Thursday, 19 July 2012

Challenge Roth - race report

better late than never! ( that's what they said to me at the end of the race too ;o) )

Roth is a small town in Bavaria, rural and forested, I consider it to be Germany’s most beautiful region. Cherries and hops grow where the vast pine forests have been cleared. Pretty little villages with their strange looking hop –houses are connected by smooth cycle tracks, and decorated with sculptures from local artists. I was staying with a very interesting Finnish lady who lived alone in a small village on the outskirts of Roth – and had the use of her shopping bike for my excursions into town. It was a lovely spacious and comfortable home, providing just the right balance of peace and privacy and her good company. As a result of airline-induced bike transportation stresses, I’d been unable to follow my training plan for most of race week and would be coming into this race with about half of the training hours that I would usually do and minimal course orientation. Having done less than usual volume in my short race preparation phase, this seemed appropriate and I kept myself and my bike moving with the regular commutes that was necessary to get between the split race venues of Roth and Hilpoltstien, which are about 10 km apart. For future reference, the logistics of this event would be a great deal easier with a car. We had a few impressive thunder-storms during race week, but Sunday’s forecast was optimistic with only a “chance” of storms, and I manage to avoid a soaking whilst riding out and about. Either my luck would hold or I’d get my due on race day! 

A 3 am wake up was required in order to feed myself ,drink coffee for the first time in 2 weeks and get to my 4:20 transfer bus in time. Of course I was at transition with almost 2 hours to spare, which was quite nice as I had a lot of friends racing and once I had set my bike up it was relaxing to go around checking on everyone, wishing them luck and taking a few photos.
 The race start was at 6:30 for the Pros and those age –groupers who expected to go “sub- 9hr” and win a portion of their entry fee back. I really like that idea of reward good performances: I suppose that without Kona slots on offer,  it’s the Challenge equivalent – though rather biased towards the under 40 year –old males.

This method of wave allocation suited me great though – I reckoned that most age-groupers gunning for a sub -9 would be likely to be looking to get most of their advantage on the bike, and not swimming like the Pro packs. This usually equals a good draft for me! And so it was – I seemed to be starting very near the front, but I’m used to the drill – head down, stay calm, swim like mad and get sucked along in the jet stream as the pack stretches out over the first 300m. I don’t tend to even look where I’m going, just enjoy the ride, although “enjoy” is not really a very accurate description as it’s pretty unnerving being unable to breathe for the first 3 minutes and I’ll often loose goggles or even cap in the churn. Once that settled I found myself to be nicely surrounded by other swimmers, including the red (male) and white (female) caps of other pros which always makes me feel a bit better, and got into a relaxed but focused 3 –stroke breathing rhythm never too far from a pair of feet for the first half of the swim. After the first turn I picked up the effort to attach myself to a small group a little further ahead, and the occasional tap that I received on my toes indicated that I’d brought a couple of friends along with me. There were brief periods of 2/2/3 breathing during this 500 m effort, and again coming towards the finish, but on the whole it was one of the most comfortable swims I’ve done and so was fairly pleased to have passed through the change tent with only an hour on the clock.

My bike was looking pretty solitary in the Pro-pen racking area, which makes transition easy ;o) I was really looking forward to this part of the race (the ride, I means, not transition!)  the most – I had been riding really well in training, loving my Enve-Powertap wheel-set, and had not yet seen the bike course but had heard great things about how super-fast it is. YEEEE HAAAA!!

And that’s just how I felt for the first 80 or 90 km. Having set out far too hard in my last Ironman race in Florida, I was deliberately holding myself back as it seemed very comfortable to ride above my target power. The first of the two laps there were other riders around. One or two female pros and some of the faster male age-groupers, riding with enough space between us that the motorcycle refs didn’t have much work on their hands, but close enough to provide some pacing and motivation. Roads were closed and it felt great to be bowling along in a  “pace line”. It was really quite windy and on some of the (many) exposed sections I really had to question how on earth this had a reputation for being a super-fast course! We reached the famous Solar hill climb and it was as spectacular as the photos suggest – a complete wall of noise and bodies, parting just sufficiently to allow a bike through as we approached. I would have been more comfortable riding this short incline much faster than the fellas that I found myself caught behind here -they seemed to want to savor the attention, passing was impossible and I could not make my requests for them to “get a friggin’ mve on” heard over the crowd’s loud cheering. Perhaps my legs would be thankful later on.

