Roth (in Bavaria, near Nuremberg) is a major bucket list iron distance triathlon so it didn’t take much persuasion to decide (despite having no clue how just much it was going to cost) to do it when a group from cr@p tri decided to enter back in June 2017.

We did it via Challenge Tours on a package trip so absolutely everything was sorted and planned, including bike and kit shipping which was great, and almost down to what time we should have a wee in the morning.

Six of us planned to go, though injuries took out two of us, including Andy only a few weeks before which was tough timing.

We had an interesting bit of stress the evening before we were due to fly to Germany when our bmi flight was cancelled, cue panic about how we were going to get there, but we were booked onto a later flight to Munich via Frankfurt, with a worryingly short connection time.  One benefit was a bit of lie in (8.30 pick instead of 4.30am), but we were now going to miss most of the Thursday faffing about.

After an epic (and free) breakfast in Bristol airport we caught the flight to Frankfurt fully expecting not to get the connection to Munich which turned out to be the case despite a zone 4 run through the terminal to the gate.  In other disappointing news it was pissing down with rain and cold, in contradiction to the balmy forecast, and none of us had brought clothes for anything other than hot sunshine.

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We’d already been rebooked onto the next flight an hour later, so grabbed some food and then got that one.  We eventually arrived in Munich about 5.30pm and after another wait got on our bus to Nuremberg where our hotel was (90ish minute transfer).  We managed to watch the England footie on the bus, but arrived nearly 12 hours later than planned, not an ideal start.

We checked in, checked the rooms out (decent accom, I was rooming with Rich) and then headed to the bar for some beers and food which was very welcome.

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On Friday morning we had early swim practice and got some time to scope out the canal where the swim was held and the T1 area. The water temp. wasn’t at all bad and the quick 20 minute swim felt pretty good. But, the course was a one loop swim and it looked VERY long.  It would be the longest swim I’d have done without an Aussie exit or a rest.

After getting  changed we had a quick look around T1 (plentiful toilets, huge bike racking area) before getting back on the bus for a complete tour of the bike course.

It was probably worthwhile doing it; useful to see the course before hitting it on the bike, the road surfaces looked top notch and we got a look at the one or two reasonably serious climbs. We also drove up triathlon’s most famous hill in Solar, which was MUCH quieter than it would be a couple of days later.

After lunch (couple of huge pizza slices in the mall next to the hotel) we did a quick bike check to make sure nothing had broken in transit. Mine seemed fine. Reg was having a bit of a moan about his… he probably needs a new one.  We were amazed to see how respectful German drivers were to cyclists — giving way, giving plenty of room.  It was hugely different to how it feels riding up the A48 on a Saturday morning for sure.

That Friday afternoon pm was registration time so after a shower we were back on the bus (we spent a LOT of time on that bus) to see what the fuss was about and hit the merch tent. My credit card was chomping.  Thankfully the rain of Thursday had long gone and it was getting HOT.  I love hot races…

The Roth race village is pretty huge. In true German style there are several beer gardens, a reasonable sized merch tent, a HUGE main tent and another pretty big reg. tent. Registration was pretty slow though ok.  A very big queue built after us so we timed it well.  There was, pleasingly,  a good quality athlete ruck sack which naturally makes the 600 euro entry fee much more palatable.

After reg. we hit the merch tent (4th discipline), but, to be honest it was a bit underwhelming … only £100 down, partly because the tent was beyond boiling hot. I got a hoodie jacket (100% chopper), bottle, hat, visor (which I was planning to race in for a change from my usual cap) and a fridge magnet.  It was 3 euro well spent on the bottle as I ended up coming home with 5 free ones from the goodie bag  and the bike course. Hmm.

The goodie bag was pretty full …

After shopping we hit the pasta party (which also felt like a sauna) and the Erdinger van before heading back to the hotel for a few beers and even more food.  After making sure all the bikes were numbered up and ready to go, we get to bed quite early.

Saturday was major faff day.  It’s a split transition race, but thankfully you only need to drop stuff off at T1 and they take your run bag from there to T2.  We left the hotel just after lunch (more beautiful pizza next door).

Racking the bike always feels a bit weird … the race is getting close and the heart rate tends to creep up a touch.  I’m absolutely delighted with my racking spot — I’m the highest number (2689) in the first field with an easy run out of the changing tent and onto the bike exit path.  If you’re in the middle of the racks it’s probably very easy to get lost, so I was happy with one less worry for race day.

