Challenge Roth – Once More with Feeling

My race report was a little sterile. I mean it even had a graph of power and heart rate in it. To balance things out here’s a second report about my experience in Roth and some memorable moments.

The first thing I have to say is how superbly organised the race is. From the very start I was well cared for. I was fortunate to be able to arrange a homestay through the race organisers and it really made the experience. Over the weekend Roland and Manuela Boehm made sure I wanted for nothing. They were superb and without their help I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the race I did.

The Expo

I arrived in Nuremberg on Thursday and was immediately met by my homestay. They whisked me off to the race venue so I could register and browse the Expo. I like to get registration out the way early it just helps me stay calm. It didn’t take long to get that sorted, but I lost track of time in the massive expo. I’ve not seen one that size before so many shops and different brands on offer.

After that it was straight to my home for the next few days and building up the bike. In the past Roland had run a bike shop and whilst I was happy to put the bike together he insisted on going the extra mile in cleaning it and tuning it for me! I don’t think the bike’s been in such good condition for a long time. Add to that his contacts meant I got extra discount on some bike bits from the Stadler bike stall at the expo! Can’t complain about that.

In Igelsbachsee

Friday morning started with an ample continental breakfast. Nothing was spared to ensure I had everything I might want to eat. Then it was off for a quick swim at the local lake Igelsbach. The water was beautifully clear and warm. A good start to the day. After lunch it was a trip out on the bike. Just a short spin which left me wanting to see more of the beautiful countryside. The roads were so smooth as well it seems such a perfect training venue.

Roth Pasta Party

The pasta party in the evening was the next appointment. I was seriously impressed by the quality and range of food options available. Certainly ended up going a little over board whilst there!

Saturday started with another great breakfast and a little light training. This time getting to swim in the larger lake Brombach which was again warm and clean. My homestay gave us a massive barbecue at lunch time with plenty of different meats and salad. A perfect final meal leading into race day. I got a lift over to the swim start to drop off my bike and run kit bags. Then it was home all done for the day. As has become tradition I switched to a diet mostly consisting of energy bars for the rest of the day. It’s not the nicest food in the world, but it’s low in bulk and fibre!

Ready for bed

Race day meant the usual early start, up at 4am! Breakfast was all set out for me though and once done a lift to transition was ready. I got to the race start with a good 90 minutes to spare. Plenty of time to set things up, make those last minute toilet trips and calm yourself pre-race. I was feeling pretty good about things by the time I stepped into the water. A little apprehensive as you never know how the day will go, but not too worried.


When the canon went off and the swim started it was hectic at first, but with a wave start things settled quickly. I was much more confident of my swim after the past months training and just kept concentrating on keeping my stroke strong. I must admit to thinking things seemed much further than they looked out of the water. In fact towards the end of was getting a little bored of swimming! When I saw transition coming up and knew I just had to go past it, under the bridge and back I put on a spurt. Once I was under the bridge I discovered that the turn-around was actually much further up the canal than I expected! Oops, a few more minutes to go yet. I settled back onto some feet and kept working.

Out of the water

I’ll be honest I’d hoped to break 1 hour in this swim, but can’t be disappointed to be on the hour instead. I think there’s room to go harder so next time I’ll push a little more perhaps. Transition was well set out, again not too crowded due to wave starts. There was loads of help, I think you could pretty much have everything done for you if you wanted! I prefer to stay in control of my transition even if I’m not the fastest.


Out on the bike

Out onto the bike and I’m feeling OK, but not great. I watch my heart rate to keep it down, but find my legs feel a bit stiff anyway. The first impression of the course is how good the roads are compared to what I’m used to. It’s an immediate speed boost right there. I was pleased to see relatively little drafting and active draft busters out there. Early on a fair number of riders come past me. It’s obvious there are a lot of strong bikers here, but I didn’t feel I could work like that that day.

I settled into my nutritional strategy for the race without any problems and was pleased to find it worked really well. The only thing I noted was in the cooler conditions I had to pee a hell of a lot! When I passed people stopping at the side of the road I thought how much time I’d lose if I did the same!

