My first trip to Bavaria was almost 20 years ago. About the same time that Mark Allen was conquering the lava fields. I was at school. I had never even heard of Mark Allen. I was more interested in Marky Mark from New Kids on the Block. I wore stone washed jeans and tie die shirts. The traditional Bavarian costumes – lederhosens for the men and dirndls for the women – were not high on my list of fashionable attire. Never did I think I would come back to southern Germany, as a dirndl wearing triple world champion. But this is exactly what happened.
Last years Challenge Roth was one of the most special days of my life. And returning to this small, sleepy Bavarian town truly felt like coming home. I arrived a week before the race, and made myself at home in my wonderful little apartment. Complete with a little tv. For me to watch the Tour. In German. I understood a few words. Like ‘Lance and Contador’. Sehr Gut. I watched my ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ dvd (a record breaking 7 times) instead.
Fortunately for me (but unfortunately for other road users), I was presented with an amazing Audi A6 from Feser Joachim (www.autohaus-joachim.de) to drive around in. Slightly more upmarket than the tank sized Dodge Caravan that I rent in Boulder. My Audi felt slightly strange in that it didn’t have a metre long crack in the windscreen and the brakes actually worked (I tend to brake using use the Dodge’s front bumper). My first stop was the amazing 50m open air swimming pool in the centre of Roth, where (when it comes to swimming attire) all the local men seem to want to pack as much into a small space as they possibly can. Banana hammocks seem to be the aquatic haute couture in Bavaria. Second stop was the bakery. Putting nuts into dense brown bread is a wonderful invention and I feel should be replicated the world over (nuts into banana hammocks is another matter though).
The few days before the race were busy with drug testing (more about this later), the pro briefing, the press conference and the Erdinger party – where myself and other pros jumped at the chance to wear the lederhosen and dirndl. The latter is rather like a corset – which, although attractive in appearance, renders breathing almost impossible. I spent much of the evening gasping for air and turning a delightful shade of rouge. In addition to fancy dress, we also had the opportunity to partake in a few local games. One of which was the famous, and extremely entertaining, ‘hammering nails into a piece of wood contest’. Belinda Granger and I went hammer-head to hammer-head. Belinda’s guns were clearly far superior to mine and she managed to break the World ‘Hammering Nails into a Piece of Wood’ Record by 30 seconds. I was determined that come race day I would get my own back 🙂
Throughout race week I was repeatedly asked ‘can you break the world record?’ Having already lost the Hammer/Nail contest I presumed they meant the ironman distance record that I set last year. In reply, I heard myself mouthing the words “I want to try and win the race in the fastest time possible – and so yes that means trying to break the record”. But inside I have to say that I was less confident that it could be done. Last years conditions had been perfect and whilst my preparation hadn’t (I was suffering with shingles) I really didn’t know how much faster i could go. I actually said to Belinda before the race – if the record goes it will be by seconds or a minute at most. What do I know?!
So, race day dawned early. I was up at the crack. 3.20am to be precise. Enough time to devour my Cream of Rice and a strong cup of the black stuff before heading to the swim start for the 6am kick off. I was really happy with my swim. It was the first outing for my TYR Hurricane wetsuit and it worked like a dream. I was determined go out hard from the gun and set myself up for a good race by coming out with the faster swimmers. At about half way I found myself in the front of a pack, pulling a train of boys around the buoys. Now, as many people know I am rather navigationally challenged, and I was slightly concerned that we would end up in the North Sea, but luckily I managed to stay on course and popped out of the water in 50minutes. I must have been so excited about the swim that I totally forgot to pick up my bike bag in T2 and ran straight into the change tent. It was then that I realised my mistake – uttered a few unladylike profanities – and ran the 50m back to the bag. All captured on film. No wonder people call me ‘Muppet’.
I hopped onto the Slice (now nicknamed ‘Queenie’ after the MBE and the Queen K) and felt strong right from the start, overtaking Tereza after a couple of kms. The bike course at Roth is amazing. It’s not flat by any means, and has some cheeky climbs that make you work, but the descents are long and fast, and aside from a small section the roads are closed. And the surface. Like a baby’s bottom. Smooth as silk. Like last year, climbing up the Solarerberg absolutely blew me away. The crowds were huge – five or 6 people deep – and making a noise that could perforate eardrums. There were whistles, clappers, banners, flags, beer glasses and a few bodily parts being shaken. It was hard to keep my eye on the job. Especially with the shaking body parts. Even harder when it turns out that those parts belong to members of your family.
