(With contributions from Tenchi So, Craig Patterson, and Noelle De Guzman.)
Challenge Roth is a bucket list iron distance race for many triathletes, but unlike another certain dream race anybody can race it -- which is why the event sells out within minutes of registration opening. So when you get the opportunity to race it, we want to set you up for success so you can enjoy the entire experience.
Air and Land Travel
Challenge Roth is hosted by the town of Roth, Bavaria, Germany. Roth is located about 45 Minutes to 1 hour south of Nuremberg, and about 2 hours north of Munich.
If traveling within Europe, you can opt to fly directly into Nuremberg as it is serviced by many major airport hubs. If you are an international traveller, depending on which airline you choose, they may not have a connecting flight into Nuremberg, so you may have to land in Munich and drive up to Nuremberg or Roth for your accommodation of choice.
Alternatively, as an international racer, you may opt to fly into Paris or Frankfurt and take the train into Nuremberg for that “European experience”. Most European trains allow for travel with a bike bag, but you will likely have to stow it in a designated luggage area away from your seat, in between the train cars.
(If you have Premium Status with your airline of choice, most airlines now include Bike Handling for free as one of your baggage allowances, i.e. Air Canada allows three bags, and a bike bag would count towards that allowance. So take advantage of any airline privileges to save money on bike handling fees.)
Board & Lodging
You can choose to stay in Roth or Nuremberg.
Note: In Germany, A/C (Air Conditioning) is not installed in budget to mid-priced hotels. If you cannot live without A/C, you may have to fork over more money to stay at name-brand and chain hotels such as Hyatt, Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton, etc.
Alternatively, you may wish to buy an electric fan from a local store to cool you off during the night.
Most smaller hotels don't have parking lots or free parking, so you may need to park on the side streets.
With over 400 hotels in the city of Nuremberg as well as a variety of restaurants and international cuisine, you’ll be spoilt for choice. There’s also a lot to do and see in this city, which is the second-largest in the state of Bavaria.
If you want to do more than just race, Nuremberg is the way to go.
The town of Roth is truly supportive of this race they call their own, and many residents offer homestays. Unfortunately, the number of homestays is quite limited relative to the number of race participants. Usually, visiting professional triathletes get priority as you have to go through the Challenge Roth organization to get onto the homestay list anyway.
Alternatively, you might find some homes and rooms listed on AirBnB, but snatch them up quickly when you see them.
There are also a few hotels within a 10-kilometer vicinity to Roth, which you can book through platforms like Booking.com.
There isn’t much in the way of public transport save for a few taxis you can hail on the street, so if you do decide to stay in Roth you will need to make arrangements to get around. Additionally, the variety of restaurants and cuisines in town is limited, and if you are traveling with family there’s not much tourist recreation available.
If you are staying in Nuremberg, having a car large enough to transport a tri bike or road bike is essential. Train service between Nuremberg and Roth does not start early enough for you to be able to take the train into town on race morning, and cycling on the motorway is prohibited. (It’s also 20 kilometers one-way…) Additionally, the last train service out of Roth back to Nuremberg departs at 22:10, so if you miss this you will have to spend the night in the station until the first train runs at 04:30.
You will also want to travel into Roth with your bike at least two times pre-race: to recon the bike course and to rack your bike. A car rental makes you much more mobile.
However, Roth train station is about two kilometers from the Expo, so if you do feel like doing reconnaissance on the bike course and then collecting your race pack afterwards you can certainly do this. Bicycles can be taken aboard the train free of charge.
If you have a supporter who can drive for you on race day it takes all transport stress away. Because it’s a split transition with T1 by the Main-Donau Canal and T2 just outside of town, you do not want to have to return to T1 for your car. You will be allowed to park your car for a fee (around 3 Euro), so don't forget to bring cash.
Collect your race pack at the earliest opportunity, as the Expo is huge and it can get stressful closer to the race.
Note: If you are not a member of your country’s triathlon union/association, you will have to purchase a DTU day license when you collect your race pack (unless you already paid for this during online registration). The fee is 30 Euro.
There is both surface and underground parking near the Expo site, but there are side streets and main streets in Roth that will allow you to park for one to two hours free during designated times. If you plan to be at the Expo for a long time, you should use the underground parking nearby. The surface parking only accepts coins. Roth is small, so you do not have to park up close to the Expo when collecting your race pack.
Most major bike companies will have their Expo Tent setup and provide free tune up for racers riding their respective brand, so you can save some money for minor issues or last minute tune ups.