The first piece of climbing out of Greding proved to be pretty minor. I was actually glad for it, the hills providing me an opportunity to push a little harder. In fact of the whole course I enjoyed this undulating climb the most. Once at the top things were fast as you descended all the way to get to the bottom of the Solarer Berg. The second notable bit of climbing in the race and famous for its crowds. Nothing quite prepares you for the first time you encounter it.

Up the Solarer Berg

As you approach there are barriers on either side of the road with crowds behind. I wondered if that was it, but the road kicks up more and the barriers stop. From that point on you work your way up through crowds of supporters cheering from both sides. There’s not much room to pass if you need to something of a frustration on the second lap. One tip for the future, don’t go into it in too high a gear. The crowds will push you on and you’ll over do it! Once this climb is done it’s fast again for the rest of the lap.

I’m used to feeling better after a couple of hours into my ride and this was no exception. So as I got into the second lap I felt I was starting to move up the field again. Suddenly a clicking noise came from the front wheel and looking down something seemed to be attached to the tyre. I tried to get it off with a bottle, but it wouldn’t budge. Whilst the repetitive clicking was irritating I kept pushing on, hoping it wasn’t going to cause a puncture. Come bike collection after the finish I learnt it was a piece of electrical tape, no danger just irritating!

My only other frustration whilst out on the bike was the inability to use the 11 cog. Despite the superb tuning my gear system had had it seems a knock in transition had misaligned something. ON some of the fast flats and descents I’d have to spin the 12 a little faster rather than face the skipping chain on the 11. Not ideal for me with my preference to grind away at bigger gears. I again wonder about increasing my chainring for a course like that.

After the second lap you peel off to head into Roth itself. It’s a nice smooth and fast road into the city and I pushed as best I could to keep my ride time close to 5 hours. Prior to race day I’d been aiming for 4:55 and was roughly 10 minutes off that. I think in part my inability to work hard early in the day stopped me breaking 5 hours. I wondered how brining aero race wheels instead of heavy training wheels might have changed things. On the one hand having power is useful, but then if Zipp is to be believed the 404s would be worth minutes!


Canal Run

Transition came upon me very quickly. I do think the bike course may be slightly short. Not much, but it’s definitely not too long. I quickly got my feet out of my shoes so I could leave them on the bike. I was quite pleased that I managed it in such a short distance! Helemt was off as I dashed into the transition area. The excellent volunteers had my bag ready to hand to me and I was in the tent with my own assistant! Thanks to the nice lady working at the CEP Socks stand I had a new trick to get on my socks faster. What do you know? It worked really well and was a lot less faff than usual. Shove a handful of gels in my back pockets and off I go. Well off I go once I get past the couple chatting as they stroll out of transition.

Having had two terrible runs in my races so far this year I was hoping for more. My legs didn’t let me down feeling good from the very start. I checked my watch at the first kilometre and was happy I’d not gone too fast. Maybe a little faster than planned, but not too far. A guy came past me at speed asking the time, clearly on a mission. I knew though that for my race to go well I needed to keep things under control. As it was I was him 20km down the road when I went past.

There’s a bit of climbing to get out of transition and onto the canal path, but nothing too tricky. I opted for the quick, small steps approach I’d found worked well in trail runs. Once onto the flat I just settled into a rhythm. Feeling the urge to go again I decided I’d try a trick I’d seen some pros do in Ironman Western Oz. I pulled down my shorts and tried to pee. It didn’t work! So from that point on the couple of times I needed to go I just went straight in my shorts! Hey it saved me a minute or two I’m sure. The weather was a bit on the cool side for me and my sweat rate was quite low – fluids were passing through me quickly.

My nutrition strategy here was based on five High 5 gels in my back pocket. All my favourite Summer Fruits flavour. The plan was one every 30 minutes or so at an aid station so I could take water on too. Somewhere around 15km I was a little off pace and decided I needed to up the rate of gel intake. The low intensity of effort was ensuring I was absorbing the food, but it wasn’t enough. The problem was I wasn’t carryng enough to last the race then. Fortunately with High 5 being a race sponsor I could potentially stock up at an aid station.

