Challenge Roth race report

When I entered Challenge Roth a year ago I set at the time a rather ambitious goal of 9.45 based on splits of 1.05 / 5.05 / 3.30 & 5. However after racing 10.20 at Cozumel on a slower course and limited training and having improved considerably across the board I went into this race seeing 9.45 as pretty conservative, and with my only real aim for the race to go under 10 hours by as much as possible. With no need to chase Kona qualification I hadn’t even considered who was in my age group and hoped / expected to be one of the first amateurs and ahead of some of the slower pros.


Pre-race bike recce

Bike recce done and ready for action


While typically not a fan of wave starts, with 3200 individuals and a further 2000 racing in teams this year I can see the necessity. Starting all amateur women together is a neat way of keeping the race open, although with 28 pro women starting 15 minutes earlier it would be a day of adjustments and time calculations. As a one loop course in the canal the swim is very easy here and the key to a good swim would be getting in a good pack and hoping for a good tow round. My splits tell the story pretty well: 1st km (17.09) alternating between trying to get into a group and trying to resist the slight panic that makes you want to get out of the group and swim on your own; 2nd km (18.20) out of the group, on my own and generally not enjoying myself; 3rd km (16.47) drafting well and swimming hard just to keep in touch; and the final 800m (14.50) split between a slower draft and a push over the last 300m or so when I realised I was going way too easy. All of which adds up to a 1.07 which equals my best IM swim time but frankly is well below the level that my pool swimming and current level of fitness suggests. I got through transition fairly quickly, taking the time to put on the arm coolers / “cat flaps” (not the coolest item of clothing I’ve ever worn but with zero sunburn they are effective!), filled my pockets with Powerbar ride shots which were due to be a treat on the bike and I was onto the bike at around 1.10 race time which was a few minutes behind target but nothing dramatic and I was confident of making the time up later.


Having ridden parts of the course in training and driven the rest, I knew it was fast and represented probably my best opportunity for a sub-5 hour bike split. However it was clear within the first few miles that this was unlikely as we faced a brisk headwind out of town which was nudging my speed well below the required 36km/h to more like 32-33. I tried to push harder to compensate, thinking the second half of the lap would be quicker in the tailwind, but within the first 20k it was clear my legs just weren’t responding. I passed a few girls on the first couple of rolling hills including Lotte Carritt who I had ridden with briefly at Wimbleball (“nice swim” seemed an appropriate shout) but generally I was being passed by faster guys and not making the progress through the field that I usually do at this point. And as each hour went past I slipped further off my goal time, with my garmin beeping every 36k just to remind me that yes, over an hour had passed since the last time! I found it difficult to enjoy the course as I was struggling to explain how I was feeling; going through halfway in around 2.40 was at least 10 minutes behind target and gave me the impetus for a major push between hours 3 and 4 which probably gained me a couple of minutes but mostly put my effort levels off the scale which forced me to rein things in more later. At different points during the ride I convinced myself that a) my back brakes were rubbing; b) my rear tyre was deflating; c) I was getting sick, not to mention d) e) and f) of various other random potential ailments that might be to blame. Truth is, my legs just weren’t there on the day, and increasing my effort levels for little to no response in speed only served to depress me further. By the end I was just trying to stick to my lowest / disaster-scenario power target of 190w but my legs weren’t even up for that. I ended up with normalised power around 10w lower than I held at Ironman St George for 6.5hrs which does not speak to a good day. 


Feeling the pace. Courage legs!!


And with things not going well the real problem was that my goal of a sub-10 time was slipping quickly out of reach. This race was the first time I had chased a time (rather than e.g. an age group win or a Kona slot) and it makes you realise the margins for error are small – what I thought were very conservative goals slipped out of reach very quickly when things weren’t going well. For a long time between hours 3 and 5 I held out for the 5.15 split that would only require me to run a sub 3.30 marathon which I knew was feasible, even hoping as I made the turn towards Roth that the rumours the course was only 109 miles might be true, but in fact I made the course just over 111 miles which gave me a rather depressing bike time of 5.30, over 10mins slower than Cozumel last November on both a slower course and far windier day and slower even than IM Austria in 2010 despite significantly better fitness! On the plus side I wasn’t passed by any girls, I passed two German pro women in the last 10 miles despite their 15 minute head start and having not seen any age group girls for a while I was hopeful my position in the field was at least reasonable.


Before leaving the bike I should just mention the Solarberg. The photos do not do it justice! At the point the barriers begin on each side and you go under the “Are you ready for Solar” sign you cannot actually see the hill, and as I came round the corner the sight actually brought tears to my eyes. Quite spontaneously and I am at a bit of a loss to explain why other than that I felt like while I was having a disappointing day there were thousands of people out there who actually cared! So thank you to the thousands of volunteers who made the worlds biggest Mexican wave as you went through. That 5 minutes of the bike course and the fireworks at the finish are worth the entry fee alone in my opinion.


Solarberg. Legendary.


