It took me five years to find the courage to do a race of this magnitude, because I was traumatised by my first full distance race at Ironman Langkawi 2018. The long hours of training left me fatigued and the race itself was very painful.
I had balloted for Challenge Roth before doing Langkawi and I got the slot for 2019, but I decided to postpone it to 2020 because I didn’t want to go through the long hours of preparation again. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 2021 required quarantine on both sides for travel, so that’s a no. 2022, travel was open but I didn’t want my first post-pandemic race to be a full so 2023 it is.
The truth is, a part of me didn’t even want to be here. I nearly wanted to give up my slot for Challenge Roth but my friends who have done it before said it’s a must-do bucket list race and that it is really something I have to experience. Hence, here I am.
This is an expensive race (cost me about S$6,000) so G and I discussed this and we agreed that I would go alone. I signed up with Tri Travel, a sports tour agency and they take care of everything, from airport transfers to race logistics and even collecting your bike and transition bags for you, and sending them to your hotel.
I think, in my many years of doing triathlons, this is the absolutely first time I’m going alone. I usually have family, friends or my partner. And also, this is the furthest I’ve travelled to do a triathlon race. There were not many Asians at the race, but it didn’t matter because the race atmosphere and organisation were top notch!
The race is in Roth but I stayed in Nuremberg, a pretty town which was about a half hour drive away. I arrived on Thursday, flying direct from Singapore to Munich then I waited a couple of hours for the airport shuttles from Tri Travel.
It was pretty hot on Thursday and I was like, oh man I didn’t escape the heat in Singapore to come to another hot place. Then my room at Arvena Park Hotel didn’t have aircon, but it got cooler as the sun set past 9pm. I got my bike fixed up, took it for a little ride just to test the gears and see if everything is working, then went for a short 10-minute run just to get the legs moving.
On Friday morning, Tri Travel took us to the canal where the actual swim for the race was gonna be held at. This canal is not open for public access, so that’s something special. The water temperature was amazing – about 23 degrees Celsius – and I enjoyed the swim so much that I found myself going and going till I swam 2km haha. In my wet suit of course.
After that, we hopped back onto the bus for a drive through the 90km bike course which we were gonna do two loops of. They pointed out the famous hills – Greding and Solar Hill – so we could mentally prepare ourselves. The thing is, you can’t really gauge the elevation properly from the inside of a car. I thought it didn’t look too bad, but you’ll read later about how I thought wrong lol.
In the evening, we went to the expo at Roth for athlete registration and I waited nearly 1.5 hours in the queue! Apparently this doesn’t happen. By the time I got my race pack, the pasta party (or carbo load dinner as some races call it) had already started. I walked in just as the male pros were being introduced and the crowd went wild for hometown hero Sebastian Kienle, who was doing his last race before he retires from the sport. Nothing fancy about the dinner, just lots of pasta and different sauces to go with it, and some non-alcoholic Erdinger beer which actually tastes pretty good.
The expo was huge and I walked around, but I didn’t buy anything. I was cutting it close to my baggage weight limit and I had already bought extra 10kg and I don’t have anyone with me to share their baggage weight with me, so I wasn’t gonna buy anything unless I really needed it.
Saturday morning, we went back to the expo for a mandatory race briefing in the arena (which is where the finish line is). 3,500 athletes from 93 nations! After that we were brought to T1 where our bikes were already waiting for us to be checked in.
For Roth, T1, T2 and the finish are at different places, so when we checked in our bikes at T1, we also gave them our T2 run bags which they would bring to T2 for us. How thoughtful! This means we don’t have to make our way to T2.
That’s it for pre-race! One more sleep and then it was show time.
At this point however, I wasn’t feeling nervous because I was worried about G, who was sick, and Bruno, who was vomiting and not eating. I wish I was home with them, but I could only hope for the best.
I woke up at 3am and G updated me that Bruno has been hospitalised, but is stable. I was getting more worried but I just had to pull myself together and get ready for the race.
The bus left the hotel at 4.45am even though my wave is only at 7.10am because traffic was a bitch. I got into T1, prepped my bike, deposited my T1 bike bag at the tent and then went to deposit my after-race bag.
I didn’t do a warm up swim because I didn’t want to be cold while waiting to start. The race organisers had opened the dam and let nice cold water from outside flow into the canal, so water temp was 21 degrees Celsius, which meant the pros could use their wetsuits too.
