Running on My Old Stomping Ground

One of my recent long runs led me through a forest where I spent a lot of time training when I was younger, my old stomping ground. It led me to this post where I tell you about my athletic career so far.

I’ve always been involved in some kind of sports activity as long as I can remember, albeit never really successful by any means. Starting with the inevitable soccer career (about a year) I quickly changed to swimming. I spent the first few years at a local club in Munich, where we trained (a lot!) but never went to any competition. While I was pretty happy – probably because I didn’t know what I was missing – it was actually thanks to my parents that I got to compete. They suggested to change to a different, smaller, club where the team visited local contests.

I stayed with that team for about three years (1988 – 1990, as far as I can reconstruct from old result lists). Due to my body composition I was never good at sprinting and short distances. Instead I liked swimming the 400m and 1500m best, being able to go with my rhythm, playing out my endurance and keeping my brain occupied with counting laps.

The Triathlon Years

My coach at that time was a pretty successful triathlete on local (i.e. Bavarian) level and suggested I’d give it a try, with me being a good long-distance swimmer. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I did go out on bike rides with another good friend of mine. To train for the running part didn’t really cross my mind and so I did my first triathlon later in the year 1990 with minimal preparation. Did I like it? No. Open water swimming? Meh. Riding the bike for 40km? Well, enjoyable if it weren’t for the race part. Running? No way.

But did I hate it? Strangely, not really. I figured if I’d actually go out running on a regular basis the suffering might not be so bad. And triathlon really was a niche sport back then, which made it appealing to me.

In spring of the year 1991 I bought my own road bike – a Trek 1200 – which I still own and ride to this date. For the next two seasons I spend most of my time after school training, more or less structured, with a lot of brick workouts followed by a tough swim session. And I signed up for a lot of races, all olympic distances, often every other weekend. I still suffered a lot during the races, but as I was able to snag a few age-group podium places my motivation didn’t suffer. Running was always my least favourite exercise of the three though.

Luckily I kept a few pictures from that time, which I’m not embarrassed enough to share for your enjoyment.

Triathlon running
Yours truly running. 1991.

As you can see, nutrition was important! Too bad I cannot reconstruct which race that was.

Suffering on the bike
Suffering on the bike. 1991.

I do remember that race. The 1991 edition of what was called “4. Sixtus Alpentriathlon” back then (the race still exists and will be held in its 26th edition this year). The picture above probably doesn’t do justice, but it is a pretty long and steep climb.

These days we have Strava and thus you can have a look at that climb yourself. I have no idea what my segment time was in 1991, but I’m currently sitting in the top ten on the segment.

Fast forward to early 1992 (the year I finished school and started University). I was looking forward to a great season, having time to train like mad. But at one of the early races that I had registered for but didn’t start due to rain, a fellow athlete was killed in an car accident. Realizing that it could have been me, I decided to say farewell to the sport of triathlon. To this date I am not sure if it was right or wrong, but back then it made sense to me.

The Swimming Years

Sort of going back to my roots I worked with another good friend and coach and improved my swimming technique to the point where I was fit enough to join a really good team. Training six times per week, I spent a year on the “B” team (with all the youngsters, some being easily 10 years younger than me), before I was able to join the “A” team. In 1993-1995 I probably spent more time in the pool than at University. Training eight times per week (with one day off, do the math) I tried to catch up with what was a pretty late start for a really successful career. Never worked out, of course, but I was happy with my steady improvements. The only ones not too happy about my prioritization were my parents. My grades suffered and I was at risk to be expelled from University. Seeing that I probably wouldn’t make any money continuing my swimming career I told my coach that I’d quit (to this date one of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had).

In hindsight it was a good decision to focus on my Computer Science studies and get a decent education. I hope you will be able to agree through the coding part of this blog.

The Lazy Years

Finishing University in 1999 I got my first real job in the beginning of the year 2000. After I had quit swimming I kinda went cold turkey and did no sport at all. I had all kinds of excuses (first along the lines of “I’ve had my share of training and sport”, then the job took more time and energy, then, even later, it was all about the kids). Inevitable, I gained weight.

A lot.

Back on the Bike

Luckily, I’ve kept my trustworthy Trek 1200 road bike through all the years of inactivity. And also luckily, in 2010 my wife threatened me into getting back on the bike.

Either you’ll start riding your bike again or you’ll have to get rid of it, it’s taking up space in the attic”.

Oh well. Looking at the scale, facing the decision to buy new clothes (and throw away my road bike!) I figured riding my bike again might actually be a good thing. I started in June 2010, weighing in at 80kg and by the end of the cycling season I had lost about 8kg. Facing winter with no riding and lots of food I decided to give running another shot. I for sure didn’t want to give up any of that hard earned fitness that was slowly coming back.

Running

And thus I found myself back in the running shoes. And the more I ran, the less I hated it. I kept losing weight, getting faster and fitter and enjoying every bit of it. In July 2011 I did my first running race, almost 20 years after quitting triathlon.

This week I will run my first ever Half-Marathon and I’m absolutely looking forward to it. Training for it, one of my long runs led me through the same forest where I did most of my running training during my triathlon years. This post originated during this and subsequent long training sessions and I had a lot of fun to finally write it all down. What a trip down the memory lane …

That’s my story. What’s yours? When did you start running or riding your bike? Did you feature a comeback?