Challenge Roth is my ultimate favorite ironman event - the beautiful Bavarian countryside, the community and volunteer enthusiasm, the epic spectator atmosphere, all driven by the passion of Felix (Race Director) and his team - makes this event and the experiences which come with it something truly special. I feel extremely proud to be part of the Challenge Family and every year it's a personal goal to support Felix and his team through competing in a Challenge Series event. I first experienced this race in 2010 as an age group athlete and was super excited to be returning to Challenge Roth 2012, stepping up my own personal game, racing as a profesional athlete amongst a high quality field, given the event also represented the 2012 ETU European Championships.
My homestay family - Ulli and Uschi Droege
I like to fly over to Germany early to adjust to time zone, climate (Sydney's winter to Europe's summer) and get over jet lag. On 28 June, my epic journey began with a 25 hour Emirates flight Sydney-Dubai-Munich. A huge thank you to Elke Angermann (Management Assistent of TeamChallenge) who arranged homestay assistance with family Ulli and Uschi Droege, who live in the city of Roth. Staying with Ulli and Uschi was a very special part of the whole experience, their generosity and making me feel so incredibly welcome - I just can't thank them enough for all their support during my stay. They have a gorgeous home in Roth, close to shops, the swimming pool and surrounding training areas. I had such a fantastic time sharing Challenge Roth 2012 with them.
The week leading into the race included:
- Light training, riding sections of the bike course, running through forests and swimming at the local pool (awesome training environment :-)
- A flight in a light plane with Ulli (Soldier/Helicopter Pilot at Roth Aviation Unit) - this was a huge highlight of the trip and a very special thanks to Ulli for this opportunity
- Sleep and relaxing :-) a nice break from the busy Sydney lifestyle
- Exploring the town of Roth, buying pressies for family
- Catching up with friends from Warringah Triathlon Club also competing (Linda & Mick, Trav & Jacinta)
- Spending time with my homestay family, Ulli and Uschi, enjoying the german family lifestyle
- Compulsory drug testing and briefing for professional athletes
- Registration, which included a huge thunderstorm!
- Race check-in Saturday, a big thanks to Ulli for helping me with my bike and transport to and from T1.
Race Day :-) 8 July 2012
The morning moved fairly swiftly with preparing my race equipment, a warm up jog followed by kitting up for the swim with my BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit, Challenge Roth swim cap and my never fail good luck pink Eyeline goggles :-) The energy and excitement of T1 was surrounded by music of the Challenge Roth hymn & swim start song, an instant emotional sensation.
With limited time to spare, I finally got my butt down to the swim start for a quick warm up to make sure the wettie was fitting properly then it was time, 6.30am for the race to get started! :-)
The first part of the race, the 3.8km swim, takes place in the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal around 10 km outside Roth. In order to ensure a smooth start of the 3000+ individual starters and 500+ relay starters, athletes start the race in several groups at intervals, my start being the first at 6.30am.
I had a solid start without too much problem, a little slow moving past the first buoy, then got myself into a comfortable rhythm moving my way up the field with intermittent efforts bridging gaps between swimmers. I kept close to the inside of the swim course to not waste energy/time in extra distance (swimming wide), hung onto feet to maximise draft and focused on keeping a rhythm.
I had grazed my knee 2 weeks prior to the race (tripped over running - did a good job of it), the graze had healed considerably leading into the race but wasn't 100% by race day. Bandage (to keep clean and prevent the graze opening again) combined with a compression sock (to hold the bandage in place) was how I managed it for the swim which worked quite well without too much discomfort.
I had absolutely no idea what my swim split was till after the event (I don't race to a watch when competing) and was stoked to find out I'd swum 56mins! First time under 1 hour and a respectable time for me.
T1 was a relatively quick and smooth transition, then on to my favourite part of triathlon - the bike and run!
The 180 km bike course uses a two-lap course on the countryside, mostly south of Roth. The souternmost point is Greding. The terrain of the course is a mix of flat sections, undulations and several hills, among them three substantial ascents. These have a percentage of 6 to 10% and are 800 to 1,500 metres long.
