||Quelle Challenge Roth
||Sunday, July 2, 2006
||Triathlon - Ironman
||Male 35 - 39
||63 / 2700
|Age Group Place:
||16 / 504
||The Magic of Roth
The Magic of Roth
Q: What is Roth?
Roth, the name of a town and the surrounding county in the Bavarian region of southern Germany, is the location of the Quelle Challenge – an Iron-distance triathlon that recently attracted 2,700 individual entries and 1,700 athletes in relay teams from more than forty countries on July 2, 2006. The Quelle Challenge, formerly Ironman Europe, is the largest Iron-distance race in the world.
Q: Why race in Roth?
Roth is a magical place and a race experience like none of the other nine different Iron-distance races that I have competed in. Please read on…
Q: What is the course like?
In spite of being a host to the world record Iron-distance time of 7:50 set by Belgian Luc Van Lierde in 1997 and winning times that always seem hover just under or just over the eight hour mark, Roth is not a flat course – my heart rate monitor measured more than 5,000 feet of climbing for the combined bike and run courses. The bike course is also technical in places, requiring cyclists to navigate tight turns through small towns along with a few switchbacks with hay bales lined against the side of the road to catch erring athletes. The run is mostly flat as it primarily takes athletes out and back in both directions along the Main-Donau canal, so the bulk of the climbing occurs during the two-loops of the bike leg.
Both years, I have also experienced strong headwinds and heat. Temperatures on the bike and run can be uncomfortably hot – approaching 90° F – with little to no shade.
The swim is very fast – the relatively narrow, low flow (if any flow) canal makes for easy sighting and requires little navigational skill other than to sight the shore while breathing then occasionally looking forward to find the feet of a marginally stronger swimmer. I swam my two fastest 2.4-mile swim times in this race.
Q: If not an easy course, then what makes the Quelle Challenge so fast and so popular?
In my mind (this is purely subjective of course), there are three primary reasons.
Reason #1: Raw Energy.
“Hop! Hop! Hop!”
““Go, David! Super! Super!”
The noise from the crowds and the music were deafening as I attacked the climbs first at Greding then again at Solar Berg. A solid wall of screaming, waving, animated fans blocked my path up Solar Berg until the last possible moment before pulling back to allow me to move forward. As I pass, the gap quickly closed behind me in anticipation of the next cyclist. It is as if the crowd embraces each cyclist in a protective cocoon to move him or her quickly and safely up the hill in a rhythmic, pulsing motion. I soaked in the crowd’s energy, which seemed to drive my legs forward faster than they could have moved if I were alone.
When I entered the finish stadium at the finish of my marathon (there’s a temporary stadium built for the race), I felt like I was at a rock star coming on stage at a rock concert. The crowds were deafening and there was my image displayed on the large projection screen as I happily slapped extended hands and pumped my fists in joy!
These are only two of the many examples of the crowd energy that was present all day.
Reason #2: Athlete talent.
Being surrounded by a deep bench of talented athletes is motivating. With the exception of racing in the Hawaii Ironman, I doubt there is as much depth in any other race. To give an idea of the depth of talent, I finished with a time of 9:19, which would have put me on the age group podium in many Iron-distances races and qualified me for the Hawaii Ironman. At Roth, I was 63rd overall and 16th in my age group more than an hour behind men’s winner Chris McCormack.
Reason #3: Venue.
From all angles, the Challenge is a top-notch event fully embraced by and embedded in the local community – this pride is evident everywhere. From my arrival into town a week before the race, I saw banners and signs everywhere welcoming the athletes. The locals were excited about the event – everyone seems to be involved as either a spectator or a volunteer. More than 4,000 volunteers participate – as many as the number of athletes.
When I sat down with Felix Walchshöfer, the race director a week after the race, I asked him, “How do you do it? What makes this race so exceptional?”
As we talked over three hours, one common theme kept coming up: teamwork. Felix repeatedly referred to teamwork between the race organization, the volunteers and the community.
Given that Roth and the surrounding community only consist of small towns, local families host many of the athletes. My girlfriend, Laura and I stayed with our host family, the Spiegl’s both years that I raced. They were wonderful hosts and treated us like royalty. The Spiegl’s expect us back again next year.
For me personally, I am always chasing another sub-nine hour race. With its crowds, its talent, and its venue, the Quelle Challenge is an ideal race and venue for me to achieve that.
Q: What is the racing experience like?
