Where do you start? This race, is just simply awesome!!
In this race report, or blog, or epic novel (first warning sign), I want to try and convey as much as I can the flavor and atmosphere at Roth, as well as my own race experience and the difference a year makes*. I’ve been trying to shorten my race reviews in the last few months, making them more concise and to the point, however I fear this will be longer, but hopefully the images and energy will capture how special this event is. (*The learnings and take aways will likely come in part 2! Second warning sign!)
It was my second time back to Challenge Roth, as having loved the event and had one of my best performances in 2016, I wanted to come back.
I was lucky to be able to stay with the same homestay family, Cornelia von Hardenberg, her husband Rudi and son Benny. In fact I was invited to Benny’s girlfriend Laura’s, graduation celebration and so made the trip to Roth a few days early. This is quite typical of the welcome you receive in Roth. You are treated like family!
You cannot help but get hyped on arrival in to Roth. You lose count of the number of banners hanging across the street and from buildings around town and the surrounding area saying ‘Welcome Triathletes’. All the shop fronts had been decorated for the race. The locals want to say hello and to talk to you. They actually love triathletes and welcome you with open arms to their town and region! Oh and then there’s the bakeries. The amazing bread and pastries! It’s hard not to love Roth.
This would be my forth, full distance event of the year, which was both a quite scary and daunting concept but also exciting because simply… THIS WAS ROTH!
Without getting into too much cheese (and failing miserably), this race really does stand by the Challenge ‘Family’ values. It is run by the Walchshoefer Family. Alice, the Queen Mum and definitely in charge, Felix and Kathrin, her children, and Hugo the dog!
They are an incredible team, and I’ve never seen anyone with so much energy and passion. The Challenge Roth team itself are amazing too. We, as athletes are made to feel so welcome and part of the family. Then, all the athletes and supporters who descend on Roth and come back every year resulting in so many familiar faces from around the world in one place. Then, also there was the fact that I had my family in Roth to watch. My Mum and Dad once again came out to support me. My Mum had even purchased a new bike for the occasion*, and they were welcomed into the home of Adolphi’s, their homestay family! The homestay program is another unique and fabulous tradition and feature of Roth. Thank you.
(*Last year I was a little worried that my parents, not known to ride bikes would end up in the medical centre before I did. I think it part inspired them to perhaps start riding again once back home in the UK. Well not sure that quite happened, but on returning to Roth this year, it was time to upgrade my mum’s bike (it was pretty pre-historic to be fair) and again hoping Roth may inspire them to cycle more at home. I can happily report that since returning home from Roth, mum has been out cycling. It may only be 30mins and round the village, but it’s better than nothing. Dad says he’s too busy!)
There were a few themes going into the race. Matt has talked a little about them in his blog here (I’ll perhaps expand on this in part 2, but at this point want to thank Matt and Paul for their patience and support. I think if you read the link, you’ll see it’s certainly not been smooth sailing, but it has been worth it and there’s still a long way to go.)
One of them was to reflect on where I’ve come in in the past year. Roth in 2016, was the start of the last 12months of development for me. I think last year after the race (and a pretty average, actually pile of shit lead up into the race) Matt’s comment was…’well you pulled that one out of your arse!’ But Challenge Roth in 2016 was the start of what has been a pretty cool 12months. So going into the race and as a way to manage nerves and pre race energy, it was to think with confidence about how far I’d come and smile.
The other was the ‘permission to fail’ concept. Something I’ve found hard to fully embrace, but coming into this race I worked hard to approach it openly. With the fact it was my 4th full distance, and what mark would that leave on me.
Another one was to absolutely give 100% of whatever my body gave me on the day.
(But more about that in Part 2!)
I very much appreciated arriving in Roth early to settle and have a few calmer days before it got hectic. Unfortunately the graduation celebration didn’t happen for us, as Benny, was admitted to hospital the day after arrived (the day of his girlfriend’s graduation) and by the evening was having his appendix removed. So the first few days were spent with visits to the hospital, to visit Benny, and me torturing him (obviously already in pain from the surgery) with my poor German and bad jokes!
