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.

camping in the mini van

camping in the mini van

This totaled $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), Rudy the double amputee from Challenged Athletes Foundation to name a few.  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.  Once we finish, all we do is plan to lounge around like cats, but we get a last minute invite to a BBQ a measly 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.

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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 amateurs 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

Yum Yum in my tum tum! brats, burgers, and pretzels bigger than your head

TCSD meet up

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 won’t 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 friendly 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 can’t 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 and 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 begin 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.

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

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roth finish bessy

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 didn’t 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.

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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.

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