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Challenge Salou 70.3 race report

So it's been a challenging past 18 months with first a crash resulting in a broken arm and fractured hip, followed by less than successful knee surgery last June. The knee surgery was to repair a torn medial meniscus (which was successful), but resulted in nerve damage which greatly slowed my recovery and return to exercise.

By October I was starting to put in some decent miles running without too much pain (cycling and swimming were fine), so I decided to end the Challenge Family half ironman Salou, Spain in May this year. Since my crash at the end of 2016 I've been pretty tentative out on the bike and with the brilliant UK winter weather opted to do most of my bike training on the turbo over winter (Zwift is addictive). This did however, mean I could really focus on quality training. I also decided to join the local trail running group to force myself out over the winter months.

For once my training was going really well and I was injury free (save for the occasional niggle from the knee op). I was regularly doing the race distances no trouble in training and then, bang, 6 weeks to go and I pulled my groin out running. Ironically, following 2 weeks rest it didn't hurt running but was agony cycling for even 40 mins. Consultation with a physio friend and a programme of stretching and I made it to the start almost fully fit.

We made a family trip of the race and when we got to Salou the sea was crystal clear and still. However, in the 3 days before the race the wind picked up and it got pretty choppy, so I psyched myself up for a bit of a rough swim. Thankfully, come race morning it was like a milk pond and the temps had dropped a bit, perfect conditions.

My overall target for the race was to go under 6 hours and I'd set myself a goal of a 43 min swim, 3 hour bike and 2 hour half marathon. The swim involved a pretty long run in shallow water before we could actually get swimming. After that apart from briefly wandering off course due to losing sight of one of the marker buoys, the swim went pretty much to plan and I clocked 44 min dead.

T1 was pretty uneventful and reasonably quick for me. Onto the bike and all reported I read before the race stated it was a fast course on closed roads and it didn't disappoint. The course weaved its way out of Salou centre for about 2 km and then onto closed dual carriageways with perfectly smooth tarmac (think racing down the M6 motorway).

There were only 2 climbs of such, both relatively short and both easily doable on the big ring. I started making up time and passing plenty other rider and confidence was growing. Until that was, eventual Pro men's winner Cameron Wurf (who was already a lap in front) flew past me like I was stood still, making me look even more amateur than I am (thanks dude).

By the 3rd and final lap on the bike I was up on my projected 3 hrs time and came into T2 having clocked 2:49.30.

Onto the run and the clouds had cleared and the sun came out. Unfortunately, this also meant the temperature started to increase to around 26 degrees, not great for someone who resides in the North West of England. The first lap went by without any major issues and my pace was where I wanted it to be. This however, was not to last long. As I started lap 2 of 4 I started to get stomach cramps.

They got progressively worse as the run went on and I struggled to take on any more fluids and energy and I started to haemorrhage time over the final 2 laps. Ultimately, I think the heat got the better of me and I didn't take on enough salt. However, I got on the final lap and I was still on course to go sub-6 hours, so pushed on repeating to myself "just keep moving". Into the last 500 m and I somehow managed to pick up the pace for possibly the worlds slowest sprint finish (if only I could have done that 2 laps before).

Down the finish red carpet and finally at the third time of trying I'd managed to crack sub-6 hours, finishing in 5:53.15 (time on last photo is time from Pro start, not my time).

Prior to the race I'd told the missus if I go under 6 hours I'd stop doing 70.3 and go back to sprint triathlons. Who was I kidding haha!!

As well as being a great race, I also learnt a lot from the race. Swimming will never be my strong point, but with some more strength work and mobility work around the shoulders I can shave a few minutes off my swim. My time trialling has improved massively in only a few short months of focused TT training, so with longer I can easily make more improvements there. The run has previously been my strongest discipline, but just wasn't to be this time round. Clearly I underestimated my sweat rate and sodium losses in the heat, so with some tweaks to my hydration I'm sure I can smash the run next time round.

So what's next? Sub-5:30? I'm more confident than ever that with 12 months of solid training I can knock around 30 min off, so why the hell not. I'm not ready to hang up my 70.3 trainers just yet ;)

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