This was my third Ironman distance event.
I hope you enjoy the read.
CHALLENGE ROTH YOUTUBE VIDEO
The alarm goes off, I feel like I'd had just fallen sleep. My iPad is near by and I have the registration page preloaded in the browser.
57... 58... 59... click. I am in.
Was is really that easy?
For fun, I open a second browser window; that webpage says the race is sold out. I complete the registration form on the first page.
"Honey, can we go to Germany?"
Preparation starts 38 weeks out from race day; the bulk of the activities are in the daylight limited winter.
A very consistent streak is interrupted by COVID at the end of January. Rolling an ankle and breaking my cuboid threatens to derail everything just 13 weeks before the race.
In addition to the preparation for Challenge Roth was planning, then marrying my sweetheart on May 21st!
It could not have been a nicer summer morning here in Franconia.
Our destination is a parking area in Heuberg. The A9 Autobahn is free and clear on the drive from Nürnberg. On country road 2225 however, traffic is moving slowly; a glance at the clock on the car's dash, there is time.
Walking to the swim start there are generally those comfortably strolling to find a spot to spectate and those more anxiously moving to get to thier racked bike. I am definitely in the later group.
In the distance, music is playing from the sound system at the swim start. It beckons triathletes to the south shore of the canal.
I stop on the bridge and take in the scene. Roth is no longer a video on YouTube; I am here.
I make a beeline for my bike. Bottles placed, bike computer on and the pressure in my tires topped up.
Now almost two hours to wait; I start at 07:50.
Early this spring, I logged into the Challenge Roth website and changed my estimated overall finish time to a faster time. The thought was that I'd get myself into a cohort of athletes that swim roughly the same pace as me.
I also thought that would put me into the water sooner and get a buffer of time for the run. It doesn't work that way here; faster swimmers start later and my group is third from last to go.
I watch the professional men exit the water and head out on the bike to pass the time.
Finally my wait is over, Group 15 is called. We form a line and it is a slow procession to the edge of the water. The announced water temperature is 21°C. There is some turbidity but the water is cleaner that I expected.
A short swim to the start line and BOOM! A cannon fires and I am swimming with 250 new friends.
I follow the mass of arms and heads. There is more contact than I've experienced before. I am ok with it.
The first leg of the swim is in an easterly direction; the glare from the sun is making the buoys super hard to see. Fortunately the first turn is under the ST 2220 Bridge; sighting to that is super easy.
I never found the definitive answer regarding the best way to swim this canal. Some say that close to shore is faster. Conversely, I've heard that there isn't much of a difference.
I choose to swim the buoy line.
Breathing to my right, I see many more that are choosing to swim close to shore. I am pretty sure my overall energy expenditure would be higher getting caught up in that crowd.
~500m to go and I find feet to swim behind; things are feeling too easy and I wonder if I am saving engery or wasting time.
I think back to the feeling I had while finishing the swim at IRONMAN Canada. Back then, I felt like I could swim another lap.
I feel that way now.
Transition is smooth and I am riding my bike over the bridge. I have "bike legs" right from the first pedal stroke.
The speed is higher than I envisioned in the beginning. On my bike computer, I have one predominant metric displayed. My heart-rate is in the low 130s, I could get it lower.
My head is up as I approach a crowd of cyclists navigating the first solid hill past Heideck. A guy tricked out with a black bike, black trisuit, black helmet with a really long tail and a blacked out visor passes me. He is standing up, going for broke with maybe 160 kilometres to go.
"The Batman" pedals himself into a slower rider and I hear a crunching sound. There is swearing in German as he swerves, then swerves some more before hitting the deck with an even louder crunch of more broken carbon. Yelling ensues, fists are clenched.
I don't know who was right and who was wrong but a course marshal on a motorcycle behind me also witnesses the spectacle. I leave it to officials to break up the donnybrook.
Now conscious of riders coming up behind me with speed, I hear another disc wheel approaching. Blue kit, blue bike, it is Patrick Lange with Ben Kanute in tow.
My turn to yell, "Go get him Ben!"
The bike course is net downhill for the 10 kilometre stretch to the village of Greding, home of "The Big Hill". On my left, Daniela Ryf goes zipping past me. She is rock solid and fast! I note the time, 1 hour, 11 minutes into my ride. There should be more of the female race coming through soon.
Heading up Greding, I pick off fellow age groupers that beat me to the base of the hill. I am almost feeling guilty of how effortless the climb is.
