So for the second time in eight months I stepped up to race Ironman. The first experience was amazing and meant I had become hooked on long distance triathlon. This time I was lucky enough to get a spot at Challenge Roth. This race is considered the best long distance triathlon in the whole of Europe, attracting over 200,000 spectators and an impressive field of pro athletes. It's also home to the world records for both male and female at iron distance.
The first and only objective of my first Iron distance race was to complete it, this time around however I had set a benchmark and was determined to beat it. There was also the added element of competition as I would be racing alongside my best friend of 20 years! My friend Nick had completed 2 Ironman races previously and our times were very close. We both structured our training this time around to try and dip under the magical 10 hour mark. It would require some serious dedication on both our parts to achieve this, but we both felt it was doable, especially as the course was known as a fast one.
Although racing together we would not be training together. Nick lives in Sweden with his wife and 2 boys, so we trained with our friends and club mates locally and kept close tabs on each other via Strava. In a way Strava helped to keep our motivation high, there would be nothing worse than waking up after a few too many beers the night before to see Nick had smashed out a big run or ride and I am sure the same applied to him.
My training program went very well and without any major injuries. First up in the race season was Brighton Marathon in April, I hit a new PB so knew training was on track. A few weeks after and I was ready for my first triathlon of the year which was the Big East at Bradwell. This was a middle distance/half iron race which would be a good measuring stick to see how I was progressing with 7 weeks to go. The race was a success, the swim was about as good as I could have expected on a cold May morning, the bike went without a hitch. I knew my bike leg had improved from a year previous as I was no longer getting overtaken by stronger cyclists and managed to hold my position. The run remains my strongest discipline and I ran well in my warm up race to finish in 5th position overall. I felt strong all the way and knew if I could replicate this in Germany that I would be able to achieve my goal.
The training volume started to intensify with 7 weeks out with some very long rides followed by long runs. This meant some seriously early starts pretty much every weekend, normally around 5am. I tried to make as little impact on family life as possible and get the training completed as soon as I could. My wife and kids have been great along the way, but you do start to feel quite guilty towards the last few weeks. Soon enough it would all be over and we will have the whole summer together, which was something for us all to look forward too!
We left on the Thursday before the race with a nice sociable flight time of 2pm. This meant I could get a nice sports massage with Arron that morning before heading over to Stansted. The kids had the blessing of the school to miss a couple of days to support their Dad, which was great! We were all packed up, bike boxed and ready to go.
Everything was running smoothly on route to the airport before suddenly there was quite a large bang while driving along. A large stone had flicked up and put a big old crack in our windscreen! The bad luck didn’t stop there. We parked the car and headed to check in only to be told our bag was overweight, of course Ryanair jumped at the chance to charge us some extra! Grrrr!
Flight all went smoothly, no complaints or bad luck there. The car hire was a little painful, but soon we were on our way to Nurmeberg to find our hotel. Then came the 3rd bit of bad luck. When we arrived at the hotel I opened my bike box to make sure everything was ok. It all looked fine until I made a closer inspection on the frame. There was a pretty nasty scratch that had happen in transit. Surely I had exhausted all my bad luck? I tried to think positively and thought that because of this it was unlikely I would not get any bad luck on race day, which after all was the only reason I was here!
Time to put this behind me and get out for some dinner with my troops. Back to the hotel for an early night.
Nick and Lina arrived around 11am on the Friday. They had driven from Sweden and got a ferry across, Lina is 34 weeks pregnant so the flying option was not available to them. Once they arrived we took a drive to Roth, which was about 30 mins away from where we were staying. Nick and I were keen to get amongst it and get registered. Roth is not a particularly big place, it has a population of around 25,000, but once I year it is completely taken over by triathletes from all over the world. We finally parked up and made our way over to the expo and the registration tent. The expo was absolutely huge! Loads to look at, but unfortunately not a wallet large enough to take advantage of it all! Once we were registered and had a bite to eat, Nick and I hopped on our bikes and went for a little recce around town.
We only intended on riding for an hour, but of course got a bit lost! We made our way over to the swim start and familiarised ourselves with the venue. All very exciting! We probably went a bit hard on the bike for what was supposed to be an easy ride. We hadn't seen each other for a few months and as we were both feeling in the shape of our lives, I guess we were trying to flex our muscles a little bit. No harm done!
