So here we are four days after the race, and it’s only now I can even begin to write about it.
First off, I need to clarify something. I DID NOT RACE. I was at Challenge Roth for many reasons, but it wasn’t because I had planned to redeem myself from last year’s mishaps. I feel that truly I’m done with ironman triathlons, and I am glad that I’ve already finished the only one I ever wanted to do.
I had, however, planned to see how enjoyable Challenge Roth is from a spectator’s point of view. How is it that more than 100,000 spectators make their way down to the little town in Franconia every year? (This year, the number was more than 200,000!) What would drive people to spend at least 8 hours to as much as 15 hours of a day waiting around for masochistic athletes to pass by?
I accompanied the Tri Clark boys to their test swim at the Main-Donau Canal; while earlier in the week the race had threatened to be a non-wetsuit swim, the rain on Thursday and a series of cold nights had dropped the water temperature to around 22 degrees Celsius, which is where it was on race day last year. There finally all eight Pinoy participants came face-to-face and had a group photo.
I also saw a few MaccaX members and said hello to them.
While Jumbo and Jeff went off to ride a little bit of the course, Nad and his wife left with the Challenge Roth Tours group which was managing all their logistics. The rest of us along with Chrys, Jeff’s girlfriend, went to the nearby Bakerei Schmidt for breakfast.
It was a long day for them wandering the expo and waiting for Jumbo with his Challenge race director duties.Even though they were slated to attend the pasta party that night, I advised them instead to drive home to Nuremberg for some much-needed rest.
Meanwhile, Mona’s parents Jurgen and Uschi and her brother Lukas were preparing to leave for a sailing trip over the weekend. Lukas lives in Nuremberg and isn’t home very often, so they had a barbecue and we sat in their backyard patio enjoying the fresh air and late sunset.
They were just amazing to welcome me into their little family circle for the second time. I will be forever grateful for meine Familie in Franken.
Mona and I had signed up for Challenge Women, a 5-kilometer fun run that had its own little expo and event within the larger Challenge Roth experience! I was told that 2,000 women had signed up for it (and a few male ringers, haha).
There were three waves: the first wave held the women who could run 5K in 25 minutes or less, the second wave was for women who ran 5K between 26 to 30 minutes, and the last wave for women running 5K 31 minutes or more. Mona and I moved up to the front group while a “Schnell Leine” made of tape was held as a boundary between it and the next group.
Apparently we didn’t move forward enough, because when the gun went off we were still caught behind many women who were running slower than our desired pace. When a few hundred women try to funnel onto a course that’s only about the width of a car, things can get messy. With most of the race held on trail rather than asphalt, I really had to balance keeping my eyes on where I was going, and trying to find space to move forward into.
It was a lung-buster, but felt really weird. For one, we started at 11:15am so the sun was high and warm on our skin. However, in the shade and while moving, it was quite cool. There wasn’t much moisture in the air, so I could feel my throat start drying up. Normally, I warm up as I go further into a distance, but the race was over before my “engine had warmed up”, so to speak!
Post-race I felt chilly almost immediately and rushed off to change into some dry clothes. Mona however seemed very comfortable and looked like she hadn’t even broken a sweat — and she was only some 40 seconds behind me!
Before the race, I had been able to walk through the triathlon stadium, which was built and torn down every year just for this race. While some parts of my finish line experience from last year are crystal-clear, it was nice to relive it for a little bit.
I decided to head home and cook some adobo for Mona, who had been working very hard in the registration tent the whole week. The next day was race day and we both had work to do, so it was nice to fill our bellies with some warm Filipino comfort food.
Chrys had borrowed Jurgen’s mountain bike, while I had Mona’s to use for getting around the race course hot spots. I rode the 15 kilometers from home to the swim start in Heideck. I had gotten some media accreditation, so I was able to wander around the transition area and greet some friends who were racing.
Jumbo handed me his SLR camera so I could take good photos throughout the day.
I wasn’t getting into the water, but I felt nerves nonetheless. With eight Filipinos on the starting line, I wanted to see eight Filipinos cross the finish line that day.
Challenge Roth’s swim start is a dramatic spectacle that stretches from the pro and fast age grouper start at 6:30am until the final wave of relay swimmers get into the water at around 8:30am. Approximately five minutes separate each wave, but right before their start cannon fires, the music swells. Then an earth-shaking BOOM! and off they go.
