Darkness was already falling over the course of the triathlon classic in Roth when Claudia Spang, after swimming 3.86 kilometers and cycling 180 kilometers, approached the 30-kilometer mark of the final marathon. Anyone who does not show up there by 9.10 p.m. will be taken out of the race. “A judge said to me, ‘You have to step on the gas a bit. 9:10 p.m. – if you can do that, stick with it,’” she recalls. And that he recognized that she needed encouragement – and therefore added: “You’re not giving up, you’re going through with it now.”
Motivation that was so good for the 62-year-old on her first long distance. At that moment, a young American was fighting next to her. “‘Do you think we can still do it?’ he asked me,” says Spang. “I said, ‘Yes Christopher, I’m taking you with me now. Come on, we can do it, we can do it!’” Taking courage, being courageous, that’s what it’s all about. They made it to said mark before 9:10 p.m., after which Spang lost sight of the American. He must have had to give up, she feared, and fought his way to the finish. There was a big party there.
When the sun has set, the finisher party begins at DATEV Challenge Roth – with a light show as the finale
Because when it gets late and dark in long-distance triathlons, the best professionals return to the finish line. To welcome the last ones who make it within the time limit to celebrate them as winners. They are nothing else. Like all the others who have already completed it before. That Roth winner Magnus Ditlev, with his time of 7:24:40 hours, was more than twice as fast as the last team, who needed more than 16 hours? Irrelevant. Thousands of finishers, thousands of individual stories, always impressive, each inspiring in its own way. Like those of Claudia Spang, who was officially the last finisher of the Datev Challenge Roth, and those of Christopher Schroeder, who had started the journey from Chicago to reach the finish in Franconia.
“My son encouraged me”
There, behind the final line of the Datev Challenge Roth, the world‘s biggest spectacle of this sport, the two-time Hawaii champion Patrick Lange was waiting on the evening of June 25th, second behind Ditlev that day. Roth’s finisher party is legendary. The stadium on the Festwiese was completely filled, the running track was floodlit, loud music blared from the speakers, repeatedly punctuated by the voice of the commentator, who welcomed the exhausted and happy athletes. “We’re all in the same boat, professionals and age group athletes, we start on the same day on the same course,” says Lange. “Then to honor the last ones who have spent so incredibly many hours out there and live this sport like this, putting the medal on their shoulders and looking into their bright eyes – that’s terrific.”
Andreas Dreitz (left) and Patrick Lange welcome and celebrate the last athletes who finish their adventure for the day
Quelle: LARS PAMLER/LARS PAMLER firstname.lastname@example.org
The journey to this moment does not start with the starting gun in the morning, but for most many years before. For Spang in 2014 through her son Nils, who was doing triathlon as a hobby at the time. She wanted to, but didn’t dare. “I thought I was too old,” says the chemist. “But my son encouraged me. ‘No, mom, you’re not too old. Come on, dare, there’s a little taster triathlon there.” Spang took heart, started and got a taste for it. It was fortunate that her employer, BASF in Ludwigsburg, then offered a course entitled “My first triathlon”. Sprint triathlons followed, then Olympic and finally middle distance events. All of this is all the more impressive because she only learned the basics of the crawl technique in 2015.
She now enjoys the long swimming sessions – like everything about this sport. “Swimming is like yoga for me, pure relaxation. And this long run and bike ride is just fun,” she enthuses. “On long bike rides I see areas that I didn’t know before.” When Spang retired, the thought of participating in the long distance for the first time matured. And if so, then in Roth. She had already completed the running part there twice as a relay participant and enjoyed the atmosphere. Eventually, she began preparing for her club, 1. FC Kaiserslautern.
