Saturday, 30 June 2012

DTM Norisring 2012

Mercedes, Audi, BMW
All Three Manufacturers

This post is a bit of a diversion from the normal diet of domestic life, observations on the minutiae of day to day living, endurance sport training and how life in Europe and Germany differs from life in North America. Yesterday I decided to indulge in one of my other passions and take in a bit of history.
The Norisring is an auto racing track that gets set up on public roads near what is now the local football (soccer) stadium. The site has historic significance to the origins of the Nazi party and it has been used for racing since 1947. It gets set up for one weekend a year to host a round of the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and this is it. It also includes races for Formula 3, Porsche GT3 Cup and VW Scirocco Cup.

The DTM is arguably the world's biggest touring car series and has huge importance for domestic manufacturers Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz. The companies put a lot of money into promotion and the race teams themselves so as far as racing in Germany goes it's a really big deal with a mix of ex-F1 drivers, long-time touring car pros and up and coming drivers. I was a little surprised to learn that two Canadian drivers in their 20's are series regulars and are quite successful. Good for them

Canadian Bruno Spengler in his BMW

I decided to take Friday off and I went to check out free practice for all four series that are running this weekend. Tickets were available for a pretty reasonable price and all grandstands were open to everyone. I made good use of the opportunity to check out every vantage point on the track. It's quite famous for being a very short track with a seemingly simple layout - 2.3km long with three corners but requiring precision to go around quickly. I definitely established which would be the best places to watch the race itself. But the locals seem to know their racing and their track. All of the good seats had been sold out months in advance. I decided not to go back Sunday for the big race. But I was happy I went in spite of the almost unbelievable heat - mid 30s most of the day. It was so hot, in fact, that sections of the track started lifting and the F3 qualifying session at the end of the day had to be postponed until this morning. At last check it looks like they got it fixed up.

Tomorrow is Canada Day (Kanadas Tag!) and I've decided to visit the beach. You'll definitely want to see that post.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Sharing is Good; Your Mother Was Right

Two Wheeled Gratification
I've been out here bemoaning the lack of a bicycle(s) almost since day one. Last week I did something about it. No, I didn't do the usual Tom thing of buying another bike (I've considered it). I started taking part in the local bike sharing service called Norisbike. And I am digging it. Observe my sweet ride on the left. Sharp eyes may note that the bike itself is probably not UCI legal. The aerodynamic fairing covering the rear wheel is shaped similar to my aero helmet and likely provides a 2-3% reduction in the drag coefficient (wind tunnel results not yet available). Another triathlon inspired feature is the Bento style basket attached to the handlebar. It appears capable of holding 4 cases of Powerbars or Gels, a 20-pak of 0.5 liter beers or a full pork shoulder dinner complete with Kloss dumplings and red cabbage.  

Like a transition zone?
Some of you may be familiar with the bike sharing concept, it's very popular in Paris (Vélib’) and many other European cities. It was also recently introduced in Montreal (Bixi). Simply stated, for a very low price you pick the bike up from a station like this near where you need it, ride it to your destination and drop it off at a station (hopefully) close to it. As an example the station nearest my apartment is about 300meters away. I can see the one nearest to my office right now. I don't find it quite as well developed as the system in Paris, it's less automated and there aren't quite as many stations. But I love the concept and it suits my purposes very well. Door to door it's exactly the same amount of time whether I take the bike or the U-Bahn (Subway) and bus so I can afford to be very flexible using a bike whenever the spirit moves me and the conditions favour it.

The ironic thing about the well developed system of bike lanes in the city is that it's taking me a while to figure out exactly where to ride. Wherever there is red painted pavement whether it's on the road surface or a part of the sidewalk, that's where I'm supposed to be. But the red painted sections can end abruptly and there's not always an indication where to go. Sometimes the sidewalk sections are bi-directional, sometimes not. And it's not always reliable to do as the locals because they make a pretty liberal interpretation of the rules sometimes. I haven't been honked or yelled at yet in almost two weeks so I'm miles ahead of where I'd be at home.

One last comment on the bikes themselves. They're here for a long time, not a good time. I'm estimating one weighs as much as my three lightest bikes. For a good workout I recommend bench pressing one. Following a nuclear armageddon my prediction is that all that will remain are these bikes. And cockroaches. Maybe they'll even figure out how to ride them.

Thanks for reading (now over 2,000 total Page Views!),

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Urban Surfer

One of the things I really look forward to over here is seeing things I've never seen before. It's even more meaningful if it's something I've never heard of or my mind can't conceive. I had such an experience Sunday afternoon in Munich following my Half Marathon. I can't possibly express it better in words so I won't even attempt to.

