Thursday, 24 July 2014

Challenge Roth
20th July 2014

First of all … apologies for this being so long … I just started typing and it ended up this long! J You can skip down to the race report later in the report!

So … for me this adventure officially started in December when I actually got my place for one of the biggest Ironman distance races on the planet, but unofficially, it had started a few months before that! Having competed in Challenge Barcelona half in May 2013, with a good group from Naas triathlon club, it didn’t take long for the conversation that evening to go in the direction of the full distance! I had always wanted to do one since happening upon IM Busselton in Western Australia while on holidays but the plan was to leave it another few years before taking the plunge to the longer distance … the body or mind wasn’t ready for it yet. However, once the initial entries for Roth had gone out and my training buddy Laura Ward had signed up … I knew I would have to go for it too! I do not think I could have faced her talking about all the training and the race knowing that I wasn’t involved … So that was it… I was going for it! (and yes… I am totally blaming you Laura for getting us into this!) Now, I just had to go about trying to get an entry. Thankfully, Challenge Roth has a number of charity entry slots which open in December and I managed to get myself one of these! (Basically the entry just costs an extra €50 which then goes to charity)

Although I didn’t gain entry to the race until December, training started back on the first of October. As this was going to be my first (and possibly last) attempt at the long distance I decided that I wanted to give it a good go and have no regrets in terms of training at least! I searched around the net for a good training plan and came across one provided by TriFuel. ( Personally this was perfect for me; it was a 36 week program and was nicely detailed. The program goes through each of your workouts in terms of time rather than distance and you work off your heart rate all of the time. The training varied between 10-15 hours a week over the full 9 months, with an average of 11 different sessions weekly. This took a while to get into but after a couple of weeks/months it became second nature and the weeks flew-by. I must admit that some of those long turbo sessions did really test my desire over the winter months and I have to thank Amy Brogan for doing a lot of them with me … sorry for sweating all over the place J! With the passing of the week’s brought the improvement in the weather and the increase in the number of daylight hours. This allowed me to get out more often with others and this massively improved the enjoyment in the training sessions! My racing in the lead up to the race boosted my confidence too with a win and a second place in tri Laois and tri-Athy double Olympic. I had previously never won anything in a triathlon so this was nice! J

Eventually the time rolled around to get ready to head over to Germany! Now … usually I am not a nervous person and I am not overly prone to stress, but I must say, my mind and heart were racing on many occasions on that last week! The anticipation was killing me! I couldn’t wait to get going, but was also scared about what would happen if things went wrong! Unlike anything else I had done previously, I had put 9 months into this one day! All week I was thinking … “hmmm legs feel a bit sore/tight, I wonder if I have injured something” … “throat is sore, I wonder if I am coming down with something” etc. I needed to get over there and meet my fellow nutbags. I personally find talking about the race always helps me. So we met at the airport and headed to Nuremburg. There was a big group of Irish triathletes staying in the same hotel so that made things a lot easier! Kevin Gilleece was staying there as well as a load from Pulse Triathlon club. I think they had about 15 people competing and, as Laura was with Pulse, we got to know them all well over the coming days. Was also nice for a little bit of rivalry J. This was the Thursday before race day so all there was to do was to relax, get some food into us and get to bed early in the hope of training the body to be able to sleep early on the night before the race.

Friday morning arrived and we all headed off towards the swim start in Hilpolstein for some practice. As the swim takes place in a shipping canal, it is only open for swimming between 6 and 9 am on the Friday and Saturday. This, I felt, actually works out quite well as it gets you up in the morning and also makes for a good atmosphere around the swim start. We went off for a nice easy 30 min swim just to loosen out the arms before heading for breakfast and then driving the bike course. The bike course consists of two approx. 85k loops followed by a section into the town of Roth. The loop contained one steep long climb and then a number of smaller climbs throughout. Although known as a quick bike course, while driving it was apparent that it is by no means flat. There are very few places along the course where you would be going along a flat piece of road for any length of time. For anyone who has done the Ring of Kerry charity cycle, it works out as just 50m less climbing than that route with 1713m of climbing over the 180km distance. The road surface looked lovely though! Couldn’t wait to get out on it! After our recce we headed off to the Expo to buy some last minute “necessities” and to register for the race. The expo is class, with all kinds of everything at it. If you need something for the triathlon and you couldn’t find it here … then you are doing it wrong! J Registration was painless and we headed back on the 30 min drive back to the hotel.

Saturday … the day before the race. The plan for this day was to do as little as possible. We had to go back to Roth to pick up our bikes from Ship My Tri Bike ( who had brought them over from Dublin for us. (I must say … these guys were brilliant! Just took all of the hassle away from that side of the event. I would def use them again if I was racing abroad.) After a quick check over we then cycled over to T1. Now, in Challenge Roth there is a split transition. T1 and T2/finish line are about 10 km apart! This does make things quite awkward and would probably be one of the only things that I would say against the race. There were a few instances over the few days where it was a logistical nightmare to get between the two with bikes/cars/bags etc. If you are doing this, a rental car is a must (which we thankfully had). Anyway, once in T1, we racked our bikes up and handed in our run bags for the following day … and that was it … back to the hotel and wait for the morning! We had an early dinner and sheepishly headed to our rooms. You could feel the anticipation building among everyone you spoke to. Just before heading to bed I met up with the parents who had come over to watch the race. Was great to see them … next time I would be on the road!

