Each year Challenge Roth welcomes a sold-out field for a day of suffering and achievement. There are several unique features at this Roth race that bring racers from all over the globe. There’s the chance to ride with Tour de France-caliber crowds up the Solarberg Hill and the opportunity to view the beautiful countryside, but there’s ultimately one factor that most intrigues all level of athletes: the speed.
For the past five years, the male champions have all finished under the elusive eight-hour mark. Roth also boasts the male and female iron-distance world records with Andreas Raelert (GER) going 7:41:33 and Chrissie Wellington (GBR) clocking 8:18:13 in 2011.
This year will also likely see fast times as the 30th anniversary of the race has attracted several top professionals who are capable of going under eight hours. When asked about the potential for record-breaking performances, 2013 Ironman World Championship runner-up Luke McKenzie (AUS) said: “It’s a personal goal of mine to go sub eight [hours] and Roth is the place to do it… the victory is going to take a sub eight-hour performance.”
So what makes Roth so fast? Two-time Ironman world champion Chris McCormack gave his take in an interview with Bob Babbitt, saying the course isn’t as easy as you’d think based on the times.
“That was my first perception of seeing these fast times posted on this course,” McCormack said. “You think ‘it’s dead flat, downhill, tailwind’ and then you come here and you ride the course and it’s got some bumps. What’s great about the course is the road surface is spectacular. The crowd support all over this course is enormous. The Solarberg is like a Tour de France climb. I think the competition they’ve always brought here drives for a fast race…. With this marathon, with a very soft surface, you don’t get that muscle soreness that you tend to get at the late end of other marathons so you can really push that back 10K, which makes for a very fast race.”
Here’s a quick look at the course:
It all starts with the out-and-back, 2.4-mile swim in the calm, protected canal waters. With only a one-loop swim, racers have the burden of sighting their path lifted off their soldiers. Speed can easily be maintained without the need for frequent sighting, thus contributing to faster-than-average swim times. After the athletes exit the water under the Hilpolstein-Allersberg canal bridge, they quickly transition onto the blazing 112-mile bike course.
The two-loop bike course is known for its relatively flat elevation profile, which contains only three short raisers. The most famous of the hills is Solarberg Hill, which brings out thousands of spectators that line the climb to cheer on each athlete. Another contributing factor is the weather. Conditions in Roth are usually extremely mild on race day, averaging about 70 degrees Fahrenheit with little to now wind. These factors combined led to Andreas Raelert’s course record 4:11:43 bike split in 2011.
Roth’s run course has a record marathon of 2:36:49, set by Luc Van Lierde (BEL) in 1997. The key aspect to Roth’s run course that allow racers to run some of the fastest times in all of triathlon lies in the running surface. The fact that 70 percent of the run course is conducted on non-pavement surfaces like compacted dirt trails sets racers up for a strong marathon to the end. Runners’ legs get a refreshing break from hard pavement pounding steps, which in turn prolongs the time until fatigue can diminish the racer’s run.