A week ago, my swim/bike/run down memory lane brought me back to what can be considered the cradle of long distance triathlon in Europe – the city of Roth in the South of Germany. It was over 20 years since I last raced in Roth and it was amazing to return and see how the organizers have further developed this phenomenal event even further. It is without a doubt one of the best races in the world and it’s no surprise that the close to 5,000 slots are sold out in under a minute when they are released. In this blog I first want to give you some background to the event and secondly a quick summary of my race and results.
In 1982 the 38 year old Detlef Kühnel from Roth participated in the fourth Ironman Hawaii and was (as many of us) infected with the triathlon bug. He was extremely creative and productive and over the next few years he not only established the first version of the German triathlon federation but also established an agreement with Valerie Silk (then leader of Ironman Cooperation) to become the first European Ironman qualification race in Europe 1988. The race grew quickly and became the largest full distance triathlon race in the world with over 5,000 athletes and over 250,000 spectators.
In 2001 Detlef returned the Ironman license in view of unacceptable demands of the then WTC President but Kühnel’s successor, Herbert Walchshöfer had a brave plan to continue to run the race under a new name and the CHALLENGE brand was launched. The race was an instant success and Challenge Roth is still the largest race in the world and Challenge has grown as they continue to stay true to the sport and focus on the athletes (rather than private equity and bankers). Currently the Challenge organization organizes 44 full and half races in 26 different countries around the world.
ROTH, GERMANY: General view of the stadium during Challenge Roth on July 20, 2014 (Photo by Lennart Preiss/Getty Images)
Fast course: Even if it is hard to imagine that this course is fast, considering the close to 1,500m elevation on the bike, it is one of the fastest full distance course in the world. In Roth, Lothar Ledar was the first person to break 8 hours in 1996 and in 2016 Jan Frodeno set a new world record in unbelievable 7:35:39. This year they have changed the rather flat run course and added more hills but also more shade. Bavaria can get hot in July and temperatures over 30°C is quite common on race day so any shade is appreciated. The swim is done in a canal that is closed off for boats during the event and is one loop and as there are so many participants they have divided it into multiple start groups – starting the whole morning every 10minutes.
Challenge Family really stay true to their claim to cater not only for the athletes but also the families and spectators. Leading up to the main race on Sunday there is a wide range of activates with bike races, run races and other fun activates. The expo area is so large that it makes any other race that I have been to look like a tailgate flee market. As this event is organized by Germans with a lot of experience – everything is perfect and running like a high-end German automobile.
The days leading up to the race:
Leading up to the race was not ideal as we had decided to drive down from Sweden and stop along the way and enjoy some vacation with the family. This meant that we arrived late to the Roth area, spent too much time in the car and when we finally arrived I had to run around like a madman the days before the race to get everything ready and checked in. We stayed in Schwabach that is situated 14km for Roth and 25km from the swim start which was a bit too far away considering that my group started at 6:40AM and I had to drive there and find a parking together with the other 150,000 people.
I would advice anyone who are planning to participate in the race to stay in Roth or Hilpoltstein and that way avoid having to get up at 3:00 in the morning on race day.
As this is a fast course and I have done my personal best time on the distance in 1996 (9:12) my ambition was go faster this year. I have been training good leading up to the race and decided to go hard and not race strategically or keep under a certain heart rate or watt. I have enough experience to know how hard I can push without blowing up with out to much technical support and devices.
In the 90ties we used to start in age groups after the pro’s but now they have added two groups after the pro’s with those who are attempting to break 9 hours and ”fast age group athletes” I started in the first of those groups which was great as many were very capable swimmers who seeded themselves well and didn’t swim like windmills. As I like to swim alone I swam out on the right side but didn’t feel that great in the water unfortunately. Came up after 57:31.
I had only ridden the first 15km of the bike course ahead of the race but as this is a important section I had noted that there was some bumps in the road and some tight corners in during the first decent – I decided to take it easy here as I expected trouble here which was good as a cyclist in front of me dropped his repair kit from the holder behind the saddle going over a bump. In the race I could not get my power and heart-rate up and felt kind of flat for the first 60km.
Riding up Solar Hill is probably the coolest feeling you can get in the sport.
Tried to drink and eat but it didn’t change – I felt like I was stuck in second gear and when I tried to push the accelerator the only thing that happened was that the engine rpm went up but there was no effect on speed or power. For a while I had very dark thoughts – as you have when you realize that you are not having a great day, but decided to do the best of it, enjoy the atmosphere and not make my happiness dependent of end results and times . I decided to appreciate the fact that I was racing again in one of the greatest races in the world in a sport I love – after 21 years – what a blast! Came in after 5:04 on the bike.
SMILE! You are living a dream !
The first steps of the run felt like they normally do after 180km in aero position – only a lot worse as you at 51years are slower to adapt – or perhaps I just forgot how bad it feels for the first km always feel…
The course was very gentle for the first kilometer with downhills rather than up-hills and I could get into a good rhythm. It was starting to get quite hot but I could still not get my heart-rate up. I was running at 125-130bpm at best which is 15 beats bellow my normal race pace. Had to walk around 34-36km as I started to feel the hip injury pulling but picked up the running/jogging again to get to the finish line in somewhat decent time. Came in at 3:42 and a total time of 9:49:05.
Results and evaluation:
I did Roth for the first time in 1995 – I had trained well and was hoping to qualify for Kona. It was a hard day and I ended up with a 10:17 finishing time (104th in my age group and far away from a qualification slot).
In 1996 I started to train with Jean Moureau in Belgium and realized that my training 1995 was perhaps enough to finish a race but not qualify. When I came back to Roth in 1996 I was better prepared. 1996 I crossed the finish line in 61st place overall in 9:12 (19:th in age group) and that was enough to get me a slot to my first Ironman Hawaii.
2017 I finished in 9:49:05 – 7th in my age group and 202nd overall. My time 2017 was faster time than 1995 but slower than in 1996.
Am I happy? For sure! I had a great time and got to run over the finish line once in my life together with our kids – before they get too old and they don’t even want to go to races anymore.
Everything in life can be compared to something and depending on your point of view you can compare and judge yourself in a way that makes you miserable – some say that a good way to get better. I think judging and comparing one-self in a way that makes you feeling miserable is pure stupidity.
I’d prefer to see things positively and appreciate the fact that I am healthy, can race again at +50. Of course, I would have been disappointed if all the training this winter didn’t at least get me under 10 hours – but as I really enjoy my training as well so I don’t see it as a sacrifice and something that I try to minimize.
Now it’s time to get back on the bike and find some more races for 2017 !
Have fun and race hard !