With 3,000 individual participants it’s a logistical nightmare to break up the groups that get out of the water and onto the bike course, so participants are grouped into a wave based on their expected swim finish times. This meant I was waiting around until 8:15am when the final Filipino went into the water. At this point, the pros had long since vacated their transition spots and most spectators had moved up to the bike course hot spots.
I decided to ride towards Solar Hill, and I wasn’t alone on the road. By the time I’d gotten to the foot of that hill, there were hundreds of bikes parked there. I bumped into Chrys, and we started walking up.
The scene was crazy! There were thousands of people lining the hillside, parting only to make way for the cyclists. The music was pumping, the announcers were hyping up the crowd, all sorts of non-explosive noisemakers were being deployed… I got chills and I wasn’t even racing! You could see the athletes, though tired, were feeding off the enthusiasm. If you could only have seen their faces…
You can lose time when you’re in a crowd with that sort of energy. Before we knew it, we had spent almost four hours there waiting for our friends to ride through once. The order was Abe, Jeff, Alan, John, Jumbo, Mac, and Jem (we couldn’t recognize Nad in his bike jersey but he was probably in front of Mac).
I parted ways with Chrys and headed to Eckersmuehlen to check out the famous “Beer Mile”. It wasn’t as crowded as Solar, but everyone sitting by the side of the road on the beer benches was in a jovial mood, cheering on the relay cyclists as they went through (the individual participants were already a few kilometers up the road).
I finally packed up and headed towards the bike-to-run transition near Roth. Here when the athletes dismounted the mood was a mixture between relief that the tough bike ride was done (they had to battle heat, low humidity, and crosswinds) and a little desperation that they were only about to start on their marathon.
My last stop before heading into the triathlon stadium purpose-built for the Challenge Roth finish line was a junction on the run course where spectators could see the participants around kilometer 5, 22, and 37. There was a bit of a change from the previous year’s layout, but as everyone told me after the race, it was every bit of a mental battle running those long out-and-back sections.
I met up with Chrys again at this hot spot and enjoyed a little “eis” (German for “ice cream”) while we waited to catch sight of the boys. While Abe had led the Filipinos for most of the race, Jeff overtook him on the first out-and-back. Chrys had earlier seen Jumbo taking a little rest break. From all accounts, people were dropping like flies both on the bike and run courses. The “Johanniter” or ambulances were busily scooping people up. For the sections of the run along the canal where ambulances couldn’t drive to, EMS crews used water taxis.
We proceeded to the stadium where I got an ibuprofen for Chrys for her heat- and dehydration-induced headache. Then I went into the finisher area (thank you Challenge Roth media team for the access!) where I discovered Jeff already in recovery, while Abe had been whisked off to the infirmary for an IV drip. As the boys trickled in through the night it became pretty clear than even with training in the heat and humidity of the tropics, they were caught off-guard by the dry heat and winds of Roth in the summer.
You can imagine my relief when they all were able to finish!
I want to take my hat off to Jeff, who stuck to his game plan and finished even ahead of his expected time! It’s rare for an ironman virgin to have everything dialed down so perfectly. Way to go also for realizing early on in the race that you can’t quit and have your first ironman end in a DNF.
The more I talk with our Filipino ironmen the more I realize you can never have a perfect race at that distance. You will always have some hurdles to overcome. It’s how you deal with the low parts that are the real triumphs of an ironman. The finish is a celebration of all the hard work training and racing.
The Days After
The day immediately after the race, I was already scheduled to leave so I could tour some other places throughout the Bavarian region. Jeff and Chrys had set off for Zurich, while Nad and his wife were getting ready to leave for Venice.
I had one last late lunch with the Tri Clark boys after attending the victory ceremony around noon, and encouraged them to attend the volunteers thanksgiving party. They had been invited as part of the Challenge Philippines team. I would meet up with them again in Munich one last time before I flew back to Manila and they continued on their Eurotrip. Already they have plans to return and do this race properly next year! Will I do it with them? Maybe not, but I wouldn’t mind coming to watch again.
Challenge Roth is definitely a magical experience whether you’re a participant or a spectator. I don’t think there’s anything else like it on the planet! If my only memories of doing a full distance triathlon are from that race, I would consider myself spoiled for any other race.
I leave Germany tomorrow night and have plenty of other things to share with you about this trip — but that’s all I have from Roth. For now. :)