The Season opening middle distance race on the Canary Island of Fuerteventura delivered a tough race in some spectacular country. The Challenge Family put on a great show and it was an awesome opportunity to mix it up with the Pros at Playitas Sports Resort.
As races go this has been one of the more logistically complex (and expensive) to organise, requiring a few leaps of faith and trust in the "system". Unfortunately not everything can be organised from the comfort of an internet connection in the UK and just comes down to last minute "grunt" work when down route.
The plan was basically to fly into Lanzarote (the neighbouring island to Fuerteventura), then stay at my training buddy, Billy Hodgson's family apartment in Puerto Del Carmen. From here we would then spend 5 days getting some acclimatisation training done, then a further 4 days of taper training before heading over on the ferry to Fuerteventura in a hire car to spend 3 days at the host resort of Las Playitas.
It is worth noting at this point that whilst hiring cars in The Canaries in positively encouraged, if you intend to use it for island hopping then things become a little more restrictive. Firstly finding a company that will even entertain the idea, pretty much rules out any of the cheap companies. Then once they agree to the idea you need to get a specific stamp on your hire documents at the local car hire office that is next to the port. When in said office, it is then not really clear whether anyone knows what the rules are. Initially our burly Canarian told us "Only one day, no three" and it was perhaps as this point he took a little sympathy on us as the life blood drained out of my face. A stoney pause and then he went on to say "If other office have say yes then OK", he then promptly stamped the document and amended the insurance expiry date with a biro!
The ferry was next and at a cost of €65 per single crossing it worked out a very expensive 25 minute cruise, however, the service was slick, on time, fast and clearly geared more towards locals and freight as opposed to the brits abroad. Once landed a ninety minute coastal drive down to Las Playitas resort, found us still arriving in time for breakfast. They were able to get us checked in immedetiary which put us ahead of schedule for the day.
Having arrived, checked in, and race registered, it was time for a recce of the bike course. From a navigation perspective we had a JPEG map image of the course on my iPad and an out of date tourist map of Fuerteventura, I confess I had slight reservations as to how successful this was going to be, however, over the next 2 hours we pretty much stayed on course and experienced perhaps one of the most challenging bike routes i've ever encountered. Arriving back at the resort I think we were a little overwhelmed by the scale of the terrain, but nonetheless pleased to know what was going to be coming our way the next day.
Despite a few last minute changes by the Organisers, I seemed to be remarkably relaxed about all pre race process, kit selection, nutrition, and racking all seemed to be completed without the usual slightly nauseous feeling in my stomach. I was almost a little unnerved about just how relaxed I was. I can't really put a finger on why this was, perhaps it's a case that middle distance racing fills me with less fear than it has done previously. An early night followed by an equally early wake up call and breakfast, meant that the final pre race rituals were all completed without drama.
The swim had been changed from the published route on the website to a 2 lap course with Australian Exit, taking us in front of the adjacent fishing village of Playitas itself. This in my mind was a great improvement as it gave spectators the opportunity to be more involved and added to the athlete experience.
The Pro's men went off at 0800hrs with the Pro woman and Age Group woman off at 0802hrs then the Age Group guys at 0805hrs. I wished Billy "Good Speed" and positioned myself on the second row of the start line. The gun fired and with a cheer from the crowd the remaining 180 of us threw ourselves at the water. The shore line was pretty steeply shelving so it didn't take long until I was properly swimming and trying to latch myself onto some fast feet. Since IM Germany last year we had been working on my drafting skills and I was very happy to quickly get myself into an even and controlled pace cruising through the water with minimal effort. Swapping onto faster feet and using the pace off others to my advantage was a new experience for me and one which this time around was happening more by design as opposed to by luck.
The end of lap 1, I got out the water and was feeling good, however, I had a slight paranoia about the timing chip velcro on my ankle which had taken a hefty knock, and felt like it was on the verge of coming off, of course on glancing down everything seemed fine, although it wasn't sitting right on my leg and caused a certain amount of distraction on the second lap.
As the pack thinned out on the second lap it was a little more challenging to hold my place in the pack, not helped by the odd bit of swell that knocked me off course with remarkable ease. The new Snugg Slipstream Hyperflex wetsuit was proving remarkably comfortable and gave me the correct level of buoyancy combined with the flexibility and room in the shoulders to take full advantage of the my stroke. I came out of the water with a time of 32min42secs which on the face of it didn't seem that great, however it had me in 75 position overall, and the Garmin data suggested that the swim course was a couple of hundred metres over distance.
