Interview with RJ Boergers 2.0 - Challenge Roth

 And I quote, "The full Iron distance is weird.  I'm glad I did it and I'm proud of my accomplishment, but I kind of don't think it is as big a deal as many people make it.  I still prefer the 70.3 distance for 2 reasons:  I can have a better life balance and you can actually race it." Yet here we are about 3 months removed from the completion of your second full distance triathlon, Challenge Roth. If the full distance didn't set fireworks off inside you the first time then why did you decide to toe the line again?  

Hahaha, well, I never said I wasn’t going to do another full Iron distance race, I just said I preferred 70.3.  To better explain that previous answer of mine, I was trying to get at the idea that many triathletes feel like you have to complete a 140.6 to be taken seriously which is so misguided in my opinion.  To me, triathlon is all about challenging yourself and having fun doing something you love – it’s that simple.  So, along those lines, I was ready for another challenge and Challenge Roth is a legendary race so it was a no brainer to sign up.  Up next I’d like to do the SOS race (Survival of the Shawangunks) and a 50mi MTB race.  I’m sure I’ll do another 140.6 in the future because of my love for the sport (it just can’t be in the USA).  As I said, I’m just trying to have fun and challenge myself.   

Challenge Roth has an unbelievable reputation, did your experiences at Roth warrant a similar response?  

It’s the real deal!  Best race out there!  Do this race!  From the first moment you roll into town you are welcomed by the town and its people and you can sense the importance the race has to the community.  The people in town genuinely want you there and want to help you have an awesome experience (and I’m not even talking about the Challenge folks yet).  Many folks are dressed in traditional Bavarian garb – dirndl and lederhosen.  The festival grounds and expo are the largest I’ve seen at a triathlon and in true German fashion there is beer everywhere.  For athletes there was delicious alcohol free beer (not like the crap you get in USA) and plenty of regular beers for your support crew.  There are multiple events/parties that include the Walchshofer family (owners of Challenge), Roth town officials, pro triathletes, famous retired pros, etc.  You’ll never get this up close and personal to the pros in other races.   The swag at registration and at the end of the race was terrific (some cool things like beer mugs that you don’t get at other races).  The actual race was amazing; Challenge has been running this race since 2002 so they have ALL the details accounted for (it started in 1990 as IRONMAN race).  Possibly the best part of this race was the absolutely amazing volunteers and the spectators.  I can’t tell you how many Germans read my bib along the course and yelled “Richard – hop, hop, hop” (that means go, go, go).  The swim course was super cool (in the Rhine Main Danube canal) and the bike course was fun and beautiful.  The best part of the bike course were the “hot spots” where tons of spectators assembled and cheered for you.  If there is one thing I didn’t love about the course it would be the run course.  It was in the shape of a T and there were periods where it lacked shade and got boring.  Call me crazy, but loops really seem to be the way to go for a full iron distance race so you can see your support crew more.  The last part of the run that goes through the city of Roth and ends in the stadium though was super awesome.  As with any big race like this, they make crossing the finish line super special and welcome you to the Challenge family.  We also were treated to a special day because Jan Frodeno was going for the full iron distance record and he crushed it with his 7:35:39 performance (he passed me on the bike on his second loop when I was at mile 35).    It was so cool seeing him out there.  They finished the day in style with a huge fireworks display which would rival most of American’s small town July 4th displays.  As I started with my answer to this question – Do this race!!!

Completing 140.6 miles is a physical feat in and of itself however there is a financial aspect to training and racing that most people are ignorant to. Would you mind sharing with us the cost of training to crossing the finish line?  

This is funny that you ask this question because I was just talking to my girlfriend about this.  My best guess is that all in it’s about $5000.  Roth is inexpensive compared to most IRONMAN events ($650 vs $900).  The thing that you tend to forget is all the “tune-up” races and all the accommodations and travel that you have for those.  I’ve been all set with equipment for a long time now so aside from buying a couple of extra sets of Zoot running shoes, I hardly sunk any money into that. 

Leading up to Roth you had already completed a full distance triathlon at Ironman Copenhagen. Did you change your training at all in preparation for Roth or did you stick your "Copenhagen Training Regiment"?  