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We get finished quite quickly and head back to the race village for the athlete briefing. On the way we’re told the time has changed from 3pm to 4 but we learn that’s rubbish and manage to catch the full briefing at 3.  It’s ok but doesn’t tell us much useful stuff … don’t cheat and be sensible is the main message. The race director confirms the weather forecast is good — warm but not scorching and not too windy.

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One thing that is different is that if you get caught drafting, not only so you get a 5 minute time penalty, you also get to run a 1km bonus loop on the marathon which is a lovely deterrent (and seemed to be very effective on race day).

After the briefing we wait around watching footie in the beer garden before getting on the bus again back to the hotel where we do the race sweepstake (some punchy times in there) and watch more footie.  Food sadly takes an AGE to come, though there is a slightly random delivery of sandwiches as compensation, minutes before our actual food arrives.  Odd.

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As usual there’s no point rushing to bed as sleep will be hard to come by. I eventually turn in about 10.30, make sure the bike gear bag is ok, check the day gear bag and then try to sleep (despite the room being really hot and Rich not loving the air con…).

Race day:

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As it was a bit of a drive to T1 and Challenge Tours apparently wanted us to be first there, I’d set the alarm for 3.20am and we were having breakfast at a pretty early 3.40.  It was really challenging to eat porridge, toast, bacon, eggs, juice, coffee at 3.40 but we try, manfully.

 

After final final checks of the bags, we left the hotel 4.30 and were into transition at about 5.15, with LOADS of time (2.5 hours) til my start time.  The setting was impressive.  There were bucket loads of athletes and fans already and the water looked good.

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To kill time, we wandered around, sorted and the re-sorted out bikes, pumped tyres, did multiple toilet stops (very happy with the toilets), checked out the pro bikes and talked amongst ourselves.

We saw the pros off at 6.00 to a VERY loud cannon and hot air balloons rising above the canal.  It was a fantastic scene …

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And then saw a big group of pro men come in around 6:50, impressive swim times.  Soon  after, Lucy Charles flew into T1 with an even more amazing swim time (fastest of the day).

The first of our group was off at 7.20 so wished him good luck. Lanchbury next 7.25, then me 7.45, James 7.55.

Soon enough I found myself dropping the green bag (street gear) off, was into the holding pen and then into the water.  Gulp.  The temperature was genuinely lovely and there seemed to be plenty of room around me and so I was feeling pretty ok about the swim.  I’d done a load of swim training so was hoping for an ok time of around 1h 15. Slowest by miles of my group but acceptable for me.

The course is in a really straight canal .. 1500m or so swimming south, then 2000m-ish north and then a final stretch of 300m or so back south to the exit.  That meant much less opportunity to get lost which I was well happy with, having fine form of meandering around swim courses in open water.

After the cannon set our wave off, I got into rhythm pretty quickly but soon after the start it felt like the wave (200 people) started to converge and there was loads of contact and not much space for 5/10 mins. After that though it was very clear all the way around and no real excuse not to focus on technique and trying to swim fast.

The first half was quite uneventful.  The canal has distance signs every 200m but I managed to see absolutely none of them.

On 1900m or so, someone gave me a good kick in the arm and I knew straight away that they’d hit the lap button on Garmin and put me into T1, somewhat prematurely.  This meant I wouldn’t get my proper splits which wasn’t a huge deal, but frustratingly we’d been talking the night before about locking the buttons on our Garmins but I’d  quickly concluded that sounded pointless.  Hmmm.

The very long straight was a bit boring. I felt like I was swimming ok, occasionally trying to draft someone to keep me amused and fresher but not really succeeding.  The only small issue I had was with my swim cap starting to gradually come off (big head, goggles underneath rather than over swim cap). I ignored it for time being.

About 700m or so from the end, the swim goes under a bridge with loads of supporters watching and a nice motivational message hanging down and at this point I knew the first leg was nearly done and thoughts start turning to the bike.  Before that though I was starting to get tired arms but was otherwise ok in terms of energy.  I also had quite bad cramp in my right foot which I struggled to get rid of til the end.

