Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Challenge Roth 2012 Race Report

“Where am I?” “Why am I lying on cold tiles?” “Am I that tired that I fell asleep on the kitchen floor?”

These were the first thoughts that entered my head as I opened my eyes. Then the sinking realisation hit. “I’ve fainted!”

Two weeks out from the race, chopping carrots for dinner, I sliced my finger. Taking a look at the damage made me feel a little light-headed so I took a seat at the kitchen table. Queue faint, fall over, smack face on floor and a nice little visit to A&E. Sitting in the waiting area, I started feeling an ache down the back of my right leg, making my calf hurt like a bitch. I limped out of hospital with a bandaged finger, not having a care in the world about my digit. I could race Roth without a finger.


In previous Ironman races, I hadn’t done much planning in terms of goal setting. With a 10:07 in the bag (Outlaw 2010) I decided I needed to push the boat out. Set an A goal with a back up B goal should things not go to plan. In hindsight, I think this is a really good strategy. It means you’ve still got something to push for should things go tits up. I see it often when someone misses their goal, they simply give up; stop trying.

So, my A goal became 9:30 with a back-up sub 10:00 the B goal. I knew achieving the latter would still be remarkable and highly respectable.

The road to Roth

I could write a whole story simply on this trip. Paul (@smernicki), Jamie (@jamiewardell) and I did the 12 hour drive from SW20 (London) to Nuremberg. Passing through four countries made the time fly by. Paul was absolutely legendary, taking the whole drive on while I tweeted, sang and pretty much filled every possible silent moment. Jamie supplied snacks.

Staying in Nuremburg is pretty much the only option unless you book accommodation two years in advance around the Roth area. Our hotel was totally suitable. They had very good looking receptionists.

Route recce

Driving into Roth the following morning trying to find the swim venue was somewhat surreal. Roth is a highly documented race, so I’d see many videos and photos. Suddenly we were here, about to take on Roth ourselves. After getting a little lost, we eventually met some mates and did a swim recce on the canal. Distance over water is horrible. Thankfully an upbringing racing canoes on rivers has allowed my mind to get over the head-f*ck.

The days preceding the race involved reccing a small hilly section of the bike course (road surface like a snooker table), tinkering with our bikes (many hours worth), the pasta party and racking our bikes.

The buzz, tension and excitement of race morning is part and parcel of IM racing. And Roth had it in spades. Matt Malloy (@ahoysavaloy) described the Roth vibe perfectly. It has the feel of a small local race but there are 4,000 international athletes in attendance.

I’d been allocated the first start wave. Yip, me and the pros. And the other age-groupers in my start wave obviously. But sitting in the water, awaiting the sound of the starter cannon I thought, “It doesn’t get more big time than this.” I’m lead to believe only the start at the World Champs in Hawaii feels ‘bigger’.


I’d neglected my swim. The ROI on swimming is crap. I’m a decent swimmer so I’d got by on two swims a week. It’s such a small part of an IM, I’d made the decision to focus on areas that count. Because of this, I made the call to start out easy. I really didn’t want to be breathing out my ass 200m in. Surprisingly, after a minute or two, I felt in the groove. Like I was being sucked along. The effort felt easy but I wasn’t losing position or being swam over. The perfect beginning I thought.

After what always feels like a lifetime, I reached the turnaround buoy. Mentally it’s great to turn for home. Approaching the final turnaround, I made the error of assuming the buoy was under the bridge. Wrong I was. Lifting my head, I noticed a few more buoys heading off in the distance. Not great but I put my head down, kept calm and reached the final turnaround happy in the knowledge that the swim was nearly over.

My watch read 56 minutes as I exited the canal. A massive mental high five. Picking up my T1 bag, I tried to sneak a view of Jamie’s bag (meaning I was out ahead of him). I was 99% certain I saw it still sat on the floor. Another mental high. And I mean this as a compliment to Jamie. In the weeks leading up to Roth, whenever we swam, Jamie kicked my butt. Historically, I own the swim. It’s MY thing. But Jamie had worked hard at his, so I genuinely thought I’d come out behind him. For those who don’t know me very well, Jamie is my best mate and training partner. Which means we’re SUPER competitive. That said, IM is a different ball game. It’s each to their own. Something I repeatedly told myself. “Race your own race, not Jamie!” Anyone who has their own ‘Jamie’ will know this is easier said than done.

