Race report from Nick on Challenge Roth

23 Jul 2018

After Kona, Challenge Roth is probably the most famous and revered triathlon on the calendar. Set in Bavaria between Munich and Nuremberg it attracts a stellar cast of pro athletes and due to being top of most bucket lists it sells out to the public within minutes. 
 
2017 saw me enter and complete by first Iron-distance triathlon, the beautiful Lakesman, and despite Redgrave-esque comments about never doing another one I soon found myself frantically refreshing the Roth entry website at 9am one morning last July trying to get a spot for 2018. 
 
Long Course events are a major commitment, both financially and time-wise, so signing up for this one a month before my first child was due and as I was moving house/location might have been a tad foolhardy, but when is the right time?!
 
Having just moved to Abingdon last August I joined AVTC  pretty much straight away and although parenting delayed my full commitment I found being part of the club gave me so much more motivation and enjoyment in training than I could have found on my own (as I did in 2017). So a quick thank you here to all the coaches and fellow members for their support, advice and company over the last 12 months!!
 
Challenge Roth is an extremely special race, the whole area gets behind the event and this was the 35th anniversary for them so everyone in the region knows what to expect and the support both on the road and at the feed stations is something like I've never experienced before. The race itself is claimed to be a really fast course for the pros and although sub 8 hours is plain unfathomable to most mortals the terrain wasn't one of the things causing sleepless nights in the build up (mainly because I don't like studying routes before a race, more exciting not knowing what is ahead, right coaches?!).
 
The swim is in a beautiful canal 10km outside of Roth, one long loop out and back with the pros going off at 6:30am before waves of 200 amateurs getting sent off via cannon every 5 minutes  until the relay teams go off about 9:30am. It was pretty chaotic with so many people in the water and the waves merging fairly quickly into a long stream of flailing arms and legs but it all adds to the drama as does the mass hot air balloon launch and the hoards of spectators lining the banks and bridges. My swim went fairly well, 1h 21m, over half an hour slower than the pros but about what I had expected, my main issue being concentration, over such a long time I find myself zoning out and forgetting all the pearls of wisdom the coaches have imparted over the last 9 months... (sorry coaches)
 
Into T1 (different location to T2) and you collect your bag and head into the marquee where everyone has a personal helper if they want one, to assist with changing, sun cream and then taking your bag with wetsuit away so it is ready at the finish. I wasn't too tired after the swim (because I went so slowly) so transition was no problem and I was straight out on the bike, only issue being I immediately realised I didn't have suncream on my legs, but hey ho I'll probably be going too fast for the sun to burn me I'd have thought!
 
The bike is 2x 90km loops through beautiful countryside and small towns, although there are plenty of rolling hills to keep the legs interested. One memorable moment for me on the bike was watching the pros smash past on their 2nd laps and shouting encouragement at Lucy Charles and Joe Skipper, ridiculous pace (and definitely doing some naughty drafting), just over 4 hours for the pros, still can't get my head around it. The other memorable moment was the famous Solar Hill, definitely YouTube it, the most famous bike climb in triathlon, fairly short and not that steep but the crowds are crazy.
 
Unfortunately for me I started suffering knee pain about 30km into the ride, something which has happened before on long rides and hampered my Lakesman effort too but I crossed my fingers and hoped it would ease off, as it sometimes does. It didn't and after 110km I decided enough was enough and abandoned. I wasn't there to prove that I could finish, I did that in 2017 on an injured leg, so rather than risk making things worse I pulled over and waited for the broom wagon. It might have been quicker to ride back to the start but the broom wagon was an experience in itself, everyone was so kind (got given cakes, drinks, bratwurst) and we picked up various other people who had crashed, got injured or just fallen victim to the extreme heat, all with their own story.
 
Once again all my run training (my strongest leg) was wasted, definitely the most annoying and upsetting thing about defeat, that and having to see everyone in their finishers t-shirts with their medals etc. and having to tell my friends, family and AVTC gang that I had failed. Somewhat sympathetically, although unknowingly, my brother-in-law also abandoned at the exact same time as me, although 20km away, his bike having a terminal mechanical, despite the efforts of the roving mechanics on their quad bikes. 
 
The finish arena at Roth is something I will never forget, we hung around until the end and the closing fireworks and there wasn't a dry eye in sight seeing the last people getting around, triathlon means something different to everyone and that is the beauty of it.
 
I don't have any regrets or lasting sadness about not finishing, it is just one of those things, I could have trained more (who couldn't say that) and it probably wasn't the smartest time to enter with other 'life things' going on but I still thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and the training. I won't be entering any more Long Course events for at least 5-years this time, a long term strength and conditioning programme is needed to sort my legs out and some money saving so I can get a proper Tri/TT bike rather than trying to convert my road bike on a budget, both from a speed and bike-fit perspective it just doesn't work for long distance in my opinion. 
 
I couldn't recommend Roth enough though, the fact people queue for 2 hours the morning after (some people queue overnight) to secure entry for the next year show just how special it is. 
 
Sorry for the long review, it actually proved quite cathartic! If anyone is thinking of entering and has any detail or logistics based questions then let me know, quite often that is the most challenging aspect of these events especially when abroad.
 
Nick

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