I signed up for this (my second full distance triathlon) before having ever completed my first. I randomly saw a tweet from the race organizer that several registrants had not completed the sign up process and they were re-releasing the entries. I wrote a hasty email not thinking I’d be one of the first to respond and was amazed that I was able to nab a spot. Knowing that I could try to sign up for the race lottery for the next years and never get an entry I took advantage and decided to go for it. I though it would be a nice ‘A race’ for the summer not knowing how Barcelona would go or what else Carly and I would be getting into for travel. Fast forward a bit and I qualified for Kona at Barcelona so Roth became much more of a ‘fun’ race, but still an important tune up and experience before going to the big island. I was excited to race the distance again and experience the fabled Challenge Roth atmosphere.
Though the body seemingly had other plans, in late January/February I thought what was a strained groin turned out to be a mild hernia. Carly and I joke that I literally ‘busted a gut’ at Barcelona. The other line was that the my body was rejecting me and this was a not so sublt hint to cut this shit out. Regardless, I took quick action and scheduled the surgery ASAP knowing that I’d have a bit of downtime and then slow build back to form. I was able to maintain general fitness right up till the scheduled surgery date.
Thanks to private insurance the surgery itself was an amazing easy process and my doctor was amazing. We schedule the surgery they day I got back from a trip to the USA for work. Literally….. off a red-eye at Heathrow and into the Hospital. I was a sight. That was Tuesday, February 19th. Not knowing most people take two weeks off of work for this thing I went to work the next day. I was slow moving to say the least but it i’d go nuts sitting around the house. I took a walk a few days later and Carly forbade me to get on my bike…. for a week. On the 28th I started doing some easy rides and slowly worked into some easy runs. I got in the pool for the first time on March 17th, nearly a month later. The week of March 18th was my first week ‘back’ in building fitness. I had a mountain to climb in the ten weeks to prepare for Roth.
During the down time it was tough to see instagram filled with everyone out on the spring training camps and gearing up for earlier season racing as my fitness plummeted. But I filled the time trying to ‘think’ about some of the aspects of racing I don’t usually get to ponder and to consider a few of my gear choices.
I knew I was in capable hands and that my fitness would return and it was better to take the time now and make a proper recover and gains than risk greater damage. I slowly got back into my standard routine of cycling to work, running and eventually swimming. I had the odd sting or stretch but overall the recovery went very well. The rest was also good mentally, I knew that the summer was going to be long and that I had two very big races on my calendar that I needed to stay ‘checked into’ I was able to spend some time thinking about my racing, things that were important to me and places I wanted to develop. I didn’t pull everything I thought about into my training or racing but it was good to think about some of these things, research, listen to what others had to say and spend my time preparing and know why I was (or wasnt).
Below you can see my fitness and training (gains) from early Feb through to the race.
Training Volume to get to Challenge Roth
This doesn’t take account an average of 39 miles (3 hours) a week of commuting. A complete week of commuting would be 75 (5 hours) but that sometimes doesn’t happen with other work or professional commitments. I don’t count the cycling as part of ‘training’ but it doest factor into general recovery or how I’m feeling in terms of energy level. The commute is also good for bike handling skills and distressing at the end of the day.
Trips taken… work and pleasure
I fly back to the USA about every eight to ten weeks so I was able to put my next trip off till mid-april which allowed me to get into a good rythm with training before the next disruption. I made a bit of a weekend out of it and and saw some family on the weekend after which was a nice way to end the (short) trip. My parents live in rural NH so there was ample time (and space) to get a few runs under my belt.
May was quite but June saw us traveling to the states for two full weeks for two weddings and my sisters graduation. I took the bike over and used the time to get in some long rides up into the white mountains and around Maine as well as open water swims in Sebago. We planned to take a week of ‘work’ and then a week of holiday so it was the first week that I was most concerned with continuing the gains where once I was on ‘holiday’ it would be slightly easier to find the time.
However, it was not an easy ask as we had a full slate of friends and family to see during the week. There was a fair bit of running around the eastern seaboard seeing friends and family but all totally worth it.
At the end of the weeks I had been able to put in a couple of quality longer bike and run efforts and got to race week at very nearly the same ‘fitness’ that I had with Barcelona. That summer played out much differently with more racing including London Marathon and 70.3 WC’s so the fitness was much deeper then but I was happy with how fast I was able to get my body ready.
As soon as I entered I held a spot at a hotel in Nuremberg and began looking for an Airbnb closer to the race start. I knew that many stayed in Nuremberg so it wasn’t ‘bad’ but staying in Roth or Hipolstien was far better. Luckily enough, after much checking I snagged a great place in Hipolstien next to the train station and was able to cancel the hotel. As a whole house it had more than enough space for Carly and I to enjoy the weekend and the race atmosphere and made it very easy to get to/from Roth on the train for briefings and to/from the race finish.
