Challenge Roth. Sunday 7th July 2019.

After 4 years away from full distance Triathlon Iain and I were tentatively ready for another go at a full distance event:

2019 Challenge Roth. The Challenge word is the brand that is similar to the well-known Ironman brand BUT Challenge Roth has its own entity within the Challenge group. It is a family run organisation. Say hello the the family pooch Hugo!

Roth is a village in South West Germany. The word Roth can also be pronounced ‘wrote’. Time once again to: swim 3.8km bike 180km run 42.2km = 226kms or 140.6 miles. The event was not without controversy. Want to know more? Then read on: My report does contain unpleasant words!

Thursday 4th July: Leaving the North East a short hop down to Heathrow T5 and a connecting flight to Munich. We were greeted by a friendly bunch of reps from Tri Travel Australia, who asked us if we wouldn’t mind slumming it for 150km in a Mercedes transporter van to take us the Ramada Hotel in Nuremberg: Of course not, not a bother. The crack was good with Aussie Adam! A check in and a nice meal at Va Bene’s Italian (it is alcohol free beer!) just a stroll away rounded off the travel day.

Friday 5th July: Up & off to Hilpolstein at 7.30am: A canal that would be the swim course and the transition area for the bikes. The water was warm and borderline for a non-wetsuit swim at 24.2 degrees. Once settled it was fine: Iain calming his open water swim nerves.

9.30am off and away on a one lap bus reccy of the bike course. It appeared to have a ‘bit of everything’ but nothing too untoward. Back at the hotel there was a Tri Travel race brief. We assembled our bikes. Eat. Sleep. Breakfast leads to:

Saturday 6th July: Bikes & owners off to a midday Bike Check-in. Another view over the bridge at Hilpolstein and a full bike park: 4000 frames and 8000 wheels!

Iain had his 1st moment: His cycle hat is rejected at check in. Iain must buy a new lid for his heed and hands over 100 euros for his troubles.

Back to the bus for the drive to Roth and the heaving jammed packed expo. Now you felt as if you had ARRIVED. The compulsory race briefing and check-in follow. All good.

Except: I have my 1st moment. I didn’t bring any I.D. so they initially wouldn’t give me my race bags and timing chip. Only Iain’s verbal verification that I was indeed Graham Bell allowed the handover of the items (phew). A splurge in the Challenge Fan Shop was next up. Well it would be rude not to? Early evening (around 6pm) saw us then head back to the Hotel.  Nerves. Eat (Chrisse Wellington sent Iain a personal good luck and enjoy the day message on Twitter!). Nerves. Sleep (not very well, because of the nerves!).

Sunday 7th July. RACE DAY. It is now 3.01 am. We are awoken by thunder and lightning. Breakfast is kinda hard to get down: Joviality is now lacking in the restaurant. On the bus (with no Engleburt Humperdink songs this time, its Mr. Capaldi). The wipers are going full tilt at 4.30am. Remarkably at Hilpolstein the area is dry. Champion. Then not: the rain has followed us…….

At 6.30pm the quiet operatic background music gives way to one almighty BOOM! The Pros are off and swimming. Next up the sub 9 hour groups, then the O/65 groups athletes, then in groups of 210 us amateur triathletes. A deep water start for all. I’m off at 6.55am. I say to Iain have a good steady race, see you on the marathon course sunna, good luck. One man hug and then I’m off in a bit of a rush. Into the water, a swim over to the start line. Got my position. Seconds later another sonic BOOM! And I’m off!

GB: I’m immediately whacked on the nose. TWONK! The swim for me was to be nothing more than a steady swim. The new Orca wetsuit was perfect. A very flexible one that suited my swim style just fine. It made for an easy swim. The only thing I can add is that the lie of sight was almost non-existent after the 1st turn point at 1.4km. More brightly coloured buoys are required. I’m sure many other athletes zig zagged this section of the swim course. I was howked out of the canal in 59 minutes.

  1. Nervous. Nervous. Nervous. But hey! there is me and others just like me. Were all in this together. I was off at 7.25 am. The canon BOOM went through me! It took me around 700m  before I finally settled into my rhythm. Steady away, take my time, bide my time. Same as Graham: I zig zagged too on the second section after 1.4km too. Still I’m consistent if nothing else and this 3.8km was no different! I’m across the timing mat in 71 minutes almost to the seconds of my previous 3.8km race swims.