This is happening on the edge of the Englischer Garten just a few meters from a major thoroughfare into the centre of the city. If you're questioning the use of wetsuits in summer that is apparently snowmelt coming from the Alps less than 100km away and it's cold. Which probably makes these guys look a bit extreme:

Now apparently this is completely illegal and there are signs all over which make that clear. In Bavaria however, the police are known to be very pragmatic in matters such as this. Surfing in this spot has been written up in the general media and it has become a kind of a tourist draw for participants and spectators. So as long as everyone behaves sensibly and no one gets seriously hurt the police seem happy to let people carry on.

On that subject I thought this photo was kind of interesting:

Maybe Eve Was Right All Along

Note the person on the left. In case it's not obvious there are concrete walls on both sides of the rushing water. This person was the only one smart enough to wear a helmet. She was also the only woman among the surfers. That probably says a lot.

Thanks for reading,

Location:Munich, Germany

Monday, 25 June 2012

Anyone For A Stadtlauf?

I'm over here in Nuremberg with no bicycle and haven't got myself to the local pool yet. How to satisfy that triathlete competitive urge? A road race, of course. And let's make it a destination race. And if I'm going to go somewhere, may as well make it worth my while, you know, go long or stay at home. So on Sunday I found myself in Munich for the 34th annual Stadtlauf ("City Run") Half Marathon. This is part of a series put on by a local major sporting goods chain and bills itself as the largest running series in Germany. They have divisions for Half, 10k, 5k Run, 5k Walk/Nordic Walk and 2k kids run. A check of the results shows 13,345 adults for all of the events. Half Marathon was the largest division with 5886 finishers (4310 Men/1576 Women).

I think the most interesting aspect for me was contrasting this event to events back home. So I'll try to summarize:
Pros  Large entry, Starting and finishing in the Marienplatz, probably the most iconic location in Munich, Beautiful course taking part mostly in the Englischer Garten a huge green space reminiscent of Central Park in NY, Route totally closed to vehicular traffic, Super reasonable entry fee including tech shirt and custom engraved finishers' medals, Plenty of post-race food and drink, Punctual as the German train system
Marienplatz Munich
Marienplatz Start/Finish
Englischer Garten
An Urban Oasis and Runners' Paradise

Cons Not enough porta-potties at the start, not enough waterstations on the course, waterstations not well set up or staffed, Everybody dressed the same!? Surprisingly little fan support on course, Post race beverage selection?!

My day started on the wrong foot with a terrible sleep the night before. I have no idea what my problem was, I loved the hotel room and it wasn't noisy. I had been able to assemble the makings of a pre-race breakfast the day prior and got that in me 2 hours before the race start. Having completed all my morning ablutions I set off on the short walk to the start with about 45 minutes to go. Walking to the start in just my race clothing I was pretty comfortable which told me I'd be warm during the race. I got in the porta-potty line for one last chance with what I thought was plenty of time before the start.

There are at least two problems with starting a race in the dead centre of an urban area. First, the orgianizers are very limited as to how many potties they can put out and where they can go. The second is that you can't just discreetly sneak into a convenient wooded area and do what you need to do. In this respect, at this event the ladies and the gentlemen are on equal footing.

When I exited there was less than a minute until the official start of the first group (sub 1:30). The approximately 6000 starters were divided into four groups and to my horror I discovered I had walked straight into the back of group #4 - first timers and those with a predicted time greater than 2 hours. With my target of sub 1:45 and a race plan not to do any of my patented zigzagging in the early stages I sought to improve my positioning. I started by worming my way forward. At this point the first group had already left and I wasn't getting anywhere so I took drastic action. I used a break in the barriers to get to the outside in order to at least move forward into Group 3 (1:45-2:00). I could see the sign for Group 3 but could not see a break in the barriers that would get me back in. I had visions of having to jump the fence but just in the nick of time I spotted a break near the rear of Group 3. Rather than push my luck I entered the chute there and went to my race Plan B: Zigzagging through the crowd. We were off roughly 10 minutes after the "gun" (there was no gun).

I had had visions of taking in the experience and admiring the scenery but with the cobblestone streets, narrow first stages and me on a mission to work my way through the large crowd of slower runners I was focussed only on the space in front of me. Truth be told that is my natural racing attitude so it all felt quite familiar.

