Challenge Roth: a spectators race report

An opportunity was posted on the Tri Club San Diego mailing list for a writing audition, where the winner would be featured in a major film documentary about triathlon.  This is only for those who never done a 140.6 iron distance race.  I thought I’d pass this on to my wife Bessy, whose hobby is writing, as a nice little challenge test for her to hopefully just be considered.  She took it further than just consideration, as she won the free entry and took on the challenge of the race – Challenge Roth in Germany.  She thought great, plenty of time to get ready for the race next year in 2015… only to get an email back saying it is to be done in 2014, giving her only 8 weeks to train!  Jumping into it, zero to sixty (she took a break after the Boston Marathon) for the training load in no time.  We booked the flight which at last minute was pricey (and we still have to pay to ship the bike), but to save money would rent a mini van and camp in it on the race site.

camp out in mini van

This totalled $5000 for the both of us, which hurts our wallets pretty bad, but you must understand the magnitude of this race in particular as it is the Kona equivalent for Europeans.  Another incentive is that she is being filmed by the same people who made the movies “Spirit of the Marathon” 1 & 2 that was released in theaters nationwide.  The triathlon version is to follow Bessy, Mirinda Carfrae (2 time female Kona champion), Luke McKenzie (2013 2nd place at Kona overall), and Rudy the double amputee from Challenged Athletes Foundation.  I am sure you get the “big picture” now.

Para Olympic athlete Rudy Garcia

The training is going well, we even did a full 140.6 simulation with other tri club members in the Chula Vista marina & bay shore bikeway area.  It was possible thanks to the assistance of Thao Vu and catering from Dawn of T3 Cafe.  The following Sunday we scheduled a reverse 70.3 as taper.  Finish of the event and all we do is plan to lounge around like cats, but we get a last minute invite to a BBQ a measily 3 miles away.  Not wanting to be anti social with our training, we decide to head over via bike – junk miles to people but the body does count them.  The price was to be paid next day, as Bessy caught the flu to be bed ridden for our flight and first few days in camp.  Zero training possible and losing fitness everyday, you would think rest would be the life saver.  Nope, the jet lag from time zone change and longer daylight hours in Germany lead us to almost no sleep (dawn 5am and dusk 10pm). Fate twists the dagger into her wounds more when the airline loses the bike case!  The stress is overwhelming, I hear her cry in the middle of the night during our attempts to sleep.  Luckily, 2 days before the race we drive to the airport and the airline had the bike waiting for us.

Bessy and Mirinda – in her dirdnl outfit

Change is in the air for the good as race festivities approach.  Packet pick up day there is a party where the amatures get to mingle with the pros – who are wearing the German outfits “lederhosen” & “Dirdnl”, having bratwurst, pretzels, and of course bier.  Even big names not scheduled to race came out such as Macca.

Yum Yum in my tum tum, brats, burgers, and pretzels bigger than your head
TCSD meet up

It was also were we met up with other TCSD members, such as Markus and Sabine Hofmann who were participating in the race.  They were staying with the 2nd place female from last year Julia Gajer.  I am pretty sure we were first place USA club in the race, ha ha.

The race begins in a shipping canal where they had specific times allowed to swim.  We got the chance to be preparing with Luke McKenzie prior to the swim.  He is very down to earth as he chatted with us, but that ended when he took off in the water.  This course is where the 140.6 world record times where set – for men Andreas Raelert with 7:41 and for women Chrissie Wellington with 8:19.  We preview the bike course after the swim in the minivan (Bessy is still not feeling well, and it is very hot and human like Kona).  It is quite baffling that the records were set here, as there are two steep climbs you must do twice that are larger than Mt Soledad.  Yet there is climbing, many mentioned it could be because of the road conditions.  The Germans maintain roads very well with no pothole or crack to be seen anywhere.  Plus the stacked field of pros pushes people beyond their limits – similar to what happens in the Carlsbad 5000: not an easy course but fast times.  Mirinda Carfrae is chasing Chrissie’s ghost and eyeing the record.  The run is not easy either, with the final 5k stretch on twisty cobble stone road lined with people on benches eating brats, drinking biers, and giving high fives to the athletes inches away.  Here is the moment you see another factor in pushing yourself – the fan support.  Triathlon is very big in Germany, broadcasting most events on the live TV.  Even Luke himself said the crowds of people and festivities are bigger than Kona. Speaking of festivals, there is a large DJ dance party and past party on Friday.  We make a decision to opt out and enjoy mingling and relaxing with other campers taking part in the race.

