Kraichgau is a beautiful region in southwest Germany, known as the land of the thousand hills. As this name may suggest, Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau has a challenging bike course and a really tough run course! It has very good reviews and is well recommended for its top-notch German organisation and the beautiful landscapes on the bike course. This race was on my schedule since the beginning of the year. It takes place just four weeks before my biggest goal of the season, Challenge Roth on July 9th. So it offsers a good opportunity to check my fitness level and my race readiness in term of nutrition, equipment and logistics. After my DNS at Ironman 70.3 Mallorca, it really made sense to go to Kraichgau.
The race is very convenient since it is at five hours driving from Brussels with a possibility to have a break at my in-laws' place in Wiesbaden, just 1h20 from the event area. Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau has the transition areas in two different locations at 7km apart. T1 is located next to the swim start in Hardtsee Ubstadt-Weiher. T2 is located next to the registration, expo and finish area in Bad Schönborn-Mingolsheim.
Race briefing and registration
I drove to Bad Schönborn-Mingolsheim on Saturday morning, I arrived in the event area just in time for the race briefing in English. As usual in such presentations, the race organisation and rules have been clearly explained. We have been warned about the dangerous spots on the bike course, there were many sharp turns after fast descents, they should be clearly signaled and volunteers will be yelling at the athletes to slow down. The red and blue transition bags have to be checked in with the bike. There will be no access to the red bag on race day since it will be moved to T2. The weather for the race was expected to be sunny, hot with very little wind. After the race briefing, I went to the registration, there was a long queue. I didn't want to wait so I had a walk on the expo and came back later, there were much less athletes and the registration didn't take more than five minutes.
I went to T1 right after I finshed the registration. It is located in Hardtsee Ubstadt-Weiher with thousands of parkings spots available in the area. My bike was packed in the bike box and I had to mount it in the parking, I had plenty of time before T1 closure at 8pm. I mounted my bike, put the stickers and prepared the transitions bags then went for a short ride to make sure everything was fixed properly. Then, I went to the bike check-in. There was a very long queue at the entrance of T1, but, since I have the All World Athlete status this year, I didn't have to wait. There was a special line for Pro and AWA athletes, I must admit that it was a very nice privilege! :-) Another privilege is that I had my blue transition bag right next to the swim exit and a very good spot for the bike as well. It will be difficult to keep the AWA status for next season but it is definitely worth it! :-)
I exited T1 at around 4.30pm and went to check the swim course. It is a nice small lake with clear water. I didn't plan to swim so I just relaxed there for a couple of hours.
I headed to T1 at around 6.45am, I had no issues to park the car and the entrance to the transition area was smooth. There were plenty of pumps available, I inflated my tires, put the water and nutrition on the bike, visited the restroom then waited until around 8.30am to put my wetsuit on. I had a very short warmup then watched the start of pro male and female before joining the rolling start area.
For the first time in my triathlon life, I was really looking forward to the swim. I have worked on my technique and trained consistently in the last few months. I entered the 35-40mn starting block, with the rolling start, I was in the water at 9:41am. The first part of the course was easy to follow, swim straight and keep the buoys to the right, turn right when reaching the big buoys. After the third big buoy, the course was a bit confusing, nobody really knew where to turn back to the shore. At the start, even the pros were trying to figure out how to turn after the third buoy. Anyway, my plan was to follow other swimmers so this point did not bother me. I jumped into the water and had a good rhythm from the beginning. I am not very good at sighting so I tried to follow the swimmers around me and every now and then I lifted my head to make sure I was not out of the course. I enjoyed the swim and exited the water in 36 minutes feeling fresh! That's a big improvement from my 42 minutes at Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden last year! My GPS indicated that I swam 2030 meters at 1'44''/100m. So with a better sighting I could still finish faster!
The first 8 kilometers are flat then the climbing starts. Most of the hills are between 2% and 6%, but there are also some steep climbs between 6% and 13%. The length vary between few hundred meters up to 1.6km. Below the distribution of gradient on the bike course.
I was out of T1 in 4:07, I was feeling good and ready to have a good bike ride. I had a bad surprise when I started my bike computer, it did not detect the power meter! The batteries seemed to be flat. During my last rides, there was no warning that the batteries needed to be changed! With all the logistics involved in the race, something had to go wrong! :-( That's very disappointing since my race plan was based on power values. I had to go by feel and that's definitely not my strength! For about four kilometers I was trying to figure out why the power meter did not work, then I just gave up and focused on my race.
When the climbing started, I was feeling good and tried to keep my effort under control. It was more a guesswork without a power meter. The hills kept coming until kilometer 85, each climb on its own is not a challenge but the succession of climbs is what made this course difficult. Some descents were very technical and ended with a sharp 90° turn, they were well signaled. At the end of the bike, I started feeling the heat and I was already thinking about the half-marathon, it will be a tough run! I finished the bike in 3h18, I don't know if I could have ridden faster or not but I didn't feel like I overcooked the bike. After the dismount line, there were volunteers to catch the bikes and rack them. It is a nice pro treatment for all athletes. The downside of it is that the bikes were racked by arrival time to T2 and not by bib number. After the race, it was a nightmare to find back my bike.
When signing up for Ironman 70.3 kraichgau, I knew the run course was not flat, but I didn't know it was that hilly! It is a three-loop run course in the streets of Bad Schönborn-Mingolsheim. When running out of T2, my legs felt good, my initial plan was to run the first lap and see how it goes then adjust my pace accordingly. I started at 5'00''/km pace. I soon realized that I would have to drop the pace if I wanted to finish this race without a stop at the emergency tent. The temperature was above 30°C and my main focus was to stay hydrated and cool down my body at each aid station. I finished the first lap with an average pace of 5'09/km. The next two were at 5'30''/km pace. My energy level was good but the combination of heat and hilly course was too much for me. I finished the run in 1h56. My total time was 5h59.
The finish area in Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau is absolutely amazing, the best I have ever seen at an Ironman 70.3 race. There were plenty of delicious food, fresh fruits and cold drinks. They put two big baths with cold water to relax the legs and there was a big tent with tens of professional masseurs! I took benefit of all of this before heading back to T2 to pick-up my bike and transition bags. To go back to T1, two options were available, take the shuttle bus or ride the bike to Hardtsee Ubstadt-Weiher. With the heat and the fatigue, I decided to take the shuttle bus. It was crowded with very little room to put the bike. That was the only downside of this race. Once arrived at T1, I put all my equipment in the car and went back to the event area to attend the Ironman World Championship slot allocation ceremony.
Ironman 70.3 World Championship slot allocation ceremony
My finish time is 5h59 and I was ranked 155 in the 35-39 age group. In any other race I would have no chance to get a slot to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau was different, there was a massive roll-down during last year's slot allocation ceremony. For many reasons, there was a good probability that this year would be similar. The ceremony started at 8pm with the slot allocation for female age groupers, it took around 30 minutes. Then the slot allocation for male age groupers started. Not many athletes from age groups higher than 35-39 were present at the ceremony. So there will be another massive roll-down this year, as expected. Slots kept rolling down and when it was the 35-39 age group turn, six slots were available instead of three initially calculated. The presenter started by calling the guys in the top 10, none of them was present. So he asked the attendees "Who from the 35-39 age group wants to go to Chattanooga?". Several athletes raised their hand, SIX in total !!! Six athletes for six slots available! We will all go to Chattanooga!!! I still can't believe it happened!!! I never thought that I would be able to race the 70.3 World Championship, but in Ironman ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!