This week “Dispatch” columnist Holly Bennett is on the road in Germany to cover Challenge Roth. Watch for extended online coverage from our roving correspondent throughout the week.
At the generous invitation of the Challenge events family, I’ve just arrived in Roth, a small village in Bavaria in Germany, to spend a week reporting on the goings on at the Challenge Roth triathlon, the European Long Distance Championship. Yes, Roth is that race. The one every iron-distance triathlete raves about. They’ve either raced Roth or they long to, having heard talk of Solarer Berg, the legendary hill climb where spectators pack the bike course 10 or more deep, a tunnel of cheering humans to rival the Tour de France. It’s the race where Chrissie Wellington set multiple triathlon world records, most recently in 2011 when she smashed her own prior best time, going 8:18:13. The same day, Andreas Raelert reset the men’s world record bar with a time of 7:41:33.
But top pros, fast times and fantastic crowds are only part of the appeal of Roth. There’s also a flurry of race week activities, including Thursday night’s Erdinger Urweisse Party, where race VIPs and pro athletes dress in traditional lederhosen and dirndls, often oddly paired with their running shoes. On Friday night following the Carbo Party, a live band plays in the town center. And on Saturday there’s the Fire Show, a demonstration of firefighting abilities put on by several of the 100 firefighters that gather from around the globe to contest the World Championship of Firefighters on race day. That all happens before a single athlete hits the start line. Roth also hosts a finish line celebration and a Volunteer’s Party that are not to be missed.
The expo and the race week action – including the professional athlete press conference – kick off in full force tomorrow (Thursday). Today I focused on recovering from the long flight and familiarizing myself with my surroundings. Just half a block down the road from my homestay the pavement turns to a dirt path leading into the woods. The signage calls this area Wasserweg, a Nordic walking park. I enjoyed a short run on what seemed an endless array of trails, being careful to recall each turn, as one could easily get lost amid the thickly forested area. I felt a bit like the lead characters in Hansel and Gretel, yet rather than an evil hag awaiting me in the woods, there was a wondrous breakfast laid out by my host family once I made my way home.
Next up I borrowed a bike – a funky old 3-speed town cruiser variety – to tour the village and capture some images of its charm. Indeed, Roth looks exactly like the photos I’ve often seen, with cobblestone streets, European cottage-style architecture and even an ancient castle. This 14th-century town’s quaintness belies the triathlon explosion that is soon to take place here, but something tells me that Roth’s 25,000 inhabitants are more than ready to host an event of epic proportions. The excitement in the air is obvious, and despite only understanding a few words of German it’s clear that everyone embraces a welcoming attitude toward their triathlon guests.
Later today I’ll head to the local pool to swim and to check out its stainless steel bottom. Rumor has it that on a sunny day you can see your reflection as you swim and thus gain a great visual of your stroke. Rumor also has it that the locker room is co-ed, as Germans are not a particularly modest bunch. I’ll be sure to report back on all of this, though those photos will be limited to outside of the changing area!