Challenge Roth……a carnival of joy….

The phrase “bucket list” has been used so often it now even refers to mediocre events. However, there is nothing mediocre about the full iron distance triathlon in southern Germany called “Challenge Roth.”  It takes place in the Bavarian town of Roth in the beginning of July each year and has for the past thirty.  This is not only a bucket list race, but it is at least once-in-a-lifetime must do triathlon for any triathlete who wants the ultimate experience, precisely the Ritz Carlton experience. I had the good fortune of doing it this past year.
Most triathlons sorely lack the great Expos that, for example, the big marathons have. Not here. The Roth Expo is very big and it encompasses everything the sport has to offer and then some. It takes place in a big park and it includes beer gardens, restaurants and, of course, the finisher stadium. Anything that has to do with swimming, cycling and running can be found here. It is like a one week county fair. In fact, the evening of the pasta party and after the people have finished eating everyone walks to the town square where there is a big celebration. The town’s people put on a stage show along with speeches and there is plenty of merriment going around. The whole town of Roth celebrates the athletes.
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The swim takes place in a canal with thousands of spectators lining the the waterway on both sides including on the bridges. As you are setting up your transition prior to the race start they play snippets of the national anthems of the 60 plus countries represented there. You truly get an Olympic feel. There is live television and two announcers keeping the crowds entertained, informed and pumped up. The water temperature is in the 70’s and it is wetsuit legal. The age groupers even get to hear the play-by-play of the pro triathletes swim the single loop.
The two loop bike course takes you through the beautiful Bavarian countryside. Roads are even shut down, so only the contestants can use them. There are not only aid stations for your nutritional needs, but there are three bike stations that will help you with any mechanical issues you might have during the race. Beware of some very long and steep climbs.  However, two of these climbs makes you feel like you are doing the Tour de France. There are thousands of spectators and many of them running along side you yelling encouragement, waving flags, ringing cowbells, pushing you etc. etc. Hair-standing-on-your arm moments. The bike course takes you through small towns where the town’s people cheer you on as they sit, eat and drink beer at long tables along side of the streets.
The run course is flat and takes you through the woods and waterways around the area. You are allowed to listen to your favorite music on the run with your MP3 player or iPhone, so there is a lot of head bopping on the course.  The best part is the finish. You run a loop in a stadium purposely built for this triathlon and cross the finish line to the roar of thousands of spectators, the sound of music and announcers with lights flashing everywhere.You are then escorted into the Finisher Tents where you can take hot or cold showers. They even supply soap, shampoo and conditioner. This is why they encourage you to have a change of clothing in your morning bag which you get back when you are done  Then they have foot massages, body massages and food and beverages fit for a king and queen. There is no cold pizza here!  Pastries, fruits, sandwiches galore…to yogurts, to oatmeal, to coffee, water, orange juice, watermelon chunks and, yes, beer.
The evening concludes with the last of the athletes finishing and a huge light show and 4th of July like fireworks display at the stadium. The music is amazing and the crowds are enormous waving glow sticks and sparklers. It is a sight to behold.
Over 5,000 triathletes, over 4,000 volunteers and over 250,000 spectators converge on race day.
I am going back next year. Hope to see you there, too.
Carl Knutsson
USAT Florida Region Board Member
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