I first visited Bavaria when I was about 14, as part of a school exchange. I loved MC Hammer. I wore clothes in a dubious shade of illuminous yellow. I had a bouffant of hair that was even more birds nest than it is today. Never in a million years did I expect to return to Bavaria as World Champion, and with talk of breaking world records ringing in my ears.
One of the first races I heard about when I turned pro back in 2007 was Quelle Challenge Roth. Belinda had raced there 5 times, and raved about it at every opportunity – not just the race itself, where the deep history and fast times speak for themselves, but more importantly to me the superb organisation, the amazing atmosphere and the true feeling of being part of a wider Challenge family. It is a must for any long distance triathlete, beer drinker, or lover of good quality sausages. Being all three of these I jumped at the chance to race Roth, and sample the fine quality Bavarian wursts.
All the talk before the race was of World Records and surmising about what I, and others, might do. Maths has never been my strong point, so I left the calculations to the experts and concentrated on executing my carefully designed and extremely complicated race strategy. Race as hard as you can for as long as you can, and then push harder. I am often asked in interviews about what motivates me. I guess there are three things – a competitive spirit and burning desire to push myself to the limit; a passion and love for the sport and of course the other women (and men). And the pro field in Roth was more packed than a German speedo. The journalists were practically wetting themselves with excitement.
I arrived in Roth a week before the race, and made myself at home in the wonderful little apartment that the race organisers found for me. It was the perfect place to watch German coverage of the Tour De France. Wunderbar, whilst sampling the local Bavarian delicacies – one of which being the ‘sehr gut’ german bread. Luckily I was within baggette distance of the nearest bakery. I think I managed to consume at least my own body weight in bread. Surely some kind of record. When it comes to german bread, size matters.
I went into the race with three goals – to try and win, to enjoy it, and yes – to have a good crack at taking the World Record (and unlike last year I actually knew what this was). So, race day dawned clear and still. Not too warm – perfect for fast swim, bike and running … and more journalistic wetting. I was happy with my swim, although I should really have been in the front pack. It’s a lesson about the need to concentrate harder at the start and make sure I have my boxing gloves on so that I can get on the fastest flippers. Every turn of my head I saw the green cap of Bek Keat, and I am sure she saw me looking remarkably like a sweetcorn in my attractive yellow hat. We came out of the water and jumped onto the bikes together – and it wasn’t until about 40km into the ride when I looked behind me and found that I had managed to put some distance between us. From there on I just kept trucking, trying not to resemble a sloth on the corners and the long descents, eventually stealing the lead from Leanda at about 50km. Going up the Solarerberg climb absolutely blew me away. I hadbeen told about the support, but I didn’t expect it to be four or five people deep, with cheering that left me deafened and a fair bit of beer drinking toplessness to get my blood pumping. To have my family and friends there on the hill was fantastic (somewhat relieving to see that they refrained from any toplessness until I had gone past).
I felt stronger as the ride went on, and as the last 10km is slightly downhill I managed to roll into T2 like a steam train, with 4hr40 on the clock. I felt good for the first 10km of the run, but ironically it was that first 10km where I lost some time to the chasing girls, Bek Keat and Catriona Morrison. Between 15-25km I started to feel like a plank of wood. I switched the brain off and just went into autopilot. It was also around that time that I first saw the huge cardboard poster ‘Chrissie Wellington: Triathlon Goddess’ held up by a very enthusiastic man on the side of the road. I don’t know quite how he managed it but he popped up on the course three times after that, with the same poster, and me looking distinctly more god-awful than goddess-like each time. In addition to Mr Goddess I counted four flashers. Breaking the record from Australia. The scenery was also made all the more interesting by the German passion for the 1980s speedo (amazing what can fit into a small space). Clearly the ‘banana hammock’ has not met the same fate as my love of MC Hammer, and is still worn with immense pride in Bavaria.
Anyway, sightseeing aside the last 3km passed in a bit of a blur, as I knew then that I had the victory, and the world record, and was high fiving everyone in sight. And the finish line…..I had seen pictures but nothing quite prepared me for the crowds and the noise that they created. It blew me away. To be honest, I still cannot quite believe that I won, and broke the record by 14 minutes.
Of course, I am proud and honoured to hold the world record. To have my name etched in triathlon history is something that I will not take for granted. To have broken it is important, not just to me – but for the sport in general. Last year Erika, Yvonne and Sandra showed us all that more was possible. This year myself and Rebecca have raised that bar still further. But records are meant to be broken. I hope that women look at us and realise that there are no limits, and that it puts fire in their bellies to have a go at making history.
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 Challenge Team for inviting me to Roth, and putting on such an amazing event year after year. Their passion for the sport shines through and makes the Roth star burn so brightly. On a serious note, I also would like to commend Challenge for their commitment to anti doping, by ensuring that the pro athletes were tested both before and after the race. I would like to see more organisers follow in their footsteps.
A huge thank you to the Roth community, to Herr Weigel for letting me stay in his wonderful apartment, and the 4500 volunteers who give up their precious time to help. 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 makes the race such a success, and gives us the opportunity to perform (the party was also memorable for the fact that I was asked to sign three bare stomachs and one cleavage. Luckily ‘Chrissie’ isn’t too long, otherwise I might have hit parts that pens shouldn’t reach).
A special congratulations to Bek, for pushing me all the way; to Cat for an awesome performance in her first ever ironman distance race and to Belinda for showing just how talented she is, finishing the race in 5th having been hit by a car only the week before. She is as tough as German lederhosen.
I want to say a thank you to my family (especially my mum, dad, brother Matthew and cousins Tim and Rob) and friends that came out to watch/drink beer/eat sausages. Your support means more to me than you will ever know. (hopefully next time my cousin Tim will learn German, so that he doesn’t make the tee-total mistake of spending a month’s wages on a round of beer, only to find that it was labelled ‘alchololfrei’ – like giving a vegetarian sausage to a cannibal) .
This race deserves its name. It is a true Challenge – a test of power, of courage and of determination. And I am ‘sehr gluchlich’ that I could play a small part in rewriting triathlon history in Roth – one of the oldest and simply the best triathlon race in the world!