6.40am. The waves lap gently against the shore, the sun has already risen and the air is quickly warming up. Kathrin slips smoothly into the waves and starts a front crawl towards the starting line. There is something almost romantic about being here in Hawaii in the early morning. To her left she can see the coastline of the Big Island. To her right, the expanse of the Pacific. She can taste salt on her lips. An unusual sensation for the German who normally trains in Hamburg’s Bäderland swimming complex. Until today, this scene has existed only inside her head. Kathrin Vergin hopes to conquer the Ironman challenge in Hawaii - that is her greatest dream. We remember 2018’s event well, when Patrick Lange was victorious and emotionally proposed to his girlfriend. Hawaii is the ultimate goal for every triathlete.
If there’s one CV that stands out from the crowd, it has to be Kathrin’s. She is not only a chemist and a nutrition coach, but also a passionate triathlete. Hawaii? Her goal, her aspiration. This immediately becomes obvious when she starts talking about the competition. Then she smiles, daydreaming for a moment about the sea, the cycling and the running. “You have to be fit, be very lucky and keep it all together on the day itself,” she explains over a juice in the café. In all, around 2,500 triathletes enter the Ironman in Hawaii, 70% of which are men and 30% are women. There is, however, a challenging qualifying stage before the event. Kathrin hopes to start working towards her goal this year and is therefore training harder than ever. As part of this, she is travelling to Thailand to train for three and a half months at the Thanyapura triathlon training facility. How did this come about? “I applied for a sabbatical in 2018 and the next thing I knew it had been approved.”
Three and a half months at a professional triathlon training facility: preparing for the race of her life. Hawaii 2020.
“For me the triathlon is more than just a hobby. It’s the challenge of testing what you can push your own body to do.” Kathrin has been taking part in competitions for the last six years. Her motivation was the 20 kilos of weight that she wanted to lose. Since her hobbies already included swimming, she took up running as well. And let’s not forget there’s one more event in a triathlon: cycling. “When it came to signing up for my first triathlon in Hamburg, I didn’t opt for the normal triathlon, but went straight for the Olympic discipline instead,” Kathrin says laughing, as if she can’t really believe it herself that she’s since become so good. Once the body knows that a certain time is doable, you always want more. Even though Kathrin isn’t an official professional athlete, it quickly becomes clear that she takes triathlons very seriously. In April she is heading to Texas to compete in the long distance Ironman race there. Just to give you an idea, we’re talking about 3.86 kilometres of swimming, 180.2 kilometres of cycling and 42.195 kilometres of running! Texas will be her second long-distance race, and she’s already completed eight medium-distance races.
A flexible working environment creates opportunities
How does she reconcile her intensive passion with her job at OTTO? Combining the two is only possible with flexible working hours models and a good team. “My team goes along with it all, supports me and sometimes even cheers me on from the kerb during competitions.” By working flexi-time, she can come and go flexibly and uses her lunch break for a run around Lake Bramfelder (8km or so). She is usually in the office by 7am so that she can use the whole afternoon for training purposes. In the immediate run-up to a competition there is one day a week when she doesn’t train. In all she fits in around 18 to 22 hours of training each week. “If I have to fit two or three sports into a day, provide dietary advice and hold down a full-time job, I’m reliant on being able to work flexibly. Otherwise I simply couldn’t organise it all. If I worked for a different employer with strict working hours, none of it would be possible,” explains the 34-year-old in our conversation. At present, Kathrin works from home every second Wednesday. This means starting even earlier and using the entire afternoon for sport. “It allows me to spend three or four hours on my bike and then go for a run at the end too.”
Total dedication to chemistry, nutrition and sport
“If you have to fit two or three sports into a day, provide dietary advice and hold down a full-time job, you’re going to be reliant on being able to work flexibly."
The more you listen to this athlete, what she has learned, the more you cannot help but be impressed. She studied molecular oncology at university, worked at Bayer in the pharmaceutical industry and then went into research for a couple of years to investigate the eating habits of women with breast cancer and the changes in cells. After that, she came to Hamburg. She managed a testing laboratory for three and a half years before switching to OTTO. “Today I work in the central chemicals management department. I’m very familiar with chemical analysis, inspections and certifications. My main job is as a chemist.” And as if that isn’t enough, Kathrin is also a nutrition coach on the side. She has given regular lectures since the mindful@otto campaign. These focus mainly on emotional eating and such questions as why diets don’t actually work, and what exactly eating behaviour has to do with stress, grief and mourning. Why do we really eat when we’re not hungry?
Triathlons give the chemist the ideal opportunity to combine nutrition and sport. To qualify for the competition in Hawaii, everything must be exactly right. She will start training for it in August and shift her focus entirely onto sport - with no distractions from her job - to get herself one step closer to her goal, and at some point to make the first stroke towards the start line with the taste of salt on her lips. Hawaii 2020.