The inaugural Challenge Paguera-Mallorca played host to the 2014 ETU Middle Distance Championships. Promoted by the organiser (and the BTF) as a ‘fast flat course with PB potential’ meant that all of the 230 strong GBR team were expecting it to be a short day at the office albeit a hot one with a midday start and a weather forecast of 30 degrees.
In the weeks leading up to the event it was clear that, due to the water temperature, it was going to be a non-wetsuit swim. The swim was a simple 1.9km 1 lap out and back with a beach start. The Pros went off at noon followed by the Age-Groupers shortly after. With a calm sea, crystal clear waters and 900m to the first buoy the swim was actually quite nice and not too chaotic. No doubt the absence of a wetsuit adversely effected most competitors times – especially the ‘sinkers’ like me who need all the buoyancy they can get. I exited the swim in 35 minutes and headed to T1 which was an energy sapping 400m away.
With no wetsuit to wrestle with T1 was a fast transition but it was still about 500m from swim exit to bike mount. My bike mount was perfect until some German guy got his all wrong and took me out! He had disappeared into the distance by the time I’d put my chain back on and re-mounted to start the supposedly fast flat 90km 2 lap course… Yeah right! Shortly after leaving the town of Paguera there was a long climb. The kind of climb requiring a long time out-of-the-saddle in the granny ring pulling on the bars negotiating hairpins. The furthest point of the bike course passed through the ‘picturesque’ town of Magaluf where support for the GB team from beer drinking, burger eating, Union Jack clad supporters was actually very welcome. By the time I passed through Magaluf on the 2nd lap the relentless heat of the Mallorca sun was beginning to take its toll as my attention turned to the imminent run. I sensibly backed off the intensity a bit and got as much fluid inside me as possible whist realising this was going to be about survival not a PB.
T2 was another good transition and I headed out for the, yet again, supposedly fast flat 21km 4 lap course…. Yeah right! Whist there were no big hills it was never really flat. It was a twisty, undulating course with steps and cobbles added to the mix. Basically it had everything possible to break any rhythm you managed to get. The route went down the main street through Paugera and past a chemist with one of those LED signs that alternate between time and temperature. As I passed it on the first lap the temperature was reading 36 degrees! People around me were fading fast and suffering. Respecting the heat I’d been hydrating with electrolytes for 2 days prior and rode a sensible bike leg consuming more electrolytes and I stopped at every feed station on the run. This I believe enabled me to run a solid (not fast) negative split half marathon without ‘bonking’ on the final discipline. I crossed the finish line in 5hr 15min coming 19th out of 57 in my Age Group (10th Brit) and glad that I didn’t end up in hospital on an IV drip due to dehydration as many others did.
I have to agree with the overwhelming opinion from everybody I spoke to afterwards that it was the toughest, and slowest, middle distance race they had ever done…. But would I do it again? Dam right I would!