The pros flagged off at 6.30am and they let waves out every five minutes. I was in Wave 7 and there were only two women waves.
Hot air balloons rose as the pros went off and spectators were lined along the canal; quite an incredible sight!
The swim was a deep water start and when the start gun went off, there was a little mayhem as everyone tried to start swimming. I remembered how much I enjoyed the swim during the recce, but something felt off at the start of the race.
I think I had a little anxiety attack of sorts with a tightness in the chest. Never happened to me before! Perhaps initial shock from the cold water? I was trying to calm myself down and just told myself to swim. Then the male age groupers who started behind us caught up quickly and I kept getting my legs pushed down, which made me panic more because I don’t wanna drown! There were a few times during the swim where I had to stop to tread water, just to compose myself.
The swim route is pretty straightforward – down the length of the canal and back, go under the bridge for a little bit then come back. However, because my sighting is so terrible, I ended up swimming an additional 500m (watch showed 4300m) pfffffft. I was zig zagging between the centre line of the canal and the bank, and it was frustrating. I could feel myself tiring out, especially during the last 1km. I saw supporters on the bank and I pretended they were cheering for me, as I willed myself on.
Finally, I got to the swim exit where volunteers were helping us out. I looked at my watch and saw my time (1:28) and immediately felt disappointed. Then I saw that I had swum an extra 500m, which made me feel a little upset. Nonetheless, I told myself to brush off the swim and not let it affect the rest of the race, long way ahead still. I walked to T1 to catch my breath and also reframe my mindset.
There were volunteers who would help you with transition but because so many people were coming in at the same time, I didn’t have anyone to help me. Which is fine! The wetsuit is quite a pain to remove, but I got ready for the bike and took a deep breath for the long ride ahead.
I took it easy the first loop so I could observe the route and pace myself. It’s quite a tough bike course! Why do people say that it’s fast and easy? I felt like I was going up and down a lot and was very busy changing gears all the time haha.
Spectators were peppered around the course and it really helped to make the ride better with all these people cheering you on. Some of the pros passed me on the first lap too and that was exciting to see them ZOOM past.
So, the iconic Greding and Solar Hill had the most number of supporters. Greding was somewhere in the middle of the 90km loop and it was long but not steep. After Greding, there’s a fast descent which was a respite that I needed after all the climbing. I felt like the first half of the loop had more elevation than the second half, and there were slopes out there steeper than Greding or Solar Hill.
Solar Hill was about 20km from the end of the loop and it is not as scary as people say. The support though, was tremendous! Riding through the iconic Solar Hill felt like I was riding in Tour De France with all these people next to you cheering you on and parting for you to cycle through. When I was going up Solar Hill for the first time, I could hear the announcer saying Daniela Ryf’s name and I was like omg she’s behind me, I don’t wanna block her. Thankfully I cleared the hill just in time for her to pass me. She was finishing her second loop and I was on my first, mad fast she is.
I was given advice to pace myself properly on the first loop and I’m glad I listened. I somehow managed a negative split for the bike with a faster second loop.
Throughout the whole ride though, I was struggling with my back. Remember how it has been giving me problems at the cycling at Desaru and Brisbane? It happened again! My lower right back was seizing up, from as early as 17km, and making my right leg numb. Thus, I had to be in preservation mode and I had to keep stretching my back.
These are pics of me stretching out my back – see how straight I was sitting up?
I couldn’t stay in aero for long and had to spin carefully up the slopes, and not grind my way up as that would hurt me more. Thankfully I managed to manage the back, but I really needed to get off.
T2 was great!!! There were bike catchers to take your bike from you as you dismount, then a volunteer passed me my run bag and then another volunteer helped me with my things and even put sunblock on for me. It felt so good to be able to stand up and give my back a proper stretch. I walked out of T1 to continue stretching my back, before I went off for the marathon.
My plan was to start with a conservative pace and see how it goes, because I recall how I bonked at Berlin last year and suffered so badly after.
The first 5km was just getting to the canal (which we swam in) and then from 6km to 25km it was mainly along the canal that has a gravel path like Bedok Reservoir.
Within this first 5km, I could feel something in my shoe rubbing against my foot. I stopped to take off my shoe and emptied it, but I could still feel something there. I suspect it’s because my shoes were thoroughly soaked, from pouring water over myself at the aid stations, and perhaps some fine sand went in. I didn’t know what to do so in that moment I chose to ignore it and just keep running. I could feel the blister forming and just prayed that it doesn’t break.
