Challenge Roth 2017 Race Report

Intro

I went to Roth with an objective to have a new Personal Best in full distance triathlon. I will be happy with anything better than 14:22:58. This was what I told everyone, but secretly I was hoping for a sub 12 hour finish. I knew it was a tall order with only 8 weeks of training and missing a lot of sessions in the last 4 weeks during the month of Ramadan. The training during summer in Qatar and during Ramadan was really hard, almost impossible. Luckily I had a great support from my wife. She joined me in some of the long runs and long rides and she even bought me a Wahoo Kickr bike trainer so I could train at home (I promise I'll pay her back later). I also had a great support from MAD Triathlon, PSY Tribuddies and Project Banana cyclists which certainly make it a little bit easier. Thank you so much guys. You know who you are and I cannot thank you guys enough.


Training made easier when you have company.. thank you guys

Thank you for the send off dinners
Pre-race

6 July 2017

I took the train from Munich airport to Nuremberg Central with a change at Munich Central. It was really convenience and straight forward. From Nuremberg station, it was just 10 minutes walk to Holiday Inn where I met with Raz. We made plan to go to the registration together. I knew Raz from Challenge Iskandar Puteri last year and being friend in Strava but never really spoke until few days before my flight. Unlike me Raz was saying that Roth is his B race and he wont be putting too much of pressure on it.

At the registration we met another Malaysian participant, David Zi Xiang and his friend Sean a Malaysian currently working in Germany. We became friends straight away. This is one thing I love about Malaysians abroad, we would be friends like we have known each other for years regardless of our race and belief. So all the talks about racism and religion bullshit at home are just politics. That's why I love sports and hate politics. Sports unite politics divide.


The Malaysian Mafia
The registration process was as smooth and efficient as I heard and read in the past race reviews. After that we spent some time wandering around the expo and had our lunch. Challenge Roth expo is the largest I have seen in triathlon. It was set up like a big weekend market in the triathlon park. You can find everything your heart desire there. Raz also introduced me with Bang Trinh from Vietnam. Bang is the race director for IM70.3 Danang. Very friendly guy.


Waiting for our food. Thanks Sean for being our care taker and manager

Raz was kind enough to give me a lift to my hotel in Hilpoltstein. The hotel, Pension Krone is a beautiful quant little bed and breakfast located in the Hilpoltstein old town. It was conveniently located 2 km away from the swim start. The owner of the hotel, Peter Schlenk was very helpful and accommodating. I knew him from Rupert Chen who stayed there last year. I met David Tay from Singapore during check in and he too knew Rupert Chen. Clearly he is a very famous guy.

I took my bike for bike service at the famous bike shop, Radsport Bushstaller. Fritz the bike fitter is one of the best in Europe. The shop was really busy with athletes already lining up for bike service. I will only get my bike tomorrow.


Radsport Bushstaller
7 July 2017

Today the Malaysian mafia and I went for swim practice in the morning followed by a quick bike and run. Together we went to the pasta party in the evening. It must have been the biggest pasta party in world. There were thousands of competitors and their supporters at the big dining hall but again the queue was quick and efficient. They served all kind of pasta and German desserts. Very yummy but too bad there was no gluten free choices available. So I had pasta (fingers crossed).


Swim Practise


A picture with a famous local during bike practice


The Malaysian Mafia with David Tay of Singapore
8 July 2017

I had breakfast at the hotel with David Tay and a friendly guy Arno from Ireland (again no gluten free choices and I had toast. Maybe Germans don't have celiac). I later joined them for bike practice and run. After the run, I met with Stephanie and her daughters Jodie and Maddie from Canada, Wibke (Germany/Canada), Ralf and Angela (Germany). While we were chatting suddenly a familiar guy and his entourage walked by. It was Timo Bracht with his parents and crew. Wow I was starstruck, we all were. Turns out his parents were staying at the same hotel. I have been watching the past race videos and he always made it to the podium at Roth. This will be his final big race. This legend has won 9 Ironman titles, and won Challenge Roth in 2014, but he was very warm and humble. Off course we didn't missed the opportunity for a picture with the legend.


One with the legend himself Timo Bracht


Pension Krone Crew
We did the bike checked in in the afternoon and rested for the remainder of the day until we met for carbo loading in the evening. It is true that sports unite people. This is exactly what happen here. I easily make friends with the Pension Krone crew and I felt so blessed to have met so many nice people since I got here. The Malaysian mafia and the Pension Krone crew. They are all friendly and genuine it makes this experience even more special and one I will never forget.


