Macca shares some of his winning tips to help you conquer the historic course -- whether this year or sometime in the future.
As Challenge Roth weekend fast approaches, you can feel the excitement and anxiety from athletes all over the world. This is the course on which the world record over the full distance has been set and on which Olympic gold medalist and world champion Jan Frodeno aims to break it. This is the world’s biggest and best triathlon, where more than 5,000 participants and over a quarter of a million spectators converge every year in a celebration of endurance, determination, and heart.
Four-time world champion and four-time Challenge Roth champion Chris McCormack will once again join the celebration, leading his global Team MaccaX on their fourth straight year representing at Roth.
Settle in and soak up the pre-race atmosphere.
In the week prior to the race, don’t cram training in. Rest, do a little bit of work, don’t do nothing, but the focus is resting. Even though you start to get anxious, when you get to the event and everyone looks so bloody fit, people riding their bikes, people running with their shirts off and you feel like you should do more — don’t do it. Rest.
Get in there, get over that flight. You want to be there at least four or five days before the big race because you really want to get part of the atmosphere that builds in this town. You see people coming in, all the tents being set up, and the big farms in the background. You want to go down to the swim and have a look at it.
This is the most spectator-friendly swim on the planet.
It’s quite a straightforward swim. It’s in the Main-Donau Canal, it’s like a river with no current because they block that off with gates. It’s where all the big ships travel through the center of Germany.
It’s the most spectator-friendly swim on the planet because you can walk up to the swimmers. The whole way across this canal would be a hundred fifty or two hundred meters. It’s a straight line, probably a kilometer to the first buoy. You can keep your head down and never look forward, like you’re swimming in a pool.
Of all the swims in the world I find this one to be the least aggressive because I think people feel confident — you’re never too far away from the shore. You know if there’s any trouble someone’s gonna see you or you can just swim to the side and you’re out. It’s just a straight line. So just take your time and enjoy it.
I like to start on the water or deeper side where there’s no one to your left. If you start on the outside, you get jammed and can’t get across. Weaker swimmers, I would say stay shore-side just so you feel more confident.
It can be mind-numbing between the section of the first turn buoy all the way back. It’s like a one-mile section almost.
Go out quite hard, relatively speaking because it can be quite tight there at the start. Sit in your group, and then really relax in that long stretch. It’s better to have feet there and be in a group than being solo.
When you’re coming back from the first turn buoy, hug the land or the side of the canal. The waves starting after you — and because the canal is quite narrow — creates a kind of current and if you’re swimming in the middle of the canal they’re pushing water the opposite way of where you’re going.
Huge crowds about the three-kilometer mark. You go under that bridge and it’s mind-blowing.
It's a spectacular bike ride through the Bavarian countryside.
For the course, basically it’s in the countryside in a typical Bavarian landscape. Slight little undulations, beautiful farms, little villages, and the course takes you through multiple ones of those. So if you’re expecting a flat course, it’s 100% not flat. That being said, road surface is spectacular and fast, the climbs tend to be short with long descents which gives you those quick times.
Your first 50K is pretty much downhill with a few short climbs. If anything, control your pace on the first lap. The crowds are ludicrous and everyone feels like a rock star especially when you’ve got thousands of people screaming for you.
You come through and do your first climb up Solar Hill and my advice to you is, ‘Go very slow.’ Enjoy it. Think of the Solarerberg not as a point where you want to zoom up because the adrenaline makes you want to do that. You don’t get the opportunity to ride through the crowds like the Tour de France ever in your life, so why make it go quick?
Most people cook this climb because you don’t even see that it’s a climb because it’s covered by people. It’s a 6 or 7 percent climb that goes for about 500 meters. And guys are in their big chain ring zooming up there, they get over the top and 10 kilometers later they’re gone because they just cooked themselves! So take your time up that climb; you’ll pump through town again and repeat the whole thing and come into transition.
The run is easy on the body but hard on the mind.
You’ll come into town, you’ll see the transition area and then the tent. You run out and the run is basically shaped like a T. You run out like five or six kilometers and you hit the Canal that you swam on. You take a left-hand turn and it is 12 kilometers out and back, and then 8 kilometers out and back in.
It’s a dead-flat run, soft surface. It can get very, very hot out there just because you’re so exposed. It’s not Florida-hot in the summer, but you can never find shade. The sun is constantly on you so hydration is key.
This race is relatively cool until about one o’clock. So if you’re still out on the bike at 1, you can get a little bit of wind that takes away the heat. You’ll really notice the heat on the run on the Main Canal and there is zero shade. So the pros actually get an easier run of it, but you guys are out there for a longer period of time.
A lot of the time I found with heat, it’s as much perception — there is a heat effect, without question. But for yourself mentally, when I look back at races when I cracked in the heat, I’m also telling myself I’ve cracked in the heat! ‘It’s hot. I hate this.’ And you can’t get this heat thing out of your head. So create in your head a little cocoon of coolness. I wear dark glasses, I put sponges under my hat, sponges into my top, douse myself with water, and continually tell myself it’s not that hot. I always went through the aid stations, every aid station grab ice and run with it in the palms of my hands, keeping extremities cold is good. Stuff ice down your crotch because that cools your body really really quickly.
Mentally it’s very tough because when you make the far turn at the end of the T, you’re looking at a 20-kilometer stretch to the other end. And you see everything and everybody so that can be hard. There’s a lot of silos of people in certain little towns that make it fun. Overall, it’s a fast run. You don’t get as sore because of the surface.
My advice for the run is take your time up until you hit the Donau Canal. It’s downhill ‘til the Canal which will make you want to go fast. I would even go so far as to say just build until you reach the first turnaround of the T because people tend to fall apart here. They see that long stretch to the other end and start to get tired just looking. You’re 18 kilometers into the run and you just get a sinking feeling. If you take your time up ‘til there, you’ll pass a lot of people.
Challenge Roth is an old school, bucket list race.
Just enjoy the whole thing, just stay in the moment. Concentrate on what you’re doing right now, not being worried about what maybe might happen in three hours’ time.
Honestly, Roth is a bucket list race. If you haven’t done it, enter it at one time in your life just for the entire experience of it. The history of the race, the town, the people behind it, the fast time if you get this course right… Tell you what, there is nothing like doing a fast race in Roth because the way they look after you is spectacular. It’s basically old-school triathlon. Not corporate, but that family feel where a town owns a race.