48 seconds too late – race report from Katie Cooke – Challenge Barcelona

The difference between Challenge Barcelona and all the other Ironman races and Iron distance races that I have done (5 in total now) is that the decision to race Barcelona was made just 4 weeks ago. I didn’t spend 6 months training for this race. I didn’t focus on this one event all season. My ‘A’ race had been the World Long Distance Championships in Belfort France and when that turned out to be a washout (literally) and became a duathlon I felt hard done by. I got to September and was not yet sick of training so I put three big weeks in and lined up in Calella on Sunday morning. This in theory should have lead to less pressure and the result being what it was but I sometimes think that missing your target by a long time is easier than mere minutes or seconds. Now I am plagued by what-ifs….

What if I hadn’t followed the kayak and been taken off course? I led the female age group wave and ended up having swimming an extra 200m at the very least. This was largely a course design error. The swim is one big 3.8k loop. It was near impossible to sight because of the distance between marks, the similarity of some of the marks (yellow cans) with the resident yellow cans marking the safe swimming area along the beach, the sea swell, and the longest leg (2+Km) was into the rising sun. This could be easily fixed – a designated kayaker for each swim wave to lead the way and larger red markers! So even though I was first female age grouper out of the water, my swim time was rubbish…1h05. Not a good start to the day!


What if I hadn’t crashed off the bike at 36k? This was just unfortunate. As I cycled into the town where the turnaround for the first lap was, I noticed the roads had been freshly doused with rain. This led to the surfaces being greasier than normal and although I entered the roundabout at a conservative (for me) speed, my back wheel slide out from under me and down I went. My first thought as my head hit the road was why would anyone risk not wearing a helmet on their bike! My second thought was that I had borrowed Trevor’s helmet and that he might not be impressed with me scratching it! My third thought, which should have really been my first, was how much damage I had done to the Cervelo. I unclipped myself, picked myself up, checked out the Cervelo, put on my chain, told the police man I was fine and got back on the horse. I had to give myself a good talking to on the second half of the first lap to just get on with it. Other than grazes on my elbow (an unfortunate position when using timetrial pads for another 4hrs), knee, hip and shoulder, I was fine. I did feel a bit sorry for myself though.


What if it hadn’t poured at the end of the bike? The bike course in challenge Barcelona is two longer laps and one shorter lap. At the end of the third lap the heavens opened and the return to transition was a twisty convoluted path through town, dotted with speed bumps, 90 degree turns and littered with more white lines than the city of Cork has in total. There were plenty of opportunities to slide and with my roundabout issue fresh in my mind I wasn’t taking any chances. I definitely lost some time on this section of the bike. Bike split…5h16. If this were a report card it would definitely say ‘Could do better’.


What if hadn’t dropped my Chocolate Gu gel into the porta-loo? The porta-loo stop was definitely necessary, but the time 1) spent flushing the toilet after the previous occupant and 2) pondering the pros and cons of fishing my gel out after it plunged to it’s untimely death was time I could have made up. Lesson to be learned here- if you are going to use a porta-loo in an ironman, you had better not be fussy and gels are not worth worrying over. There are plenty more gels in the sea as it were.


What if I had been able to run the entire marathon? Now here I must say that I amazed myself in this regard. The first 5k was good, the only negative being the thought that there was still another 37k to go and envy at the fast people flying past me. I would give anything to be a ‘natural’ runner! It then went progressively downhill. The marathon in an ironman is pretty much hell. You can try to break it up into manageable pieces, 4x10k, 3k between aid stations etc., but that doesn’t stop the pain. The first half is mainly mental but in the second half mental pain is joined by physical pain as you’re legs start to hurt and the previous 180k bike start to impact on your ability to run full stop. I wanted to walk at every stage of the marathon after 5k but I kept putting it off for another 5k. I walked quickly through aid stations as a compromise with the aim of getting hydration and nutrition into me. This was a definite improvement on my previous marathons. 4 gels and half a packet of honey stinger jellies was a record amount consumed throughout the 42.2k. I kept running, slowly, until the final lap and then walked a little more. I only walked for 20sec at a time and somehow managed to keep going. I met Trevor with a mile to go and he told me I had 8minutes to get to the finish line to go sub-10. I did my best, I ran through the last aid station and put all that I had left into that last mile but alas it was not meant to be. Run split 3h34. I crossed the line in 10.00.47. It was a 7-minute PB, but 48seconds short of my goal to go sub-10.


Barcelona is a great race, plenty of pros: easy to get to, plenty of accommodation, flat bike and flat run even if the new run course was a little complicated (under passing the railway line twice), great support on the run (I was particularly lucky to have Trevor and Joyce encouraging me all the way- next time I’ll try and smile, I promise), very friendly and enthusiastic people, normally great weather. The only cons I can think of is that the swim course is badly designed and marked and this year, the weather was changeable to say the least. So here I am. Happy with being 13th overall female, 2nd non-pro and 1st in my age group but also slightly disappointed. I will firstly, look forward to a break from training, and then I am going to turn those what-if’s into motivation to get stronger and if at all possible, faster and go for a sub-10 at Challenge Roth next summer. This is my second time failing to achieve my target time, fingers crossed it’ll be third time lucky next July. Then I can retire 😉