In April 2016, on or around my 45th birthday I set myself the target to improve my PB at every running and triathlon distance I had ever done (no midlife crisis here!). By April 2017 they were all in the bag except for the middle and full distance triathlons. Roll on Challenge Roth and Challenge Almere.
It would be easy to give a blow by blow account of each event, what I had for breakfast, how much power I put out on the bike, at which point in the race I bonked etc – but for me the journey and the memories are more important than the race (the destination).
A bit of luck
Is it not so true that some of the best nights out are the ones that weren’t planned!. I had often heard of Datev Challenge Roth, the iconic race in southern Germany, big crowds, world records but always understood that, like Kona, you needed to be “good” to get in. No so!. Browsing twitter one day I saw an article, read it, contacted an Australian travel company, got out my credit card and I was in. Now that wasn’t so hard.
Work on your weaknesses
It is funny what defines us. A few times in the recent years, others have commented to me that coming from a running background must make you better on the run section of a triathlon. 4 Hours 21 minutes at the London marathon in 2009 says that I didn’t come from a running background! We all started somewhere!.
Having improved this discipline, the “run” up to Challenge Roth was spent concentrating on the swim and bike. A big thank you to Westcroft Tri Club for the Swim Skills course in Autumn 2016 – without this I would probably not have had the confidence to join the Masters Swim sessions – this in turn improved my swim times no end. For those who don’t know, “Masters” translates more closely as “Old Codgers” rather than “a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity”. I fit in quite well.
Before I got into Triathlon, the longest bike ride I had done was probably as a paperboy. My times comparative to the field were awful but how do you train for this in South London with all the pot holes, white vans and drivers with mobile phones. Most people hate it but I embraced it, the indoor trainer. What I learned is that you can translate this onto the road. 80% of my bike training was done indoors and my longest bike ride was no longer than 70 miles. For those putting off trying to train for the full distance, it can be done without committing to 18 hours of training per week. I averaged 9 per week in the couple of months leading up to the event – it is possible, even with a job and kids. An understanding partner is a must though!.
Control the things you can control
I am getting better at this but when British Airways cancelled my flight to Germany at 6pm the evening before the flight to Roth it did cause a bit of a spike in the blood pressure. History records that I did get there. I worried excessively about flying with my bike (it being lost or broken en route) but there is not a lot you can do about it so don’t waste energy on it. The bike has arrived and returned just fine from 2 events so far.
What I could have planned for better was putting my bike back together when I arrived in Germany. No point having a list of every tool required to do the job if you don’t know how to rehang your rear derailleur! It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube in a hotel room!. When are Westcroft Tri running that Bike Maintenance for Idiots course?
Challenge Roth Race Day – Before the Race
What were my memories of the day? There was tangible apprehension in the air as everyone gathered and got ready for the race. Let’s face it, it is a big race, a long day and the pinnacle of sporting achievement for many taking part. The emotional / motivational music laid on in the start area by the organizers made me quite reflective – what I had achieved to be there. The sun was rising, the hot air balloons were taking off, but it was a joy to be there and taking part. I am lucky that I don’t get nervous (stand me in front of a group of people for a speech and I will crumble) but on the start line of a sporting event I am thankfully ok. Whatever your disposition – take a deep breath and do you best to embrace the moment.
Challenge Roth Race Day – The Race
You’ve done the training – the race is more mental challenge than physical. 300m into the swim the guy next to me was doing some “fist” drills. Don’t involve yourself, swim away (ok so I did want to whack him back!). The fastest swimmers at the beginning – you will go past them after 10-15 minutes, control yourself, swim at your pace not theirs. When you are 1 hour into the bike and the little demon on your shoulder says there is another 5 hours on the bike and a marathon to go – squash that demon. Once you finish you will look back and say that wasn’t so bad.
Challenge Roth was the first race I had done where my bike and run splits were as close to each other as they could be i.e. first half of each within a couple of minutes of the second half. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the way to go in endurance events – blasting off at the start will cost you quadruple later.
Challenge Roth Race Day – The Finish
In the lead up to big events, we all dream of sprinting over the finish line and maybe the
beers we will drink afterwards. For me the finish line is always a bit of an anti-climax. You are so tired you can’t really enjoy it (or sprint it!) or take it all in, you try to take on some food – you can’t. You try the beer – even the alcohol-free ones won’t go down. No worries though – once you get passed that (even the next day) you get the chance to absorb just what you have achieved. Most of us do this for fun, we are not elite athletes, a full distance triathlon is a long, long way and it is hard (but doable). Just make sure you book your next one as soon as your finished – there is an addict in all of us!
So, it was on to Challenge Almere. The longest running full distance event outside of Kona. I was supposed to do the full distance but I changed this to the middle distance. In part this was due to achieving my goals at Roth, in part due to struggling to re-motivate after such a high but also – I had that middle distance PB to do!
I had a great race, blowing away my PB by a massive amount but my memories…..
The kids had just gone back to school so I travelled with my father. Whilst he can be a pain in the bum at times it was great to share the experience and a few beers with him. Just need to teach him how to “stand out” in the crowd – don’t think I saw him until the run. For Challenge Roth I went on my own, having a supporter with you does make a big difference.
As there was full distance event running at the same time I was able to finish, shower, eat, re-bag the bike and still make my way back to the finish area to see and cheer on those finishing in 12, 13, 14 hours. I’m not normally the best supporter, I’ve never volunteered at Parkrun but it felt good to cheer on like-minded people as they finished their journey. They looked tired after their efforts but 12 months earlier that was me at Challenge Regensburg. We are all sharing the same experience. Note to all of us – Volunteer more.
For the record, Challenge Roth was completed in 11 hours and 37 mins (50% of competitors behind me) and Challenge Almere in 5 hours 14 minutes (within 15% of the age group winner so maybe I’ll get the chance to wear the GBR age group vest next year!) – like a younger, better looking Chris Holland! (Ouch!). I put these achievements down to one big factor – consistent training. Don’t get injured by over-training, look after yourself so you don’t get ill and when you have to – take time to recover.
So, one year older and one year wiser – what’s next. I never thought that I could run a marathon in under 4 hours (failed often enough). Off to Boston next April to try for sub 3:15. I never thought I could do a full distance triathlon, never mind do it in under 12 hours. New target of sub 11 hours has been set. And for good measure – a sub 5 hours middle distance. And Kona? – Why Not! – even middle aged men in Lycra can have a dream.
We might all be getting older but that does not stop us improving, setting new challenges and new targets. What is your challenge for the 2018 triathlon season?