The week in the lead up to Roth went from feeling rubbish to feeling good. A longer-than-wanted break meant that the legs really weren’t feeling that fresh, and the first run on the evening we arrived had me wondering how on earth I was going to run a marathon in a few days time! However, as the week progressed, and the morning runs through the village and forest (it was an amazing place to train!) continued, I began to get my legs back and start to feel strong. Swimming involved a short trip to go and find a lake to swim in and there were plenty to choose from. The first one we chose had a nice scum line sitting atop the water, and the shower after never really seemed to clean it off! The next one we chose, was much nicer, and we had a decent amount of time swimming across and back a few times, despite the odd looks we got amongst the kids and sunbathers and the others put their wetsuits on (mine had glue drying after I patched up yet another hole). On the Friday, we headed down early in the morning to swim on the course and were greeted with something that was more akin to a British summer – torrential rain. It took much persuading to get us all out of the car and then once out in the water I felt terrible. My wetsuit felt completely alien to me, it was tiring my shoulders and I really didn’t feel comfortable. Not a good start.
Cycling however, was incredible. The stories about the roads are no understatements, they are completely baby smooth, and they are FAST! I got a good few rides in, and both me and the bike were feeling good. I had originally planned to get a few hours in earlier on in the week to stress the systems, but through rain and logistics, a longer ride would have to wait til race day. There was one ride that stood out: Rob and I decided to head out for 45 minutes or so one evening and rode out of the village. Upon reaching the junction where we usually turn right, we saw a massive black cloud in the distance, so thought it was probably a good idea to go the other way! We headed through a nice little village and down a main road before heading back. When we got back to the village, the weather took a turn for the worse, and the big black cloud had suddenly come and put itself right on top of us! We decided that heading into the thunder and lightening(!) probably wasn’t the best idea, so took refuge in a bus shelter in the village to sit the storm out. 15 minutes later, after the heavens had opened and the lightening showed no sign of letting up, we decided it was probably a good idea to call for backup and got Howard to come and pick us up!
Our apartments were located in a tiny little village, away from all the stress of Roth, and with the forests, perfect roads and lots of lakes nearby, it was the perfect training location, and I would have been quite happy to have spent the week there putting some hard training miles in. As it was, I spent most of the week eating food, which all proved rather nice! The regular café trips we certainly something I could get used to! Throughout the week, I did have a couple of issues that were causing me to panic a bit. First, my stomach problems that had plagued me for the previous weeks were still occurring occasionally, although they had certainly settled down. I also woke up in the middle of the night on more than one occasion unable to breathe, midway through an asthma attack. Thankfully I had my inhalers with me, which soon shut the wheezing up, but it did not bode well!
The day before we headed down to race site to rack the bikes and bags. A short ride and run in the morning helped settled the nerves and convince me that I was ready. I passed through bike check-in and racked my bike, making sure that everything was ok and headed out to find the others. When I found Howard, I head that both he and Skip had had their helmets failed, Howard’s due to a crack on the ear covers, which apparently is fine for every other triathlon federation apart from Germany’s! We had to dash to a nearby bike shop where Howard was charged an extortionate amount for a new TT helmet, while Skip settled for a road helmet they were craftily selling right next to where he had had his helmet failed. A quick trip to an internet café before some food and then it was bed.
I slept OK, waking a few times in the night, but awoke feeling pretty refreshed. A shower helped wake me up, and then I put my Biestmilch tattoos on (which gave me some incredible tan lines!) and wolfed down as many coco pops as I could stomach. We arrived at race site with plenty of time, and with the wave start, I had over 2 hours to get set up and ready. Once I had put all my food on the bike and said good luck to the others, I wandered around transition and said hello to the various people I knew who were racing as well, including my old PE teacher who was randomly just across from me in transition! Small world! Eventually I got my wetsuit on and it was nearly time as we were herded into the pen before we were let into the water.
The wave start of Roth means that instead of the 1500+ people you usually have to fight with, I only had about 300 people to contend with, which turned out to be rather civilised! I found some space on the inside a couple of rows back and waited to go. Once the gun went, I stayed out of trouble and ended up having a pretty boring swim! I kept it really nice and relaxed, and felt good and entirely within my comfort zone. I had a few drafts for a bit, but on the most part I swam by myself. If anyone came along side me looking for a fight, I just put a bit of a surge on, moved ahead and then settled down again. I had no idea how quickly I was swimming and it wasn’t until I came close to the last turn that I knew I would be fairly close to the hour. By this point I was having to weave in and out of the waves of front, and in the end I hit the exit ramp with 1:03 on the clock. Slightly down on what I had hoped, but given how easy a swim I had, I can’t really complain!
Once I exited the water, I ran into the changing tent and picked my bag up on the way. I had cleverly wrapped the string with black tape so it would be easy to spot. Stupidly, this meant that when I came to open it, I had taped it well and truly shut! I managed to open it enough to start getting stuff out, and midway through I got a helper who proceeded to take the bag off me, try and get it open while I was wanting to get the last of what I needed out and not give it back to me until she had emptied it completely! My pigeon German didn’t exactly help matters, so in the end, I just sat and waited for her to finish before heading out, grabbing my bike, helmet on and go.
