A year ago we decided it was a good time for another overseas race. In 2014 I raced Switzerland with a group of friends and it was a great time. Comparing the city of Zurich to the city of Frankfurt is hard, because Zurich is a city full of history dating back to Roman times, and Frankfurt is mostly modern like an American city. Not that Frankfurt isn’t old, but after World War II, most German cities were bombed into oblivion. So each city then decided how they were going rebuild. Most chose to repair and restore their historic buildings. Frankfurt however, said, “Screw it. Let’s rock this joint with skyscrapers and stainless steel!” While that earned them the financial center of Europe, it didn’t leave many historic landmarks to see. Only a few small historic areas are left, and one is center stage for the finish line.
So this left Amy and I hesitant at first. We were quickly turned into believers though. Not to write a travel essay, but the city is so great. Tons of outdoor cafe’s and restaurants, lots to see, lots to eat, and all at a great price. Add to that the fact that you are a short trip to some of the most amazing sights in the world. We took full advantage and had one of the best European trips ever. There was also some interesting South Koreans we befriended on one of the days, but that’s another story.
The weather leading up to the race was wonderful. A little cool in the morning with some nice sun to make it a warm but comfortable 75 degrees in the afternoon. Forecast for race day was much of the same until we got to Saturday. Then the forecast changed with the clouds rolling in to 52 for the low with a chance of rain and the high never getting close to 70. I guess Al Gore really did fix global warming. Good for him.
With two transitions, the check in was a little messy. In America, we assume everyone is damn idiot. “Don’t use a hair dryer underwater”.. etc. We spell out every last detail. Germans however, assume a little too much. Need to know if you need to wear your number on the bike? No mention. This is kinda important if the one transition bag is 10 miles from the other. My friend Michel and I found an official and got a few things cleared up while he looked down his nose at us, then dropped the run bag at the river (T2), and hopped on a bus with our bike for the drive to T1 and the swim area. By the time we finished it took 3 hours. A bit too long by any standard.
Race morning had a similar tone. We arrived at the shuttles (swim start is 9 miles from hotels/finish) with plenty of time. Someone missed their assignment though as the lines wrapped around a city block. Some panic from the race organization and we made the shuttle (spectators went to the back of the line) and we made it there 1 hour later. Not my best mood.
Michel and I hurried to the bikes, prepped them and made towards the beach to try and get some warm up in.
By the time I got down to the swim start, it seemed most of the athletes in my corral were already lined up. This, like Ironman Texas was a rolling start, but this one was different as they corralled the athletes by ability. Learning my lesson from Texas, I knew that being up front was important, So I became that guy. I snaked and nudged and shimmied my all the way up to the second row. Thankfully I couldn’t understand what they were saying under their breath at me. Probably, “Hey Dude! Good Luck!” or very similar I’m sure.
Had about 5 min before the start at that point, and was pressed in pretty tight with everyone. So the warm up was officially out, as was most stretching since we were too squished in. Starting cold turkey it was going to be. It was about at that moment I noticed my wedding ring was on. Shit. Because my fingers get cold/shrink, I’ve never been able to swim with it on. Comes right off. Scanned the crowd in the hopes of seeing Amy, or anyone I know to no avail. Guess I’ll be visiting a jewelry store back home.
At the front of that first corral they had 5 gates, and we were to line up in those gates. As it was explained, they would release 1 group every few seconds so as to spread us out. And how did they intend to stop each successive group for those 3 seconds? A balloon. Yep. One of those long wiener dog shaped balloons you clap together to make noise as sports events. I was positive that would work out just fine. 3100 people hopped up on adrenaline and ready to fight being stopped by a balloon. Great idea. The cannon went off, and as I predicted a stream of athletes bum rushed that balloon all at once and we were off in one giant mass. The quarry that we ran into had pretty clear water and was lined with sandy beaches right up the the water. Once you hit the water it turned to gravel and rocks. It was brutally painful on my feet, and they throbbed for the first 10 minutes. I quickly swam up to the second spot and then the lack of warm up kicked in. The arms and back started cramping up and I was forced to back off. A small pack formed before the first turn and left a 15 yard gap to me and some others. The first part of the course is about 1 mile and is shaped like a rectangle. You then run up the beach, around a barricade and back out into the water (referred to as an Australian Exit) for a larger 1.4 mile triangle.
The beach run was just as painful as the start, and I laid it out in about 2 feet of water just to get off my feet (the scabs from the cuts are still healing as I type this). The second part of the swim went much better. Arms loosened up and was able to get into my rhythm. I was able to keep the wedding ring on by pausing every 5-10 stokes and pushing it back on. Score one for my marriage! Began passing people who had gotten an early lead on me, as well as a handful of female pros. One thing I did pick up on though was that my hip flexors were fatiguing. Payed attention for a while and realized I was pushing my legs down like a wing flap to get my upper body lower in the water. The wetsuit was providing too much buoyancy. At any rate, I got the the finish in 49:35. I’ll take it. The beach we ran up on was 12-18 inches of very loose sand and the hill was steep. I felt like I was in some spartan event getting up the thing. About halfway up I saw Amy and handed off the coveted ring of marriage to guard.
