The last 2 weeks have been a bit of a whirl wind. First of Roth, and then Poznan.
Roth – Breaking 9hrs, 8:51:59, 4th place -and becoming the 6th fastest Britain over the full distance.
Poznan – Winning! My first win as a Professional
So much has happened and seeing as my blog entries are long on the whole anyway, this one is being split into two parts. First up Rocking in Roth!
Three days before I left for Europe, I was under decided as to whether I’d actually get on the flight. The last month of training had been, well pretty shocking really. I wasn’t in a good place, physically or mentally, what is probably called ‘a hole’, (all relative of course in the grand scheme of things).
Additionally, and whilst this certainly wasn’t the cause, it hadn’t helped that 10days before I was due to leave America, I had a bike accident, ending up with a pretty deep gash in my elbow, needing 12 stitches as well as a deep bruise on my thigh and bruise/torn skin/gash on my hip too.
The question was posed, should I really get on the plane and head to Europe to race if I wasn’t ready. However, for me, I needed to go and was already committed. I needed to go through with the plan. I needed to put faith in my training since the beginning of the year and the races I’d had in Wanaka and Taupo. I needed to get on the plane.
Arriving in Galway and I immediately felt a weight release. I had a good few days leading up to the race and felt I was getting back to a good place. My parents and eldest sister, Anna, came over to watch which was really good. The last time they were able to watch me was in London 2013 at the World Championships when I won the Amateur world title over the Olympic distance. Unfortunately on the day, I didn’t have a great race. It was a pretty, actually very, sub par performance unfortunately, but realistically probably indicative of the lead up and the last few weeks of training. Move on.
It was then fortunate, and I guess part of the original plan, that the trip coincided with my Mum’s birthday so I was able to spend a few days back in England, seeing my sisters, nieces and nephew and catching up with family, and being able to celebrate my Mum’s 70th. I’m getting more used to training when at home and learning the places to cycle etc. and I put together another few decent days of training. It was also possibly the fear of having a full iron distance race in just a few weeks time! In addition I visited my old school and gave a Q&A session with the students. This always makes me buzz as I get to talk about sport and what it’s done and given to me. It makes me re connect with what I’m doing and why, whilst trying to inspire others too.
So on to Roth.
Matt Dixon, my coach describes the build up below, in a recent Purplepatch newsletter
“If I reflect on the state of affairs five weeks ago, I was not a happy coach with the run in. She had already built a great start to her season, but the middle piece had been negatively affected through a bike crash. I saw Laura struggle to find rhythm in training, not performing great on the bike, and generally up and down with her confidence level. It was anything but a positive and easy runway into an IRONMAN. Add to this a mediocre performance at Challenge Galway three weeks ago (at least relative to what Laura and I believed she could do) and neither of us was brimming with anticipation and glee at her preparation into Challenge Roth.
It would have been easy for us to pull the plug on Challenge Roth and simply wait until later in the season. I was worried that the efforts of the early part of her year may have left her fatigued and the lack of confidence from the training rhythm would surely impact her racing ability in a negative way. I even gave Laura the option to pull out and reset. She refused. Laura realizes, as much as her coach, that performance will always be built upon months (and years!) of work. She had 3 weeks of total rubbish, or insert a word of your choice there, but she still had many solid months behind her.“
I headed out to Roth two weeks before the race. I was welcomed into the home of Cornelia von Hardenberg and her family! They were fabulous! I was excited to be in Europe and Germany. We used to have our family holidays in Europe camping and it was great to be back in the European environment. The small towns and villages, the old squares, the cafes, restaurants, the bakeries, just the atmosphere. For 50weeks of the year, Roth is a sleepy, quiet town in Bavaria. For 2weeks of the year it explodes into a triathlon mecca. The locals embrace the event, with many of them opening up their homes to athletes and officials for the race. (I think there are only a very small number of hotel rooms in Roth (or the area) so the race is reliant on 1000s of locals becoming homestay hosts for athletes (age group and Pro, officials, media and supportors.) For example, my parents hadn’t booked any accommodation, and so on my arrival Cornelia simple walked around her village and found one of her neighbours (who didn’t speak any English) willing to host my parents! This is the community of Roth and the spirit of the Challenge family! Thank you Cigdem and Gokmen.
Cornelia and her family (her husband Rudy and son Benny) were fantastic. I loved spending time getting to know them, they were fabulous hosts and supported me as well as allowing me to focus on my training and what I needed to do.
