A reluctant rockstar in Roth

I arrived at the start of Challenge Roth, feeling many things. Overwhelmingly, I was scared.

I wasn't ready for this. My body wasn't strong enough and the colds and injuries I'd been fighting for the last few months had probably left it a little bit broken.

Not very rockstar.

An iron-distance triathlon is always a bit of an epic. There is time for plenty of ups and downs along the way. All I had in my favour this time was experience. It was time to draw on this experience by getting myself into my routine, and start preparing myself psychologically, even if I didn't feel physically up to the task.

The transition zone was set up on the banks of the Donau Kanal, just north of Hippoltstein just a short way from Roth. I went in to transition and got my bike set up with drinks and food, and dropped off my gear bag for the swim to bike transition. This held my bike jersey, gloves, cycling shoes and socks, a towel for a quick dry off, plus sunscreen and chamois cream.

This set up took me a very short time - while other competitors rummaged through their gear bags to find this and that, I was organised and knew exactly what I had to do. Seeing their uncertainty, my nerves kicked in, so I double and triple checked everything. This was a good thing though. Nerves soon translate into excitement that can give you a lift at just the right time.

I headed back out to meet KKB, with plenty of time to spare before getting the wetsuit on.

I'd been saying for days to KKB that I just needed to get out there and do my best. I can admit now that I'd thought very seriously about suggesting that we stay in the French alps and just ride our bikes rather than spending a week traveling to Germany, getting ready for the race, failing dismally in my quest, and then driving back.

Instead we were here as planned, so I drew on another experience to get my head right.

Paying to play

Not many of you will know this about the Athletic Powerhouse, but back in the day I used to be a fairly serious pianist. I studied music at uni when I left school and majored in classical piano.

In my third year at uni I decided to sit my 8th grade AMEB piano exam. I focussed on my set pieces for the exam, as these were my performance pieces for my uni assessment as well. I did very little preparation for the technical aspects of the exam, including scales, theory and so on.

In the days leading up to the exam I decided that I wouldn't bother with the exam. I was certain that I wouldn't pass, so told myself that there was no point.

On the day of the exam I woke up and did a complete 360. Out of nowhere came an irreverence and balls out attitude that didn't really mix with the properness of the AMEB. Bugger it, I thought. I've paid money for this exam (about $100 from memory, a good chunk of my weekly $120 AUSTUDY payment). Some poor bastard is just going to have to sit through this.

So I went.

My set pieces went OK as expected. I thought I'd done alright on my scales, but they were nothing spectacular. My sight reading was appalling (as always).

When the letter came from AMEB a week or so later, I didn't even open it. I was so sure I'd failed and I didn't need to be told. It sat there for a couple of days until finally, out of boredom more than anything, I opened it up.

I couldn't believe my eyes. I passed. Not by much, I may have fumbled my way to a credit, but even so... I hadn't failed after all.

I told this story to KKB for the first time on race morning, the point being that if you let your guard down for a moment to forget what everyone else thinks, and just do your best, sometimes, miraculous things happen.

Recalling this experience, not just internally but saying it out loud, gave me the confidence to tackle Challenge Roth with whatever little I thought I had.

The swim

Firstly, getting into the wetsuit. This is a workout in itself. But we had plenty of time for KKB to help slide me into it before letting my heart rate slow down a bit!

Unlike most other iron distance races, where all age group competitors start just a few minutes behind a preferential start for the professionals, Challenge Roth has several wave starts. This meant I would start with all other female age group competitors (500 or so) 15 minutes after the professionals.

The time went quickly and before I knew it we were away!

The plan for the swim was to take it as easy as possible. A bad swim can ruin your whole day if you deplete yourself too much. I knew my swim time would be heading up to 90 minutes, which is a long time to exert yourself without any hydration or nutrition, especially if you have to keep going for hours (and hours) afterwards!

The swim course was fairly straightforward - swim straight up the Donau Kanal for 1500 meters or so, swim back past the start for a few hundred meters, then turn once again for the finish.

My navigation system was as faulty as usual. I swam smack bang into a kayak that was marking the imaginary line up the middle of the Kanal to separate oncoming swimmers. (I'm not joking.) At another point, I looked up to find myself within metres of the bank.

This swim was the longest swim I'd done in a while, so I was somewhat shaky coming up the ramp to exit the water. I grabbed my gear bag and entered the change tent.

Yep, one change tent for use by all athletes, men and women. Only in Europe!

Now was no time to be shy and I wasn't doing a complete change so I just went about my business and got out of there. Part of my plan for T1 was to get some food in so I got a cookie down before grabbing my bike and walking it out to the mount line.