Ten minutes before the start, my wave with the first 400 athletes funneled through a narrow entranceway, across timing mats, down the stone steps into the cool Main-Donau Canal water. With ten minutes to go, I stroked freestyle easily back and forth behind the starting line – essentially a long lane line from a swimming pool – as I warmed my muscles in preparation for the long hours of perpetual motion ahead.
With five minutes to go, I lined up at the starting line, treading water a few feet away from Chris McCormack (last year’s male winner), Faris Al-Sultan (Hawaii Ironman World Champion in 2005), Belinda Granger (last year’s female winner) and other exceptionally talented professional athletes like Joanna Lawn, Kieran Doe, Andrea Niedrig, Clas Björling, and Olaf Sabatschus.
I looked behind me at the bridge over the Main-Donau Canal on which stood thousands of spectators eagerly awaiting the start of the race. To my left in the near distance, four or five colorful hot air balloons sat patiently anchored to the ground also waiting for the starting gun.
The water temperature was warm for a full wetsuit – 22° C or approximately 72° F – so I would need to periodically pull at my neck to allow in cooler water against my skin to prevent overheating and sweating too much.
With a loud bang, four hundred bodies launched forward into motion. Once the initial churn of swimmers fighting for position settled down, I popped my head up not to sight but rather to find legs ever so slightly faster than me so that I can ride behind a small wake in order to travel at a slightly faster pace than I could swim alone. I did not need to worry about swimming off course because I could see the sides of the canal and cheering people on either side that I breathed.
With help from two volunteers I regained my legs on the boat ramp, glancing up to see a new swim PR time of just under 55 minutes. I grabbed my canvas transition bag (canvas bags are a very nice touch), passed through the changing tent, and began the bike leg.
As I rode through the small village of Eckelsmühl at about 7:30, I noted that there were already spectators sitting at the tables lined up against the streets with beers in hand. Very impressive!
The bike leg is where I am reminded how deep the talent bench is here. I set a fairly aggressive pace, but I am still passed frequently by stronger riders. Towards the end of the first loop, I was riding mostly by myself but then pick up the relay riders who are starting their first loop as I began my second loop.
I finished the bike just under five hours so still see 5:XX on the clock. If I could run a sub three-hour marathon, I would have my sub nine-hour race. Unfortunately, this was not in the cards for me today.
The run begins on paved roads before transitioning quickly to hard packed dirt for much of the course. There is shade in as we head to and from the canal, but once on the canal there is no shade.
On the way out to the first turnaround point, I pass Faris Al-Sultan and a trailing Chris McCormack, both of which are about 15-Km ahead of me at this point in time. I think to myself that Faris is having a great day as he pull away from Chris.
On the way out to the second turnaround point, I pass Chris and Faris again but with Chris in the lead in this time. I find out later that Chris had flatted on the bike and had to make up more than five minutes at the start of the run to catch Faris.
Even on the long, barren stretches of the canal, there are still spectators parked to cheer on the athletes. At the starting point, the point where the run splits and each of the turnaround points, there are large crowds and loud music. I feel like a celebrity and I hear my name announced and chanted over and over again.
The loud, energetic welcome was there again for me at the finish line.
When Laura and I returned later that night to watch the fireworks, the finish line stadium was packed with even more cheering, happy fans and athletes. Each late finishing athletes was welcomed into the stadium as if he or she was the race winner. The event ended with everyone lighting sparklers then fireworks.
Q: I’m traveling from the United States and don’t speak German. Is this an issue?
“Meine Damen und Herren…” began Felix, the race director, in German.
“Ladies and Gentleman…” he began again a minute later in English.
The speakers at the pre-race pasta dinner, athlete meeting and post-race party began each announcement in German then repeated again English. All of the written and Web information was available in English as well.
Many of the Germans in the region speak at least a little English and restaurants often have English versions of their menus.
I would recommend carrying a small language translation book especially for restaurants without English menus, but other than that, there are really only a few key words and phrases needed during the race.
“Danke” means “Thank you”.
“Iso” (pronounced “e-so”) is short for isotonic and means energy drink.
“Bitte” means “Please” as well as “You’re welcome.”
Q: What else do I need to know?
When traveling to Roth in 2005, we made the mistake of planning to arrive only three days before the race. After our initial flight was canceled due to thunderstorms, Laura and I caught a later flight that put us into Munich on Friday before the Sunday race. Two days was not enough time for my body to adjust to the six-hour time zone change. Plus, our luggage was re-routed and I did not get my bike until Saturday night, which created the additional stress of wondering if I would even be able to race. Fortunately, the bike arrived and the race staff accommodated my late bike arrival so I successfully lined up at the starting line. In 2006, we arrived a week ahead of time so no issues.