Head Coach Jon attempted to go sub 10 hours at Challenge Roth in 2017, here is his race report...
It’s Friday 7th July, 4:30 am and I’m standing in the dark on my driveway, waiting for my lift to the airport.. Nope, not to go on holiday. To go to Germany and race Challenge Roth Full distance tri with one aim.. Sub 10 hours for the distance.
The excitement begins to mount en route and is intensified when I meet my fellow Havering Tri club mates in the departure lounge. Amongst us, we have 3 newbies (to the full distance) and 3 others including myself.
This excitement is only briefly knocked when I hand across Shaneequa (my bike) to the baggage handlers not knowing whether I will ever see her again. As I stood there to watch my prized possession disappear into the unknown I hold my breath and say a little prayer to the bike gods that she would be safe.
After a relatively short and uneventful flight we landed and I raced off to see if Shaneequa had made it. The conveyor belt started and hurrah!! She is first out still in one piece. Nothing will stop me now!
After a minor boot space issue with our hire car, we head off and reached our hotel shortly after. We then head off to the expo to register. Now the Roth expo is like no other. It’s actually half decent! I resist the temptation to part with money I haven’t got and just collect my number.
Fast forward to race day:
For me to have any hope of quicker times then my swim has to improve. I went for a swim lesson once and was told by the instructor, “Ah yes, I see what the issue is: you and the water are not friends. You’re fighting each other and at the moment the waters winning". Yeah, thanks for that Sherlock! Needless to say, it’s not natural for me and my technique is somewhat…..lacking. I had tried really hard with my swimming in the last 8 months and committed to the swim more than ever.
For some unknown reason, I was put in swim wave 3. The pro men were wave 1, pro women were wave 2, and then me?!! Oh dear. There are an awful lot of people to swim over me from the remaining swim waves! I figured that the best/safest way for me to get around would be to position myself off of the racing line and mirror the bank for sighting. I started at the back of my wave and the cannon sounds and off we go.
To my surprise, I am not the slowest swimmer in my wave. After about 200 meters I am caught in no man’s land between my swim wave and the wave behind. It’s only a matter of time that I am caught and sure enough, it soon happens. My plan was to allow the waves to pass and then try and get onto the feet of the quicker swimmers for as long as I could to draft along. And that was that. Nothing really happened, I didn’t really get into any bother and just swam as well as I could. The only issue I had was losing my swim hat about 500 metres into the swim, (but hey, the water was warm anyway and it cooled me down). I exited the water in 1 hour 20 to a 2 minute PB………. On target.
T1: T1 was quick and largely uneventful. I didn’t have any issues, found my bike easily and off I went.
I jumped on the bike and began spinning the legs out. I took it easy for a few minutes to get my heart rate back down to a non-cardiac arrest state. Then settled in nicely and tried to enjoy the ride. Now one thing for sure, Roth is not flat. I wouldn’t say it's I hilly either but it's definitely rolling. The support was awesome especially when I hit Solar Berg Hill for the first time. It didn’t matter that I got held up behind slower riders and the crowd as it was just unreal. My eardrums have only just stopped vibrating now. It was a wall of noise and I couldn’t help but smile the whole way up it.
On completion of my first lap, I looked down at my Garmin to see I was on target. I had one slight issue on the bike. I had forgotten my energy bars when I flew out which meant I had to buy some from the expo. After taking the first bar I thought I’d need dental surgery if I persisted with the rest so I ended up ditching these at the second feed station. That wouldn’t have been a problem but it meant I was running out of gels on the second half of the bike course, so I switched to the race supplier. This was squeezy, a gel I haven’t used before. (Error, but more about that later).
I finished the bike feeling pretty good and looked down to see 5 hours 12. A 12 minute PB. On target.
T2: On the entry to T2 I decided that in order to save more time I would attempt a flying dismount. Of course I did, why wouldn’t I?! I mean it’s not like I hadn’t practised it. So needless to say my first ever attempt at a flying dismount was just that, ‘flying’! I picked Shaneequa up off the floor and handed her to a waiting volunteer before running my silly backside into the change tent. The rest of T2 I’m happy to say was fine.
Easy I thought, this is what I do. All I needed was a 3 hour 20 marathon and I would have my sub 10. WRONG!! The minute I started running I knew I was in trouble. Everything hurt and I just could not lift my knees like I normally would. It’s fair to say that all technique had deserted me and I was running like a flamingo on drugs. Despite this, for the first two miles, I was on track. However, from mile 3 I was hit with bad stomach cramps and a stitch. Why oh why had I used those gels?! My stomach was not feeling good and from mile 6 to 13 I was sick 6 times. I tried to replace whatever I had lost but it was no good, in the end, I was just washing my water around my mouth before spitting it out.
The most surprising part of this run for me was the fact the new course was hilly. I expected the run at Roth to be flat but it was anything but. The weather now had also hit 32 degrees and humidity was also very high. I did what I could and found encouragement from my fellow Havering Tri club mates and Pirates Stanners and Pinky. I was even able to run alongside Les for a couple of miles before I got a second wind for my run into the finish. The highlight of the run was exchanging pleasantries and a high 5 with Chrissy Wellington. Despite all that, I got it done. Run time 3 hours 45. I entered the stadium to milk the cheers of the crowd and crossed the line to finish in a time I thought was around 11 hours.
After experiencing the problems on the run course I decided to go easier and try to preserve as much energy as possible as I knew I had Ironman Hamburg in 5 weeks to give it another go. Then to my surprise, I was handed my finishers certificate. It read 10 hours 22 minutes. That’s a 2-minute full distance tri PB. I had PB’d the swim, PB’d the bike and died on the run, for an overall 2 minute full distance PB. Bearing in mind how bad the run went, I’d take that!
So, what have I learnt? Well, Challenge Roth is an awesome race which everyone has to experience once. The whole town/village/area comes out to support and totally buy into the race. I got my nutrition wrong on this occasion, an issue I will hopefully not repeat. But most importantly I was on target for my sub 10 before the run and I’ll be ready to have another go in Hamburg where I hope to nail it.