There are a few races which are bucket list races and Challenge Roth – a big race with a long traditions – is definitely one of them. And most importantly, it lived up to those expectations. But first things first…
After crossing the finish line of the Ironman Hamburg which had turned into a long-distance duathlon, I already knew that in 2019 I would race another long-distance triathlon. Towards the end of the year, it was between trying to get into Challenge Roth and Ironman Tallinn. With a little luck, Challenge Roth became the big race for this year.
The road to Roth could have been smoother. While I was better prepared for the bike and the run in Hamburg, with the 100×100 in March and the charity swim in Dunmore East in June, I felt that my swim and especially my open water swim was better prepared going into the race this time around.
I flew over to Munich on the Wednesday before the race and drove up to Nuremberg. My biggest worry was to drive on the correct side of the road again. Since I drove a car in Ireland for the first time, I had not driven a car in Germany. All went well despite all the road works on the motorways and I arrived in one piece. I got a few things sorted and put my bike back together. A fun task every time I fly with my bike.
Nuremberg is about 30 minutes away in the car from Roth and Hilpoltstein. While it is still close by, you are out of the buzz in Roth with all the events on in evening before the race such as the Hütt’ngaudi or Pasta Party.
On the Thursday I started the day with a short run along the old town wall before it got too warm. I also got a little bit of sightseeing done at the same time. In the afternoon later on, I went down to Roth for registration and a walk over the expo. Of course I left way too much money there (some items were actually on my shopping list – however as points that could be purchased one by one and not all at once). Before I headed back to Nuremberg I stopped at the Sram stand for a quick chat and photo with Andi Böcherer (and Fraser Cartmell since he was just there).
Friday started with a swim in the Main-Donau-Kanal. With the water temperature around 25°C, there was a potential non-wetsuit swim in the air. Of course there was a lot of whinging and whining in advance that people could not swim without a wetsuit. With no swim in Hamburg last year, a non-wetsuit swim would be just the fine for me.
I swam about 1500m. With the water temperature and the sun out, I was roasting in my wetsuit. After I finished, I dropped my wetsuit and jumped into the water again for a quick loop. The rest of the day was more relaxing, preparation of the all the gear and a recce of the bike course with the car.
The Saturday had a little bit more of a programme ahead for me: a short bike ride, dropping the bike and the run bag, race briefing and a barbeque.
Challenge Roth was my first race with a split transition. The swim was in the Main-Donau-Kanal at Hilpoltstein and the run started in Roth. This meant, when checking in the bike, the run bag needed to be checked in as well because it was brought over to T2 and there was no option to get access to the bag again until after finishing the bike. When adding the nutrition to the run bag, I needed to keep in mind that it was about 32°C when handing over the bag and that I would not see it again for 24h. The bike bag I could drop next to the swim exit in the morning before the race.
When I arrived at the transition, there was a big excitement about the announcement that the water temperature was 24.2°C and that it was confirmed that we would be able to swim in a wetsuit. While a wetsuit is making the swim easier, its main purpose is still to keep you warm in cold water and 24°C is definitely not cold. But to my surprise, I actually learned later on that people in Germany would train in the pool with the wetsuit. No wonder people cannot swim without (the biggest issue about the potential non-wetsuit swim)… Here in Ireland, if I show up at 40ft in the morning at 7am, I am looked as, if I was in alien when jumping into the sea with a wetsuit…
After checking in my gear, I drove over to Roth for the race briefing (again big applause about the now confirmed wetsuit swim) and the pre-race barbecue.
At 3.30am my alarm rang (and a few more just after that because I was so worried that I could oversleep). When I left the hotel room in Nuremberg some time later, I stepped outside into the rain. Not exactly what I was looking for. On the motorway the weather got worse at first but when I arrived at the swim start, no rain was to be seen anywhere. About an hour later, that was a different story and I was more than happy that I had put my clothes for after the race in a plastic bag in the After Race bag since everyone and all of the gear was soaked from the rain. I was a bit worried about socks in the bike bag though as that bag was lying out in the rain (the race bags were made out of fabric and not plastic as in Ironman events).
At 6.30am the pro men started the race, I started 40 minutes later in the 2nd ladies wave at 7.10am. The water temperature was 24.4°C (I am sure they measured until they found a spot with that temperature to avoid a late announcement of a non-wetsuit swim). Just about a wetsuit optional swim for the age groupers and a non-wetsuit swim for the pros. At least the sun was hidden behind the clouds, otherwise I would have been roasting in the wetsuit like during the practise swim two days before.