In North America we love our schwag tech t-shirts as a race souvenir. In Germany they have a different purpose. Say a parent and the kids want to come out and cheer on mum or dad for their race. It has all been made very simple. They just have to look out for the athlete in the orange shirt. The same one 13,344 other athletes are wearing! And it's not just a fashion statement. If you're not wearing the shirt you don't get in the start chute or the post race area. Different strokes for different volks. So much for representing Triple Threat with my tri-top.

I passed a shedload of people for the first 12k. Wasn't making a lot of friends with some of my passes but those few folks ought to try an open water swim. And what is is it about people with headphones! Wear them in training at your risk. Where them in a race, ignore people coming up faster from behind you and expect to be "moved". At least I stayed anonymous in my orange shirt. Interesting that the 1:55 and slower people all had them on. Up near 1:45 and faster pace, almost no one. Please consider that a speed tip. After 12k I was still passing a lot of people but by then I would occasionally get passed. And I would still find myself boxed in until 18k or so.

OK, water stations. I\ve been doing this long enough that I know I want water in a race every 15 minutes. More is better, especially on a hot day. When I looked at the course map I saw 3 water stations for the Half. Call it one every 40 minutes or so. I think that's bordering dangerous territory. And they are not well set up. Just paper cups being filled by two guys and placed on quite a short table. Some empty, some still full. Imagine playing the shell game while trying to run past at a 5min/k pace and dodging other people. I guess we're spoiled in North America as I didn't hear any complaints.

Final result was an official chip time of 1:41:51 and a gun time of 1:52. 929th overall and 25/214 in my age category. Plenty of very fit Germans. Interestingly I wasn't even first Canadian, only second out of 6. I'm normally quite tough on myself with race results but I reminded myself that 8 months ago I was riding in the back of an ambulance with 8 broken ribs,and a fractured scapula and clavicle. So I'm pretty happy with the result and extremely positive about the experience.

Post Race Area -
Dress Code Strictly Enforced
Except one thing. At 10:30 in the morning in downtown Munich on a hot sunny day, thirsty and wanting to celebrate our accomplishments we were presented with a cold alcohol-free beer. OK, I understand. We are athletes, they\re trying to make it a "family friendly" event and I'm sure the sponsor provides great support. But in Bavaria some things should be sacrosanct. The Hefeweizens following my post-race shower and nap were quite heavenly.

Thanks for reading,

Football - Nuremberg Style

This year there's definitely a bonus in rounding out my European experience. 2012 is a year for the quadrennial UEFA European Football Championship (EM-"Europameisterschaft"). Germany is one of the favoured teams and based on what I've seen and my admittedly limited appreciation for "The Beautiful Game" I think they (We?) have an excellent chance to win it all.

So in my current situation I have a number of options when it comes to taking in the tournament which is actually taking place in Poland and Ukraine. I imagine tickets are hard to come by, transportation is likely to be expensive and I left all of my interpreters back in Canada. So I've ruled out attending any live games. I can certainly sit in my wonderful flat and watch on TV alone but that's incredibly boring (my half dozen dedicated followers may recall my "no beer at home policy" which is still in effect) and a little bit pathetic. Another option which I found very effective during the Chelsea vs. FC Bayern Champions League final is to leave the TV off and the windows open. The cheers and groans emanating from neighbouring dwellings and businesses provide excellent insight into what is happening on the field.

I could possibly ask to tag along with one of my co-workers as they go to one of the local Biergartens or bars. I'm sure they'd let me come along if I asked but the reality is they have their own lives and their own friends and I wouldn't want them to feel obliged to entertain me during what is to them a super important event. Imagine bringing your Italian only speaking colleague to watch a Stanley Cup final at Earl's with your friends when the Jets are in it and you get the general idea.

I could go to one of the bars alone but since my German is still really weak I feel a bit self conscious. Someone could ask me something controversial, I may smile and nod and POW! We've got an international incident on our hands.

Rathaus Platz
 Fortunately the Germans are an ingenious lot. There are at least two large public areas within a 3 Wood shot of my apartment with giant screens, concessions and porta-potties. Problem solved. One of the areas is the Rathaus Platz next to the old city hall.

The other is the "Kick&Groove Park" located on a big green space called Woehrder Wiese. I've watched them setting this up for over 3 weeks now, it's a bit like the Ironman Village only much, much larger and with a lot more open space.

Hello? Hello?
Thus far I've ventured to the K&G Park twice. The first was to watch the first quarter final match. I think there were 8 Portugal fans, about 12 disappointed Czechs, a handful of disinterested Germans enjoying a pleasant evening drinking beer on the lawn and two energetic radio DJ's futilely attempting to whip us into a frenzy. They would have had a better chance with two EMTs and a crash cart.

