Race Force’s Race Host Ross Macdonald spent the week in Germany with the team as he helped ensure that everyone was prepared to tackle the course at the infamous Challenge Roth, before gearing himself up for his own attempt at breaking the 9-hour barrier.
Challenge Roth has been on my bucket list for a few years now. It comes second only to KONA in my eyes when looking at which long-distance races a triathlete should aim to complete. I had heard fantastic things about the atmosphere as well as about the course, with many past competitors telling me that it was fast!
One of my main goals over the next few years is to break the 9-hour barrier at an iron-distance event. Although I hadn’t managed as much training as I would have liked to (who does manage as much as they would like to!?) and I was carrying a knee injury, I still had my own sneaky feeling that I was in sub-9 hour shape having had a few good results earlier in the season.
The opportunity to take on Challenge Roth had come up when in discussion with Kate at Race Force and I was always going to say yes. This also allowed me the opportunity to see the Race Force machine in full swing. I travelled out to Roth with Kate and Mike from Race Force, as well as with Steve Drewers, who is one of the best bike mechanics out there. All three of them kept me, and each other entertained at all hours of the day. Although it was a long drive, we had a great time and we were soon settled into the hotel and I was pretending to very carefully help unload the bikes and get them set-up for the client’s arrival.
Kate and I spent quite a bit of time over the next two day’s cycling the bike course, looking at the swim route and meeting the guy’s from various Challenge races. Although quite a bit of our talk involved Tinder, we also spent a fair bit of time talking about my own race strategy and ‘Controlling The Chimp’. I hadn’t told many people, as I wanted to keep the pressure off me, but I let Kate know that I really wanted a sub-9. I think Kate told everyone we met from that point on.
A few of us had read at least the first chapter of Steve Peters’ ‘The Chimp Paradox’. In summary, the psychological mind is made up of three separate brains: Human, Computer and Chimp. You are the Human. Your Computer is a storage area and automatic functioning machine. The Chimp is the area of the mind that is driven by feeling, emotional thinking and gut instincts. The chimp quickly jumps to opinions and thinks in black and white terms. It can be paranoid and its behaviour can be irrational and emotive. Any one of them can take complete control but usually they work together.
Peter’s says that there is a time and a place for everyone’s inner chimp to prove both useful and necessary. However, the Chimp needs to be managed.
When racing at Roth, Kate and I discussed whether my Chimp needed to be let out of the cage, or managed, in order for me to have both a successful race and in order for me to enjoy it.
Everything was ready for my race and if anything now went wrong, it was largely out of my control. I made my way to the canal for the 6.30am start and found myself standing next to Jan Frodeno, the favourite for the race, as we made our way into the water. The atmosphere was already incredible, with the music building and the bridges lined with spectators. The swim started fast and immediately I had hands hitting me in the face and bodies over and underneath me. This continued for the first 1km and there were a few times where I worried about my heart rate being too high as the adrenaline surged through me. I also seemed to be taking in a lot of water with each breath. After the turn I spotted that the group I was with, many of whom had started slowing after the fast start, had been distanced from the group ahead and so I made an effort to bridge the gap to them. My Chimp and human had made the decision and it was the correct one. I stayed in this group for the rest of the swim and felt fairly comfortable. I wasn’t sure if I was therefore swimming within myself too much, but was pleased to see 55 minutes on my watch as I entered T1.
I had decided to put my shoes on in T1 rather than have them on the pedals, on the bike. I wanted to make sure that they were on properly before cycling 180km. This was the right option as I passed several people in the first mile who were still struggling with their shoes. I settled into my pace quickly and remained calm as several people passed me in the early kilometres. I had my race strategy and at this stage I was on schedule, pushing out the power I needed to be and concentrating on taking nutrition at my scheduled 20 minute intervals. My nutrition consisted of Clif Bar Shot Blocs and High 5 energy gels and drinks. My rather odd aim for the cycle was NOT to break five hours for the 180km. I knew then that I would have saved enough energy for the run. I kept it calm and kept a group ahead of me in sight until Solar Hill at around 60km.
Here, the crowd makes the road as close to a Tour De France Mont Ventoux experience as you will ever have. Kate and I had talked about remaining calm on the hill but my Chimp wanted out and I found myself powering up the climb, loving the atmosphere and leaving others behind. From 70km to 140km I found myself in a group of around 15 people. It was a struggle to keep outside the 12 metre drafting zone and I was conscious of the draft-busters on course. I kept coming through to the front of the group to ensure I wouldn’t get a yellow card. A yellow card at Roth would result in a 5 minute penalty stop as well as an additional 1km penalty loop to run early on in the marathon. It was a good disincentive, but if I received a yellow card that would be the end of my attempt to break 9 hours (and I would probably get a second yellow for the expletives used). At 140km I felt myself struggling slightly. I let the group move ahead of me and with the benefit of drafting they quickly opened a gap. I would now cage the Chimp and get myself into T2 with some energy left. Oddly, I then passed several members of the original group in the last 10km of the cycle despite reigning everything in. I finished the cycle in 4 hours 55 minutes- 5 minutes ahead of schedule.