Out on the bike, it was time to get settled in and open the legs up. The first 60k were much like my swim – boring! I was nice and aero, stuck to my nutrition plan of 60g of food carbs an hour with drinks to top up and effectively sat there, spinning the legs, thinking of things to keep me occupied. Although it makes for a dull race report, it was exactly where I wanted to be and hopefully ensured that I hadn’t been pushing too hard. I hit the 60k mark in about 1hr40, the German roads were making me fly! The support out on the roads was incredible, living up to all the expectations. The Solarerberg climb is truly incredible and at one point on the course, I thought I had reached it. It was a short drag up with a few people on the side cheering along before hitting a packed aid station. ‘That was nice’ I thought and I continued on, ‘not quite the 5 deep I head heard about’. A bit of rolling terrain before a descent and then into a town. The roads are lined with pubs, which were packed with people, and then in the distance you could hear the roar of the crowds. The sides of the roads soon had barriers on and then you came round the corner to this:
I started the climb wandering where the hell I was supposed to fit, and then the gap opened up and I was screamed up the climb. It is an incredible experience, and pushed me over the top, a little harder than I probably should have. But hey, when in Rome! By this time the lack of long rides was beginning to show and I was beginning to tire. By the time we hit 120k, my average speed had slowed significantly and I was in a bad place. My legs hurt, my back and my neck was killing. I couldn’t really get aero and no matter what I seemed to do, I couldn’t get my average speed up. I think my nutrition probably needed a bit more in it, and I was certainly not drinking enough. However, it felt like I was hammering, but nothing happened, so I resigned myself to sitting up for the climbs and trying to push the downhills, but mentally I cracked. There is no way I should be cycling this slowly, and by about 140k it soon became clear. My speedo suddenly went to 0 and I realised that I had in fact been cycling quickly when I tried, but my computer was playing up and not giving me the right speed. Soon, my 2nd wind came and in a little over an hour I ate up the final 40k, flying past everyone to come off the bike in just under 5:30. Perfect.
Handing my bike over, the legs felt wobbly but nothing major. The only concern was that I still had not peed since the start of the race. I grabbed a drink, got my shoes on and headed out to a cheering crowd.
I knew I needed around a 3:20 marathon to break 10 hours, which would be a big ask, but certainly not impossible given recent performances. I decided to stick to 4:30 ks and see what happened. To begin with I was running on feel, while I waited for the GPS watch to locate the satellites and crossed the first km marker in about 4:05. Ah. I slowed it down to something more realistic and kept around target pace for the first 5k or so.
At around the 7k mark the heat began to get to me and the wheels came off. It has seriously hot, and running along the canal provided no cover at all, not ideal when most of my training has been done in the wet! I was really starting to overheat and my energy systems began to shut down. At around 9k I suddenly started to get a really tight chest to the point where it felt like I couldn’t breathe if I took and deep breathe in. Not being able to breathe heavily is not ideal for running a marathon, and predictably my pace slowed, with only being able to run by taking my HR monitor off and rolling my top all the way up, so it wasn’t squeezing my stomach, which was painful enough from bloating, and not resting on my lower ribs to restrict my breathing. I looked like a tit but at least I could still move.
Finally at 10k I finally had a toilet stop, which provided some comfort, but showed I was clearly dehydrated and it wasn’t going to get better. As long as I kept moving I was OK though and managed to keep running til 15k when I had to stop behind another runner to pick up a sponge at an aid station to cool myself down. From then on the cycle was broken and I started walking parts. I saw Howard, Rob and Skip out on the course, all of whom seemed to be running well and all I could do was count the kms down to the finish. I didn’t want to DNF – the choices of forfeits we had come up with certainly proved good motivation! Plus I had paid a load for that finishers shirt and wanted it!
At about 30k I shuffled past Rob who was on for sub-9 but had blown and I kept up a pattern of walk aid station, dose self in as much water as possible, grab some food, shuffle to the next. With a few k to go, I was running on fumes, completely zoned out and unaware of the crowd, just counting down the ks. Finally the finish came, and I crossed and line and promptly collapsed. I finished with a 4:10, way off target but not bad considering the state I was in. Coming home in 10:51 I was more relieved than anything else to have Pbed and gone under 11, and had plenty of lessons to take forward for future races.
An argument ensued with one of the helpers at the finish line who told me I would feel better if I got up, whereas I had decided I was perfectly happy having a nap right there. I wasn’t exactly coherent. In the end she got me to my feet, and satisfied I didn’t need a stretcher, got some poor girl who had to pretty much carry me towards the med tent. On the way I saw Skip and pointed myself in that direction, decided I couldn’t be bothered going to the med tent and fell into a heap next to him.
It took a good few hours for me to come round to thinking normally. I was completely empty, worse than I had ever been before and wondered if there was any chance I would even be able to start IMUK three weeks later. In my haze, I had decided I was going to drop out, but once we had finally got home, and I had had a proper meal, lots of fluids and a sleep, and was feeling sore, but at least thinking straight. The only question is, had I pushed myself too hard to put in a good performance at Bolton.