We met up with the girls and the kids and head back to Nuremberg. Both our parents had made the journey over to support us, so we both met up with them as they arrived on the Friday and went our separate ways for dinner and a bit of family time.
Saturday was an early start for Nick and I as the swim course was open between 6:30am and 8am for athletes to get a feel for the water. Both of us were keen to do this and also familiarise ourselves with the transition zone. The atmosphere was great and the water was full! Hundreds of athletes had taken the chance to take a dip in the canal. The temperature was great and the water quality was fantastic. Swim was done so we headed back for breakfast with the family, the driving around is a bit of a pain, but necessary as there is virtually no hotel rooms in Roth!
The rest of the day was a bit of a rush. Nick and I had to sort our bikes and pack everything that we would need for the run before our next trip down to Roth. This was coming around fast as I was heading down to Roth earlier for the Challenge Women's 5k race. It was all a bit stressful as even the most prepared athlete can never be 100% sure they have packed everything required! I now had to make do as time was running short and Tash needed to be at the start line for 11am.
We made it in plenty of time and the atmosphere for the women's race was electric. There was a sea of orange tops with around 2000 women taking part. My parents, the kids and myself said our goodbyes to Tash and went to find a spot on the street to cheer from. She made her way to the front of the pack and got away well, ahead of the thousands behind. The start seemed to go on forever with around 5 waves of supportive wives, mother, sisters and daughters making their way around the 5km course. The winning lady soon came round and not far behind her was Tash running strongly towards the finish line. She did absolutely fantastic to finish 27th overall and the 1st British female back which was shouted out over the loudspeaker. Chrissie Wellington (the female world record holder at Iron distance) was there to greet the finishers and Tash managed to get a selfie with her. We were all proud of Tashas result and she was too. Hopefully she would not be the only one pleased with her result this weekend.
Nick arrived about an hour after, at which point Tash, the kids and my parents headed back to Nuremburg for a few hours around town. This gave Nick and I some time to chill and to get our bikes racked and ready. We grabbed a bit lunch and had a little look around the expo, then headed out to T1 to rack our bikes. The transition zone was busy, but a great atmosphere. Lots of people were crowding around the pros, while others were making last minute adjustments to their bikes. We tried to keep relaxed and visualise the process of exiting the water and making mental notes of the quickest way to locate our bikes. Because we registered at the same time our race numbers were 420 and 421, so it was a perfect set up for us and we could run through all these things together. Once we had racked out bikes and handed in our run bags we made our way over to the canal, grabbed an alkohofrei beer and took some time to chill in the sun. It was really nice moment to appreciate that the hard work was done and now it was time to enjoy the race.
We are both competitive people, but never in the build up did we discuss beating one another. We both have massive respect for the training and commitment required to be at the start line of a race like this. We both wanted the same thing, a sub 10 hour and ultimately to enjoy what is billed as one of the best races in the world.
Beers finished, time to head back to our families for an early dinner followed by an early night. Tash and I had found a nice little Italian restaurant on the first night in Germany and headed back there again to carb up. I also had my standard large glass of red wine with dinner pre race, it helps settle the nerves and get me off to sleep.
Sharing a room with an excited 7 & 5 year old the night before the race of my life was always going to be a bit challenging, but they were fantastic, as they were pretty much all weekend!
The morning had finally arrived. I woke up at 3:45am ready to meet for breakfast at 4am. I felt quite relaxed and focused on the task at hand. I took my own breakfast so I nothing was left to chance. 2 pots of instant porridge with a banana and peanut butter. This had pretty much been my breakfast throughout the training period so I knew there would be no gastric issues.
We left the hotel for the swim start, both laughing and joking on the journey and in good spirits.
We parked the car and walked down to the start area. Both pumped up our tyres and put our drinks bottles in our holders. A couple of toilet trips and then time to suit up for the swim. The music in the background was of the classical variety and all very calming and the atmosphere was buzzing. There was a lot of attention surrounding the pros and in particular Jan Frodeno. The big German was heavily fancied to set a new world record and he certainly had the conditions to do it. There were a host of other big names Nils Frimhold, who won the event last year, Joe Skipper, who had been putting in some great performances. In the women's field there was world champion Daniela Ryf, Yvonne Van Vlerken and Laura Siddle. Nick and I made our way down to the start, we were off 10 mins after the pros. Joe Skipper walked past, I gave him a tap on the shoulder and said "good luck Joe" and he responded with a "cheers mate". Time to start swimming!
