Race Report – Challenge Roth 2008
I have just finished reading Candy’s Arizona report for some inspiration but was crying so much that I couldn’t see so I had to stop, this one is more like Smiffy’s epic Norseman than one of Candy’s comedy’s but hey I have never been any different, so apologies once again in advance.
I’d been having nightmares about the hotel booking for months; firstly I had found an empty hotel in the centre of Roth, suspicious …. This was in October the year before the race when all others in a 10 mile radius of Roth were gone, seemed strange but grateful nonetheless. The email address I had for them was actually for another hotel in nearby Nurnberg still suspicious ….. There was nothing on the web to say this place existed, no pictures, no info, oh and they were Italian Germans which made conversations very difficult depending who you got on the phone each time I rang. Which I had to do a number of times to double check something or other. But I was desperate for a hotel so I had to go with it.
Eventually after lots of emails, babelfish translations, which only work in one direction, trying to untranslate the responses was a nightmare and finally a money transfer of just short of 1000 Euros I hoped that when we got there, we actually had a room to sleep in and this wasn’t a superb scam.
On arrival we found a large B&B – come Italian restaurant – with 7 rooms – excellent, we had managed to book the whole hotel just for our group…. Oh, hang on, we booked 8 rooms and paid deposits for 8 rooms – in fact the invoice I have says 8 rooms aswell !!
After a deflating conversation (our host decided he didn’t talk good English went things weren’t going well !) about the missing room and obviously realising there are NO rooms available in Roth at this late stage I decided that I sleeping on it was the best policy and see what happens in the morning! That night I shared a room with one of the single guys in a double room and wondered how I was going to break this to Kelly who arrived in 2 days.
In the morning the only offer available was a place 15 miles away in their sister hotel, thankfully one of the couples offered to move as they had a car! Thanks Mark and Sian.
Right, now I can concentrate on the race !
Pre taper training had been a bit rubbish as I had had to have 5 weeks reduced training volume after getting ill in Thailand in April. I still had a good base, so I stuck with it and decided that if I wasn’t 100% I could pull out of Roth at anytime. I would still go and support but it meant the pressure for my ‘A’ race in Wisconsin was reduced.
My main reason for doing Roth was time, plain and simple, for me that means going as far under 10 hours as I could, there was no point in wasting 2 weeks recovering after Roth if I didn’t believe I could do it.
As it turned out training was back on track and during June I raced a couple of ½ IM’s coming 17th and 3rd overall so racing was showing me the training was working. The main concern was the running, my cycling was strong and I had done more swimming this year than ever before. Still only about 1 or 2 sessions a week but more consistently and mainly due to having a swimming ‘buddy’, which is a great incentive at 7am and you know they are going to be there. The running was where I lost most of the time in the build up and I never really got more than a 15 mile run in all year in the end. Never mind. Fingers crossed I’ll be OK.
I decided around 3 weeks out I was definitely doing Roth so settled down for a good taper and mentally preparing to fight for my time.
Race week arrived and the journey to Roth was largely uneventful, Lufthansa really are superb but what is it about Manchester airport that makes them believe they should lump a £10 ‘handling charge’ to the bike carriage charge already imposed by the airline, robbing b*stards !!! And the airport at Frankfurt, which we transferred through, although a cool airport has so many gates that everytime we got through one and decided to buy some water you then find out you had to go through another checkpoint which means you cant carry any liquids again, RUBBISH !!
Anyway, arrived on time.
Friday morning with the room issue sorted we got down to checking out the expo, which is HUGE !!
and like being in a candy shop, purchases included a pair of compression socks,
compressed gas and some of the Sponsor race fuel. Registration was swift and painless. Then back to build the bikes.
Something that always happens to me in race week which through experience you find out how to deal with is that you start to get all sorts of aches and pains, I have a knee issue anyway so that starts to ache, my ankle was killing me, I had a sore throat for the whole week from the Monday before the race to the Saturday, which magically disappeared during racking, its all mind games and also down to the fact that you are tapering and the body is settling down. I think if this had been my first IM I would have been a right state worrying about it all, for those that have this yet to come, chill out, eat sensibly and cut out the hypochondriac symptoms, no one likes to hear a moaner, as everyone kept telling me !!! 😉
Friday we arranged to drive round the course courtesy of Mike and Emma after a 30-45 mins cycle ride to check bikes. However, due to getting lost, not having a map and already being over an hour away from the hotel before we knew it, we proceeded to take 3 hours for our short, leg freshener ride, stupid, stupid, stupid !!!!!
