*** many thanks to Takamasa Makita for this race report ***
"Cut, bruised, battered... but smiling"
4 km into the bike...
Gasping for air, I was seeing stars... What happened?
Lying on my back in pain, there on the side of the road, things flashed back in slow motion. The pros on their second lap overtaking on the tight section, and once they were past I hammered it to hit 40+kmph, then... hit a curve. Going down hard, slamming the bike and my body on the concrete, once twice three times... until we came to rest. Motionless, except the bike wheels spinning spinning...
Get up... can I continue? ... get up...
Roth: the legendary race.
Challenge Roth (pronounced Ro-t), Bavaria, Germany. I heard about this race a few years ago when a group from T2A had signed up. I had just started triathlon then so did not understand the significance of this race. Now I do a little ... and if anyone is thinking of doing one ironman distance then this should be it (bar perhaps Kona, but with the lottery now banned, Roth should be that one race).
Check out the race race video, with the famous Solar Hill:
As many people saw from the Facebook postings, TriDubai was there in force. Not just force, but many of the top guys and girls were there... it was a privilege to share the start line and the course with them, though I knew most would be back hours before me! Also managed to squeeze in a light session together a day before the race - next time, will try and arrive earlier so I am more "acclimatised" (especially for the swim...)
I said choose Roth, but it is now very difficult to obtain an entry slot. I was fortunate enough, when my friend got me in just before Christmas... What a good friend (curse swear), thanks Patrick!, which meant training in Dubai over the summer months. There is a reason why S Africa IM, along with Taupo or Melbourne, is popular with the Dubai crowd because you are able to train in the cooler months.
All of us going to Roth were more worried about the Euro heat wave, than Grexit (please forgive me my Greek friends), which saw Frankfurt IM a week before being raced in 40c... fortunately that dropped off as race w/e approached and we were greeted with. A kind 30c but pretty strong winds in the latter part of the day. These are moments when you are glad to have gone out to AQ in a sandstorm... What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?
I don't think I have seen so many people at one race.. marathons yes, but triathlon? Never. Not sure what the exact number was, but 4000 to may be 5000 even! And OMG, the spectators!!! On the bridge (see photo) and all along the canal... absolutely mind-blowing!
But staying focussed... Transition before the start was buzzing with nervous tension, and the big canon which went off every 5 mins for the start of each wave added to the anticipation. Nobody likes this pre-start tension, but we all waited making small talk :)
I had a target, for the first time in an ironman distance (this being my third), a 12/sub 12 in good conditions was in reach, ... we shall see.
The swim has been, still is, my weakest discipline and whilst I had hit my target of sub 5 at ITU AUH maxi distance, the swim left much to be desired. So for the first time, I enlisted the help of a coach - a swim specialist, Rory.
Rory Buck has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and to top it off a top bloke (nice guy?) and I am deeply disappointed not to have hit (or come close to) our target time for the swim at the race. However, we only had 6 weeks or less to work due to my work travel. Apologies Coach. My pool times for the shorter distances improved dramatically, so the challenge now is converting that into open water and longer distances.
Also, it is vital you practice in the same conditions as race day... the last time I used a wetsuit was at the ITU in Feb, I think. The last time with wetsuit in fresh water was... Taupo IM, March 2014! The 15mins swim in a nearby lake in a wetsuit was definitely not enough. Ah well, we live and learn (though I should know better by now).
Target time 1:20-1:25, which isn't fast by most people but the key was to swim smooth, save energy and set up bike and run.
Roth swim is in a sealed canal, and we swim anti-clock-wise. No current, no waves and limited need for sighting. The width of the canal isn't much, and I started near the shore as the briefing had mentioned a whirl pool effect in the middle...
5 minutes into the swim, I smacked the canal floor and sliced open my middle finger. Blood.... no time to stop, ouch, blood... ok deep laceration and I need to find a way to swim with least pain. Not ideal and it wasn't until a good 30mins in that I found my rythm...
Out of the water in 1:34... v slow... back to the pool sessions!
I saw some emergency guys, asked for a band aid. They didn't have one - tried to put a massive bandage on the finger (it was bleeding badly on the doctor post race finish mentioned stitches except too much time had passed..). I refused the bandage as I needed use of the finger for gear shift/break... so left T1 non-plussed, and a loss for several minutes. The human body does stop blood with adrenalin and endorphin so I decided to rely on this on the bike, probably not recommended for everyone (or any one really!). In hindsight, I should have spent a few more minutes having the finger tended to... hard when in race mode.
