Getting into Ironman: Challenge Roth

Lucie Custance SportPursuit Champion

One of the most popular ironman distance races in the world, and the flagship race of the Challenge Family, next year’s race at Roth sold out in just over 3 minutes – a full year in advance!

A year ago in July, whilst working in logistics at the London 2012 Olympics is where my journey started. Trying to get one of the coveted places and seeing the updates of friends on text and facebook confirming they were in. Credit card in hand, frantically refreshing my screen and hoping nobody needed me on the radio, my payment was confirmed. Back to work, I put it to the back of my mind until the end of September when the last truck of furniture had left my venue.

Watching my boyfriend compete in Challenge Barcelona (his first iron-distance race), followed by helping out on a triathlon training camp the week after in the Algarve, brought it back to the forefront.

Having previously been a runner and taking part in several marathons (and happy with my single discipline), I went on a running camp in September 2010 and dabbled in a bit of road cycling – a new love was born. You can see so much more on a bike than on foot! So now a new challenge was needed and decided I should learn how to swim and enter a triathlon! A sprint distance in April 2011 and I was hooked. The swim was still a struggle and not very pretty, but I didn’t drown and that was enough for me!

By July I had completed a half-ironman and in September 2011 secured a place in my Age Group for the Olympic distance European champs. Then I got a job at London 2012 and training time was dramatically reduced.

So spin forward to October 2012 and it was a big month – I started work at SportPursuit and training began in earnest!

The months flew by, training twice a day most days, with long runs, rides and outdoor swims at the weekends, it was all getting very real and like having a part time job on top of my day job. I had officially become a triathlon bore! Constantly eating, working, training, sleeping and talking about triathlon had become my life. Weekends away meant taking my bike with us and plotting areas to run, when most people had a much more leisurely approach to sightseeing.

The Lisbon half-ironman distance triathlon at the start of May was the first test of fitness, 2 months out from Challenge Roth. Having only collected my TT bike the week before, this race was its maiden voyage. I had never been sure whether it was because the other girls had TT bikes or if it was my legs, that meant I usually lost a few places in races on the bike. I hoped the former and in Lisbon I became more convinced.

My usual mid-pack  pace swim left me in a chasing position and with my shiny new P2 bringing me into T2 in 7th, I started the 4 lap, 21km run along the Lisbon sea front feeling fresh. Being a lap race I had no idea of my position and just kept counting down the km’s. Coming into the final lap, I found I had moved up to 2nd female. The support of my friends that were there to spectate or had finished the Olympic distance race was amazing. I am not one for showing much emotion in races, but even my steely glare was replaced by a big grin as I ran down the finish chute in 2nd place.

I was feeling good for Roth!

Lucie Custance SportPursuit Champion

2 months later and the week before flying out to Roth, after a pretty naff Summer, Europe got a bit of a heatwave. I think I was one of the few wishing it would cool down – more concerned about the rising water temperature in Roth meaning a non-wetsuit swim and struggling on a hot run course than getting a great tan. I packed my bags, checked them at least 5 times and headed out to Nuremberg – about 30 mins drive from Roth, where accommodation seems to get booked up even quicker than the race itself.

A few days of attending the expo, (resisting buying new kit for race day), registering, going to the biggest pasta party I have ever seen (3000 athletes make for a big dining hall), racking my bike and handing in my bike kit the day before the race and going to the race briefing meant my stress levels were creeping up. I was struck by the familiar stress headache, whose only saving grace meant that I was in bed by 8pm the night before the race and got a good night’s sleep before my alarm went off at 3:30 the next morning.

I shovelled down my porridge, got into my trisuit, checked my run kit and swim kit bags about 30 times, put my race chip on my ankle and got into the car for the drive to the swim start.

I was feeling surprisingly calm, trying to forget that although I had a good night’s sleep, I probably hadn’t eaten as many carbs as I should the previous day because of the headache. I saw the familiar faces of my Clapham Chasers clubmates all going about their pre-race rituals and concentrated on pumping up my tyres (again), putting my nutrition on my bike and filling up my water bottles. I handed in my run kit and put my swim bag in amongst the sea of transition bags at the swim exit. I got my boyfriend to zip me into my wetsuit (the water temp was 22 degrees- the max in ironman distance races before a wetsuit ban is 23.9 degrees) and set off to the start with my friend Fiona. Unlike some Ironman branded events, the Challenge events are wave starts. The elite men and women had set off at 6:30am, followed by the fast age group athletes, then all the women competitors at 6:45. All 400 of us starting on the 3.8km swim together. Being in a canal, the swim route was an easy one to follow. Straight down the canal, turn round, head back up, turn round then into the finish. There was a 15 min gap between the women’s wave and the next wave, which mean that there wasn’t the pressure of being caught in the first 10 minutes by the fast people and getting dunked or pulled under. I relaxed into the swim and exited in 1hr 15, right on target.

