Anyone who has ever considered doing an Ironman distance race is likely to have heard of the Challenge series and Roth in particular - it is (allegedly) 'the' Ironman race to do which is not M-dot branded, and is heralded as the biggest in the world. Plus, it has the added bonus that Chrissie Wellington seems to like it, and keeps coming back to break her world record as was the case yet again this year!
So, what is it like? For those who don't know (which used to include me), Roth is a small town in Germany about 30 minutes from Nuremburg. It's not the easiest place to get to from the UK as the only direct flight to Nuremburg goes from Gatwick, although there are plenty of other options if you can cope with changing.
The race is one of the few I've ever done with a split transition - for anyone not in the know, this basically means that T1, where get out of the swim and get on to your bike, is in a different place to T2. This is Ok as long as you're organised as you had to put your running kit in the relevant bag and hand it in on Saturday, and didn't see it again until race day.
The swim takes place in a very wide shipping canal (which is shut to boats on race day) - the water was not bad at all, quite warm at 21 degrees, and not too murky. The main benefit of swimming in a canal is that it's really quite difficult to go off course and as it was flat, sighting was a bit of a doddle!
Out of the swim, grab your bike bag and into T1 where you're given your very own helper. Aforementioned helper tips everything out of your bag, hands you relevant items, puts anything you don't want back into your bag, wrestles your wetsuit in there too and sends you off very politely with many good wishes!
Find your bike (easy peasy), run to mount point and off you go. Now this course is renowned for being one of the fast ones, and despite the fact that there are 1000m of climbing on each of the two laps, I have to say that it certainly didn't feel like it. It was pretty, with some nice long straights, some very twisty bits through the villages, and some fast descents. There was lots of support, especially up Solar Hill, where you could literally only go up in single file such were the crowds at the sides of the road - completely bonkers, I'd seen the pictures, but it's something else when you actually experience it!
Into T2, and yet more helpful peeps take your bike off you, grab your bag for you and marshal you into the changing tent. Another helper (was the whole town here??), tip out bag, select relevant items, discard other items, into the bag they go and you're off (that probably makes it sound like I sped out of T2 at a cracking pace - I didn't). Now for the bit that really hurts. Unfortunately it could probably be classified as the most boring marathon course I have ever done - going out of the town was fine, then along the canal towpath... for miles.... and miles... and miles, then fiddle about a bit and back again, only to continue past where you came in to go along the towpath the other way for miles... and miles... etc... fiddle about a bit and come back, and all the while the temperature was rising - what a relief to finally turn back into Roth. The last 3K seemed to go on for ever, but once I crossed the railway line I knew I was nearly there, a little bit of grass, then you're on the red carpet and across the line to tumultuous applause and lots of noise!
So, am I glad I did it? Yes, it was a great race, well organised, well supported and (so I'm told) good for spectators as long as you can arrange to get from T1 to T2. Would I recommend it? Yes, if only for to totally mad experience of going up Solar hill! Would I do it again? Probably not, I'm just not sure I could face that run course again, and there are many others to choose from...
STOP PRESS... you may know that Chrissie is well known for always smiling, well, I saw her on my way out on the run as she was coming back in (miles ahead of the next lady), and she wasn't smiling then!