Spoiler Alert: I finished 3rd in my AG!
On Friday 11 June, I had my Covid-19 PCR test in my home country the Netherlands and I received negative (which is good) results the following day. On Saturday night I started the drive to Walchsee in Austria and I had a good drive, except for quite some road works in Germany which were slowing me down quite a bit. Early morning I crossed the border to Austria (had to show my negative PCR test result) and Walchsee wasn’t far anymore.
After a quick breakfast at a little coffee shop in Walchsee, I started to prepare my bike for my first reconnaissance ride of the Challenge Walchsee.
This year the swim and bike course layout was changed. The bike course was due to some road works in Kössen. The bike route is through the beautiful Kaiserwinkl area with the Walchsee lake, small villages, mountains, narrow roads, steep climbs, and descents, with good and poor asphalt roads.
After the ride and a quick swim in the lake, I drove an hour further to Innsbruck where I was staying in an apartment for the next 2 weeks.
In the next two weeks, I’ve been training in the beautiful mountains around Innsbruck on the bike and running. Swimming was mostly done in the Baggersee (local swim lake) although I drove a few more times to Walchsee for more bike course reconnaissance rides and swims in the lake. On the Friday before the race, I combined that with registering for the race.
The registration was going a bit slow due to the check for negative Corona tests and therefore a small waiting line but everything was arranged well and went pretty smooth actually. I’ve received a nice backpack from the Challenge Walchsee and of course the race necessities (chip, start number, swim cap, tattoos, etc).
A quick look at the Expo but that was a bit of a disappointment actually. Having visited quite a few Ironman Expos and then seeing the few booths and the very small corner of the Challenge clothing, was no comparison. I was looking to buy some cool run shirts or t-shirts from the Challenge event, but there was nothing that I liked.
On Saturday I prepared everything that I needed at home and in the afternoon I drove to Walchsee for an easy run course lap and the bike check-in. The run course is about 5.1 km long (running 4 times in the race to come to 20.4 km) and there are two small hills to go up and a long descent where you can make up some time again.
The bike check-in went fine for me. Neither in the athlete’s guide nor during the online briefing it was mentioned that you needed to bring your start number to the bike check-in, but having the experience of other races and a friend informed me as well, I brought the start number with me from Innsbruck. I’ve heard some athletes had to go back to their car or home to pick up the start number… That would have been very annoying…
After a good night’s sleep, my alarm went off at 05:30 hrs… My normal breakfast (cottage cheese, blueberries, oatmeal) went in fine, followed up with two leftover pancakes (french crêpes) with syrup. Packing the last few items like bidons with Nutrid Kerosine (bike) and Nutrid Kerosine RS+ (run) and I was off to Walchsee! Just before 07:00 hrs, I arrived at the closest parking lot. I was a little bit stressed about finding a good parking spot but luckily not many athletes had arrived this early yet.
The transition zone opened at 06:00 hrs already, and in the transition zone, I prepared my bike by clicking in my bike shoes, selecting the right gear, checking the tire pressure, filling up my bike bidons, and preparing the basket with my run gear (shoes, cap, sunglasses, flex bidon with Nutrid Kerosine RS+). The race belt was only required during the run, so this one went on top of my running gear.
Together with my HUUB Varman wetsuit (triathlonwinkel.nl) I left the transition zone and the waiting for the race to start. The Pro men started at 08:30 hrs and my Age Group was planned to start at 09:20 hrs. The swim start zones were blocking the view to the Pro men start but from a distance, I could see them swim away towards the first buoy. In the meantime, I was doing my stretching and short warmup, and chatting with a friend that was starting in the same AG. The ETU athletes started and after that, all the open competition AG athletes went into the water one by one every few seconds (due to the Corona preventions). This meant that I only started at 09:47 hrs, 1.5 hours after the Pro men started, and I’ve never started this late on a day but I was quite fine with that. Better than starting at 06:00 hrs when it’s still dark and cold. The temperature on race day was actually quite a bit colder than the last couple of weeks. Only about 16 degrees Celsius very early in the morning and when I started it was just a little bit warmer. The water temperature of the Walchsee was 22.6 degrees and therefore wetsuit allowed for AG athletes (not allowed for the Pro athletes though).
The swim went very well for me. Since all the athletes went in one by one, it was a long narrow line of swimmers and not very widespread. I’m not really the fastest swimmer (understatement) and beforehand I discussed the race plan with my coach (Ruud of DUUR triathlon) and swim trainer (Hylke of Tri2One coaching) and the plan was to swim technically well, focus on my technique, and not try to give all my power in the swim and ruining my technique and speed. This played out well, I had a good rhythm, felt good and happy in the water. And I was overtaking quite a few swimmers along the way. My AG was starting as one of the last groups, and in my AG I was starting at the rear, so of course, there were a lot of slower swimmers in front of me.
The vision of the buoys was good and I could clearly see them and swim in an almost straight line. The swim course was first a long section to the first buoy, sharp left and a shorter section to the second buoy, another sharp left, and the long section back to the transition zone. Coming out of the water, I checked my Garmin Fenix 6 watch and saw the swim time of 32m22s! I was already happy during the swim but this surprised me and made me even feel more content!