T1 was a bit of a mare. Arriving at the mount line, I noticed I hadn’t put my race belt (which holds my race number) on. So instead of a flying mount, I had lie Felty down, whip the belt on, and once again get going.

Bike time

The first section of the bike course is amazeballs. At the start it’s lined with cheering spectators. Crossing over the canal you can hear the music from the swim exit still pumping and as the music fades, the course drops into a few fast, sweeping bends. Within three minutes the speedometer’s reading 55km/h. I used the first 30 minutes to collect myself, sip some nutrition and mentally prepare myself for the next five hours. I don’t own a powermeter (gasp) so my goal was to try average 36km/h (5 hour bike split) and ride to perceived effort. Listen to the engine. It’s hard to remember most of the bike. I was super focused on hitting the numbers, pedalling smoothly, taking on nutrition, and monitoring how I felt. The crowds through the little villages were great, clapping, cheering and generally spreading their positive energy. I distinctly remember certain events or points but placing them in order is impossible. Except for the Solar Berg. SHIT A BRICK.

Rounding a corner, the course suddenly funnels into barriers and at the end of the barriers, there’s no visible road. Only people. Then suddenly a Mexican wave forms and a gap only wide enough for my bike opened in front of me and the sound of HOP!, HOP!, HOP! filled the air. Heart rate through the roof! Pure exhilaration. It’s going to be hard to beat that experience.

Hitting the 90km mark I’d managed to keep a 36km/h average and hit 2:30 on the clock. But I was on my limit. The memory at that moment sticks and saved my race. “Well played Troy. You’re on your way to a solid bike split. BUT…this feels like I’m racing a half Ironman.” And that’s where perceived effort comes in. I knew I couldn’t maintain this without the risk of a massive bonk or terrible run. I decided then to drop the pace. Not by much but enough to save my race. The second lap was hard. The wind had raised its ugly head. Why did everyone say there’s never wind at Roth?

I’d prepared myself for the horrible no man’s land between 100 and 150km. Sure enough, my low patch came around the 110km mark. I think it came earlier because I’d pushed too hard in the first 90km. I forced myself to eat (mood always indicates low nutrition levels), read what I’d written on the bottle sat in front of me and reminded myself I’d prepared for this point. I’d prepared well.

The only negative (and it applies to all races that do it) of Roth is having to deal with the relay participants on the second lap of the bike. There are LOADS of them. It’s annoying but I totally appreciate it’s all part of the event and allows a greater number of people to get involved in our beautiful sport. I only wish everyone was as honest as I am when it comes to drafting. I simply don’t do it. You’re only cheating yourself.

With about 50km to go, I felt the signs of needing a pee. I waited for a nice downhill section, checked behind me and let rip. I’ve never been more satisfied to see golden liquid streaming down my leg and spraying into the air. It honestly saves minutes and plenty energy.

There’s a great point on the bike when you know the end is in sight. It’s normally with about 30km to go – generally indicating less than an hour left. It gave me renewed energy and focus.

The panic set in coming past the T1 exit for a 3rd time. Knowing it was a two lap course, starting effectively a third lap really threw me. Had I missed the turn for T2? I looked ahead and all I saw was relay riders who were all starting their second lap, giving me nobody to follow or question. I suddenly felt massively despondent. All this effort to make such a schoolboy error. I ‘soft-pedalled’ not wanting to get too much further into the lap before maybe having to turn around. I got to an intersection manned by a couple German police officers, clipped out, and held up my Garmin which read 171km and asked if I’d missed the T2 turn. They looked at me blankly. Understandably they probably didn’t understand me. Fortunately a spectator shouted “Keep going, the turn for T2 is still coming!” What a relief! Boy did I put the hammer down. Coming around a corner I'd been around twice already, I saw the sign pointing out the right turn I needed to take. Why I hadn’t seen it on the first two laps I have no idea. I can only blame focus. Most of the ride I was head down, hammering.

Arriving at T2 all I could think was “I can’t wait to run this marathon”. Running a sub-3 at London in April was a huge boost and I knew my running was strong. I’ve honestly worked hard at my running and I’m just loving it. I felt excited about the run.