Carbo loading with the Pension Krone crew
9 July 2017

Race Day

I couldn't sleep last night. It was probably the worse pre-race anxiety I ever had. I think I fell asleep around mid night and already woken up at 2 am. It is true what people say, you will feel more pressure in your second IM or marathon than the first one.Tired from trying to fall asleep, and worry of not waking up,  I just got up, went to the toilet then forced down a bowl of oats. I joined the Pension Krone crew for breakfast at 4:30am but I could hardly eat anything else. We left for the Swim Start at 5am because the ladies had early start.


Breakfast on race morning
I started in wave 17, the second last wave at 7:50. The two hour wait was an agonizing one. I forgot how many times I had to visit the portaloo to pee. The sound of the canon every 5 minutes at the start of each wave makes it more nerve wrecking. It was not a small canon either. The thunderous sound of the canon would make my heart stop beating for seconds every time. I just couldn't bear with it anymore, I even peed in my wetsuit while waiting.


The Malaysian Mafia chilling out before our start time
Swim

The swim at Challenge Roth was held in a shipping canal. It's fresh water was cloudy but reasonably clean. We swam between two bridges in a simple out and back formation. The whole length and the two bridges were packed with supporters. It was like swimming in a giant swimming pool. I positioned myself in the middle of the canal so I would have the most direct and shortest swim or so I hoped. I started together with Raz. We planned to work together in the swim, but I know it would be very difficult. I knew Raz is a better swim-biker than me so I doubt our plan could work. True enough I lost him in just a few hundred meters. The canal was quite busy with 200 people starting at the same time in each wave unlike 4 or 5 in rolling start at Ironman races. I tried to draft but it was really hard to do in the murky water and everyone seems to be too fast for me to draft. I continued holding my line and swam at my own rhythm. It was nice and comforting almost. I forgot that the relays started right after my wave and you know the swimmers in relay teams are real swimmers not triathletes. I soon found myself being swum over by drove after drove of relay swimmers.

It was like swimming in a giant swimming pool
Where else can you get the crowd this big during the Swim Leg of a triathlon?
It was chaos and I lost my rhythm every time someone swam over me. Well I was in their path and they probably cant see me either. I drank a lot of canal water no mater how hard I tried to avoid it knowing how sensitive my tummy is and we only drink bottled water in Qatar, I hope I wont get sick later in the race. It really hard for me to enjoy the swim despite the crowd support. I also felt swimming in fresh water was a lot heavier than in the sea. The swim felt like eternity and I just cannot wait to get it over and start cycling. I completed the swim in 1:36:54 (17 minutes behind my target time) but I remained calm and said this is not the end of the world and certainly not the end of my Challenge Roth experience.   

Looking at the split, I said This is not the end of the world,  let it go
Target Swim+T1 = 1:24:10
Actual Swim+T1 = 1:41:58
Delay = 0:17:28

Bike
I was contemplating on making up the 17 minutes delay from the swim on the bike, but on the other hand I knew I have to ride very conservatively if I were to capitalise on my strength which is the run later. Roth is particularly well known for its fast bike course. Well that was the impression I got from everyone I met but I remained sceptical as I did not have the chance to ride/ recon the bike course before the race. The bike started with a 5km fast and twisty gradual downhill to Eckersmuhlen. I was hitting 37-39 kmh without any effort. Wow may be it is a fast course after all I thought. Then suddenly my bike felt heavy. There wasn't any incline but it my speed went from 39 kmh to 20s. I even stop and checked my rear brake callipers. Then I realised that it was the head wind and false flats climb from km5 to km 20 including the 1st. major climb at Heideck on km 18.

It was a fast first 5 km or so, I did't even have time to properly secure my cycling shoe straps,.
It was then a nice downhill for 15km until the town call Greding. After a sharp turn to the left, we went straight into the monster of all climbs in Challenge Roth. The steepest 1km part of the climb was lined with spectators and music DJ it was like a party. Once you left the party area, you thought the climb was over, Not! You continue climbing for another 8 km to Osterberg. There's no way I could prepare for this climb coming from flat Doha. I continued spinning and taking it easy maintaining power output around 110W as planned.

What goes up must come down. Once the torture over, it was fun time.  The 5 kilometer of steep downhill with three hairpin turns to Obermassing was not for the faint hearted. It was fun but scary at the same time. I remember how Jan Frodeno overcooked a corner last year at one of these turns. I need to improve on my bike handling skills taking corners and going fast downhill if I want to make up on the lost time on the climb. There were 3 more decent climbs in the undulating 20 km before we arrived in Hilpoltstein and the highlight of the bike course, the Solar Hill.

You could hear the loud noise of the crowd cheering and the music as you enter the town. Then the street gets crowded with spectators as you get closer to the foot of the climb and then you'll find yourself in front of a sea of people, you wonder how would you go through this mob. Then like an automatic door, the crowd would make a tunnel just enough for you to go through. The noise was deafening. You have people tapping on your back, shouting 'up up up' in your face and the DJ even announced your name as you came up the hill. It was euphoric. I cried a little to be honest. I was imagining this for the past year. I saw the videos, read the stories and race reports but nothing come close to what Im saw. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here racing this legendary race myself. You have to experience it yourself to understand what it feels like. I would come back to Roth every year for this.     