Last night Germany played Greece. It was impossible to recognize this as the same place I had been to the previous evening. Simply getting into the park in time for the opening kick was tough. EVERYone gets a pat down on the way in. Even skinny Canadians with nowhere to hide anything. I would have asked what they were looking for but a) I'm not sure I would have understood the answer and b) it would have slowed the queue even further and there's another international incident.

A Little More Life When
The home Team Plays
The scene is familiar to sports fans everywhere. Painted faces, national jerseys with the name and number of the wearer's favorite player and a few (very few) very attractive interpretations of the German flag as an article of women's clothing. And beer.

Now let me give you a warning. When the first German goal was scored about 3 minutes in, about 3 people ahead of me a full liter of beer went straight up into the air and fell where it wanted to go. Offside, the goal was disallowed. At this point that liter of beer and many just like it do not find their way back into the glass. Moral of the story: Bring an umbrella or a towel and know the rules before you toss your libation into the air.

Germany advanced to the semi-finals which take place this Thursday against England or Italy. I won't be mentioning the war.

Right now I'm in Munich getting ready for the Stadtlauf Half Marathon Sunday morning. I hope to have something worthwhile to report on that.

Thanks for reading,

For My Hungarian Followers:
Happily Ati moved a lot more Langos on the
night Germany played!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Home Is Where You'd Hang Your Hat If You Could Find It

When I make my one week in five visits back home I generally take a break from blogging. I can't legitimately claim that I don't have time to do it, I think it's more a case of running out of thoughts to put into words. In any case I returned to Nuremberg this past Tuesday following about 10 days back home.
Home. Interesting concept. I was very fortunate to interact with so many friends during my visit. A significant number wished me a "Good Trip" referring to my return to Germany. And internally I invariably had the same initial thought: "THIS is my trip", that is to say Nuremberg is my temporary residence so when I go "Home" to Canada, that is when I'm on a trip. It's easy to see why I might think that way. I spend roughly 80% of my time over here. Since I have clothes and other things in two locations I can now very comfortably travel overseas with just a small amount of hand luggage. So why would anyone wish me a good trip?
The answer is obvious, at least to anyone other than myself. Home isn't defined by where you spend most of your time. It's not defined by where your blue blazer, raincoat and running shoes are. And no, it's not defined by where your hat is hanging although, truth be told, I have hats hanging in (at least) two countries. As I mentioned I was able to get together with a lot of friends when I was back in Canada. Circumstances varied but it was always a case of getting together with groups of people, engaging in conversations, relating experiences since we had last seen one another, maybe sharing a meal and invariably having a lot of laughs, all with people I care about and who care about me. Wherever those people are, that's where home is.
Next time I'll try to be a little more informative, a little funnier and a little less sentimental. Until then,
Thanks for reading,
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Hail to the Champion

The web log (blog) is by its very nature a self-indulgent exercise. This one is for sure. But every so often the blog needs to be about someone else. Last month I posted about Sarah Anne Brault and her remarkable success in the ITU World Cup.
Today I'd like to recognize the President of our triathlon team, mother of my children and my best friend for nearly 30 years. Kate never blows her own horn so allow me to step in on her behalf.
Last month Kate won the award for Best Overall Female (Long Distance) in the Gord's Tuesday Duathlon series. The series ran over 5 Tuesday nights in May at Birds Hill Park and Kate raced four times. Some of you may be aware that she celebrated a milestone birthday last week. So she's racing against women half her age and basically handing them their @$$'s (oh, and some of the men too by the way). She does this while working full time, managing our household, running the Triple Threat Triathlon Club and finding every article I've misplaced.
Kate has big racing plans this year and possibly even bigger in 2013. This year's big goals are Canadian Nationals in Edmonton and IM Calgary 70.3. Last year at Nationals in Kelowna she missed the podium by one spot. This year I expect her to break through at both the Olympic and 70.3 distances. If you plan to race against her you'd best bring your A game because it looks like she'll be bringing hers. I'll have the opportunity to see her compete in Kenora in July and I am looking forward to that.
So, teammates, relatives, competitors and friends please take a minute to recognize Kate's remarkable achievements (did I mention she beat her Half Marathon goal by just over a minute?) and give her some encouragement as she prepares for this year's big races and next year's mystery event. May her achievements inspire you to dig that little bit deeper when you are training and racing. I certainly had a little more spring in my step during my rainy 6.5 miles this morning. So you see, it really is all about me after all ;o).