The bike

The bike was long. Cycling 180ks takes time. The most memorable bits were:

The soldiers rations - the first aid station in Echersmeullen was manned by the army. Their aid station was announced a few hundred metres before with a sign - "Soldier's Rations Ahead". Then in the leadup to the aid stations, soldiers stood either side of the road saluting the oncoming athletes. I shed a few tears here.

Solarer Berg - this is the best thing I've done on a bike. Thousands of spectators flock to the hill in the town of Solar to cheer on the athletes. They line each side of the road, which is unbarricaded. So they creep onto the road so that the gap for you to ride through is only just enough. It is much more like a scene from a cycling grand tour than anything you'd ever see in a regular triathlon. It's loud, it's exciting, and you feel like the only cyclist in the race, just for this minute or two. At the end of my first time up this stretch, I said out loud... "that was f@&king awesome". It was.

Australia / New Zealand - I noticed lots of New Zealand flags put up in the villages along the route, but very few Australian flags. Did they mistake them and think they were putting both up? I'm not sure. At one stage a fellow rider asked me what part of Australia I was from, the north or south. Maybe I should have said west?

Aussie slang - a local primary school (presumably) had painted up about a dozen flags of the major nationalities competing, with some kind of colloquialism for motivation. They were set up on one of the hills on course. I could only read the US and Australia. The US flag said 'just do it'. The Aussie one said 'get cracking'. It made me smile.

The little towns - residents lined the road in all the little villages, all day to cheer us on. Some set up beer tents, some had BBQs going or picnics packed.

  • The 'biermeile' in Eckersmuhlen translates as 'beer mile'. It was literally a counter that lined the streets, presumably for a mile, so spectators could sit on the footpath at the bar and look out over the event pass th by on the road in front of them. It reminded me of a swim up bar, for some strange reason.

  • I rode past a little kid sitting in his driveway on his trike with a helmet on, cheering us on. He was unsupervised, so presumably his parents lost interest hours ago.

  • The name of one of the towns was one of my friends' surnames. Even though it was one of the smallest on the course with only a small contingent of spectators, it gave me a boost on both laps.

The scenery - what can I say... the farmland, the forests, the little villages with their quaint old homes and structures. The only blight in the scenery was the golden arches rearing it's ugly head. McDonalds is bloody everywhere!

The comeraderie - I got a lot more cheers than I expected to competing in a non-English speaking country. The organisers printed your name and country flag on your number bib so that helped. Many English speakers said something familiar as they rode past on the bike.

Of course, some parts of riding 180ks in an iron distance triathlon aren't that glamorous.

Eating - there just isn't a graceful way to shove half a banana into your face in the space of a couple of hundred meters while riding past an aid station. There just isn't.

Pain - your legs hurt, your back hurts, your delicate parts hurt.

Boredom - at some point, you just want this to be over. Unfortunately, I first had this thought at about 30ks. Despite the good bits, it was a long day in the saddle.

The twists and the turns - you would see a sign up ahead that said that you were only 8ks from Solar, then the course marshalls would promptly get you to turn right, or left, and find yourself in Solar in not 8ks, but in 30ks. You would cross a bridge over the Donau Kanal and think you were nearly back at the swim start, then in 5ks you'd cross again, then again, and not for another 20ks did you finally finish the lap.

After 7:45 or so I was at the next transition zone. I dropped my bike off with a volunteer, had my run gear bag handed to me by another attentive vollie, and headed into the second unisex change tent of the day.

I was looking forward to sitting for a moment in T2 but the volunteer who was helping me seemed intent on getting me out of there as quickly as possible. She'd probably been briefed to do this so I didn't let it bother me, I just set about changing into my running tights and changing my shoes and socks as efficiently as possible. It then struck me that maybe I was right on the 9.5 hr cutoff and she was doing me a favour. Maybe... Time would tell.

The run

I left T2 and finally, there was KKB. I'd been looking for him all day but hadn't seen him since just outside T1. I found out later that it wasn't got lack of trying, and in fact he had driven and walked for hours to try and see me. The fact that I was a bit behind schedule probably didn't help him all that much.

He took a couple of photos and then said, "you can do this"!"

I guess he was referring to the 15 hour cutoff - but I didn't have an accurate idea of how long I'd been going for, so didn't know whether he was putting on a brave face or being realistic. I was also in no great hurry to run and it was plainly obvious to me that I would definitely have to run to make the cutoff.

A few hundred metres from transition I started into a slow jog. I decided given my lack of run training and how sore my body already was, that I would be best to settle for breaking the marathon into short spurts alternating walking and running. I knew before the race that this would be my most likely outcome, so I wasn't disappointed by this strategy at all.