IH on the 180km Bike Course. Through transistion with so much help from the volunteers it made for a quick exit. The rain on the roads started to dry up. The weather was now overcast but the wind across open fields made for tough conditions, it was at times a grind. A memory that will forever live with me is SOLARBERG & SLOAR HILL. What an experience for any triathlete to be a part of. As you approach the town, you turn to face a ‘wall’ and a sea of large green overhead inflatable banners. The sheer number of people lining this famous hill! The NOISE! The string of riders that edge their way up Solar Hill. The encouragement! WOW! WOW! WOW! I nearly cried with emotion. It was so special It gives you such a lift and to be a part OF it and be IN it is something that will live with me forever. That was the best part. Below Solar Hill at Solarberg 🙂

The worst part was those German officials on the bikes. There were just ********. They pulled with a blue card on me and a 5 minute penalty for drafting. I wasn’t. I have never and would never cheat. I was so angry. The time penalty box: I just ranted away, even though I felt the just didn’t want to know. One blue cross on the bib number: felt like or implied I was a cheat? Those officials spoilt my bike ride (more rude words follow!!!). Back on the course I was very wary of officials and other cyclists around. I was fizzing with gremlins going into transition and after almost 6 hours of biking I was home and into T2. I was really ******** off! I can tell you all!

GB on the Bike Course: I tried to start my bike PC & my Sunnto watch. Both failed to work. So no average speed or heart rate to gauge my efforts for the next few hours. Grrrrr.

Well as for blue cards: I went one better! I received TWO ****** Blue Penalty cards. 35 km into the 1st lap at infamous Chinese corner: a dangerous hairpin bend section past the Greding climb. By not over taking I was penalised. I went one better at the pen box and ranted for 8 minutes on the stopwatch. I should have only been there 5. I was livid. The official said I should have either over taken on the outside or undercut the cyclist ahead. Absolutely no way Gunter! It all fell on deaf ears. So the remaining 55km was careful. The start of the 2nd and final loop of 90km. 5km in I got another ****** blue card! What for this time? Was a rather large bellow of Jorman Geordie to the rotund Jorman official? ‘Drafting’. In not nice words I shouted ‘Urinate away’. How can that be when you are 4 to 5 white road markings back ( more than 12m correct distance) and you then make to the centre of the road to make that fair, clean and positive overtaking manoeuvre? He shouted back ‘Next pen box’. I said back: You *%”*&^%$£”!** !!! BUT BUT BUT! What he and the race organisers could not take away was the image of SOLAR HILL! SPECTACULAR! Pics just  on’t do it justice.

With 85 km to go I was in a little bit of bother:  Two blue crosses on the bib, one more and I’m disqualified. I became even more mindful of official bikes and other triathletes passing. I constantly braked, pulled back away from overtaking, put the gears into the inner chain ring, my 2nd lap was slow and spoiled. To make matters worse when I did eventually go the pen box the two officials that had booked me were having a laugh and a coffee together. At this point I politely lost it. I whinged and wanged on for what seemed like forever and a day. I wouldn’t let it go. After 12 minutes of ranting I threw the stopwatch down and I headed back to T2 seething! Again the last 50 km was a repeat of much of my bike ride: Now slower not speedy at all. No way was I going to make myself receive a 3rd blue card. They weren’t going to do that to me (Now Mr. Angry!). Like Iain, I made it in just under 6 hours.

IH 42.2km + 1km! Marathon = 43.2km. The volunteers again were superb in T2. There were superb at every feed station. I have had a calf muscle problem for most of my running career. Over the past month it has given me some gip. My arthritic hip restricts me to just a weekly run. Heading out onto the course the calf was supported with compression socks. They didn’t work. The calf just went after only a few kms. The road stone canal path was a long long long long path, most of the kilometres were into that annoying headwind. It was still there. I saw GB at 8km in. I shouted ‘Calf’: He shouted back ‘Aye Sunna’. I saw him again at 20km in along the path: GB asked for a hug: Both of us struggling quite bad by this time. I had so many demons in my head I just couldn’t get negative thoughts out of my mind….. The now very sore and solid piece of useless calf muscle and that blummin blue card….Arrrrrgh!!!

I saw GB again after my penalty 1km run into the woods and as I passed through Roth along the cobbled roads and into the double hill climb towards Buchen Bach. I just couldn’t run properly. I had to speed walk up the hills, take it easy and manage my now painful run, jog, walk marathon plus 1km! I saw GB for the last time just before the double hill woodland section around 30kms in or so…..A last hug (no idea why!) and I was off on my way, slowly ticking the kms by.

