Monday 26 May 2014

Tivoli Lauf Halb Marathon 2014 (Aachen, Germany)

I've had 'run an overseas race' on my to-do list for as long as I can remember. So when I seriously started looking for one, I naturally looked towards Aachen in Germany to see what might be on offer. My thinking was that I could kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, I get to tick 'run an overseas race' off my to-do list and my daughter gets to see her Omi (her Grandmother on the German side of the family) who lives in Aachen.

the new tivoli stadium

So I went ahead and signed up for the race. At 16 euros (£12.96), I thought the price was extremely reasonable for a half-marathon. Of course there were the Eurostar and Thalys train fares to add on top, but we would have to pay the train fares to get there regardless of whether I was racing or not. Believe it or not the website was in German, but I was able to read some and translate anything I was unsure of by using the power of internet translation services.

the schedule for the day's races

We travelled to Germany on the Saturday afternoon and stayed at my Mother-in-Law's house. On the day of the race she was kind enough to drive us across to the venue. The race is centered around the New Tivoli football stadium and is where Alemannia Aachen Football Club are based. Car parking was provided right next to the stadium, and once inside there were toilets and refreshments available. Spectators were able to sit in one of the stands to view their running friends passing through the stadium and also when finishing.

bib and tee-shirt collection point

I had to collect my race bib upon arrival and it was a swift and easy process. At this point I also picked up my souvenir Brooks race tech tee-shirt. The only real problem with the tee-shirt is that the smallest size they had was a medium, which is huge on me and although nice to have, is nothing more than a souvenir rather than something I can wear to run in. It's shame because it feels like a pretty decent one. I then checked the entry list and saw that I was the only GBR runner here today, which meant that I'd definitely be the fastest (and slowest) finishing brit of the day! (I'll take what I can)

there i am on the start list #soletsgorunning

The race start time was 10.30am, so a short while beforehand I wandered away from my little group of supporters, visited the toilets - this is a football stadium which is used to hosting thousands of people so the facilities were ample, it made a nice change from the 30 minute wait to use a portaloo! After that I had a warm up around the stadium before getting a decent spot at the start area.

so let's go running in aachen

Being in Germany, a country known for being precise and punctual, it came of no surprise that the race started, with a bang, right on time. The only criticism here is that there could have been a countdown so that I could have been better prepared to hit the start button on my Strava app to record the race. Anyhow, we headed off.

hanging around for a good spot at the start

My plan was to run a decent time, but not completely ruin my legs for the rest of my week-long break in Aachen. I settled on aiming to run a sub-90 minute time, which was a happy medium between leg ruination and just taking things too easy. I had printed out two pace wristbands (89 and 87 minutes) and wore them both to help me to see how things were coming along as the race progressed. As this was a European race, the half-marathon distance would be marked in kilometres rather than miles.

and we're off on our first loop of the stadium

After running one-and-three-quarter laps around the outside of the stadium, we finally joined the approx 5km loop that we would be running four times. The lap takes the runners on a snaking, twisty loop of the Sports Park Soers area which the stadium forms part of. Underfoot is mostly tarmac, but on a couple of occasions it changed to gravel or cobble stones. On lap two I got stone stuck in the sole of my shoe during a gravel section so had to stop to prize it out!

go #teamslgr

During the loop there is one point that is almost scenic, where runners could look to their left and see some horses in a field. Apart from that, there is not really much to look at on the course. There are a few stadiums en-route, including the Deutsche Bank Stadion and the Hauptstadion, which hosts the popular CHIO Aachen horse show, there's also a point where the course passes through a car park (closed to traffic) and a short tunnel. Coming through the stadium at the end of each lap was really good - a nice touch was the announcer reading out the runners' names as they entered the stadium. Although, I always tend to become 'Schteven Schtockvell' when in Germany.

the bridge

A special mention should go to a footbridge that the runners have to cross four times in each direction. The ramps are very steep and slightly gravelly, so it was a case of getting up, having a quick breather and then preparing for the fast exit, not easy on the slightly gravelly surface. The rest of the course was almost flat, with just slight gradient changes every now and then. While we're on the subject of special mentions - there was also music! Outside Tivoli Stadium there was a band playing all sorts of popular songs and at other points there were some sound systems pumping out dance music to help runners on their journey. 

that looks like a smile (water station in the background)
It was a really warm and sunny day, so I was nervous that the on-course water supplies could feel the strain. There was one water station which served runners running in both directions. Plus there was a sponge station a bit further on. It seemed to work pretty well. There weren't many places to run in the shade and the unbroken sunshine definitely made this run a little bit tougher than it could have been.

