2016, Challenge Roth, 4th place and I was over the moon and so happy with the result. 2018, Challenge Roth, 4th place and my feelings could not have been further from that.
That’s not to say now, a few days on, I’m not proud (in parts) of what I achieved in Roth in 2018. I take away some good positives.
However, I am a professional, and a super critical one at that. Since 2016 and over the past couple of years as I’ve grown and developed in the sport, my standards have changed and as an athlete I’ve evolved. I now expect more out of myself, and I expect better performances reflective of the work I’m putting in and the training I’m doing. I was pissed off and disappointed after the race, because I realised after the fact, that I was good enough to win the race, to win races. I’m not wanting to take anything away from the deserved podium on the day Daniella Saemmler, Lucy Charles and Kaisa Sali. They fought and earnt their right to be there on the podium. For me, I felt I missed an opportunity.
Roth is amazing! The best race on the planet. I don’t think I hide the fact that I think this race is so awesome. The Walchsoefer family, and the Challenge Roth team are just brilliant and it’s always so great to return to hugs and smiles and to be welcomed back. I stay with the same fabulous homestay family, each year, Cornelia, Rudi and their son Benny. They are a wonderful family who’s support in the week leading into the race and after is amazing. They are also all out there, all day on race day, cheering and supporting me and the other athletes. We’ve developed our own little traditions in the days prior and on race day and it creates a truly special bond with Roth.
It’s hard to keep trying to describe how awesome the event is, in the days prior with all the activities, the scale and size of Triathlonpark, the fabulous volunteers and of course, the course and race day itself. Have a read of my series “Postcard from Sid“… to read more about how incredible it is.
Race morning down at the Main Donau Kanal is just magical. It was a calm, still morning, stunning as the sun rose behind the hot air balloons waiting to lift of as the cannon fires to signal the start of the race. The usual nerves are there, but also the buzz. You try to take in the atmosphere to let it inspire you and lift you for the race.
My swim was pretty solid, and in what would probably be the usual pack of women. Lucy Charles was obviously off the front, chasing down the male Pros, with Alica Kaye following. Daniela Saemmler, managed to surge off the front of our group about 300-400m into the race, and so four of us formed for the remainder of the swim – Kaisa Sali, myself, Yvonne Van Vlerken and Bianca Steurer.
I know how quickly these women travel through transition so knew I’d have to get myself sorted quickly to make sure I was with them at the start of the bike. Legs were feeling ok to start with as I settled into the bike, along with Kaisa and Yvonne behind. But over the course of the 180km, I felt at times like I was pedalling in concrete. I unfortunately just wasn’t able to find anywhere near my usual power or any little surges to cover any moves. I felt I was haemorrhaging time to the front of the race. I tried different strategies, trying to keep my head in the game. Interestingly enough, whilst I felt pretty average on the bike, I actually rode the second half relatively strongly compared to the other women. I lost the most amount of time on the first lap and hardly any on the second lap. A key learning here is perception and reality. My perception was that I was just going backwards, I wasn’t producing any power. In reality, it wasn’t great, but probably wasn’t as bad as I was feeling. Also, to remember that anything can be happening up ahead of you that you are not aware of, so just keep at it with what you can on the day and you still may have a long shot. It was a case of trying to just clear my head, not have too many conversations with myself and just try to relax, enjoy being in Roth, and just cycle as well as I could with what my body was giving me (which was about didly squat). It was also a case of hoping I’d at least have the run legs and promising myself if they turned up in my T2 bag, to give the run a decent crack.
After the bike though, I was expecting to hear huge gaps to the front of the race, and it was therefore quite a pleasant surprise to hear I was only 90second down to the woman ahead as I headed out on the run. (Although also a kick in the teeth and that realisation again that actually I wasn’t ‘that’ far behind and if perhaps I just been able to find a little more on the bike… anyway…) Even better I could see the athlete up ahead, and so gained some confidence in this. I also settled into a pretty good rhythm and just went with it. I had some company from a local athlete Markus Stengl. Being a local athlete he was getting loads of cheers and support which was pretty fab. Out on the canal and it was the first time to see where the front of the race was. Again, I had a bit of a surprise that it wasn’t as far ahead as I was expecting. Around the 15km mark I moved up into forth and around a similar time, left my now good buddy, Markus* and set about solo, trying to consolidate the pass I’d made into forth. (*Markus and I had the debate afterwards, he was convinced I sped up, where I just thought he’d slowed down.) As said at the start, I was pretty happy with my run in the end. I knew and felt I was running pretty well, with half an eye on my splits, but didn’t really have an idea I was close on the 3hour run.