And so to the finish. A-MAZING!!! The grandstand finish. 10,000 voices just for you. The last 100m was just incredible. A lad in front of me at the finish seemed to just stay “there” and I think kinda spoilt a few photos at the finish, but inside I had fought and fought and battled all my pain and thoughts to cross the 2019 Roth finish line in under 12 hours. Below: I’m done!

My full distance bucket list is complete. I was done in. Beaten up. But I survived the day! I was a Challenge Roth finisher and for what had gone on with officials and blue cards I was very proud of my achievement.

GB + 2 (yes two Kms!) Marathon = 44.2km. I just could not get into any rhythm at all so much so that I was slow. Shuffling along for the best part of kilometres 1 to 27. It felt like an eternity. The headwind, the blue cards, the lack of grip on the paths and my fat left knee: Each facet played its part in deconstructing my race day. I was ready to quit in one km. Then along came the run of shame at 27Kms and the now 2Km penalty run. The little extra for your misdemeanours on the bike course. I’m penalised twice with 1km per blue card. Grrrr time again. I just couldn’t have given a %^&*$£”!! Then a peculiar thing happened. I enjoyed the penalty run.

Back onto the run course something clicked. Now 29 Kms in (but still officially only kilometre 27) I felt good and running properly. I have no idea as to how or why. But IT was THERE whatever that IT was. All the frustration and anger inside, I was on a late Challenge Roth Charge! The miles ticked by. No one over took me in the last 15 Kms or so. Not one. Not even over the double hill climb in the woods towards Buchen Bach. I saw Iain in the closing stages and then piled on what speed I had left. I strangely felt great. I was becoming quicker. Even writing this now I still can’t fathom out the how or why.

So 11 and half hours in it was time to slow down and take in the grandstand finish. 10,000 happy tipsy spectators all got a ‘Vielen Danke’ (Thank you very much!) shout out from yours truly.

Elswick Harriers was sounded out over the tannoy system too. The bright green and red of corporate colours a horse shoe shaped magic carpet was there underneath my feet and it felt just BRILLIANT! A time to walk and savour the atmosphere. Arms aloft in relief and joy. One final step over the finish line, my 2019, 228km obstacle laden Roth race was complete.

Back in the athletes village I met up with Iain. The inquest afterwards by us was a detailed one by myself and Iain! I lodged my official complaint. More choice words followed in our Geordie de-brief over the next 2 hours!

You couldn’t go back into the grandstand which was a shame, so with trashed and weary bodies we decided to finish off our beer and M&S crisps back at the hotel. We left the athletes village at around 9pm. The 15 hour cut off time and 11pm brought to a close the 2019 challenge Roth with 4 minute firework display.


Back at the hotel it was a shower, fresh clothes, a nice cup of tea and a Rocky biscuit! Still reflecting on a very eventful day:, what a day it had been on Sunday 7th July at Challenge Roth. Pro Triathlete Lucy Charles Barclay from the UK won the women’s pro race in 8.30.

Local Pro Triathlete Andreas Drietz from Nuremberg won the men’s race. The only athlete out of 4000 to go under 8 hours, finishing in 7.59. Their prize money was around $14,000 each. I think 5th place took home $1000.

Monday 8th July. Time for R&R. A day spent in Nuremberg. A beautiful town with history and culture. I would recommend a visit. I’m certain Iain would agree too. Food and beer was the order of the day. We both took full advantage! 

One last visit to Va Bene’s (we had 4 meals there: the food was that good!) Back at the hotel we took a celebratory 50 ml Glenlivet malt whisky to toast our achievements (our thanks to British Airways for the two freebies!).

Tuesday 9th July. Time to say Aufweidersehn.



We said our good byes to the staff at the Ramada, The Guys at Tri Travel: Alistair, Adam and Shane. They were all superb hosts. You could not have wished for a better set up and customer service.


We headed back to Munich T1, then onto T5 at Heathrow and finally back to Newcastle for 11pm.

Thank You’s. Too many to mention all individually: Vielen Danke to the seven thousand five hundred race day volunteers! Thank you to both families, Team Elswick and especially to Tom H for giving me (GB) the kick up the backside to get back into running.

