Challenge Roth

After my first ironman attempt of the year was a DNF, and my consolation attempt 70.3 was a DNS, I was hungry for a good race. Challenge Roth would be the 6th full distance triathlon I'd toe the line at, hopefully the 4th I would finish.

The couple of days before this race were good. Just switched off from an intense few weeks in the Real Worldâ„¢, and enjoyed meeting up with some triathlon buddies.

Swim
The swim is in a canal, with wave starts so it's not *too* crowded. I started 3 rows from the front of the women's wave and felt reasonably calm, until the gun went… within seconds it felt like there were dozens of bodies pushing into my torso, over my legs, thankfully not over my head. I still don't cope very well with this reality of racing and just kept raising my head for fear it would get pushed far below. "Relax… relax… relax". Breathing under control, and the pack dispersing, it got easier to truck on. It's a really straight forward swim, with sighting easy - just keep parallel to the canal bank. I found the bank a comforting sight - if you really needed to, you could escape to the side and just stand up.

At my pace in the swim, there's soon no good feet around to catch onto. I was happy enough to just feel safe and resolved to just keep turning my arms over until I didn't have to anymore.

Sure enough eventually there was a finish line, hit stop and watch tells me it was 1:25. Happy enough with that, always happy for the swim just to be over. T1 was super simple - straight into one change tent for men & women, as is T2 and even the finish area showers: this is a very European race!

Bike
Right from the start of the bike course, the huge presence of supporters lining the route was impressive and very welcome. I had to laugh at the first village, streets lined with trestle tables, residents sat happily drinking beer and cheering us through… before 9am. The only thing the Germans appear to love more than triathlon is beer. Challenge Roth is a marriage made in heaven.

First hour or two were just settling in, mentally as much as physically. Letting annoying thoughts from previous weeks rattle through my mind; letting good thoughts start to float in; settling. I didn't worry too much about my power output, just kept an occasional eye, kept conscious of whether I could sustain the effort for 7 hours or so, and then run. Steady nutrition, like clockwork, was a useful focus.

It's a rolling bike course. A few fun twisting descents, which my bike and I made the most of. The climbs were the highlight, thanks to the supporters. First noticeable hill I hit, with cheering crowds and 'Girls just wanna have fun' blaring on the sound system, was absolutely invigorating! At first I thought that was the famous Solar hill you hear about, then a few minutes later an inflatable tower read 'Get ready for Solar, experience of a lifetime'… and holy moly, you couldn't even see any road on the road ahead it was so thick with supporters. It was almost frightening - would I be able to control my bike through this OK? Within metres I was just grinning like a loon, and thoroughly enjoyed climbing through as the crowds parted *just* in time to let you through. Tour de France style, for mere mortals. (An amazing photo of this). Solar hill alone makes this race a bucket list choice, but there were many, many pure joyful hotspots along the course. I heard there were 200,000 supporters along the course. It's a privilege to be able to ride your bike alongside that backdrop.

On one of the long exposed stretches, an English woman shouted over to me "I wish this wind would do one!" as she passed me. I hadn't even registered that it was windy, I was just relieved there was no storm at this race, and that I was warm!

Around 3/4 of the way through, I noticed that my time was looking reasonably good, for me. My PB for the bike is 7:28, and it looked as if I'd get in under 7 hours. So I made a bit more effort to make sure that did happen, but not *too* much, conscious of saving myself for the run! That worked: 6hrs 48. It felt great to see a bike split starting with a 6!

Run
I was a bit disorientated coming off the bike and took my time in T2. My volunteer was in more of a rush to get my running socks and shoes on than I was! On the way out, I was offered a beer, to start the run. I declined, but that did get the run started with a giggle.

I just let my legs settle for the first 5km, trying to keep a lid on the pace that sometimes gets carried away to start with. My target was to finish the run in 4:30 (my PB was 4:57), which meant running to a pace of 6:24 min/km. I did the first 10 at around 6, exactly like my coach had warned me not to… but I felt really good, so figured I'd just go with how I felt.

I was nervous before the race that I'd fail to reach my target from stopping too often at the aid stations. The day before the race, my friend Cat said to me, "I challenge you: only stop at every 3rd aid station". Cat always knows best. Game on! It was perfect - I completely resisted the temptation to stop because a) I'd hate to let Cat down, and b) I simply wasn't allowed, I had a black & white rule: "Cat said only the 3rd ones".

The first 20km went by really well. I felt like a runner. I was bothered by weak communication with my coach that left me thinking she didn't think my run target was realistic. But with just four more 5kms to go, and a little bit, I was still on target. I had the average pace displayed in the corner of my watch and for a long while it read 6:10. I checked that average number every few kms, feeling relatively confident but anxious because I was entering unknown territory. I was still running well though, even making little surges of effort to overtake other runners if I just didn't want the view of them, or their form, infront of me anymore.