The energy levels in Roth really pick up on the Wednesday before the race. I heard that the local schools would all be in the finish stadium with the banners they had made for the race. It was a local initiative which Challenge Roth supports, ‘Schools with courage, schools without racism’. I asked Felix if I could join and show my support and so was incredible lucky to meet the students and talk with them. Sport is so powerful in uniting people. It can level the playing field and I feel has given me so many opportunities I want to help others to see that too. It can be powerful for creating change too. It’s something I feel strongly about and makes up part of who I am. I particularly respect and value my partnership with Skins. They are a company who use their brand “to improve the field on which people play and compete“. Their vision is “a world in which sport inspires society; through performance, passion and principles. Because we don’t just love sport, we live it. And it has the power to do so much good. We strongly believe that prejudice in any form should play no role in sport, or society.” Read up more here on their Pure Sport blog. It’s why I want to be able to support initiatives such as the one at Challenge Roth.
Thursday is the crazy day, with the Pro Meeting, Press Conference, the Erdinger Party and also I had a dinner with the athletes from Race Force Travel. Comparing back to a year ago, I would have been at the Pro Meeting and that was it, now it was a little different but I was embracing it. This is Roth. The press conference was like nothing I’ve experience. OK so I’m not that much of a regular with Press Conferences, but this was impressive. We were provided with headphones, and the speaches etc. were instantly translated from German to English. When we (the athletes) were called one by one onto the stage, we were spoken to in our respective languages, and could still have the head phones to hear what the other athletes were being asked. Although most of us wished the headphone would also do instant translation for Joe Skipper from, his Skipper language to English!! Sorry Joe!
The Erdinger Party is the unofficial kick off to Challenge Roth, and many of the Pros are expected to go for the official photo. Yes it may look like jovial fun and games, and it sure is fun, I mean when else am I going to get to wear a Dirndl, but it’s also part of the expectations (and in our contracts) to attend. After the Erdinger party I joined the Race Force UK athletes for a dinner and had the opportunity to talk to them and answer any questions they had about the race.
Yes this was a full on crazy day. I also did a run and swim somewhere in between. I’m still learning the balance between what is expected of me and what I want to do and should do. I am proud I went to everyone of these commitments and managed it, ensuring that I was still focusing on being the Professional and preparing for the race. I’m still pretty new to racing at this level, and want to ensure I’m doing the right thing to build the relationships for the future, but also because these activities fuel and feed me and give me a boost leading into the race.
Friday, was a little clearer with a training focus and feet up rest time as much as I could. My parents arrived so I was able to spend some time with them too. We had a ‘Meet the Pros’ at the expo event that Yvonne Van Vlerken, Heather Wurtelle and I attended. This was a lot of fun and another great experience and opportunity. After this is was the official Pasta Party. Here the Pros are invited up on stage. Another quite unique activity to Roth.
Saturday is all about the race. Final prep and bike racking, with a quick interview in transition. But I did make it for the start of the Women’s Run, and event I wasn’t going to miss and yes one I chose to attend because I love it and it’s awesome. 2000 women taking part in a 5km run. The atmosphere is incredible and I wanted to support this initiative.
In the days after the race I was able to join Hilpolstein Triathlon club for one of their evening sessions. This was great fun with a good group of girls and boys of all ages. What wasn’t so fun was I stupidly said we’d do a run session! Yep, two days post race. My legs didn’t appreciate it as I tried to make my running look as easy and effortless as possible in front of the group, as we ran out to Solar Hill, where I made them run the hill reps!
Challenge Roth – Race Day
It was an early start, 0245hours to be precise that my alarm went off and the day began. Once at transition it was buzzing, but I just felt a great calmness and control. For sure I was nervous, but I was also smiling. The swim start is incredible, with the banks of the canal and the bridges all jam packed full of spectators and hot air balloons taking off from the adjacent fields.
This year the Professional Women were starting in the second wave, 5mins behind the Pro men. (This first wave also included the 65+, physically challenged and 200 sub 9 age groupers). It wasn’t ideal, but it was separate from the Pro men so I was going in with an open mind and attitude that I would just manage it and deal with what ever happened on the day and as a result, positively and proactively.
For the first 20m I reckon I was leading the swim!! Ha ha! Then Ryf went past me…just stick to her hip, just stick to her hip, ok just stick to her feet, just stick to her feet! Then Heather Wurtelle who was on Ryf’s feet, just stick to her hip, just stick to her hip, ok just stick to her feet, just stick to her feet! And then I was off the back and losing ground. Finding my rhythm, I was a bit later joined by Steph Corker and we swam together for much of the race. YVV was also there and for a large part of the swim the three of us swam side by side. Why? Well because I’m not a swimmer and for me it’s still about trying to swim my rhythm and my race. Also because I don’t know how to communicate with the others during the swim about working together and dropping back on feet etc and rotating. Anyway.
