*** many thanks to Vicky Arscott for this race report ***

Ok so here it is… that all important race report, some of you will be able to relate to it, having done the race yourself, others will be questioning whether that 70.3 race they had on their bucket list, was really a good idea after all…. I’m telling you now - Do Challenge Laguna Phuket!

Well we all know I’m rarely lost for words so don’t expect this to be short and sweet, I’ve got heaps to talk about!

Following the Memorial Ride for Roy Nasr back in March of this year and the interesting Q&A session organised by TriDubai, where Macca engaged us all with tales from his racing history, I got myself signed up to the Macca Camp which was to be held at the Thanyapura Sports Hotel in Thailand the week leading up to the Challenge race.

I did my research about Thanyapura on tripadvisor.com and read plenty of reviews which were positive, however I have to admit, the travelers’ photos weren’t exactly impressive. I even went as far as to tell Kenny “don’t expect luxury, this is a functional hotel!” -how wrong could I have been!

Race Prep:

My training between Ironman South Africa in April and the Dubai International Triathlon in November was a bit hit and miss… some weeks I’d put in some serious hours… others I neither had the motivation nor was I well enough. One element I had been working on with Joao was core strength and stability training. I did see marked improvements in my running and I believe a combination of Joao’s sessions and some helpful tips from Lynette had also improved my swim times for 1.9km distance from 36 minutes with a wetsuit to 33 minutes without one (and yes Markus, that time does include getting lost on the swim course as usual)

Dubai International Triathlon was a rollercoaster, the swim and bike went well, until I got severe cramp in both adductors about 500m from the end of the bike course and had to clip out of the pedals with both legs and hope the bike would roll itself to transition ..and then there was the run… I think a lot of us suffered on the run.. I haven’t yet looked at my Garmin for that race, but I spent a good 10 minutes, if not more, stationary in agony. I think a lot of us underestimated the conditions out there that day and suffered as a result.

The weekend before I left for Thailand I decided at the last minute to enter the Race to Bahrain, simply because I hadn’t done an Olympic distance race this year…I found out the night before the race that all the usual super humans would be out to play at Mushriff park and this could be my chance to get myself up on that podium -  little did I know how bleeding fast Anna Pritchard would be on the bike!! So yet again I find myself chasing people down on the run, going all out and then holding on for dear life to keep my position. Needless to say I puked 3 times as I crossed the finish that day, but it was the kind of race and kick up the back side I needed to get me in the mood for Thailand.

Macca Camp & Thanyapura Sports Hotel

So back to Thanyapura. Talk about top notch!! We arrived very late at night so didn’t have a chance to see the facilities as such, but the reception area alone was impressive enough and the representatives from the hotel who assisted with our check-in were super. The facilities are incredible, there are 4 pools; 50m pool, 25m pool, chillout pool with pool bar and a kids pool; a 500m cushioned running track and a track that runs around the perimeter of the facility; a fully equipped gym (including ice baths) and then the quiet scenic roads through the rubber plantations where you can enjoy safe long bike rides. I daren’t even go into all the other additional services they have such as bike fits, sports science, spa, kids club, laundry, coffees shops, bars etc

Our package was for 7 days including breakfast, lunch and dinner for 2 people which worked out at about 375aed per person per day… absolute bargain if you ask me! The cost of the camp is $89, no that is not a joke! I highly recommend the Camp and the Thanyapura facilities

There were around 20 of us on the camp; from all over the place; US, Singapore, Australia, Netherlands, and Norway which meant it was a great opportunity to meet new people, and no doubt will see again in other Challenge races in the future. The organisers provided us with an itinerary of what the camp would involve, plus other sessions that take place at Thanyapura that we could take part in. They focused on preparing us for the Challenge race specifically and smarter ways to train better for future races. I honestly couldn’t have chosen a better way to “taper” for a race. Thanks to Macca, Aaron, Jurgen, Ben, Brooke and all those at the camp for a  great week!

