Challenge Roth 2012 Race Report – Make It Stop

Challenge Roth 2012 - Russ Cox ResultRace day starts too early: 3:15am. I’m awake before my alarm, I’ve barely slept, checking the clock every 20 minutes to see if it’s time to get up – normal pre-race practice. A muted breakfast follows, each of us in our own world, forcing down food we have little desire to eat. Then out on the road, driving in the dark, barely missing a deer, until, at first light, we arrive at Transition. With ninety minutes to go my bike is ready, all I can do is wait. Relaxed, I calmly chat with friends; you would hardly know there is a race to follow.

Ninety minutes later I’m floating in the water, drifting to the back convinced I am one of the slowest there. My plan calls for a Lanzarote-style relaxed swim, minimal hassle – I don’t want to be caught up front. Dead on 6:30 the cannon fires, we’re off. In clear water I settle into my stroke, enjoying the draft of the groups in front, until slowly the bunches split and I find myself alone except for one swimmer irritatingly tapping my feet. I weave, trying to throw them off, I don’t mind the drafting, it’s the repetitive slapping of my toes that bothers me. The extra metres work and for the return leg I am alone.

This is when boredom strikes. I plod along. Rhythmical and relaxed. Knowing the handful of hours I’ve spent in the pool limit the pace I can sustain; it’s a fine balance between conserving energy and going too slow. I am struck by how long the swim is, how much further? Ahead I see the bunches I’ve missed gradually pulling away. I continue to plod. Until, eventually, the second turn buoy appears, further than I thought, there’s more to go. But I have company, one swimmer zigzagging across my path for the final straight. He shares my black cap, I’m not the worst swimmer in my wave.

A dash through T1 – wetsuit off, empty bag, fill pockets. Then out onto the bike course. The sub-9 rack is distinctly empty, my bike stands there alone. I grab it, hop on at the mount line and head out onto the course. The time trial bike twitches underneath me, feeling unnatural, unfamiliar after the comfort of a road bike in the Pyrenees.

It’s been three years since I last raced here, but the roads are familiar. Smooth surfaces, easy corners, everything set for speed. Then as the course opens I am confronted by a strong headwind. I glance at my Garmin – this is not going to be easy. My legs feel tense, perhaps the training camp is still in them, or should I have ridden more – at all – this week? I give what I can, not feeling the weakness of Lanzarote, but also not quite there. People pass me. Lots of people pass me. I want to stop.

And so it proceeds. For the next three hours I am passed. I want to stop.

Onto the second lap, resisting the temptation to roll back to transition and hand in my chip. I’m slowing, heart rate dropping, motivation dropping, freewheeling increasing. I’ve been struggling to eat, but now I feel hungry and the chocolate Powerbar that earlier made me feel nauseous becomes a treat. Slowly things turn round. The headwind no longer bothers me, my legs perk up – fatigue numbs the pain – and I start to push. Heart rate and speed climb and I am no longer being overtaken. I am overtaking. I don’t want to stop.

That final 50km ends all too soon. I’ve worked hard, but not enough to redeem a 5:22 bike split. I rush through T2 determined not to add a second 12 minute transition to my race CV. I know the run is going to be hard, knees and hip flexors have already had enough, but something new has joined them – my right foot is tense, tightened up, movement restricted. I’ve felt it a few times when walking, but this is stronger. I tell myself it will loosen off and instead focus on slowing down to a sustainable pace.

Roughly five minute kilometres is the goal, with walk breaks for each aid station. It seems to work, but I quickly realise aid stations are too frequent and my determination to take on coke has left fluid sloshing in the bottom of my stomach. I skip a couple, running, not walking. Until halfway I feel fine, I can control the pain and I am on schedule, but I know the tough part is to come.

Sure enough, the desire to stop grows, but I am determined to only walk aid stations. If I crack I fear I will not start again. The second turn point is a hill and exposed to the sun, in my condition, at this point in the race, it feels brutal. The downhill is worse, my quads join my hip flexors in protest. Pure determination stops me walking. I ignore the pain. I just need to get back to the canal and then the finish. I want to stop.

Three kilometres to go. I can see the turn off to the finish, but I have more to do. Finally I crack. I walk a short, steep rise, but force myself to run on the flat. Onwards into downtown Roth, a cruel way to end a race – tired, hungry athletes funnelled through spectators with food and drink in hand. I want to walk, but if I do I’ll be shouted at in German. I am counting down metres now, this has to end.

Of course, it does. I am shattered. There is no pick up for the final kilometre, there is nothing, only the desire to stop. I cross the finish line. I beat 10:30, but the pain was too much. At least now I can stop.