I also hadn’t realised I’d closed down so much time to the front, so that on crossing the line in forth, there was only five minutes separating the from four women. With that comes the frustration too though, of taking over five minutes out of the front women on the run, and that opportunity of putting myself closer to the front if the bike legs had been there. Yes, if I’d biked anywhere near normal, then would I have run 3hours, who knows, what if, but I didn’t give myself the chance to find out. Forth place sucks. As said, in 2016, I was over the moon with 4th place, but 2018 feelings were very different. Yes, I also appreciate that forth place isn’t bad at all, against women who have finished in the top five in Kona, and won multiple iron distance races and have a ridiculous number of sub 9hour finishes. I appreciate this for sure. However it wasn’t what I was aiming for and it wasn’t what I felt was my best performance. Of course, yes it was the best performance I had on the day with the decisions I made and the circumstances and again I want to stress I take nothing away from the performances of the other women. But for me it wasn’t great, there were opportunities missed and risks not taken, and a need to understand why the legs didn’t turn up on the bike.
However, as mentioned at the start of this piece, there also great positives to take away which in the global progression of myself as an athlete are great.
Yes, I know I have two Ironman victories already in 2018, and I was 4th at Roth, I have already got all this out of myself. But I know that I can be better…
As said for me whilst the performance and race at Roth is key, there’s so much more that goes on around this race and so much more that our sport is about. I got to meet some amazing and inspirational people and once again some pretty special experiences that remind me how incredible fortunate I am to be involved in this sport and have the life I do.
Firstly I got to be on the other side of the fence, and be support crew for my Mum! She took part in the Challenge Women 5km event. She’s 72! Mum does play tennis, but has never run before. However, on coming to watch Challenge Roth in 2017, she saw the Challenge Women event and was so inspired by all the women running, that on returning to England she started running, with the goal to participate in the event in 2018! She started running as far as she could, maybe 50 strides that was all, then she’d walk. She’s now completed over 10 park runs and has a time for 5km of around 34/35minutes! It was an event I wouldn’t have missed for the World, although I can say I was a little stressed about hoping she was ok, and standing watching the finish line for about 10minutes before she was due to come in…just in case! This spectating lark is hard work! But I was so proud of my Mum for taking part.
I was lucky enough to find a new friend, Rajesh Durbal. A triple amputee, and incredible positive and inspiring person. His outlook and take on life was infectious.
It was also a chance to finally meet the Maxing Out team, from Australia. This is a fabulous group of people, who have been training for Challenge Roth to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder in kids. They have been documenting their journey which is due to be released on TV, and I’ve been involved over the past few months, providing support and advise for their training and the race. It was great to meet, Ash Bradnam, Ben Hannant, and Chloe Maxwell and the rest of the team. I was also fortunate enough to be at the finish line when an emotional Chloe finished and a rather broken but still triumphant Ash crossed the line. Watch out for the TV program coming out later this year.
Another group that was energising to meet again was Team Hatch. I’d first met James Hatchley on a flight back to the UK after Challenge Family Sardinia last year. James told me he was racing Challenge Roth, and of course I was super excited and blurted out everything that is awesome about Roth.
We kept in touch over the next few months, and I started to learn more about his story and what he was trying to achieve, and actually smashing through, with the Team, Great Ormond Street Hospital and goals at Roth. This video captures some of the essence of Hatch, and what he’s trying to achieve.
They have raised over £225k for GOSH! A pretty special story and person! Again it was a huge honour to be at the finish line to welcome and celebrate with Hatch and his daughter Kitty as he finished. Its definitely worth watching the video and also checking out Hatch’s own personal story and how triathlon has transformed his life.
It’s taken me a long time to process Roth, and a long time to write this article. Unsure what to write, how to write it, what messages and all the rest, as well as the balance of keeping it in perspective and the reality of the bigger world of life! When something means so much to you, and you miss the mark, it makes a bigger dent and I’ve spent a long time and perhaps far to many days thinking about the what if’s, what happened and trying to analyse. It’s been hard to forget the what if’s, and focus on the learnings, positives and opportunities, but finally getting this to paper I hope will help.
So now it’s done. It’s over. There’s no looking back, but there’s lots of looking forward to Challenge Roth 2019.