The first station I passed was handing out the dreaded caffeinated orange gels. In Ironman Oz I had a bad experience with them and wasn’t going to touch them! I worried that these might be my only option though. At around 25km I entered an aid station consuming my last gel. A girl ahead was handing gels out. Seeing me eat a gel she assumed I wouldn’t want any. I spotted they were Summer Fruits though and grabbed the four in her hand causing her to squeal! I needed to get them where I could as I knew they worked for me.

Once past the canal path at the other end of the course there’s some nice forest trail and roads. It was a pleasant break in scenery and I didn’t mind the undulations that came with it. I was a little frustrated by the additional and random placing of distance markers between 28 and 31 kilometres. No way to monitor pace. Not a complete disaster as I was still feeling good. Thirty kilometres is a bit of a psychological barrier for me. I fear reaching it and suffering from the energy dip I have in so many races. This time I was still moving.

Having promised myself I’d push the last 10km if I felt good when the 32km marker came up I had no choice. Add to that a quick mental calculation showed that uping the pace would get me in under 9:25 potentially and with a run PB. A clear no brainer! I started to push figuring at worst I’d slow for the last bit and still have a respectable time. An uphill trail followed, but I didn’t feel the need to slow. When I pushed harder, my body responded.

At 7km to go and back on the canal path I took a gel on. For the first time my stomach felt a little unsettled. I realised I was ow at an intensity where digestion would be an issue. No more gels from here to the end, but with 7km to go it should only be 30 minutes. With 5km to go, still feeling good I pushed some more. It felt great to be running like that. Rhythmical and with good form. Totally focussed n reaching the end. I didn’t feel that pained. I couldn’t go harder, but it seemed I could keep on going like this as long as I wanted. Even then I wondered if I could have done this sooner?

The return to the finish line took me back down the trail I’d climbed at the start. A bit of free speed, great! The downside was larger rocks on the trail which you could feel through the soles of racing flats. The odd occasion I landed on one I’d feel spasms in my quads. I asked them to just hold on for a few more kilometres then do what they wanted! Into Roth and a couple of little climbs were there to make those quads suffer one last time! More twinges and more requests that they just hold out.

Sprinting the finish

Then there was the long finish shoot and a couple more people to overtake. As I entered the final corner the runner just ahead slowed to run with his son. The kid came flying out and I only just managed to dodge him. Narrowly avoiding an accident in the last 200m! I pushed on and sprinted into home feeling elated to have a good race in the bag.


Glad to be done

No cramps or any other problems came on. I’d been fearing with those twinges in the legs I’d have a full on cramp when I stopped. Instead I comfortably walked to the recovery tent and headed straight for the food. Once again the catering was top quality. The selection of pastries we’d had at the pasta party were there again. This time I sampled them all! I ate my fill, got a massage, cleaned up then left to meet my homestay.

Once again they did everything to make my life easy. Helping me collect my biek and kit and taking me home. More cake, some coffee and a kebab later and I was full-up. We headed back to the race finish to watch the closing ceremony. Cheering in the last runners and then a fireworks display. A really good finale to such a great event. I don’t think I got to be till nearly 1am that night.

A new course record

The next day we went back to watch the awards ceremony and more pleasing to me to eat more of those pastries! I was allowing myself to eat whatever I liked till I landed back in the UK. Once on home soil I would be strictly Paleo again. I tried some non-alcoholic beer which wasn’t too nice to be honest. Apparently it doesn’t taste much like proper beer, but I can’t remember that well! I stuffed my face the rest of the day on chocolate and another barbecue from my hosts.

Then Tuesday it was sadly time to head home. I continued to make the most of my eating allowance to take on as much cake as I could. Have to stock up before the run in to Ironman UK after all! I must guiltily admit to eating a Burger King burger for the first time in something like 10 years. The idea of eating something that bad which I wouldn’t normally touch appealed too much.

True to my word since landing back home I’m sticking to paleo eating. I had an amazing amount of fluid retention which rocketed my weight up! Happily it’s dropping off in no time as my body returns to normal. I’m pleased to say I can see my ankles again now. I’m slowly introducing gentle training back to my body. Nothing too harsh though. A 50 minute easy ride the other day proved to be close to its limits! The next two weeks are all about getting ready to race Ironman UK better than I did in Roth!