Out of the water, I quickly pulled the top of my wetsuit down to my waist and ran to my bike. Then getting completely out of my wetsuit, throw it in the basket, putting on my helmet, and run with my bike to the bike exit. A quick transition time of 2m21s for T1.
Giving quite a bit of power at the start on the main road towards Kössen to get away from other athletes. After not too long the route went off the main road on the more narrow backcountry roads and the first little climbs started. Having cycled the bike course a few times, I knew what to expect, how long the climbs were, where the sharp turns were and where I could just hammer on. This helped me a lot and I was able to overtake a lot of other athletes. About 15 km on the bike, the course continued on the main road again back to Walchsee. In Walchsee it was on the backcountry roads again with a couple of steep and longer climbs. A very steep descent from Rettenschöss before arriving on the main road again. Another detour on the backcountry roads before arriving in Walchsee. The first loop wasn’t over yet because an extra section up and down on the main road to Liesfeld had to be completed first. This last section back to Walchsee went a bit downhill and it was nice to sort of relax and get ready for the second loop. The first loop took me about 1h10m to complete.
When I started with the second loop, I think the first Pro men were already starting with the run. This meant that there were a lot fewer athletes on the bike course. In one way this is great because it’s easier to overtake on the narrow backcountry roads (with sometimes pretty poor road conditions) but on the other hand, it’s easier to ride towards an athlete in front of you, and just give a little bit extra power. If there aren’t many on the course, then you have less to ride towards.
The second loop went 5 minutes slower so this meant that in 1h15m I completed the second loop. The whole bike time was 2h25m23s. With a flying dismount just before the line, I was back in the transition zone. Racking my bike, taking off my helmet, slipping into my running shoes, start belt and grabbing the rest (cap, sunglasses, and flex bidon), and running to the run exit. T2 took me 1m54s to change from bike to run.
The run course was 4 loops around the Walchsee lake, of each approx. 5.1 km in length. Coming out of the transition zone, it was over the pavement and grass directly along the lake, followed by a road with a false flat climb. On race day, the climbs of the run course seemed to be steeper than on Saturday, when I explored the run course on an easy run! The temperatures had risen quite a bit since I started with my run at 12:49 hrs. The second steeper climb started exactly at the midway point and was pretty tough on the legs. Luckily this one was followed by a long-ish descent where I could make up a little bit again. After that, it was the last few hundred meters and the next loop started.
My average speed per loop dropped a bit during the run. The first loop took me 21m17s, the second loop 21m32s, the third loop 21m53s, and the last loop 22m30s. Total run time 1h29m40s.
Crossing the finish line, I was pretty exhausted! The total time of the Challenge Walchsee middle distance was 4h31m42s! The bottle of water that was handed out to me after crossing the line, was emptied almost in one go. The cold water shower behind the finish line was so nice to cool me down, rinse me off the sweat a bit, and feel a bit more refreshed. After that, I went to the recovery area to pick up my after-race bag, some drinks, and a prepared food package from the organization. Sitting in the grass seeing many other athletes starting their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th run loop while relaxing and recovering in the sun felt very good 🙂 The short swim in the lake after a bit of relaxing as well though!
Having my mobile phone in my after-race bag, I could get in contact with my parents and friends back home, and immediately I heard that I was in a provisional 3rd place in my AG! Checking the results website myself and seeing that no others of my AG were able to finish faster anymore, it was pretty much confirmed! Rank: 3rd in AG!
Total time for the Challenge Walchsee: 4h31m42s.
The number one of my AG finished in 4h11m20s (+20m22s) and the number two in 4h30m04s (+18m44s), meaning the difference between the number two and me, was just 1m38s.
The swim of 1900m in 32m22s went very well for me. The straight swimming line, good rhythm, an average speed of 1:40/100m, and not very exhausted coming out of the water, gave me a very good feeling. The swim time ranked me as 8th fastest in my AG! A year ago, I would never have dreamed of this! The fastest swim time in my AG was (actually of the athlete that finished 1st in my AG) 30m06s, an average of about 1:35/100m and a difference of 2m16s with me.
T1 in 2m21s was the 2nd fastest time in my AG. Pretty good!
The bike route was only 82.15 km which I completed in 2h25m23s and this ranked me as 6th fastest in my AG. The fastest bike time in my AG was (again of the athlete that finished 1st in my AG) 2h14m05s, a difference of just over 11 minutes!
T2 in 1m54s was the 8th fastest time.
The run was 20.5 km, so a little bit less than half a marathon (21.1 km) which I completed in 1h29m40s. This ranked me as 3rd fastest in my AG. Again the athlete that finished 1st in my AG, completed the run in 1h21m39s, which is just under 4:00/1km average. My plan was to run better than 4:15/1km but unfortunately, I only managed to run 4:20/1km. If, yes if, I would have run 4:15/1km, then I would have finished 2nd 😉 Certainly, a stimulation to become better and faster!
Finishing 3rd in my AG qualified me for the Challenge world triathlon race TheChampionship in Samorin, Slovakia, at the end of August 2021! A qualification that proves that I’m going in the right direction! And a race where I can compete with many other qualified athletes from other Challenge triathlons, which would be very interesting and I expect a very good field of athletes!