At the final turn my cap really did feel like it was popping off and I didn’t want to lose it (souvenir) so I did my usual thing of stopping and stuffing it down my wetsuit.  It only costs about 30 seconds max but still probably not the wisest move.

Then I was at the swim exit getting yanked out by a volunteer.  I don’t hit lap button on Garmin as that thinks I’ve been in T1 for about 40 minutes, so at this point don’t know how disappointing my swim really was, but I later found it was 1h 18, which is the same as IM Wales 2016, and quite frustrating.  I thought I was quicker, but I’m choosing now to blame a high-end wetsuit which is designed for actual swimmers, and not me.  I’m on Sportpursuit for a new one within a week of getting back.

Anyway, I find my bike gear bag very quickly and unusually there’s no room to even unzip the suit before you’re in the tent so I quickly found a seat and start to get changed.  As usual I’m absolutely terrible at getting the suit off, like really terrible, and so T1 time (I found out the day after) is 5m 46, which in the grand scheme is ok, but it’s a really short transition area and so should have been better.  Also, I somehow managed to lose the swim cap I’d fought hard to keep hold off.  Grrrr.

With my bike top and sunglasses on, gels and multi tool in pocket, I was on the way to the bike.  As I said, it was really easy to find and, amazingly, athlete 2688 (I’m 2689) is also grabbing his bike and lets me know the bad news that we’re already on around 1h 23/34 which is slower than I hoped, but not terrible. Within my target time of 11h 30 I’d allowed 1h 30 for swim and the two transitions so I was still on track, but with a smaller buffer than I hoped to have (and would ultimately need) after T1.

The bike course starts with an approximately 10km fast section before joining a loop of 80km which is done twice, with a final 10km or so to T2.  It’s advertised as very fast and flat, which is partly true, certainly compared to the other 180km course I’ve done in Pembrokeshire at least.

For nutrition I’m planning 6 gels, 3 bars, one bottle an hour, a bag of wine gums for a treat and one banana from the feed stops per hour.  Plus well needed salt tabs.  To be fair to me, apart from leaving one of the solid power bars, I was happy with the way it goes.

The first 10km is duly very fast — averaging mid 30kmph speed, though i was above (185-190w) my target power of 170-175w.  I realised I needed to ease off, which would be no problem over a 6h bike ride.

Just after joining the main loop, the leading pros Wurf and Kienle go FLYING past on their second loop along with a fleet of motorbikes — it’s an impressive sight (and sound) and I realise they’re already 80km ahead and would be drenched in Erdinger before I started the run … nice.

The big loop is ok.  It’s in nice countryside and has loads less climbing than South Wales routes, but it was much windier than I’d expected, and there were a couple of climbs which were testy and required the granny gear for a stretch.

At about 25k I caught James (who started 10 mins after me and had an epic swim) … he’s looking good, particularly his new Giro aero helmet, which went well and truly on my shopping list (and also arrived within a week of getting back).

I was onto the bars well for this stretch and found I overtook more then I was overtaken, which is the usual perk of being a bit rubbish in the swim rather than being a good biker.

Support along the course was really, really good — the villages were out in force and there were often long tables set up either side of the road where soon the locals were on the ale and pretzels.  In general it’s a nice bike course.

Basically the only useful thing from the bike course tour was getting told that when we passed a McDonald’s arch on the right, the only real big climb of the loop was coming.  It’s not a bad climb, though does move the wattage up a bit … There’s a DJ half way up giving people loads of encouragement which was nice

Around this point I started to notice it was getting hot.  Garmin said low 20s though it was climbing pretty steadily.  The reward of the decent climb (eventually) is a great descent with some switchbacks and loads of hay bails on the corners to protect the more reckless on course.  I do love a good descent and built some nice speed.

The other extremely memorable bit of the bike is Solar Hill.  And boy is it memorable.

After another pretty decent climb, we headed through a town where there were loads of inflatable arches and then everyone got funnelled into single file and the crowd closed in.  The support and noise was absolutely phenomenal; it was a real goose bump moment and I smiled all the way up it.  The climb goes on a little longer than ideal, but it was a really special part of the day.

At the end of loop 1, things were absolutely on plan … 175w average power, 30.5kmph average speed, nutrition was going fine.  Fair play, I was racing quite well.

