"Did not finish" is better than "Did not start"
The Challenge Roth 2013 was my debut over the full distance, my first “Iron Man”. As preparation I had trained running, cycling and swimming for about 2 years. Average training effort was around 5 hours weekly. As part of the preparation I had run a Marathon (“Nordmarka Skogsmarathon”), finished the “Lillehammer – Oslo” Bikerace (190 km) and swam 4.200 meter without stop in open water. I finished the “Oslo Triathlon” in 2011 and 2012, which was another important part of the preparation, especially when it comes to the swim-start and shifting between in T1 and T2.
My plan was to do the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in 2014, the idea for 2013 was to finish a race over the same distance than Norseman but with a flat profile as test and part of the preparation. I chose Challenge Roth mainly due to the reason that it was the only full distance race I had heard about.
Launching the idea of going to the south of Germany and competing at the Challenge Roth on a dinner with some friends and far too much Cognac I could get my friend Morten to join me. Even as he had misunderstood and was thinking Challenge Roth was a middle distance Triathlon, he once more proved to be a man of honour, kept his promise and signed up together with me. It felt very good having a companion when doing these kind of things for the first time. It was motivating to have the long training sessions together with Morten and having someone to share tips & tricks and even more important having someone to share nervousness and fear.
When travelling to Germany in the beginning of July 2013 together with Bente and the boys I felt somehow sufficiently prepared and was looking forward to the race. When arriving in Spalt, some 20 km away from Roth at our hotel “Bayerischer Hof”, on thursday before the race, a group of extremely strong looking French Triathletes had already established themselves at the Hotel. There was not much fat left on the tanned bodies of these guys. I suddenly felt weak and untrained in my pale skin that had barely seen any sun in the Norwegian summer. The Hotel Bayerischer Hof at Spalt can without any doubt be recommended as “Race – Hotel” for anybody planning to do the Challenge Roth. But remember asking for a room on a lower level than the top floor where we stayed. It is getting extremely hot there under the roof. Especially with two kids aged 2 and 4 in the same room and not being able to open the windows properly during the night in order to prevent the kids from a 15 meter free fall out of the window.
Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Spalt
On Friday Bente, me and the boys went to Roth in order to register for the race and have a short walk over the Expo. The Atmosphere in the beautiful little Bavarian town of Roth is really cosy. The sun was shining and everybody was smiling. Even if it is a really big event with around 5.000 participants and a crowd of 250.000 spectators, the atmosphere was so relaxed, everything perfectly organized.
Morten arrived on Friday evening. My younger sister with her 2 kids arrived on Friday as well. Morten and me put the bikes together and did a short cycle-tour to make sure everything with the bikes works as it should.
On Saturday, Morten and I used a couple of hours with bike check-in and inspecting the “Rhein-Main-Donau Kanal” – the channel where the swim takes place. I think the swim at the Challenge Roth makes it a perfect race for an Ironman debutant. Navigation is as easy as in the pool, there are no waves or other movements in the water and there is a wave-start with groups of only 250.
My ambition for the race was:
1.Get to the finish line in decent shape
2.Finish below 12 hours (1:30 for the swim, 6:00 for the bike, 4:15 for the marathon and 0:15 for Transition)
On Sunday we got up at 3:30 having a short breakfast at the hotel. The Hotel is located some 20 km from the Swimstart , but we were really early and there was almost no traffic at all. The start area is very inspiring with the high volume music and big balloons lined up on the opposite site of the channel. I had never been more nervous than on that morning and the evening before, not before an examination at school, not before a date, not before a job interview. And you could easily feel the nervousness of all the other athletes as well. And then happened that little instance that gave a good laugh to everybody and made the nervousness disappear for a couple of minutes: As there were quite long rows of man and women in front of the toilets one guy simply peed into the bushes. Bad luck for the poor guy, a race marshal did observe that rule breaking action, blowing strongly into his wistle and showing the yellow card to the peeing man. Of course every eye was on him.
The water temperature was around 21°C. I do not know why I ended up there but I lined up in the middle of my start wave. Even if the wave consisted of only 250 athletes the first 10 minutes were disastrous. I hyperventilated and got panic and were really thinking of stopping right now and leaving the water. Fortunately I had the experience from the Oslo Triathlon knowing that I have to calm down and being patient – it will get better after only a couple of minutes. And of course it did. I got into a steady speed and started to enjoy the race. Rounding the first bridge, turning and rounding the other bridge. Of course I felt the distance in my arms when there was 500 meters left but in the end it was much less exhausting than expected and even the time of 1.18 was better than my schedule.
Out of the water: Worst part is over
The worst part was done and I was looking forward to the bike leg. Only the aspect to be able to ride for a 6 hour tour on blocked roads through the beauty of the Bavarian landscape with all the pitoresque small villages and under perfect weather conditions was a great thought. Doing that after having fulfilled the 3.8 km swim in my first ironman distance was almost not to believe – so much joy. The first 20 kilometers were very crowdy and it was not easy to keep out of the draft zone. I was really focused on sticking to the rules. But when passing one guy from Austria I got into a short chat with the guy – just telling each other how great the day is. Suddenly I heard a harsh voice calling my number and telling me that I have to pass immediately and that it is against the rules to ride side by side. The race marshal on the motor bike was behind me and I almost fall of the bike – I got shocked. First thought was that I had been disqualified. That was so unfair – right know when the whole thing started to get really fun. Of course I just got a warning and no penalty but my heard rate had gone up 30 beats for a couple of minutes.
