I’ve had two busy weeks with work, training, and visitors since my last race, and my last post. With so many things happening all at once, my blogging time has had to take a back seat, but I should have some more time to get posts up in the next week (including the report on our Berlin trip promised in my last post).
Although these past two weeks have been busy, they also excitingly were building up to the Roth Challenge Long Distance Triathlon (=Ironman distance, just not branded). I took part in the race as the cycling member of the Katja Schumacher Triathlonakademie’s men’s relay team, so I wasn’t doing the full distance across all three events – just the 180kms on the bike. Above is a photo of our men’s and women’s teams just before the swim start yesterday morning, all ready to go!
We drove down to Roth on the Friday evening and stayed together as a team in a hotel, with a few people arriving on the Saturday. The Challenge Roth is the official European long-distance championship and is a big race with over 5000 competitors, and includes pros. My coach Katja Schumacher won this race as a pro, so knows the event well. The men’s pro-winner today was James Cunnama of South Africa, who won in 7:59:59. The women’s pro-winner was Rachel Joyce of Britain, who won in 8:45:04. Our relay times didn’t come close to the pros, but we were still pleased with how it went overall. To get the times out of the way, here they are:
Swim (3.8kms) – 1:09:17
Bike (180kms – me) – 5:46:30
Run (42.195 kms) – 3:40:48
Our women’s relay team also finished in a great time of 10:43:36!!!
On Saturday we picked up our starter-packet, I had a quick light ride on the bike to keep the legs fresh, checked in my bike, and then we had time to explore the expo. With such big crowds, the atmosphere in Roth was electric even on the Saturday and it was fun to wander around.
One downside to the Saturday was that I ran into some mechanical issues with my bike. In the morning, the shifter for my front ring was locked and I couldn’t switch out of the big ring at all. Fortunately, I was able to take the bike to some mechanics on-site at Roth, who were heroically able to get the bike back into a state where it would keep together (mostly) for the 180kms of racing ahead of me. Many thanks, therefore, to Tobias Ullmann at the Freie Fahrrad-Werkstatt in Hilpoltstein – visit him if you can!
My bike is in many ways not the best (about which more later), and although I was remarkably relaxed in the situation (due in large part to the help of my swim coach Erica Hemmy), I did have a few worries about how my gears would hold up the next day. On a quick test ride, I still had one problem with the chain sliding off the ring, but for the most part it was shifting reasonably well. With that, I went and checked my bike in and racked it.
After taking care of all such logistics, we headed back to the hotel to have dinner and make an early night of it. After a long week at work, I really felt like I needed to sleep well on Friday and Saturday – on both nights, I did sleep well, if not plentifully, and felt pretty good when I woke up on Sunday at 6:00. The pro-starts were at 6:30, with the single starters heading out soon after that. The relays, however, didn’t start until 8:45, so we didn’t need to be down there too early. After a relaxed breakfast (and I did feel oddly relaxed), we went down to the swim start for about 7:30, where we were able to see the last of the single age-group starters take to the water (the pros were already out on the bikes).
Our women’s relay set out in the first group at 8:45 and we started five minutes later at 8:50. Having never done a relay before, I found it very different to be hanging out in the first transition zone waiting for our swimmer, as I’m more used to being warmed up from the swim before getting on the bike. But this also gave me lots of time to make sure that everything was set. Our swimmer Axel put in a very respectable swim time of 1:09:17, and after a quick hand-off of the timing chip, I was away on the bike.
The Roth bike course is a lot of fun to ride. It’s a rolling route with only two hills that really involve a climb, and even those are a lot smaller than the hills I’m used to training on in Heidelberg. Riders complete two loops, which are then followed by a short section to the second transition zone in Roth itself (the swim starts in Hilpolstein). Here is a map of the course:
In training, I had only done a maximum distance of 150km, as I’ve also simultaneously been training for shorter distance events, so I wasn’t sure exactly how my body would hold out over 180kms in a race. It was my plan therefore to make sure that I kept my heart-rate below threshold (for me we estimate about 155bpm) for the first loop and then take it up from there as I could. This plan went somewhat out the window five minutes into the race, when I looked at my watch and saw my heart-rate sitting around 160. Part of this can be blamed on the excitement of the start, but my heart-rate did stay higher than I wanted for the first hour. That said, I was feeling pretty good in that hour and didn’t have a sense that I was pushing too hard – I climbed the hills on the first loop in reasonable time, but didn’t climb too hard, as I knew that I had a long way ahead of me.
