http://www.challenge-roth.com/home.html

Ironman distance: 2.4 mile river swim; 112 mile bike; 26.2 mile run

Chrissie Wellington describes Roth as the greatest ironman distance race in the world – it certainly lived up to all the hype. The Roth experience includes 5000 athletes from 70 nations; 260,000 spectators; 7000 volunteers; 5 hot air balloons; 1 pre-race sky diver and post-race communal nudity on a grand scale.

The first challenge is entering. Places for 2017 sold out online within 30 seconds. The only way I could get a place was through an Australian travel company: Tri Travel. It was great to be part of a very well-organised tour group, otherwise it would have been a logistical nightmare. There aren’t any hotels in Roth – the pro’s stay with local families; the likes of me in a hotel in Nuremburg, half an hour away. Tri Travel employed ex-pro and former Roth winner Belinda Grainger to talk us through the swim (the currents; the best place to position yourself etc.). Belinda also gave a running commentary of the bike course when we drove round it a few days before, which was really helpful.

Some of my highlights and dark places during this race include:

The swim: My start wave was the largest, with 300 ladies walking into the river, Survivor “Eye of the Tiger” blasting out. It was scrap-free near the banks, but I started in the thick of it and ended up pausing after the start in order to yell at everyone and shove someone away from me. I got punched in face, nose and goggles – all unintentional, but the roughest swim in terms of elbows and fists that I’ve done.

The bike: Loved it all. It was a much hillier course (1700m) than the race I did last year, but I beat my time by exactly half an hour. I was on a high nearly the whole way round.

An Italian called Giovanni (flags and names were on numbers) asked me to marry him as he overtook me on the bike. He sped off before I could think of an appropriate response. I stopped to use a portaloo on the bike course (this time!) – as I opened the door I was faced with an angry German lady shouting at me, sitting on the toilet.

I nearly did a Dowling (crash) on the bike course by cycling off the tarmac and onto the gravel at the side of the road whilst trying to get a salt tablet. Trying to negotiate the downhill switchbacks with lots of German men flying past me was scary, as my bike handling skills aren’t that good, but I made it down in one piece and only got shouted at once.

Roth is famous for Solar Hill on the bike course, which involves cycling into a crowd of people that part at the last minute just enough to let you through – think Moses and Red Sea. So much noise – people inches from your face shouting “go, go, go!”

Transitions: These were a whirlwind of efficiency, with a volunteer pulling off my wet suit; stuffing gels and Soreen in my back pockets; helping me put my shoes on; slapping sun block on my arms – it was like an F1 pit stop. This was slightly less welcome in T2, when I just wanted to sit down for a few minutes to gather myself. I tried telling the volunteer in T2 there was “no rush”, but she just looked at me blankly, and German efficiency prevailed. I started the run with my cycling gloves still on, and had to hand them to a volunteer – somehow they ended up back in my kit bag at the end of the race.

The run: The first 15k was a dream – very slow but I felt fine. The middle was a nightmare (felt sick), and by the time I hit 30k I started to think I might actually finish, which perked me up a bit for the last 12k. I had nothing but flat coke and water on the run, which was what I’d planned (my stomach couldn’t face anything else) but I felt quite rough so in the end even water was hard to stomach.

Chrissie Wellington was doing the run as part of a relay team. She ran past me going the other way, smiling away at everyone (when doesn’t she). It was really great to see her as she was the reason I entered Roth in the first place, having read “A Life Without Limits” about 4 years ago.

Roth has always had a flat run course, until this year when they decided to change the course… This year’s winner Daniela Ryf was 18 mins slower on the run than last year, which she put down to not being race fit and recovering from an injury – I like to think she had the same problem as me: the hills! Joe Skipper was also significantly slower than last year, which made me feel better as I was 20 mins slower than last year’s flat ironman marathon.

The post-race athletes’ tent included a free Bavarian feast (I couldn’t face eating anything); a free pint of Erdinger (gave it to Jules); massages; communal (as in men and women all in together) hot showers (I didn’t brave them); and a communal changing area, in which I managed to find a fairly quiet corner – naked men everywhere.

I would 100% recommend this race – it was the experience of a life-time. It does have a cut off time of 15 hours (most other Ironman races are 17 hours), but as long as you think you can get round in sub 15 it will be undoubtedly be the race of your life!