Thanks again to Lauren Morris for the below race report of her epic race at Challenge Roth in July 2014.
RACE REPORT: DATEV CHALLENGE ROTH 20th July 2014
Long distance triathlon is, as the name suggests, a long process. It begins many months before you toe the start line and mine started sometime way back in the summer of 2013 when an innocent Facebook chat became the catalyst that started me on the road to my first full distance triathlon, DATEV Challenge Roth. The friend I was chatting to informed me that a group of her and her clubmates were going to enter, would I like to do it too? My tentative ‘Err maybe’, became a much more confident ‘hell yes’ as the glass of red wine I was sipping mid chat dwindled away and her persuasion took effect. The next week, when registration opened there I was, fingertips poised and ready at the keyboard to register for a race which, famous for the great Chrissie Wellington’s long distance world record, notoriously sells out fast. Three minutes later, I had one of the coveted spots and the race was sold out! Full of excitement I emailed my partner in crime with the news, only to discover that I was the only one successful in securing a place. Curveball! After some serious consideration I decided that the reason to do an Ironman, if you’re going to do it, is not because your friends are doing it, but because you truly want to do it for yourself. And I did. I really really did. And even more so I wanted to do it at the 30th anniversary of ‘The Best Old Race’ Challenge Roth, legendary for its smooth tarmac and massive crowds. With that in mind training started in earnest.
Fast-forward a year and I’ve spent a winter getting stronger in the gym, logged some serious bike miles, run a practice marathon and spent a whole lot of time in various lakes. I’ve bought A LOT of absolutely necessary bike accessories. I’ve practiced my nutrition plan over and over and I’m as ready as I’m going to be. I step off the plane at Munich airport and curveball number 2 hits me. Its hot. Oh wow is it hot?! Anyone who knows me, knows how northern I am when it comes to racing in the heat. This is not good news. I’m here for 3 days before the race to make the most of the experience and the forecast every day, including race day is 35 degrees and sunny. “Don’t panic. Try and acclimatise. You have 3 days” the internal monologue began. Final workouts were done at dawn and other than registration and course recce’s the only thing to do was make like a local and relax at the open air pool.
Nuremberg’s answer to the Serpentine Lido.
Two days to go and it’s time to register. This is my first journey into Roth and I’m excited. I’m here. At Roth. I got the impression that they were happy to see us too! Registration was a slick process and with that we were off in the car to recce the bike course.
Entrance to the race village and the finish chute!
One day to go and I’m up early to rack my bike, check out the swim course and head to race briefing. Transition is like nothing I’ve seen before. With over 5000 competitors it was a mass of serious bike-bling. The stellar line up of pro’s were all racked and ready and I lined my bike up next to the thousands of others before handing my bike-to-run bag over to the van to be taken to a different location for T2.
Mine is in there somewhere
Bike safely stowed and checked for the thousandth time I pull on my wetsuit and head to the canal. I’m just going to get in and check out the sighting points, swim for 20mins nice and easy and get out before they re-open the canal to shipping. “Way to scare the living daylights out of yourself Lauren!” The swim course is an out and back. And I can just about make out the turning point 1.7km away at the bridge. It looks far. Really far. And that’s not even half way! I have to swim back past the start line under a second bridge (which would be 5 deep with spectators on both sides the following morning) and return back to swim out. “Keep calm Lauren. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. You can swim 3.8km. You know you can”. Time to go back to the hotel and get off my feet.
The two bridges of Roth. Take my word for it. You can see the turn-around in the top photo.