Race Day:

If you’re not aware, Challenge Laguna Phuket is an unusual course it’s a non-wetsuit race, around 1300m of the swim is in the sea and the remaining 600m is in a lagoon (formerly a tin mine) where Cindy the elephant does her business :). The bike ride is exceptionally challenging around the 45km mark and the 70km mark, with gradients I don’t think I’ve ever seen before and descents that require both hands on the brakes and bales of hay to stop you veering off the mountain. It also has 2 dismount zones where you must get off your bike and wheel it over an overpass across a main highway! The run is flat, but being exposed to the soaring heat and humidity, which in our case was around 42oC and 80% humidity, it can prove to be pretty challenging.

It had clearly rained heavily the night before and the roads were quite wet, and so was the transition area. There are no transition bags in Challenge Phuket so it was just a point of setting up your gear in an orderly fashion on the floor next to your bike. Due to the extreme heat and humidity, we were advised by Belinda Grainger to make sure we had at least 2 bottles of electrolytes on the bike in addition to any other gels etc… so there I am; Bike racked, gears set on something I’m comfortable with, nutrition on board, tyres pumped and everything I need for the  transitions, set up.

I don’t necessarily have a routine the morning of race day… I just like a shower to wake me and I don’t leave the room until I’ve done a number 2. Yes I know, probably too much detail, but you never know what the toilets will be like at the venue. Which brings me onto my next point … the Toilets

For God’s sake do not use the toilets on the coaches! Challenge have a number of options for you to alleviate yourself, one of them being a coach that effectively houses nothing but toilet cubicles.. unfortunately for me, nerves got the better of me that morning and I found myself queueing for the toilet. It’s simply a toilet seat on the floor with a small hole underneath. You have a bucket of filthy water placed on the floor infront of you, with what looks like a plastic saucepan floating inside of it. yes that is how you are going to flush your business down the hole. So there I am bailing water from the bucket to the toilet seat on the floor, wondering what on earth will I clean my bum with… honestly I didn’t want to wash it with the water in that bucket and the only other thing I had with me was a carton of orange juice… so orange juice it was. Basically my message is, be prepared.. go with wipes or tissue.

Swim:

I took a gel before hopping on board the “ferry” that takes you from the transition area across the lagoon to the beach where the Challenge arch is located. We were advised by Brooke to get in the sea and just see which way we drift because the current can sometimes be quite strong. At this point is was still quite dark, but the sea was relatively calm and there was no significant current that I could feel dragging me one way or another…. however I may have been wrong about that, because watching the male pros swim, it was clear they weren’t swimming in a straight line. Next up were the female pros, the lead swimmer unfortunately sighted Buoy number 2 instead of Buoy number 1, therefore leading all those drafting her the wrong way and effectively missing out a considerable portion of the course. Despite marshals in kayaks doing everything they could to get their attention, it took some time before they realized. This however gave me a heads up… watch the current and make sure you are sighting the right buoy!!

I didn’t find the swim easy, it was very difficult to sight, in particular on the return back to the beach, because the glare of the sun just blinded me. The run up the sand bank and down the other side to the lagoon elevated my heart rate considerably, and the swim across the lagoon was a murky mess of feet in my face, people kicking me in the side and sincere fear that if my goggles leak I could end up with an eye infection, or if I opened my mouth I could spend the rest of the day nursing a dodgy tummy.

Getting out of the lagoon just feels like you’re treading in years of Cindy’s mess-it’s gross! One guy shouted out to me “just don’t think about what’s under your feet”.

I noticed as I came into T1 that there were quite a lot of bikes still there which must have meant my swim wasn’t so bad.

Bike:

Out of transition I got on the bike, cycled about 500m went over a bump and lost one bottle of electrolytes out of the back bottle cage. I didn’t stop because electrolytes would be at the aid stations, so carried on. I was keeping a decent pace, despite a rather heavy training load in the week prior to the race

Next up is the flyover, you have to dismount your bike, wheel it up a ramp over the highway, no overtaking permitted, and down the ramp the other side before you can mount your bike and continue with the second section of the bike course. This does mean you can get stuck behind people who seem to think this is an ideal opportunity to take in the views while eating a buffet they’ve stored on their bike!

At this point I could only see men around me, no other women, so I was feeling pretty happy,  until I got to the first set of hills. I noticed one lady ahead of me and within about 5 minutes several ladies passed me!! The first set of hills are made up of 2 insanely steep but relatively short climbs. In fact they are so steep that on the second hill I actually had to get off my bike and stride up it, as even during the training rides I couldn’t make it.