After the incident with the race marshal I concentrated on the race with really focus on finding the right pace, hydration and nutrition. Everything went surprisingly smooth, almost exactly according to plan. After 37 km we had to climb the Kalvarien-berg at Greding. It´s some 100 meters uphill – not too steep. For me it was almost a relief to get out of the saddle after having ridden in aero-position for more than an hour.
Crusing speed through the beautiful bavarian countryside
During the month before the race I did so much thinking about the race. Mainly I was thinking about how exhausted I could get, how to handle technical issues with the bike, problems with nutrition and stomach. But I had never dreamt about that I would be able to enjoy the race that much. Everything was so perfect: I was in good shape, feeling full of energy, nice weather, done with the swim, and the kilometres flow on the bike almost without any effort at all. After 70 km we started with the “Solar Hill”. I though I was prepared that this could get somehow emotionally. But I was not at all – the Solarer Hill is by far the coolest moment you can experience as a hobby athlete. The enthusiasm of the crowd and the size of the crowd completely blows you off the bike. It was not like getting a bit wet in the canthus, I was crying big tears of joy. The emotional aspect that all these hundreds and thousands of people are standing along the road just in order to support me – a mediocre trained guy in his midlife crisis – was simply impossible to understand. The Solarer Hill is only a couple of hundred meters long and as soon as you are on the top of the hill it is getting quite and lonely again. After getting back into cruising speed I was thinking that it´s naïve to think the crowd has gathered to support some lousy age group athletes, of course they came to see all the international top athletes that join the Challenge Roth year after year. And actually James Cunnama was flying by in hyperspeed only a couple of minutes after I had passed the Solarer Hill for the first time (he was in his second round of course). That I was wrong with that thinking, I did understand when I climbed the Solar Hill once again in my second round. The crowd was still of the same size making a hell of a spectacle for all us lousy age groupers while the top athletes are approaching the finish line in the city centre of Roth. That´s the really great thing with Challenge Roth – it´s an age groupers race: 250.000 spectators are there to support all us needing 10, 11, 12, 15 or 17 hours for the Iron distance. And the slower you are – the louder support you get.
Goose pimples at the Solar Hill
Up to km 120 I was able to ride an average speed above 31 km/h which I was really satisfied with. But from km 120 I had to realize that my body got tired. No surprise after having competed for more than 5 hours. No problem, I was ahead of schedule and reduced the speed in order to finish the bike leg in controlled manner and being ready for the marathon. The last 15 km are slightly downhill and you get up to 40 km/h almost without using strength at all. I arrived in T2 after 5:50, another 10 minutes ahead of scheme and still feeling strong and being able to enjoy the race and the atmosphere.
"Beer - Mile"
T2 was as perfect organized as everything else. One guy was taking my bike and another guy was reaching my running bag to me. I changed completely including from tri-shorts to running shorts and put some extra sun protection on my white skin.
Hard part was over – here we go: I was afraid of the bike leg because there is always some possibility for a technical defect or a crash and I was afraid of the swim because it´s the swim. I was not afraid of the run, because I though that if I get that long in the race than I will of course be able to run or walk for 42km.
So, starting with the first steps in the run leg, I was mentally finished with the entire race – no chance of not finishing my first Iron Man at that point. First kilometre was done surprisingly fast: 4:30. I understood that I would never be able to stay on that pace for only one more kilometre. After 7 kilometers I had stabilized pace at around 5:15 and which I really believed could hold to the end. Of course it did not. I met the man with the hammer at kilometre 8 – it wasn´t like slowly fading out but my legs simply stopped to move from one moment to the other. I squeezed in an energy gel and started to walk slowly to the next drink station and got a nice cup of Coke. That helped and I could run again but with reduced pace. The rest of the marathon was an interesting journey. I could force myself to run between the drink stations, get a couple of drinks there, walk some meters and start running to the next station. The distance between the drink stations was 2 kilometres which was a perfect distance for that exercise. I got into a nice rhythm of running, walking, drinking. I understood that the dream result of finishing in less than 11 hours was no longer in reach, but I still had the chance to run the marathon in less than 4 hours. Around kilometre 35 in the marathon I learned that this would not go either. Anyway I was happy to be able to finish in a controlled manner and much better than the realistic ambition of 12 hours. I met Bente, the boys and the rest of the family around km 36 – another extraordinary great moment on that special day. The last 2 km in the run are fantastic. The course leads you through the old town of Roth rounding the marked place, where you again get pushed by thousands of screaming supporters.
I crossed the finish line after 11 hours and 26 minutes (4:06 for the marathon). I had finished my first full distance Triathlon. First thought after crossing the line was that there is nothing to be afraid of when It comes to the Norseman which is planned for 2014. Equipment was doing fine and so did my body. Nutrition was no problem either. I felt already well prepared for the Norseman and had still a whole year to fine tune swimming technique and endurance on bike & run.
At the finish line of a long, demanding and wonderfull day
Challenge Roth – do or do not?
An absolute no-brainer: Do it, do it, do it! And that count´s as well for the question: “Do an Ironman at all?”
I really understand why everybody, both Germans and triathletes from all over the world have Challenge Roth on their bucket-list.
I will give you 8 reasons why to sign up for Roth as soon as possible: