*** many thanks to Annabelle Rust for this race report ***

Someone asked me after the race if I had any real 'dark moments' and to be honest, I didn't really have any hugely horrible ones, I was very lucky. Overall I think that Roth went as well as I could have imagined my first ironman to go. Don’t get me wrong, there were still definitely a scattering of not very bright moments. I have tried in this race report to be descriptive and informative for people who might like to do Roth, but it was my first ironman and I'm not a very technical triathlete so don't expect many stats!  I personally really like to read race reports in general, but in particular before this race they helped me a lot. Each race report is so different and combined they gave me plenty of tips and confidence as I went into my first IM. So hopefully I can add to that combination with my own experience (sorry though, I’m not succinct).

Hearing how many people were unsuccessful in getting a spot in Roth 2016, I was clearly very lucky to get one for this year's race. I only decided around November 2014 that I might be keen to give my first ironman distance race a shot, despite genuinely having had no interest in going for the long distances up until that point. I missed the Niklaus-Aktion ticket sales that Challenge have on the 6th December or thereabouts as I was racing Challenge Bahrain. I then realised that actually I DID really want to race Roth! And somehow, incredibly, they posted on Facebook that they had another 50 slots or so, and I got in! So if you still haven't got an entry slot for 2016, don't despair just yet! Or try the Aussie company Tri Travel who might have some openings.

One thing I will say is that if you sign up to Roth, make sure to go a few days before. The days before the race were so much fun, familiarising ourselves with the course and just soaking up the incredibly welcoming atmosphere of the region. It looked like there are pretty good camping/campervan facilities near T1 which would be a great option I think. One thing I would have been glad to be more in control of was the food I ate in the run up to the race. Many people have said this before and I guess it's never easy when you're travelling, but perhaps staying in such a facility might make that easier, though granted it might be a more likely option if you live in Europe already. Having said all that, my pre-race dinner of Bratwurst & potato salad did no harm in the end! If you're looking for a nice B&B and can't find one closer, I recommend Gasthof Arnold in Gunzenhausen, about a half hour drive from T1, a few of us stayed there and at another hotel in Gunzenhausen.

Training

I used the free ironman distance training plans from Beginnertriathlete.com & TriathlonPlus magazine/triradar.com. I certainly had tons of advice from more experienced triathletes and the great group training for Roth that got together especially for a few Hatta rides and middle of the night AQ sessions, with Tim Hawes in particular acting as unofficial coach & key training buddy who I could bore with a million questions whilst out on our long runs. I also read a lot of articles and blogs online, and I bought Joe Friel's Going Long which was quite useful prior to starting training. I had intended to become more acquainted with HR training, but apart from knowing what my average HR was for what would probably be my race pace, I didn't become more familiar with it. I've said it before but technical stuff really does go over my head, I basically just did the hours/kms it said on the plan and basta! 

The Swim

It's really worth going for the training swim in the canal which opens up on the Friday before the race, if only for a bit of confidence! I have to say that it was a very pleasant swimming experience; the water is hardly clear or blue but seemed clean enough, and I found the proximity of the canal banks, and spectators during the race, comforting. One thing to bear in mind is not to stick too close to the bank as you probably do a bit extra. I found that I was closer to the bank and tried to veer back to the middle after a while. Although there had been threats to make it a non-wetsuit swim a few days prior due to the increased temps, we had some more rain and I found the water, with wetsuit, an ideal temperature. I did flush my wetsuit as I got into the water, which I'm sure annoyed some people around me as I crouched down to fill my wetsuit and then backtracked up the ramp a little to flush it, but I think it was worth it. I didn't worry too much about my position at the start; I just wanted to avoid being at the front, or too far back, to have a gentle start and ease in. This worked out well, and the ladies were quite a kind bunch around me with very little thrashing or beating. It wasn't long before I had my own space and got into my groove. I'm not one for drafting really; I understand its benefits but I find it awkward and just enjoy swimming in my own space far more! And enjoy I did, I really loved the swim. It's the only one of the disciplines where you've trained the full distance and more several times (I had done a good handful of 4km swims in training) so I felt confident, but I also didn't want to push it too much as I had no idea what was in store for me at this point! I was actually a little hungry already on the swim which wasn't ideal; I'd had my usual pre-race brekkie of oats, banana, honey, almond butter & soy milk at about 3.30am with a swim start of 6.45 and had only a couple Pro Bar Bolt chews and some sports drink in between; I should have had a little something more. But not much you can do about that with a face fully immersed in water so I just ignored it. You swim out towards a bridge and then loop back where you pass the swim start on the other side of the canal, and can hear the cheering crowds, announcers & the booming cannon start which gives you a good jump! There you carry on towards another bridge and a bit further and then loop back to the finish. At this point I was still enjoying the swim so much and it seemed to be going really quickly, and I thought I could speed up a little. So I did, and before I knew it I saw the Swim Exit; I was actually genuinely a bit disappointed that it was over & I had to get out if the water! 1h10 minutes, which I was really pleased with and thought, hey I could do better next time surely?!

The Bike

I didn't faff around in transition too long, apart from with my race belt which I seem to always have issues with, it always seems to tangle itself while I'm away! The helpers are really very helpful, and I felt almost as though I had faster transitions than in shorter distance races. Note to self for future long distance races: use some chammy butter. I thought ahh it's a race & when does one put it on anyway (in transition? Awks). If you use it in training, use it in the race. It's a long ride. Enough said on the matter but that’s my thought anyway, not sure if others would agree. The bike is 2 loops and then an extra section to take you to T2, and it is beautiful. Undulating in places, with Kalvarienberg & Solarberg being the biggest inclines. And both are totally manageable. One thing I'll say, if you drive the course before race day, Kalvarienberg, whilst steep, will look far worse than it actually is! In fact, the whole course seemed soooo much longer in the car than on the bike! And Solarberg, well that is just the most unreal experience that you will hardly notice it's a hill, especially as you have hundreds of screaming cheering faces barely an arm's length from your face so you gotta keep face, smile & climb! There is also a stretch with some pretty steep descents and I think 3 turns (hairpin perhaps? I think at least one of them) with hay barrels stacked up so you don't go over the edge should you go out of control (this is a bit after Kberg). It's worth knowing these are coming up actually as I didn't find the warning signage stood out particularly well. Again, I was pretty petrified seeing these from the car as I hate descents as it is, but I just went slowly and they were fine. If you're a scaredy-cat on downhills like me, just watch out for the brave/crazy speedsters making their way down past you (and likewise I should think speedsters should bear in mind there will be slow-pokes even if it does annoy you!).

I didn't wait too long on the bike before starting to eat, just enough to let my stomach settle but I was hungry so wanted to get some energy in, and began my quarter-hourly feeding of either a GU gel, SIS energy drink or water with a ProBar Base bar at about 4 hours and occasional Pro Bar Bolt chews . This sequence does seem to work rather well for me & my stomach, so I'll stick to it! I intended on cycling at a 28-30 km/hr pace, and was nearer the 30km/hr pace starting off. I felt good so I didn't feel that I needed to slow myself down, but I was aware that I needed to keep my eye on it. As they were saying over the loudspeaker that morning 'be patient. It's a long day'. I knew from reading race reports and hearing stories from other athletes that things can change very quickly, so I knew not to get over-excited if I was feeling good so far, there was a long way to go. I really can't remember when it occurred, but in the first half of the first lap, going up a wee hill, I obviously changed my gears badly & heard the horrible sound of something going wrong with my chain. I am quite proud at how quickly I reacted and unclipped to get off my bike (I've been riding clipped in for years now but I still get nervous when I have to clip out, especially at short notice, and I have had a couple recent incidents of falling off my bike for the STUPIDEST unclipping reasons). Technical faults are in general one of my biggest fears in racing, as apart from changing my tires I'm clueless. I had my serviced in Dubai at Adventure HQ before departure, and checked at the bike shop just next to T1 on arrival in Roth. It's worth knowing that they also offer excellent technical support on the race, with 3 motorbikes going around for that purpose, as well as, I think, 5 additional bike tech stops near certain aid stations (prepared even to give you a replacement wheel if necessary!). Obviously you should still be prepared to sort out your own issues, but it is reassuring to know there are people there to help. Anyway, I digress. All that had happened was my chain came off, and I did manage to stay calm & with greasy fingers set off pretty quickly, with a bit more of a thumping heart than before. Fortunately, that was to be my only bike issue.