I did start to get annoyed at one point having been passed by quite a few people especially when I saw a group of 3 women effectively cycling in a peloton zoom right past me. Right on queue, a draft marshal on a motorbike showed up. Unfortunately, a collision with an indecisive cat darting back and forth across the road, led to a headless kitty and a draft marshal unsure of what to do next. The things you see during a race !! 

One thing to be noted on the bike course here, is that throughout the course there are yellow flag zones. During these zones you must not exceed 20kmph and you must not overtake, basically they are on the downhill sections where safety clearly is a priority.

Challenge Phuket really does have a scenic bike course with pretty decent roads. The support by the local school children also acts as a catalyst in keeping your spirits high.

After the first set of hills you are back to the flyover for another dismount before you commence the second section that takes you past Naithon beach and up over the hills to the Laguna Resort. Now, if the first set of hills didn’t spark a little burning sensation in your legs then the second set surely does! The second set of hills lasts about 10km with varying gradients and turns, again its steep but not as steep as the first set, but just when you think this climb is over you realize there’s still more to go …  This is where I managed to chip away at some of those women who had passed me on the first set of hills.

Run:

Coming in to T2 I was tremendously thirsty.. I had a water bottle in the transition area and some Ensure which was close on boiling point by the time I reached it… I took a little ensure and some water and hit the run. The run course goes around the Laguna resorts and alongside a golf course and it is very exposed to direct sunshine for long periods. During the race briefing they had suggested there would be an aid station every 2 to 2.5 kms, but as it happens, due to the considerable heat, they increased the number of aid stations so there was one at almost every km.

My main concern on that run course was keeping the core temperature down and making sure I didn’t get cramp. As with every race, i walk the aid stations taking coke and water, but with so many aid stations I did question how much running would I actually do if I stop at all of them. I was steady over the first lap but the heat was insane and my arms were burning and all I could think is how sore my arms were.

As I started the second loop, sponges became more important to me than the water and coke and I was spending more time stuffing sponges down my tri suit, than I was consuming any fluids. The problem with that, is that you soon find you’re your feet sloshing around in your trainers, which not only is uncomfortable but also makes your trainers feel incredibly heavy. At the 17th km mark I got serious cramp in my hamstrings. I stopped for a few minutes until the pain subsided and hobbled to the next aid station where I stocked up on electrolytes and water and put more cold sponges on my hamstring. It seemed to work and I managed the rest of the race without cramping.

As I came across the finish line there were people from the Macca camp cheering me on and of course Kenny who looked like he had had enough time to pop back to the hotel and freshen up whilst he was waiting for me to come in.

At that point I had no idea of my position.. I thought maybe 4th or 5th. I didn’t think the race had gone particularly well, so was absolutely beaming when Kenny saw Lynette’s post on TriDubai that announced that he had come 1st and I had come 3rd. That was just an awesome end to a great week for both of us. That result also happened to win me a signed visor from Maria Sharapova and Chris McCormack as a prize for a competition running within the Macca Camp.

I’m not achieving astounding times when you take into consideration the super humans we have in our club, but I continue to take great pride in the tremendous improvements I have made since my first race in March 2013.  My results at ADIT went from 5hrs10 to 4hrs38, and my 70.3 time went from 6hrs03mins to 5hrs35.  If I look back at all the people whose path I have crossed over the last 2 years, I can say that in one form or another they have all contributed to me reaching my goals. Whether it be lending me your bike bag/box, sharing your tips and advice for training and racing,  keeping  me abreast of the latest modifications I can make to my gear so I’m fully colour co-ordinated, or just being there to support or motivate me and get me through the training sessions, its greatly appreciated. 

I’m looking forward to the next 6 months, Challenge Dubai, Ironman Asia Pacific Champs in Melbourne and Challenge Roth are all on the radar … then Kenny…I’m warning you now…I’ll be sitting on a beach somewhere exotic, relaxing!!

Thanks again for all the support everyone in the club gives to members like us who are racing abroad, it really does feel good to have people back in Dubai cheering you on!