Swim – 1:06:06
My goal from the start was to try and swim around 1:05:00. This was a small improvement on the previous attempt of 1:08:00, so progress has been made although most of my training had been focused on the bike and run as they were the areas I could make up most ground over the course of the day. The swim was in waves. Nick and I were together but found our own space prior to the start. It was crazy to think we could stick together amongst the hundreds of others setting off at the same time. The start was a bit frantic and the first 500 meters was a lot of swimming on top of other athletes. Finally things started to spread out and I found a decent rhythm.
The swim itself is very straight, so sighting is not much of a problem. I still managed to zigzag across the canal. If only I could swim in a straight line! Definitely something to work on for the next one. I breathe to the right when swimming so always had spectators to look at. The banks of the canal were rammed full of fans, which was really great. There were also distance markers the whole way along which I found useful, not that I had any ideas if I was on track or not?! The swim was done and the exit was fairly straightforward. My bag was pretty close to the exit so I picked it up and started to undo my wetsuit and jog into T1.
T1 – 00:03:09
There I was greeted by one of the 7,000 volunteers who helped empty my bag and put the wetsuit back in. This made for a pretty rapid transition, every second helps! I found my bike easily, helmet on and a jog out to the mount line.
Bike – 5:09:46
The bike leg was where I was hoping for the most significant gain over IM Barcelona 8 months previous. 5:15 was what I had pencilled in so anything close to that would be great. Soon into the bike I saw my family who were positioned on the bridge above the canal. I managed to high five my Dad and it was a great boost to see them all there enjoying the atmosphere.
I had some Garmin issues to content with, on the exit from T1 I pressed the lap button twice which meant my watch thought I was in T2, disaster! So I skipped it on again to the next setting which was the run. I was trying to cling on to 'Triathlon mode' as I wanted to keep track of the overall time. I kept going for a few miles before deciding this was not a great strategy. I had trained to power and needed to know what my output was of I faced ruining my whole race. So I restarted the watch, which meant I no longer knew what my overall time was. I was working on rough estimates from then on and kept thinking that if I miss 10 hours by a couple of minutes I will be really pissed off! I put this out of my mind and kept peddling.
My fuelling strategy was to drink plenty of carbohydrate drink that I had mixed up to create a super concentrated version. I then dispensed this into my drink bottle at the front and dilluted with water from the aid stations. I had a couple of gels and energy bars just to mix it up a bit. Roth is billed as a quick race so therefore you would assume the bike leg is pretty flat, this is not correct! I would describe the course as rolling with a couple of nasty bits. I had read lots about 'Solar Berg', the most famous hill in triathlon and was itching to see it. I went up a couple of hills that had a reasonable amount of spectators, nothing like what i had read.
My family had positioned themselves at the foot of Gredig which was the biggest climb on the course. It was a great time to see them and gave me a big push at a key point. Finally Solar appeared, it really was a jaw dropping moment. i could just about make out a narrow line of cyclists amongst the thousands of spectators and that is no exaggeration. It was absolutely mind blowing! The course was 2 loops so there would be another one of these to come! The rest of the ride was uneventful for me, which was great. I did see a couple of crashes, one of which was quite nasty and a couple of punctures. The roads were in absolutely perfect condition which made for a great ride.
Into T2 although I didn’t have the full ride on my watch, I knew my average speed was on above target so that was 2 new PB's, time to try and get the 3rd!
T2 – 00:02:22
This was my first experience of handing off the bike. There were loads of eager volunteers ready to take your bike and go and rack it for you. Once I had passed it over I then had another volunteer with my bag in their hand for me to take into the tent. I then gave over my bag while I took of my helmet and the kind lady began applying sun cream while I put on my shoes, visor and glasses. It really was first class service!
