After the disaster that unfolded in St. Polten, Austria, I was on the hunt for another race to tackle. After some searching, I decided that the Challenge Half in Salou, Spain was my best bet. I was already flying to Barcelona for the weekend, so all I needed to do was bring my stuff, rent a car, and do the race. The drive was an hour and twenty minutes, and luckily RW was there with me to split up the driving. The race was sold out online, but an email to the director confirmed that I could sign up in person. They had a last minute course change which led to a 4 loop (86 km) bike course and a lot of people were mad, so I bet they had some extra space.
I brought my bike to a shop a block from my hotel in Barcelona, Tomas Domingo- The Bike Shop, to get rebuilt. We were meeting two friends from Florida in Barcelona and I did not want to spend a couple hours of our short time building my bike, especially since I was ditching them to race Sunday. The shop was awesome; I called ahead to make sure they could fit in my request, and they were so nice and helpful. Side note- Italian and Spanish are close enough that I can survive! Obviously, they speak Catalan in Barcelona, but Spanish works too.
After a leisure bike tour of Barcelona, I headed to Salou to register and check in. The only issue at check in was that since I had just gotten my bib number, there was no spot on the racks for my bike or transition bags. I met with Sara, one of the race directors, and she promised to take care of my bike for me and to find her in the morning.
Race Day: I showed up, found Sara, found my stuff, and had about 35 minutes to warm up and hang out before my wave took off. Due to the bike course change, the race had to spread out the start waves in order to reduce congestion on the road, so the Pro men went first at 0700, followed by all women at 0705. The last wave took off close to 1000. I would have been really sad if I had to start that late because it was really hot and sunny. The people who started late did not have the same race as I did, that is for sure.
Swim: Several pro women were racing, and luckily all women started at the same time…you know what that means! Stick with the pros and let them drag you through the water!! I started with them and stuck with a couple for most of the race. One of them broke off about halfway and I dusted the other around the same time. I finished the swim by myself with only a couple of girls ahead of me. Also a point of pride- only one guy from the heat behind us caught me, and he was absolutely FLYING. The ocean swim was reminiscent of a calm day on Siesta- pretty flat with just a small current. The hardest part was turning back in to the shore, because the tide was coming out and pushing against every stroke. The sun was also coming up which made sighting hard, except that this race had awesome giant balloons floating on the course markers. Those balloons made it so much easier to track the course I don’t know why every race does not have them.
Bike: I was winded after fighting to get back into the shore, and made it onto the bike with a decent transition. The bike course was 4 loops on a motorway and then into town, where there were good crowds cheering. Some people might have thought it was boring, but I thought it was a good way to focus on the race and what I was doing. There were a couple of small hills throughout it which broke it up a little bit. My main complaint was that the water/fuel stop was down a road that passed a water treatment plant. Smelled gross! The other thing that sort of sucked was that there were four roundabouts on the course, which slowed everyone down a bit. It took me about 2 loops to get into the groove, but when I found it I felt great. I felt so strong and happy on the bike. I wanted to and could have gone faster, and had to keep reminding myself that I had to run 13 miles after the bike and not to blow it. My cadence was awesome the entire ride- averaged 91! Also got a top ten on a Strava Segment- on a descent! That never happens on a downhill for me!
Run: Hot, sunny, and slow. I never really found a good groove and felt like I was struggling to lift my legs at every step. I know that the run is now my weakest leg and I really need to focus on it. This may be tough since I do not really like running. Hmmm.
As my bestie MG taught me, it is always important to create a mantra to get you through a race. During this one, I wrote a song to the tune of Adele’s “Hello,” dedicated to my friend/coach/tri guru JG.
“This is what you’ve trained for,
You’re not tired, you’re not sore.
The Jackhammer told you
Just what to do.
If you listen, I promise, you will push through.”
Ninety minutes of that. NINETY.
I pushed through, slowly, and crossed the finish line in a smashing PR. Even if I added the time for the missing kilometers, I would still have demolished my PR. Now that I have a new goal, it is time to get back out there and focus on the run.
I would recommend a Challenge race to anyone, especially if you have already done a race before. Some of the smaller details from an Ironman were missing (bike mechanics and pumps in transition), but the swag (awesome transition backpack) was way better (thanks, China) and I felt like the staff was nicer. That could have just been Sara, though. Deducting a point from Challenge for their terrible brand/theme song that they play at the start. It is SO BAD. At least at Ironman races they play stuff like Eye of the Tiger. Oh, and no Coke on course for this race- just Red Bull. Don’t know how I feel about that.
Post race Coke and paella- yum yum! Then back in the car to go play with our friends in Barcelona for the rest of the weekend.