When I first saw the advert for Challenge Barcelona at the Henley-on-Thames awards ceremony, there was no question I’d do whatever had to be done to get on the start line of that warm, sun soaked Mediterranean coastline of Calella. Once the return flight was changed and beds were secured, I ventured into London for a few days to initiate my “taper.” I then headed up north to stay with my soon-to-be brother-in-law’s family. Being that he was leaving for the states shortly after my arrival, there were plenty of good-bye parties, which were great opportunities to start carbo-loading with a few pints. I don’t really recommend carbo-loading with pints, but I have no regrets.

Upon arriving in Spain, I had the same thoughts of “What are you getting yourself into?” However, with a top 10 placing under my belt, I felt good about what could be. To an extent, an iron-distance triathlon is just an eating contest with some physical activity. So, if I handled my nutrition better than the previous race, there’s no reason why I couldn’t perform better. Easier said than done, of course.

The race didn’t start until 8:30, so in relation to most other events, we had the luxury of “sleeping in.” On the downside, it was quite warm at 8:30. After warming up in the 24ยบ water with a wetsuit, I was already feeling quite warm myself.

Professional men swim start.

For the swim start, the 50-some pro men lined up along the beach and were off at the sound of a cannon. I had what I thought was good positioning in the first 100 meters, but absorbed a solid heel to the face. As a result, I had to stop to readjust my goggles. After getting back into it, I spotted a small pack not too far ahead and made a push. I caught the group a little over a quarter of the way through the swim. From there, I sat near the back and kept an eye on anyone trying to get away. Everyone just held their positions and since the pace felt slow, I made a push of my own. With 750 meters to go, I jumped out wide and moved to the front. Naturally, everyone else accelerated, but I maintained my position as co-leader. After making the last turn, our group bunched up and I now know that my foot is ticklish even while swimming. Someone kept lightly brushing my underfoot with their fingertips and I squirmed – oh the things you learn about yourself in endurance events.

Beautiful area to ride. Great paella too.

There were a couple of guys out of transition just ahead of me, so I had some people to pace off of. Then, several guys came flying by from behind and were forming a group not too far ahead. After brief deliberation, I decided to catch the group. In total, there was about 16 of us and yes, we were riding legally. In fact, we had a marshal practically escort us around the course. We went through the halfway point in 2:17 and best of all, it didn’t feel all that taxing. At this point, I was right on top on my nutrition and feeling good overall. Skip forward an hour and I was alone. Just like the race in Henley, my discomfort and fatigue grew at nearly the same mile marker. I knew this feeling was inevitable, as I simply don’t have the miles in my legs. Taking in nutrition also became more difficult. It seems the longer I ride, the less and less I can tolerate anything remotely sweet. Thankfully, a friend had given me salt tablets (and let me borrow her aero helmet) and if it weren’t for those, the last lap on the bike could have been a lot worse!

I got awesome tan lines on my back.

The race clock was around 5:45 getting off the bike, so I felt good about my chances of breaking 9-hours. In an attempt to avoid a third lap hell, I went out more conservatively than at Henley. The first lap was exactly what I was hoping for and was still feeling good. Shortly after starting the second, my watch died – didn’t bring the charger. Then I tried to get some calories in, but my distaste for anything sweet remained. Fortunately, the friend who gave me the salt tablets also gave me those gummies I spoke of in the Henley recap. I could eat a few at a time, but couldn’t handle more than that. At this point, I was failing in my eating contest with some physical activity. The worst parts of the run for me were the out sections of the 4-lap course. Oddly enough, we had a tailwind, but I just plain struggled. I kept my focus on the present kilometer and determining what I needed at the aid stations. When I made the turn and faced the headwind on the third lap, I actually felt like I was running, er, jogging. With one more lap to go and determined to run with the wind, I hit a wall; heading to the turn-a-round for the final time felt the longest and hardest. With only 5 km to go and a headwind to compete with, I was able to pick up the pace yet again and finish relatively strong.

I obliged all those with high five requests.

I finished 21st in 9:23 and despite not breaking 9-hours, I’m happy with my performance. In all honesty, how can I not be pleased? Considering the race two weeks prior, I’d say I got on just fine. Besides the great race experiences I had courtesy of the Challenge Family, I met a lot of great people and owe many thanks to several incredible individuals. Without their generosity and hospitality, this race wouldn’t have been possible. You all know who you are!