The run course at Roth is a kind of T shape. You head east out of the town of Roth, turn left along the Donau Kanal and head north to the first turnaround at Schwanstetten. You head back south along the Kanal passing by Roth to the town of Eckersmuhlen for the second turnaround before heading back up the Kanal, and returning into the town of Roth and the finish line.

The wheels started falling off my walk-run strategy at about the 17k point. Not surprisingly, 17ks is about as far as I'd run in training. No wonder my body started screaming at me.

It was this about this point when a very serious European man (who was also walking) asked me whether I was going to make the cutoff. As I was in one of the earlier start waves, my cutoff time could be up to an hour before his. I told him I didn't know, but until someone stopped me from trying I wasn't going to just give in.

Despite my bravado, by this stage I was fairly certain the 15 hour cutoff was not going to be possible. I started having visions of being pulled from the course at the next cut off mark, or at the final turnaround. Worse still, of being told when I got to the end that I couldn't run across the finish line because I hadn't met the time cutoff.

Just like the day I fronted up to my piano exam, today wasn't a day I was going to choose to fail. If I was to fail at the final hurdle, it would be someone else's decision and doing, but not mine.

Just like the day I fronted up to my piano exam, some poor bastard was just going to have to wait...

I got past the next cutoff mark without a tap on the shoulder.

As I approached the final turnaround, still with over 10ks to go, a man on a mountain bike was waiting for the rest of us tail enders. He wasn't wearing the volunteer uniform, but he was wearing a lot of Challenge branded clothing.

I suspected he might have been the broomwagon, with the job of rounding up the final finishers and get them home.

"You can do it! You will get there! You just have to keep moving!"

I couldn't help but smile.

"And you are smiling! Keep on moving and keep on smiling!"

So I did. (Well, I'm not sure how much I smiled, but I kept on moving.)

With about 8 ks to go my new friend passed me on his bike and encouraged me to run a little. I was happy to try. By this stage it was clear to me that he definitely was the broomwagon. He might have known something that I didn't about the timing of my finish. If running a little now was to be the difference between finishing or not finishing - I would do what I could.

As I entered back to the town of Roth, there was KKB, starting to walk out along the course towards the Kanal. He was relieved to see me after waiting a lot longer than he thought he would have to.

At the same time, a lady on a mountain bike told me there was about 3ks to go to the finish line, with a lap of Roth to finish the run. She told me I'd be likely to run in when the final fireworks were going off.

I thought to myself, are you for real? I don't deserve that. I didn't dwell on it though, I just kept walking, and running a bit, to get me there as soon as I could, fireworks or not.

By now the streets were fairly free of spectators, but there were a few athletes milling around, collecting their bikes and heading for home. I was buoyed by their enthusiasm for my long overdue finish, and thanked them for their cheers.

Not long before I set foot onto the red carpet that lined the finish chute, the fireworks started. I could hardly believe it. The adrenaline kicked in and I jogged from that point. I so wanted them to still be going when I got to the end!!

The fireworks continued and the end was spectacular. The grandstand was packed and the spectators lined the finish chute to give me high fives and cheer. It was truly a rock star finish.

As I crossed the line I was presented with my finisher medal by the women's winner, Rachel Joyce. She asked me if I was ok, but all I could manage was, "I think so."

I was torn between watching the fireworks and going to get something to eat and drink. My decision was made for me, my mystery friend from the run course spotted me.

"You made it, and you are still smiling!"

He ushered me off to the recovery area to eat and drink, and got me a blanket from medical. It was the right decision - I needed all three.

So I finished like a rockstar in Roth. Part of me still isn't quite sure whether I deserve that medal. Most of me is certain I didn't deserve the fireworks and the adoring crowd at the finish.

But you know what - it wasn't up to me. I got it whether I deserved it or not. All I did is show up on the day with a balls out attitude and an unwillingness to give up.

Kinda like a rockstar.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Tyno. You blazed the trail for me, your race report was pretty positive about Roth so that helped tipped me into entering in the first place!
      I'm sure you'll enjoy next year, it's a great event.

  2. I'm crying. I am so inspired by you. You are completely a rock star and always will be in my eyes.

    1. Jackson 5, you are too kind. I'm blushing...
      Thanks for reading my ramblings. :)

  3. Great write up AP. Fantastic effort to get throught it and finish... your piano exam included! :)

  4. Thanks Anonymous.
    I could say the same about getting through this epic blog post! Thanks for reading.
    - AP

  5. Thanks AP. Just the read I needed & I'm glad you pointed me to it. I hope I can make it through my cut offs - I'll give it a crack and fingers crossed I'll get to hug you at the finish line.