Shortly after this, and still rather early into the race I really needed to pee. And this is where I am going to embarrass myself, in public, so that others don't make the same mistake. Or maybe none of you would do this anyway & I'm just an idiot. During training, a few people had talked about peeing on their bike during an IM. And no, I didn't misinterpret them & they meant peeing on the 'bike leg', they definitely meant ON the bike. So I assumed that this would have to happen during the race (I read that you should ideally pee twice on an ironman bike leg). I'd even joked about 'practising' it several times during training, but obviously never did. So, I was in my stride on the first loop of the bike, needed to pee, and didn't want to stop. So, I peed on my bike. Yes, I did. A squirt of water after to clean up, and I thought hey I did it! Don't judge me. Now comes the problem with this. I was wearing socks. And, later, on the 2nd loop, I had to go again. And throughout this time, I had seen plenty of people stop on the side of the road to do their business behind a bush. Ahh, so that's what people do (or at least people, like me, who didn't REALLY need to be concerned with a couple extra minutes on the clock). At this point my feet were cold from my pee-socks, and I was not going to repeat the same process. So I stopped by some trees, used nature's toilet facility, took off my socks & shoved them in my pocket to be thrown at the next aid station (sorry people). I am not a litterer. I had fresh socks for the run so all was fine & I felt much better for it after. Anyway, enough with the pee stories, I think I have embarrassed myself enough now. 

I started seeing more 'casualties' shall we say, along the roadside, a guy vomiting, another being attended to by a paramedic, and for me, these were just reminders of how things can go bad so to keep focused and steady. I was having no issues with nutrition so far, but had to replace my water bottle a few times as it was pretty hot. I then had a banging headache, and recalled a quote my sister had mentioned to me the day before, one that I had dismissed as not inspirational enough, "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional". I thought, ok I have this headache, but why? I'm definitely hydrated enough (see above)...ahh, perhaps I'm over-hydrated? The symptoms of both are similar right? So I thought I had better ease off the liquids, or at least the water. And actually, it worked. Whether or not that was the reason who knows, but in this instance thinking like that worked. My second climb up Kberg I still felt good, and spotted my sister-in-law's dad & brother cheering me on at the top (I had an a awesome support crew), but shortly thereafter I started to lose my lustre. I was ok, but getting tired, back hurting etc. My second climb up Solarberg was still pretty cool, but I struggled with my breathing a bit more & was enjoying the remaining supporters cheering in my face a little less (I know, ungrateful, but I needed more air!) and was quite glad to reach the top where the crowd thinned out. From there until the end I just plodded on, I can't really remember much apart from aching a lot more & feeling very ready to get OFF the bike! 6.16 for the bike.

The Run

Very happily I reached T2, and very very happily handed my bike over to one of the helpers and skipped my way through T2 rather swiftly. I was so ready to run (well, as ready as you can be when you're about to start a flipping marathon, which I had really tried not to think about on the bike) & not ride, that I of course started my run faster than I ought to have. I saw my boyfriend and family on the first stretch, which was great, and I was very aware that I was going faster than my race pace of approx 6min/km. I did try to slow myself down a bit, but I also just thought I'd allow my legs to stretch themselves and settle down naturally, until the first aid station at least, then I'd force myself to slow down if I hadn't yet done so naturally. I think by that point anyway I had settled myself into a slower pace, but I felt good. Why is it that after long AQ rides going for a run feels absolutely awful, but on race day somehow the legs feel great? Adrenaline?