Transition 1: Swim to Bike
From the beach to the tennis courts at the top end of the resort involved a 400m Red Carpeted jog up the gentle slope to the bag hooks and changing tent. Wetsuit off with remarkable ease and on with socks and bike shoes, helmet and race number.
Despite loving the Bont triathlon bike shoes I have yet to be able to comfortably wear them without socks and certainly not had enough opportunities and "man" my heels up over the UK winter. Whilst this adds on time in T1, it's time saved in T2, with the one major proviso that you are not running with sand in your socks that didn't come off after the trek up from the swim. Into the bike compound to pick up my bike and was on my way.
The race plan was to basically try and push it on the flats and see what I could pull off, then survive on the big climbs. Also I had my own target of trying to hold off Billy for at least 30km. Whilst I can pretty easily take time out of him on the swim, he generally reels me back in on the bike and disappears off into the distance.
The bike course was pretty much divided into 3 sections: the outward leg to the mountains, the mountains, and the return leg. Both outwards and return legs were pretty fast and low lying over closed roads with smooth tarmac. The wind had dropped off which made for near perfect conditions.
The first 30km I kept the work on the pedals, stayed focused and heart rate up, as well as shovelling the nutrition and drink down my throat. Even with my best efforts at holding the pace up I still had great swathes of the field overtake me which whilst i'm used to that, still isn't great for the mental game of long distance triathlon.
At around kilometre 29 I heard the familiar voice of Mr Hodgson come up behind me. At least I'd managed to hit that particular target I thought, as he sailed off into the distance with remarkable ease. As the lowlands gave way to steeper climbs the speed dropped off and the burn on the quads increased. The steepest section of the first major climb was of course the final 100m or so before the summit, bikes were weaving from side to side across the road doing everything to avoid the 18% incline and reach the summit without going to far into the red. It was with lungs burning that I topped out and then it was onwards to the rewards of the descent.
The bike route was spectacular and extremely sparsely populated, it felt at times that you were biking through the wild west of the USA. The aid stations were well manned as was support in the few villages that the route passed through. The second climb whilst equally as high was a little more forgiving in terms of gradient with a gentle tail wind in the latter stages that effectively pushed you over the summit and back down into the lowlands for the final 27km back to the resort.
The final section was pretty much a case of getting the nutrition and hydration back on track as well keeping the focus and speed up to try and claw back some of the lost ground from the mountain section.
The hydration plan had pretty much gone to schedule, however whilst the majority of the 750ml per hour got sweated back out, some of it had worked its way through the entire "system". By 70km there was a need to pee, and it had to be done prior to heading back to the populous areas and the resort. Now for the uninitiated of you, this is not a process that involves stopping at the nearest roadside cactus and hitching your shorts up. Its pretty much done without any need to stop pedalling or getting your hands off the aerobars. Whilst there is no break in speed it does involve wet shorts and a right bike shoe which was a little damper that I really needed it to be. However, with the temperature rising beyond 25 degrees everything would dry out in no time, (for the record white Fusion Trishorts do not go see throu when wet!).
The final couple of kms heading back into the resort the Pro's were already into the final stages of their runs, and it was now time to spin the legs and get into run mode.
T2 Transition 2 Bike to Run
Heading into T2 was somewhat depressing as it looked like virtually every bike had returned and was racked back up. Needless to say it was on with the trainers and out of the changing tent for the two lap 21km course.
The race plan for the 1/2 marathon was bring the pace up from a gentle jog to a pace of around 4:20 to 4:39 /km within the first couple of km and then hold to complete within 1hr40mins. I came out of T2 and my legs were really up for the task and had a job holding back. The route was two laps over undulating terrain on smooth tarmac surface. From a nutrition perspective I had 4 gels on board and would supplement that with water and coke from the aid stations as well as regular dowsings of water to keep the core temperature down.
The kms ticked by I was waiting for suffering to kick in but it didn't really hit in the same way that it has done in the past. By 12k I was still on target and had enough buffer in hand for the pace to drop off and still hit my 1hr40 target. I pushed on in an effort to claw back as many positions as possible before hitting the finish tape. By the final Km I had got myself back about 22 places, which was a worthy effort and hitting the line with a run phase time of 1hr32mins57secs.
The swim and run pretty much went to plan, possibly exceeding expectations. The bike I felt was a little lack lustre but in all honesty it wasn't an ideal course for me. Over the next couple of months the coach and myself will be working on this in readiness for Roth.
Challenge Fuerte although a little frustrating at times in terms of pre race organisation, did deliver a great days racing. Would I do it again? Probably not, however, I'd not hesitate in recommending others to do it.