I’ve just returned from another great weekend of British Long Distance racing at the inaugural Challenge Weymouth. Great for me as it’s just about 90 minutes drive from home, and I have friends with a wonderful holiday home close to the course so it’s a low stress and low cost event for me to race - with the added advantage of certain amount of knowledge of the bike course. It’s a little out of my radius for cycling from home, but still close enough to make a day trip by car feasible. Billed as fast and flat, some might have been a bit surprised to have accumulated 1800m of climbing on the bike, but it was certainly about as flat as possible given the local Dorset terrain! The race was a few km short here and there, in particular on the run which appears to have been set out to enable an accurate Half Challenge course and there was thus half a lap missing from the Full Distance race..but I know that will be adjusted for 2015 when the event will be the ITU European Long Distance Championships.
On the day, unusual and strong easterly winds created a humungous surf in the bay and the swim portion was reduced for the Full Distance athletes to enable a denser covering of swim safety crew. This was announced to us as we prepared in transition at 5:30am on race morning - the start times would all be pushed back 30 minutes to enable the reorganisation of the course marker buoys and water safety team. The change was managed and communicated well - and though many people we disappointed that they’d not be completing the entire Challenge that they’d train so hard for, when we saw the size of the surf and swell out there, no one was thinking that even the shortened swim would be an easy option!
Getting in and out through the waves was exhausting and with a strong current pulling to the west, I think I was washed most of the way to Portland! There was a stoney groin just to the west of the course and there was sa real danger of ending up on the wrong side of that at the end of each lap - I did manage to correct myself there and swam a better line second time around, but this diversion and lack of practice in surf conditions, I exited the water exhausted to find my gear back all alone left in transition. As the last Pro out nto the bike I wasn’t feeling very happy and the overcast morning did not help my mood. However, if wasn’t long before I caught up to and passed a couple of the other girls on the climb out of town. They then stuck around just behind me, where they seemed to stay for most of the ride. Eventually I also picked up Tamsyn Hayes and on the second lap the tiny Michi Herblauer. The three of us would occasionally exchange positions but for the most part each time one of them came to the front, it felt that the pace slowed a lot and within a few seconds i found myself moving past again. However, any gap i gained stayed pretty small and although I knew that there were still at least 2 women ahead of us, I was reluctant to really push the bike, knowing that they'd benefit from that so in all it wasn’t a hard ride. I suppose the lack of punishing hills, the good conditions and a better (more ample) nutrition plan on the bike all combined and I felt pretty strong and enjoying being “in” the race. Michi seemed to decide to make a move at the 120km point, opening up a small gap - which took a bit of pressure to close down again and at that point we lost the others. We’d just been through the part of the route which is an out-and back, enabling me to establish that Caroline Livesay was about 3 minutes ahead, and as I passed again Michi I communicated to her. Regardless of what she decided to to, I was going to try to close that down and with a bit of a push along the flat parts of the course I didn’t see her again. However, as I turned back into Weymouth we were slowed up by traffic, and the next time I looked around there she was.
We entered and left transition together, and I was thankful that I’d had a pretty "steady" ride - there was going to be lot of work to do on the run. With this small, light and fast looking rival on my heels, I knew the first few kilometers had to be fast to shake her off .That’s all I thought about - get rid of her and then settle into a sensible pace, figure out who it is that’s leading , and by how much. Michi was left behind me after those first couple of km, and Caroline was not too far ahead. I reckoned she was a bit tall for a very fast runner…and that left only Eleanor Haresign in front, a couple of minutes ahead of her. I reckoned i'm faster on foot than she…we'd raced together once in Lanzarote but it had been more like leap -frogging between toilets stops for the both of us. She made it to the line first on that day but i didn't think that proved anything…so set out to get her. If i can maintain it, my “sensible” pace will yield a 3:15-20 marathon. In first half marathon i managed to close the gap to the lead from 4 mins to under 2…passing Caroline in the process. The win was in my grasp! I just had to keep fighting for it. The support that I had was fantastic. My Mum was there on the side of the course passing me my bottle each lap - I’d hand it back to her as I passed in the opposite direction, and she’d fill it ready for the next time around. She was spot on with that, and had hooked up with Joe Skipper’s family and other serious Iron-Parents -even Elle's crew were giving me splits - and lads from the tri club came down for the day and between them I all got great support. Of course every single person who encourages me out there is appreciated, but it’s even more motivating when it’s people I know. Of course Elle was getting even more encouragement as the leader having the lead bike is a real advantage as everyone gets behind you. So, she wasn't gonna give it over that easy, and although i heard that she was "having a wobble", she rallied back after 25km and opened in that gap right back up to 4+ minutes just as I had a wobble of my own & pace had dropped to barely faster than 5mins for 25-30km. As we rounded the turn around on the last lap, I became aware that my position was in danger from behind - Michi was making up group and fast! With a lap to go it was down to under 1min…I knew i'd have to pick it up or else. Luckily i have some experience of running scared in the last 5km of a race …and i knew that the run course was short - so that last half lap really was a frantic "sprint" to the finish! So much so that the finish line crew did not see me coming…and I took a wrong turn rather than into the finish chute, headed off out onto another lap! My legs gave out as I crossed the line, but it feels good to finish like that, in 2nd place and to a super strong winner.