My very long Challenge Roth!! My friend, Loz, and I arrived in Germany a week before race day, which gave us time to squeeze in some last minute training and carb loading in Munich... After 3 days in Munich, we had a long bus trip to our accommodation in Kalbensteinberg, which is around 45mins drive from Roth. We were driven through many, many little towns, and eventually ended up being dropped off in a village (Definition of Village: "a small community or group of houses in a rural area, larger than a hamlet and usually smaller than a town"). We may have actually been in a Hamlet..... There was literally a Guest House (with restaurant), a Church, and some houses with people who lived in them.... And Cherry trees..... Kalbensteinberg is known for its cherries. Deliciousness....!!! Apart from the obvious isolation, I really felt lucky to have experienced this little place and the friendly, unique hospitality of the local folk for 7 days. We got a proper rural Germany experience!!
Up at stupid-o-clock to get dressed, have breakfast and get on the bus to T1. We got our first glimpse of the amazing day ahead as we walked across a bridge to transition... There was already a buzz in the air, and plenty of people beginning to crowd the sides of the canal. It didn't take long to get my bike sorted, gear bags dropped, wetsuit on... So there was plenty of time for a bit of reflection about just how freakin' awesome it was to be a part of something so big and exciting. I was a bit nervous, but more excited, and Loz was doing her first long distance race, so it was extra special (for me that is… she might describe her feelings differently!)! I ran into Lisa and Andy, which was very cool because I hadn't seen them at all until then... I love a good pre-race hug and high fives!!
The music playing during the morning was big-screen, inspirational movie music!! So weird, but cool!! We got over to the swim start, and lined up with the other girls in our wave (0645 Start) while we waited for the first wave of age groupers to start.... There were more upbeat tunes playing by now, and I like to have a bit of a dance to calm the nerves...
I took a bit of a moment to look around and take it all in when I first got in the water… the canal was lined with so many people, the hot air balloons were parked behind the crowd, and later on when I looked again they had started to float away.... there was a huge cannon blast for every wave start, which you could feel resonate through the water - IT WAS AWESOME!!!
I assume I said something like “THIS IS AWESOME!!!!” to Loz, and wished her luck and gave her a hug and a big double high five. Then, the cannon boomed and we were off!! After a while, I settled in behind a swimmer in a sleeveless wetsuit with strong looking arms and a big strong kick who I nicknamed my German Frau. I quite enjoyed the swim… there was plenty of space where I was, and I didn’t get smashed around.
When I was heading past the finish line on the way back to the second turn around, I was just enjoying the sight and sounds of the crowds again when I heard/felt another cannon blast... It made me smile, but I also thought "wow, I've been at this for a long time already, and these guys are only just starting…"!!
I got to the swim exit and managed to get out without cramping and falling over. Bonus. I thanked my German Frau under my breath for hanging out with me for the last hour and a bit.
I found my bag, and headed into the tent... An awesome volunteer grabbed me and took me to a spot where she helped me get sorted. I couldn't stop smiling, and she was so calm and organized and smiley. I had a "laugh out loud moment" about the unisex tent... so very European...
Onto the bike, and there were huge crowds cheering at everyone!! I saw some of my friends jumping up and down and cheering at me just past the mount line - WOOHOO! I couldn't wipe the smile off my face!!
The first lap of the bike was so exciting!! The course was a lot more technical and hilly than I expected, and there was so much to look at... I was waiting for all the guys I knew to come past me on the bike, and was ticking them off as they went by. We went through so many villages and random big crowds of people spectating their hearts out, there was a beer mile, an awesome downhill switchback section that I wished could have been much longer, and of course I couldn't wait for the legendary Solar Berg! I knew roughly where to expect it, and at around the right mark there was a hill with plenty of people crowding the road (behind some railing) and cheering.... It was good... but it wasn't really near the magnitude that I was expecting… and to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. A few kms later, I was still mulling over how I could have been so late and slow to have missed the crowds at Solar Berg, when suddenly... There. It. Was. OH MY GOD!!! SO MUCH AWESOMENESS!!!! There are really no words to properly describe the atmosphere and emotions... It's exactly as it looks in the pictures you’ve seen, but nothing can prepare you for the actual reality of so many people being so close to you, having a massive party and cheering for YOU. Before the race, I was a bit worried about freaking out with the close proximity of the crowd and falling off, but I wasn't nervous at all. I threw a few high fives, turned my face inside-out by smiling so hard, and decided it was officially the most amazing and exciting experience of my life (I don't have kids.... But I'm pretty sure that statement would still stand up if I did!). My face was hurting for ages afterwards because I had the biggest, stupidest grin happening for so long!
It was hilariously cool to be in a German flag coloured race kit - people were screaming long German conversations and cheers (or rants?!) at me all day and I had no idea what they were saying!!
And then…. The second lap of the bike was not such a party in my head. I was slowing down, and feeling flat, and having trouble forcing food in!! It was windy, and hot, and windy, and getting hotter, and the wind was windy!! I usually enjoy the bike leg of a race the best, but I couldn't wait to get off of it. The crowds were still out, but in between them, I was a bit miserable. Solar Berg was still awesome the second time around, but as soon as it was over, I just wanted to GET OFF MY BIKE RIGHT NOW. I was watching my time and realized it was going to be around the same time as I have always done in a race, and I was so annoyed with myself because this is tipped as a super fast course… I sucked!!!
