8 July. Challenge Roth iron-distance triathlon

Sunday 8th July 2012
Challenge Roth Iron distance triathlon. 3.8km/180km/42.2km = 9:39:09
(158th overall, 10th in 45-49 age group)

Swim 3.8km/58:52 (1:32/100m) __ HR141(152)
T1 2:17
Cycle 178km/5:09:44 (34.5 kph) __ HR146(164)
T2 1:45
Run 42.2km/3:26:33 (7:52 min/mi) __ HR150(158)

After a pretty much completely sleepless night, another early start. In the last 10 years or so I’ve been racing/riding in bigger and longer events and my pre-race nerves have never got better, although I have, at least, learnt to rationalise them a bit and embrace that jittery, early morning adrenalin. They will be the one thing that’ll make me leave big-time sport one day though.

After the experience of 2010 where I got a little spooked by the race literature and we probably got to the car park too early, we were up at just 4:00am and soon out the door, ready to park at 5am. In the field we stopped for some breakfast – two cans of self-heating Rocket Fuel and some peanut butter in rolls for me. With an hour to go to my start time we started the trudge across the bridge and down to T2. With so many athletes about, it took me ages to pack energy bars and drink onto my bike, queue for the loo and check in my bags for post-race and the bike and by the time I got back to Jules, waiting just outside the entrance to T1, it was time to plaster myself in P20 and squeeze into my wetsuit. I wandered back into T1 and over to the swim start just as the cannon for the pro start went off. We had ten minutes to start. I was full of anticipation and actually not too nervous now – the start was close and I’d soon be in my race bubble.

Swim. I quickly got in the warm water and paddled over to the start. I was wearing my old (spare) goggles as I’d left my newer pair in the bedroom at home, d’oh. They were a bit tight and liable to fog up, but would be OK for this swim. Floating about, I chatted to a Canadian guy and looking around, quite surprised not to see everyone crowding the front  – I guess not everyone in a sub-10 finish wave is looking to swim sub 1-hour. The gun went and we were off. I sprinted the first 200-300m. There was quite a bit of biff, but slightly off the racing line towards the bank (the racing line is easy in this canal swim – you swim between the bank and the buoys) I found some clear water, settled my stroke a little and chased down some faster feet. I did most of the swim in a little group and only occasionally lost them as we swam through slower swimmers from the wave ahead. After about 2500m they started to slow, just as I find people do in my local pool, and I swam through them.

However, as I swam under the bridge near the swim start I got an attack of cramp in my left calf (despite loading up with tonic water and taking Crampex in the days previously). I had to slow up, do a bit of breaststroke, and try to stretch it in the water. I reckon I lost about 30 seconds here but I could still see the group I’d been with just ahead as I got to the swim exit. Very happy to see 58-something on my watch (my 3.8km PB is 57:45, but that was a standalone distance swim).

T1. Once I’d found my feet I picked up my empty bike bag (perhaps I should’ve put my race number in it, rather than on the bike) I had a fairly quick transition. There are helpers in the change tent so two of you can fight with the wetsuit. I ran through the racking, looking for the giant High5 bottle on the right that I was using as a marker to find my row, but it was gone! Oops. Managed to find my bike OK though. Shoes already clipped to the bike and elastic bands used to keep them at the right angle, and I was off.

Cycle. Not too many riders out on the bike yet – I’d forgotten to check whether no. 407, just along the rack from me, Paul Burton had left T1 – but maybe he was up the road? Anyway, no use thinking about that, just get into my stride. As usual, my HR was way high for the first 15-20 minutes  but I felt like I was riding sensibly. Sure enough, after the first big drag it dropped down a little and I settled into a good pace. There was quite a bit of headwind, but I just chugged along. I caught Paul along here, gave him a big shout out and we had a little chat. I could still feel a bit of cramp in my fingers, so I made sure to grab a half-banana at each feed zone, topped up with isotonic water bottles. First time up Greding was a bit of a shock, but I just stuck the bike in bottom gear (42×23) and once we were over the steep initial ramp, tickled it up through the feed station. Picked up a decent tailwind over the top  – that was nice – in 2010 it had been a grind into a headwind there.
___ There  was a fairly easy run back to the Solarberg climb, which was as mad as ever – you just have to ride at the tiny gap in the crowd and hope that they get out of the way. My charge up this climb put my HR waay high, but I quickly settled once I was over the top and was feeling good coming through the end of the lap, where Paul caught me up again and Jules was waiting to snap me as I zoomed past. The first lap had taken more than 2:26, a bit slower than I’d have liked but I was going OK.


___ The second lap was a bit different – the wind had changed direction and was now blowing across the course. It was getting crowded out there too with the later relay starters out on the bike. some of them were a bit random in their riding, but I was blasting past OK with the wind, down to Greding once more.

___ Over the top, there was definitely more wind in our faces and some real grindy bits that hadn’t been so bad on the first lap. I just plugged away, careful not to blow too hard. I don’t have a powermeter, just an HRM (which I don’t often look at). I think I tend to work too hard up the climbs as a result, but provided I’m not going too mad, it works out OK – I’m trying to maintain something around 12-hour TT pace, leaving me enough energy in the bank for the coming run. I was passing a few guys with start numbers from my wave, they looked like they were struggling, mentally as much as physically, with the headwinds here. Years of time trialling on exposed windy dual carriageways was paying off for me here. The second time up Solarberg wasn’t quite so manic. Just was well really, as I had to squeeze past some slower relay riders. Looking at my computer now, it seems I managed the second lap in just over 2:27 – very even pacing and an indication of how easy I was taking it. Then a nice easy cruise into T2, swapping turns with some guy in red kit with a matching red and black bike.