So when we eventually got back, I got changed and put as many compression clothes on as possible to try to recover and set off for the course drive, the weather had been OK for most of the week, confirmed by my now comedy tan lines from the 3 hour epic ! but driving the course it started to rain and it was showing how bad it could get on race day if this continued as it was very exposed on large stretches. The highlight of the drive as a fast descender was to pinpoint the 3 switchbacks that could cause a few issues in the wet on race day, noted we headed back.
The Saturday saw pouring rain again, plenty of time to sort out the 3 transition bags as due to the rain we didn’t bother racking til about 3pm. We rode to T1 which was about 12km and then got a lift back by Mike and Emma again. The split transitions only have one knock on effect really, you had to hand in your run gear on the Saturday but everything else can be done on Sunday morning, so if you got this wrong you then couldn’t sort it out til you got to it on the race day. I must have double checked this 5 times and was sure I had left something out.
Then as we headed back the heavens opened even more and it binned it down all evening, a few prayers were said for the sun the next day.
After a good nights sleep, all of the aches had gone and I felt like a coiled spring, got up at 3.20 as breakfast was at 3.30am, everyone else was there, people just being slightly more quiet than normal. I had my usual food of ham and jam baguette, banana, bottle of energy drink and 2 strong coffees. I think we must all be heathens too as no-one was listening last night to our prayers, we just sat there listening to the constant rain outside, this was going to be a very, very wet day, just kept thinking, deal with it and don’t moan, it won’t make it go away.
We arrived at transition which is a sprawling mess really, body marking in one field, racks in another, people everywhere sorting their bikes out, I just went into selfish mode and did my tyres, bottles, uncovered bike, set up transition area and then went off to get marked and put on wetsuit, one thing I loved was that there were toilets everywhere, great, no queues.
My wave was number 4 which went off at 7.05, Sian, Jill and Emma went in Wave 1 at 6.20 alongside the pros giving them a brief head start, this was followed by Wave 2 at 6.55 then loads more waves at 5 min interval. Shook hands with Mark, Steve and Jeff. Me and Jeff made our way into the water, exchanged pleasantries then swam to the start line about 80 metres down the massive canal, we split up as I like to just concentrate on me from that point and I couldn’t stand having someone around me that I knew if I started to get into a boxing match, mainly as Jeff could probably hit me harder than I could hit him lol !
The gun went off and immediately you could tell this was going to be a very easy start with none of the usual madness, there was only 400 of us and most split up reasonably well, I set off up the right hand side and then started to try to get across left which was the middle as I wanted to find a draft, however the plonker on my left decided to swim at exactly the same pace and push me towards the bank, so I nudged him, he sighted and then corrected himself, then proceeded to do the same again as soon as he took another 5 strokes, this went on for 500m before I had had enough and just cut him up and headed for the centre of the canal.
Then without warning I swam straight into someone, we had caught up the wave in front, gaining 5 mins in about 800metres, as I looked up there was now a multicoloured array of swim hats with a lot of yellow caps in amongst our green caps, I thought to myself these people really don’t need us to be climbing over them so I started adjusting my stroke to get round people, having to add extra distance instead of trying to ruin another persons race, I know from my connection to the pirates that as a group we have a few nervous swimmers and just tried to imagine the abject panic that someone climbing over them would have on their day and it wouldn’t be fair so I think I probably lost a minute or so over the total distance but felt good in myself, jesus what a martyr eh !!
The first turnaround at 1500m came soon enough and the 2000m back stretch was uneventful as I just kept trying to find someone slightly faster than me and latch on for a draft, I even tried to get on the legs of the first guy from the wave behind who came flying past me but that’s just plain silly, he was gone in seconds !
I did find this stretch a little choppy but the usual mind games that I am going backwards didn’t happen this time as I just wanted around the hour and if it was under great, over I would deal with at the end, as it turns out I had no idea what my time was cos there were no clocks at the exit.
Got to the last turnaround to return the last 390m which I found a pain in the ass, bodies everywhere, choppy water, fighting the stroke and trying to focus on the transition to come and what I was going to wear, I got out in 1.00 dead.
Bliddy hell, what a faff, for a transition as small as this I should be in and out in less than 2 mins. I had been toying with the idea of wearing compression socks in the week before for the bike and run, copying Bella ya’see. However, these things are meant to be tight and putting them on was like trying to pull a polo mint over your head!!!! trying to get them on over wet feet and legs wasn’t filling me with confidence over the time I might gain back but it was cold and wet and I was going to be making sure I was warm so why not a bit more time.
