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Challenge Roth (13 Jul 2008)

Every so often a thread appears on this group along the lines of “Can anyone recommend an easy Ironman?” Of course there isn’t such a thing as an easy IM but if easy means least amount of time spent eating energy food then Challenge Roth now has a justified claim to being fastest. Four women went under 9 hours on Sunday, with Yvonne Van Vlerken setting a new world’s fastest in 8:45. You thought it was 8:47 also set on Sunday in Austria? Read ‘em and weep M-dot!

Roth was and is world famous, leading to its claim of being the “best old race”. Despite losing a briefly held M-dot tag due to being unable to host a mass start in the canal-based swim, it is noticeably cocky that it still attracts the biggest field of any long distance race with a prestigious and prodigious following (one of Macca’s favourite races; this year he attempted, but failed to complete a German double; Frankfurt and Roth a week apart. 2489 finishers in 2008).

What the masses sign up to is the atmosphere. You’ll see the publicity shots of the climb of the Sollar Berg with the crowd parting in front of cyclists Tour de France style; the “Beer Mile” is another understandably famous spot but there was support right round the course despite non-stop rain. However it is a lie to attach the epithet “Berg” to very much on the course – there really is only one climb worthy of the name and it is neither long nor steep and coupled with a great road surface these make for a fast bike split. The run has significant amounts of leg-kind off-tarmac and the same fantastic crowd support. The canal swim should be easy to navigate: So if you want a fast race, this could be the one for you.

Don’t mistake “fast” for “easy”. The marathon, not the bike, is the hard bit of IM racing and the relentless cadence of a flat course is just as strength sapping as hills. This weekend’s continuous rain also forced riders to pedal the down hills to stay warm and that certainly took something out my legs. Above 40kph I developed a dangerous speed wobble due to uncontrollable shivering! I had a bad day, but stupidity and vanity and not the weather are my excuses. I committed the crime of knowingly and with malice of forethought going too hard on the bike, plain and simple. Novice Ironmen should take note that despite the time you are out there it is so difficult to think rationally once on the road; make your race plan to cover a range of possibilities and if circumstances force a change, carefully consider the options. With clearer thinking I would have had a faster bike split AND a faster run split.

Roth has a finish arena – all finishers do a mini-lap pushed around by “pumpin’ hoose” and huge crowd noise. In addition to this, the closing fireworks welcomed Nadya Labib and 2 new friends she made at the back of the field – it was a really nice touch that the organisers let them finish and get medals at the end of an incredible day of effort and bravery. I don’t think that M-dot allow this. Not that I am trying to do down M-dot (we entered IM Austria at midnight last night) but the Challenge organisation do things differently and create just as great a race experience. For those without a hope of getting an Hawaii slot I can imagine that Roth and the other Challenge races including the new Barcelona race at the tail end of the season would be well worth considering. If you are tempted by Roth I don’t recommend the Nirvana package if you have other options, it was good value and the organisation was slick but to get a big enough hotel we commuted from down-town Nuremberg rather than staying in the much prettier town of Roth itself. Hiring a campervan and staying at Rothsee next to the swim start would also be a good option. With better weather you could camp.