Last years Challenge Roth was one of the most special days of my life, and one that I have replayed in my mind over and over again. I didn’t need to be asked twice to return for my third time, and on the 10th Anniversary, of this amazing race.

I arrived in Roth on the Sunday afternoon, and settled in with my wonderful homestay family, Gunter and Doris Mollinger, and Einstein the dachshund. Which didn’t actually dash anywhere. He ate and slept. A bit like me really.

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As with previous years, I was presented with an amazing Audi Q5 from Feser Joachim (www.autohaus-joachim.de) to drive around in. Driving in the loosest sense of the term, given that I am not known for my ability to handle a motorised vehicle without any bumper meets bumper action. Still, it was a definite step up from the 1986 tank that we trundle around Boulder in. The brakes and accelerator pedals both worked. A revelation.

The few days before the race were busy with drug testing – every pro athlete is drug tested (blood) before the race; the pro brief; the press conference and, of course, the social highlight that is the Erdinger Party – where I once again donned a dirndl. The fact that I was unable to breathe in this chest squeezing, cleavage creating corset was a definite limiting factor when it came to cutting some shapes on the dance floor with Belinda Granger and a lederhosen loving Andreas Raelert.
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Of course, I was incredibly excited to be racing Challenge Roth, but I also felt the weight of expectation laying heavy on my shoulders. Of course, no one expects more out of me than I do, but added to this inner personal competitiveness and desire for self improvement, was the question (and in some cases the assumption) that I would once again break the world ironman distance record – lowering it from the 8.19 I had set last year. If I had a euro for every time I was asked ‘can you break the world record?’ during race week I would be a very rich girl!

My reply, as always, was “I want to try and win the race, to enjoy it and to cross the line in the fastest time possible”. The question I was asking myself was ‘will this pressure crush me, or will I be able to withstand it, race my own race and be satisfied with having given it everything, regardless of finishing time? I knew I was fitter, especially on the run, but to have an even more perfect a day than last year would be a tall order. But I guess on Sunday I ordered tall. ☺

So, race day dawned at 3.50, enough time for breakfast, a cup of the strong stuff, a read of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If, a rub of the lucky rock that my friend Billi bought me back from the summit of Mt Everest and then it was off to the start, about 1hr20 before kick off at 6.30am.

The swim started like a Friday night pub brawl, fists, legs, arms, and other body parts were flying everywhere. Legs were grabbed and enough punches were thrown to be worthy of a heavyweight boxing title. Luckily I had sharpened my elbows and managed to give as good as I got, but that’s not to say it wasn’t disconcerting. Such fisticuffs mean that it is near impossible to settle into a rhythm in the first 200m. I just focused on keeping calm and not breathing every stroke so as to limit the chance of my goggles being separated from my shiny bright yellow swimcap, and tried to swim as hard as I could to get into a fast pack. My strategy seemed to work, and I found myself with what I knew was a group of strong swimmers, and after Round One, the boxing gloves were removed and we were all able to find a comfortable rhythm that saw me exit the water as first female, in 49minutes, around 30secs faster than last year.

I hopped onto the Slice, and set about trying to conquer the 180km, two lap course that winds its way through beautiful countryside, towns, villages, forest, farmland and of course takes in the amazing, amazing Solarerberg Hill. No superlatives can do this experience justice, you have to be there to truly experience the exhilaration, excitement, energy and passion of the thousands and thousands of people that line this hill, 5 or 6 deep in places, creating a funnel only a metre wide, just enough to fit a bike through. And at the crest of the hill, as always, were my family and friends, waving banners and body parts in equal measure. It never fails to give me a huge huge boost, not to mention a healthy dose of goose bumps and a couple of perforated eardrums.
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I finished the ride feeling strong, and came into T2 with 4hr40 on the clock. Whipping on the T7 Racers, and pulling the Greepers ‘live it: love it’ logoed lace (try saying that after a few non alcohol frei biers!) toggle. And living and loving it I was. That’s not to say the marathon wasn’t without its physical lows. Parts of my body intermittently reminding me that I was cranking out sub 4min/kms and that they weren’t exactly happy about this fact. But I followed my coach’s instructions, focused on relaxing my arms, my hands, my shoulders – all the areas where tension usually builds. And when I felt the blood run down my ankle from the timing chip strap laceration I simply focused on something altogether more pleasant. Like the men up ahead.

