o-tour 2018 (Halbmarathon)

Posted on September 12, 2018 with tags cycling. Part 5 of a 5-part series on bike races.

My first race redo at the same distance/ascent meters. Let’s see how it went… 45.2km, 1’773m altitude gain (officially: 45km, 1’800m). This was the Halbmarathon distance, compared to the full Marathon one, which is 86km/3’000m.


I registered for this race right after my previous one, and despite it having much more altitude meters, I was looking forward to it.

That is, until the week of the race. The entire week was just off. Work life, personal life, everything seemed out of sync. Including a half-sleepless night on Wednesday, which ruined my sleep schedule for the rest of the week and also my plans for the light maintenance rides before the event. And which also made me feel half-sick due to lack of sleep.

I prepared for my ride on Saturday (bike check, tyre pressure check, load bike on car), and I went to bed—late, again difficult to fall asleep—not being sure I’ll actually go to the race. I had a difficult night sleep, but actually I managed to wake up on the alarm. OK, chances looking somewhat better for getting to the race. Total sleep: 5 hours. Ouch!

So I get in the car—about 15 minutes later than planned—and start, only to find a road closure on the most direct route to the highway, and police people directing the traffic—at around 07:10—on the “new” route, resulting in yet another detour, and me getting stressed enough on which way to go and not paying attention to exact speed on a downhill that I got a flashed by a speed camera. Sigh…

The rest of the drive was uneventful, I reach Alpnach, I park, I get to the start/finish location, get my number, and finally get to the start line with two minutes (!!) to spare. The most “just-in-time” I ever was at a race, as I’m usually way early. By this time I was even in a later starting block since mine was already setup and would have been difficult to reach.

Oh, and because I was so late, and because this is smaller race (number of participants, setup, etc.), I didn’t find a place to fill my water bottle. And this, for the one time I didn’t fill it in advance. Fun!

The race

So given all this, I set low expectations for the race, and decided to consider it a simple Sunday ride. Will take it easy on the initial 12.5km, 1’150m climb, and then will see how it goes. There was a food station two thirds in the climb, so I said I’ll hopefully not get too dehydrated until then.

The climb starts relaxed-I was among the last people starting—and 15 minutes in, my friend the lower back says “ah, you’re climbing again, remember I’m here too”, which was way too early. So, I said to myself, nothing to lose, let’s just switch to standing every time my back gets tired, and stand until my legs get tired, then switch again.

The climb here was on pavement, so standing was pretty easy. And, to my surprise, this worked quite well: while standing I also went much faster (by much, I mean probably ~2-3km/h) than sitting so I was advancing in the long stretch of people going up the mountain, and my back was very relieved every time I switched.

So, up and down and up and down in the saddle, and up and up and up on the mountain, until I get to the food station. Water! I quickly drink an entire bottle (750ml!!), refill, and go on.

After the food station, the route changed to gravel, and this made pedalling while standing more difficult, due to less grip and slipping if you’re not careful. I tried the sit/stand/sit routine, but it was getting more difficult, so I went, slower, until a point I had to stop. I was by now in the sun, hot, and tired. And annoyed at the low volume out of the water bottle, so I opened it, and drank just like from a glass, and emptied it quickly - yet again! I felt much better, and restarted pedalling, eager to get to the top.

The last part of the climb is quite steep and more or less on a trail, so here I was pushing the bike, but since I didn’t have any goals did not feel guilty about it. Up and up, and finally I reach the top (altitude: 1’633m, elevation gained: 1’148m out of ~1’800m), and I can breathe easier knowing that the most difficult part is over.

From here, it was finally a good race. The o-tour route is much more beautiful than I remembered, but also more technically difficult, to the point of being quite annoying: it runs for long stretches on very uneven artificial paths, like if someone built a paved road, but the goal was to have the most uneven surface, all rocks being at an angle, instead of aiming for an even surface. For hikers this is excellent, especially in wet conditions, but for trying to move a bike forward, or even more, forward uphill, is annoying. There were stretches of ~5% grade that I was pushing the bike, due to how annoying biking on that surface was.

The route also has nice single track sections, some easily navigable, some not, at least for me, and some that I had to carry the bike. Or even carry the bike on my shoulder while I was climbing over roots. A very nice thing, and sadly uncommon in this series of races.

One other fun aspect of the race was the mud. Especially in the forests, there was enough water left on tracks that one got splashed quite often, and outside (where the soil doesn’t have the support of the rood), less water but quite deep mud. Deep enough that at one point, I misjudged how deep the around 3 meters long mud-alike section was, and I had enough speed so that my front wheel got stuck in mud, and slowly (and I imagine gracefully as well :P, of course) I went over the handlebars in the softest mud I ever landed in. Landed, as halfway up my elbows (!), hands full of mud, gloves muddy as hell, legs down to the ankle in mud so shoes also muddy, and me finding the situation the funniest moment of the race. The guy behind me asked if everything is alright, and I almost couldn’t answer due to laughing out-loud.

Back to serious stuff now. The rest of the “meters of climbing left”, about 600+ meters, were supposed to be distributed in about 4 sections, all about the same profile except the first one which was supposed to be a bit longer and flatter. At least, that’s what the official map was showing, in a somewhat stylised way. And that’s what I based my effort dosage on.

