Challenge Weymouth 2015 - It Wasnt Pretty But It Worked
Challenge Weymouth was for me this years big race, the only full distance event on my calendar for the year, being local and it having European Championship status meant it was always a big target for me. Way back in the depths of winter training I wrote down my goals for it. Sub 9.15 total time including a 3.15 or better marathon and a place on my age group podium.
The lead into the race had been good, a great result at Ironman 70.3 Dublin in August followed by some great local training races left me confident that i was fitter than last year but having not already raced long this year there were still doubts over the distance. Race week soon came and i was a little more nervous than normal but excited to race. Registration and pasta party on Friday was fun and relaxed then briefing and bike racking on Saturday went smoothly as well. We had Karl Alexander and his wife Helen stay with us for the weekend as well which was nice, meant I didn’t bore Lisa my wife to tears with my pre-race rubbish and us boys could talk bikes whilst the girls could talk more girly stuff!
Race morning came and the weather was looking good, virtually no wind and not too cold. I sorted my stuff in transition and just as it started to rain put my wetsuit on and headed over to the beach for the start. After a quick chat with some of my family that were there already to support and a hug from my wife it was time to get into the pen ready for our start.
I lined up on the front expecting a bit of a rough start and as the horn went we ran into the water. It was relatively calm and a few of us swam together for a couple of minutes before it started to spread out. One guy shot off the front and I could feel someone on my feet but with no one to follow I focused on settling into my pace and swimming straight. The first lap went by well and although hard to see the buoys I came to the Australian exit feeling good. The run on the beach was horrible and the moment I dived back into the sea I felt instantly sick and wondering how I would get going again! Thankfully a few easy strokes and the arms came back and it was very much a repeat of the first lap this time just trying to avoid the back markers from the second and third waves we were catching up to and making sure I didn’t lose concentration and slow down. I exited the water 2nd from my wave and ran through the wall off crowds and noise off into transition.
T1, although long, went well. My Zone 3 vanquish flew off in its usual style and I put my socks on and headed for my bike. Out onto the roads and it was time to see what the legs could do. I got into my shoes and settled into my power target trying to focus on keeping it steady and not blowing myself to pieces early on. About an hour into the bike as my Garmin beeped to remind me to fuel I reached back to my rear bottle cage expecting to find the bottle which I had emptied 12 OTE lemon and lime gels the day before and my main source of fuel for the bike to find it gone. I hadn’t heard or felt anything and it hadn’t happened it training but with 1000 calories to find it was now time to execute plan B once I had worked out what that actually was.
Thankfully I had put 4 caffeine gels into my tri suit pocket for late into the ride or emergencies so straight away I took one of those and just focused on getting to the next aid station for supplies. Picking up some fresh bottles and more gels I finished my first lap feeling good. The support from the crowd as we rode towards Transition and made the turn away again was great and my spirits were high starting lap 2. I could see that it was only the pros and still the one age group athlete ahead of me but I had been slowly caught by another British age grouper who I knew was my age group and a French athlete. I hit the climb out of Weymouth a little harder than on lap 1 but felt strong and was still holding target power.
I had slightly lost track of fuelling and how many gels I had taken but still had a couple in my pocket. Just as we started climbing towards the first out and back the French athlete flew past me powering up the climbs. I let him go knowing we had a long way to go still and as we turned was happy to see that I had started to put time into the other chasing GB age grouper. Onto the faster roads and I got aero and held my power numbers and soon reeled my French friend back in. At the next roundabout turn I had got about a minute on him and but was starting to feel low and getting negative. I took a gel but was sick of them and the on course energy drink wasn’t much better. The last part of that lap was all about self management and getting to T2. Disappointed iIcouldnt capatalise on the tail wind home but my power had dropped and the lights were going out.
Into T2 and I got a shout that i was 10th. I wasn’t feeling good and was wondering how I was ever going to run a marathon but put my shoes on and picked up 4 more caffeine gels I had in there. Straight away on the run and my wife and family were there cheering, a definite lift but I focused on not going out too hard and again keeping things under control. Onto the prom and I was straight away hit by the wind! I knew it had picked up on the second bike lap but it was blowing hard onto the exposed sea front and the sea was looking very different to when I had left it earlier. After only 4km i was feeling terrible, very low and not at all interested in racing or running another 500 metres let alone 38km. Thoughts of pulling out crossed my mind and I was coming up with excuse after excuse in my head. At the next aid station I walked, drank 2 cups of coke and took a gel and jogged on a bit. Then something happened, i felt better, i had a word with myself, I was leading my age group and in the top 10 overall how could I pull out? Next aid station and 2 more cups of coke and a short walk and I was going again, my pace was improving and the support on the run course was amazing.
10km in and I was somehow still on target pace and feeling good considering I had been exercising for 6 and a half hours! I then focused on ticking it off 5km at a time each aid station the same, a short walk, 1 or 2 cups of coke and some water taking a caffeine gel at the end of each lap. At the top turn on each lap I could see I was catching the age grouper in front and had put another minute or 2 into the guys behind. Out of nowhere a pain developed in my knee and again I thought I was done but thankfully it didn’t get any worse. 15km to go then became 10, things were hurting and I was just trying to hold on to some kind of run form and pace but then it was time to make the turn and head onto my final lap. I got my final lap band and set off, 1 lap, 9km of running and a little under 45 mins at worst!
I saw Lisa and she shouted she would see me at the finish line, then i saw my dad and the rest of my family eating ice cream but knew I had to run a bit more before I could join them. At the top turn iIwas looking for the leading age grouper coming towards me but didn’t see him. I started wondering if I had passed him without realising or if he had pulled away and I had missed him? I made the turn and lapped my watch aiming to hammer home to the line. My pace for the 1st km was amazing then it faded again, I was playing games in my head just telling myself to run to the next aid station, athlete infront or anything that seemed manageable. I didnt know my total race time but started looking at the time of day on my garmin knowing that with a 7.05 start if we had set off on time i had to be done by 4.20 but I kept working it out differently, either way it would be close!
As I rounded the turn on the pier the head wind became a tail wind and that was it. 200m to go and iIturned into the finish chute threw my arms in the air and crossed the line.
I was called over as age group winner and first age grouper overall. Felix Walchsoffer the head of challenge had even allowed Lisa into the finish area so she could hand me my medal and we had a big hug. Somehow I had hung on, finished the race in 9.13.43 and ran a 3.14.53 marathon. Both goals ticked, 8th place finish overall and 25-29 European champion. Overall an amazing day and experience. Crowd support throughout was amazing and helped alot of athletes through a testing run. Huge thank you to everyone who has helped and supported me this year and to everyone who shouted and cheered on course. Will definitely be back next year to see what I can do.
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