Challenge Roth – Lucy Dighton

Challenge Roth race report

I entered Roth 3 years ago so the race had been a long time coming! I had no idea if I would ever do another full distance race or if I would be one and done, so I thought I may as well enter a big one. I also assumed that given world record times had been set on the course that it was a (relatively) easy one as Iron distance races go…. Having chatted with lots of other athletes this seems to be a common assumption, but at the weaker end of the field this doesn’t seem to be the case as I think it really favours athletes with a high ftp given their ability to carry speed through the rolling bike course.

I thought the way the organisers treated the athletes with all the uncertainties over the last 2 years was exemplary and this attitude of putting athletes first was also clear throughout the whole race weekend. There was an opening ceremony on Friday evening with the chance to hear from some of the pros and also registration. Saturday was about prep and racking and suddenly it was race morning.

The forecast was for a high of 31 degrees and it was a beautiful morning. There were two hours between arriving and my start time so plenty of time to check my bike, put nutrition on, drop off bags, check out the pros bikes etc and I felt strangely pretty calm. Having had covid quite badly 3/4 weeks ago, carrying a couple of nasty niggles (who doesn’t with Ironman training!) and given the weather forecast I knew dnf was a distinct possibility and I had kind of come to terms with that and just wanted to give it my best effort.

I had done a 1k swim recce in the rain on Friday and hadn’t really enjoyed it so wasn’t really looking forward to the swim (or the run!). My wave was a mass start of 250 women so when the gun went off it was my first proper mass start experience and I strangely enjoyed it. As my wave was quite early I knew I was going to be swum over by the fast groups from the waves behind me and I had been told the swim was tough. But actually I really enjoyed it and because I was expecting it to be carnage the fact that it wasn’t as bad as I expected was a pleasant surprise – I only got kicked in the face once. 23 degrees was warm for a wetsuit swim but it was fine and quite pleasant. 800m before the end you swim past the swim exit and I was pretty ready to get out at this point, but the last 800m went quickly and I was out in 1 hour 36 mins.

T1 was amazing (see pics of the bike racking) and there were plenty of volunteers helping you bag up your wetsuit etc and then I was off on my bike (which was the bit I was really looking forward to). Given the heat I decided that it was probably a good idea to drop target power by 5w to give me the best chance later in the day. I loved the bike ride, the roads are nearly all super smooth and there are aid stations every 18k ish. It’s a rolling course and the wind built throughout the bike leg. It’s by no means an easy course and I was really missing my TT bike which I couldn’t ride due to a back issue. It’s very rolling with 2 longish climbs which were one of the big highlights of the race for me – particularly the first time up Solar hill where I was overtaken by Annie Haug near the top. There was loads of support out on the course but it was really amazing on the hills and it made them pass in a flash with a big smile on my face. Aid stations were brilliantly organised and I got into the rhythm of chucking my empty bottle, taking a bottle of water at the first table, squirting it all over myself (it was super hot from quite early in the bike) and taking a couple of long gulps before chucking it and picking up a second bottle to drink and pour over myself between stations. I had decided to use my own electrolytes which I know I can tolerate so 3 times I stopped briefly to add to the bottles and the rest of the time I drank water. On reflection I probably should have trained with salt tablets and used those instead. Another highlight of the first lap was seeing the pros fly past me on their second lap. At 4 hours I was well into the second lap and feeling great and it wasn’t until after 5 hours I started to feel ready to get off the bike. Getting though the last hour and a half was a bit of a mental effort and my head was very hot (bad helmet choice to wear a black aero helmet with minimal vents..). The heat was intense and there was not a cloud in the sky the whole day. I got off the bike in 7 hours and 4 mins, which was a bit slower than my target time but given the conditions I felt I had given it a good go.

T2 was also brilliant and I had a brief chat with the French lady sitting next to me who I had played cat and mouse with throughout the ride. And then on to the run.