A couple days before the race, I heard Matt Malloy mention that race organisers, Challenge, allow competitors to run listening to music. It’s quite rare, mainly due to it being a safety issue, but with totally closed raods at Roth, it isn’t. I’ve never raced using music and rarely train with it. Oddly enough, when I unpacked my race shoes, my Shuffle dropped out of them. I hadn’t intentionally packed it so saw it as a sign and included it in my run pack along with some salt tablets and ibuprofen.

Run Troy Run 

The constant fear I had on the bike was that I’d start running and my ‘injured’ carrot calf would flare up, reducing me to a walk or even worse, a DNF. I’d made my mind up that no matter what, I would finish. Even if I had to walk the 42.2km.

I started running and felt great. Running next to a fellow competitor I commented that we were going too quickly. My watch read 4:15/km pace. My race plan was 4:45s until halfway and after that try not let the pace go slower than 5:00/km. Mentally I also broke the run down to 4 x 10km. The run at Roth is a 1 loop affair, in the shape of a T. The majority of it is along a gravel towpath that runs along the side of the canal. I’d been warned to prepare for the long straight section where you can see about 10km of the course ahead of you.

Over the next few hours, I simply concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. My stomach stirred around the 10km mark and I made a beeline for the closest portaloo. This resulted in a slow kilometre (because of the sit down) put I steadily made the time back.


Turning at the first end of the T shaped course, I looked forward to spotting mates. This allowed me to take my mind off the pain. I was taking gels every 20 minutes and the aid stations are brilliant. Sponges, water, coke, sports drink, gels, chicken soap and a lot of food. I’m not sure what food was on offer as the thought of food made me feel sick. I did see bananas. My nutrition plan included gels (Gu), coke, water and salt tablets only.

At some point along the canal, I decided to stick my music on. It was a dance (proper doff doff stuff) album and it really helped me zone out. (I ended up listening to the same album three times over.)

The first person I saw was Matt Malloy. He was absolutely flying and looked well on his way to a sub 9. Next came ‘danger man’ Paul Burton (@Pablo_Burt) who was looking good, followed by Paul D (@Deenzy1).

When I spotted Paul S, it lifted my spirits and I let out a massive yell of “P-DOGG!” Being Paul’s first IM, I was desperate to offer him encouragement. He looked great (still early days) and we exchanged a high five.

The next section of the run is a blur really. Most of the time I was doing math in my head to ensure I was still on sub 10 pace. Reoccurring thoughts were “I’m so glad my calf doesn’t hurt” and “Where’s Jamie?” I was worried he’d had a mechanical and just hoped to hell he hadn't. Normally he catches me on the bike.

The mind really does wander when running and I just let it go, thinking of various people in my life, what I’d been through, all the training I’d done, how lucky I was to have my health and mostly how much I love my family. I thought of the people willing me on, knowing they’d be tracking me online and drew on their energy. I’m a big believer in energy. I really felt it out there.

There he is! 

As soon as I saw him, I felt a massive sigh of relief. I could tell Jamie was suffering but he still smiled. He asked if I was on for a sub 10 and with my answer being a firm “YES”, I felt a surge of energy come over me. I was STILL on for sub 10!

When I hit the 32km mark, I started counting the kilometres down. And down they ticked until I heard the announcer. The last few kilometres of the run course pass the finish (sadistic bastards) and into the town of Roth. It’s a lovely part (even though you’re in the hurtlocker) of the route as there’s loads of people, music and cheering. It's like running through a beerfest. I actually sped up through the town and pushed hard for home.

The red carpet

The finish arena is AMAZEBALLS. It’s a purpose built U shape arena with grandstands surrounding it. Hitting the red carpet, I didn’t feel a thing. All I wanted to do was finish.

And finish I did. In 9 hours and 41 minutes. Across the line, I did a little fist-pump and let out a massive “YESSSSSSSSS!” I was blown away. Even writing it now, it doesn’t seem real.

I’d love to include how everyone else’s race panned out but I’m sure not many people have even made it this far into the race report. Thankfully, everyone finished, rather spectacularly I must add.

Thanks to everyone who played a part in this journey. My biggest thanks to Jamie, P-Dogg and Nico (@EnduranceHero). They’re the guys I spend most of my training hours with and who inspired me most.

The boys!

Final splits.

More photos here and here.