The Dusseldorf Marathon is organized for runners who traditionally cover the 26 miles in an event organized every May. Simultaneously the unicycle event is held alongside this – so there are runners and unicyclists using the same route. This does not appear to cause problems as the field is strung out, and unicyclists and runners participate with help from course marshal's.
After an initial flush of enthusiasm back in late 2011 I delayed my enrollment fee believing I wasn't really good enough to take part, I wouldn't know anyone else, I didn't have the equipment or it would stress me out! How wrong I was – and I thank Alan Hogan and Roger Davies for their support and encouragement without which I wouldn't have gone.
Alan and Roger had paid the enrollment fee months in advance that made it cheaper for them. I paid a significant increase because I enrolled much later. Something worth considering if you can commit in advance. I had little to do with the logistics of getting to the event. Ferry and hotel bookings, route planning, a pre-race evening meal with dozens of the riders and much more were all done by Alan and Roger.
On the day we all met it was decided that we rendezvous in Stockton at the headquarters of unicycle.uk.com. Wow this was brilliant, meeting the staff, discussing unicycles and wandering around the treasure trove of parts and accessories. Parts-bins containing everything including a few geared hubs! New products being tested or assembled. Alan arrived with Lori in his large Ford Transit that we were all travelling in to the event. Lori is from the USA and is a competent unicyclist. Although she wasn't taking part in this Marathon she was just as keen to support our efforts. So it was, after a hearty meal at Rogers house, this intrepid crew set off for the Hull overnight ferry complete with a separate compartment in the rear of Alan's vehicle for mounting unicycles safely. The overnight came and went perfectly – A few drinks in the bar, some sociable conversation and a peaceful night’s sleep all helped to make an enjoyable journey – and yes, we did talk about unicycling much of the time.
The next day we headed for Dusseldorf as the weather got warmer. By the afternoon we were signing in at the event headquarters. I seemed to be surrounded by so many unicyclists of all nationalities! There were riders who I recognized from unicyclist.com, and others I had never seen. So many more people involved in unicycling than I could have expected to meet! Roger seemed to know them all, or they knew him! So after talking, catching up with people and chilling out in the warm weather we checked into the hotel before eventually going off for the traditional evening meal of pasta with about forty other unicyclists in a local restaurant.
The morning of the race day, Sunday 27th April. This was it! I felt prepared with my equipment and riding gear for an event of the sort I had never done before. Again, relying on Roger to lead the way from the hotel we mounted and rode towards the start. The high city buildings accentuated the narrowness of the streets as we rode over a changing surface of tarmac, cobbles and slabs. Traffic lights called for a few dismounts for me and several other riders appeared from side streets, mostly riding 36'ers – and then we reached the start.
One or two unicyclists I had chatted to on Facebook were now in front of me chatting real time. Others were warming up with slow rides back and forth, including me. Already the crowds had gathered and there were hundreds of people lining the route especially at strategic points. I was near the back of the group when the race started and happy to do a rolling mount thankfully hitting it first time with such a big audience on hand!
So we were on our way and I was pleased to see I was surrounded by unicyclists who were not going any faster than me, some on 36” others on smaller wheels – however there were another twenty five miles to go! The pace was OK and I settled into a cadence that I felt I could maintain over the distance. The weather was slightly overcast and cool enough to keep a good pace up. During the first few miles the route doubled back and at this point I saw Alan and Roger. Alan on his G29 and Roger on fixed 36. Both appeared to be going noticeably faster than me, especially Roger, but I held on to my pace and considered how far it was to the finish.
At the first hairpin – virtually 'turning on a dime', the guy in front of me did a UPD and promptly stayed in the road being helped on. Effectively blocking the narrow road for oncoming riders, and I was just a few meters away from him. I slowed trying to keep balance but he couldn't get on and in the cramped space I was forced to dismount behind him. Running past him to an open space I managed to get on again but not before five or six people passed me. Darn, I was determined to catch those riders and make up the lost position. I was fairly contented with what I had seen of the other riders around me and I assessed that my pace was slightly faster as I was slowly catching and overtaking riders.
Then I had a mishap with my T bar as it came loose and pulled up at an acute angle in front of me. I knew I would have to dismount again to fix it as it was badly effecting my riding style and slowing me up. So I dismounted on a wide section of road but then noticed it was close to a left hand bend absolutely full of spectators! Using my emergency tool kit the handle was fixed quickly – leaving me to mount in full view of the crowd. Now mounting is a sore point with me as I can only get on top of the big wheel with a rolling mount. I missed it first time with nerves and could sense 'millions' of eyes staring in anticipation – no pressure then! I hit the mount second time that set myself up with good footplants on the pedals, so I went for it on the bend tearing around the corner, pressure on the pedals with a good degree of lean looking really confident! The crowd apparently thought so as there was a grand cheer and horns sounding as I rode off up the road.
My warped sense of logic told me that as I very gradually overtook other riders there would come a point where I would reach a rider or riders that I couldn't overtake as they would be my equal. I would thus be in a position in the riding field where I could expect to hold position, given that energy and comfort levels stayed the same. I reasoned that I should be able to hold this position and match whoever was riding near me. Well this was quite a rough assessment but I think it worked out like that.
I caught up with two riders, a woman and a guy. Over half way through the course we were riding at the same pace, nobody catching us in the strung out field and nobody in site ahead of us on the winding route. We were changing positions as we rode the woman leading for a short while then me or the other guy pushing a lead for a short distance. At the finish the three of us went over the line consecutively, the woman first and the other guy behind me.
I was a little disappointed with my time of 2.31.00 although I had anticipated doing it in just under 2.30.00. I just felt I could have actually gone faster, and also lost time with the dismounts. I didn't wear GPS and had no idea of my actual pace, distance and time etc because the route was mostly a blur as I focussed basically on looking just in front of me. I think next year I will be more composed and I will have a strategy. On the other hand I didn't do too badly in the Over 50 age group and wondered if I was one of the oldest riders at 63.
Alan Hogan improved on his time from last year by quite a margin, demonstrating his growing experience and improved riding skills. What can I say about Roger Davies except he created a new world record for the fastest ungeared rider completing the course on his 36! Well there was only one way to finish a trip like this so the next day en route home we stopped off to meet up with Klaas Bil in Amsterdam. After meeting his family and having a very hospitable meal we were guided by Klaas through some lovely countryside on a unicycle ride.