Grab bag, run in, can’t find a ‘helfer’ anywhere, tip my bag out, gilet on, pull arm warmers on, they were pre-rolled into doughnut shapes so they go on quicker on wet arms, 3 gels in back pocket, take off chip, put on socks, comedy rolling around on the floor trying to get the feckers on without getting cramp, put chip back on, put on shoes and stuff wetsuit in bag with goggles and hat, run to bike, put on helmet, glasses and go. All in 4.53. Still not happy as it felt like 7.
It was absolutely heaving it down, my glasses were fogged up and I was now dancing with 5 or 6 guys trying to get into a rhythm before I settled into the first few rain soaked bends. I rolled the arm warmers up and started drinking. The course is a 2 lap affair that you cycle about 6km to start and then when you finish the 2nd lap you cycle about 10km extra to get to T2.
My feed strategy was simple, start with the race fuel, 2 bottles of it and some water in my aero bottle, each station pick up one energy and one water. This worked mostly, must learn not to grab a bottle and then hold it in my teeth while trying to get another one, the tops fall off !! I daren’t even look back at the carnage that could have caused.
Pace wise, I would stick to the well practised breaking the bike into 3 loops of 60km and keep to my heart rate zones for each one only using the hills to elevate it but not over 170.
I started to pass people regularly and getting into my stride set off for the first hill about 10km out, this was a sharp rise and fast descent followed by another one, then it was the fast stretch to the main climb at Greding.
I can’t remember exactly when it started but it was fairly soon and from the then on fairly constant, I normally have about 2 or 3 wee’s on the bike, I wasn’t sure if I was getting the nutrition wrong or it was the weather but I must have had pee’d enough to fill a roman baths !! about 10 or 11 goes during the bike, and we aren’t talking dribbles, we are talking 10 pints of beer and open the cork niagra-falls styley, needless to say my bikes shoes were minging after the race and had to be kept outside!!
I saw some of the TT’ers early on (Jorgan and Jimbo) and said hi. Then at about 45km I saw Jeff up ahead, he had had 2 mins on me out of the swim and was obviously going well as it had taken me a while to catch him, little did I know he was having a wee just as I caught him and as I overtook him he felt that this was bad sportsmanship to attack while he was otherwise occupied, so he chased me down the fast descents for the next 3km before settling down to his own pace, we had a few words of encouragement, swore about the weather, I told him he smelled of wee and I slowly pulled away. Next was Sian who I passed at a feed station looking very smiley and shouting support at me.
The rain was still coming down very heavily and every so often you would see the remnants of a crash being cleaned up, people walking with bikes, ambulances pulled over treating people, it wasn’t really the day to be doing anything stupid.
I was trying to keep the average speed up on the flats and descents to over 25mph as I knew the hills were taking the extra few mph off my aim of 22mph average, this was keeping my focus as the rain was just becoming annoying now and the comedy weeing was ruining my new socks, it was like being at home in North Wales on a Sunday ride in April only there were more people around and the road surfaces were better. At least I was warm, or was that just the wee.
The first lap passed without any issues, saw Kelly and the supporters
at Eckersmuhlen on the first lap and had an idea of pace as I got to 90km in 2.32.
The second lap much the same only the wind picked up, I wee’d some more and the guys I was dancing with were starting to thin out a little and it would only be 1 or 2 of the same names, I started to pass a few that had shot off earlier in the first lap too, its all about pacing !!
I passed Jill at 75 miles and said hello but the response was more due to the weather I think than my parentage lol !!! only joking but she wasn’t a happy chappy, and who could blame her, we had come all this way to be treated to a ride we could have done on our doorstep.
Did have one moment when I threw a bottle at a marshall to get rid off and as I let it go realised that we weren’t allowed to do that and this would result in a yellow card, damn, 2 more and you are out, never did find out if I was carded but it did add a little stress til I got off the bike.
The 2nd lap round I paid a little more attention to the Solarerberg which is the TdeF type climb with lots of people cheering you on very close to you and screaming all sorts of encouragement and generally making you feel very happy, very well supported and lots of cold and wet people prepared to take time out to be there, much appreciated !