Of course, real life is not stylised, and there 2 small climbs (as expected), and then a long and slow climb (definitely unexpected). I managed to stay on the bike, but the unexpected long climb—two kilometres—exhausted my reserves, despite being a relatively small grade (~5%, gained ~100m). I really was not planning for it, and I paid for that. Then a bit of downhill, then another short climb, another downhill—on road, 60km/h!—and then another medium-sized climb: 1km long, gaining 60m. Then a slow and long descent, a 700m/50m climb, a descent, and another climb, short but more difficult: 900m/80m (~9%). By this time, I was spent, and was really looking forward to the final descent, which I remembered was half pavement, half very nice single-track. And indeed it was superb, after all that climbing. Yay!

And then, reaching basically the end of the race (a few kilometres left), I remembered something else: this race has a climb at the end! This is where the missing climbing meters were hiding!

So, after eight kilometres of fun, 1.5km of easy climbing to gain 80m of ascent. Really trivial, a regular commute almost, but for me at this stage, it was painful and the most annoying thing ever…

And then, reaching the final two kilometres of light descent on paved road, and finishing the race. Yay!

Overall, given the way the week went, this race was much easier than I hoped, and quite enjoyable. Why? No idea. I’ll just take the bonus points and not complain ☺

Real champions

After about two minutes of me finishing, I hear the speaker saying that the second placed woman in the long distance was nearing, and that it was Esther Süss! I’ve never seen her in person as far as I know, nor any of the other leaders in these races, since usually the end times are much apart. In this case, I apparently finished between the first and second places in the women’s race (there was 3m05s difference between them). This also explained what all those photographers with telephotos at the finish line were waiting for, and why they didn’t take my picture :)))))) In any case, I was very happy to see her in person, since I’m very impressed that at 44 years old, she’s still competing and most of the time winning against other women, 10 or even 20 years younger than her. Gives a bit of hope for older people like me. Of course minus being on the thinner side (unlike me), and actually liking long climbs (unlike me), and winning (definitely unlike me). Not even bringing up the world championships gold medals, OK?

Race analysis

Hydration, hydration…

As I mentioned above, I drank a lot at the beginning of the race. I continued to drink, and by 2 hours I was 3 full bottles in, at 2:40 I finished the fourth bottle.

Four bottles is 3 litres of liquid, which is way more than my usual consumption since I stopped carrying my hydration pack. In the Eiger bike challenge, done in much hotter temperatures and for longer, I think I drank about the same or only slightly more (not sure exactly). Then temperature: 19° average, 33° max, 6½ hours, this time: 16.2° average, 20° max, ~4 hours. And this time, with 4L in 4 hours, I didn’t need to run to the bathroom as I finished (at all).

The only conclusion I can make is that I sweat much more than I think, and that I must more actively drink water. I don’t want to go back to hydration pack in a race (definitely yes for more relaxed rides), so I need to use all the food stops to drink and refill.

General fitness vs. leg muscles

I know my core is weak, but it’s getting hilarious that 15 minutes into the climbing, I start getting signals. This is not happening on flat nor indoor for at least 2-2½ hours, so the conclusion is that I need to get fitter (core) and also do more outdoors real climbing training—just long (slower) climbs.

The sit-stand-sit routine was very useful, but it did result in even my hands getting tired from having to move and stabilise the bike. So again, need to get fitter overall and do more cross-training.

That is, as if I didn’t know it already ☹


This is now beyond subjective, let’s see how the numbers look like:

  • 2016:
    • time: overall 3h49m34.4s, start-Langis 2h44m31s, Langis-finish: 1h05m02s.
    • age category: overall 70/77, start-Langis ranking: 70, Langis-finish: 72.
    • overall gender ranking: overall 251/282, start-Langis: 250, Langis-finish: 255.
  • 2018:
    • time: 3h53m43.4s, start-Langis: 2h50m11s, Langis-finish: 1h03m31s.
    • age category 70/84, start-Langis: 71, Langis-finish: 70.
    • overall gender ranking: overall 191/220, start-Langis: 191, Langis-finish: 189.

The first conclusion is that I’ve done infinitesimally better in the overall rankings: 252/282=0.893, 191/220=0.868, so better but only trivially so, especially given the large decline in participants on the short distance (the long one had the same). I cannot compare age category, because ☺

The second interesting titbit is that in 2016, I was relatively faster on the climb plus first part of the high-altitude route, and relatively slower on the second half plus descent, both in the age category and the overall category. In 2018, this reversed, and I gained places on the descent. Time comparison, ~6 minutes slower in the first half, 1m30s faster on the second one.

But I find my numbers so close that I’m surprised I neither significantly improved nor slowed down in two years. Yes, I’m not consistently training, but still… I kind of expect some larger difference, one way or another. Strava also says that I beat my 2016 numbers on 7 segments, but only got second place to that on 14 others, so again a wash.

So, weight gain aside, it seems nothing much has changed. I need to improve my consistency in training 10× probably to see a real difference. On the other hand, maybe this result is quite good, given my much less consistent training than in 2016 — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Equiment-wise, I had a different bike now (full suspension vs. hardtail), and—compared to previous race two weeks ago, at least—I had the tyre pressure quite well dialled in for this event. So I was able to go fast, and indeed overtake a couple of people on the flat/light descents, and more importantly, was not overtaken by other people on the long descent. My brakes were much better as well, so I was a bit more confident, but the front brake started squeaking again when it got hot, so I need to improve this even more. But again, not even the changed equipment made much of a difference ☺

I’ll finish here with an image of my “heroic efforts”:

Not very proud of this…
Not very proud of this…

I’m very surprised that they put a photographer at the top of a climb, except maybe to motivate people to pedal up the next year… I’ll try to remember this ☺