The most exciting spot in triathlon, Solar Hill

Up Up Up.. 
After Solar Hill, it was a nice 10km undulating course back to the bike start near the canal and we repeat the same course for the second lap. It was noticeably less support on the second lap. Probably most of them already went to the run course. I knew my strategy for taking it easy on the bike was a correct one since I have been overtaking many tired cyclist on the first climb towards Heideck. I kept overtaking other cyclists even after the monster climb at Greding. I was very happy but my happiness was short lived. I started feeling the gag reflex on my throat and started to feel sick. I even had to stop three times after Solar hill to throw up. I think I threw up 3 buckets full of the nutrition and water I took on the bike. I really have no answer for this. The only explanation I think was the canal water I ingested during the swim. Yvonne Van Vlerken had the same issue last year. The last 10km of the bike was a labour. My tummy wasn't very happy and I cant take any more nutrition. I just kept spinning until I made it to the T2 in 6:37:30 (25 minutes off my target of 6:12)

Target Swim + Bike = 7:36:34
Actual Swim + Bike = 8:19:27
Delay = 0:42:53

Run

I was so eager to start running as I entered the T2. I had one of my quickest transitions ever (1'29") that was faster than some of my short distance races. The total time on my watch showed that I was already 8:20 hours into the race when I left T2. I knew then my second objective for a sub 12 hour finish was already out of reach. There's no way I could run a 3:40 marathon post 180km bike and 3.8km swim on empty tank when my marathon PB on fresh legs and happy tummy is 3:41. Ok calm down, shoot for the stars, because if you missed you may still ended up on the moon they say. So I set a new target to finish in sub 12:30. My mind was so pre-occupied trying to subtract 12:30 minus 8:20 when I saw David Zi Xiang coming from the opposite direction, he didn't look too fresh, well who does. I turned my head and shouted 'Go David' and then I saw the 10km marker. Bloody hell! He was already 10km ahead no wonder he looked so jaded. I would too.

Ok where was I? Yes the sub 12:30. To do that, I need to run a 4:10 marathon. That's sound reasonable. I could do that if I can maintain a 5:55/km pace. Not long after that, I saw Raz. He looked great and a lot fresher than David. We tap each others hand and went the opposite direction. He was 8km ahead of me at the time. I was running a 5:30 pace and felt easy. I wanted to speed up but thank God my head was in control of my legs. Well sure because there's nothing crazy on the elevation yet. It was undulating and flat all the way to the turn around at the canal at km6. Looking at how fresh I was in comparison to David and Raz, it may not be impossible for me to catch them. Then a new self-belief clouding my brain. I was imagining how Joe Skipper ate all the other pros last year on the run, all except Jan Frodeno. I was chanting 'I am Joe Skipper, I am Joe Skipper' like a mantra and started over taking runners one by one. I ate the other competitors and grew stronger. I even make the sound 'Ngap' like Pacman as I went passed them.  

Whatever happen, just keep calm and be happy  
The course gets more hilly just before Roth and especially the long stretch in the woods towards the turn around point in Buchenbach. I saw Raz again coming down the hill as I was going up. He was at km 17 and I was at km 14, the hills must have slowed him down so much. I didn't see David but he must be just in front of Raz. I really did not expect the run course would be this hilly. I was expecting the same flat fast course Roth was renown for. However, I can understand why they changed the run course. This new run course connects the industrial suburb of An der Lande, City of Roth and Buchenbach town. It was pretty much lined up with spectators especially around the center of the towns. There were many hotspots with DJs and music turning this race into a big street party. Roth may no longer be as fast course as it used to and I assume both Chrissie Wellington's and Jan Frodeno's records may stand for years to come; but making the course more accessible for the spectators and in return creating this fantastic atmosphere is good enough justification. The small lake in Buchenbach where we turn was like Solar hill. It was euphoric. There were posters made by the school children for every countries participating placed around the lake. I kept looking for the poster for dedicated Malaysian athletes, and there it was. It was inscribed with 'Selamat Maju Jaya' with a Malaysian flag painted so beautifully. My eyes welled. I felt loved and welcomed. I was happy. I never thought I could feel this happy while racing a full distance triathlon.This simple act goes a long way. I came across Steph. She was walking and clearly her injured foot gave way. I gave her a quick hug and I really hope she can make it.