So, race morning arrived with my alarm sounding at 3:30 am. Thankfully I had actually managed to have a good sleep the night before so actually felt quite good getting up. Quick shower and then down stairs for some breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and some berries. We got a lift to the start with Andrea who was doing the swim relay so that we could leave our car for some of the supporters who were coming later. Spirits were high and I think everyone was looking forward to getting going. We parked the car in the car park (read “field”) and made our way towards the swim start. Now, here is where the stomach started doing summersaults! We were walking over the famous bridge over the swim, looking down onto T1 and the loud speakers were blaring out battle music! Think Gladiator! If that didn’t get you going  … nothing would! Last minute preps were done and then it was just a case of get ready for your wave to be called. Unlike the Ironman brand triathlons, the challenge races are done in waves. I, along with Kevin, was in wave 7, off at 7:15 with the pros going off first at 6:30. At 7:10 we were lead into the water, the final words of encouragement were passed and we were off with a blast of the cannon ….

Swim: 59 minutes 16 seconds

I found the swim to be a very strange but enjoyable one. Prior to the day my hope was to come in around the 57 minute mark (1:30/100m) although I often find it hard to judge this pace, especially on longer swims. Unlike any swim I have done before, the start was weirdly calm. There was no jostling for position at the front and no 200 m of mayhem before it all settled, just a blast of the cannon and each of the 200-300 people in the wave started off at their desired “pace”.  Considering the prestige of the race I was very surprised to find myself leading the wave after the first 100m and continued to do so for the remainder of the swim. I was hoping for some fast swimmers to come by me so I could get a draft, even for a while, but unfortunately that never happened and so I was on “my own” for the entirety (or as on your own as you can be with 2000 others in the water around you at different points). This also didn’t help with my pacing as I kept thinking I must have been going too fast! Anyway, after about 500m I started to catch the slower swimmers from the previous wave and that’s how it was for the next 50 mins. Time passed quickly while the spectators on the side of the canal shouted words of encouragement (or at least I think they were encouragement … German is not exactly my forte) The noise as you passed under the bridge was class and the music from the loudspeakers at T1 reminded you that you were getting close to the end! After the 3.8 km I exited the water (in not the most stylish way .. I must have stumbled 3/4 times due to the dizziness) and made my way to T1 looking at the watch and seeing 59:XX. Sub 1 hour, but not as fast as I wanted … would just have to make it up!

There was a nice moment as I was coming into T1: there was one guy who had drafted off me for the whole 3.8km. Now this guy should give lessons on drafting as I was ducking and weaving the whole time trying to pass the slower swimmers but he never once let go of my feet! So as we came into T1 with our bags he ran up to me grabbed my hand and in an Italian accent just shouted “thank you .. thank you … sub 1 hour … fastest ever! .. THANK YOU!” Made my slow swim a little more bearable J There is talk of the swim being long etc .. but no excuses… did come out feeling fresh as a daisy and could have done it again! Special thanks here must go to coach Mark Waters! I really appreciate the work you put in with me during my time in 3D both pool based and in open water. Also a special mention to Deirdre Fagan who constantly pushed me in every training session I had with the club! It is great to have such great swimmers in the club that you can “try” to catch!

Cycle: 5 hours 20 minutes 50 seconds

After a 2 min 44 sec transition it was out onto the bike course! I think most of this time was spent getting the sun cream lathered onto me by the volunteers as the day had been forecast to be a “toasty” 34 degrees. This heat didn’t bother me too much on the bike due to the movement of the wind but it would definitely come into play later in the day. The road surface on the bike was fantastic and seeing my parents and Shane, Amy, Lorcan and Chris at the start of the bike course really got me in a good place in my head as I headed off on the two loop course.

The next five and a half hours were all about getting the fluids/food and salt tablets in while trying to keep good momentum going. The roads were all rolling but it was possible to carry your speed from one into the next on the majority of the climbs so it was possible to stay in the tri position for the majority of the loop. The support throughout the cycle was class with tables lined with people in every little town/village you passed through and they were not afraid to shout encouragement! As for Solarberg Hill … this has to be seen to be believed! I have never smiled so much on a bike as I did going up that hill! I was nearly in tears both times I went up. The raw emotion coming from everyone as they encourage you up while standing inches from your face! Unbelievable! The banter between the Irish on the course was good too as we passed each other, allowing the mind a bit of a break from the day at hand! After two full laps of the course we then headed towards the town of Roth to begin the marathon phase of the race. I was getting tired at this point and was looking forward to getting off the bike. I felt good for the majority of it, but the last 30 km or so were definitely starting to get to me. Could this be something to do with the fact that Kev Gillecce passed me at 150km … coincidence I say! Pulling in with 5 hours 20 on the clock I was delighted I was planning on 5:30 so this was brilliant!! I knew the run was going to be hot and hard so any extra time I could give myself …

Average speed approx. 33.6 km/hr. Average HR 134 BPM. Food: 2 homemade flapjacks, 3 nutrigrain bars, 4 halves of bananas, around 8 gels and around 8 salt tablets. Water/ISO: shed loads!!!