Loop two was, unsurprisingly, more of the same mostly.  The crowds were generally out more in the smaller towns and the weather was still warming.  I spent less time in aero than I wanted but it hurt, so I tried to do 5 or 10 minutes on the bars, 5 or 10 upright.  Must practice the position more.

But, with about 35km to go I hit a problem.  My front Di2 shifter wouldn’t work and so I couldn’t change down from the big ring.  I tried pressing the buttons really hard but no joy.  I also tried to make sure all the cables were connected but couldn’t see anything wrong.

I debated with myself what to do — crack on and hope it’s ok or stop and fiddle some more.  Then, miraculously, I saw a roaming bike mechanic quad bike in a lay-by and stopped to ask for help.  My German isn’t so good but I asked can they help fix Di2 … Perhaps the only disappointing part of the weekend was that they just turned their backs and carried on talking amongst themselves!  No help was forthcoming so I returned to trying to plug the cables in tighter, but I’m useless at fixing that sort stuff and it doesn’t work.

I was a bit panicked but figured I best just crack on.  I knew the tough climbs were done, but there was still one before Solar and Solar itself to do.  I hoped I wouldn’t have to get off and push …

As it happened it was ok.  The stop cost me a few minutes and I was stuck in the big ring for the remainder (apart from one weird minute when it worked again towards the end).  The pre Solar hill hill was ok.  And luckily Solar itself was a bit quieter so there was room for me to belt up it out of the saddle looking like a right clown.

Not too far after that, very pleasingly (and slightly out of the blue) came the end of the bike course and a chance to stretch out properly.

I made one final check of the temperature and the Garmin showed 26 degrees — getting toasty in time for the marathon … lovely.

My total bike time was 6h 1m 46s — a couple of mins behind plan due to the stop.  Not bad and still on track for 11.5h overall at this stage and I was feeling decent.

T2 was epically quick for me — 2m 40s — which for an iron distance race was fine work indeed.  I found my run gear bag really quickly and got a seat in the tent.  I then made two mistakes — 1) not changing the bike top cos it felt ok (more later) but then 2) also not taking the bike multi-tool out of my back pocket, meaning every single step for 42.2km would involve a chunk of metal slapping my lower back, which was lovely.

Then it was trainers and visor on and off on the marathon.  I also took a full drink bottle from the bike which was a great decision.

The run course is a long stretch out in one direction, then back the other way on the canal path for about 25km, then onto a more hilly and populated bit for the final 17km or so.  Again I thought it would be really flat, and whilst it definitely was out on the canal, the last 15km or so were definitely not.

I aimed to hit 5m 45 per km to get under the 4h for the marathon, which is very comfortably doable as a stand alone, though quicker than my only previous IM marathon on the much hillier Tenby course (4h 18).

The first kilometre I duly hit a 4m 50 and so had to force myself to slow down.  I felt quite good, though was really hoping for more shade as it was still warming up.  Luckily there were aid stations every 2km, so plenty of opportunity for drinks and cold sponges which were ace.

My nutrition plan was a bit vague for the run — I had three or four gels and loads of salt tabs.  The salt was a must but I usually struggle to eat on the run as my stomach usually feels right on the edge of giving in.

The canal path section was a pretty nice place to run … it wasn’t too hot, the surface was good and there were loads of well stocked aid stations with friendly volunteers for drinks and cold sponges.  But it is a long, straight section and I found I was constantly looking for the turnaround point.

I saw Rich first at about 8km, he looked really strong and was running well.  I saw him again at about 16km and James at a similar point.  Both looked ok, though I later found out James was about to struggle with a headache that would lead to a VERY long walk.

At every aid station I’d squeeze the cold sponges over my head then stuff them down the back of my bike top, meaning I was basically absolutely drenched for the whole run. That led to a beaut of a blood blister on my big toe (luckily no bother from that during the run), but did also lead to the bike top riding up my stomach all the time, and so the bottom of the zip spent 42k rubbing my belly button raw.  Which was nice.

I felt strong for most of this canal section and my average pace was bang on track.  The half marathon came up at 1h 59 which felt pretty good and despite having done many hours of exercise I could multiply that by two and get to under 4 hours – on plan.  I allowed myself a sneaky look at total time which was about 9h 30, confirming a 2h second half of the marathon would see me home in 11h 30.