Hitting T2 at around 6.40 race time meant it was decision time – cut my losses and go for the sub-10 somewhere else or stick it out and finish somewhere between 10.15 and 10.30. Unlike at Wimbleball where a mechanical meant I had very fresh legs for the run, here I had actually worked hard on the bike, just without the time to show for it, so I was a little unsure how my legs would hold up. And while my running has improved considerably a 3.15 marathon is still a little out of reach. But it is a beautiful course, and a beautiful country; I wanted to see Rachel win, and there are many reasons why I would be rather ashamed to DNF when in a position many people would be happy with just because I didn’t fancy running a marathon and was having a bad day. I knew what I’d signed up for after all, and with each Ironman I learn something new which will help me in the next one… and the next one is the big one in October.


So off along the canal I went, and apart from a few stomach problems and some soreness in my feet reminiscent of Kona my legs were feeling ok. Feeling pretty out of it at the first aid station I had a small picnic including devouring an entire packet of cola Powerbar ride shots which fortunately I still had in my pocket from the bike as well as a large dose of salt tabs and coke which served to pick me up and set the tone for the rest of the run. Without the carrot of a time goal and with few women to chase I lacked motivation, I remember thinking as I passed 4k that the next 38k were unlikely to be much fun and I was going to have to just toughen up and get through the next 3 hours. I was soon seeing people on the return leg who I had wanted and expected to be close to in the race which was a fairly brutal reminder that things were not going great. I had chosen to run with a ipod as it is permitted here which was a godsend when your race is not going well as it provides a distraction from the negative thoughts which otherwise can easily talk you into not finishing. And so I kept going, walking each aid station (sometimes for rather longer than I intended), and even stopping for a few minutes to speak to Andrew at around 20k as I knew he would be worried about what had happened on the bike. I knew from the course that 22k is basically your last opportunity to DNF as then you run away from town, fortunately by this stage I was running ok and making up some places so I pressed on as most of the top 10 ladies passed in the other direction as they neared the finish. I was making up time on the slower pros by this point but being around 20 mins back from where I expected to be those places were out of reach. Approaching the last turnaround I saw some familiar faces around 20 minutes ahead – as they were people from the pro / sub-9 wave with a 15 minute head start I thought with a push over the last 10k I could take home some bragging rights (sorry Russ and Jamie and thanks Jamie for the high five, I’ll pretend I wasn’t thinking at the time that I might beat you to the finish ;)


Me: "Felt rubbish on bike. Should run under 3.40" A: "Only if you hurry up and start running again"


As I turned into the finish straight and saw a finish time of 10.25 I didn’t really feel anything, unlike previous IM finishes which have been quite emotional I mostly felt a little embarrassed but also vaguely proud that I had dragged myself through the marathon again in around 3.40, though unlike St George this was with many more stops and honestly rather less effort both physically and emotionally. Although only 5 minutes off my Ironman PB I had made no effort to chase a new PB as I know I am capable of far quicker and I would rather take the experience and use it to fuel the fire for another day. Based on previous results and talking to a few people after the race the bike times seemed to be around 15 mins slower than usual due to the wind, and while it’s difficult to assess the impact of having tired legs a 5% drop-off equivalent to another 15 minutes on the bike doesn’t seem unreasonable so it is pretty clear where I lost the time on the day.


I didn’t even check the results until the next morning and was surprised to see I was 3rd in my age group (ex pros) which I thought at the time meant I would get an age group podium and an ETU bronze as the race was doubling up as the long course European Champs. However in a rather bizarre awards ceremony they gave the age group awards to pros who finished outside the top 10 and the ETU silver and bronze to people who finished behind me, although to be honest having not been targeting age group awards in any case I couldn’t get too excited about this. One to follow up with British Triathlon at some point. I was also 30th overall and 8th amateur which is well below my expectations but probably a fair assessment of my performance on the day.


Having had a few days to reflect on my performance, I’ll do some more soul-searching about why my legs just weren’t there on the day but I suspect the most likely answer is that having raced three Ironmans, Abu Dhabi long course and two 70.3s since November, travelled extensively and trained harder than I ever have before it was the accumulation of a lot of fatigue which unfortunately chose this race to come to the party. I strongly believe I am capable of a sub 9.45 Ironman let alone a sub-10 and with three months until Kona I have time to get things together. I am resisting the urge to squeeze another fast course in (Challenge Copenhagen anyone?) so sub-10 at Kona will be the target. And if I pull that off the podium is there for the taking. 


Performance aside, the best thing about this race for me was seeing so many old and new friends racing and it was a pleasure to see people both achieve their goals and overcome difficult days to get to the finish. Special mentions to Troy, Paul B and Paul D who beat me into the sub 10 club this time, Matt who had a day not unlike mine but ran much better, and of course Rachel who romped to the win as expected with another awesome performance. I plan to be on better form when we meet again in Kona :)


One Response to “Challenge Roth race report”

  1. Paul B says:

    Sorry to hear it didn’t go to plan, Laura. I’m seeing lots of similarities of the bike course issues in all 3 of your, mine and Matt’s reports! The good thing is that you’ve got clear goals and targets right in front of you, so won’t take too long to dust yourself down and get on with it. If fatigue is the problem then chasing a time at Copenhagen sounds like the worst thing you could do, so right decision I’d say. Nice to meet you properly, and shout if you fancy any ‘summer’ long rides ahead of Wales/Kona
    PS a 3.40 marathon on a bad day is class.