No Thank You’s:  Just to three race officials…………………..

Final Thoughts: IH. A truly memorable race. Never give up. If you get the chance DO IT. My full distance list is complete. Thank you to everyone who has helped me towards that finish line at Roth. The memory of the SOLARBERG & SOLAR HILL WILL REMAIN WITH ME ALWAYS. Another, one last WOW!

GB: Thank you to everyone. My 1st competition and training program for over two years: My diary read on the 1st December 2018: River Run. 1hr 20 mins. Stopped 6 times. Hmmm long road ahead GB. Wednesday evening 10th July 2019 I penned: From zero to 228km in 7 months with 11hrs 32 mins at Roth. Nice one GB. (Finishers medal below).

The end of the road for us both for full distance events. Were both knackered, middle aged, beaten up athletes now, 4 decades of train, race, repeat. Still, we did it when we could do it.


Anyone up for a summer, at altitude Alpe Duez Half Ironman in 2020? (Iain’s idea not mine!)

I fancy 2020’s Ironman St. Polten 70.3 in Switzerland.

Oh and Iain will get a Challenge tattoo somewhere and probably sometime soon! (on his fat leg 🙂 )

Hope you enjoyed the read. Cheers. GB.

Richard Houghton

Wow, just dont know how you boys do it. That is complete mind over matter, what an achievement for you both.

For both of you to go out there on very limited running and with Iains injury’s to battle away at a marathon to finish the day off is just astonishing.

graham bell

Hi Richard, Aye Iain was unbelievably brilliant at Roth. He embodies the spirit of never ever giving up. Top lad.
Cheers GB.

graham bell

Hi Rob, Thanks for your comment. A triathlon event quite probably like no other. A truly unique experience and atmosphere.
Cheers GB.


Your training has been hard and relentless and your races brilliant, but on race day I felt it most of the way especially when your times dipped in the run, Sue (my wife) couldn’t believe how much time and stress you caused me on Sunday, but at the finish I had my Guinness and praised you both for all that effort.
You are both to old to do it again, so if you do don’t tell me as I can’t take the pressure

graham bell

Hi Rkb, both of us just relieved to finish safely albeit “in pieces”. That 25 to 30km was the extra 2km penalty run so no timed area there uphill into the woods!
Steins of beer on Monday!
Graham & Iain.

graham bell

Hi Stevie! Cheers for more man hugs, we both could have done with you on a Team Elswick Rrd Tent support corner on the marathon course!!
Cheers GB and Iain.

Andy Ball

Absolutely amazing and what an inspiration you both are! We all strive towards the next challenge but this beats them all! So proud of both of you and who knows, would love to join you both one day! Reading this has given me goosebumps so think I need to chat with the wife and get a pass out!

This is why I joined a club, to be inspired and I am proud to have joined a club like Elswick Harriers! You have both inspired me so thank you

graham bell

Hi Andy thanks for the comment. Both of us appreciate it. More than welcome to join us on our next Tri 🙂 Pleased to read the club and its members are encouraging and motivating others to join our great club. Cheers Iain & GB

graham bell

Hi Ben I think were about the same age as CBBC’s dynamic duo……prefer wearing underpants on the outside……true super hero style!!!! GB & IH 🙂

Scott Brady

Congratulations gents, absolutely superb achievement to get yourselves in the shape to do it and to grind it out with all the injury problems you’ve both had and to not let the officials spoil your day.
Great race report. Both are true inspirations and I look forward to seeing what the next challenge holds for you both!

graham bell

Hi Scott, thank you for your words. A truly memorable race for us both. We hope our endeavours can provide a wee bit of inspiration to our fellow running athletes at Team Elswick.

Adam Goodger

Great report guys – we’re so pleased you enjoyed your 2019 Challenge Roth experience and glad we were able to assist you in some way along the way.

Awesome work out there – you’re a real pair of tough cookies. Va Bene’s Italian will certainly miss their loyal customers also!

It was a pleasure to meet you both and we sure hope our paths cross again in the near future! Team Tri Travel

Graham Bell

G’Day Adam 🙂 Many thanks for your kind words: On behalf of Iain and myself, Tri Travel made Challenge Roth an unforgettable experience! What an event! Superbly hosted by you guys, superb from start to finish: Please do pass on our best regards to Rod, Shane & Alistair and your goodself……. Enjoy Kona!(I promise not to mention the Ashes!). Cheers, Graham.

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