What they say:
The city of Hamburg truly offers a unique and unforgettable race for all athletes. The course includes the Jungfernstieg pier in the very heart of the city as the start point of the 3.8 km swim course, which goes through the Binnen and Außenalster lakes. The two-loop 180.2 km bike course leads athletes through Harbour City and across the famous “Köhlbrandbrücke” bridge and the southern metropolitan area of Hamburg. The final 42.2 km run course consists of four loops along the Alster Lake in the city center, taking in the vast shoreline, before culminating at the famous Rathausmarkt.
Our verdict from reviewer Zoe Forman:
What was the Organisation like?
Firstly what a fab location for an event! My year (2017) was the inaugural Ironman but they do ITU World Series and they know how to put on great triathlon.
From pre-event communication always in English, to arrival on site, at the expo for registration everything was well organised, friendly and efficient as you’d expect in Germany.
Registration was a breeze, race licences & ID shown, a raffle ticket was given which in turn got your race pack, rucksack, goodies and a free beer feed stations.
From registration, expo, transition , briefing you couldn’t fault the helpfulness & friendliness of volunteers. All but one spoke perfect English leaving me apologising that my German was so poor, but they were more than happy to use English.
The feed stations were plentiful on bike & run and came up at regular intervals so not necessary to collect at each one, unless you needed to.
Coloured bibs – blue, green, yellow, red – were worn by feed station volunteers so you clearly knew what they were tempting you with WATER, ISO, COKE, FRUIT, GEL. All clean, organised and each followed the same format.
On the roads, it was equally well organised. First thing I noticed on race morning in the city centre was the army of street sweepers clearing the roads for the bike & run course. On the whole of the bike course I only saw one pothole on a dual carriageway section. The roads were smooth, clean, fast and varied. The only negative was going over the train tracks in the dock area when they were wet.
The completely closed roads bike course is rolling with a few short climbs – used nearly all my gears and both chain rings during ride – its not as flat as they advertised!
The huge amount of signage and marshals meant no one could get lost.
What’s the course like?
Swim – fresh clean calm water, scenic swim under bridges, two different loops of two lakes with Aussie exit. Great skyline of old buildings, swans swimming alongside and huge buoys for easy sighting. Swimming under a couple of bridges I was expecting bottle necks but the rolling start helped relieve that some what, even though we were all trying to swim on the same line.
Bike – We rode out of the city through the docks, industrial area, up and over canals on bridges and soon out into countryside with small towns & villages setting up own cheering points, fire brigades decorated their stations, rode past vineyards, corn fields, through a forest & saw plenty of windmills. Locals came out to support in the towns & villages with roadside picnics.
The forest & docks areas were less supported by spectators but plenty of marshals encouraging you – especially women as only around 10% of field was female. A really scenic ride which was rolling, with a couple of long uphill climbs and the bridges creating the highest gradients as we rode up and over them.
Then time to get into aero position on the fast flats. It was a flowing course. Not too technical a course apart from train tracks and a small chicane on a new road.
By the second loop the wind got up and we suffered on the long 3 mile climbs into a headwind, then got caught in two cold heavy rain showers and a light shower. The city skyline was amazing, from 10km out you could see the mixture of old & new buildings, clocks, church towers, bridges and cranes in the docks.
Run – this was four laps along the lake to turnaround and back into town centre passing the Rathaus each time until you finished outside. The run was lined with supporters and locals, many asking how I was enjoying their city. There were families, groups of friends, tri club supporters and again what felt like a million marshals who’s sole job was to look after the athletes and keep spectators off the course. Also a great selection on the regular placed feed stations with the coloured bibs for clarity. Plus sponges and ice which was welcome as the sun was now out and the temps were rising.
The ice cold isotonic beer was brought out on lap 3 and was a pleasant taste change to sugar drinks. Finish – after collecting 4 coloured hair bands on your wrist you had the joy of the red finishers carpet. The grandstands were packed, music pumping and the party very much in full flow.
Once we crossed through the arch being declared an Ironman, we were given our medals and a foil blanket and our ‘catchers’ walked us to the athlete garden. As we entered the garden we were offered beer – alcoholic or frei, shown where our white kit bags were and offered food, drink, medal engraving, massage, collection of our finishers t-shirt and shown the showers and change areas. Here the athletes, relaxed, recovered, chatted and compared races.
My catcher has since found me on social media and become friends as she was so inspired by my efforts – again superb German hopsitality and them wanting you to enjoy the Hamburg event and experience!
One point if note the German officials are sticklers for the rules – I’ve never seen the penalty tents so busy for littering, drafting, mounting bike before the line. Also officials were harsh on the cut off times – my friend had the barrier closed across him on the bike cut off, he was 10 seconds over! Then a finisher who though he was an Ironman was told no he was a finisher as 3 seconds over so no medal or t-shirt. After years of seeing drafing on the bike with age groupers it was good to see rules enforced – you sign up knowing the rules so need to respect and accept them.
Overall I’d recommend this as a first overseas or even first full distance Ironman event. Great location, courses, super support and perfect organisation, even if it has officially got the longest transition in the world for an Ironman event – over 1km.
Hamburg also has a lot to offer for families and friend if you stay on for a few days after the event. We walked around the lake stopping from drinks & ice creams, went on peddle boats, tempted by paddle boards, explored the docks and canals on a boat trip, drank cocktails on a sandy beach, ate a ton of pork washed down with litres of beer in the Beerhaus, got a liking for curryweirst and carried out a cross city comparison taste test, all with friendly German hospitality.
Also other walkable attractions were a chocolate museum, miniature world and botanical gardens. This is a walkable city or you can hire bikes and ride on cycle paths.
To read Zoe’s excellent blog visit: https://swimsweatandgears.com/
To read Zoe’s other race reviews visit her Tri Review page.