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© John Gossage
Challenge Barcelona - an experiment that worked!
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Thursday 6th October 2011


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Stepping up to the full distance after a successful season at middle distance was either going to be a spectacular 'fail' or a total success. Only one way to find out though: experiment!


As a doctor/scientist I’m used to experiments going wrong. In fact it’s pretty much par for the course, certainly in terms of my research! So having entered Challenge Barcelona on a whim a couple of months ago, I was prepared to accept that things may not quite work out according to plan and it could be a long hard day in the office. I knew I was in good shape going into the race but had no idea whether the gamble I’d made in terms of far fewer long runs, rides and bricks would pay off. Could I do an Ironman as an afterthought at the end of a season based on middle distance races? Only one way to find out – and I knew it would either be good or disastrous, probably not mediocre...

Entering a race as an afterthought does have its benefits. For one it takes away all the pressure. If it went badly I would have learnt an important lesson, and choosing a race in sunny Spain meant that regardless of the outcome I’d have a fun few days away. Ironman had never been the focus of this year so I was honestly viewing it as an end of season ‘bonus’ blowout. As such I went into it far more relaxed than any other Ironman I’d done. An initial glance at the start list was fairly intimidating, until I reminded myself I was doing my own race and whoever else was racing is irrelevant. This was a test for me rather than a race against anyone else and I knew whatever happened it would be a helpful experience in terms of planning next season.

Challenge Barcelona was my first Challenge race and has definitely made me want to do more of them. Calella is a holiday resort with a beautiful long sandy beach, loads of budget accommodation and very easy trains to and from Barcelona airport which makes it an economical and effortless trip. The only downside is the heat, but it could have been worse; I think Cambridge was just as hot last weekend! Regardless it’s a pleasant place to spend a couple of days with your feet up and a good book, something I’m sure all triathletes rarely get the opportunity to do.

So race morning dawned and I woke up excited; I had my plan and couldn’t wait to see how the day would pan out. In all honesty, I think this is a close to a perfect race as I’ve ever had, and I can’t think of much I could have done differently on the day. I was lucky enough to find some feet for the swim and finished way higher up than I would have predicted. I’d decided that I wanted to get three hours into the race and feel like I had done nothing; that way I could tell myself I just had a middle distance and a bit to do to finish. Though it was hard at the start to let people ride past me and make no effort to stay with them, I managed to restrain myself and stick to my plan of riding a negative split on the bike and I think that was probably the right decision. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to start the run and see what was going to happen as I knew that this would be the bit which would make or break my race.

I’ve been running well in halves this year but an ironman is a very different kettle of fish. A marathon is never easy, no matter how quickly or slowly you’re running it and there were definitely tough bits; sore right foot, sore right quad, too hot, feel sick, too thirsty….. the list of complaints is endless for any competitor. But this time, unlike last year, I didn’t fall apart! I had mum and dad armed with bottles of high electrolyte drink for me at the aid station (which we ran past eight times) and that made a huge difference. I may not have acknowledged them with shouts but knowing I would see them every 25 mins or so made it very easy to break the run down; I think also knowing how much I was drinking made a big difference in terms of getting nutrition right. It’s a pretty thankless task supporting at an Ironman and I hope they realise how much I appreciate their being there. I didn’t have a clue how quickly or slowly I was running but realised I was gradually catching the runners ahead (other than the amazing Michelle Mitchell who is a very worthy winner and definitely someone to watch!) and running away from those behind.

Eventually I ran myself into third and I suddenly realised I was going to go well under 9hr30 if I kept myself together. Wow – that was something I was going to be proud of!

I guess I’m not as surprised by this result as I was by Ireland. I suspected it would either be very good or very bad. But I do feel an immense satisfaction at having formulated a plan, stuck to it, and come out with what on paper isn’t something I would ever have thought possible. Most importantly, I’m proud I’ve sorted out my head. I went into this race relaxed, knowing I was doing it because I wanted to be doing it and I’m sure that’s the key to a good race.

I’ve been so lucky this season and have learnt so much from each and every race I’ve done. Having made the decision to work part time for a year just four weeks ago I feel extraordinarily privileged to be in the position I now am; a bit more time to train and recover means I am no longer permanently sleep deprived and am much more effective both at work and in training sessions! Life is good...

Time now for a bit of a break and then a good long think about what I want to work towards next year. Exciting times!

There's a gallery of images from the race taken by John, Lucy's dad, on her website here.


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