At 25km, the pains started to come on… little sharp twinges in one knee, dull pain building in the quads. I took a couple of paracetamol to try and hold it off, wanting to get to 30km at this pace, then the target would surely be doable. With each stop the average pace moved up a notch. As the distance grew and my pace slowed, the average was up to 6:16. "This is still going to happen".

From 30km of course it gets really hard. The pain is just here to stay now, I told myself, it's just part of the present, work with it. I reminded myself that I know pain and this isn't it; this is something I've chosen to do, I am in control, this pretend pain can't touch me. I also know now that everyone hits a pain point, everyone who is really trying, even the top athletes. I've heard them talk about it, I've seen it in their faces, at Kona.

By 35km I was having moments of just wincing in pain, almost involuntarily stopping to walk a few yards, with the double drawback of it being even more difficult to pick the pace back up. The supporters on the way back into town are willing you on! Partly why I hate to see people wearing ipods, even though you're allowed on the run in a Challenge race: it's a race experience, take part, fully. I want to soak up that noise, and give a thumbs up to show I appreciate it.

Average pace was up to 6:19. It felt so close, but far enough to start really being tempted to ease off. "Tough! We're ALL IN now!". The intensity of the run during an ironman is something pretty special. On the swim, on the bike, my mind can cover all kinds of things. On the run, there was simply no room for anything else but carrying out the present. You're both intensely and loosely aware of every part of your self, with passing floating awareness of the occasional thing outside your personal space. I love that about it.

40km… who puts cobbles at 40km?! Uphill! With a photographer there to capture your pain! I thought I heard the DJ in the square shout something about "5km!" and in my current state, I panicked… maybe it's not 42? The road looked like it continued on forever. I couldn't possibly do anything beyond this 2km I was counting on being left. I wanted to ask the supporters but hadn't the energy to shout, and couldn't bear to hear if there was indeed another turn. Of course, it was 'only' 42km and finally, the beautiful red panels of the finish chute were there.

I crossed the line, hit stop, saw 4:25 on my watch: I did it!

I saw 13 hours something on the finish line clock - nice! (My PB is 14:19). Mental arithmetic is not a strong point, and finish time wasn't a huge deal to me, so I hadn't even bothered trying to estimate my finish time after the bike.

I stood hyperventilating, while a patient, reassuringly huge German volunteer, held my hand. With our free hands: he suggested I breathe and I'd be OK, and I tried to reassure him that I knew and I was totally fine, apart from the not breathing thing.

Then I was on way into the finisher's tent, handed an alcohol-free beer, obviously, "it's isotonic, it's good for you!"

The finisher's area was huge and I was totally disorientated. While one medical volunteer took me to get some ice packs on my quads and wiped something on my sunburnt shoulders, another carried my beer. Seriously. They really want you have a good time here.

I saw people holding certificates and by chance shuffled past the area where I could collect mine. I grinned seeing my 6 something bike time and 4:25 run in black & white, and then saw the last line… 12:47 finish time. What?! My finish starts with a 12?! Of course, the wave start meant the clock wasn't my total. I've never even seen 13! I laughed out loud. I really bloody did it!

I retrieved my morning clothes bag, to get my phone. There was a text from my first coach, John Dargie, full of kind words about my achievement. John's support used to be an absolute crutch, it's still a very welcome bonus. Another from Cat, bursting with excitement. I felt so proud to have made them proud of me, and so proud of myself. I sat, teary happy, and just stared at my certificate for ages.
[hang1column]

[/hang1column]

Reading kind words from the twitters was a lovely pastime while the ice packs attempted some healing, I love that my work friends still follow and support me in this crazy adventure.

My pal Brett nipped away from the finish area to catch up on how the day had gone. I was delighted that he had a good day, at just over 9 hours, and to hear that Rachel had indeed crushed it, winning the women's race with another sub 9hr performance, including a sub 3hr run! Rachel stayed at the finish line, along with the men's winner James Cunnama, handing out medals to the finishers until the cut off.

***

Like many age groupers, I pour all my free time, energy and money into this sport. I love my training, and even when I don't, I love my commitment to my training. At Challenge Roth I confirmed to myself that I also love to race ironman distance. I'm not at a level where I even think about age group placings, and that doesn't bother me at all. It was great to see new times, and what feel like the first respectable times I've achieved. But essentially, all I want is to put myself to the test, to feel that intensity of working to the limit of what my body and mind are capable of, and to find a way to keep going when they take turns saying they can't give anymore. If I didn't feel so broken at the end, I'd feel invicible.

Swim
Bike
Run