I used the same 20 week training plan, but the big difference was I didn’t complete a marathon early in the training, which I could kick myself for.  When I did Copenhagen a couple years ago, my run was so solid and all I had to do was maintain that fitness.  When you complete a marathon early in your plan you are so far ahead of the run training it makes life easy.  My swim was what I expected and bike was great at Roth but my run was very poor so this was definitely my issue (bummer too because it’s usually a strong point for me).  This past year also presented some other challenges since I moved to the suburbs of NJ so I wasn’t able to train with my GCTri crew in Hoboken as much.  Can I just tell you track workouts by yourself suck, as do really long runs.  I always thrive when I can be competitive with other people.

There are two aspects to your training that you had emphasized last time we talked, strength training and group training. With your background in exercise science could you speak to the benefits of strength training for triathletes or endurance athletes?  Could you also explain what benefits group training provides for you specifically?  

I could talk all day about the importance of strength training for triathletes – it’s something I’m super passionate about.  There’s got to be nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines when everyone else is racing because you have a chronic/overuse injury.  Unfortunately, most people give me the same excuse of why they don’t strength train – lack of time!  They cite that they can’t balance the time commitment already demanded by their swim, bike, run training schedule, but I personally think they can’t afford not to make time to strength train.  I personally strength train 4x/week and do yoga 1x/week for mobility.  The repetitive motions that we put our bodies in as we SBR, puts us at risk for many postural syndromes (forward head, forward shoulder, kyphosis, anterior pelvic tilt) and movement dysfunctions.  If you don’t strength train and also work on mobility, these syndromes & dysfunctions will set in and take the body out of balance.  Once out of balance, the body’s alignment changes which then places larger stresses on musculoskeletal structures – in a nutshell – you’re screwed.  Glut dysfunction is perhaps the thing I see most and it may manifest as a knee or low leg issue because it changes the alignment when you run.  Another thing I can tell you is that if you are a unilateral breather in the swim, there’s a higher likelihood of you having a glut dysfunction on the side you breathe to.  Doing appropriate strengthening exercises a few times a week can easily keep these issues at bay by keeping the muscles in balance.  It’s true that I’m also a huge proponent of group training.  Having others around you can help hold you accountable, can inspire you and also gives you someone to be competitive with (all wins in my book).  Plus it just makes it more fun when you are out with your friends. 

At Ironman Copenhagen you said your goal was to have fun. Was having fun still your number one goal or were you out for blood?  

My #1 goal for EVERY triathlon is to have fun – that’s why I’m out there.  I’m very much a goal oriented person so of course I also set a lofty goal for my finish time at Roth.  I really thought I was capable of doing about 11:20 if everything went right, but unfortunately that didn’t happen for me.  I also have a fun friendly competition with my good friend Maria who I was racing with so I keep that in the back of my head during racing for motivation. 

Previously you had stated that the only metric you use to race, and Id assume train with, was your cadence. Two years have passed since Copenhagen have you incorporated any new metrics to training and racing; HR, Power etc?  

Yeah, I caved and got into power training on the bike and upgraded my bike computer to a Garmin 520.  I have made some good improvements on the bike so I guess it was a good purchase.  I’ll be honest, I use the data a lot more for training than for racing.  I kept an eye on the power during the race, but I really don’t stare at the thing the whole time.  I still feel that it is super important to be in touch with your body and know what you are capable of in terms of pace.  My friend Maria’s Garmin flew off her bike about 5 miles in but she still crushed the race.  I really commend her on being composed and not freaking out about it and just by racing by feel.  She knew approximately how much she could be pushing herself and had an awesome race (she beat me by a lot).

Race morning is a unique experience and encompasses so many emotions. Personally I love the nervous electricity that radiates from athletes, can you describe what you were feeling and the atmosphere at the swim start?  

