Saturday, 28 July 2012

When is a Triathlon Not a Triathlon?

I arrived back in Nuremberg on Thursday following a 10 day visit home. As always, it was wonderful to see friends and family. My sister in-law made her first ever visit from Quebec after 15 years that we've been here. Kate and I even went on a Dinner & A Movie date. I can't remember the last time that happened. Four Okanys saw The Dark Knight Rises in a span of three days.

But the highlight of the visit had to be the Kenora Borealis Triathlon, two days after my return from Europe. Ever since the Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Triple Threat Triathlon Club several years ago the team has used this race as a road trip to train a bit, take part in the race and do some great socializing. This year we scored big in the last category with more members and Significant Others than ever before at the pre-race dinner (team only) and the official post-race lunch. The dinner was particularly memorable as it spanned three generations and ages from newborn to.... well, a gentleman never tells and I don't actually know the precise answer so I'll leave it at that.

So, to the competition. Apart from the Noris Share Bikes I have zero opportunity to ride here. I run regularly and make somewhat sporadic visits to one of two local pools. In order not to embarrass myself on the bike several weeks ago I threw an offer down to my teammates. I would swim and run for one or preferably two relay teams if there was any interest. Boy, was there! I swam for a Sprint Team and ran for an Olympic. I like to think I even had some influence on the entry of two additional teams. This was my first time ever competing in a triathlon or duathlon as part of a relay team.

Let me start off by saying that I think relays do have a part to play in triathlon. Our family's first ever exposure to the sport was when Kate ran 10k as part of a team at the Mt Tremblant Olympic distance tri (There were no sprints then. Seriously). Before the advent of the Try-aTri I think this was how the majority of new triathletes got started. I suspect that a significant number still come in that way.

So how was my first exposure to triathlon relays from "the inside"? Well I really enjoyed the camaraderie. Getting the rest of the team members mentally prepared on race morning was fun. And I certainly felt like I had far fewer things to be concerned about. Goggles - check, swim cap - check, Speedo - Whew!(just checking). Good to go. And then after a very long wait make sure my running shoes, tri-shorts and top, sunglasses and hat are on, grab the timing chip, run to the turnaround and then come back to the finish chute making sure to cheer on all the TTTC folks I encounter. Job done. Time to pack up and go.

But, to be brutally honest, to me it's not triathlon. I missed that mental process in the last 100m of the swim where I start preparing for the start of the bike. I miss the transitions. I miss that feeling in the first few hundred meters of the run when I'm not sure my legs will be able to make the switch from cycling to running yet somehow they always do. I miss having to measure my efforts throughout the swim and bike in order to have a strong run and minimize that final time. And I miss racing head to head over the total distance knowing that my competitor and I have covered the same course under identical conditions with the winner being the best prepared and having the better executed race plan.

So yes, I will race a relay again if circumstances lead me that way. But it will always be a second choice. So next month at Riding Mountain, ready or not, I'll be racing the full Olympic distance race. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Challenge Roth Triathlon - Observations

Marshalling the Swim Start
As one who considers himself a triathlete and a fan I could not pass up the chance to spectate at this year's Challenge Roth triathlon held this past Sunday. It is held in and around the town of Roth, Germany which is a 12 minute train ride from where I'm temporarily living in Nuremberg. So on Sunday I woke to my 4am alarm (much like many of the competitors I suspect) and headed off on a day-long adventure. I won't dwell too much on the transportation and logistic challenges presented to would be spectators, I'll just say that with the Start/T1, T2 and finish areas all being in different areas I would consider it mandatory to have a bicycle available as your prime means of transport. The distance between the start and T2 is approximately 10km. Fine if you're a competitor and your 180km ride happens to finish at a point other than where it started. Not as much fun if you're hoofing it alone with no one to transport your "gear bag" (water and snacks in my case).
From the T1 Exit. You can't quite makeout the crowd on top of the
bridge spanning the canal, 3 and 4 deep watching the start and swim

The back story around Roth fascinates and delights me. I have no ill will towards the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and their Ironman brand. In my experience Ironman puts on superb races and they create a wonderful experience not only for the athletes but also for their supporters, the volunteers and the spectators. Ironman has created a successful business model and for many reasons they should be commended. Read the history elsewhere but the race now known as Challenge Roth was for many years "Ironman Europe".  Over the years it developed a reputation for being one of the highlights of the triathlon season and a "Must Do" race. I think the attraction was a combination of the beautiful and fast course, the volunteers, the Teutonic efficiency with which the race is put on, the wildly enthusiastic fan support and the aura of Ironman. History leads to a very clear conclusion as to which factors most contribute to the events success and it's unique vibe.
Enjoying food and a beverage before the runners come by for their
first of two loops
Back in the early 2000s there was a divergence of views between WTC and the organizers. The race went from being Ironman Europe to Challenge Roth. Now there is one thing I do dislike about the WTC and that is their complete intolerance of events that compete with their Ironman branded races. As we have seen elsewhere in the world the WTC will use some heavy handed tactics, perhaps not to kill these competing races but certainly to diminish their size and status. Ironman Germany was created shortly after the break between WTC and the Roth organizers. It's normally held on the same day in the region around Frankfurt, roughly 200 km away.