Around about the end of the first lap, things started to feel a lot tougher, as they always do. I deployed a Viper Boost gel and picked up a bar from an aid station. By this point the course had been joined by the relay cyclists, which provided some fresh legs to help pace off. The roads had become significantly more busy with cyclists and we were passing one another almost constantly. This certainly gives an advantage in both keeping the effort up as required for these “moves”, and an undeniable benefit of shelter from the wind as I was passing groups at  time. The fact that frequently those who I’d passed would come back by me a short while later seems to demonstrate this. Oddly there was very little sign of the motor cycle refs during this second lap. Not that I saw anything which I felt was obvious cheating, and perhaps they felt that with this many competitors on the roads, crowding could hardly be helped.

I have to say that after two laps and what seemed like constant headwinds, I felt pretty beaten up and glad to be off the bike after 5hr and 17minutes. It was a little longer than I’d hoped to be riding , but I think many people felt the same way and the windy conditions had a lot to do with that. I was 6hr20 into the race, but a 3:20 marathon would still bring me a PB- and I was hoping to run a little quicker than that.
The atmosphere that the supporting crowds in the centre of Roth created certainly helped me to forget the stiffness in my legs and glutes, the run course then took us on a lovely shaded trial through a small forest which was lined with large paintings by local kids and artists draped from trees on either side. It was wonderful and I felt great. I was pretty confident that the km markers would be reliable at this superbly organized race, I had decided against wearing a HR monitor or GPS and would be running on “feel” and checking splits on my stopwatch. The splits looked reasonable for the first 8 or so, I knew that sometime soon I’d see Rachel coming back towards town ahead of the race and she’d be followed by Steven and Mat leading their age-groups….my sister and other friends would be some way behind them, so that occupied me and kept me focused on running well and looking sharp.

I had only covered about 8km when I started to find it very hard to maintain even my sensible starting pace of 4:45/km on a dead flat path. “Looking sharp” already felt like more of a pretense than it should, and once Steven and I had crossed for the first time, I let go of that and allowed my pace to drop even further. About a week has passed between the race an my finally sitting down to finish this race report, and it’s now hard to recall exactly where the problem was – I did not feel it was nutrition, I had no pains in my legs – just nothing in there to ‘give’. I think that I simply ran out of training, the lack of long runs in my brief race build-up period was becoming apparent. It was really an ideal run course – a single lap of a T-shaped course ,most of it was on the canal path – plenty wide enough for the amount of traffic that was out there at that time and constant company from people running the opposite way. This really helps when you have so many friends doing the race. Each  end of the T was a little loop in a small village who’s population had come out to bang drums and pans in the sun! So we never had to run the same stretch twice, but had plenty of significant markers in the race to aim for. But, for me – the perfect course and great conditions couldn’t do anything to disguise the fact that I was having really quite a lousy day of it, and tried not to think about those target times just slipping away as I walked the aid stations ...barely jogged between for a 3:40-something marathon time.

Although painful, the final 2km loop around the town square of Roth, in front of a “mile” of trestle beer tables and jolly Bavarians in the sunshine was an absolute joy. Certainly a highlight of the day and perhaps my racing career given that I was not going to come away from this race feeling very proud of my performance.  But whatever I now feel when reflecting back on that race, at the moment of crossing the finish line, I really did feel extremely happy and proud as I do each time I get myself over the line at the end of an “iron-distance” race.

If it were easy, I don’t think I’d be as interested!!

Here's how my race broke down, with  a little analysis - 
Swim – 1:00:23  About average for me, based on what the 5 fastest female swimmers of the day swam)  
Bike – 5:17:54 About average for me based on the fastest 5 female bike splits, but I did record a new best average power for an IM distance race thanks to the winds! 
Run – 3:42:53  One of my worst ever run performances, over 18 minutes slower than an “average” run time for me would have  (woulda, coulda, shoulda!) been based on the fastest female runs on the day, and of course the element of my race that I am most disappointed, but in fairness least surprised, with.

A marginally better than average time in each of these splits, or a better than average result in any one along with just average times in each of the others would have resulted in a new PB. So, despite the windy conditions on the day, it’s still a fast course, and one that I’m pretty keen to return to with some “proper” fitness! 

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