I decided following other race reports and chats that I would walk through aid stations (they were pretty short anyway) and I started off by consuming either water or their 32I electrolyte drink, which seemed to do the job and tasted quite nice (I have since tried more of their products and think they’re quite good and relatively natural, they were also being used at IM Frankfurt so must be popular in Germany at least). I also stopped a bit longer at the first aid station to request sun block. I didn't want to burn to a crisp. This was my first ever marathon, and although I had dreams that somehow, possibly, I could try to finish in under or just 4 hours, I also knew that this was probably unrealistic/silly for my first IM, and again I didn't want to push it to try, and then really suffer at the end. So I just went at my pace and carried on. There was one point where I had to walk for a short stretch because I found breathing a bit difficult, as in when I breathed in more deeply it hurt/felt insufficient. It felt like several times after training in the heat and humidity in Dubai, afterwards I would find breathing deeply quite uncomfortable/painful. But this is also something that can make you panic, and so I thought I'd better just walk and see how it went. I then started running again, saw my family where my brother ran with me shortly & commiserated in my breathing issue, and then after that it pretty much disappeared, or at least it did from my mind. And from that point on I ran continuously apart from aid stations without any major issues.

It was great to run and see TriDubai faces on the course, and made for good focus points too if you thought you were due to see someone at a certain point. The run largely takes place on the path running alongside the canal, with a few loops that go into a town, a forest, residential area etc, with tons of supporters. I think I started drinking coke around 30km, which was much needed at that point, not only for the sugar but the bubbles I found quite satisfying at that point. I had a bit of watermelon at one or two aid stations, but I did inspect them a bit as I felt some of the fruit had been standing around a bit too long in the hot weather, so didn't want to risk anything. I spat out a banana when it tasted a bit dodgy. It was probably around 35km where I felt like I just didn't want to run anymore - I was definitely a bit fed up at that point! But luckily, the legs were on autopilot by that point and again, I saw some family on this stretch (they had done quite well to space themselves out & organise view points, it is not an easy race to navigate as a spectator I must say, although the race organisers give plenty of info, planning is required!) and soon enough I was approaching the last few km's. These are mentally hard aren't they? So close, yet so far and each km seems to drag. I saw a guy on the return loop kiss the 41 km sign with a little smile and got excited about my turn. You actually go up a little hill into the town a few km from the finish, which I thought was highly unnecessary at this stage, but at the end of it you run through this square with a semi-circle of tables all set up and spectators cheering you on as the announcer introduces you with the info you gave in sign-up. Such a boost! The spectators were awesome over the whole course it has to be said. With the French flag on my number (feeling a little guilty not to have my other half, USA, on it as well) I got so many 'Allez allez allez's throughout the race, it was awesome...the Frenchies know how to cheer! But also every other nationality on the race & sidelines, they made a real effort cheering everyone on!

Anyway, next thing I know I'm running down the finisher's chute, it was a weird sensation I must say! I didn't actually look around enough to soak it all up, and then there was Stefan & Anja cheering on the side and handing me the TriDubai banner to run to the end with! I didn't know that I deserved it but I felt very proud to run with Roy and the TriDubai logo on my back. And then, you stop running. Receive huge medal. And can call yourself an Ironman. I didn't actually know my time at this point exactly, as I had not swum with my watch on (I've previously had issues with it in races from swim to bike); I had expected to finish in 12+ hours, so when Kenny told me he'd seen my time of 11.52 on the TriDubai Facebook page, I was of course over the moon! Definitely better than I anticipated! And I had completed my first marathon (4.21) as part of it; I was pretty chuffed about that!

What’s next? Well, I think I will do another ironman at some point but I’m not in any rush due to the massive commitment that it is and I’m enjoying finding a bit more balance between training and other things. I’d like to focus on shorter races for now, and I need to get some motivation back again as well. One major piece of advice I would pass on is to really try and fit in all your stretching/sports massages/yoga/strength training/foam rolling; also in the days/weeks after the race! I went on holiday, walked lots and thought hey that’s probably good enough. It’s clearly not. I now have a dodgy hip which crept up at the end of my ironman training and has become worse since the race despite not having any pain during or immediately after, and is now taking time to remedy – I’m seriously missing running! I was so determined to keep up all of that throughout my training, but just didn’t find the time or perhaps make enough time, and this is something I would try to incorporate more strictly into my training if I do an IM again. But, for anyone out there considering it, I say go for it. It’s an amazing experience from the training through to race day, and if you can get a place, go to Roth!