If you are coming from outside Europe, you may wish to bring your own race nutrition as the options offered in Europe may be different and may not work for you. There is no Gatorade offered in Germany. Other North American nutrition products such as GU, HoneyStinger, BonkBreakers, Infinite Nutrition, etc. are not available.
The Main-Donau-Canal is a major shipping lane for Bavaria, and swimming is normally not allowed. However, Challenge Roth has scheduled swim recons on the Friday and Saturday before the race between 06:30 and 09:00, closing the course to boat traffic and providing lifeguards and water safety crew so you can practice on the course in near-race conditions.
The two-loop bike course is marked with permanent signposts as well as paint on the roads, so your only issue might be to miss the turn-off point and end up riding the entire 180 kilometers (!!!)
Two sections in particular deserve your attention:
- The outbound section from T1 for the first two kilometers as it is a bit twisty and narrow through some farm roads.
- The descent that leads right into Solar Hill as it is a fast section and you will want to anticipate proper gear change heading into the ascent.
Challenge Roth offers a GPX route you can load into your GPS watch to keep you on track, but if you do not wish to ride 90 kilometers so close to race day, our 25-kilometer Roth highlights cycling route takes you from the Expo through the highlights such as T1 and Solar Hill. (The long steady climb up the Kalvarienberg in Greding does not feature in this.)
Bike and Bag Check-In
Bring your helmet, bib number, and timing chip when you check in your bike; most European races won't allow you to check in your bike unless you have all three items. You will have to leave your helmet on your bike overnight with an open chin strap.
Your race pack contains three bags: bike bag, run bag, and street clothes bag. Mark each of these with your bib number before you deposit them accordingly.
Your run bag (blue bag) contains your run gear and essentials. You must deposit this during bike check-in at the collection truck in T1. You will not be able to deposit any run gear on race morning.
Your bike bag (red bag) contains your cycling clothes. You can place this by the swim exit on race morning by 06:15 according to your bib number in its assigned row.
Your street clothes bag (green bag) is for what you intend to wear post-race. You will need to deposit this at least 30 minutes before your wave start.
Historically, Challenge Roth has always been a wetsuit-legal race because they could open the Main-Donau-Canal gates and let water run through to lower the temperature. However, in 2019 the gates were out of service and the water temperature rose to be only 0.1C away from the wetsuit cutoff (24.9C). You can either bring your skinsuit or be prepared to swim without your wetsuit.
There are lots of tire pumps and mechanics in T1. Lots of toilets are available but try to go early as they get very busy and there are only about 5 portable toilets in the pens going to the swim start.
Walk through the swim exit and identify where to pick up your T1 bag. There are four rows on the floor so it helps to take note of which one your bag is in.
There are thousands of bikes in T1 so it is worth walking from swim exit through the change tent and toward your bike so you can take note of visual landmarks to help you find your bike faster. There is also food at the exit of the change tent for you if you want it.
Waiting for Wave Start
Take some extra warm kit that you are happy to throw away (including cheap sandals and socks) as there can be a bit of a wait after you hand in your post race bag due to the wave starts.
Stay hydrated and have some nutrition. Sip electrolyte slowly from a spare old water bottle and have a small energy bar to nibble on just in case you get hungry.
The swim takes place on the Main-Donau-Canal near Hilpoltstein, about nine kilometers away from Roth town central. It is basically a boat channel with gates that enclose the part used as a swim course. It's a straightforward rectangular swim, but expect some current from the sheer number of swimmers on the course. The channel is not very wide. If you are not comfortable treading water, you can stand on the banks (water comes up to knee height).
Challenge Roth is based on wave start format (based on bib number assignment), so the higher your bib number, the further back in the wave you are, which unfortunately means more traffic on the swim, bike, and run.
There are plenty of volunteer helpers in the tents to help you pull off your wetsuits and put on your gear. A few people will be wandering about asking if you need sunscreen slapped on.
The tents are separate for men and women with long benches inside. Unfortunately there are no individual modesty screens, but in there nobody cares and everybody’s focused on the race up ahead. No one’s looking.
Make sure you bag everything up (including your wetsuit!) because your T1 bag will be delivered to T2 for retrieval post-race.
The bike course is two-thirds closed to traffic, so you will only have to worry about other racers.
Contrary to what Challenge Family advertises and what pros and other racers who raced it previously may say, IT IS NOT A FLAT AND FAST course. It can be argued that it is indeed a fast bike course -- if you happen to be a Pro or an Elite Age Grouper in the earlier waves. Less traffic makes it easier to navigate the course, especially on the climbs and narrow roads.
