep instantly.

Day 487: Beach Bumming in Koh Tao

On this day, we decided to take it slow and enjoy the beach. And how couldn't we, with views like these:

A few days ago, we had discovered a nice restaurant that made absolutely delicious milk shakes (and good food, too), so we brought our books and relaxed and ate and drank in the shade of a big tree until the sun set. Life is hard! ;-)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day 486: Birthday Diving in Koh Tao

To celebrate my birthday today, I gave myself a lovely gift: two dives! Unfortunately, the morning dives left at 6:30, so we had to get up really early. On the boat, we were told that the dive sites had to be changed because of bad weather on the island's east side - a stroke of luck for me, because I had wanted to see one on the west side, anyway.

The first dive site was the Chumphon Pinnacle. The dive was beautiful, in spite of the murky water. We dived through swarms of small fish who really didn't care about the two divers in their midst, and saw some huge groupers lurking around on the bottom. The second dive site, Twins, was even nicer. I saw a few moray eels who came out of their house - I'd never seen a whole eel before, just their face. Another fascinating thing I saw was the symbiotic relationship between shrimps and gobys: the shrimps are almost blind, but have claws to dig houses in the ground. The goby lives in the same house and stands guard while the shrimp works. When a predator comes, the goby warns the shrimp and both go hide in their house. Very cool to watch!

Not as cool to watch were the exhaust fumes from our dive boat. The amount of black smoke the boat produced was pretty gross.  

After the dives, we walked around the island eating lots of nice food, just as it should be on a birthday. The highlight was a freshly caught, grilled red snapper. Very good!

We also saw some beautiful flowers growing right next to the path without any apparent caretaker.

Day 485: Kayaking in Koh Tao

Today, we decided to rent a kayak to paddle over to the small island Koh Nang Yuan, just off the coast of Koh Tao. Kayaking towards the island was hard work though: the currents worked against us, and the waves produced by all the small and big boats constantly threw us off course. On the bright side, we got to see the fancy bungalows at the north end of Koh Tao's main beach.

And, of course, the colors of water, sky, beach, rocks and vegetation were just fantastic.

When we arrived on the island, we discovered that we only had 170 Baht with us - but the island's entry fee would have been 100 per person. The girl in charge of collecting the fees called her boss, and he decided that a 15 Baht discount wasn't possible. Instead, he insisted on kicking us off the island straight away. We managed to negotiate a five-minute break - I was really exhausted from paddling against the currents - but then we had to be on our way again. Luckily, the way back was much easier, and we even found a tiny secluded beach where we could do some snorkeling. Beautiful!