The final supper before the race was a remarkably relaxed affair, a sense of calm coming over me with all the race prep done. My bike was racked, my race bags were in their respective transitions and there was nothing left to do but trust in my training and hope for the best. I slept well. Much better than I usually do before a race. In a strange way there was much less pressure on this race than the others. It’s not about qualifying slots. It’s not about who else is there. All you have to do is get round. That’s enough. That’s the challenge. I awoke at 4:30am, ate my porridge as quietly as possible trying to give my husband, James as many precious moments of sleep as possible – it was going to be a long day for both of us. In the car we headed out of Nuremberg towards Hilpholstein (Hip-hop-stein as it became known to us) where we encountered a huge traffic jam all the way back to Allesberg. PANIC STATIONS!!! I was definitely, without a doubt going to miss my start!! The bus in front of us seemed to think the same thing and as it jumped out of the queue and started speeding down the opposite side of the road, James (my hero) nipped out behind it and followed it down, making up a good 3-4 km this way and getting me close enough to run to the start while he went to park. I hastily located a track pump, checked my tires and bike one more time, begged a line of people to let me jump the queue for the obligatory pre-race portaloo visit and headed off to swim start. I was just swimming up behind all the other red hats when the klaxon sounded and we were under way. Made it. Phew! “Don’t worry about those 30 seconds Lauren. Its nothing in the grand scheme of things. This is it. You are doing an Ironman!” The swim was good, there was plenty of room and sighting wasn’t a problem. The banks of the canal were packed with supporters cheering so loud you could hear them from the water. I settled into a comfortable cruise and the first turn-a-round point arrived reasonably quickly. I was on my way back down the opposite side of the canal when ‘Crack!’ A man from the wave behind had strayed onto the other side of the canal and we’d swum headlong into each other. For a moment we stared goggle to goggle at each other, before both shrugging and carrying on our way, no energy to be wasted on getting upset about a little accident. After 1 hour and 10 minutes I jogged into the transition tent where the first of many helpers handed me my bag, took my wetsuit from me, handed me a drink and wished me luck. “Danke!” I shouted as I set off in search of my bike.
Out onto the bike course, the sun was up and the temperature rising. The course set off into the woods where the trees provided some shade before taking us out onto a tour of Bavaria. The roads were fantastic, the beautiful smooth tarmac that all the race reviews had promised was there, my tires quietly buzzing along as I took in the views through woods and fields. We passed through villages where the streets were lined with supporters. With tables and chairs set up they were in it with us for the long haul. The next couple hours passed smoothly, my mantra quickly becoming heart rate check, drink check, food check, picking up bottles at aid stations as I went. I was struggling to put a bottle into my rear carrier when an aid-station angel chased after me, took the bottle from my hand and jammed it in the cage. Danke! And off I went. Roth bike course is fast, but its not flat. Its rolling all the way and there are three notable climbs per lap. At 70km I started to think about ‘that’ hill. The one that Roth is famous for. Solarerberg. I rounded the corner into town and there it was. A wall of people cheering and clapping. The butterflies went crazy in my stomach as the bikes lined up into single file ready for the precession. One by one they let you through – so close their smiling faces are inches away and hands pat you on the back as you climb the hill. A huge grin crossed my face and I stood up to get up the climb. “Easy now! Don’t get excited, 174 BPM is too high for ironman. Sit back down and settle in”.
There are no words to describe this
I started out onto lap two relishing the fact that I would get to do Solarerberg again. Once is definitely not enough. At 100km James was waiting for me with a reload of energy drinks, a hug and a pretzel. Genius! After so many gels and sticky drinks the salty, savoury pretzel was delicious, and being constructed out of 3 loops could conveniently be stored on my bar extensions to be nibbled at leisure. The second lap went smoothly and I was bang on target, arriving into T2 in Roth after just under 6 hours of pedalling. Phase two completed.
I clambered off my bike which was promptly taken from me by another of the wonderful volunteers and shuffled on wobbly legs into the transition tent. Shaking slightly I was struggling to get the lid off due to Vaseline on my hands. Another volunteer took it from me, undid the lid, and handed it to me. I looked at her apologetically as I plastered Vaseline on the areas one really wouldn’t want to suffer the chafe, but she merely shrugged and continued with the unenviable task of trying to get Factor 30 to stick to my very sweaty shoulders. She’d seen it all before. Volunteers of Roth. I salute you!
