I’m going to be breaking my race report for Challenge Roth into three parts, so I can take up more of your time (kinda fooling myself on that one). But each leg in race reports always seems to be a little bland and incomplete, so maybe this will address that issue. Since I do not have the comic or editing abilities of Trevor Wurtele, this report will be in standard, written format.
The swim at Challenge Roth takes place in the “Main Donau Canal,” which runs through the part of Southern Germany the race occupies, Middle Franconia. The water is clean and comfortable and flat, and largely free of glare from the sun. We were wearing wetsuits for the swim, despite a water temperature of 22.4 C the night before the race. Professional cut-off is supposed to be 21.5 C, so I’m not quite sure what happened there. Usually I’d prefer a non-wetsuit swim, but I was feeling a little vulnerable in my swimming over the past few weeks, so I just resolved to take the wetsuit ruling as a gift and go with it.
In the past, I often go out too fast and then struggle mightily in the back half of the swim. I resolved not to do that at Roth. I used my Finis Tempo Trainer for the race, setting the stroke count setting to 78 strokes per minute (I’d been playing around with the Tempo Trainer all week long: 74 and 76 were too low for wetsuit swimming, 80 was too high). I lined up behind Andrew Starykowicz and Timo Bracht, over on my preferred left side of the pack (I mostly breathe to the right side while racing, and if I line up on the left I can watch what’s going on). When we started, those two and the other presumptive leaders jumped away. I just stuck to a solid, strong cadence and looked for some feet. Pretty quickly I found myself in a nice little group, cruising along comfortably. Amy walked the canal pathway, and gave me some hand signals we’d designated beforehand (two fingers for “you’re in the second group/chase pack,” three fingers for “you’re getting dropped—get your ass in gear”). As I swam along, she steadily showed me two fingers, which was great—I was in the chase pack. It’s not super easy to see in the video above, since the field hasn’t strung out, yet, but I’m clinging on to the back of the second group.
I stayed in the second group until the turn buoy at the far end of the course (at Roth, you swim about 1500m down the canal, and then make a u-turn, head back, pass the start line, and do an 400m out-and-back to get to your 3800m), where I managed to lose the second group. This is where all my mental demons started to set-in, because I very often make the second swim pack, only to get dropped halfway through the swim. I and two other swimmers, however, worked to limit our losses, and I spent a lot of time telling myself “don’t give up on this swim–keep fighting, because it’s when you start coasting that you lose a lot of time.” My two swim partners didn’t make it easy on me, and when I climbed out of the water I was super pleased to see 51 minutes and change on the clock: exactly what I had hoped to swim, and only four minutes down on swimmers like Harry Wiltshire and Nils Frommhold, guys who are very very strong in the water. Starykowicz, also a strong swimmer, was only two minutes ahead of me. I’d had a very good swim, it turns out.
So what’s the takeaway? Well, swimming with the tempo trainer helped. Having the stroke timing beeping inside my swim cap gave me something on which to focus, and kept me honest the whole swim. Secondly, from a mental standpoint, I stayed tough whereas, in the past, I may have started to fold the tent when I didn’t need to. Your mental place is always a matter of perception. When I got dropped from the chase pack, my perception was “Oh, here we go again,” but I managed to tell that part of my brain to shut up and keep swimming hard anyway. When I got out of the water, it turns out that my perception was wrong: I had climbed out in 16th place, in the front third of the professional field, and only four minutes down from the big names in the race! It was an excellent start to the whole day. I averaged 1:11/100 yards (which is about 1:19-1:20/100m, or my dream pace), and basically had the best swim of my long-distance career.
Later this week, we’ll go through the bike leg, and how that all went! I want to thank TYR Sport for supplying me with my awesome wetsuit, swimskin, and goggles for racing and training.