Quick wee and on to the run
Run – 03:22:12
I felt a little uncomfortable to begin with. I had a sore back and a bit of cramping in my gut from being sat in race position for the previous 5 hours. It soon eased off at which point I saw Nicks parents, that got me smiling again and feeling comfortable. I had an idea of the pace I wanted to run, it was pretty ambitious, but If I couldn’t pull it off then there was plenty of wiggle room for me still to get under 10 hours. All was going to plan, I had taken a couple of my double espresso SIS gels that I had used previously. The 2nd gel around 70mins in didn’t go down too well, I started then to feel a bit sick. I was still on target so tried to block it out. The run is mostly along the bank of the canal and is pretty isolated. There is still a decent amount of fans, but it's difficult for family and friends to get there so I had to do the run without seeing any familiar faces. I saw all the lead women on the run but had missed all the men. I saw Nick coming back towards me at about half way, we were both in good spirits and kept pushing on. The aid stations were very frequent, every 2km was a big green tent with keen helpers handing out a variety of fuel. The heat had risen significantly at this point, so every station was loaded with sponges and cold water which turned out to be a godsend!
My pace was beginning to slip and I could start to feel some cramp creeping into my quads. This is not an unusual thing for me as it tends to happen at all the endurance races I have done. I just needed to manage it and walk a few strides here and there to let it settle before kicking on. Soon I was at the 35km mark and saw Nick again. I had made a bit of ground up on him but was in a dark place. I signalled to him that I was not in the best place and he shouted back 'keep going you are still on for the sub-10". The cramps were becoming more frequent and I was feeling physically sick. I felt on the verge of being sick and having a sh!t, a very strange feeling! It was time to really dig in. I was now walking through the aid stations trying to get fluids on board and because I had no idea about my overall time I felt that my target was slipping away. I was consoling myself that it would still be a good time and I have still had fun. Then I would get angry and put on a burst in a desperate attempt to give it everything. As the finish got closer, I could here the crowds in the stadium. I felt so bad that I couldn’t properly take it all in.
I approached the red carpet and saw my Dad standing there with a big grin and a union jack in hand, a bit further on was my kids smiling at me, my beautiful wife and mum cheering me on. I took the flag started to smile, I had all but done it. I trotted round to the finish draped in the flag and gave the biggest smile I could.
Job done! I still had no idea if I had gone under 10 hours. I was resigned to the idea of it being over but was past caring as I just wanted to sit down. I turned the corner past the finish to see the desk printing finisher certificates. I wobbled over to get my time and while I was waiting I saw Nick. We both had a big hug and congratulated each other on finishing. I was then handed my certificate that read 09:43:33! I was shocked and was overwhelmed with emotion. I had done it and with plenty to spare! Nick had finished 3 minutes in front of me, which considering there was 3500 people racing is pretty incredible that we finished so close together. We both collected out finishers t-shirt and headed into the recovery tent for a sit down and to swap battle stories.
We showered up, had a massage and some food, then head out to reunite with our exhausted and anxious families. We all hugged, kissed and cried and finally I got my hands on a real beer!
The celebrations at the stadium were fantastic. There was a big firework display for the end to mark the end of the event but we could stick around. Our families had been up since 6am and were as exhausted as us. Nick and I also needed to collect our bags and bikes, so we made the decision to head back to Nuremberg to all go out for dinner and be within falling distance of our hotel rooms. I am sure it would have been fantastic to see, but we had put our families through enough and it was now time to start putting some hours back into family life.
Challenge Roth really is a world class event. The hype around the race is all and more of what it's cracked up to be. The logistics of getting around for younger families is not great and this made it a little stressful at times.
If I got the chance to do it again then staying in Roth is a must! If that means camping, then so be it. The best mode of transport to see as much of the race as possible is by push bike. This unfortunately was not an option with a 34 week pregnant lady and a 7 & 5 year old.
All in all though it was a fantastic experience, and one that had the best possible outcome!
I cannot thank my wonderful wife and kids enough for putting up with the endless hours of training and for being there to support me. My parents also for making the journey and helping out Tash with the kids. You really are such a supportive family and I cannot tell you enough how much I love you all.
Thanks to coach JB, JBR Tri Club and RRC for all the great training. Both clubs are rammed full of great people and it’s a pleasure to represent both.
All the support along the way from friends and family has really been appreciated. So thanks to all that have been in touch.
Until next time...