Challenge Roth is arguably considered as the best triathlon in the world. One year ago, when the registration opened for the 2017 edition, it was sold out in less than a minute. I was one of the lucky athletes who got the so coveted slot. For my first Ironman distance triathlon, there is no better race than Challenge Roth!
The last few months leading to the race, I have been very consistent with training. I have done most of my planned sessions and I was feeling good coming race week. My only little concern was my running fitness, I suffered a hamstring injury end of last year and my running volume was very low until March. Since then I retrieved some running fitness but I did not really recover from the injury. I still have some little pain or discomfort when running at fast paces. While this was an issue in training, it shouldn't bother me during the race as I was not planning to run the marathon at a fast pace. Anyway, I felt really good in my last long run and I was very confident before the race.
The swim takes place in the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal near Hilpoltstein, about ten kilometers from Roth. The atmosphere was absolutely great! Thousands of people were cheering along the canal and over the bridge. The race starts at 6.30am with pro male athletes, I was on the fifteenth wave starting at 7.40am, each wave had 200 athletes. I was in the water five minutes before my starting time. I positioned myself in the middle of pack on the right side next to the bank. When the canon fired, it was a bit like a washing machine. I tried to stay on the right side since there was less traffic. After few hundred meters, I was feeling very confortable and I settled into a nice rhythm. I failed to find someone to draft behind, so it was a solo swim all the way. I exited the water in 1h18. I was a little bit surprised, I thought I swam at a faster pace and expected to finish around 1h12. Looking back at my swim data, it seems that I missed the first turnaround and swam a bit further under the bridge, my total distance was 4150m. I definitely should work on my sighting for the coming races! Anyway, I felt really fresh after the swim, that's a huge improvement from my previous races!
Right after the swim exit, a volunteer asked me about my race number and guided me to my bike bag. Then, in the changing tent, another volunteer helped me to take off the wetsuit and get the stuff I needed from my bag. He put my swim gears in the bag and took it. When exiting the tent, there were other volunteers handing water and gels. That's a first class treatment, the best I have ever had in any transition! Big up to the volunteers at Challenge Roth! At the exit of the transition, I was happy to see my friends Stefanie and Peter cheering! Total time 5'16''.
Challenge Roth is a race where many world records were set. Many people (including me) have the assumption that the bike course is fast and flat. In reality, the bike course is not flat at all and is only fast for athletes with strong legs, which is not my case. The bike course consists of two laps of 85 kilometers and a final stretch of 9 kilometers to reach T2 in Roth. According to my bike computer, the total distance is 179 kilometers with a total ascent of 1415 meters. The weather forecast for race day was announced hot with almost no wind.
My goal on the bike was to stay within my power ranges and follow my nutrition plan. Just few kilometers into the bike ride, I realized that the weather man was completely wrong! The temperature was cool and the wind was blowing! The bike course was really nice with thousands of spectators along the way. The main spot is the famous Solar Hill, a climb of one kilometer at 5%. It was packed with thousands of spectators, the athletes had a tiny space to move up the hill. It was really amazing! For few minutes, I felt like a Tour de France rider climbing the Alpe d'Huez!
I finished the first lap and was feeling relatively good. On the second lap, the temperatures started to rise and I was feeling really hot. From kilometer 130, my power output started to drop and it was a bit hard to maintain the pace. I have been following my nutrition plan religiously and I thought I stayed withing my power ranges but it was difficult to produce the same power as in the first half. I had a stretch of 30 - 50 kilometers where I was a bit struggling but I managed to stay focused. I reached T2 in 6h28.
After the race, I analyzed my power data and realized that during the first lap, I exceeded my power limits on the climbs. Being more conservative would probably have resulted in a slightly faster bike split, and most importantly, fresher legs for the run. Regarding the weather conditions, the temperature rose from 21°C at the start of the bike to 27°C in T2. Most of the time, there were headwinds and crosswinds.
The same top class treatment as T1. Volunteers were everywhere! The only thing I had to do was putting my socks and my shoes on. Big up to the volunteers! They were amazing!!! Total time 5'13''.
Few months before the race, Challenge Family announced a new run course that is more spectator friendly but more challenging compared to the original flat course.
My goal for the marathon was to maintain a 5'30''/km to 5'45''/km pace. Out of T2, my legs were obviously tired from the bike but I felt relatively good and I thought I could manage this pace until the end. I ran at a 5'45''/km pace for the first 10 kilometers. The temperature started to rise so I kept cooling down my body at every aid station. For the second 10 kilometers, the pace dropped to 6'15''/km, mainly because of the long hills. I finished the first lap at a 6'10''/km pace.
At this point, I had seen the whole run course and I knew what to expect for the rest of the race, hills, hills and more hills! I had to make a decision on whether I keep running all the hills and maybe blow out my legs and risk not to finish or play it safe and walk up the hills. Since my only goal of the day was to finish, I decided not to take any risk and walk uphills. From there it was a long way to the finish. I tried to run as much as possible but since there were so many hills, the pace dropped significantly. For the last 3 kilometers, I resumed running continuously until the finish. I logged my fastest split of the day with 1.2km at 4'14''/km! I think I had something left in the tank still. The total time for the marathon is 4h50. The total finish time is 12h47:42. Looking back at the decision I made after the first lap, it might have been a bit early to start a run/walk strategy. Maybe I should have waited ten more kilometers before thinking about walking. Would it have resulted to a faster run or a DNF? I will never know. But I know that I was not ready for a hilly Ironman marathon at my first attempt at this distance. I definitely underestimated the difficulty of the new course. The positive side of this run course is that I had a chance to see my family and friends many times along the way. These were certainly the best moments of the day!
Update: Challenge Roth announced a new run course for the 2018 edition, it will combine the traditional run course with the one introduced in 2017. Click here for more information.
Entering the finish arena with all the crowds cheering, seeing my wife, kids and friends waiting for me were magical moments I will never forget. This finish was worth everything I had to do to make it happen! The journey to finish my first Ironman distance triathlon was amazing! I feel very lucky to be able to accomplish my dream in Challenge Roth, definitely one of the best races in the world!
Thanks to my wife and kids for their amazing support, this accomplishment wouldn't have been possible without them! Thanks to my friends Stefanie and Peter who were cheering from the swim start until the finish line! Thanks to Passau AllStars friends for their amazing support! Thanks to my coach Chris, my teammates in Coaching Zone team, my family and friends who were following the race on the livestream and cheering all day long!
Finishing an Ironman distance triathlon is an amazing achievement, I am happy and proud that I was able to do it. But now that it is done, the obvious goal is to get faster at this distance. My drive in this journey is the continuous improvement in performance and there is clearly a huge room for improvement in the three disciplines. I haven't decided yet about my next full Ironman race, it will most likely be one of the races in my bucket list. Stay tuned! ;-)
Thanks for reading!