Being over 5 minutes up on schedule (transitions taken into account) I knew I only had to run around a 3 hour 5 minute marathon in order to break 9 hours. My Adidas Boosts are usually super comfy and so I ignored the socks in my transition bag and left T2 in a good frame of mind. My injured Achilles and knee had felt good on the cycle and I had just taken some ibuprofen before T2 to help with the knee pain that I knew would come on during the run. I was immediately hit by knee pain though, as well as a numb foot and cramp in my arch. After 3km I stopped to stretch for a moment and seriously considered dropping out in order to protect myself from any long-term injury. However, my Human and my Chimp agreed I should at least try to carry on. I was at Challenge Roth after all! From 5km to 15km I suddenly felt good and was keeping to 4 minute 20 second kilometre average pace. I was still on for sub 9! Then the wheels started to fall off. By 22km I was walking each feed-station. My decision not to put socks on was also back-firing as I felt the blisters start to form. By 26km I was starting to feel the heat and was hyperventilating, as I had done in the heat at Ironman Zurich and then again at the World 70.3 Championships in Zell Am See. No number of sponges was going to help and I could no longer keep any food or energy drink down. I was watching 9 hours slip away but then I realised at 32km that all I had to do was run a 40 minute last 10km. I can jog that, can’t I!?
However, the last 10k was a real struggle as my energy levels sapped further. My Chimp didn’t care anymore. All he wanted was a pint of Erdinger and a nap. In truth, that thought is what got me through. The Race Force Team were positioned with about 2km to run and my usual efforts to look at least half-decent for them and for the cameras were out of mind. I was running so slowly! Having them there was great though and their support was really needed on that home straight. Entering the stadium at the finish brought with it a lot of relief. I hadn’t broken 9 hours, not by some way, but at that moment I was just happy to be at the finish. I staggered across the line in 9 hours and 13 minutes, knocking 41 minutes off my personal best for the iron-distance triathlon. I was both pleased and disappointed as I was helped to the medical tent and the massage table. I know that I have pushed my body when I struggle to eat anything after finishing and this was the case here. My stomach was not yet ready to start back up again
yet and start digesting anything.
After a good nap and a sunbathe in the stadium I had perked up enough to start cheering people into the stadium and to enjoy the last few hours of celebrating Roth and the awesome people who push themselves, like I did, to the extreme. I still don’t know how some people are on the course for 15 hours plus, and I sometimes think that their achievements are much more impressive that those finishing in below 9 hours. 15 hours is a long time to be on the move, especially in the heat we experienced later in the day.
Jan Frodeno had earlier broken the World Record, taking it down to an incredible 7 hours and 35 minutes. 20 minutes behind, and in second place, was Joe Skipper, setting a new British Record of 7 hours and 55 minutes. Just awesome. I wonder what their Chimps are like.
Having now had a few days to think about my performance I am much happier with my 9 hour 13 minute posting. My run up to the event was not as it should have been and not many people can spend 5 days at Glastonbury just two weeks prior to posting a 9 hour 13 minute iron-distance triathlon time! It has made me think more about what could be possible if I took six months off work, or if I prevented my Chimp from booking Glastonbury tickets or from wasting energy by making me sprint up Solar Hill, but that would take the fun out of it and would make my approach to triathlon too serious for my personality. I like being relaxed in the build-up to races and not taking life, including training, too seriously. I like my Chimp. He’s pretty cool!
I am pretty sure that I am now capable of smashing the 9 hour mark and that confidence will be with me when I race iron-distance again.
Managing your Chimp is great, but he does need to be let loose sometimes. My memories of Roth will include the pain on the run and the struggle to the line, but it will also include the incredible feeling I had as I powered up Solar Hill. I will be back at Roth again in the future. Not just because it is one of the fastest courses in the world but because it has an incredible atmosphere and means so much to so many people. You can tell this during the race and in the Expo area. One of Race Force’s clients, whose name I won’t say, told me after the race that they had a little cry up Solar Hill as their emotions got the better of them due to the support being given. The support around the entire course blew everyone away. Felix, the race organiser at Roth, also got very emotional at the end of the night. That is how much it means to him as well. He cares about the event and is not in it just to make money, like some other race organisers are.
My legs feel good four days after the event but my knee, Achilles and blisters need some rest, which I will give them. I made the mistake of rushing back too quickly after my last iron-distance event and ended up struggling for 12 months. I won’t be making that same mistake again. I definitely have my motivation for triathlon back though, which is something I was lacking a couple of years ago.
I will be spending the winter working on my cycle strength so that I can improve my cycle split as well as run stronger off the bike. I might look for a slightly cooler event next time too!
Don’t keep your Chimp in its cage!
Happy Anniversary Jennifer! 52 weeks!
April 2, 2015
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