So back to the bike, two loops of 90km ending at T2 which is in Roth itself (the swim/T1 in about 15 mins away).
4km in... bang
Several spectators came to my aid. I was still lying there, checked shoulder ouch, hip ouch, elbow ouch, ankle... anyhow, figured nothing was broken so looked at my bike... the chain was mangled, handle bars bent. Poor bike. Looked at myself... blood from knees,shins, butt... and TriDubai shorts in tatters - sorry, took one for the team. Will have to buy another pair!
Now.. my elbows despite the knock were ok, thanks to the elbow cover. I normally wear leggings on my calves but decided not to in the race... if I had worn them then they would have covered my skin. Recommendation would be to use arm and calf covers, for the usual reasons of protection against the sun and for muscle fatigue.
I took a deep breath. Death before DNF (whoever came up with this phrase should be punished, severely) .. the thought of the hours of training, and the TriDubai support back home. Got up.
Back on my feet, on the bike, I clipped in and started again.. my bike computer was broken and my Garmin had frozen. It's a good thing I normally train by feel, which is something I would recommend people to do once in a while (not all the time like me). I can honestly say I "felt" the effort level required and I can sustain for the 180km with a marathon afterwards, and despite the fall I managed 6:20, I wasn't far outside my target of 5:45-6:00.
One point I have to mention is the support - OMG, Solar Hill and many other places, whole towns, villages, hamlets we passed had loud speakers, long tables and zillions of supporters... I heard 200,000 people out supporting. Very believable!
Back to the race.... The body wasn't reacting in the normal way, with the blood and raw skin drying up after a few hours in the sun, and having to pick out splinters from every where on the ride... why I continued, I still don't know. Stupid, stubborn, screwed up.
Target 4:30-4:45, which by the time I exited T2 wouldn't get my to sub 12. Ok, sub 13... but it was still a tough ask, and the bruised hips in particular from the fall.... run in the best form possible even if slow, this does the least damage from my experience.
In the end, my run time was far off what I wanted ... second half trailing off badly, having to walk/crawl/shuffle. However, bruised, battered but I finished with a smile, and went to the medical tent straight away.. shame as I wanted to savour the moment inside the stadium a bit more... I had a Japanese and UAE flag as I entered the finish stadium, and as I crossed Macca came and shook my hand, which was a nice gesture.
Inspiration - it was the faces of the TriDubai and Downtown Tri team mates on the course and back in Dubai that kept me honest, despite slow honesty on the run. Naz and Marco, always smiling. Bondy, serious focus. Kenny and Annabelle, flying home in amazing times. Gavin, Mark, Neil, Alan and Alex all gritting their teeth in the sheer bloody minded determination. Guy, Vicky, shame I didn't see you on the course and your race issues... And I also knew the massive support on FB, and switching the phone on post-race, I was close to tears with all the supportive words. Race time sub 14, not sub 12 or even sub 13 but I stuck it out...
So a bit of rest, more focus on half distances... and I am not going to say I will never, as I have said it twice before.
Nutrition - I stuck to my plan, bars, chomps at the regular intervals I have trained on (this is key) and adjusted for the day by taking more salt tablets than normal judging from my sweat level. Hydration was regular with aid station at good intervals, and I feel pretty good the day after.
Also, speed/power by feel... in case all the gadgets fail, you still need to race. So it's something worth considering incorporating into your training.
Take hotel slippers to race start, before swim, so you can discard them before entering the water.
Don't under-estimate the Euro sun - my neck is quite crispy, and sun burn does take a lot out of you, especially in a longer race.
Cover arms, calves in case you fall on bike. A lot of compression stuff on the market...
How to fall on the bike... Not that you want to but good to have it in your mind. There is a good YouTube video on what to do in case you do fall... looking at my bike as I pack for my flight home, it's covered in blood, sweat and gu/iso liquid and some parts are hanging by a thread and I said a big thank you to my bike for carrying me the distance.
Many thanks to everyone for the continuous support, friendship, inspiration... without all of you I wouldn't have completed the race.
Special mention to Rory for the swim, Tyrone, Jan, Evan, Avanthi, Alex, Kate, Scott, Michael, Mark for various training sessions. Other members of TriDubai and Downtown Tri, each and every one of you - all inspiration and a pleasure to be part of the group.
I am not going to say never again, but may say focus on halves and try to nail a few before I come back to this distance again!
Right, where is the beer to numb this pain?