Carly and I flew into Munich Thursday evening and after a quick car rental pickup were shooting north very, very, quickly on the Autobahn to Roth. We stopped for a quick bite to eat that evening on our way up and crashed once we got in. Friday morning I woke and walked down to the swim start for a short swim in the canal during the allocated trial time. Afterwards, Carly and I met up for a food shop and I assembled my bike. Once assembled I was out for a ride to test everything out and short run to get the legs moving. During the ride I went to check-in and crossed that off the list. The check-in process on Friday mid day was very easy and I was in/out in ten minutes. Very well managed.
I spent the remainder of the day Friday and Saturday preparing my gear and setting up the my prototype hydration bladder for the bike (more on this later). Once prepped it was a decent amount of relaxing and just enjoying ourselves around the house and small town.
Saturday I had a quick ride and run followed by dropping my bike off at T1. The race also requires you drop off the run bag so that it can be transported to T2. I had scored an amazing rack spot right at the end of a row and next to the pro’s so my run out of T1 was very easy and no searching for my bike!
Saturday was very hot so we spent the rest of the day relaxing around the house trying to avoid getting dehydrated. I spent a bit of time prepping my bottles for the next day and double checking everything I could.
Up at 4:30, had a Honey stinger wafer and banana and some PH. Out the door by just before 5 am to walk to T1. Got to T1 as a rain started but before the majority of crowds so was able to get easy access to bathrooms and sort the bike quickly and drop off the bike bag. I spent a few minutes chilling under a tree with Carly trying to avoid the rain but soon enough it was time to dawn the wetsuit and get this party started. I felt fueled, hydrated and ready.
I made my way back into T1 and over to the starting pen. As I had indicated a Sub 9:00 hour goal I was placed into a distinct starting group just after the pro men and women start. I was a bit psyched (nervous) about this as it would leave the roads a bit more clear for the first loop of the bike and make it a bit easier to pace and see where I was for the race in terms of place.
I started at about the middle of the starting line 2-3 people back from the front. I was terrified that I’d get kicked in/around my incision during the swim so my primary goal was to make it through the swim unharmed. Once the cannon fired it was an instant washing machine. Definitely the most hectic swim start I’ve ever participated in and given that all the people there were quick it continued on for a while. I have no illusions of fast swimming to tried to just stick to my race and my pace and get into a good rhythm. Being in a canal the swim is calm and course simple. Down with the current and then back against with a quick out and back the other way just before the finish. I was consciously ‘pushing’ but not killing myself. I know that sometimes i allow my mind to wander when swimming so I kept checking in to keep focus and maintain pace. I wanted to get a sub 60 swim and thought that with the ‘easier’ course versus the rough seas on Barcelona it would be doable.
On exit I glanced at my watch 60:41… fuck.. pretty much the exact same time as Barcelona. Not a bad time by any measure but I had been hoping (expecting) a slightly quicker swim. Oh well, no time to dwell on it and right into T1. The volunteers are amazing and had my gear dumped and sorted quickly. Socks and number on and out to the bike. I momentarily grabbed my bike and started running before I realized I didn’t have my helmet on which was on the bars. Big no no…. stopped and helmet on before any harm done (officials saw).
Swim – 60:41 – 251st OA
Out to the start line and on the bike…
I wanted to give a solid effort on the bike here and shave time off the 4:49 from Barcelona. The course is rolling but giving the amazing road surfaces you always have the ability to move fast.
The bike course is stunning and it passes through some lovely german countryside and towns. There are people lining the entire course cheering which makes the atmosphere even better. Every hill you’re treated with cheering fans on both sides.
With the prototype bladder my goal was to take in the just under 2 liters in the bike as well as two (and a half) bottles on the bike for a mix of fluids and fuel. I’d supplement this with half a honey stinger wafer every 30 minutes or so for some ‘real’ calories.
The bladder worked amazing well and it was great to be able to take small swigs while in aero position or whenever desired. I supplemented that with bottles when it started to run dry or I wanted to larger draw of fluid. Overall it worked really well and I was able to move over and ignore all the aid stations. I don’t think this really saved me any time but it certainly goes to a level of confidence that I can have everything I need for a full distance race right on my bike and not be beholden to the aid stations and be carrying it in a very aero manner (inside the bike). Certainly if it had been hotter (or I had lost a bottle) I would have taken water or other from the stations. I’ll continue to refine my fueling mix and the bladder itself to maximize the volume and make sure I’m getting the type of energy I need during the bike.
The highlight of the bike was easily Solar Hill. Rolling through Hipolstien you round a small corner and there is just a mass of people in front of you. They’re screaming and making noise and right in your face. Its hard not to push up the hill and takes a fair amount to ride the hill ‘like a triathlete’. I clocked through the second loop at around 2:20ish and felt happy with the pace though wanted to be a bit quicker.
The second loop I kept on the gas and took a bit of solice in that I saw two Freespeed athletes come up to me about halfway through the second lap. I rode with them for a good portion of the remainder of the race and felt it was a good indicator that I was moving along well and where I sat in the overall leaderboard.
I did over cook one decent through a small town and had to bunny hop the bike up on the curb at about 30 mph and then back off to keep from hitting the shoulder. I scared a good portion of the crowd who must have thought I was a gonner… also got my heart going…. really didn’t want to be ‘that American’ who couldn’t keep it right side up.
