The popular Challenge Roth iron-distance race was different this weekend in the COVID race environment. There were half of the athletes; pre-race and post-race parties and the 6,000-seat finish stadium was nearly empty. CEO Felix Walchshöefer told people to watch the live stream and not to attend the event. The rules had changed, but in the village of Roth the race is a tradition.
In a typical year, there would normally be 3,500 individual athletes and 700 relay teams. For 2021, there were just 1,500 individuals and 300 teams. Even with over 90% of the athletes showing proof of vaccination, masks were commonplace. QR codes were used for check in and out to allow for contact tracing, and no one was admitted to the expo or stadium without proof of vaccination, a recent negative COVID test, or s letter from a doctor attesting to previous recovery from COVID.
No one complained and the region was ready.
When the city gave permission on June 22 to hold the event at a rescheduled date in September, the Challenge Roth staff was at just 50% work capacity. Planning that typically takes all year now had to be done in 11 weeks. Even then it wasn’t just a question of accelerating the normal process. Local road construction typically scheduled for after the race now forced a change in the course and the bike course was reduced to just 168 kilometers (instead of 180km).
Although the amazing times turned in at the race will not be records due to the course change, the performances were still world class. Patrick Lange ran a 2:38 to finish in 7:19 (11 minutes ahead of second place Nils Frommhold) and third place Felix Hentschel set a run course record at 2:35. Defending Ironman world champion Anne Haug’s 2:43 marathon split also beat all of the men’s run times except for Lange and Hentschel, and she won over Laura Siddall by over 30 minutes.
At the end of the day, the energy in the stadium felt like all other years. Lange, Haug, and all the other podium finishers were on hand to welcome in the late arrivals amid the usual excitement.