Run: 3 hours 26 minutes 23 seconds

T2 took 2mins and 23 seconds but the best bit had to be passing your bike to the volunteers at the dismount line! Talk about feeling like a pro! (Granted probably not looking like one .. but sure what the hell). Socks on, runners on, hat on and sun cream on again and it was off onto the road!

The run is a big T where you run out, turn left before doing a 180 degree turn and running out to the far right and then returning to the start again. Starting off I felt good. Legs were behaving themselves but I could not stretch out completely … felt as if the hamstrings were still a bit tight from the bike. So took a few salt tablets and just kept the legs turning over. I passed Kevin a few km’s into the run as he was stopped to go to the toilet but he passed me again soon after. Unfortunately, he got a cramp in one of his hamstrings shortly after (about 5 secs) and I went ahead again. I felt quite comfortable up till around the 17-20km mark at which point things started to get really difficult. The heat in the day really started to take its toll in the run. I am not sure of the exact temperature but it was promised 34 degrees and it didn’t feel much less! I spent the whole run trying to get as much water over my body as I could to try and cool down the core temp. Us Irish are not used to feeling that hot! My average pace started to drop from the pace I had wanted to keep (prior to the start of the day) but I knew the heat would take its toll later and as the sub 10 hour barrier was now a possibility I didn’t want to blow up if I could help it!

So out and back I went passing a few familiar faces and a few more than once as I had to stop for some nature calls 4 times on the run. Thankfully, there were no queues at the portaloos for any of my stops so the time lost could be kept to a minimum … portaloos on a hot day are never your friend! I only took two gels on the run as the stomach was not overly happy so just kept on the water/ISO and then coke after half way. Running away from the finish line again at the half way mark was tough on the mind. All you want to do is slow down, but you know by doing so you will have to be out there for longer J At this point in the race it is 90% a mental battle. I ended up walking 3 of the aid stations just to allow myself a little break but ensured that I got running again as soon as I had drank the water or ISO that I had stopped for! Although selfish, I was happy to be passing people the whole time throughout the run. I think, bar the relay teams who come bounding past, I only got passed by one runner all day so even though I was running below what I wanted to do, I was still ok. The last 4 km of the run it started to get easier again … only on the mind, the body was screaming at this point! At 38 km you were on your way back into town where you knew that you would see your supporters again and this gave me a huge lift. In a bit of a cruel twist, you pass by the finish line with about 2 km to go and head around the beer mile! Unfair! J I did find my friends here though …

The finish was brilliant. A stadium full of people shouting you on! I passed my parents here (or so I saw later in a video … do not remember that!) And I came in under the 10 hour mark! At the start of the year I never would have thought that was possible! Absolutely delighted!

Average Pace: 4min 53 secs. Average heart rate: 143 BPM. Food: 2 gels, approx. 6 salt tablets

Total: 9 hours 51 minutes 34 seconds

So that was it … after 9 months … it was done ... and I was wrecked! The rest of the evening was spent watching others arrive, eating, drinking (alcohol free) and helping a few into the medical tent!
I was a brilliant day and I can honestly say I enjoyed at least 90 % of it J

Now for the thanks! There are loads to thank! First of all, to all at 3D triathlon club, may I just say you are all brilliant! Although I was only in the club for about 16 months I got to know so many of you so well, and that says a lot for all of you! I am sure we will be seeing each other plenty in the future … I will be back for the Christmas party anyway I’m sure! To Vanessa … thanks for the wheels! The sound of them during the cycle kept making me smile and I am sure they significantly helped me reach my goal! Mark and Deirdre, thanks again for the swimming coaching and company respectively!

To the guys in Pulse tri club, cheers for allowing me to join some of your long club rides and for putting up with me over in Roth! J To Anne-Marie, Karen, Aine and Deirdre, thanks for looking after me when I moved to Cork! Without ye finding places to train, and people to train with could have been a lot more stressful!

To Laura, cheers for getting me into the Ironman distance racing! It was great to have someone to bounce off on the bad days/weeks! Jon … cheers for the physio the day after the race! Aoife Lucey! Thanks for the watch! I promise to give it back now after “borrowing it” for the last 2 months! To Shane, Amy Lorcan and Chris! Thanks for coming over to support me! Meant more than you will know to see your faces out on the course! The same must be said for my awesome parents who can now hopefully understand my love of the sport!

Finally thanks to everyone for the messages of support and congratulations that were sent my way throughout the week of the race! They were all very much appreciated!
Now what … sub 9:30? J