Salt tab consumed, trainers and visor on I set off on to the run. 42km. Here we go. I had promised myself I’d play a game with the aid stations. At 2km apart my aim was to make it through 6 without stopping, then 5, then 4, then 3, 2, 1 and done! No ball. It was hot and I’d drunk my way through the bottle I was carrying by aid station 2. “OK, don’t worry about it, just pause long enough to make sure you get some fluids in – that doesn’t really count as stopping”. The bargaining with myself had begun and I was only 4km in. As I left the woods and headed out on to the canal the first of the male pro’s came heading back in. Timo Bracht who would go on to win it, much to the delight of his home crowd was looking strong and still going at a blistering pace. At 15km as I was approaching the second planned aid stop the course began to drop down from the canal to pass under to the next village. “Hmm. That’s going to hurt on the way back up. Tell you what Lauren, if you don’t stop at the next aid station you can walk up that bit”. Deal. Another quick cupful of cola and on I went. Village after village we passed and each and every one was lined with supporters. They’d got out their garden hoses and sprinklers to cool us down. The kids were collecting up the sponges as you threw them away, they had trumpets and tambourines and were in fancy dress. Just amazing.
After the walk up the hill I’d promised myself I was back onto the canal and faced with possibly the most daunting vista I have ever faced in a race. The canal is flat. And straight. And you can see for miles. 6 of them. 10 whole kilometers. The course takes you along the canal, off through another village, then back along the canal before returning to Roth. I’m running down there, and back, and then some. “Right. OK Lauren, doesn’t matter what it looks like. 42km is 42km whatever shape it is. You can do this. Probably.” The time passed chatting to people and listening to music. Challenge allow you to wear an MP3 player on the run – which is a godsend. I took in the atmosphere when we went through the towns but a long, straight canal is hard on the mind. All the time I was waiting for the dark times to come. I had prepared myself for it, but it just never happened. A few tunes really helped to put a spring in my shuffle (stride would be pushing it a bit). Nice touch, Challenge.
I had arranged to meet James at the half-way point. I knew it was going to be hot. I knew I was going to be pouring water on myself so my shoes would be wet, so he was going to meet me with a fresh pair and now, shoes heavy with water I was looking forwards to it. I got to 21km. No James. Curveball. He’d got stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it. Damn. “Ok Lauren. Your fault. You shouldn’t have been relying on that. Deal with it. Be more careful where you tip the water from now on, they’ll dry out”. On I went. One soggy foot in front of the other. The kilometres ticked down and with 10km to go and I was feeling OK. The aid-station game had completely gone out the window and I was just getting from station to station, the next 2km being my whole world until that next cup of flat cola, but I was going to do this! I was going to finish!
The last couple of hours had seen the oppressive heat sealed in with a blanket of clouds which, as evening drew in became darker and darker before big, fat blobs of glorious, cooling rain started to fall. Thunder and lightning followed. Awesome! What a way to finish! The last couple of kilometres passed in a blur – huge crowds still out in spite of the weather. I passed back under the welcome sign in to the triathlon village and into the stadium – yes, they built us a stadium – that is the finish chute at Roth. I tried to pick up the pace – I couldn’t. All I could do was raise my arms to the sky in celebration, not knowing whether to laugh or cry as I completed one of the biggest challenges of my life in 11 hours 50 minutes and 55 seconds.
End note: As I said at the beginning, doing long distance is a process. It takes time. Lots of it, but its worth it. If you have that itch to really test yourself then do it. The sense of achievement for me was immense. And if you can get a place – do it at Roth. It is so much more than just a race, it is part of the local culture. I have never, ever seen a town get behind something with so much fervour.
Also, I have many people to whom I am grateful. I may have been out on the course alone, but to get there I needed my friends. Friends who believed in my ability to do it. Friends who supported me even when I chose training over seeing them. Friends who were and still are willing to spend hours and hours riding from dawn to dusk with me listening to my endless ironman chat. Friends who did 3 hour runs with me after a day in the office. Friends who could smile through the rain and the punctures and still come on a 20km run with me afterwards. You know who you are and I thank you all. Lx