Challenge Roth, already feels like a distant memory - something I dreamt one night.
So being able to compete in Challenge Roth – just getting my place in the first instance felt like I had won something. It sold out in seconds when it opened and I was the only one from HT who had managed to secure a golden ticket. I was lucky enough to have a supporter come with me to keep me sane and I could not have managed the weekend without his support – the legend that is Les Nottage.
So catching the plane to Nuremberg – it seemed that Stansted was full of Ironman T-shirts (peacocking at its best) not just sun seeking holidaymakers. As I sat on the plane waiting for everyone to board, I watched the luggage handlers – loading on bike after bike box onto the plane and watched mine safely being loaded, I would be racing!
The logistics of Roth mean that you need to hire a car, there is nowhere to stay in Roth and the airport is a distance away too. I had pre hired a car and we arrived late afternoon / early evening so after a quick check in we headed over to Roth. We arrived in the town center which they were setting up for the weekend ahead – banners and stages. We eventually found the event village – with the expo all set up and walking over to the finish area which challenge had created (a stadium finish), it gave me goose bumps. Getting to bed that night, sleep was the last thing on my mind with imagines and thoughts running round my head.
Friday was about registration, preparation and the expo! We built the bike in the morning and I had a quick blast on it to check that it was working, it felt great and the wheels I had borrowed (Thank you Colin from Vincini Cycles) – I loved. There was no race briefing until Saturday and racking was also not until Saturday so Friday was a day to wander around the expo and try to relax.
Saturday – getting up and going through the pre-race rituals which seem almost automatic these days, Bike Bag, run bag, day bag… all laid out on the bed mentally going through what you will need at each stage and ensuring that you have everything in the right bag to help you survive the day. I actually enjoy being able to rack my bike and bags – it feels like a weight off as there is nothing more you can do other than stand on the start line and I can start to really focus my mind on the race.
Challenge Roth is a split transition and T1 is about 10km outside of Roth, next to the canal. The water has a slight current but nothing to cause concern. The bike racks are unique (to me at least) so it was wooden slates for you to put your wheel into rather than hanging your handlebars, it was a huge transition area that covered 2 separate fields. I racked my bike quite early so it was fairly empty and I had my little word with my bike (as I always do) to wish it well until I saw it again the next day. Challenge had thought about the split transition and there was a lorry collection for run bags– which they would take and rack for you in T2 to save you having to negotiate two locations. It is the little things sometimes… The rest of Saturday was spent in the Sun at the expo – drinking Erdinger and soaking up the atmosphere. Dinner was from the stalls available at the expo – I think this was my first mistake of the weekend.
I don’t struggle with sleep before a race so alarm set for 3.45am and off to sleep I drifted.
The morning of the race - the hotel had organised for an extra early breakfast so going to join the other athletes in the dark to fill our faces with as much food as possible – I managed my usual porridge (yuck!) but I could not stomach anything else – I just could not eat and this is very unlike me… my next mistake of the weekend. I made myself a Nutella roll for the journey and we set off to Roth.
I get nervous before a race – it doesn’t matter what the race is – I get nervous… a full distance race just ups that anti and the nerves bubble up over the top for me. Roth has a huge amount of competitors all hustling and bustling to check tyres and load up nutrition and get themselves ready for the race… I cannot cope with this chaos and found myself a space under a tree. I am not the best company and poor Les had to put up with my nerves, emotional rollercoaster and my usual Tourette’s. Outside of my personal crisis the air is electric and people are just buzzing around, it was ROTH and people are excited.
6.30am BANG!!! The cannon / gun goes - the pros are off, Jan is flying, everyone cheering, the hot air balloons taking off into the sky – ROTH HAS STARTED.
My start time is 6.55am so it’s time to take my day bag and join the swim start – I hug Les – let’s do this thing. There are crowds of people waiting at the swim start and finally it is my time to be lowering myself into the water…
This race is a strange one for me because I could no longer approach this race with finish as a goal as I know I can do the distance that box has been ticked and a time has been set. I now can only enter the race with a time goal… And as most people know that goal was sub 13hrs… I needed to replicate the swim and run but I needed at least a sub 6.45 but ideally 6.30 on the bike… I am a better biker than I was last year and this is achievable!! I feel far more pressure with a time goal than I ever do with just a challenge… Deep breath!