I love the nervous energy as well.  In the back of your head, you know you’re ready but there is still some uncertainty for what the day has in store for you.  Unfortunately I was in a relatively late swim wave (50min after pro men started), so I had lots of time to kill.  For people that know me, they know this is not optimal for me.  I love when I can blow into transition about 10-15 min before it closes and then walk to the swim start throw on my wetsuit and start racing.  So to kill time I simply walked up to the fence and did some spectating (this way I wouldn’t think too much).  The banks of the canal were littered with spectators as was the bridge that spanned over the canal.  Across from transition were about 10-15 hot air balloons, inflated and ready for take-off.  Prior to the pros starting the music in transition was similar to the movie Gladiator so it was easy to get pumped up.  Once the pros were ready the announcers did an awesome job of with tone inflections in their voices to really let you know you were in for a special day (all announcements were in German and English).  Aside from wishing I started a bit earlier, the whole experience was super cool. 

Full distance triathlons provide athletes with a changing tent that can he used during transitions, so what is it like inside a changing tent?  

Well in a nutshell there are a lot of naked people and nobody cares.  It can be chaotic at times.  At Copenhagen, it was really tight at T1 and T2 which was tough – I remember getting my barefoot stepped on by someone’s cleat and fighting for some room to sit on a bench.  Roth was different.  There was tons of space in the tents and the volunteers basically followed you and stood there with you while you were getting situated – it was top notch service.  It was like having your own concierge.  At T1, the volunteer packed my wetsuit into the bag, at T2, the volunteer was handing me socks, laying out my clothes to change into and then slathered sunblock all over me.  As you might imagine, the tents pretty much stink of B.O. so it’s good to keep transitions relatively short.

Two questions regarding the bike; first, how do you stay focused for the 112 miles and what do you do when you hit a rough patch? Second, is the Solarberg as amazing as the images and people describe it as?  

Focus on the bike is a great topic because 5:30 – 6 hrs is a long period of time.  Practicing mindfulness is the key!  There’s lots to keep thinking about though(maintaining power, thinking about what is coming up in the course, making sure to take on nutrition every 30min, take a drink of water every 10min).  When there is “free time”, my rule of thumb is that as long as I’m thinking about triathlon in either a positive or neutral way that’s OK.  One of the most rewarding things I find that I do is reflect on my journey as a triathlete and what the sport means to me (it’s so cool to know how far you’ve come!).  Solarberg can be described in one word – it’s electric!  My only complaint is that when you are going through a narrow chute like this if you are behind someone slower – you’re stuck!  It is the one time that I actually felt like I was in the Tour de France so it’s super cool.  You can’t help but smile as you go through because the fans are so awesome.

For those thinking about traveling abroad to race how difficult was it to reference distance since it is measured in kilometers?  

This is what Garmin’s and bike computers are for.  I had my Garmin 520 set to miles and read all the signs in kilometers.  The quick math trick to remember is that a 10k race is 6.2mi and then you can just do multiples of that.  For example when I saw the 40km sign on the run I knew I was 24+ miles down and I was in the home stretch so I knew it was time to try to start looking human for the pictures – hahaha. 

Most people that finish a full distance triathlon find themselves hobbling around and in bed for a few days you, on the other hand, did something very different and unique. Could you explain how you celebrated competing your second full distance event?  

My favorite part about completing a full distance event overseas is to treat myself with an epic trip afterword.  We traveled through Germany, Austria and Italy for 2 weeks after the race.  I was doing a site seeing tour of Munich on a bike 2 days after the race.  A couple days after that I was running through Innsbruck.  Once we got to Italy, we did a 5 day cycling tour through Tuscany (average ride was 40 miles with about 4000ft of climbing).  I can tell you I felt 100% by the time we started the ride.  I’m a huge proponent of active recovery and while this may seem extreme, it was perfect. 

Is there anything else that you feel others should know about Challenge Roth, traveling in Europe, long course training and racing or your GCTri Club?  

I’m happy to help anyone that might be thinking about competing overseas.  There are a few really important things that you don’t want to mess up – when traveling with your bike ONLY take a direct flight.  I can tell you multiple horror stories of people’s bikes that didn’t make it.  With respect to traveling in Europe – riding your bike is a great way to see another country.  You get to see and experience it up close and personal and with the extra calories expended you really get to experience the food/drink without any worries (I ate gelato every single day).

RJ in his Yellow and Blue GCTri kit headed up the Solarberg.


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