The Walchshofer family (Felix, Kathrin and their mum Alice) really have something special with Challenge Roth. You HAVE to add this to your bucket list of races, either to compete or just to come and experience the atmosphere. I was lucky enough to catch up with Felix in the week prior and he generously spent the time giving me a tour around the event site as it was being built, explaining all the logistics and activities for race day and the amazing volunteers and team that support and help make the event. It was fascinating to hear how the event has grown and I appreciated seeing the site, before it was really transformed.
Roth kicks off with the Erdinger party on Thursday night. As Pros we are expected to dress in a Dirndl. I was actually really looking forward to being part of this. Unfortunately and perhaps a little embarrassingly, the Dirndls didn’t fit me. I’m blaming my broad swimmer like back/lats!! Ha! Friday night, and it’s the Welcome Party / Pasta Party and like no other. It’s huge and done well. It’s a pretty impressive event and from here, things move onto the town square in Roth, where there’s huge music stage built and all the locals come out for a big night of live bands and music. Saturday marks the Challenge Women 5km run. 2000 women took part. It was amazing! Such a buzz and so impressive to see the course lined with predominantly men, coming out to support friends and partners.
You can’t help but get swept up in the event and the excitement. I was getting excited to race. I was feeling like I was getting back in a good place and this was giving me confidence. Speaking to Matt, this was the race plan.
“Laura, this is Challenge Roth one of the most storied and special race in the world. Don’t let it bypass you, as you are going to be competing as a professional athlete in this special race. Love the experience, smile, and embrace every moment. Go and see what the body gives you on the day, but make sure you are smiling throughout.”
I was also incredibly fortunate to have a few minutes with Chrissie Wellington in the days before the race too. She took the time (away from being mobbed for “selfies” etc.) at the Challenge Women’s Run, to talk to me and give me her advice and thoughts! Wow! If that doesn’t give you a buzz and motivation pre race then I don’t know what will! Thank you Chrissie.
Race day dawned and the conditions were perfect.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the mass start. The men and women professionals start together but also with about 200 potential sub 9hr athletes! I haven’t had a mass start like that for, well I’m not sure I ever have. I, in hindsight made an error in where I lined up at the start, not realizing quite the size of the group. I ended up getting dunked and pulled and held under. It was mental and not a particular pleasant experience, but eventually I managed to find cleaner water and settled in, making my way and then moving through the field. The swim is in a canal so you have crowds lining the banks for the whole way. Whilst I hadn’t had a great start, I felt I was making good progress as seemed to be moving up from swim pack to swim pack.
I exited the water and saw a couple of girls around me and tried my best to get through transition and out on to the bike. I still need to cut seconds of my time here as seem to spend far to long sorting myself out.
The bike course is two loops that takes you through lots of local towns which are all lined with supporters cheering, most of them sat drinking beer! There are also some significant hills too (don’t be fooled this course is definitely not flat!), and these are all lined with supporters, cheering you all the way up. Nothing however compares to Solarerberg hill. It comes at about 70km on the bike and I’m not sure I can actually describe it.
Going up for the first time on the first lap was just f*&king mental! The noise was absolutely deafening as you get funneled into the crowd. Pre race advice and warning had been to just hold a straight line. At times you couldn’t actually see the way ahead. But sure enough the crowds were fantastic and the road would emerge just in time. I guess that must be what it’s like to be in the Tour de France. Ridiculous but what a buzz! Incredible!
It was great to see my parents out there, as well as Cornelia, who was helping them navigate the day. To be honest I was slightly more worried about them surviving the day on bikes! Instructed by Cornelia, they’d brought bikes over from the England as the best way to get around on race day, due to Challenge Roth closing pretty much all the roads in the area! This is amazing from a race and athlete perspective. However results in the best way to get around the course for spectators being by bike.
I feel my parents are relatively fit and active for their age, but I was a little concerned how they would go cycling around for the day on their rusty old bikes! They survived, and had a great guide in Cornelia.
I rode the bike course pretty much solo, (well I had a train of male age groupers behind me), but had a vague idea I was about 5th, but had no idea on splits or times on the bike or as I headed out on the run.