getting a hi-five while passing through the tunnel

From the very beginning, I didn't really stick to my race plan. I went out on the hard side of sensible and passed the 5km marker in 20.26, which was just slightly faster than the 87 minute pacing wristband said. However, it did feel a little fast. I maintained the pace and hit the 8km marker in exactly 33 minutes. One second off 87 minute pace, but still well within the 89 minute pace which was serving as my plan b should I not feel up to sticking with the faster of the two options.

live coverage

By the time I hit 10k, I was falling behind the 87 minute pace, so I adjusted my pace by about 10 seconds per kilometre to reflect the 89 minute plan. After a slightly slower 11th kilometre (my slowest split) to recover, I started to feel a little better and focussed on catching a runner ahead who I had been slowly gaining on. We ran together for a while before I pressed on. At the 17km marker, the watch said 71.40 (1.11.40). Glancing down at my 89 minute pace band, I saw that I was only two seconds ahead of it and started to worry that if my pace was slowing, I could miss my sub-90 minute goal.

it looks like four #teamslgr runners were out on the course

After realising that, I started to work harder - the pace stayed largely the same, which was fine. At least I wasn't slowing! I didn't see any more km markers so just continued to push towards the finish line. As I entered the stadium for the fourth and final time, I headed straight towards the finish where I saw the clock slowly edging towards 89 minutes. I crossed the finish line with the clock showing 1.28.52 (88.52), which was only 8 seconds slower than my current (as of May 2014) half-marathon personal best. It's interesting how the two completely different approaches gave me almost identical times. I then grabbed some water and quite possibly more than my fair share of banana segments from the refreshments table.

just a few metres left

My gps data tells a slightly different story as far as my splits and finishing time are concerned. First of all, it had me passing the first 5k point in just under 20 minutes and 10k in around 40 minutes. It calculated the course as being 21.6km with my half-marathon time being 86.56 (1.26.56). The gps must surely be wrong because I doubt the organisers would have made such a mistake with the distance (I will however keep an eye out for other people's data to see what the overall consensus is). I'm also having a little trouble with it displaying a really odd total time and pace on Strava, even though the splits are recorded properly. I've also transferred the file to my other log and the total time is ok. It still shows as 21.6km though.

Anyway, I had a brilliant time running the half marathon. However, I do have another couple of gripes. At the end the organisers removed all of the runners bibs, which contained the timing chips. So I have no bib as a souvenir of the race. Also there was no participation medal at the end. I'm not that fussed about the medal because they quite often tend to be quite generic and not really of any use, but I find the bib is a great item to have as a reminder of the day. When I'm old and reliving my youth through my race box memories it'll be like the race never happened.

ready to race

I won't dwell on that because after the race an even more exciting thing was about to happen. My daughter was running her second race! She had signed up for the 'Bambini Lauf' (children's race) which was for children under 7 years of age and absolutely free to enter! There were also 2.5km and 5km races for the slightly older children. The organisers even printed the children's names on their bibs for them. The race was about three quarters of the way around the edge of the football pitch inside the stadium and finished at the same finish line that the half-marathon had finished an hour or so earlier. 

go lime! #teamslgr #team7t #teamgbr

In total it worked out that she ran about 350 metres. At the end all of the children were given a few little souvenirs (a frisbee, a water bottle and some sweets). For me it was great that this race took place after the main race had finished because it gave me the opportunity to watch her, unlike at her first race. It was brilliant and I was so proud of her!

approaching the finish line

Another good thing was that all the bambinis got a free tee-shirt. Matilda didn't wear hers during the race because it was too big. A few minutes after setting off, she came back around to the finish.  The finish area was very crowded with parents, we stayed as far back as possible to give the kids some space. Eventually we had to dive in to pull her out of the sea of people.

picking up some post-race goodies

All done, the two #teamslgr runners from GBR had a special photo taken with the stadium in the background before heading off to spend the rest of the day chilling out. Well deserved all round, I think. Lastly, a big thank you to the rest of team7t who were supporting me and who took most of the photos for the blog.

teamslgr /  team7t

Update: The results are now online. I finished in 13th position out of 286 participants which means I was in the top 5%. I was indeed the first finishing GBR runner, but I wasn't the first finishing non-German participant. That honour went to a runner from the Netherlands who finished a couple of minutes in front of me. Something that partly makes up for the bib being removed after the race is that you can print off a certificate from the results page, so I might just do that for my race box.

screenshot from the results page (13th out of 286)

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