The nervousness? Hard to bear for weeks beforehand
With the increasing workload came the nervousness that was almost unbearable at the end of May. “I was terribly nervous four weeks beforehand,” she says. But when she started her adventure with the start number 1574 on the Sunday morning of June 25 in the Main-Danube Canal, a switch flipped. As in all major triathlon races, the pros started first, followed by all age group athletes in several starting waves. And like everywhere else, there are so-called cut-offs in Roth: times that you have to undercut after each section and certain points in order to be allowed to continue. Above all, this has safety-relevant aspects. In Roth, the following applies at the end: please arrive before 11:05 p.m., when the fireworks and laser show will light up the night.
Spang got out of the water after 1:28:40 hours and experienced the Tour de France feeling on the bike on the Solarer Berg, where the amateurs also cycle through narrow spectator lines. “It was goosebumps, unbelievable,” she enthuses. “It really took a toll on me mentally. The spectators practically push you up with their euphoria.”
Triathlon spectacle in Roth: Thousands of spectators line the route and cheer on the athletes in Roth
Quelle: Christoph Raithel
She had expected the mental collapse around 120 kilometers, survived it and parked her bike in the saddle after 7:35:22. What helped her besides the will? The friends along the route, her husband, who was trembling at home because of illness, the spectators, the atmosphere – and other athletes. “It’s a huge family,” she says – and remembers Christopher Schroeder, whom she coaxed.
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The 37-year-old started the triathlon adventure together with his fiancée Rebecca Pick. 24 years after it all began for him. “I had a difficult childhood,” he says. “And one day when I was 13 I was full of emotions and I couldn’t help but just go for a long run – soon I felt all the negative emotions go away. It may have saved my life, at least it made a lot of things better mentally and physically.”
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As a child, it was about overcoming pain and conquering the feeling of having to prove that he was good enough. “Now it’s more and more important to me to empower others to believe in themselves and to join this amazing endurance community without taking myself too seriously.” His goal: to have fun and create memories that will last a lifetime.
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Before Roth, he had already completed six long distances since 2013 and traveled the world to do so. Most recently 2022 Brazil with his girlfriend. Both arrived late at the time and after a day of pouring rain – the spectators had already tried to stay dry. “So I told Becca she deserved a great finish line and I wanted Roth to have the best,” he says. The fact that he dislocated his knee in March and could hardly train changed nothing about the Roth plan. The goal was to arrive within the time limit. But the heat and the hills in Franconia made things difficult for them.
“I knew I could do it”
Both were still fighting somewhere along the route when the organizers put two torches in Claudia Spang’s hands just before the finish. Until then, the spectators had cheered several athletes on the last few meters, now the 62-year-old stepped onto the carpet as the official last finisher to great cheering and finished her race after 16:02:50 hours. “That was incredible. I can’t even describe it,” she says. “I just knew I could do it. And I also have the honor of making such an appearance. Overwhelming.”
At the finish, it was Briton Chrissie Wellington, one of the greatest triathletes of all time, who slung the medal around her – Spang had hoped. “I’m a big fan of hers. Seeing her in person, shaking her hand and exchanging a few words with her was an event,” she enthuses. “The fact that I made it shows that you’re never too old, that you can do a lot.”
Made the triathlon: 62-year-old Claudia Spang was the official last finisher to cross the finish line in Roth
Quelle: Christoph Raithel
But Christopher didn’t forget her at that moment. When the fireworks brought the finale to a close in the stadium, the American saw the lights in front of the closed gates. With him two other athletes: the Australian Jamie Maslen and the Israeli Shachar Chinsky.
And his girlfriend? He thought she should have got out. But Roth is different. After the show, they opened the stadium gates for the three men who got to the 30km mark on time. The spectators were still sitting in their seats and cheered the very last with Schroeder. “That was by far my toughest and slowest race, but the finish line in the stadium was great.” He saw about ten minutes after he had run in, the last helpers on bikes had ended their day shortly after him and a number of fans had left the stadium a figure in the dark: Rebecca.
She had made it. The big party at the finish was over, but she still got the medal – and an entry in the result lists.
“Roth definitely met my expectations. Add to that the overwhelming hospitality,” said Christopher Schroeder. “I’m grateful that I was allowed to cross the finish line.”
Source: Melanie Haack