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A New Home in Nuremberg

As promised, yesterday was moving day for me over here in Germany. I was quite comfortable in Dr. Koenig's flat. It was in the city but it was still a 30 minute walk or a 10 minute tram ride from the Altstadt (Old City) where it's all going on. I just found that made the evenings a little dull. So Jutta our office administrator worked with the same rental office and found me this fabulous new place right in the centre of town.

Living Room. A TV over the desk is coming
It's a brand new rennovation and I'm the first tennant. It's on the first floor (one above ground level) so less of a climb than my old place on the third. It's a little bit smaller but it's a lot brighter. The rennovation of the building is still ongoing so there is scaffolding on the building front and back. My little balcony may not see use until after I'm gone.
Tiny kitchen but that's a dishwasher!

I can't begin to tell you just how happy I am with this place, both the location and the accommodation. Some areas make me think of living on a boat or a train, mainly the little kitchen and the bathroom. Once again, hot water was not to be taken for granted I had to find the electrical panel (it's out in the hall), identify the breaker and switch it on. My reward was a fine shower after my long run. Celebrate the small victories.

The kitchen comes complete with a dishwasher (gasp!) and something called a Tchibo pod coffee maker. This is a very modern device that is capable of making the most beautiful looking cup of hot brown water you have ever laid eyes on. But nothing you'd want to drink. Fortunately I come equipped to deal with that but that will be the subject of another post.

Without question my favourite feature of the place has to be the picture of Holly Golightly. An apartment with a good location, comfortable, bright, functional and even Audrey Hepburn. What's not to like?

Thanks for reading,

Friday, 1 June 2012

Festival Time!

Oficially it's called the Bergkirchweih. English speakers may know it better as the Erlangen Beer Festival and according to quasi-believable sources it's the second largest beer festival in Europe. At it's best it's a Travel Section-worthy celebration of food, music, dancing, amusement park rides, fellowship and - of course - beer. At it's worst it's an example of some major binge drinking and public drunkenness. Perhaps I've been living a more sheltered life than I thought. I've had the opportunity to see both sides this week and I prefer to dwell on the positive.

Erlangen is a smaller city about 25km from Nuremberg. It's a university town that looks like it would be a really nice place to live. The Bergkirchweih has been an annual event since 1755. It takes place on the Berg (hill) at the north end of town in a large green space with lots of big elm, chestnut and oak trees. It's a terriffic setting, much more interesting than Munich's Oktoberfest (according to my local colleagues) which sets up its tents in a big flat open area. Over the course of the festival over a million people visit it. This in a city of 100,000.

We went last night immediately after work. Here are a few observations:
  • My colleague wasn't drinking so we drove in his car. It's far more common to take the train if you're coming from Nuremberg. On another night I observed that the party starts on the train and in some cases much earlier.
  • The beer which is specially brewed for the festival is ausgezeichnet - outstanding! Three or four of the local breweries are represented.
  • Generally speaking the beer is served by slim, young, friendly, attractive, attentive waitresses. Ours was none of the above.
  • The array of food on offer is staggering. Dieters and vegans may want to bring your own (which is totally permissible provided you buy their beer). There are roasted chickens, pork legs and shoulders, the ubiquitous sausages and they do an entire ox on a spit every day. When I walked past the still revolving carcass on my way out around 10pm there wasn't enough meat left on it to feed my two sons. I opted for half a roasted duck with red cabbage and Kloss (dumpling). I arrived hungry and needed every bit of available space to fit it all in. Best duck I can remember having. I think the fat helps to absorb the beer too.
  • I find it odd that there is one vegetable and we consider it red cabbage but the Germans consider it blue (Blaukraut). Why can't we all get along, agree it's purple and move on?
  • My capacity is three liters. That's it, that's all, no more. I have made my peace with it and I consider myself old enough that I no longer view it as a contest. Take that all of you who think I'm too competitive.
  • Every beer "cellar" has its own band and I think the demographics dictate which crowd gravitates to which cellar (why they are called cellars I have no idea, it's all in the open air).I had my back to the band and remarked that every song they played can be found on my mp3 player. At one point I turned around and noted that all of the band members appeared to be "of a certain age". I found my people!
  • I did not witness the quintessential dancing on the tables. But I did observe that when we started most people were seated. Later many were standing. Later still people were standing on the benches and swaying. If I draw a curve through all of those points I could see it intersecting "On the tables" shortly before closing time.
 Today I moved from Dr Koenig's flat near the ice cream factory to my new place downtown and I am loving the new digs. Pictures and some thoughts and observations next time. This time next week I will be winging my way back home for our very own Triple Threat Triathlon Club event at Birds Hill Park and I look forward to seeing a lot of you there.

Thanks for reading,