The first 12km of the run was mostly shaded and I was so grateful for that. Aid stations were at every 1.5km and it made a lot of difference to have so many aid stations. I stopped at some, walked through some, ran through some, but they were great because I could get water and it was nice to have people on the route. There was nothing along the canal so I used the aid stations as “landmarks” to aim towards.
But the next 13km was in the sun, also along another part of the canal. It was warm but not as hot as Singapore, so it was fine for me. It was dry though and my nose bled somewhere along the way. Now this was where it started to hurt. I could feel my legs slowing but my mind was willing it to go faster. I was trying to calculate the pace I had to run at to come in under 13 hours for the race. That was my target time which I loosely set for myself.
However, I saw my splits getting slower and it was stressing me out so much that I stopped looking at the watch and just ran by feel. It’s ok, I told myself, and stopped stressing over the target time.
Around the halfway mark of the run, still along the canal, I bumped into Mitch a second time (first saw him at around 12km). It felt good to see a familiar face, as I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I know. Then I had to stop to repin my number bib that had torn off my race belt.
After 25km, the run route leaves the canal and heads into a forest before it goes into town. I was still feeling alright and that’s a good sign. When it hit 30km, I wanted to pick up the pace slightly but nobody told me about the many slopes in the last 12km of the run in and out of the town. Thankfully there were many more supporters here and it helped me to keep running, never stopping on the slopes no matter how slowly I went. Some parts were cobblestone and it’s my first time running on this surface. It’s actually quite tiring to run on cobblestone eh!
When I saw the 40km sign, I started to cry, especially with the supporters calling out my name. I was so close to the finish! I was also worried about Bruno and wanted to get to my phone. The last bit of the run was into the arena and the crowds in the stands were cheering. Omg I’m home, I’m home. Challenge Roth allows you to have people to run with you to the finish, and I wished G was there to run with me to the end.
And then I was done.
A volunteer put on the medal for me and I could feel my legs start to crumble under me, but all I had on my mind was to get to my after race bag. It was already almost 1am in Singapore when I finished so G had gone to bed, but thank goodness Bruno is fine! He had been discharged and is home. Now I can finally relax!
And that’s when the pain started to flood in and I had to sit down. The post race area is the huge tentage where we had our pasta party and it was super crowded. People were eating, drinking, getting massages but it was a little too noisy for me. I managed to find a corner and sat there for a while, just to take everything in.
I was just on my phone and Charles, a fellow triathlete friend, was still up. He sent me my result and I was surprised to see my time of 12:39:48. I achieved my target time, HOORAY! I guess you just have to trust yourself and trust the process; it will all come together eventually.
Then I noticed my blisters – the one on the left foot is massive! Urgh, it’s gonna sting. I downed two bottles of Erdinger non-alcoholic beer, collected this cute Erdinger finisher beer glass, collected my finisher tshirt and then went to the medic tent to get my blisters bandaged.
I was told to stay and watch the laser show at the end after the last finishers come in, so I went to shower. Culture shock; everyone, men and women, was just walking around naked. It didn’t bother me and I changed outside the shower stalls too. I mean, no one here knows me anyway.
I grabbed some chocolate milk, finally found someone I know, a new friend called Kate, and we headed to the arena. The atmosphere is electrifying to say the least. Party vibes, laser show, pyrotechnics and the whole stadium cheering the last finishers on. That was quite something.
And that was my Challenge Roth race experience! Am I glad I did it? Yeah, I am. Not without questioning myself so many times during the race though. The body never fails to amaze me at what it can do!
If I’ve learned anything from this race, it is that patience pays off, especially in a long endurance race like this. This is only my second time doing the full distance, but I remembered my mistakes from the first and I got great advice from friends. The key is to pace yourself and be patient. I guess you just need to trust yourself and trust the process. It’s a long race and so long as you keep going, you might surprise yourself! Applies to life too 😉
Honestly, I was a little worried I was undertrained but I trusted my coach Ewin. I ran only up to 20km, only biked 180km once and my brick runs were mostly 30 minutes only. Thanks Coach for believing in me!
To all my training buddies, I appreciate y’all so much for pushing me and for putting up with all my complaining. Thank you PURPOSE for the custom race kit so I can match my bike and Secret Training SG for the gels. Lastly, thank you for everyone for the support!
Next up, Berlin Marathon.