I was popping a gel every 25mins, but the spectators were clearly not following the same nutritional strategy. I am not sure how many carbs are in an oversized currywurst, but I am sure it is rather more than the 1g of carbs per kilo of body weight per hour strategy that I try to follow. I have to say, tempting runners with the overpowering smell of bbq’ed animal parts, and industrial sixed vesicles of amber nectar was somewhat cruel – I was almost tempted to stop and sample these culinary delights, had it not been for my inability to simultaneously consume sausage whilst cracking out said min/km pace.

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I went through the 21km point in 1.21 which was about a minute quicker than last year – and, although I faded slightly in the second part of the marathon, it wasn’t by nearly as much as the previous year – something that Dave and I have been working hard to address. I couldn’t believe the amount of support along the course, especially in the final few kms through the centre of this amazing town where any ear drums I had left were totally destroyed by the deafening roars of support.

I didn’t have the total race time on my watch, and although I knew I was running around 2.45 marathon pace I didn’t know my swim or transition times and so didn’t actually know whether I was over/under WR pace. It was only in the last km that someone yelled, you are on for 8.18 did I get an indication of my predicted finish time. By then I was digging as deep as I could, eeking every ounce of energy that I could from my tired legs. I actually almost felt like I was disconnected from my own body – numb to the discomfort and fatigue in my attempt to defy what I had thought was near impossible.

As I entered the finishing arena, the huge crowds carried me the final 200m, and only as I turned the last corner did I see the time, 8.18. The final few meters passed in a blur as I crossed the line, rolled in memory of Jon Blais and then lay prone, weeping into the red carpet. The pictures describe better than I ever could how I felt at that moment.

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For a great set of pictures, see the amazing work of the super talented photographer, Rebecca Marshall at
http://rebecca-marshall.photoshelter.com/gallery/Chrissie-Wellington-at-Challenge-Roth-2011/G0000At0tbBAuacQ

Every once in a while sport delivers up a very special day, and I am so proud to have joined Andy Raelert, in creating another little piece of triathlon history, and to do so on the 10th Anniversary of Challenge Roth makes it even more special.

This is what I devote my life to – putting my heart and soul on the line to test my limits. But, to be honest, I still cant quite believe what I achieved – I defied what I thought was possible, and that is a wonderful feeling. That’s not to say there isn’t rom for improvement, there is – across all three disciplines. But this result nevertheless teaches me never to stop believing. It should teach you all never to stop believing too. Our limits may not be where we think they are. I hope that these performances open up people’s eyes and imaginations to new horizons and new goals.

Before the race I watched the Challenge10th Anniversary video – the text includes words like passion, emotion, support, encouragement, friendship and of course, family. It is the last of these that, to me, is the most important of all. We race as individuals, but we cannot compete alone. As I stood by the river before the start I looked up at the bridge and saw these huge banners, held by my mum and dad, my cousins, my boyfriend and my friends who came from the UK to support me. And throughout the race there they were, jumping up and down as I went past. And at the finish line, they are the people whose arms I fall into. Without the support of my family I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. They are the reason I am able to achieve my dreams, and I credit all my victories to them.

And more widely Felix and his family wanted to create a company that was like a global family, and he has achieved just that. From the community who welcome all the athletes year after year; the sponsors who lend unwavering support to the race; the spectators who wave flags, banners, and consume vast quantities of beer and sausages; the wonderful finish line party where we all link hands to welcome the last athletes home; to my homestay hosts – the Mollingers who opened their door to me and showed me the culinary delight that is Weiswurst (www.more-touristik.de), to Fritz Buchstaller who provides his expertise year after year to the athletes and their two wheels; and of course the volunteer party held to thank the 5000 people whose kindness, generosity, passion and energy shine for all to see.

For the third year, this race has given me something I never thought would be possible. The near perfect day, and the feeling of being part of a truly global family. And for that I am so truly grateful.

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