The Swim… I had this part of the race. I don’t have to worry about the swim – I am lucky. I am usually quite consistent and assumed I would bag my 1.05/1.06, I had what felt like a good swim. I kept myself out of the fight and relaxed into the swim. It is a straight down to the bridge round the buoys and then back to the other bridge round for about 400m then exit. Challenge had taken feedback from prior years on board and had metre markers along the bank, which is a nice touch. At the second bridge I had someone from behind swim straight over the top of me… although a shock, I recovered. This is why I don’t like rolling starts… as a faster swimmer you constantly have to sight swimmers as well as buoys – my fellow competitor had obviously decided just to look out for buoys!! Out the swim and pressing my Garmin it said 1.11 interestingly at this stage I questioned my Garmin rather than my swim time… it had to be wrong.
Bike bag grabbed and into the tent… changed (with my own personal helper) and off to the next stage. The bike is 2 laps around the German Countryside, there are 2 main lumps that you have to tackle (twice) and one of them is the famous Solar Hill. This is not until the end of the lap at about 70km. The first hill was impressive enough - sound system pumping out music and plenty of support but this is nothing in comparison. As you come to Solar you can hear the cheers and the sound is like a wall. You go around a corner and then start to climb Solar, the bottom has barriers but after a few metres the barriers disappear to what is just a sea of people… as you look up you can see the path that the rider before you took and but people line the hill for what felt like forever…. Cheering and clapping it was like nothing I have ever experienced… Challenge state that it is impossible to climb the hill without smiling and they are right – it was awesome, something I will remember about the race forever.
Now I have glossed over it but the bike did not go to plan. I had no push or energy in me at all it did not seem to matter how hard I tried the effort was just not translating. I was watching my goal slip away from me and that was heart-breaking. Then my head went as well, I got to 6.5hrs and was so far away from the end that I knew I was just going through the motions. I finished the bike at about 7hrs30mins and I was so disappointed. It was impossible for me to make up the lost time and I knew I still had to get through a marathon.
Les was at transition cheering me on and for that I am grateful - you can never underestimate how important that cheer from someone is when you need it, and I needed it.
So I headed out onto the run, a run that I just did not want to do. I had missed my goal so now all I was doing was running a marathon for the sake of finishing a race. Mentally that is one of the toughest things I have ever done. The run is one big loop that goes back on itself so you see people running the other way; it also stretches along a canal which as you look goes on forever and ever. They had KM markers every kilometre 1,2,3,4…………… my strategy for long distance is to use the feed stations as my markers and the race is only ever as long as the next feed station but with my state of mind the KM markers were like instruments of torture they seemed to count backwards. Every so often you could look back to see what distance the people in the opposite direction had reached, I was at 5km they were at 30km!!
At 12.59.59 I cried, I considered giving up, I was disappointed and I questioned why I was even doing this in the first place and I still had about 10-15km to go. I did not give up, I created a new goal – I needed to get in under the cut off and to finish the race.
At 5km my saviour came in the form of Les, he was running back down the course to look for me… just having his support helped me get through the last 5km. I had not been able to run more than a KM with a walk run strategy (mental barrier created by me) but that last 5km was my fastest of the whole run. Going over that finish line was bitter sweet, I had finished but I was so disappointed. I had wanted that moment to be one of real celebration and it wasn’t. I was frustrated, tired, angry, disappointed nothing about the moment felt positive – I just felt like I had let myself down as well as my HT family – I was a fraud.
I come away from Roth questioning whether I should be doing full distance and if I was expecting too much of myself. I have seriously considered if I should pull out of IM Nice – the really tough full distance that I have signed up for next year. I spoke to my other fellow long distance nutters and interestingly everyone listened but no one said don’t give it up, hmmm was I asking too much of myself. People have asked my time, I don’t know I never checked I wasn’t proud of it. I have analysed the weekend, my nutrition was not great both before the race and during (I had not been able to get my usual bike nutrition), my training could have been better, I got my period the day after the race and I have raced too much this year…. The week following the race physically I was fine but mentally I could not function and I pretty much slept for 5 days. I had mentally completed that race not physically.
Writing this has been really hard it upsets me that I failed but if there is one thing about me it is that I am stubborn and giving up is not something I am good at… I have another full distance in October which may well be the decider as to if this distance is the right thing for me. I am looking forward to the race in Barcelona, I am hoping that I can extinguish some demons; I want to finish the year with a bang… I am excited about it.
Positives about Roth, What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I need to be tougher mentally, I need to train smarter, I need to believe in myself and most of all I need to keep enjoying it.