Spectator hot spots throughout the course are located at the Kalvarienberg in Greding (steep hill climb), the famous Solarer Berg climb in Hilpoltstein (atmosphere just like the TFD), “beer mile” in Eckersmühlen (where crowds of spectators sit along the roadside on beer benches and enjoy a drink :-), Selingstädter Berg in Heideck and the road through Thalmässing.
However, the 'weather gods' were not going to let the day unfold for us without some sort of challenge and we were dished up strong winds from all directions from the storm moving around us.
Head winds, side winds, gusts (almost comparable with Hawaii) - from the word go, it was a head wind from the start, then the wind changed direction so it pretty much felt like a head wind for 180kms! I found the bike leg considerably hard - it literally nearly blew the energy out of me! It was hard for everyone. The conditions eased a little for the last 25km so I had a small breather before riding into T2.
I'd burned a lot of energy dealing with the conditions, trying to maintain a reasonable pace and ride with a few of the other pro girls which in the end I had to let go to keep on top of my own game. Id finished up all my personal High 5 nutrition combined with SaltStick tabs by @135kms, fortunately the race course nutrition was also High 5 so I was able to pick up electrolyte and gels at aid stations for the remainder of the bike.
My bike split ended up at 5hs.16, which was off my goal but the best I could manage on the day. I was well hydrated for the run, but energy wise, I felt quite spent. I wasn't sure how I was going to get through the marathon, other than make a start, keep focused in the zone, 'manage not let control' and absorb the amazing spectator atmosphere to pull me through what was infront of me.
The final marathon goes once around a course with two key turning marks (at 12km (Schwand village) and 28kms (Eichelburg village)). A major part of the course is along the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, then features a loop through the inner city of Roth (Market Place) before home to the finish-line at the Roth Triathlon Park (central Roth). Apart from two short ascents, the course is flat and 70 % of the course is on solid forest roads, 30 % on asphalt.
Running off the bike was better than I expected and I was able to move with some form and pace which was positive given I was expecting it to be a very slow painful shuffle from the start after the bike suffer fest. My race plan divided the run course up into 5 landmark sections to mentally and physically break down the distance. The first section I new I needed to run conservatively - hydrate, eat and use sponges to keep my body temperature down. Between 10km - 35kms, my run was up and down and I had terrible stomach issues, having to stop at least 6 times which made it difficult to maintain consistent rhythm and pace.
The last 5-7kms were really tough, my mind kept wanting to move faster and the legs were turning to jelly. As bazarre as it sounds, it was a pretty cool moment because its a real test mentally to stay focused in the zone when your body is absolutely on the limit given how the day had unfolded. I love this about ironman and seeing how far you can push yourself.
The spectator atmosphere in Market Square (centre of Roth) was unreal and to see my homestay family Ulli and Uschi only kms from the finish brought a huge smile. I was super excited to grab the Australian flag as well as relieved I'd made it as I ran my way to the stadium finish of the race followed by a huge hug and thanks to Felix - what an epic and awesome race! :-)
To see a time of 9hrs.46 at the finish arch was a result much better than I expected given how my body felt and how the day had unfolded. I was proud that I managed to hold it together and make it to that finish line - a reminder to never give up, attention to the present moment is more powerful than anything, trust my fitness and believe in myself.
Ulli helped me collect my bike then it was home - shower, steak, pasta, ice cream, spend time with my fantastic on-course supporters Ulli and Uschi who cheered for me all day :-) followed by a super cool firework show as the last competitor rolled in at 10.30pm which we could watch from the balcony of the house.
A very big thank you and hug to all the amazing support I've received from Nige, family, friends, my coach Gilesy and my sponsors behind me (High 5, SaltStick, Skinfit, Compressport, Bike Addiction, TriShave, Eyeline, ISM).
Thank you so much Felix and your team for giving me the opportunity to experience and take part in one of the best races in the world! And my homestay family Ulli and Uschi for all your support and made me feel so incredibly welcome, staying with you definitely was a special part of Challenge Roth 2012.
The past 6 months has been a huge learning curve racing professionally. I love pushing myself and new challenges. The experience highlights my strengths and weaknesses, especially the things I need to work on to continue to grow and develop as an elite athlete.
Time for a break and looking forward to seeing what more I can give in the season ahead.
Bec xo :-)