Challenge Roth Race Report

Growing up in Australia I knew of the German triathletes from a very young age. Watching the Forster Ironman each year grabbed my interest in the sport and it was around this time I remembering reading about this race called Roth. Names like Jurgen Zach, Lothar Leder, Thomas Hellrigel were just some of the names I knew of that were dominant, not only in Roth, but on the international triathlon scene. I still remember reading about Luc Van Lierde breaking the world record with his amazing 7hr 50 minute performance. Fast forward 20 years and I was finally racing my first Challenge Roth. But first let me take you back a bit ….

Our European adventure began with a short training camp in the beautiful town of Morzine in the French Alps. The Tri4theAlps team made us feel right at home and we really enjoyed exploring the training in the area including some iconic Tour de France climbs. We will be back there for more training in the future without a doubt and I highly recommend Joe and Amelia’s hospitality for anyone looking for a good value training getaway.

Next stop was only an hours drive away in Aigle, Switzerland. We visited the UCI World Cycling headquarters to launch the new Scott Plasma 5 and work with some experts, including Simon Smart and Lars Teutenberg. It was such a fun experience to ride the track and I was happy with the tweaks we made to my setup during the testing time. I have been working hard on refining my aero position and I always enjoy talking with the experts in the field.

From Switzerland we moved onto Germany for my second big event for the year, Challenge Roth. This race for me was like competing at the Hawaii Ironman for the first time all over again. All those years of hearing about this race, you almost felt like you had been there previously. I actually got goosebumps as I entered the town for the first time and I couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning and explore this iconic course. We were greeted by our home stay, Norbert and Bettina Walter, and they made us feel at home straight away. The interesting thing about Roth is it is only a small village so there is no hotel accommodation close to town so home stays are given to the athletes. It really is a great way to meet new friends where ever we travel and the local knowledge definitely comes in handy when planning for the race. Norbert and Bettina were even so gracious to offer my parents and sister a place to stay which meant they were totally inundated with McKenzies. We couldn’t thank them enough for their hospitality and all the help we got during our stay in Roth.

The days before the race were spent exploring the course and completing several pre race commitments for the event. This was my first Challenge family event and I have to thank Felix, Kathrin and the whole team for making it enjoyable, fun and most of all, easy. These days things can get super hectic and sometimes stressful prior to a big race but in Roth everything just seemed to flow with ease.

Before I knew it race day was upon us and it was time to go to work. At the beginning of the year I targeted this event as one of the three events I really wanted to make my “A” priority races. My goal here in Roth was not necessarily to win the race but record a new PR time and break that magical 8 hour barrier. I thought if I was able to do that then the win or a podium in what most would regard as the second most high profile long distance event behind Kona would be achievable. I had put in months of hard work at home in San Diego and everything indicated that I was in shape to produce such a time. I was determined to post a worthy result after a rough start to the year in Melbourne.

The long and the short of it was I didn’t get off to the start I expected and it gradually went downhill from there. 10 minutes into the swim, while amongst the leaders I began to feel uncomfortable in my breathing and hot in my wetsuit. I tried my best to calm down but I was struggling to breathe and before I knew it I was stopped and trying to grab more oxygen. The slight pause created a gap of a few meters to the last swimmer in the lead group and now I had to sprint if I wanted to make it back. I tried for the next 100-200m to make it back but the effort was taking it’s toll and I went into an anaerobic zone which again made me hyperventilate. At this point I had to back the effort down in order to get back in rhythm and the hope of swimming with the leaders was lost. The rest of the swim became survival for me trying to breathe normally and I have never been so happy to see the end of a swim. By far the worst swim in my 20 year triathlon career and now I had a four minute deficit to make up going onto the bike.

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It took me several kilometers but I got into my groove and set out on reeling back the leaders. Riding solo against the lead group of 10 was a de’ja’vu moment from Ironman Melbourne earlier in the year. How could I put myself in this position again! I was angry with myself and knew that I had potentially ruined my aspirations of breaking the eight hour barrier today. A 52 minute swim would put me well behind my schedule I had set myself and now I would have to ride harder than I had planned to achieve it. On the flip side it gave me a huge opportunity to have a fast bike split and I made that my new goal. Pre race I had a goal of recording a 4.15 split and so I put my head down and worked as hard as I could to ride myself back into contention. Initially I made some good inroads to the front group but then seemed to hover around two minutes behind for what seemed like forever. I picked up a few guys in the second loop which gave me more and more hope I was on track. I racked my bike in T2 in seventh place and 7 minutes off the race leader Nils Frommhold and two minutes down on a group of five. My bike split if 4.18.25, although a few minutes slower than my goal, was still a PR and had got me back into the race after the swim disaster.

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It was pretty evident even in the opening kilometers of the run that I was going to struggle. My legs were heavy and my stride length was short. I thought if I could back my pace off for a few kilometers I might begin to come around, but by 10 km I began to feel worse and I had dropped a position to a fast running Joe Gambles. At around 12 kilometers I stopped to try get some fuel back into the system and hoped it would give me the pick up I needed to get going. I had to resign myself to the fact that today wasn’t my day and I was going to have to save myself for another day. I reduced my pace to a slow crawl and battled through the rest of the marathon as best I could. With Miranda Carfrae tearing up the run course I now just wanted to make sure I finished in front of her. I am happy to report this was one goal I did achieve for the day (by a minute and 40 seconds). I crossed the line in 10th place in 8hrs 38 minutes with a smile on my face. The day didn’t go to plan but I had finished my first Challenge Roth and already can’t wait to return to have another crack.

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A big thanks has to go to my family. Beth (and Wynne), Jacque, Mum and Dad, my Aunty Julie, Norbert, Bettina and Max for the support on the course. To race in a foreign country and have support like I am racing at home is something I am truly thankful for. I would also like to thank Alex, Jase and Thorsten from SRAM for the time you spent on my bike before the event and Adrian and Frank from Scott for the amazing support in Switzerland and Germany. The new Plasma 5 rode like a dream in the race!

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Author Luke McKenzie

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