In T2 heard we were about 5mins from the lead, which I assumed was Ryf, but wasn’t sure if Heather was with her or not.
As had been the case in Wanaka and Taupo, YVV and I rode together for much of the ride. Whilst I knew we were moving well, I couldn’t find my rhythm on the first lap, so just had to go with it, having the confidence that as in Wanaka and Taupo I’d come good on the later stages. This, thankfully was true, as about 75km into the race, we got a split saying Heather was only 90sec up the road. We caught Heather just before the end of the first lap, and this had definitely been a boost and help. I started to find my rhythm going into the second lap and at about the 120km mark, got a break. Going up the decent climb at Greding, I heard that Heather had unfortunately got a penalty and I was dropping YVV. I knew I just had to keep riding my rhythm up the hill and then build and squeeze the pace a bit from there. I was fully prepared for YVV to come back to me, and was fine with this, as hoped if this was the case, she would have had to have put in a decent effort to catch back up. I came into T2 about a minute or so ahead of YVV, and I think about 13/14mins down to Ryf.
The new run course is two laps rather than the one T shaped course that had been traditional to Roth for many years. Whilst I can say the new run course is definitely harder* with the rolling terrain and cobbles and turns through the centre of Roth. The new course is in much more keeping with the feel and atmosphere of the race. The two loops means it’s a lot better for spectators and supporters to get around and see their athletes several times. It’s pretty much lined the whole way. There are so many aid stations and hot spots with music and commentators, it’s great. The new turnaround at Buchenback was like another Solar Berg Hill. It was just incredible. It felt like the whole town and more were out lining the street and the small lake we ran around. It was like getting sling-shot round the lake with all the crowd support. Just amazing and a big thank you!
(*I had a great run in 2016 and so good memories of the run. If I’d had a bad experience this would perhaps have changed my view. There are some very long straight sections along the canal, which can be pretty sole destroying, but for the most it’s on compact track. But I like and support the new course.)
I got early splits that I was stretching away from YVV and staying about the same to Ryf, but there was a long way to go. At the turnaround on the canal, it’s a chance to get a first glimpse at where your competitors are and I was trying to work out time gaps and distances, but at the same time all I could really focus on was my running and pushing ahead. Whilst I was putting time into YVV behind me but not really making grounds on Ryf, I was very wary of Lisa Roberts, currently in forth as I knew she could run so was trying to make the calculations in my head, as to how far back she was and how quickly she was moving. That’s always good fun at this stage in an iron distance so I gave up and focused back on my running.
By the time I headed out to Buchenbach for the final time, it was unlikely I would catch Ryf, although I knew I was clawing back a bit of time, but more by fingernails than anything else. My quads for the last 10km or so had been nicely talking to me, but I remember listening to Ruth Brennon Murray on the Witsup Super Podcast (listen here), about the fact she loved the feeling of running with numb legs. Ruth is a great runner, so for the last lap this was what I was trying to channel. Thanks Ruth!
Just before the final turn, I got another update that Roberts had moved into third but that I’d be safe in second and she wouldn’t catch me (as long as I just kept trucking along). But felt I needed to see this for myself, so once through the craziness of the Buchenback turn, I was searching to spot the flag of the third place woman cyclist. As said at this stage in the race I think you really do lose all concept of time and distance, all I knew when I saw Roberts was that she looked a lot closer than 6 or 7mins down and that I needed to keep running, hard! I still had 5km to go. Again I was trying to do some calculations. Ok if she’s 6 or 7mins down with 5km to go she’s got to be running at least a minute per kilometer faster than me. How fast are you running Sid? Surely she can’t be running a minute faster than that? Can she? Etc. etc. The fun and games your head plays.
I’m normally feed off the crowd and like to acknowledge them and thank the volunteers, but I am sorry to say I had nothing to give anyone. The announcers as each of the hot spots were announcing me as taking second place, but I hadn’t made it to the line yet and Roberts was chasing hard. I’m not sure I could even muster a smile for them. Sorry. I couldn’t relax and was half convinced Roberts was going to catch me in the final kilometers. However if she was I was going to make it as hard as I could for her, and would give my all for her not to catch me. It was probably as I finally turned onto Triathlon Park that I took one last look back to see that third place flag, but saw nothing. Finally relax and try to enjoy this.