I am quickly put in my place; another rider flys by on my left much faster than I am expecting. I see a flash of pink on the race-kit and catch the number plate all athletes have zip tied to the seat tubes of our bikes; it is number 24.
"Way to go Ernie!"
Professional triathlete, Ernest Mantel looks back and flashes me a big smile. If my mood was good going up this hill, my energy was over the top now. Ernie and I have a connection as we both share the same coach, Elliot Bassett[Mountain Endurance]. Erniegives me a fist pump of encouragement before flying over the horizon. I continue on.
What goes up, must come down.
A set of switchbacks provide a bit of fun. I pass other age-groupers; a quick glance behind before entering the next corner and I am amazed how much distance I am putting into those I am sharing this hill with.
Through the village of Offenbau I get some perspective into the eventual result of the female race. Lisa Norden rolls passed me, more than 30 minutes after Ryf. I don't think I'll need to ask who will be crowned winner on the day.
Chelsea Sodaro passes me next and I give her a huge cheer. It dawns on me that within the professional field, I have only cheered for the American athletes.
At the end of a chute is a wall of humans; to my left, a DJ adds to the party. As I enter crowd, as if on cue, as if the DJ picked a song just for me, the intro of Van Halen's "Jump" begins.
It was 1984 when this song was released, I played my copy of that album until the vinyl wore out. In those pre-teen years, I rode my BMX like my hair was on fire.
In an instant, I am that kid again.
From Morlach back into Hilpostein, the road is fast and there is a bit of a tailwind. Carina is waiting on the corner as I make the final turn to complete the first lap of the course. I am really happy to see her.
Second loop and there is a difference this go around. Those that just made the left turn in Eckersmühlen are looking at another 85 kilometres and the group energy changes. Faces have less smiles, postures on the bike look more slumped.
The easterly headwind down to Greding has a little more oomph and it is getting warm.
The pockets of crowds dotting the countryside road remain enthusiastic. The volunteers at the aid stations are still happy and enjoying the day.
I am right on track with calories; thirst however, is no longer a gauge I think I can rely on. I am drinking water whether I feel the need or not. Thankfully, the aid stations are frequent and I am never out of water.
Some really fast cyclists participating in the relay event whip by on my left. — #notmyevent
I recognize a couple of faces still cheering at Solarer Berg; most of the crowd has left for Roth to watch the professional field at the finish line. With more room, I am up the hill quicker this lap.
A German participant named Ralf passes me before Morlach; I overtake him heading into Hilpostein. Our back and forth continues and this feels like a race. I think I've dropped him for good on the descent into Eckersmühlen.
Now just 800m to go, Ralf zips past on my left, racing into transition ahead of me.
(End of the 2nd Period: Deutschland 1, Canada 0)
A volunteer takes my bike; another volunteer hands me my run bag. The professionals make the change into their running shoes look easy. I struggle to find a place to sit in a very hot and very crowded tent.
Spectators line the street heading out from T2. They enthusiastically encourage me to run, but my walk is intensional and planned.
To an english speaking spectator, I give a confident smile and reply, "I got this."
The plan that Elliot and I discussed a few days ago was 4 minutes jogging, 1 minute walking. I have this interval programmed into my watch for 60 reps. Pressing the lap button starts the workout and from there, I will go on auto-pilot.
5 minutes goes by and I am still walking. The road here is pointing downhill; that probably would do me more harm than good. Patience is my friend right now.
I am ready. It's time to go; I press the lap button.
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeep...
Through 8 kilometres, I am feeling fresh. Jogging the gravel path along the canal is easy on the legs; the heat of the day has the opposite effect.
Far up the path I spot a curiously familiar yellow trisuit, I am closing in on it.
During the bike leg, the bib numbers are worn facing toward the back; for the run, they are facing forward. I run along side the yellow tri-suit, glacing at the name on the bib.
"Hello Ralf, do you speak english?"
He replies, "Yes, a little. You are The Canadian..."
Right now, my run/walk strategy is roughly in sync with his pace; we chat briefly each time we pass each other.
Eventually, Ralf stops catching me on my walk reps. I thought I'd dropped this guy on the bike and he proved to be resilient then; I press on.
At the 15 km marker and the canal continues further than I can see. Things are quiet, less people talking. The sun is intense.
I am drinking water through every aid station. The little extra in the cup I pour over my head.