The final 10k to T2 became a bit of a group ride much to my annoyance, lots of people started to tire and just sat in a group for the last 5 or 6 miles, a bit shite as if we had been followed by a race marshall they would have had no hesitation in carding the whole group but you just couldn’t get away from it towards the end, it was a fast finish and it was conserve energy now. Finished the bike in 5.05
Lot quicker than T1, hand off bike, run to bag, it wasn’t there, ar$e ! its not where its supposed to be, 15 seconds seems like a lifetime, found it in the wrong pile but I was almost ready to launch a Ben Elton style rant by the time I found it, pick it up, run in to tent, superb, a helfer empties my bag for me, rip off the compression socks which when I started were white, now they were black and smelled like a gents urinal in a pub, then after letting her put my socks away for me 😉 I managed to cover her in talc from my dry socks by flicking them without thinking, oops, comedy coughing fit from her, hat and glasses on, shoes on, go. Time 2.51
My aim was to forget the last 5 weeks of limited running as it’s just a damn excuse, I know I can run and my aim was 3.30 which meant start out at 5km/min and hold on. I normally don’t take anyone else into account in an IM, I do my own thing but I also use targets to play mental games, so I remembered CRAB’s 3.31 in Nice and RichM’s request for me not to return unless I beat 9.50, game on !
Wow, it had stopped raining as I came out of the tent.
My Garmin showed me I was on target heart rate of 155, use the 3 gels I had in my pocket at 4, 8 and 12 miles, take on the drinks including water, iso and coke at the feed stations and if I felt like I didn’t want something don’t take it, simple. The first 4km was undulating and after running down the steep hill at 1km there is a bit of a drag back up to the main canal, I had to stop for about 30 secs as my back was screaming due to being in the aero position for too long. Good stretch, felt a little better, set off and the aim was to hit the km markers on the correct 5 min intervals or just before. Previously at Germany 2006 I had run the first 21km before walking any feed stations and 26km at IM Lanzarote last year so I decided the aim was to run at least 30km without any walking and see what happened from there.
The much needed support was at 4km from Kelly and the Chester/Irish ‘sherpas’. First 10km came in 48 mins and knew I had a couple of minutes to play with. The run course meant you got to see everyone during the 2 out and back legs, it was good to have people coming the other way down the canal, a few shouts, Paul Hawkins looked fresh, Leanda Cave (name dropping) was also running well and my mate Mark was at least 10 mins ahead of me at the first turn. The bottom turnaround was a bit of a complex one way street thing, not one but 2 different out and back points. Once we got back onto the canal path returning to the halfway mark I expected to see a few of my friends coming the other way, saw Jill, happier on the run, Mark T, and a few other Brits. But no Jeff and no Emma, that meant Jeff had to be in the turnaround maze behind me and Emma was either having a really good day and in the same maze or a really bad day, I had seen her on the 2nd lap of the bike climbing Greding and she looked fine, I later found out it was a bad day she was having and was taken off the course after a few Km into the run with breathing difficulties, I missed my only other pirate mate all the way round the run expecting to see her too. Given the chance and speaking to her afterwards I know she would have battled to the end.
The run back in to the halfway point got me the next 10km in 50 mins with the heart rate not really moving too much and still holding those 2 mins in reserve, it was great to see the support from Kelly and the others at halfway again, plenty of noise and shouts of encouragement are never lost on me, love it !!
I needed a pee stop, I still haven’t perfected the art of weeing on the run and now wasn’t the time for showboating at oncoming pro’s, I was also wasting energy keeping at least a litre of pee warmed up so at 22km I had to stop, bliss !! wasted a good 90 secs or so but felt so much better, at least I wouldn’t need to stop again.
The next turnaround point is at 30km which I got to after another 51 mins, this was through a harder section of uphill tracks under a forest canopy, so much for thinking the course was flat but at least it was off road and soft ish under foot. Having not done the race before it was hard to visualise the terrain and course until the day and it does seem to go on for ever but at least you could see this turnaround coming.
Andy, one of the supporters, had run over from the 4km point to cheer us on and it was good to see a familiar face, however the next familiar face wasn’t quite so expected, I checked my watch at the turn so that I could see how far Jeff was behind me, I didn’t need to, I could see him straight away, around 45 secs from the turn, which mean under 90 secs behind me.
We train together, we egg each other on, we play the odd mind game but this one was unexpected, we had all talked before the race about expectations and its not unfair to Jeff to say that at this point I thought I might have 5 minutes or so on him, I still didn’t know my time as I couldn’t work it out but all I could think was I was going hard so he was having a stormer.
Apparently my face was a picture, what I didn’t know is he had gone all out to get to this point and was beginning to slow down but all I could think was I need to work harder, not much I could do if he was running faster than me but I would try.