  • Oh Russell you’re very hard on yourself, but very honest. I appreciate that honesty especially when you admit that desperate desire to stop, walk and give in. If nothing else you give me confidence because that’s how I’ve felt in the past and no doubt will the next Ironman race I do – if you find the magic fix I’m sure you’ll share that too.

  • There were a lot of people who wanted to stop yesterday. Conditions weren’t easy and from front to back of the field a good few would have liked to give up.

    As for the fix – fitness works for me. The fitter I am the more I can tolerate the discomfort of the race, certainly the run hurts differently when I’m actual in run shape. I know that my issue in terms of racing comes down to motivation and commitment, having committed to these races a year in advance, as they approach I’ve not necessarily – OK, simply not – committed to the training. Different priorities right now.

    My hard judgement of my performance, reflects the frustration of knowing that I am capable do better, but I’m not putting the time into preparation. I know I can’t expect the results without the work, but still I am aware of how these performances stand in the past. Also as I noticed in the race – other’s expect to see me doing better.

    I’m seeing my plans work for athletes I coach, some good results at Ironman over the last couple of weeks; I’m just not following my plans! For my own racing I’ll be changing focus for a while when the season is over. Need to get back on track, and find a focus.


  • “Different priorities right now” is the key here Russ. If those priorities are ‘good ones’ – then you can’t (well, shouldn’t!) be as hard/frustrated about your lack of (relatively!) performance. While your (our?!) sport is ‘important’, I’m really glad to hear you say “changing focus for a while when the season is over” – form the outside at least (and you probably knew/know it anyway…), it’s clear that the racing (well, YOUR racing), has become a bit of a burden (due to frustration of not being able to meet your previous heights) for quite a while now. Stepping away from that be it complete break / do short races / focus on a single sport / anything – will be the best thing you can do. That way you can further enjoy the results of your coaching, your other priorities – and if the ‘fire’ is still there somewhere, then sooner or later the commitment/desire to truly ‘race’ Ironman will return.
    Oh, and your ‘crappy’ (!) race still beats my PB by around 13 minutes…

  • RobQuantrell

    Your legs may be weaker than a few years ago but your mental strength is still there Russ. Would have been very easy to walk your way to a 13hr finish. Well done for gutting it out, its not easy, it hurts like hell and there is no PB to soothe the pain and hurt at the end of it all. Come and join me on the short course circuit next year – its been exactly what I needed after losing focus on long course. The training is fun (and different), the racing is much more competitive and its much easier on the body (and head!). Throw in a couple of 70.3’s to keep your long course creds (maybe aim for Vegas/ITU worlds) and see where you are for 2014. Matt Molloy and Steven are proof that we both have a long time left to be IM stars!

  • Thanks guys,

    While i’ve not been specific on the blog, it has been obvious that I’m not getting much out of my racing at the moment. I’ve actually had a plan since the start of the year, were it not for the fact that most Ironman races are entered over a year in advance and my own sense that I had to continue racing I would have acted on it this season. There are definitely changes to come, though Rob, I won’t be racing shorter. I have some goals, different enough from Ironman to interest me and chosen because they don’t have the same demands on my time.

    When I look at the results from Roth, when I see what the likes of Matt and Steven are doing, I still have that sense that I want to achieve. I know if I take this break I will be back. By the time we hit 40 Rob, Steve and Matt will be out of the age group, they’ll be room for some new freakishly fast guys in there.

    And I know, I moan about a result many would be happy with, but then Matt was complaining about his result here until he realised he’d won ETU gold in his age group!


  • Ant Hough

    An interesting race report and one that mirrors my own experience this year quite closely. Hope you recover well and I might see you down at the lake sometime.

  • It’s funny. The more people I speak to the more I hear the same. The wind this year was tough and it seems a lot of people wanted it to end on the bike! Hard day out there, but a great race.


  • Inoza

    Well done again, even if it was more difficult than you thought.

    2 IM is incredible for me !

    Great ! Really great !

  • Warren Mason

    Good to briefly exchange a few words on the bike course on Sunday and though cheery, it was clear you weren’t in race mood. Chapeau for sticking it out and finishing when by your standards, you were way off the pace and it would have been easy to quit. A year ‘away’ sounds a very sensible idea to regain motivation and come back when the yearning for IM returns – and it will. This experience can only help your coaching abilities (IM is about the mind as much as the body) and your growing reputation as a triathlon ‘guru’.

  • Thanks Warren,

    It was a nice break to talk to someone and admit my day was going very badly. I knew why and while I wasn’t enjoying it, no point being grumpy about it.

    Time away is what I need, I’m looking forward to it, which in itself is a very good thing.