As promised, here is my race report for Challenge Weymouth, in Dorset, United Kingdom. This was going to be its first edition, as Challenge UK was moved from Hanley on Thames at the end of 2013. Expected were 500-600 participants (of which only about 10% women) for the full ironman distance and 800-900 participants for the half ironman distance.
As mentioned earlier, I didn’t come into this race in a great shape. I struggled with my recovery after Challenge Roth eight weeks earlier, especially with the longer distance workouts, so I focused on short (and more fun) workouts to try to at least maintain some level fitness. Hence, I had no high expectations for this race, other than to complete it.
The weather forecast for race day was looking promising: a mix of sunny and cloudy, temperatures of 14C in the early morning and up to 20C during the day, but windy. I don’t like racing in windy conditions, but the wind didn’t seem too bad the days before the race, so I was hopeful. Race preparation (registration, pasta party, briefing, bike check-in) was uneventful, and it looked like it was going to be a smooth race.
After a 7,5 hour night sleep, I got up at 5:00am, had breakfast, got ready, and then went to transition to bring my bike and gear bags, and to pomp the tires of my bike (my hotel was only 5 min walking from transition). Unfortunately, the valve of one of the tubes was defect, and I was unable to put air in the front tire. Maybe I could have fixed the valve, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I changed the tube (I have changed tubes before, but never in the dark or before the start of a race…). At the same time, it was announced that the swim start was going to be delayed, at least by 30min. The sea was so rough that it would be unsafe to held the swim as planned. The organizers decided to modify and shorten the swim course.
The swim was supposed to be a two 1.9km (1.2mi) lap course in Weymouth bay, just opposite Lodmoor Country Park where transition was. Once we got to the beach, we were told that the swim was still going to be a two lap course, just the laps would be much shorter: out to the first yellow buoy (that you could barely see), left turn, a little stretch parallel to the beach to the second yellow buoy (that you also could barely see), left turn, back to the beach, Australian exit (short run/re-entry for second lap), and repeat. The sea looked very rough and a bit frightening: the waves would have made surfers happy!
At 7:00am the first wave started. Many athletes were struggling to get through the waves: a mix of swimming, walking, jumping. This was going to be a survival. Ten minutes later, it was our turn. They made us start from another point on the beach, 200m to the north, in the hope that we would have an easier fight against the waves. I don’t think that it made any difference. I haven’t done any sea/ocean swimming in years, and definitely never in such waters. So, I had no clue how to do this. I just reminded myself not too panic. Once in the water, we were all over the place. It was a relief when I got to the first buoy. I thought that now the easier part would start. Nothing was less true: the waves were strong and slapping in my face. I found myself twice on my back, turned by the strength of the waves. I am amazed that I didn’t lose my goggles or my cap (my wetsuit however did fill with water – a huge amount of water splashed out of my wetsuit when I removed it in transition). I was being pushed in all directions, just not in the direction of the beach. I was very glad when I saw the arm of one of the volunteers on the beach grabbing mine to help me exit the water. He looked very concerned. I assume that many of us were looking confused and a bit scared. I wasn’t thrilled about a second lap, but the good thing was that I now knew what to expect. I was very glad when I exited the water for the second time. The tough part was behind me (or so I thought).
It was a long run/walk from the swim exit to transition. I grabbed my bike bag and headed to the tent. It happened at other races that I had to change outside the tent because it was so crowded. This time however we were sharing a huge tent with four women. I took my time to get ready for the bike leg: chamois cream, socks, shoes, bib number, sun glasses, helmet, gloves, arm warmers, and wind jacket. The sun wasn’t out yet and the wind was strong, and I wasn’t going to suffer (be cold) more than necessarily.
The bike was a two 90km (56mi) lap course in the Weymouth area. The first portion of the bike was the toughest, with a steep climb up to the Ridgeway at around 10km/6mi, against the wind. The rest of the bike course would be a mix of mostly gentle downhills and uphills (and a few steep but short climbs), with a lot of bends and crossing of roads. The first half of the loop would be mainly against the wind, the second part heading back to Weymouth mainly with the wind behind, though we had to fight side winds too. According to the race website, it was supposed to be a course for fast times and on very good roads. I must say that there were some fast sections and that many of the roads were in good conditions, but I thought that the organizers description was an overstatement (or British humor).
My pace was not particularly fast, though I must admit that I have lost my biking mojo over the last few year, hence I shouldn’t expect sub-6 hours times anymore. Anyhow, I was continuously passing athletes, so I wasn’t too concerned. My main concern was a developing migraine, likely because of the strong winds, which luckily disappeared after a few hours. Another problem was that they ran out of sports drinks at the two last feed stations. While I still had enough in my bottles when passing the second last feed station, I had nothing left when I passed the last one: I got some water and gels instead (a first timer for me, I never used gels in a race before). Unfortunately one was chocolate flavored, which I didn’t like at all and which left me with an unpleasant taste in the mouth for the last portion of the bike leg.
The transition from the bike to the run went fairly smoothly. Again I took my time, including a stop at the porta potty (I am not sure that volunteers understood that I was looking for the loo).
The 42km/26mi run was a 4 ½ lap course. We had to run along the Esplanade on the seafront, around the sea life tower and Pier, through the ‘beer mile’ (which was probably only 200m but very crowded and loud) and the city centre and then back for a long stretch forth and back along the Esplanade. Not to lose track of our laps, we would receive an arm band at the end of each lap: red, white, blue, Union Jack. The atmosphere on the run course was incredible, with many cheering spectators (including a few Bedford Harriers members that I didn’t expect to see there). The atmosphere among athletes was also great, with many cheering each other, especially when it started to get dark. My legs were hurting, the wind hadn’t stopped, and I had a hard time keeping up the running, so I had to do some walking in between. I was very happy when I saw the lights of the stadium and heard the voice of the speaker for the fourth time. Just a few hundred meters before the finish, I noticed a women behind me coming closer (I couldn’t really see her, but I could hear her talking to her kids). I figured that she could be someone from my age group, so I pushed as hard as possible to stay ahead of her. I found out later that I finished 3rd in my age group and beat her by 15 sec (she was indeed from my age group). I am so glad that I gave it all at the end. When I entered the finishing area, the welcome by the spectators, organizers and volunteers was amazing. And then there was this guy, who wanted to run with me. I couldn’t understand why and what as it was too loud to understand what he was trying to say. Eventually he grabbed my arm, arms went in the air, and we finished together while I was wondering: why is this guy trying to ‘ruin’ my finisher photo? I found out later that this was Joe Skipper, the Pro who won the race among the men, and who was helping athletes to cross the finish line. How funny, and somewhat embarrassing…
I knew before the start that we were only six women in my age group, but I didn’t expect to end on the podium: the proof is attached! I am very happy with this achievement!
For the record, my finish time was 13:40:24.
While I do acknowledge that the swim was shorter than in an ironman distance race, this race does count as #24, so now only one more to go, i.e. Ironman Sweden 2015.
For this season I ‘only’ have one more goal: the New York City Marathon (which I have been deferring since 2008) on November 2nd.
Thanks everyone for the pre-race good luck wishes and/or post-race congrats, either via email or FB, and for reading my report!