Challenge Roth 2019
Background: As most are aware, Challenge Roth is very hard to get into. You either have to queue up first thing on the Monday after the race, or get lucky when they release more slots in December. So in December 2017 I was online and hit the enter button at the perfect time to get my slot! However, I was already signed up for Ironman Gurye in 2018, so I paid for the deferment option and eventually deferred until the July 2019 race. This was my third IM - I dropped from 13:37 to 12:57 from my first to my second, so I was looking to improve further, albeit on a different course. I stuck to my trusty 24-week training programme and was extraordinarily consistent, missing only two days in total when I got sick. I managed to increase my swim and bike volume, but eased off on run training due to the fear of stress fractures in my back which had happened in early 2018. I averaged between 7 and 8 hours a week, but peaked at 11 for one week, and 10 in another. My swim volume increased the most - I was determined to get below 1’20 after dropping from 1’32 to 1’23 in my previous races. I was also pretty confident that I’d be able to go faster on the bike after hitting some good PBs in the weeks before the race.
Logistics (not for the faint-hearted): My family and I flew in to Munich from Hong Kong on the Wednesday before the race and we hired a car from Munich airport. Bit of a squeeze to get bike, luggage, wife and two big kids into the car, but we juggled and were on the way for a nice easy drive to our apartment in Pleinfeld. Pleinfeld wasn't ideal, but was the best of both worlds - around 25 mins drive from both Roth (registration, expo, T2 and finish line) and Hipolstein (swim start and T1). Not perfect, but it was on the train line and anyhow, I couldn't find anywhere to stay closer to either race venue. As the race drew near, I did find a hotel in Roth for the Saturday and Sunday night, but couldn't justify US$400+ per night.
Race week: I had a bit of jet lag, so did not sleep too well in the days before the race, but fortunately I was able to rest a lot and not be too active. I'm a bit of a worrier and if you're similar, this race will put you through the the wringer.
First nightmare: I had my first test ride late on Wednesday afternoon and my rear derailleur was playing up leaving only 3 or 4 gears - a couple of easy ones, one middle one and one super hard one. I registered on Thursday morning and had a nice lunch in Roth before again tinkering with the derailleur. A quick test ride in the afternoon made no difference - it was still playing up. I'm not good with bikes, so was hoping it would magically fix itself. I joined the practice swim on Friday morning which was good - the water was definitely not cramp-inducing cold which is always a fear of mine. In the afternoon, I found a local bike shop in Pleinfeld, (https://www.bikerei-pleinfeld.de/) but there was no mechanic working, so was told to return first thing on Saturday. Hallelujah - on Saturday morning the mechanic was there and fixed the gears in 10 minutes - I really have to get better at this! Huge kudos to this guy - super helpful and didn't charge me. I had no idea what I'd have done if he couldn't fix it - probably winged it with the 3/4 gears, but that would not have gone well.
Bike check-in was in Hipolstein from 11:30am, so I went early. It was a long walk from the car park followed by a long queue to get in, but overall fairly smooth and because of the split transition, we had to drop off the Bike bag only. First rookie mistake - I put the Vaseline in the Bike bag, leaving nothing in the Run bag. One of my transition-mates summed up the logistics situation as we checked our bikes - "proper faff" was his expression. The Athlete briefing was at 3pm in Roth - supposedly mandatory, but I wanted to rest so I skipped it.
Race Day: The advice was to get to Hipolstein early due to traffic and road closures, so my family dropped me off at 5:30am, even though my start was not until 7:55am. That's a long wait, and not helped by the rain which started just as I got to T1 and hung around for most of my swim. Lots of hanging around in the cold and damp, so not a fun start and was a pretty miserable part of the whole experience. Lots of lone racers and their thousand yard stares. The Pros started at 6:30am - I saw them finish the swim, jump on their bikes and I still had another 30 minutes before I started.
Second nightmare: The water temperature was 24.4C so it was a wetsuit swim for the Age Groupers, but not for Pros. With 10 minutes to go before my start, I decided to pull up my wetsuit. The guy behind me volunteered to help and he only went and pulled the bloody zip off! I took it off to check the zip but couldn't get it back on. I asked around, and the general consensus was "you're f***ed", but it all adds to the story. I ditched the wetsuit and went commando with just tri-shorts and no tri-top. I know the guy was only trying to help, but I think the general rule should prevail - don't touch anyone else's equipment. I was lucky as the water was a similar temperature to what I'd been training in, but if any colder, I may not have lasted the swim.
Swim: It was a group start - around 200 each wave. I settled down but was eventually swum over by the only two individual waves following 5 and 10 minutes after me (the relay started at 9am). As I mentioned, my first IM swim (wetsuit) was 1'32, but I trained hard and the next one (also wetsuit) was 1'23. I trained even harder for this one so really felt I could go sub 1'20. I'm not sure what happened, but I was slow, slow, slow and came out at 1'34. I did not enjoy the swim - the canal water felt heavy. I was generally in the middle of the canal - not sure if that was the slow part. Not a great start to my day, but as always, I'm glad when the swim is over.
Bike: I loved the bike course - amazing scenery and lots of support all the way through. Some hills in there, but lots of fast sections too. Solar Berg lived up to all expectations the first time through, but the atmosphere was a bit flatter the second time round. Greding was the tougher hill, but I'd been training hard on the hills and I got up both times pretty well. It's a long uphill section with some false flats once you reach the top, but great to have ridden it. After Greding, I didn't go for broke on the big downhill, just played it safe to catch my breath. I don't have a power meter but was aiming to keep my average at 30km/h which I did until 120km, but tired with the increasing wind and finished with a 6'11 bike split - still the fastest of my 3 IMs.
Run: It's a great start through the town and I ran well until around 10km in the canal section. The canal was a bit tedious, but I've had worse run courses - at least it was flat and a fair bit of support. I did my usual IM Marathon tactic - run 10km, shuffle for the next 20km or so while getting the nutrition in, before attempting to pick up the pace for the last 10km.
Third (minor) nightmare: My Garmin lost battery at 27km (11 hours), so the last 15km was run blind and I did get a bit lazy. (I'm using a 735xt, which is supposed to last 14 hours and it lasted the full 13 hours for my previous IM). Back into town - great support all the way through, with a real party atmosphere. 5:04 split which was a bit slow - I think I could have gone sub-5 if I had the Garmin.
Finish: My family were waiting for me in Roth and as they allow families to run down the chute with you, my (big) kids finished with me just as they did in my very first 70.3. A lovely end to a long day. 13 hours flat - could / should / would have gone faster with a wetsuit and functioning-Garmin, but who cares, a great event and family there with me. More logistical nonsense at the end - a walk through Roth to find T2, then a longer walk with your bike to find the train station to get the train back to Pleinfeld, followed by a walk home to the apartment. But that amazing feeling you get after finishing an ironman prevents any negativity. You've done it, you've validated your 24 weeks of bloody-minded effort and you don't have to train in the morning!
Post-race thoughts: Overall, I'll never KQ (Kona Qualify), so this was my Kona (home of the Ironman World Championship). It's an amazing race, definitely one to do if you get the chance (i.e. get lucky with the registration). As I said though, I'm a worrier and the logistics kind of got to me so I didn't enjoy the experience as much as I should have done. The support from start to finish was superb and one thing sticks in my mind - the bibs have your name in large letters and your home flag, so you get a lot of random shout outs throughout the day - mostly on the run of course. I'm honoured to have completed Roth and although I don't really need to go back, I did leave some time and a PB on that course, so I have a feeling that I'll go back and claim them one day!
The whole 2019 race is here, which certainly brings back some great memories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg8hadlVFTk