It turned out it wasn’t to be.  At about 27km, I started to struggle, and binned off any further plans of food and at one fatal point on the way out of Roth towards Büchenbach (30k-ish I think) I decided to walk a hill that was hurting to run up.  To be fair I was walking quicker than some were running and was not alone in walking, but after that I walked the remaining steep hills and my plans of the 3h 59 marathon went out of the window.

Nonetheless I still had enough gas to run the flats and downhills at decent pace (5m 50 to 6m ish per km) so was still feeling confident of a decent time.

I saw Rich again at about 8-10k to go, he was still looking good though I was walking up a hill.  He was set for a tremendous time. I hadn’t seen Reg since 7.10 in the morning and was ‘delighted’ he’d be happily showered and hanging around for us with a beer by then.

The last 10k of the run has some good support, people are pretty well alight by that point and it lifted the spirits (genuinely), and I was amused by some of the attempts to say Geraint.

I was really delighted to reach the final turnaround point around the pond in Büchenbach (it was billed as a hot spot but it was a bit rubbish) at which point there was only about 7 or 8k to go.  That remaining distance went by ok, though the temp. was HOT and it was a bit of a struggle to smile at the crowds.  I remember being very happy at the guy shouting 2.5k to go and pretty soon I was back in Roth and could see the athlete village.

The end of my second Ironman was great, though not as good as IM Wales where my family was waiting.  I decided to try and enjoy the finish as much as possible so stopped the clock and start walking under the arch.

It turned out that wasn’t quite the finish and there was a couple of hundred metres left, so I started running again and then walked the last 30 metres or so to try and take it in a bit, and it was epic.  It was basically a small football stadium set up with about 10,000 people in it, so the noise was phenomenal and I managed to take it in much more than at Tenby.

I got a look at the official time which was 11h 37m 10s, a pretty solid time, though 7 and a bit minutes outside target unfortunately.

The marathon was officially 4h 8m which is pretty ok given it’s a hilly course and the temperature was tough.  I remember well the exact moment though where I gave up on 4 hours and still have a nagging feeling I should have pushed harder and for the 11h 30 total time.

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Post race

I picked up my medal (nice) then the finisher t shirt (mixed reviews) and headed into the finisher tent to find my clothes and grab a shower.

I found Rich and Reg and we congratulated each other … both had delivered brilliant times.  I grabbed a shower (disappointingly Balticly cold), changed into lovely fresh clothes in the full on German mixed changing rooms then headed with the other two to get some food and drink (Erdinger tastes great after an IM by the way).  After getting some calories in I started to feel better pretty quickly which was lovely.

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Rich on the other hand felt a bit ropey so spent an hour or so in medical.  We tried to get in to see him but they wouldn’t let us, so we figured he’d be ok and so we picked up our lovely finisher beer glasses and  headed to the finish line to wait for Jimmy.

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Karen was tracking and it wasn’t too long before Rich was out with us and Jimmy was into the stadium and trying to make sure he came over the line alone for a good photo.  He looked ok coming over the line but had a very tough marathon after his migraine many hours before.

We also saw a guy finish in a wheelchair which was pretty incredible and Challenge are a bit (a lot) less anal than Ironman about letting families cross the finish line together and it was good to see the emotions of the finishers for an hour or so.

We then went to watch some more footie with some really terrible German beer and the night finished with the epic firework show for the final finisher at 11:30… that really was epic and a great way to finish the night.

After yet another bus ride back to Nuremberg, I went straight to bed and sleep feeling pretty happy about things.

We’d organised a cheeky day in Munich to recuperate the following day so after packing the bikes and kit bags to be shipped we got on another bus to head to Munich. We had a lovely afternoon and evening drinking and eating in the sun and watching Brazil beat Mexico and Belgium beat Japan in the world cup.

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Inevitably the efforts of the previous day caught up with us soon enough and despite Rich’s best efforts, we were pretty done in and in bed by 11pm.  And after a nice (apart from the naked middle aged German blokes) walk around the English Garden the next day and a few more beers, we were soon back at the airport (more beers) and heading home.

Roth is a great race to do.  It’s a PB course with spectacular support in a great location.  I’d do it again one day in a heartbeat.  As always I’m really grateful to the family for letting me do the training and have the time to go away to do it.

Next up is 2/3rds of the Long Course Weekend in Tenby which is always a great weekend so I’m hoping the legs hold up…

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