CTB 29: Achilles, Porsche and Ironman Hamburg


What Achilles (tendon), Porsche (car) and Ironman (race) have in common?

Yes, they are all sporty. Yes, they are very precious and pricey to repair, maintain and participate. They all can be healthy or broken or inflamed. And yes, you can get a chronic Achilles inflammation by either training for an Ironman race – or by driving an older Porsche model with a tricky pedal box. Never knew it? Well, me neither.

Until I found it out talking to my old university friend in Hamburg last week. I raced Ironman there, slow and painful due to my inflamed Achilles, which disliked cool weather conditions and also prevented proper running training. So I was complaining about it to my friend during a post-race dinner on Monday. He said he would understand me really well and how much it hurts and is annoying at the same time - because he had the same problem with Achilles as well – from driving his older Porsche and doing the toe to heel downshifting trick! WOW!

“It is all about choices”, I thought, “and sometimes different choices lead to the same result”. He had always been into car racing, my university friend.  And I had always (and increasingly so) been into endurance foot racing. The result – Achilles tendinitis for both of us  – but also quite different fitness and car possession levels.

Everyone has a different definition of fun indeed.  Like, when you take S-Bahn (tube) in Hamburg at 5am on the race morning on Sunday, or any Sunday night/morning for that matter, you see a lot of jolly people coming back from partying on Reeperbahn – the drinking, dancing and so on district. I studied in Hamburg, trust me, I know. Now, 20 years later, I am taking this tube to race an Ironman. With my Achilles hurting. Not very sensible – but DNS is no option in my definition of fun, as much as DNF.  And such a race is always worth it. Even if it is painful. Or maybe just because of it?

Racing in Hamburg is a lot of fun indeed – and it is more difficult that you might think. You swim in a lake, located smack in the middle of city centre. Better learn not to swallow too much water swimming, since this lake has no beaches or pubic swim areas, and I guess for a reason. And better you learn how to swim in caves – because this is how it feels to swim under two very low and very wide bridges dividing the lake into the “inside” and “outside” parts. The inside part is small, dark brownish-coloured and well protected by buildings around it. The outside part is big, light brownish-colored and totally exposed to the wind. So expect choppy waters and learn to breath on both sides of your stroke.

Wet and cold you jump on the bike, which takes you on two loops with 1000m of altitude. “How come?” you ask, “Hamburg is flat!” – yes it is, and yes, it is not. You will not climb in the pure sense of climbing proper Alpine cols, and you can (and should) do whole 182km (yes, 2km of bonus), on BCR - Big Chain Ring. But you will need quite some bike-specific power endurance for what French call “faux-plat”, or “fake flat”, a seemingly insignificant but omnipresent 1-2% of positive incline on most parts of the course – in addition to two spectacular bridges and frequent accelerations out of many unspectacular curves on the course. And then there is the wind: we are relatively close to Baltic and North seas and the wind is blowing mercilessly in huge open areas as we cross the port of Hamburg – the biggest in Europe. This course keeps you pushing all the time.

The run course is the highlight of the race: filled with cheering people, these apparently “cool Nordic characters” are crazy fans when it comes to sports events, and triathlon in particular. They know how to support and motivate you when you feel like you have a clear preference to instant death vs more running at km 25 of Ironman marathon. They are all out there, all dressed in très chic & cool Sunday style, with their cute blond babies and equally cute blond Labradors, happy and cheerful as a fan can be. They will totally share their energy and find encouraging words for you – just look at them and smile. If you don’t, they will still support you, so stay in your tunnel, if you wish. Running in Hamburg is a bliss, even if you are suffering like a dog and don’t look cute at all. You will pass by the finish line at each of 4 loops – and the finish line is an A-class party. Hamburg knows how to celebrate – they have Reeperbahn at the end of the day! And this party goes on till 23:00 when last finishers are crossing and crawling over the finish line. Goosebumps, strangers hugged and the whole world brought together in Hamburg! With all their different life choices. Let us respect and celebrate them!

So, the big question now is - will training for Ironman AND driving a Porsche at the same time give you an Achilles tendinitis on both legs – or will it actually equalise or even heal it? Worth exploring! Just need to convince my university friend to start training for an Ironman :-)