Grabbing my transition bag, I ran into the tent and was helped out by a lovely volunteer emptying out my bag and handing me my sunglasses and taking care of my wetsuit that I had managed to stamp off onto the floor. I ran out to my bike and was glad I had followed the advice of walking the route in transition the previous day, so I didn’t have to think about where it was. I heard my boyfriend shouting as I ran out to the mount line and started the 180km, 2 lap bike.

Lucie Custance SportPursuit Champion

It was difficult to not go all out as if I was in an Olympic distance race and kept reminding myself I was going to be out there for 6 hours and to keep something in the tank for the run. I was overtaking a lot of other girls and being cheered on by the amazing crowds was brilliant. Entering seemingly sleepy villages, you would then see the long wooden tables lining the streets and all the locals sat drinking beers and clapping you through. This is nothing compared to the famous Solarer Berg though. You are told about the famous hill by people that have raced before and at the race briefing, but nothing can prepare you for the intensity of the crowds. It is like your very own Tour de France moment. Crowds 10 deep all the way up the hill with only enough space for you in the middle. Flags being whisked out of the way just before you get to them, cheering, music blaring. You cannot keep your heart rate in zone 2 or 3 no matter how hard you try up that hill!!

By 140km into the bike, my lower back was starting to hurt and my lack of long rides in the aero position on the TT was beginning to show. I was counting down the kms and stretching out every 20 mins or so, looking forward to the run. I was eating and having some fluids every 15 mins and felt strong. Coming from a running background I had managed to convince myself this would be the easy bit! I dismounted my bike in T2 after 5hrs 26 in the saddle, handed it to another friendly volunteer, grabbed my run bag and ran into the tent. Whilst removing my helmet and twisting round my race number, I had been handed my run shoes and iPod (allowed in Roth!). A quick comfort break  and I was ready to go.

The sun was now out and I was glad I had put my visor on. I got my tunes on and set off at 7:00 min per mile. I knew this was too quick, but the adrenaline and relief from getting off the bike was coursing through me. A few km’s later and my pace was dropping. This was not going to be comfortable. I was aiming for a 3:15 to 3:20 run split, based on my previous marathon run times and half-ironman run splits. The heat and my stomach starting to cramp up at 25km in meant that I spent the 2nd half of the run taking in just flat coke and water. My stomach was expanding due to the lack of digestion going on and I had to pull my HR monitor down as it was getting too tight for comfort. This was going to be about survival, one foot in front of the other, counting down the aid stations and the km markers. I saw the other 2 girls from my club running in the other direction and calculated at about 10km to go that I had about 20 mins lead over them. I got into town and with a few km left and heard the shouts of a clubmate at the roadside telling me to focus. I had done marathons before, I knew what my body could handle and knew that I could get through this and refused to walk. Quite cruelly there is a patch of cobbles right next to one of the photo points in town. The pictures showing your grimaces as you navigate over the uneven ground. 1km to go and thankfully the adrenaline kicks in again.I see my boyfriend, give myself a good talking to and push to the finish line, past the grandstand of crowds in a run split of 3hrs 32. Not what I wanted, but I’ll take it!! A finish time of 10hrs 21 mins, 18th female overall and 4th in my age group.

After being given my medal and thanking everyone in sight, I was then informed I needed to give a doping test sample – picked at random from the top 20 finishers. First ironman and first doping test in one day! 5 litres of water and apple juice and 2.5 hours later, I finally needed the bathroom and could give them the sample and go and meet my boyfriend and clubmates!

All that was left to do then was drive back to Nuremberg, eat half a big mac and go to bed – rock and roll!!

Roth was an amazing race, with the icing on the cake being a member of the winning female team (Go Clapham Chasers!).It took me only a couple of hours to decide I wanted to do it all over again. The only decision now is which one?

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