Dance party friday for the athletes and fans. Europe is famous for its large outdoor summer festivals

Race day cometh, I awake with no alarm exactly at the time we planned to…. and in a strange coincidence I see all the other race zombies at 4am moving about as if they awoke on no alarm clock too.  I shuttle Bessy over where we do our routine of a quick prayer and kiss goodbye as this is a large venue that I wont be able to do this with her at the start.  Most of the spectators have bikes to get them from each named hotspot viewing area (“solar hill”, “bier mile”, etc), as I have no bike my plan is to do an ultramarathon (50k) to spectate and take pictures.  The Challenge Family race organizers did make this race very spectator friends via the hotspots and even provided child day care.  I watch Bessy do her swim and take photos while cheering her on, and even out of water she cant hear me as she is so determined to do well.  After the swim I run to the hotspot “solar hill” – a mile or more long steep hill climb with fans filled in the street, giving riders less than 1 yard while cheering them on and giving some a pat on the back similar to what happens in Tour De France hill climbs.

Into the start of solar hill
Fans up close and personal on solar hill

There were so many exciting points like this but I also wanted to see the winners finish so I bail on my viewing plan and run to the finish stadium where the last 1/2 mile has a red carpet finish.

Finish stadium

The winner ended up being Timo Bracht at 7:56 – a time 6 minutes slower than predicted as a result of the heat.  This meant Mirinda did not get her goal of breaking the record even though she was in first place for females.  She continues to chase the ghost of Chrissie, which makes me wonder what she will say in the movie about the situation.  I meet up with my cousin and friends from when I lived in Europe to go on an cheer Bessy on the final 5k finish.  We had no smart phones so we had to make an approximation when she would come in, and we being to worry as the clouds thicken for a thunderstorm.  At first rain drop we finally see her coming in strong like a bullet train.

Bessy comes into the final stretch lined with people drinking biers along the course.

I start running along side her jumping over tables and other obstacles while taking action shots.

Action shot

She sprints into the stadium finish as the thunder roars with a time of 11:46.  I jump over the fence to hug her on this unbelievable, over coming the odds finish. Luckily the film crew was there to catch the moment and allow me to do this otherwise I would have been tackled by the security guards.  We relax at the finish party with family and friends, when the clock hits 15:00 that fireworks go off signalling the end of the race.  The next morning at a random location breakfast cafe, I was wearing a “Go Tri Club” t-shirt, Luke McKenzie spots me and comes over to chat.  He didnt have the race as planned because of an asthma attack during the swim (it was humid), but pushed hard enough when he heard the helicopter following Mirinda so he did not want to get chicked and picked up the pace on the run.  He finished 10th and said he had a great time overall.

Bessy and Luke filmed earlier in the festival

Overseas Travel Tips:

-  The price we paid to transport bike is almost the same as to rent a local one.  Mind as well rent to take the hassle out of lugging a big box around (you need to recheck it in at passport control on connecting flights) that may get lost. You must make sure to RSVP one 6-12 months in advance.

- Make sure when connecting from international to other domestic flights to give at least a 3 hour lay over because you need to go through passport control and security check once again.  It was not fun doing 7 minute miles with a bike box over a mile distance to make your flight.  Being triathletes we made quick transitions in security check, but I felt bad for 2 elderly females who had no chance of making it.

- Do take advantage of the train system in Europe, which can be as fast as an airplane in terms of total travel and check in time.

- Water is NOT a right outside of the USA, so you will have to buy bottles of water as there are no fountains, even in airports.


Inaugural “UnOfficial Man” Report

What started as a race-simulation for my upcoming iron distance race… With 2 weeks of coordinating with Thao Vu & Roger, this plan became “UnOfficial Man”:  a free 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 run  on dedicated bike/pedestrian paths split into various combination options open to all ages.


  • 25 people registered to participate in combos of the disciplines
  • a finish clock
  • SS Program Guide (do just one part or, 70.3: 2 loops, 140.6: 4 loops
  • catered dinner after
  • a mini documentary of the transition area and finish line.

What did I learn?

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A couple of coaches

“You are not my coach!” rings in my ears from her.  Officially I am not, but I can’t hold back the urge to give advice because I went through the suffering she is going through or about to endure.  The intention is to protect her because results only come from suffering in this sport which just leads to burn out where one does not want to participate anymore.  Since it keeps our minds and bodies in sync via the lifestyle, which includes eating habits, sleep and other routines – when we train and race together.  Yes, I probably do cross the line when I lay a guilt trip on her for sub-par performance, missed workouts, or sleeping in – because I know this affects our time together.

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Unwritten Rules of the Road

Bessy is training for something big. One classic workout for determining fitness is a 100-mile ride with 3 mile at pace run after; helps check-off skills needed like nutrition, climbing & descending calmly, road awareness, tire changing, and more.

