Challenge Almere-Amsterdam 2017
A few miles east of Amsterdam,the whole region of what is now called Flevoland didn’t exist until 1976 – until then it was under the sea. It was reclaimed, and is now characterised by dikes, windmills, nature reserves and endless straight roads.
The new city of Almere organised the ‘Triathlon of Holland’ in 1984 and have been hosting long distance triathlon ever since, making it oldest triathlon in Europe and second only to the original Hawaii race in the world.
We left home early Wednesday morning and had a horrendous drive of missed connections and traffic jams and arrived much later than hoped and putting the tent up in the dark, wind and rain pretty much set the scene for the next few days. The constantly changing weather forecast was of gales, rain, hail and lightning storms and therefore what to wear on race day was the main topic of conversation over long lunches and large ‘loading’ dinners up until race day.
Race day got underway with the elite athletes first off into the Weerwater lake. Challenge Almere was chosen to double as the European Long Course triathlon Championship for 2017 so some big names from the Ironman scene were taking part as well as all the national teams, including GBR of course.
Mary and I were taking part in the long distance ‘Ironman’ race so said good luck to Neil and Grant and made our way to the starting funnel together. It was a mass start of all age groups and the cannon and flare to start our race took us by surprise still 50m from the start line. We swam about 5 strokes together then were lost in the mass of arms and legs. I had a very traumatic first few minutes of getting kicked and dunked and swam to the side of the course to get composed for a while before carrying on and eventually getting into a normal rhythm.
As we were approaching the end of our first 1.9km lap, Grant and Neil were in their AG funnels ready on the start line of their middle distance (70.3) race. Neil went off first followed 5 minutes later by Grant.
Mary was first out of the water and up into transition in a swim time of 1hr 29min followed by Neil in a time of 40min. I was next in 1hr 35min and Grant in 44min.
The weather had eased for race day but it was still very wet and windy so transition included a full change including arm warmers and rain jacket. We left transition in the same order we entered.
The flat, endless straight roads are ideal for fast bike times – when it isn’t wet and windy. When there are strong winds it’s the worst place to bike as there is no shelter – nothing to block the wind as it rips from one side of the region to the other and the reason we passed field after field of wind turbines (most with Vestas written on the side). I caught and passed Neil at about 10 miles and then Mary at about 20 miles and from then on the order remained until the two races separated at the end of the first lap. While I and then Mary were into our second 56 mile lap Neil and then Grant reached transition at the end of their bike sections in 3hr 05min and 3hr 01min respectively and were then off on their run of three 7.03km laps of the Weerwater lake.
I found the second lap of the bike hard. The wind increased, I’d maybe gone out a little fast on the first lap and now everything was starting to ache from such a long time in the aero position. I was watching my average speed slowly drop from 22mph at the end of lap one to 19.5mph by the end of the second lap. I finished the bike section in 5hr 45min and Mary in 6hr 36min.
On the run Grant was slowly catching Neil. He took a minute back on the 1st lap and then 4 minutes on the 2nd so they were both on the final lap together. The tough bike leg took it’s toll and Neil hit the wall a couple of miles from the finish allowing a steady Grant to pass him. The race ended in a mini stadium-like setup on the Esplanade in the city to loud music, cheering crowds and a commentator on a PA system. Grant finish the half marathon run in 1hr 58min and therefore his first 70.3 triathlon well within his target of 6 hours in 5:56:03.
Neil picked it back up and finished the run in 2hr 13min and the race in a great time of 6:13:46, again his first 70.3 distance race.
Grant and Neil were enjoying their post race meal while Mary and I were starting our 6 laps of the run course. I knew Mary was behind me having passed her on the bike but I had no idea how close she was. Towards the end of my second lap I saw her behind me and waited a few seconds for her to catch up. I was relieved (sounds bad I know) to find out she was still on her first lap and that she wasn’t just about to overtake me on the run of our second Ironman just as she did last year in Vichy on our first. We were able to run together for a couple of miles until I had a few cramps and wanted to slow down.
By our 4th lap, Neil and Grant had changed and made it back to the course to support us which always helps as there are some dark periods in the run.
I managed to keep things pretty steady through the last few laps and finish the marathon in 4hr16min and the whole race in 11:55:26 for a massive pb and in my sub 12 hour target.
Mary less than a lap behind came though the finish arch in 12:29:04 and it lit up as 3rd place in Age Group. Also a big pb and her marathon time of 4:09:15 was also the fastest and won her some race shoes too.
Had Mary of pre-registered for Team GB she would have pick up the European Championship bronze medal too (so that went to the 4th placed woman) – so no medal but still 3rd and a nice glass trophy and bouquet.
It was a great weekend, despite the weather, and a great event with all of us either completing new distances for the first time or getting pb’s.
Next big one – The Alpes 2018