My back had been playing up in the run up and sure enough after 7 hours of riding it was seized up, but I kept calm and walked for a couple of minutes, and then started to do some gentle runs to test it, alternating with short periods of walking to stretch. At this point I thought I was going to have to pull out and the thought of doing a marathon in this heat was just too much to comprehend, but I told myself to do 5k and then see and sure enough within 5 mins I was able to run for longer stretches. I had trained with a run 9 walk 1 strategy, but had also discussed dropping that to 8/2 with Sean, particularly if it was hot. I actually settled on 4/1 as I was used to the 1 min walks and mentally I could just about make myself run for 4 mins and it seemed to keep my HR nicely under control. The run is just one loop – down the canal and back to 11k on a firm slightly gravelly track, up the canal and back to 25k. There was a mix of sun and (very welcome) shade and aid stations every 2k. After 5k I was actually feeling pretty good and enjoyed 5k to 15k. At every aid station volunteers would tip water over you, and I would drink a cup of coke, a cup of water and eat two pretzel sticks. It really started to hurt at 15k but I held it together and basically carried on with 4/1 until 24k. At this point I started feeling very dizzy and spaced out and I knew I needed to walk for a bit and try and get my head together again. I knew I was well hydrated having had to wee several times, so I wondered if it was lack of salt, so switched to a bit of salty chicken soup and a little bit of water at each aid station. At this point I could see people passing out or getting pulled off the course by medics at aid stations and it was clear the hot weather was taking its toll on everyone. I did try and get back to running a couple of times but every time I did I felt dizzy and nauseous. I calculated that I could comfortably make the 11.05pm cut off if I walked the rest and so I concentrated on walking as fast as I could (not that fast it turns out!). I was off the canal now and the course winds through Roth and up the hill to Buchenbach which starts at 32k. At 32k I saw the guy I had chatted with on the tow path as we kept passing each other due to being on different walk/run patterns coming back down and he warned me that the next 5k was tough. At this point I was really upset about my time and performance and there were definitely some tears shed. I just carried on putting one foot in front of the other and ignoring the fact that every part of me felt bruised and achy. The turnaround is round a large duck pond in the town and there were still people out supporting (you could tell quite a few of them had been using beer as their hydration strategy!) and the sun was just setting as I walked around it. With 7k to go I knew I had another hour and twenty of walking but just tried not to think about it and keep moving forwards and counting off the km markers. It was dark waking back through Roth and a lot of the spectators were gone but there were some finishers still around cheering other athletes on and a few people intent on supporting to the bitter end (or drinking more beer at least).

For the last km I could see the laser show from the stadium lighting up the sky and it felt amazing knowing I was going to finish. And then finally the stadium and green carpet. I nearly tripped over on a bump in the carpet but managed to hold it together and run around the packed stadium to the finish. In the end I had 25 mins to spare and the stadium was absolutely packed ready for the closing ceremony. I crossed the finish line and got my medal and then ran through the tunnel of volunteers (which is something only finishers in the last hour get to experience and was pretty special). And then into the recovery area, where I didn’t have much time to hang out as I wanted to see the closing ceremony, fireworks and final finisher. At this point I couldn’t have been happier to be on the Tri tours organised tour as they go and pick up your bags and bike the next morning so no faff there.

I guess to sum up it was a day of massive highs and lows, I am so glad I did it, and no it’s not one and done. But I need to get into a better place with my running, and be able to ride my TT bike so I think it might be a 2024 comeback. Not sure how any other race can measure up though! The memories of the lows are now mainly around the fact it was so hard and I did it anyway, and the other things like the kindness and encouragement of the spectators, riding my bike in the sunshine round that epic course, seeing everyone push themselves to the limit,

Finally I just want to say thanks to all my training buddies over the past 3 years, those that have given me advice, encouragement and support and most of all Sean Nicolle for coaching me and getting me to the start line without and race limiting injuries and giving me the level of fitness I needed to be able to finish.

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