Oh here we go...down the rabbit hole.
We arrived in Roth a few days early to settle in to the environment and do a rekkie...I was surprised that there were very few people about, like ghost town quiet.
After setting into the hotel, we visited the swim start, the canal was cold and dead smooth --- quite a beautiful site. I did a couple of sessions in the canal. The visibility was worse than in Dubai on a bad day (I could hardly see my own hand) and the taste of salt was replaced by that of dirt, but nonetheless all seemed ok. I am by no means a good swimmer, however I was happy with my times @ 2min 5 sec 100’s. I figured on the day adrenalin would see me at about 2min per km for the duration; surely my time wouldn't be any slower than in IMSA, that was seriously choppy and hard to quite hard to sight.
A few short bike rides (one into Roth and the other to the swim start) and a quick run and I felt good to go. On the casual run I glanced at the watch, bloody hell I was running at 4:40’s (this is a huge improvement for me) - I had a little chuckle to myself as I thought, “what have you done to me Watson".
Over the course of the day after waking up the 2 flights of stairs at our hotel I was slightly out of breath, just figured it was fatigue and didn't think much of it.
On Friday we went to Roth to register and look at the expo; this was huge, bigger than anything I have seen to date, it made IMSA look small by comparison. I spent some time looking around, found something to eat, bought a bottle toolkit to hold the bits and pieces (rather than shoving them into a normal bottle). Next time I'll buy a strap to keep the bloody thing on as it fell out over a bump on the bike course; luckily a friendly spectator picked it up for me and saved me some time picking it up.
On Saturday morning, it was time to check the bike in, to say there was a few people would be an understatement, the place was jamming, bikes, athletes, music, food, and people bloody everywhere. I racked the bike in the wooden crate (love this). Let the tyres down, put the helmet on (they were giving these the serious once over on entry). We grabbed some food and sat back to soak in some atmosphere for the next 20min. Nice bikes, lots of people, good fun to be had.
At this time the nerves were starting, with some seriously good times from my fellow #TAW mates a week before at IM Austria I was feeling the pressure to get my shit together and give it a fair crack on race day. Then it was off to the race briefing in the afternoon, this was extremely hot, and the presentation being delivered in German followed by English didn't make it any shorter, but good information and a good vibe none the less.
At the hotel met a number of fellow “Rothers”. A couple of young lads who were aiming at 930-10 and some first timers, a good bunch of people with some good stories to tell. This is where I met Rory Bass, who told me about Ultraman Canada, and we all know how that has ended up - Canada here we come Aug 2018.
Back to the room, bags packed, checked and rechecked, I was ready for sleep by about 10, 6hrs and it was time to get up. Can't say I slept much! Next time check to see that the hotel has AC. A quick breakfast, eggs, bread, and some other stuff. This is not what I normally eat but it's what they had at the hotel, next time I'll pack the weetbix (stay with what you know). Jodi and I bundled into the car, with Rory and the two boys and off we went. We got about 3km into the 8km trip and the traffic slowed to a standstill, a bit of a sigh of relief that we had left early and that this would not affect us. The boys start time was 7am, mine 730am and Rory 8am.
I thought there were a lot of people at the bike checkin- wrong! Now there were people everywhere, to the point t it was hard to navigate the crowd to get into transition. Quick bike check, pump the tyres, check the helmet, oh shit, the bike computer; then I remembered Jodi had it in the swim bag, off I trot to get it.
Bike ready, I'm ready.
I say goodbye to Jodi, last hug and off I go. There was still a while to go for me but the pros had just started with a canon shot that shook the ground. From this point on, every 5 min another canon shot fired and 200 more athletes started. I laid down on the grass to collect my thoughts, 1:20-1:30 I am thinking, that will be fine,that will put me on target for a good day.
My start time came around quick enough, a drink of water, a couple of gels, cap and goggles and it's into the water I go. Swimming to the start line everything felt ok. The cannon explodes ….BOOM! We are off. Now this is where is all goes to the shit. Honestly, I don't know what happened. All of a sudden, I find I have stopped mid swim; I am coughing, dry reaching and vomiting….wtf!
I try to settle myself and get into a rhythm; I tell myself it's just nerves ...”get your shit together”. I do okay for another couple of hundred meters and the same again, this is not good! I find myself being passed by the next wave of swimmers, then another, then another….at this point I am over thinking - these people started 20 min behind me and have just passed me...wft!! This along with a massive headache, I thought this is due to the cold water (relative to Dubai).
I keep slogging away at the swim, but it's not getting better, any chance of sub 12 is disappearing fast! As I exit the swim I think “ok, I can come back from 1:30”…..I see Jodi on the fence line and mumble “I can't even tell you how bad that was” (she had thought for sure she had missed me). I move into transition, where have all the bags gone? I normally exit the water somewhere in the middle of the field, but this time my bag is one of very few left, then I look my watch, 1hr 54min holy shit!! What has just happened? How did I swim that slow?
