Lanakila Racers Team member Anu Maarit talks about her second half ironman distance race at Castles Challenge Triathlon 70.3 in Bamburgh, Northumberland, United Kingdom in difficult weather conditions and how she managed it to crush it with a personal best!

The main goal for this triathlon season was to complete my second half ironman distance race at Castles Challenge Triathlon which took place in Bamburgh, Northumberland Coast (UK) on Saturday 19th of August. A picturesque location for a race for sure, with the sand beaches and overlooking majestic Bamburgh castle surrounded by Northumberland countryside. However, it is also a location where weather conditions can be challenging due to the variable coastal climate.

Race Prep

I arrived a day before the race, so I could have a good nights’ sleep and check out the set up for the race. I had done a sprint triathlon in the same organisers in 2015 so to a degree I knew what to expect. This also meant I only had a very short 10minute drive to registration and race start in the morning. Nonetheless, with 8am race start my wake-up call was 4.45am. Usual race day routine: breathing, visualization, and mobility sequence followed by coffee and breakfast, and subsequently another coffee before packing the car and heading out.

The night before was extremely windy and during the night could hear the wind howling, and although the morning was extremely bright and sunny, the windy conditions remained. I took note and knew it would be a tough race throughout working with and against the wind. This was a small race, only 48 athletes taking part in the half iron distance, out of whom only 11 were women. I registered at 6.30am and then went to set up my bike and get in final pre-race fuel. Pleased it was not raining as was initially forecast and I set up my kit in transition located on the green outside a cricket pavilion in the shadow of the Castle.

Focus Focus Focus

Everyone looked quite experienced, but I focused on my preparation and walked through transition exists and entries. Then it was time to put wetsuit on, listen to the race brief and head out to the beach which was around 600-meter distance from transition along a sandy path. On the beach I jogged along and warmed-up my arms with my exercise band, then straight into the water to acclimatise as much as possible. Little swimming back and forth, then got myself positioned for the start.

Swim in rough waters

Swim start was around 8 am in the water (temperature 13 degrees), parallel to the beach, I had positioned myself somewhere in the middle of the pack.  It was so windy and the waves were big, so from the start I was struggling a little to see the buoys for the turnaround point. However, with little help from the current, the first leg of 1900m went relatively smooth and steady, staying with a pack of swimmers Managed to find my way to the turn-around buoy in relatively good time. In comparison the return portion was really challenging due to the conditions; wind was picking up, the waves were getting bigger and now we were swimming against the current. At times you felt you were not moving at all, about ¾ way through the swim I got a bad cramp in my calf due to the water only being 13 degrees. I had moment of doubt whether I should stop after being battered by the waves when the cramp was at its worst, and ended up swallowing some water. But I gave myself a talking to, stopped to check markers to make sure I was on track a couple times, bobbing up and down on the waves, and carried on. I eventually managed to shrug the cramp, kicking my leg out repeatedly. I was pleased to get out of the water. Slow pace as I checked my Garmin as I exited water: 48min for swim, but including 600m run from beach to transition overall swim split was 52mins.

Transition 1

Running to transition was alright, and I didn’t feel disoriented. I kept telling myself I would be fine as soon as I would get myself on the bike. I managed to pull wetsuit halfway down whilst coming out the water and the rest in transition. I exchanged a few friendly words with fellow participants as I stamped feet dry on the towel and popped my bike shoes on. Then helmet on, bike off the rack and off I went.

BIKE: Stuck to your plan!

The bike route consisted of a two loop course which headed South from the transition. As soon as I got out from the shadow of the castle, I was hit by heavy crosswinds and headwinds that swirled around the coast, with very rare, occasional relief from a bit of tailwind on sections protected by trees. The course was undulating, without any gigantic hills but it did have some quite sharp technical bends. Of course as it was a small race, we were racing on open roads. As planned, I settled into the bike and 30 mins in drank first half of my fuel bottle. I surprised myself going aero for most of the course despite the wind pushing me around. I was very pleased as I only had raced once before in aero. I Pushed hard on the bike as I felt surprisingly good, I took the occasional boost from date chews every 40mins and sips of hydration at 20min intervals. I was aware that despite feeling quite strong, I was exerting far more effort than was planned as I pushed through the head and crosswinds. First loop was complete in about 1hr 40minutes, so I was aware I might need to control the pace just a little on the second. After starting the second loop I drank the second half of my nutrition bottle. I tried to push hard on sections where wind eased a little, being aware there were sections where the wind would slow me down. I felt good, maintaining the pace, towards the last 10km out of which last 5 was a long steady hill-climb until hitting the downhill back to transition. I slowed down a little so that my legs would not be completely spent before the run. I knew the effort working against the wind was starting to take its toll a little bit. I was tempted to try and push harder, but stuck to my plan. I looked at my watch an realised it was a bike portion personal best for half iron distance: 3hrs 24mins

Transition 2

Dismount was smooth, I had no difficulty finding my spot. I took a quick drink from fuel bottle in transition and kept on my camelback for hydration and electrolytes. Swiftly I put my socks and visor on and dashed off to the transition exist and onto the run course.

Run: Fight, cheer and enjoy your pain

Finally, I headed out for the 21.1km run portion of the race, which consisted of a four lap course of trails, paths, gravel, sand and little bit of road. Having no socks in my bike shoes paid off, and I had no numb feet, issue I had struggled previously.  I did feel quite tired after pushing hard on the bike and I knew I had to pace the run so I wouldn’t crash energy wise before the finish. I had run the course previously as I often visit the area, so I knew what lay ahead. The out section was climbing pretty much all the way, some undulating sharp ups and downs as we ran across the golf course and finally ran down an incline sand path to the turnaround point and then back up the hill. The return section of the loop was mainly downhill after we reached the golf course again. Out section was into a heavy headwind which was very draining on energy, and on few occasions felt really tired but kept running on at a steady pace. Also, the big push on the bike did take some revenge and It was such a relief to get some tailwind on the return leg, however for the final 2.5km the wind changed into a crosswind pushing us all sideways and it almost succeeded in pushing me over at one point. There was great support each time as I returned to pass transition at the end of the loop which gave a bit of extra boost to keep going, stopped very briefly to grab a cup of water each time around to avoid a stitch, and poured one cup over myself to refresh a bit. Throughout the run I soaked in atmosphere, high five other runners on course and cheered on the ones who were really struggling. Some children were giving us high fives too, which gave me some energy to push a bit harder on the last loop. I didn’t quite have it in my legs to get sub 2hrs, but I aim to reach this goal next season, split time for run was 2hrs 3mins.

I ran across the finish line at a personal best of 6hrs 23mins 47seconds, I felt exhausted but very happy. Overall the whole race was lot more controlled in terms of pacing, mental focus and nutrition – especially on the bike where I was pacing a lot better.  My placing was 30th overall, 7th woman overall and 5th in AG. Racing in my Lanakila summerjam suit for the first time was wonderful, had perfect comfort throughout the race! Thank you to my team for all the support in preparation for the event. Onwards and upwards towards new adventures.

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