6am with our race bikes we ride 25 miles to the Triathlon Club of San Diego’s Saturday Del Mar Starbucks ride. We get there with time to spare, and roll with the A group which had some elite Swiss female athletes riding.  Unfortunately Bessy has to be in work by 12, so we break off and head down to a route we know we can finish within time. Bessy gets a flat, and we lose time. Unwritten rule 1) Since flat tires cost time from your workout plan, considering rarely you burn as many calories per mile on a bike as a run, if you have extra time to run instead of biking, do it. On average every run mile you burn 100 calories, while you need 4 bike miles to match that.

After 44 miles a quick pit stop at Girard Gourmet, which has cinnamon pecan rolls which pair well with smoked salmon.

Roll out for another 16  where things change.  Bessy strays away on a different route, yet we are on path to the same meeting place.  Time is running short for her so she has to bail at a total of 60 but still ran 3 to work.  As for me, I am going through a green light when all of a sudden this guy makes a LEFT on RED, right into me.  Boom, there goes my bike, I am ok. I stop my Garmin, cause that shit is important yo.

My bike is a goner with the gears and derailers smashed in, wheels bent beyond what a truing can do.  I was just 4 miles from home!  So getting home and finishing the workout is still on my mind.  Many witnesses were there to see the accident.  Someone calls 911, as he is handing me insurance his hand is shaking.  I am just glad he stopped, typically in San Diego it is a hit and run.  He states he is willing to pay for the bike….  Well the damage is so much a new one (of similar value) will be needed, otherwise lawyers, insurance and police would lead to a bigger mess for him, and long wait for a new bike for me (albeit, one 3x the value) – I didn’t want to wait and just wanted to get home and finish my workout!  We negotiated he will buy me a new bike, and we were not to far from Moment Cycle Sport.  While others may look to this as fortune I rather would have kept my old bike – I built it myself, road from San Diego to San Francisco in 4.5 days, etc.

Kestrel Talon road bike modded to tri bike.
Well, at least it matches my new fearless kit. Felt B16

So I get the bike, shake the guys hand and thank him for not running, and ride home.  I had left our car at the dealer to get it repaired for smog, so I still had 30 miles to go. I switch to my beater bike, cause I don’t want to risk it again. This brings me to unwritten rule #2) don’t use your race bike in urban areas!  I ride up, and another busy area where I plan to go straight, next to me a right turn only lane. It is red… yet again an incident!  This guy doesn’t even stop and does a wide turn (I am on the left to continue straight, all legal) and he runs over my foot!  It wasn’t that bad, I just continued on with adrenaline still flowing. I get to the dealer, do a quick 5k run to match a previous workout I did for my HITS Lake Havasue 140.6 Iron distance test, where I beat it by 10 minutes!

I drive down to pick up the shambles of my bike, and what luck I am pulled over cause my license plate registration sticker fell off.

Ticket happy police

I get home though, to find a letter for Bessy, that she is receiving a check, where she beat a stop sign violation ticket on her bike.  The officer failed to cite her correctly and did not have proof, and she won via trial by mail stating the facts. Unwritten rule #3: a bicycle stop-sign violation can be vague, especially in San Diego.  There is no rule stating to put your foot down, nor the amount of time be stopped.  Just that you come to a complete full stop, then again that is the officer’s discretion.  But if you have a deadlier object, such as a car, it takes more effort to stop. That’s why speed limits on bike-share roads are so important to keep low.  Driving a car is a privilege, not a right – although human movement is a right.

What a day of ups and downs, and time for me to lay down, 2.5 mile ocean swim on the agenda tomorrow, 0 bikes!

26.2 mile stadium in Boston

DCIM100MEDIAWe arrive Saturday morning red-eye, literally. For the taper we ran (Bessy 8, and Roger 12) in order to orient ourselves in the city and doing some of the BAA 5k race.  For breakfast we hit up a local coffee joint Pavement, where they bake their own bread/bagels sandwiches and coffee so good no syrup needed. We stayed at an location (one block from the finish line) as the early-bird rates for hotels/motels were around $400 a night. works since it is a bed and breakfast, by chance our flat mate happened to be racing too, and from California, it was only 120$ per night & right next to the finish. It was to be an easy day as we needed to catch up sleep lost in the uncomfortable plane (melatonin didn’t help much).

 The main plan for the day was the expo.  It was quite unorganized and packed like a subway train DCIM100MEDIAcompared to the Rock n Roll series.  All the hype was to buy the “exclusive and coveted” finishers jacket, which completely lost it’s appeal when we saw everyone and their mother buying it. Turns out, the greatest memorabilia was the free swag for actual participants: Adidas race tech tee, medal, heater cape and branded 26.2 sticker. Next morning, 35 LOW, 55 HIGH coldest of all 3 days there, we run through our pre-race day preparations:

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Newlyweds who are bonding as they get older by pushing themselves to new limits


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