I took Immodium in the morning to stop any need to poo during the race. It did the job but has caused my tummy to bloat. I started the run with empty stomach after vomited three times on the bike, but I could not take any more gels without getting gag reflex so I only took watermelon at every aid station. I felt worse than my 1st Ironman in South Africa. I stop vomiting but now I felt the urgent need to poop. The only problem was, I couldn't. The immodium held my colon like a dam. I look so bloated in all of my pictures. I felt like a nine months pregnant woman running but instead of carrying a baby I carried a reservoir full of excrement. I fart every other minute, sometimes so loud that I got a look from the people I over took. Well who cares.  I felt so weak as the race progressed. Now the pace was not sustainable anymore. I gave up and started walking up all the inclines and aid stations. Halfway into the run I felt that the dam is finally breaking and I can feel the discharge seeping through the dam gate. That's when I made the biggest mistake for not stopping at the porta loo and dump the payload because I took the 'Keep moving forward' principle too literally. I had to hold my fart and squeeze my butt at the same time! I can no longer take watermelon and now switched to coke and red bull. Then I started to burp non stop. It was such a relief. At least I could release the gas from my mouth rather than my rear. I still need to keep squeezing my butt though.

It is hard not to enjoy the run course with amazing support from the crowd

I got second wind and new found energy maybe from the coke or red bull and was able to run comfortably-ish again. I overtook Raz at around KM 30, he looked spent. I told him to keep running and walk only on the inclines and aid stations and he acknowledged it. Not far now I just have to run through Roth going up Buchanbach and back to Roth and this will all over. I saw Wibke coming back into Roth on route to her 1st Iron distance finish. She looked strong and fresh. We exchanged hug and I congratulated her on the job well done. The second time climbing up Buchenbach was a lot harder. Here I saw David walking down the hill. He really looked like he has called it a day. I told him to keep running as he has less than 5 km to go. I wasn't doing too well myself. I felt sluggish and tired. I stop looking at my watch and just kept trucking with whatever I have left in my tank. Maybe it was adrenaline or maybe it was happiness or love I wasn't quite sure, but I somehow kept moving. I overtook David, 2 km before the finish. I asked him to run with me but he said he couldn't so I kept going.

The final 2 km felt like eternity but I could feel the energy from the finish line pulling me closer. The finish line in Roth was like no other. It was so special. Housed in a purpose built arena complete with all the pomp, bells and whistles. It is called the Home of Triathlon for this very reason. It literally felt like coming home from a long journey and it was. I took out the Jalur Gemilang that was tucked in my trisuit and held the flag up high behind as I was running towards the stadium. I saw Sean near the entrance and he gave me a high five. There is no other way to describe how I felt than happy. I felt happy, loved and blessed running the last 200m inside the arena. Jalur Gemilang behind me and the crowd cheering. I crossed the finishing arch and stop my watch. My marathon time was 4:31:08 (18 minutes behind my target 4:13). It may not be a sub 12 hour but my 12:52:06 is still a new PB. Mission accomplished.

A volunteer put on the  medal on my neck and asked if I was ok. I clearly looked sick. She asked if I need medical attention? I told her Im fine. But she asked me to go to the medical tent in the recovery area. I hobbled my way to the recovery area and collected my green street wear bag. I badly need a shower and change into a clean shirts.


The best feeling ever. It is magical, that's how I would describe the feeling running in the finish arena at Roth.
I took a quick shower and felt really cold. I was shivering. I felt so weak. I even struggled to put on my cloth. Then I felt an urgent need to poop. I found a clean porta loo and all hell broke loose in there. It was a mix of water and watermelon slushy. I felt so weak and fell asleep in the toilet. I must have spent half an hour in there. I woke up when I received a text from Arno asking where I was. He and all the other house mates were sitting at a big park outside the arena. I went around the arena and lost my way. I felt so weak and then I found a bench under a tree next to the incoming finish chute just outside the arena. I sent a text to Arno and told him where I was. I laid down and waited to be rescued by the search party Arno, Jodie and Maddie and dozed off. It took them a while to find me as the bench was on the other side of the finish area, but they did and took me to the recovery area where the others were waiting. Everyone from the hotel made it and everyone with a story to tell. We waited until finish of the fireworks before heading to the T2 to check out our bikes and take the shuttle bus back to T1 where the car was parked. David Tay helped me with the bike and the girls helped me with my bags. I dont know what would happen to me if not because of these great new friends I met.

No sub 12 hours but I am very happy with the result. Challenge Roth is more than just a race.
Closing

Challenge Roth really lived up to its name and reputation. No wonder people keep coming back year after year to do this race. Thank you Challenge Family, the volunteers and my new friends for the beautiful memories. You guys left a lasting impression on me. 10 days have passed and I am already missing it. It is so profound I have lump in my throat as I am writing this. If you're only planning to do just one full distance triathlon in your life and you dont mind the IM title, then please do it at Challenge Roth. It is one of a kind.

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