The finish line at Roth is unique. You run about 200m down what for most races would be the normal finish chute, packed with supporters, before heading under the media arch to enter the stadium. For me that 200m lasted forever, the arch just kept moving further away! As I did last year, I grabbed my Union Jack flag that Benny had been holding and waving all day, to run down the chute and into the stadium. I’m not sure I was really relaxed even yet though in reality. In the last 5km of the run, I’d told myself you can walk the stadium if you make it there still in second place. Funnily enough there was no stopping to walk as the crowd carried me round and over the line. I then decided to have a lie down! Ha ha!
I can’t really describe the feeling. I wasn’t sure what to take in. I think I was still so much in the race, I couldn’t appreciate it, not saying that in a bad way, just because I’d had to push to the line and it’s all a bit of a blur.
Whilst on the floor though I suddenly opened my eyes to see Lilliana Murray-Ore, standing above me.
Lilliana is the daughter of Vics and Jerry who I lived with in NZ (in their studio apartment at the back of their house). Lilliana was holding my medal ready to present to me. But there I was, sweaty, soaked with water and probably coke, lying flat on my back and bless her she wasn’t sure what to do. I tried as quickly as I could to stand up, which must have been quite comical as my legs appears to have been detached from the rest of my body. She put the medal over my neck, an amazing feeling and I gave her a big hug, to which she squirmed… “urgh you’re all wet”! ha ha! Loved it and THANK YOU Lilliana.
Before I knew it I was having a huge German beer placed in my hands. I hadn’t had time to think and to be honest whilst I’ve always wanted to do this, it was the last thing I could think about at the time, so I made an epic fail and likely my biggest regret of the race as I completely missed my mouth and head and most went down my back!
Lisa crossed the line in third, oddly enough the 6 or so minutes behind me! Ha! Congrats Lisa on pushing me so hard. I didn’t really want to leave the finish line. There were lots of hugs (yes taking pleasure in the fact I was horrible wet and sweaty) and I found my parents and brought them down to share in it. Again having so many friends at the finish was special. So many people had been so supportive in the days leading into the race (and of course months before) it was great to be able to reward this and say thank you to them all. Finally dragging myself away, it was off to drugs testing, which had to be interrupted by the press conference. Learning point here…remember to take a change of clothes in the future, rather than sitting in the press conference in beer smelling race kit, when all the others had changed! Doh! Back to drugs testing to actually complete that process, T2 to pick up my bike and bags and an easy cycle with my mum and dad back to my homestay. I have to give my Dad a big plug here who cycled with the most enormous bottle of champagne in his back pack. Even after spraying and drinking some there was still half a bottle left and it was such an impressive bottle I wasn’t throwing that away. Apart from the slight mishap when he leant forward to unlock his bike forgetting the bottle was in his back pack, the bubbles made it safely home!
Roth is not over until you head back to the finish line for the final hours. It’s like no other finish, because the stadium creates this incredible and unique and all inclusive atmosphere. Every one is welcomed home like a hero and athletes can cross with their family, celebrating their hard work and achievement together. As the sun sets, the stadium is lit up with fluro lights, flares, sparklers and flames. The music is pumping and the energy electric. As with most things in Roth it’s hard to explain until you experience it. As the end of the race nears, an amazing firework displays is set off and everyone is very much made to feel part of the Walchshoefer family!
It’s hard to sleep after a day like Roth, and to be honest I never sleep the night of a race by the time you get home, and with everything going through you body and your body saying what the f*$k did you just do to me. So early the next morning, I headed out for a spin of the legs on the bike before joining the crew for breaky followed by the annual Witsup Roth Facebook live! The celebrations then continue with the Awards and Volunteers and after party.
So as I’ve already made this into a novel so I’ll save the learnings and reflections on the past year, for part two to come in the coming days.
For now, get involved and sign yourself up for Challenge Roth 2018! Or more likely as it will have sold out in 20seconds, find another way to get yourself to Germany on July 1st 2018
Just before you go, if you want to buy my kick, that’s a yes, just in case you were wondering, then head over to www.scody.com.au and shop away…only open till 23rd July! So get in quick. 10% of sales goes to MORE Than Sport so please please please support.
For more insights from the lead up to the race and after, check out the following podcasts.
IM Talk – Day 6 Challenge Roth
Triathlon World – Roth Chat
Fitter Radio – Episode #171
Along with the partnership I’m grateful for that I’ve mentioned in the blog above, I’m also thankful for the support from Funkita, Kitbrix, Activbod, Scicon, Oakley and Air Relax Pro. Yes I know have some compression boots and are just a little bit excited about this!