The weather on the day had its good and bad points. Starting with the positive, we fortunately had cloud cover for the first 90kms, which really kept the heat down. These clouds disappeared for the second half of the ride and the temperature difference was stark. The heat also unfortunately continued into the late afternoon, which made things hard for the marathon runners. The big down-side to the weather on the bike was that there was a strong wind – this significantly slowed down overall times on the day and made for some hard sections on the flats in exposed fields. The wind perhaps hurt me particularly, as I didn’t have an aero-bike or bars.
At the 90km mark, I felt really strong and was on track for a 5:33:00 finish. I was extremely conscientious throughout the race to keep up my nutrition – I ate a gel or Power Bar like clockwork every half hour and took in water and electrolyte-drink regularly. I have never consumed so much on a long ride, and being so careful about this made me realize how important it is. My body seemed easily to digest what I gave it – some people find it hard to eat as much as I did, but I have a high metabolism and I never felt uncomfortable in the gut. On the contrary, my energy felt pretty consistent. Katja had set up her Triathlonakademie tent at the 125km mark and Erica snapped this action photo of me as I went by:
My pace did slow somewhat over the second half of the course by about 10 minutes (calculating a few minutes for some mechanical issues – on which below), but the drop wasn’t too bad. I still felt relatively strong on the hills, but heading into the wind on the second loop I felt like I was moving slower and my heart-rate was lower than it could have been. I think I could have pushed harder at this point, but then I often feel like this after a race, so it’s hard to know exactly why my time dropped a bit. In any case, I finished the bike in 5:46:30, which I’m pretty happy with considering that this was my first race, the windy conditions, and my bike……..
My bike is an older aluminium Cannondale 5 with a Shimano 105 groupset. I bought it secondhand for 360 Euros from someone selling it on Ebay, and it’s allowed me to get in some good training and gain experience racing. It has been very functional. But it is, as one person put it this weekend, a bit of a ‘rough’ bike. There’s a debate as to whether my bike was the cheapest one in the race (see here) – at any rate, it came pretty close (I may be looking for a new bike in the near future!). As I said above, after my mechanical issues on Saturday, I was uncertain how it would hold up in the race. For the first 155kms, I had no problems, but at that point, when I shifted into the big front ring, my chain fell off on the outside – in the end, this only cost me a minute or two, as I was able to stop, flip the bike over, get the chain on, and get back on the bike pretty quickly, but it did cause me some worry for the final 25kms – it would really suck to have a serious race-ending mechanical issue at any point in a race, but especially that close to the finish.
The worry increased when the chain shifted back into the small ring without me having touched the shifter. This was a problem also because I needed the big chain for some flats and mild downhill sections over the remainder of the course, and I was afraid to try switching back into the big ring again. I put this off a bit, but as I was loosing time in the smaller ring, I decided I’d better risk another switch. And….. the chain fell off the outside again! This time I swore inwardly (there were spectators, so I refrained from doing so out loud), but I once more got the chain back onto the big ring and was off again pretty quickly. After this, the chain stayed on the big ring and I left it there for the remainder of the course – at this point, I was afraid to shift gears at all, which wasn’t ideal, but I did make it to the end of the course without having to run the bike in!
Once off the bike, I quickly found our runner Volker who set off on the marathon. As I said above, the conditions were really hot at this point, and he ran a great time of 3:40:48! While he was doing this, I got a massage and ate whatever I could get my hands on, including a lot of watermelon (kindly cut up by this volunteer):
This was a really fun race in a lot of respects: 1) the big enthusiastic crowds — one group of people on a narrow street through a town did the wave as I went by and on the climb up the famous Solar Hill the crowds along the sides of the road were so big that I felt like I was in the Tour de France (that such a crowd was there long after the pros went through is remarkable). At the end of the race, Axel and I joined Volker for the last 400m of the run and all crossed the line together. 2) a great course and a well-organized event. And last, but not least, 3) the great group of people (relays and single starters) with whom I went to the race! Our coaches Katja and Erica (to whom many, many thanks!) did a lot to get our best performances out of us on the day, but also to make the weekend a lot of fun. The race this year is an experience I’ll never forget and one that gives me a lot of motivation for the future!