Not normally given to hyperblole.
 In this case the banner fits.

So what's the difference between Challenge Roth and Ironman Germany? The latter has spots for the IM World Championships in Kona. Challenge Roth has everything else.This year Roth had to limit entries to 2900 individuals and 600 relay teams. That's nearly 5000 competitors for a long distance race only. The split has taken nothing away from this race. It turns out Roth's attraction had very little to do with the WTC and Ironman. It's all about the area and the amazing people that contribute to the atmosphere. One need look no further than the legenday Solarer Berg to see what I mean. Solarer Berg is approximately a 1.2km climb going out from the town of Hilpoltstein. Data says it averages about a 5% grade, not exactly Tour de France Cat 1 territory. But don't try telling that to the competitors or the estimated 25,000+ spectators cheering them on. DJs get the crowd whipped up and the athletes get cheered by name. At the lower level there are barriers and signboards to pound on. At the higher level the spectators fill the road, parting at the last moment to let the athletes pass, cheering, clapping, cowbelling, hornblowing, thundersticking, you name it.It's one of those"You had to be there"experiences. 

I was able to witness similar outpourings of enthusiasm at the Start/T1, Eckersmuehlen (Site of the cycling "Beer Mile"), T2 and the section of the marathon route through the old city of Roth. The race culminates in a temporarily erected bleacher stadium where every finisher is greeted by a deafening roar as they make their way down the red carpet. I would be re-miss if I neglected to mention that each of therese areas (except the start) contains at least one Biergarteen. So you won't forget which country you're in.
Solarer Berg - It's not just about the athletes and cheering them on.
One needs sustenance for an endurance event!
So is Challenge Roth a Must Do event for me? Does it make my Bucket List? My honest answer is "No". I'm really itching to have another go at IM Canada in Penticton and I'm already hearing great things about the upcoming IM Mt Tremblant not far from our former home in Montreal. I'd like these to be my next long distance races. But if our life circumstances are such that I/we are looking to travel overseas to race long course, Challenge Roth will be my first choice.

Thanks for reading,
Just how popular is pro Timo Bracht in these parts? Here's his Fan Bus.
In the finish arena there's a grandstand for his fan club. Timo finished second
to James Cunnama. If you asked a local today about Sunday's Men's race I
suspect they will tell you "Timo finished second to some South African guy" 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Challenge Roth - Nutrition Report

It's time for me to take my turn with the superstars of the triathlon world and share with you exactly what I consumed at yesterday's Challenge Roth long distance triathlon. I'm hoping many of you will be able to benefit from my nutrition strategies. Please feel free to ask any questions or make any suggestions in the Comments section.

Pre-Race Breakfast (Consumed at my apartment)
  • Flavoured yoghurt with 2 tbsp Muesli
  • 1 piece toast with slice of Swiss cheese
  • Nectarine
  • Black Coffee with sugar
Pre Race Snack (Consumed on Train/Bus to start)
  • 1 large salted pretzel purchased at Nuremberg train station
Water (Consumed Throughout)
  • 1 liter bottled still mineral water (sounds like too little but I felt the need to urinate throughout so it was probably about right)
Post Swim - Pre Bike
  • 1 Semmel roll with 2 grilled bratwurst. Mustard quantity hard to specify. Tricky squeeze bottle but definitely more than I trained with
During Bike
  • Approx 100gm salted roasted peanuts
  • 1 100gm pkg Ritter Sport Olympic Chocalate wafers. Contrary to the ads, although I found it "Square" and "Good" it wasn't all that "Practical". I guess Meatloaf was correct and Two Out of Three Ain't Bad.
  • 1 Banana
  • 1 X 0.5 liter Radler
  • 1 X 0.5 liter Pyraser Helles
  • 1 Gyros Pita with Tzatziki
  • 1 Apple
It occurs to me that it might have been helpful to have mentioned at the beginning that I was spectating at this race. In retrospect perhaps I should have made that clear. I did spend between 3 and 4 hours of the day walking between various locations of the race site. Good news was that I didn't touch the Peanut M&Ms or Gummy Bears I had brought along. I'll have some more relevant information on Challenge Roth in one or more future posts. Until then,

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Beer Garden Revealed

Summer has hit Bavaria in full swing. Like almost all of the buildings here my apartment isn't airconditioned. It's not normally a problem but some evenings the heat and humidity can be oppressive. My small balcony isn't quite usable due to the continuing rennovation to the building exterior. So what is a Canadian temporary resident to do on a hot summer evening? Time to explore the delightful German tradition of the beer garden ("Biergarten").

Not a Biergarten!
I can hear all of you Canadians and Americans already: "What is Tom on about now? We have beer gardens here! We've been going to them for years!".  Please allow me to elaborate.

You can have a restaurant with outdoor seating. You can define an area with a few pot plants and some plastic chain. You can serve Molson Canadian or Alexander Keith's on draft or in the bottle. But it's not a beer garden. Now with full disclosure and to be totally fair, what I just described certainly exists in Germany (well apart from the Molson's and the Keith's). Restaurants here will go so far as to call their outdoor seating area a Biergarten. But by now even I have figured out that those aren't the real deal.