T2. Took my feet out of my shoes on the freewheel down the hill into T2, then a helper grabbed my bike on the dismount line and a kid picked up my transition bag for me as I undid my helmet. Straight away I was jogging OK into the change tent – seemed good. I sat down on a bench to struggle into socks and shoes (no elastic laces for me – just a couple of bows to tie on my old Asics racing flats!) while a helper applied sunscreen to my shoulders. Then up and off, grabbing a wet sponge as I went. Looked at my watch and saw 6h12. Great – I only had to run 3:47 to get under 10 hours, that seemed doable.

Run. Off at a decent jog. I was looking out for Jules, and round a corner there she was, waiting to cheer me on. That was a lift. A german guy in a blue trisuit passed me here (no.371, “Jurgen” written on his number), running at a great pace but he soon settled and I started to peg him back. Wonder what pace we’re doing? It felt slow after zooming along on the bike, but the first km passed in less than 4:30 (7:15 min/miles), maybe too quick, maybe the km marker is a bit off? Oh well, just keep moving and see what it’s like after 4 or 5km. There’s a bit of a slope up though the forest here, but on fresh-ish legs we weren’t slowed by it. The run drops down to the canal and the surface is fine gravel – great for that Ironman shuffle. We passed the 5km marker with 22½ minutes on the clock. It felt easy but I knew there was still a long way to go. My original plan had been to get to the first turn at 12½ km with 62 minutes on the clock, but that plan was going out the window. I didn’t stop through the early feed stations, just grabbed a sip of water on the move. Saw Matt Molloy coming back from the turn, damn he’s going well. We gave each other a shout. I got ahead of Jurgen at the turnaround (reached in 56-something), but he pegged me back as I stopped for coke and a half a banana at the next feed.
___ We ran the next 10km stride-for-stride before I could feel Jurgen was tiring. I stepped it up and was on my own past 22km, in around 1h40. Suddenly I realised that, yes, I was still running well and I could finish in under 9h45, blowing up didn’t look likely. The  sun was out and it was getting hot but there were plenty of sponges. I still hadn’t eaten much on the run (in hindsight, a few gels along the way would have helped a bit for the final 5 or 10 km) but was alternating coke, iso and water and the odd slice of melon or banana. I started to flag a bit at the second turnaround, but by then, there was only 13km left to run. Just my normal evening run, about an hour ;-). (It actually took me 1h10). I’d walk every-other feed station, make sure I got some coke but every time I started running again my left calf would be close to cramping up (a remnant of the cramp I’d had in the swim several hours previously). I really didn’t want to get a calf injury now so I concentrated on nice easy strides.
___ Coming back off the canal with 5 or 6km to go I had to stop for a little walk for a few metres. Definitely tiring now! It was really crowded here – dogs and kids and people all over the path. I was feeling wobbly and it was hard to concentrate. Maybe 9h41 was on the cards? I couldn’t work it out. At the next feed I stopped to down a gel and within a minute or two started to perk up a bit – I was just a bit short on sugar, evidently. Ho hum. I had to walk a bit of the climb back up to Roth, and then made myself jog the next bit though town and the beer tables before another little walk (and another feed station gel). Jurgen passed me here, I couldn’t stay with him, and then I had just the final push for the line. I came into the stadium catching another guy, but didn’t quite have the energy to overtake, nor even the strength to raise my arms in a finish-line salute.
___ Turned out I’d run the marathon in 3:26. I’m stoked with that. Although my PB from years and years ago is 2:45, only three years ago I ran just 3:10 at Luton marathon. It tells me I left plenty in the tank after the swim and bike, and that those long, hard training runs paid off.


I collected my medal, and Felix, the CEO of Challenge Roth was there, and shook my hand and then I found Jurgen and we had a sweaty embrace. I toddled back under the athlete’s bridge and saw Jules. I was very happy but knackered and dizzy. I told her I’d be about half an hour recovering, and it took me all of that to drink an alcohol-free Erdinger, chat to Matt (not quite sub-9) and Paul (9h51), have a shower and get changed. I grabbed some lovely salty soup in the athlete’s feeding area and then went out to find Jules so that (after a bit more sitting about feeling tired … ) we could pick up my bike and kit and ride very slowly together back to the car. That evening we headed out for beer and snitzel at a local bar in Nuremberg, damn that tasted great.

I am really happy to have come back to Challenge Roth and nailed a near-perfect performance, crushing my sub-10 hour target in the process. It’s taken coming here in 2010, plus a finish at Challenge Henley in 2011, to give me the experience to prepare and race well over this distance. Most of the quick guys reckoned the windy bike leg made it a good 10 minutes slower than usual, but I’m not tempted to come back searching for those 10 minutes another year (at least, not yet). That I finished 10th in my age group shows I was racing well, and that’s a great satisfaction to me.