So the only thing to do, kick for home, I was 8 miles out and I was already starting to slow down but the mind games started, we had both watched the IMNZ video the week before and there is a point in the race where on the last half of the run the 2nd woman catches the 1st woman but the lead girl responds to stay with her and eventually pushes on to win holding her off, that’s what I was going to do, if Jeff caught me, I was going to re kick and sit with him til the end and then get him at the end lol, amazing what you think about.
This is really where it started to hurt, and I mean pain in my quads that I had only really felt ‘after’ an IM on ‘silly walk Monday’ it was starting to give me doubts as to whether I could keep this up, all I could think was never look round, it shows weakness, failure, but I was also picturing Jeff 60 secs and closing, I pushed my heart rate up to around 160 to increase the pace. Each time I heard footsteps getting closer I thought it was him, the lactate in my quads was only being countered by trying to concentrate on nutrition and pace, I just kept taking Coke and Iso and forced another gel down me, that should last to the end. This was also the point my Garmin decided to stop working due to the tree canopy, GREAT ! 19.97 miles, so from now it was on heart rate and getting to 5km markers in time, distance was irrelevant on the watch.
It was also at about 34km that I started to try to work out what runs I did at home that reflected where I was on the course, 8km to go, that’s 0.6 x 8, so that’s 4.8 miles, ok, I can do that in my sleep, that’s the ‘so and so’ run I do on a Wednesday night, I wonder where Jeff is now, he must be hurting too, I started to try to work out my time, change the watch screen, right its ‘this’ o’clock, we started at 7.05am and I have been going for …. God I still couldn’t concentrate, all I could work out was I was still on for sub 10 if I didn’t stop.
Then at about 36km it was a weird change but the quad pain was the only thing that was keeping me going, oh, and not being caught by Jeff of course, it became quite sadistic really, it was like, ‘I can actually hurt myself like I have never before’ this is so gonna hurt but only for another 30 mins, COME ON, 30 mins that’s all.
The 39km mark was like an adrenalin shot, the pain was now numbing the tops of my legs, I had run through it and on the other side was just a feeling in my legs that told me when the feet hit the floor, under 2 miles to go and I knew at least most of it was downhill.
I was trying to stride out but I knew I wasn’t getting faster, just holding pace, I also knew I was pushing as the heart rate was now 165, the brain was ignoring the pain but I think the body has a natural defence mechanism that unless in mortal danger it protects itself, and Jeff catching me up didn’t signify mortal danger ! I still refused to look round. Just keep going, if he’s there he will have to kick harder, bring it on.
The final sting in the tail, the hill at 41km that you run down at the start, wow, what a killer but who cares with less than 4 mins to go, I could hear the final chute now, the mad euro trash, the clapping and the commentator, I still didn’t know what my time was as the watch was still stuck on 19.97 miles and I had lost count of where the last marker was, heart rate was 165 and rising and I could see the start of the chute.
This was the first time I looked round in 8 miles, partly as I wanted to see if Jeff was there and partly to check that my finisher photo wasn’t going to involve another sprint finish like last year, no-one in sight, the entry to the U shaped finish area was familiar from pictures, I scanned the crowds to find Kelly and the others, I found them at the top end, I am never sure how she manages to push in to the front of a 5 person deep crowd in the finish gantry – experienced Sherpa I guess – that means I am nearly there, the clock said 10.28, shite, heart stopped, where had I dropped 45 mins ? hang on, pro’s had a 45 min head start, I still had no idea on my time. I was sure it was 9.4x. Arms up in the air for the finisher photo, cross the line !!
Believe me, the second you cross the line the pain sensors all kick back to life but I really didn’t care, I was still trying to work out my time and turned to wait for Jeff as I was sure he was just behind me. I waited a minute or so and was then ushered out of the finish area.
I didn’t know until I had the certificate printed that I had done 9.42.25. The feeling was superb, I was lying on the massage bed when Jeff rolled in 5 minutes later, he had run a 3.29 to my 3.28, just as well I had kicked. I also know that I owe him at least 3 mins of that time as he pushed me harder than anyone has before.
Just a thanks to all the support, both forum based, friends at home and at the course, was very much appreciated. To have family and friends with you supporting lifts you at the most painful of moments and when you get back and read the support thread not only does it mirror thoughts in your head on the day about who is watching it also makes you feel REALLY good that people take time out of their day many miles away to watch a screen and get excited about it, wouldn’t trade that kind of support for anything, thanks.
I would love to do this race again but as there are so many to do I don’t when I will get the opportunity but I would definitely recommend it as a well organised, well supported and one to do at some point in IM/Challenge career.