I’d put some good running sessions in over the past few months though and I had to remember this good feeling and go into the run with confidence and a bit of excitment about what I could do. I took a lot of learning from my runs at Challenge Wanaka and Ironman Taupo earlier in the year, and I wanted to build on this, so I was prepared and ready. I broke the run down and stayed completely process and form focused for the entirety. I was internally focused I guess, going with the pace and finding a rhythm and not being afraid of it.
It was a buzz to see Chrissie Wellington out on the run course and to receive more of her words of encouragement. I also saw a couple of friend from Sydney, who now live in Germany and had driven to Roth to support me! So very grateful. As I reached halfway, I spotted my parents, with Cornelia, who rather excitedly, told me 4th place was just 2mins ahead. I found out after they had ‘exaggerated’ a little and she was probably nearer to 3mins but still, it seemed to do the trick. The long straight canal meant I could see her up ahead and just set about reeling her in. I moved into 4th around the 25km mark and didn’t look back just pushed forward.
With 10km to go, I was about 5mins behind 3rd place, I was still feeling strong (relatively) and so just kept tapping away and progressing towards the finish. The last couple of km’s take you around the centre of Roth. As I got to the edge of the town, I was greeted by a follow Purplepatcher from San Fran, Ambi. Ambi had also made the journey (from his family holiday elsewhere in Germany) to come and support me. Huge! Thank you! He gave me the update that 3rd was now just 1min up the road. Again I think this was slightly optimistic but I pushed ahead, however going through town there’s so many turns that it was impossible to get a glimpse of her. Whilst still pushing forward I started to think about the finish and that incredible atmosphere. To remember to soak it all in and love the experience and opportunity. Entering the stadium is just incredible. I wanted to try and take as much of it in as possible. I tried to turn around to see the whole stadium and nearly cramped in the process! Maybe not such a great idea! Ha ha!
I had absolutely no idea what time I’d done as I crossed the line. I just remember the sense of satisfaction that I felt I’d put together for me a good marathon, leaps ahead of earlier in the year. Crossing the line I was greeted by Felix, who turned me around to show me the clock…. 8:51:59! F*%K YEAH! WOW! I think at this point I fell back onto the ground, not sure quite what to believe or feel.
So many friends at the finish line, and I was spoilt by being able to hug and celebrate with them. Kathrin and Felix Walchshofer Vic, BG, Chrissie, Stef. My Mum and Dad were there too. So happy that they’d been able to witness this. Cornelia had been at the start of the finish chute with my Union Jack flag and I was able to run round the stadium with it.
Wow! What an experience! I don’t think I can even describe it now! I know it was a special day with Jan Frodeno breaking the world record and an impressive performance by Daniella Ryf too, but wow! Just Wow!
The next few hours were spent trying to deliver a required sample in drugs testing. Whilst this always seems to take me forever I am fully supportive of the process and please to see they were testing everyone.
Another thing you don’t want to miss out on in Roth, is heading back to the finish line for the final few hours. I was lucky enough to be able to hand out medals to the finishers coming in, that was until Chrissie Wellington returned, and Belinda Granger and Jan Frodeno, and somehow I seemed rather less important then! Ha ha!
The atmosphere as night falls in the stadium ramps up and is just incredible. The music is pumping, and it’s a real party vibe. The night is capped off with sparklers and the most amazing fireworks! What a day! What an event!
6th Fastest British Female of all time
A huge thank you to all the Challenge Roth team for making me feel so welcome and looking after me and my parents. Too many to name but have a look at my photos on Facebook and you’ll see many of the faces that made up this awesome team.
To Matt Dixon and Paul Buick for putting up with the dips and lows over the past few months, but for their continued faith even when I’d lost it. For challenging me and pushing me into going through with plans, through their actions or words. This performance is a team effort for sure, from the work over the past 8months and their believe and faith in me. We, as a team, know there is a lot more to come. Whilst on the day, I’m happy with my race, I know, we know, that I’m capable of a lot more, but I took a huge step forward with my marathon in Roth and that’s a huge confidence booster. Now the bar has been raised again, and the puzzle continues to get the bike firing on full cylinders how we know it can, and then to produce the run off the back. It’s exciting and I feel again, this is just the start.
Thank you as always to the continued support from the brands I work with.
Specialized, PowerTap, Profile Design, Kask, SOAS, BABC, Shotz, A Runners Mind, Skins, SockMine, Funkita, Scicon, Oakley, Kitbrix, Activbod, Brendon Rearick (our awesome strength and conditioning coach), Mike Lord for keeping my body moving.