Between aid stations I am getting calories in with the PowerBar gels on offer. They are sitting well and I am liking the flavours. Some flavours are caffeinated and I make sure to mix in the non-caffeinated packets.
At this aid station, there isn't a volunteer with a gel in hand. Not to worry as they are consistently found on the middle table. I grab one for the road, Green Apple flavour.
Finally heading southbound on the canal, my feet are getting tired and the 4 minute reps are feeling a bit longer.
A relay runner passes me. He says something in German; from his body language, I understand it as positive words of encouragement.
A bit past the 28 km sign, Carina has found me on the run course. It's a good time to take a break from the 4x1 beeping from my watch. I walk with my sweetheart for a bit, talking about how each other's day has gone so far.
With a more Canadian accent than mine, I hear, "Hey Mario!"
His race complete, Ernie is heading back to his home stay. We stop for a bit and he asks how my day is going. My answer, "Fantastic!" We learn about his great day here at Roth as well.
Saying goodbye to Ernie, then to Carina, I am back to my 4 minute interval workout. Heading through Roth's old town is a blast. The crowds are cheering, the music is pumping and old cobblestone streets are really, no big deal.
Ernie did caution me about "The Hill". Maybe a 5% grade but it goes forever. I am happy chipping away at it, 4 minutes at a time.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch an American flag on the bib of another participant grinding her way up the hill. I say, "Hello."
Whitney is here with her husband and her mom. She is on her way to completing her 8th full distance triathlon, it is her mother's 30th! Whitney has been to Victoria for our local 70.3 and the conversation starts from there.
At IRONMAN Italy, I had Davide to share the pain of the remaining kilometres with. At IRONMAN Canada, I had Kevin right on my tail, pushing me to the finish. This year, it is a great conversation about triathlon with Whitney that has me forgetting the dull ache in my quadriceps.
Whitney may be on pace for an Ironman PR. I wish her well and she continues up the road.
I walk for a bit, content with soaking in the charm of this amazing German race. If I would have looked at my watch before saying goodbye, I'd have seen that I was on pace for a run PR too.
By chance, I met a local triathlete last Sunday when I pre-road the bike course. Just like he said he would, Florian has been following my progress throughout the day and this evening, he made his way out to the last couple kilometres of the run to cheer me on.
What an awesome gesture! Florian is a great example of how genuinely friendly the people of Roth and the surrounding communities truly are.
Crossing the railroad tracks, now just a few hundred metres to go. Ahead of me is a group of three, all wearing the same kit. I look back to see a lone athlete, maybe 80m back.
I enter the stadium. Felix Walchshöfer greets me with a huge smile and congratulations.
The finish line announcer calls out my name. There is time between me and the other finishers for him to share with the crowd that I had recently married my sweetheart and that we were in Roth enjoying our honeymoon!
I cross the line. 4-time Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington places a finisher's medal around my neck. We talk for a bit and she congratulates me on finishing before dark. I glance at the sky, "Hey, she's right."
The run is over, my race is over. I have an incredible feeling of gratitude for this moment, this day, this place, these people and everything I have in my life.
Challenge Roth 2023 will be cherished.
The internet is full of content detailing this year's edition of Challenge Roth; many from the pro field documented their race experiences on YouTube; all articulating a common theme:
Roth is more than a race, it is an experience.
Arriving in Roth for the first time, days before the event, I saw a banner hung high above a street that read "WELCOME HOME TRIATHLETES".
In the next days, that banner's message became more and more clear to me. This place in the beautiful Franconian countryside really does feel like home.
As a first-time participant, the logistics of this race were admittingly a challenge. However, after experiencing Rothand how everything comes together on race day, those logistics are not as big as they seem. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
And having a shower at the end of a race?
Coach Elliot Bassett, Mountain Endurance
Once again proving to be the strategic mastermind behind my daily preparation.
9 weeks ago I finally ditched my walking boot. Still, the injury continued to play with my confidence; Elliot stayed solid to the plan. When I didn't articulate how sore my ankle really was, he knew and despite little run volume leading into Challenge Roth, Elliot had me well prepared.
Sabine Hoffman, thank you for hosting us in Hasenbuck. We truly felt at home while staying in your place.
Martin Kern, I enjoyed our ride out to Heroldsberg. Taking the time to show me the nuances of riding around Nürnbergwas immeasurable to my experience in Germany.
Carina, the loving person in my life that makes me smile everyday. I love you and we are off on our next adventure!