I came into T2 with 4hr36 on the clock and a beaming smile on my face. Having taken inspiration from Dorothy in Kansas I decided to wear the latest Brooks T6 racer in a delightful shade of rouge. Just to match the new racy red TYR tankini and shorts. Chris de Burgh could have written a song about me. My left hip was actually hurting on the first part of the run, probably due to my bike position – which still needs a bit of tweaking. I managed to override the pain part of my brain, and instead focused on getting into my stride and soaking up the energy from the huge crowds. I took inspiration from my new Greepers laces which had the slogan ‘live it: love it’ on the toggle (www.greepers.com). It must have worked because after about 5km the pain wore off and I felt like I was running much more fluidly – living and loving everything. My family and friends popped up periodically along the race course. All that energetic, shaking of body parts clearly required a huge amount of carbo loading as they always seemed to have either a wurst or a beer in their hands. My dad usually had both. After all…when in Rome……or Roth…..
I went through the 21km point in around 1hr22 which was about 3 minutes quicker than last year – and, although I faded in the second part of the marathon, I knew at about the 30km mark that I had the victory and could really enjoy the last few kms of the race. This year the course had been changed slightly, ending with a loop through the centre of Roth. The crowds were huge and the noise was deafening as I closed in on the finish line. I had realised that I was under world record pace, but it was only in the last km that I realised that I was going to break my own record so definitively, and only as I rounded the last corner could I see the time – 8hr19. I crossed the line, rolled in memory of Jon and sank to my knees. I had finally found what I had been looking for since I became a professional triathlete. The seemingly elusive perfect day. The words of the song are so true……..
“people wait a lifetime for a moment like this”.
I take great pride in what I achieved at Roth – to have won, and have broken the world record again, is something that will take weeks, months, years to truly sink in. All the pieces of the jigsaw came together to create a perfect picture – that of the finish line smile. But this victory is not just personally gratifying. I hope that women look at me, and other athletes, and realise that there are no limits, that anything truly is possible with hard work, determination and passion. To plunder the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do”. I try and live my life by that motto. Challenging what people think is possible and hopefully proving that we can all achieve more than we could ever have dreamt of.
Of course, as with any ground breaking performance the inevitable questions arise. They are never directed to me. More whispered in the background, or implied in conversations with those who know me. They ask how it is possible to do what I did without the use of performance enhancing drugs. I don’t believe that silence is golden – and my brief response is this. I got into this sport almost by accident. Not for money, for glory or even for world records. Simply to see how good I could be. I had a talent that not even I knew I had. It took a few special people to help me realise that talent and hone me into the athlete I am today. But I devote my life to this sport. Putting my heart and soul into fulfilling my potential – mentally and physically. It requires sacrifice, hard work, determination and an ability to look beyond the physical boundaries that others set for you. I look in the mirror and I know that I am clean. I have never, nor will ever, take performance enhancing drugs. I don’t need to. What you all saw last weekend is the real me, putting my heart and soul on the line to test my limits and show that the bar can be raised. This is a wonderful time for women in sport. Please, let us celebrate that.
As always I want to finish this blog with some words of thanks. First of all to Alice, Felix, Kathrin and the rest of the amazing Challenge Team (Heiko and massage man Peter also deserve a special mention), for putting on such a wonderful event year after year. I can’t think of any other race in the world where the race director and his family stand at the finish greeting each and every athlete as they cross the line. Their passion for the sport shines through and is what makes the race so incredibly special.
A huge thank you to the Roth community, to Herr Weigel for letting me stay in his ‘wunderbar’ apartment, to Susie and Sjakk for hosting my family for the second year, to Fritz Buchstaller at Radsport (www.radsport-buchstaller.de) for his expertise in all things bike and so much more – and to the thousands of volunteers who give up their precious time to help behind the scenes. The atmosphere at the Volunteer Party on the Monday night rivalled that of the finish line, and I saw first hand the energy, commitment and enthusiasm that they have and which enables us to realise our dreams.
To Bek, Belinda Tereza and the other pro girls – and all the pro men – for pushing me every step of the way.
And thank you so much to my family (especially my mum, dad, brother Matthew and cousins) and friends that came out to watch/drink beer/eat sausages. Your support means more to me than you will ever know.
Challenge Roth gave me something I never thought would be possible. The perfect day. And for that I am so truly grateful.