The course is filled with mini hills and undulating roads, so you will need to get out of the aero position often. There are three climbs per lap (for a total of six hills), with the first hill (located near Greding) being the most steep and longest.
The problem with the Greding hill is that you are descending as you near the climb, then you do a hard right and boom, it's a 13% incline for about 700-800m before it tapers off to about 2-3%, so you'll want to build some momentum to overcome the initial steep ascent.
The total elevation change for the Challenge Roth bike course is about 2,106 meters. You'll definitely want to bring a 11-25 cassette, 11-28 if you are a weak climber, and you may get away with 11-23 if you are a very strong cyclist.
Aside from the road undulations, you should control your effort since you can encounter crosswinds and headwinds that can be unpredictable and can change from the first to the second lap. But if you have a disc wheel, by all means use it.
Technical Handling Skills
There is a portion of the course after Greding with technical turns and fast descents, so you should work on your bike handling skills. Additionally, many roads can be quite narrow to conduct a pass, so maintain situational awareness while passing.
You simply won't be able to pass people during the Solar Hill portion of the climb (unless you are a pro with moto support clearing the way), so just settle in and soak up the crowd support twice. Anyway, Solar Hill is a very easy and short climb. It is epic, so sit up and enjoy it. Go easy; watch those matches.
Road surfaces are excellent, but when wet they become very slippery and crash-prone. Remember to look up from time to time.
Each aid station will have cola, electrolyte, and water in bottles, as well as energy bars and gels. You can dispose of empty bottles 10 meters before and after every aid station.
Someone will catch your bike and then someone else will hand you your T2 bag, so that makes life easy.
Again, change tents are segregated for men and women. It’s a good idea to put a change of clothes in your T2 bag here in case weather changes (or so you can keep your options open in case you want to be more comfortable on the marathon).
Bag your gear properly; you can return for your red and blue bags between 18:30 and 00:00.
The majority of the run course takes place alongside the Main-Donau-Canal. The first 25km of the run is on the Canal before you head back and run through the town of Roth.
The surface is mostly crushed gravel, so it is easier on the legs. However, if you are a slow-cadence runner the gravel can sap your energy. You’ll want to run this section with a higher cadence.
If you are able, practice your long runs alongside a riverbank, canal, or waterfront with long straightforward roads. The run course can psychologically drain you as you are running the first 25km of the course on a narrow gravel road that never seems to end. The most psychologically devastating part is when you make your first turn around and run to the other turn around; it feels like it's forever.
There is one big climb around the 30km of the run course which can feel like you are climbing Mount Everest, so make sure that you are saving your efforts for the last 10-12km of the race.
Don't let passing runners demoralize you; instead, run your own race. Challenge Roth has high Team Relay participation, so many of the fast runners out there are likely to be relay runners and are fresher compared to you as an individual racer.
While there is no special needs bag, you are allowed to have things handed to you within 10 meters of every feed zone. It’s a one-lap course so that would need careful planning. However, feed stations are great with a variety of food from fruit to crackers and soup.
German Beer is served at a special aid station starting at about 27-28km of the course, if you like Beer.
Unlike the traditional IRONMAN cutoff, you only have 15 hours to complete the race, not 17. You'll want to pace yourself and be realistic about your progress. BUT, Challenge Family is more accommodating to the late finishers and back-of-the-pack finishers struggling to make the cutoff, so don't give up and do everything in your power to finish, whether you are a documented finisher or not.
The stadium finish gives you a massive burst of energy, but it is bad form to overtake someone in that final lap. Unless you are really close to your goal time (or are positive that person in front of you is in your age group), slow down and enjoy the moment. Wave to the crowd, high-five your team if they are in the stands, and smile.
There are showers, lots of food, and a free massage for all individual finishers and relay runners, so brief your team that you won't be out early. It may be an hour or more before you’re ready to go if you’ve had an uncomplicated finish (no need for medical assistance).
While you can collect your green bag at the finish and change into your street clothes, you’ll need to retrieve bike and run bags at T2 (around 2km from finish). There is a bus back to T1 with a bike trailer in case you’ve left your car there, but seating is limited and it runs in 30-minute intervals so there may be a wait.
The following day, registration to the next year’s race opens at the expo. Participants from the current year’s Challenge Roth are allowed to register for themselves and for a friend. The queue starts forming at 6am!