The swim itself was about 1500m to a turning buoy, 1900m back on the other side of the canal to a turning buoy and back to the swim exit. The swim went alright. It felt quite long at times and I had the feeling the turning buoys would not get any closer. With the canal swim, I needed to do very little sighting as there is very little chance to go off course. I also breathe to the left side and since buoys were on my left side throughout the swim course, I would just see them while breathing.
The bike route was a two lap course of 85km each with a few additional kilometres that would bring you into Roth. I had driven along the bike course on the Friday evening before. I always find it easier to know what exactly will hit me in terms of hills and corners. Especially hills seem worse driving them up in a car than running or cycling them which always helps me. It was very easy to follow the course as some of the signs and bales of straw at traffic dividers or the desending hairpin turns were already up. For those, who like to cycle the course on the other 364 days of the year, there are also small signs attached along the course.
In the various villages, people and bars had set up tables along the course where people sat, drank and cheered while we all passed them. It was a great support from everyone around.
The first part of the course was quite flat. After half of the loop the steepest and longest climb was waiting for us. Thanks to my recce on Friday, I was fine going up that hill. In case you are wondering now, no this was not the famous hill. Solarer Berg would await about 30km later. For those who don’t know about Solarer Berg, it is neither a long nor steep hill in Hilpoltstein but it is lined with people cheering and they get very close as you might know from watching the Tour de France on TV.
Thinking of it in advance worried me a little bit but once you got there, it was absolutely overwhelming if you had not been there before. Shortly before, the lead car and police had passed me which meant that the leading men were somewhere behind me. And just when I was cycling up Solarer Berg in the middle of the crowd, the two Andis (Böcherer & Dreitz) were passing me. This was definitely my highlight of the day.
Thanks to a little mishap at the aid station at 141km on the bike when either ditching or grabbing a water bottle, I had started transition on my watch on my handlebar early and it meant that I had no idea of my speed or cadence. Training without power and heart rate has taught me to listen more to my body, and so I had to just do that until I reached T2.
With a split transition, the a volunteer took the bike off me. Not being the best with my watch in T1 and on the bike course, I at least remembered to take off the watch from my bike and put it back onto my wrist. In T2 a lovely girl helped me with all my gear. She laid it all out for me and put all the bike gear into the run bag.
With the one or the other long run skipped, the preparation for the run was not as good as it could have been. So, I went back to last year’s plan which was intervals for the run. I would run and then walk for 100m and through the aid stations. This kept me going and my mind a little bit off the kilometre signs.
About 3km into my run, I saw Gavin flying by. I was on my way down to the Main-Donau-Kanal while he was already on this way back.
From about kilometre 30, my legs were getting heavier and heavier, and to make it more challenging, the route out towards Büchenbach had a few ups and downs. While I ran more than I walked along the canal, the intervals had changed more into walking and running for 100m in between.
During the Ironman races any outside assistance is forbidden, at Challenge Roth on the other hand, you can get your nutrition from supporters and you can run with music. As I travelled alone, I had planned my nutrition in such a way that I would rely on my own and the on course nutrition. The option to run with music never crossed my mind, I did not even realise that it was possible until I saw a number of people on the run with headphones. Even some pros like Rachel McBride would run with music. Having the option of running with music, meant that some people used their phones to listen to music or have it in the hand for whatever else. Usually, you would only see that at running races and not triathlons.
After a long day, I finally made it to the stadium. The road up to the stadium was lined with people cheering and then arriving there was something else, just like Solarer Berg. The atmosphere on the lap of the stadium is carrying you to the finish line. 13.5h after the start, I crossed the finish line – in bits but happy. And since Challenge Roth is such a family event, the Walchshöfer family was just behind the finish line as well, congratulating everyone making it to the finish. I collected the most important pieces (medal, t-shirt and beer glass) and got a massage (it was not just a short after race massage but one for at least half an hour).
While after Hamburg I knew 100% that I would race a long-distance again in the following season, I am not too sure at the moment (I don’t have to anyway because I still have a 70.3 coming up this season – wohooo). But what I am quite sure about is that I will definitely go back to Roth to race.
Last but not least, of course a big thank you for all the well wishes before and the congratulations after the race as well as to my trainer.