Just before I enter the T1 tent, another coughing fit and sick again. The challenge volunteers are there and were a great help, a quick change and on the bike I go. Still thinking it's just nerves, I was sure the bike would be ok. Soon enough I realised that this was going to be a long day, struggling to push 180W (this is not normal) and with high winds (no wind they said - wrong). At about 30km in the same again, coughing, dry reaching and vomiting. This really wasn't helping! Maybe it was what I ate for breakfast? Maybe the gels…….just shut up and get on with it I say!
The atmosphere on the bike course was great, the support was amazing, small towns with music and beer, people in the middle of nowhere who have pulled up in their car and set up a table and cheering all with their clackers and horns. At one stage a bloke held up a beer, teasing one of the riders, to his surprise the bloke grabbed the beer and started drinking it as he rode, until he was chased down to get it back.
The bike course has a couple of decent climbs at 10-12%, solar hill and two others. These quickly zap the legs. The first one is the worst, a good crowd lines the street cheering us on, and it's needed as it's nasty, steep and long (prob not Austria steep) but tough none the less. A couple more climbs and then it's on to solar hill, this is amazing, albeit I wasn't in a good place to enjoy it. Thousands of people line the sides of the hill; riders in single file work their way up through the crowd and over the hill, this is very reminiscent of the TDF climbs.
The rest of the bike consisted of the much the same in terms of health, at some point down the road I realise that my pulse and breathing are not matching, this was a little weird to say the least. A few km down the road I thought my power meter was wrong as I couldnt get the watts I was used to, so I stop and reset it - hmm no change, weird. I find myself not making up as much ground on the bike as I normally do, I am not passing people but find myself being passed by the relay team riders. As you do on the bike, I just keep going, thoughts of my #TAW team kept me going, no wolf left behind. Another lap and at last I came to the finish stretch, turn right and 10 more km until Roth, coughing spluttering along.
I had actually thought I may have not made the cut off, but all was good. Off the bike, hand it over at the mount line, a helper grabs my run bag and into the T2 tent we go. “Is everything alright?” She asks ...I wonder does she ask everyone that or just me. Maybe it's the stumble as I enter the tent, maybe it's how I look. Shoes on, hat on, compression socks on, off we go. I find Jodi a hundred meters down the road, I tell her my woes, “you don't have to continue" she says - like hell I don't, I didn't come this far to quit now.
Off on the run, it's not flat, the new course is quite nasty. The course has been changed from flat along the river to a quite hilly 20km loop to make it more spectator friendly. Things don't get any better, I have no, and I mean NO energy, I want to go, my mind does, my legs do, but my lungs wont’ come to the party! Heart rate is 92, but breathing like a wild banshee who's just done the bridge interval session with Nick!
From this point onward it's a case of just get this done, any thoughts of a sub 12 time have long passed, now I'm thinking will I finish? Can I make the cut off? I start following people, finding people that I can try and stay connected with; I walk the hills, run the downs and flats, walk the aid stations, run two posts and walk one, anything to keep moving. I then set myself a new goal - sub14 -.some poor excuse for redemption.
The crowds keep me moving, the support is great, the last turn, now it's on the way home, but still nothing in the tank. As I make the last turn into the finish circle, it hits you, the last 400m is a blur, the music, the crowd, I wish I could have lived that for a lot longer. I can see the finish line and I'm done, literally! I cross the line just short of 14 hours and summon the energy for a smile with the finishers medal.
I find Jodi right in front of the finish line, I mumble a few words and then just lean on the fence trying to breathe and recover. Jodi jumps the fence to help me through to the athlete area, just around the corner we meet the medic team, jodi insists I lay on the bed… from there it's off to the medic tent (full of athletes who have pushed to their limit). 2 doctors, an ultrasound, a drip, then its off to hospital. In hospital more tests, bloods, an ecg, an xray and the diagnosis is acute pneumonia! Well that explains a lot. A huge thanks to the Challenge medical team at Roth, they did a great job.
I can hear the fireworks in the background, I've missed the party at the finish line and the final athletes. Not happy as I was really looking forward to being part of that, that’s part of what makes Roth special, but what to do. At 1am Jodi arrives at the hospital having got the bike and bags (this was a bit if a nightmare as they were in diff places across the town). The Doc suggests a few nights in hospital, however given that I seem in good spirits with antibiotics in hand, off we go. So that's my Roth experience, bastard nearly killed me but it's done! Thanks from Jodi and I for the amazing support from #TAW (wolf pack) and TriDubai.
July 20th, 2017