Bike 4:46 – 82nd OA
Rolling into T2 I saw a lot of bags still on the ground around my number so knew I was in ‘decent’ position but had some work ahead of me. A very quick transition saw my shoes and PH hat on and I was out the door. I think I had the 9th fastest T2 of the day…
I had a goal of wanting to run sub 3 for the marathon and knew the splits I needed to run to achieve that. I started out feeling strong and set off a bit under that pace hoping to build a buffer. The course brings you first through a bit of town before putting you on two out-n-backs along the canal.
Starting the first I saw Carly which put a bit of pep in my step and I was feeling good. I knew my swim was solid and I had bike taken some time off my bike so I was in good position. Running a sub 3 marathon would really put me across the line with a decent finishing time. I saw the pro women coming back towards me on the first out and back and started to see a number of the fast AG’s as well so knew I wasn’t too far off the lead guys.
I was quickly running with another racer and after a chat realized he to was looking to run about that time so we linked up for the next few miles. After a few aid stations though he dropped back and I continued on at pace. As I passed Carly the second time to start the (longer) out and back to the north of the canal the wind picked up and the sun came out. It started to heat up a bit and my body started to feel tired. Over the next few miles my mind went from ‘sub 3’ to I need to make sub 9 overall. My legs really started to weight and at each aid station I started to go for the coke and fruit. Going for that stuff before mile ten was much earlier in the race than I usually begin going for that sort of thing.
By the time I turned back around and was heading off the canal for Roth I was feeling wrecked. I saw Carly and indicated no joy and tried to get my head into the game. ‘Common man, you’re more than halfway done… suck it up’. The nice bit was that running through town there was way more fans and support which kept the spirits up. It was a bit easier to push and find that energy reserve to keep moving. That said, this was, personally, a very, very rough run. I really felt like throwing in the towel and calling it a day. I felt slow, my legs were like limp sausages. After a couple hours of pushing my body to keep going my mind was also starting to throw in the towel. Failure creeped in and took hold.
But I kept on pushing forward. ‘Just keep moving’ I told myself. If I kept going I would finish, and finishing at the time I would, even if outside my goal is an accomplishment many spend an entire career trying to achieve. Don’t to that dishonor by throwing in the towel now. Keep going.
By the time I made it to the turn around pond with three miles left I knew I’d finish the race and gave it one last go for the downhill miles back to Roth. Back into the crowds I found the last bit of reserve and pushed through the town and into the finish stadium. It was a pretty epic finish scenario with the announcers and crowd in the stands and an experience I’ll not forget.
Run – 3:07 – 57th OA
I crossed the line exhausted but finished. I knew I hadn’t made my place or time goal I had wanted but it was a quality race effort in an amazing venue. I can’t be mad with the performance. Into the recovery tent I went over to the timing services to see how I placed. 8:57… I was amazed, I had (somehow) bested my Barcelona time by a minute and slid in under the 9 hour mark. Given my training leading up to the race this was a great time and an affirmation of my underlying fitness.
The only hit on this race was the post race food. For the last few miles all I could think about was getting some good german sausages once finishing. The smell of fans cooking (and eating) them was thick the last miles. Certainly, I thought, this to would await for me at the finish. However I was disappointed on finish and the food options were rather lack luster. They were well stocked with the offerings they did have and there were some nice options but just not what I (or my body) had in mind at that moment. So after downing a few chocolate milks and pastries I left the tent to find Carly. On finding me she promptly fixed the problem and supplied currywurst and beer which instantly made me feel better. We chilled for a little while and then, with not much more reason to hang around left to find the bus replacement back to Hipolstein. After a short wait and bus ride I was home and showered. We went into the little town and had a quality dinner (avoiding the chaos of Roth) and relaxed with some beers.
At around 8pm we jumped in the car and went back to T2 to pick up my bike and gear. After which we found a place to ditch the car and went to the finishing stadium to cheer on the late finishers and watch the fireworks. It was really something to watch the racers who had been out there for 13/14/15 hours come across the line and receive their medal. I cant imagine being out there and racing for that long… The mental toll (outside of the obvious physical effort) is mind blowing. The fireworks at the end of the evening were the perfect ending to the day and it was nice to get some fireworks in over the 4th of July weekend!
The race provided a number of valuable experiences and I was able to take away some great lessons from both the prep and overall experience.
- 2nd Full distance race, 2nd sub 9 hour finish (and on 11.5 hours a week of training)
- 500 euro back for finishing sub 9 hours
- fitness coming back after the surgery with no post race issues
- hydration bladder prototype worked well
- overall weekend was much more ‘low stress’ than my first full race and gave me a good level of confidence for the distance in Kona
- swim not as expected, if only by a minute or two
- biked uneven (in retrospect) and paid the price on the run
- run sucked, but with mid 20 mile weeks averaging leading up it is not surprising that a sub 3 marathon didn’t happen
Please let me know if there is anything about the race (or training) you’d like to know or for me to expand on. I’m happy to share my experience and help others have a great day out at Roth. Its an amazing event!