A bucket-list event – Gareth Pile’s Challenge Roth experience


Symphonic , calming gladiator music welcomed us into T1 2 hours before the start of what they say is the second best thing next to Kona and definitely the best event I have ever experienced …… Challenge Roth 2017. The goose bumps started immediately, and as we checked our bikes, nutrition and transition bags, slowly a massive chunk of the famous Roth crowds (250 000) started building and lining the bridge over the Danau canal. The vibe was a continuation of what we had experienced in the days leading up to the race in the outdoor expo (beer gardens and about 3 to 4 times as many stalls as PE), but on a much bigger scale. It was a day of “firsts” for me …… first international event, first Challenge event, first canal swim and the first time beer was offered at run stations! My goal was a PB on this iconic course, which sports the fastest full distance time by Jan Frodeno. Unfortunately, my fairytale race was quite the opposite and with nausea / nutrition issues at 120km on the bike, chasing time took a backseat to trying to survive this beautiful world famous course. But hey that’s full distance  for you – you never know what you going get. Although I fell way short of a  personal best, this one gave me an experience of a lifetime and loaded me up some serious mental toughness!


Just minutes before the start, hot air balloons were released to “Eye of the Tiger” and now more than ever it felt like we were going into battle. Then the canon went off every 5 minutes to release another group of 200 odd athletes from the start rope which was about a 50m swim from the entry point to the canal. I was off at 7:10 on this supposedly easier / faster than PE swim. Although it felt choppy to me, it was really cool having  the side of the canal to sight with and no current to deal with. We swam out 1.6km turning at a buoy under a bridge. Pity I swam past it by 10m and looked up to sight to find nobody in front or around me! Raynard definitely needs to prescribe a compass for me, as my zig zag profile in the water pushed my swim out to 4km and I hit 3 canoes along the way. My 4 year old daughter could have most probably done a lot better. My next challenge was the frustration of avoiding slower (and quicker) swimmers . IRONMAN’s self-seeding approach definitely works better. Counting trees and supporters helped me get back in line with the start at 3.2km, which was great, but it was tough swimming past the finish with 600m to go. Not as tough as the sudden bout of nausea and getting ill in the water though. Not sure where that came from …… Another first! Now we were having fun. In the last 600m, I was regretting the one too many swim workouts in Raynard’s Training Peaks program I had allowed to turn red as my swim turned into a hack to get home.


Finishing the full distance swim always feels amazing, but this one was extra sweet. Boy was I glad to hit the canal steps. I took the slowest recovery walk in history through the shortest and superbly organized T1 and was on my bike in just over 5minutes. The 90km bike loop was phenomenal, with the smoothest road in the world, undulating hills joining little German villages 5 to 10 km’s apart and filled with hundreds of beer drinking, loud spirited, jovial Bavarians. The overcast weather was a real win too. It was a real treat. But nothing could prepare me for Solar Hill at about 70/75km. The many stories I had heard and the photos I had seen, did not even come close to what it is actually like. This is without a doubt the best 2 minutes  in my short triathlon career. Imagine riding into a wall of people that opens up at the last second allowing only a single file of riders up. There were thousands of people everywhere, all around us, cheering us to the top. How I saw my screaming sister in that mass of people was a sheer miracle! The noise was incredible and something that will stay with me forever. The 2nd trip up Solar was not as festive as people had disappeared to the run course and I had hit a proper German wall of nausea at about 120km, which unfortunately I never recovered from until the red carpet, but what a bike course …… absolutely incredible!

The run took us through 2 loops and comprised tar, cobble stones, dirt road and plenty of well stocked water stations. The Germans really know how to lay it out! Overcast weather, views of the canal (better looking at it than being in it!), beautiful forest sections and the thousands of Roth supporters going bananas made the hilly run a sensational experience. Although pretty broken, I managed to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the crowds, while eating away VERY slowly at the 42km’s. Another German wall & nausea hit me solidly and properly at 13km’s, but a little lie down (with a second bout of emptying my stomach) in the forest (my T3) and a 3km walk got me going (slow run / walk) again. Eventually (and what felt like an eternity)  I was entering the finisher stadium, bustling with hundreds of supporters, loud pumping music and flashing lights. It was absolutely surreal – a real epic moment!  Finally home and into the recovery tent with all the food (and beer!) in the world, awesome hot showers (fabulous!) and a little lie down with a drip in the medic tent (felt like heaven!).

What an experience! I will definitely go back (when the bank balance allows) and for those that have never been …… it is a must do bucket list item!

My highlights: first take on Solar Hill, seeing my sister on Solar Hill, touching the canal steps after the swim, Roth supporters on the run, entering the finishing stadium, my little snooze in the forest , medic tent drip & snooze (zzzzzzzz).

Only regret: not having the stomach to actually have one of the beers being handed out in the last few water stations on the run and my finisher shirt being about 2 sizes too small ☹ (haha)


Gareth Pile

Author: Tissink_Admin

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