2018 – the fittest year in my life

Finish line Ironman Hamburg

The end of the year is always a time for a little reflection. This year was very challenging in many perspectives. But these challenges have actually shown me that I have never been as mentally and physically strong as I was this year. Getting older probably helps the mental strength to develop, but it doesn’t usually have a similar effect when it comes to physical fitness 😉

Since I started doing regular sports about 6 years ago I had several ups and downs when it comes to my fitness. I did my first long distance triathlon (Challenge Almere) in 2015 – 2,5 years after my first run. It was way to early and my body wasn’t yet ready for this kind of physical stress. I have finished the race without big problems, but the problems started shortly after. It took me more than a year to recover – that’s why I decided to only do Olympic distances in 2016 and 2017.

As my fitness was up again in 2017, I decided to sign up for the Hamburg Ironman 2018. I set myself three goals for 2018: Ironman under 12 hours, middle distance under 6 hours and marathon under 4 hours (my previous PB’s were 12:46, 6:10, 4:12 respectively).

Staying healthy is key

One key factor that made reaching these goals possible was staying healthy. I started structured training on November 1st 2017, and managed not to have a cold or injury until after the Ironman (the only health issue I had was the food poisoning directly before the Mallorca Olympic Triathlon – the only one without a PB). While luck definitely matters when it comes to preventing cold and injuries, there are many things we can do to help the luck a litte:

  • I wear clothes suitable to the weather – sounds pretty obvious, but who does it in their twenties? I didn’t 😉 But as I’m getting old and wise, I always wear a hat and a scarf when it’s cold (of course cold is relative, I’m quite sensitive to it, so I usually wear a hat already below 15 degrees, especially when I’m riding a bike. Also I startet using the rainwear for my bicycle commute (if it was raining of course :D) and so avoided arriving in the office soaking wet and not having a dry change of clothes…
  • I’d like to avoid crowds during cold and flu seasons, but that’s not really possible in my case. What I do, besides meticulously washing my hands, is getting some extra vitamins and trace elements, like Orthomol immun.It might be mostly a placebo effect, but I don’t care, as long as it helps.
  • I try to get enough good quality sleep. I’m not the person who falls asleep easy, so I really have to work on it. The hardest for me is when I have to sleep in hotel beds, which happens quite regularly due to my work. Reducing screen time in the evening, avoiding eating too late, stretching and meditation before going to sleep (although I don’t always manage to do the latter…) – these factors definitely help getting a good night sleep.
  • Stretching is not only helpful for a good sleep – it’s essential for preventing injuries. I didn’t have any kind of injury since I got back into sports six years ago, and I believe that regular stretching and core training are a key reason for that. I personally enjoy yoga – although I’m terrible at it, to be honest 😉 During the season preparation (October-January) I go to yoga classes 1-2 times a week, during the intense training and race phases I usually don’t have time for that, so I do shorter yoga routines with apps like Asana Rebel.

Structured training

My training volume reached up to 20 hours a week – 3 years ago it would have killed me

Thanks to staying healthy I managed not to miss one training in the entire Ironman preparation time. Since my first long distance triathlon I work with a coach who prepares my training plans. Before I started working with Takao I was training too much too fast and with no structure, which worked for an olympic and a middle distance, but might not have worked for the long one. I know many triathletes who prepare their own training plans, but I personally prefer to have someone supporting me with it, helping me with the planning of the whole season, pushing me to my limits but also reminding me that regeneration is also important 😉

I also work with a swimming coach Katja (during my first triathlon in 2014 I swam 80% breast stroke – a lot has changed since then). She taught me how to swim back then, in 2014/15 while last year I mostly attended her open water swimming classes, which helped me to improve my swim splits a lot (1900 m in 45 minutes in 2015, vs. 38 minutes in 2018…).

The training camp in Mallorca in March helped to set the foundation for a successful season. I can really recommend it to everyone who’s planning to do an Ironman. I had 10 days of intense training, and especially something I don’t really have while cycling in Berlin – hills 😉

The training has paid off

Finish of the Zurich Marathon

On April 22nd in one of my favorite cities – Zürich, I wanted to finally run a marathon in less then 4 hours. In my two previous Marathons Hamburg in 2015 and Berlin in 2017 I missed the 4 by more than 10 minutes. I was a little nervous and didn’t sleep well and it was already 20 degrees at 7:30 in the morning (and it went up to 28 degrees at noon…), but somehow I knew that I’ll do it. My legs were a little heavy at the beginning (it’s actually always the case for me within 24 hours after a flight, even a short one – an observation, that I unfortunately made later on…), but the pace was good. At about kilometer 30 I really started getting excited. I knew that I have enough time, so I’ll manage it under 4 hours if no unexpected disaster happens. I hear from so many runners that they really struggle at about 10-12 kilometers before the finish. I don’t – I know, that I’m almost there, I eat a nutrition gel, smile and run 😉 (smiling generally helps). I finished in 3 hours 56 minutes – very happy but already with a plan to get faster next time 🙂

Finish line of Challenge Herning

The next PB to be broken was the one in middle distance. On June 9th at noon (very unusual time of day) we went into the water. It was quite a nice surprise when I went out of the water just 38 minutes later. The transition went also pretty well and I felt strong on the bike. The heat was quite annoying though and after about 50 kilometers into the cycling I started having digestion problems, that unfortunately didn’t stop until the finish line, so the run was less fun then usual… At the finish line it didn’t matter anymore – 5:47 was not as fast as I expected, but still 23 minutes faster than my previous PB (and in my “off season” middle distance in August I managed to cut my PB by another 23 minutes, finishing in 5:24) and I started feeling prepared for the biggest challenge of the year (and qualified for The Championship 2019).

Race video Ironman Hamburg

A week before my biggest challenge of the year I started getting really scared 😉 Especially as the temperature was permanently above 30 degrees and the water temperature was already at about 25 degrees – which means no wet suit. No wet suit means to me – poor swim split. But it turned out to get even worse – due to the dangerously high concentration of blue algae, the swim was cancelled… It was obviously quite sad, but some I took the pressure off me. A I woke up at the race morning I felt strong, focused and prepared. The day started with a 6 km run (instead of swimming). I started easy, focused on not overpacing (there were few more kilometers to come :P). The bike went perfectly, with optimal weather conditions – I only needed 5 hours 45 minutes. The runs started well – es I was energized because of my bike performance. Towards the end of the first round I started having digestion problems (based on what I saw and heard – I was not the only one…), but they went away in the middle of the second round. I somehow managed a negative split – each of the four rounds was faster than the previous round. You can see how I was feeling at the finish round when you look at the video above 🙂

This feeling is somehow still there when I think of 2018. And because I love this feeling so much – I’m looking forward to the challenges of 2019. Happy New Year everyone!

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