Transition was pretty much a non event, but I should mention for the Americans reading this is that there is no help here. No wetsuit removal, no handler in the tent, no nothing. Little more than an observation for me as I don’t use any of that, but worth mentioning if you like your wetsuit strippers and are thinking of racing abroad.
Being soaking wet and temps in the low 50’s, it was chilly, and I hate chilly. How chilly you ask? At mile 6 I rode up on a swarm of motorcycles/cameras and a female pro. She was slowing to a stop. It was Kona Champ Daniela Ryf, and she dropped out right there due to hypothermia. (On a side note, let it be known that in both my European races I have beaten a Kona Champ. In Switzerland I ran down Pete Jacobs, and now I have out ridden the aforementioned Ryf. Let this be a lesson to all you Kona champs out there.).
The bike course here is stellar. The roads are wonderfully smooth outside the picturesque villages that are 100’s of years old, where the road was either patchy or cobblestone. The cobblestone was a bit rough though. Shook your eyes right out of socket. As you left the cobble there was a small pile of bike parts that had shaken loose and a few meters later a mechanic had set up shop for the same reason. There were some nice hills to keep you honest as well. As I predicted, the steady stream of cyclists started coming by around mile 10, and never ended until I got off the bike. I kept the effort comfortable and didn’t worry about it. It was a beautiful course and for the first time ever, I made a point to enjoy it. In fact I was so set on enjoying the day that I did something for the first time ever. I got off the bike to use the restroom. TWICE. The cool temps were taking it’s toll on me though. I was a little beat up going into this race and now those knee and hip pains were were really getting tough to deal with.
The crowds were absolutely phenomenal. Each village brought out tables and chairs to the road side and cheered us on while drinking beer and cooking some seriously great smelling food. In between the villages, the farmers were out at the end of their dirt roads with noisemakers cheering us on as well. It’s just as one would envision it.
Almost midway through the first loop was a real stinger of a hill that rewarded us with a descent that was just as good. The downhill starts in a forest but lets you out into the wheat fields towards the bottom. For the first loop, the winds were calm, but the second time around the winds had picked up, and I noticed it just in time on this downhill. I was going somewhere around 41-43 mph and looking down the hill at my line and noticed the wheat was leaning sideways across the road. If you’ve ever ridden a disc with a deep rim front, you’ll know it becomes a bit of a sail in the cross wind. I grabbed the bars and planted my foot to brace the bike. As I shot out of the woods, the wind pushed me a good 2-3 feet across the road on impact. One of those oh shit moments that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
On the final climb before you descend back to Frankfurt, there is a long straight hill with gobs of people, noise, banners, signs, etc. Even had a devil run with me. Right out of the pages of the Tour de France, and very cool. From there, you have some flat and downhill sections to town, where you either turn for lap 2, or finish to the run. It was on my second loop, mile 107 to be exact, that it began raining on me. Nothing beats cold like cold and wet. Finished the ride in 5:26 (Strava link)
Like the first transition, the second transition was uneventful. Except that this tent was co-ed. I’m guessing there was place to change if modesty was your thing. It seems modesty is not Europe’s thing though! Ha! Getting up off the bench to start running was a bit of a chore because of the tight joints, but after a few minutes of running (in the rain), they started loosening up.
Saw my lovely bride and our friends as I was heading out, and stopped for a quick kiss (my wife, not my friends). Started feeling pretty good when I got caught from behind by the eventual 3rd place finisher, Eneko Llanos. He wasn’t running much faster, so I thought I would run his pace to see how it felt. We were going 7:20-7:30 pace and it was exceptionally comfortable, so I stuck with him for about 1.5 miles. At that point he stopped at an aid station and I continued on. It was quite a while before he caught me again, but this time he must have fixed whatever his problem was, as he blew by.
The course itself was 4 loops along the river in downtown Frankfurt, and there’s not a single inch that wasn’t covered with spectators. On our race numbers, the organization did 2 things, they put the flag of the country you’re representing, and they put your first name. This was a great bonus as not only did people cheer for me by name in about 5 languages, I also received a number of “Go USA!” cheers. One such time an older German man cheered for me in German, saw the flag and started chanting USA! USA!. Just after I passed by him I heard him yell in a heavy German accent, “Come on Big Guy!” Wait… What? Is this guy friends with that jack ass in Ironman Texas? He must have been cheering for someone else at that point. Right? I need to work on my bulimia.
After about 14 miles the tightness in the knees returned, so I stretched about once per mile so I could stay comfortable and not do any permanent damage. Shuffled my way through the intermittent rain and made the turn for the finish, where the skies opened up one more time just to jack with me. The finish line here is so impressive. Jumbotron, stadium seating, disco lights, cheerleaders, cheerleaders, red carpet, and cheerleaders. Great fun. Run: 3:56 (Strava link), Total 10:21
Crossed the line for a very gratifying Ironman finish number ten. Ten finishes on eleven starts, spanning 20 years. 3 in Kona, 3 in Texas, Arizona, Cozumel, Switzerland, and now Germany. Ten is a nice round number. Seems like a good place to stay.