It seemed to take forever to make it to T2 after the turnoff, and I was so flat and bummed about my bike time. But, HOORAY, I finally got to get off my bike. Another awesome volunteer grabbed me and sat me down and started emptying my bag and laying out my stuff. She didn't seem to speak any English and was serious and just stared at me intently. Maybe I looked as unhappy as I felt… haha. I took my time getting ready to go out on the run... I figured a PB was a write-off and the fact I was so slow on a "fast course" was making me feel absolutely crappola and like I never wanted to do a race again.
As I came out of T2, I saw my smiling, jumping, happy friends, so I stopped for a few hugs and a bit of a whinge about how hard my ride was. Seeing them cheered me up a bit, and I figured I would just trot off and enjoy the run. Me? Enjoy a run? That's how much I wanted to get off my bike....
So, off I go, and I hadn't paid much attention to the run course maps, so I didn't really understand where I was going, or where the loops went, or where I would see people coming back the other way. This was actually part of my plan… I just wanted to think about it as an adventure... no pressure... no overthinking it... “Just get it done” (wise words were ringing in my ear)! I was sticking to Kate’s grand plan… holding my pace back and staying consistent and steady for the first hour. I felt quite happy and comfortable, so kept it up for a bit longer before I started the "aid station to aid station" plan.
I saw a few people I knew coming the opposite way, and finally spotted Loz for the first time since we started!! Hooray!! She made it to the run!! I stopped for celebratory jumping hugs and a quick run down of her race so far, then carried on still feeling quite ok and happy. I found Andy somewhere along the trail next to the canal and we ran together for a while. We talked about how awesome Solar Berg was, how we had both been tricked by the decoy hill crowd before it, and how Lisa had probably finished already and we still had around 20km to go..... Haha!! Madness!
Sometime after I lost Andy, I started to struggle and the old, familiar "I'm never doing this ever, EVER again" was repeating over and over in my head. At one point I thought how interesting it was that my brain could still remember to say thankyou in a foreign language at the aid stations when I was so fatigued.
I had my iPod with me (purely because of the novelty of being allowed to use it in this race), and decided at 25km I would tap in. Brilliant plan. I still pulled my earphones out every time I went past a crowd of spectators and through the aid stations because I didn't want to miss any of the cheering or atmosphere, but those tunes really lifted me out of my deep dark pain place. Aussie supporters were out there in droves with their flags and kangaroos and big cheers, and I couldn't figure out how they picked me for one of them.... I had a NZ flag on my race number but it was tiny, and I thought maybe they had mistaken it for an Aussie flag in their excitement… FYI, there is a giant map of Australia on the front of the GK kit which I had forgotten about.... Duh.
When I realised I had 14km to go, I did some maths (that took a very long time to process) in my head... I figured if I picked up my pace a bit, I might actually be able to run a PB marathon. It took me another 4km to do the rest of the maths and figure out that would mean I would get an overall PB too... No way?! Cool!! I decided I was sucking it up for the last 10km... I was going to make this happen!! Suddenly I had a bit of focus, and was enjoying myself again! I got to the last aid station before town, and did a double take when I got offered "Wasser", "ISO", "Cola", "Beer....", Wait. What?! Beer?!! I'm in Germany, and have almost finished the coolest race experience I've ever been a part of, and they are offering me beer at an aid station....? It made me laugh out loud…. Don’t mind if I do!!! Danke Schon!!
Running into town was exciting… the twisting, turning layout of the beer mile was pretty confusing and I had no idea how far it was to the finish line!! But I knew it couldn’t be that far, and I was amazed how mentally strong I was feeling! Cobble stoned streets! Pretty buildings! Parties and high fives everywhere!! It was AWESOME!! I saw Andy again just before I turned towards the finish area - WE MADE IT!! WOOHOO!!
I could hear the finish but still couldn't figure out where I was, until all of a sudden, I was heading towards the big grandstand entry arch and the face-busting grin was back again....!!! There were so many people in the grandstand that I didn’t even try to spot anyone I knew, but Lisa was right down near the fence and saw me and yelled out! How exciting!! WOOHOO!!
Longest, loudest, best finish line, ever!! My only regret was not slowing down a bit to give Lisa a hug on my way past… Luckily the photographers captured the moment that I saw her…!! Finish lines always whizz by so fast…
So… the final results came in, and I made it in a very long and tortuous 12:53:54…. Which is actually fast for me(!!)! It turns out that I finished with a surprisingly massive 28minute PB(!!)!! That included going far enough under 13 hours that I would have had time to stop and hug Lisa in the finish chute if I had known, and I got a 15minute run PB, which is what I am most proud of myself for. I am still so amazed with my day – the result still feels surreal to me! And I am very proud of Loz who made it to the finish line too!!
My Two Week Race Recovery Plan of mountain biking in Switzerland, hiking across the Cinque Terre in Italy, and exploring Florence and Barcelona by foot went very well…. It may have been enough to erase the pain of this race and get me excited for the next one…. Almost.
It goes without saying that I would like to say MASSIVE thanks for everything to Coach Kate and Guy, and also to all the people I knew on course who were so awesome and did so well. Thanks to the crew at home for all the tracking and messages and support. And of course, not forgetting my sponsors: Weiss Biers and Pretzels of Germany.