My Local Biergarten

First of all the beer garden can't really be on a sidewalk in St James or on Sherbrooke Street. It has to be in a parklike setting, preferably with large old growth trees for shade (umbrellas will do in a pinch) and protection from the occasional bout of inclement weather. There has to be a play area for the kids. Seating is invariably long rows of communal tables and benches. No reservations, no "Please Wait to be Seated". Look for a likely looking empty spot, summon up your best German and ask your new neighbours if the space is free (I've never been told otherwise).

My preference is for Kartoffelsalaat
The food and drinks are self service. I'm still learning my way around the menus. For this reason it's very helpful to have a local to guide you the first time or two. I don't curently have that luxury but I'm doing the best I can. Last night I had the very aptly named "Grillfleisch" which translates as "Grill Meat". It was a kind of mystery cut of grilled pork. The preferred accompaniment appeared to be "Pommes" (french fries) but I'm a huge fan of the potato salad here and that's what I went with. Germans, much like Hungarians, don't appear to be huge fans of vegetables.

The feature attraction
So here's a key feature of a true Biergarten. They have to allow you to bring your own food. It's the law. Apparently the management of the best known beer garden in Germany, the Chinese Tower at the Englischer Garten in Munich tried to get that law changed. They were resoundingly denied. Germans, and Bavarians in particular, really appear to cherish this tradition. The flip side of that law is that you have to buy your drinks, exclusively beer, soft drinks or a popular combination of the two ("ein Radler") from the Biergarten. No one seems to have a problem with this. Now I have been told that beer is also available in half liters. It seems like an interesting concept but I personally can neither confirm nor deny that this is in fact the case. I will leave this research to someone else.

So once you're there, you're seated, you have your food and drink you just do whatever you feel like doing. Engage in a conversation, read the newspaper, do a crossword, check your Twitter or just enjoy the people watching. A word of warning: There will be tobacco smoke. I am continually amazed just how many smokers there are in this country. I frankly find it a bit disappointing. Consider it the price to pay for immersing yourself in another culture. At least you're outdoors.
The Chinese Tower Beer Garden in Munich. With 7000 seats
 it is the second largest beer garden in Germany

Just make sure you hang around the beer garden long enough for your apartment to cool off by the time you get home.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A Happy Canada Day From Nuremberg! (With a Little Irish Help)

Much like the rest of my year, Canada Day 2012 hasn't quite gone according to plan. I blame the weather, it really didn't lend itself to the typical activities we associate with July 1 at home.

The prognosis was looking good. Friday and Saturday were incredibly hot and sunny, to the point of being uncomfortable. As I mentioned in my previous post I was looking forward to a fun filled day on the beach. That's still on my To Do list and I really would like to post about it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Yup, I had it all planned out. I'd wake up comfortably early, get in an hour or so workout at the outdoor pool, come back for brunch then chill out in the sun. That says Canada Day doesn't it?

Last night a cold front came through. Major thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. It's continued on and off all day, in fact it's still raining as I write this. I didn't know what it would take to close the pool but with thunderstorms and a 15 minute bike ride to get there I decided to abort that phase. The beach was looking unlikely too so I went into full Plan B mode: Do my laundry right away so as not to get stuck doing it in good weather. That proved to be absolutely the right thing to do. I was in and out in just over an hour.

Welcome Respite From The Rain
Fortunately brunch is an all weather activity. My chosen spot is a local Irish pub, O'Shea's. If the trees weren't in bloom I could almost see it from my balcony. They have a nice outdoor beer garden/terrace in addition to the pub itself. Outdoors wasn't an option today but fortunately I can be flexible in matters such as this. Can anything be more Canadian than eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, beans and toast? How about if we add a Guiness or two?

What's Not To Like?
 So I got to speaking with Evan the barman who's my newest best friend in Nuremberg. Evan hails from Offaly in the centre of Ireland and has been here for ten years. He asked me where I was from so of course I had to let him know it's Canada Day. Useful information for someone working in a very well known bar I should think. As a very gracious host he offered to buy me a Canadian Club in celebration of my day. As a gracious guest I accepted, of course. Does anyone in Canada actually drink CC? It's been a long time for me but surprisingly I enjoyed it. Unfortunately Evan insisted on buying me a second one. I really don't like to refuse hospitality offered so sincerely so against my better judgement I accepted and thanked him profusely.

The good news is that I have now doubled my knowledge of the Gaelic language. Previously I was limited to the standard toast: Sláinte (Health). I can now add to my repertoire the very useful: Póg mo thóin. Look it up.

Best Country In The World
  Following the almost inevitable proceeding nap I caught most of the Tour Stage 1 on (no live TV coverage in Germany!) I'm ready to engage in the patriotic activity of watching Spain meet Italy in the Euro Cup soccer final. I may head out and grab a burger first but I expect I'll pair it with a soft drink or a milkshake.

Wherever you are I wish you all a Happy Canada Day, and
Thanks for reading,