Challenge Samorin – Jo Lynch
Challenge Samorin – The Championship
Challenge Samorin is the middle-distance Championship race for the Challenge race brand. It takes place in Slovakia every year and attracts a very strong field of both pro’s and age groupers from around the world. Age groupers must qualify for this race from another Challenge race in the previous 12 months.
I qualified for this race at Challenge Lisbon in 2018 by coming 4th in my AG. (Top 6 qualify and some races have roll downs to Top 12).
Alongside my fellow Pulsers, Aine Kelly and Christine Foster, we arrived into Bratislava on a cold rainy Thursday and I was already questioning my lack of packing warm clothes. We were staying at the race hotel at the race venue itself, the X-Bionic Sphere. I’m so glad we forked out for this (it wasn’t cheap) as the town of Samorin itself is pretty desolate and your typical eastern bloc town with nothing to look at or entertain you. The X-bionic venue has everything you need from a 50m outdoor pool, indoor pools, athletic track, spa, restaurants and lots of pro triathletes wandering around.
We arrived also to the news that there were problems with the swim venue, the Danube river. There had been heavy rainfall over the previous few days meaning the river was cold (by European standards I have to say!) and the current was deemed too strong to be safe. Debris had also been washed downstream. All practice sessions were cancelled, and the side races on the Saturday were moved to the 50m outdoor pool. It was announced that the swim would very probably be shortened but a final decision would not be made until race morning.
As we approached race day, the sun came out and gave us a glimpse of the temperatures we would be racing in. It was going to be hot, hot, hot!
Race morning arrived with the announcement that the full swim would go ahead but would be wetsuit mandatory. Final preparations done and we made our way to the swim start and watched the pros start. We noticed some male pros were hugging the riverbank and assumed this was due to the current and so we would also try and take this line. As we gathered in the coral, there was much chat amongst other females about their nervousness of how cold the water would be. Not a problem to us Irish tho! As soon as my feet hit the water, t’was like a summer swim in Ireland, practically tropical (it was approx. 14 degrees). As soon as I was in tho I was immediately pulled back 10m by the current. Before even getting a chance to work my way to the riverbank side, the hooter was blown, and we were away. I got stuck on the side nearer the buoys and just had to go with it. After a few minutes of the usual fisticuffs, I found some feet to sit on. Not the best feet as they weren’t going particularly fast but I was going to expend too much energy to try and swim around them to find faster feet given the strength of the current so decided to sit where I was and take the lift to the turn around. It later transpired that it took me 19mins to swim the first 500m, that’s how strong it was. By the time we hit the turnaround, the first AG men were already on us, despite them starting 10mins behind us. These lads were not hanging around. Round the final turn to the exit and everyone was immediately pulled to the right of the stairs, again because of the current. Despite my efforts to swim to the left of the exit, I was still pulled away from the steps and had to swim at max effort just to make it out. Swim time: 46mins (it felt like a lifetime!)
A long run into transition followed and out onto the bike course. The bike course is as flat as you will ever get. However, flat doesn’t mean easy. Constant pedalling is needed with no respite. There is a 20m draft rule at Challenge races and lots of officials on course to make sure it is adhered to. It was already hot at this stage and was like cycling into a hairdryer. I picked off some women and tried to settle into the race plan. For the most part I didn’t see any drafting. Unlike Ironman, Challenge don’t have 3000 people out on the road and so there is space for a 20m rule. There’s not much to see on the bike course. It hugs the Danube river and is a simple out and back course. The surface for the most part is pretty good, some dodgy bits but these are well flagged, both at the briefing and marked on the road itself. I was regretting my two bottle plan when I had both of them polished off before 2 hours on the bike. I managed to grab a third at an aid station but that got gulped too. I picked off a few more women on the bike, and at the time was confident I put enough of a gap between me and them that they wouldn’t catch me on the run. The last 15km was tough as I was desperate for a drink but there were no more stations until T2 so I powered on as best I could, driven by the need to get to T2 as quickly as I could. Bike time: 2:49
I entered T2 alongside Aine Kelly and we quickly swapped war stories in the change tent before heading out onto the run. As much as I would have loved to run with Aine, I ain’t no runner and so she powered on and I decided to stick with the plan. Go easy for the first 5km and pick it up after that. By now, it was 28 degrees and after 2km I was already feeling it as the pace fell drastically. The run course is also flat but takes in three different terrains, hard sand, grass and tarmac. There is a small hill, about 50m long on each loop. There is also no shade on the run. Aid stations were positioned every 2.5km on the run with the run being 3 laps. By the first aid station I knew I was in trouble with the heat. Sponges on, water in and keep trotting on but I couldn’t get my pace under 6min/km pace no matter what I tried. The mini hill had to be walked. By 5km it was getting worse. Sparing you readers the details, there was some chucking by the side of the road. No chance of taking a gel as I knew I wouldn’t stomach it, I made sure to keep sipping my salty water and pop some salt tablets. By 10km I was going through phases of shivering which set off some silent alarm bells, but I knew I could battle through 10km no matter what state I was in. By now, all those women I picked off on the bike were happily passing me out, the heat not concerning them one bit……bloody Europeans 😊 Two toilet stops and a sponge and water stop at each aid station meant we were on for a slow run time but the strategy had changed to one of getting to the finish and getting in under 6 hours. Run time: 2.12
Total time: 5.57hrs
AG Position: 28/45
Female Position: 137/205
Despite the tough conditions on the day, the experience of towing the line and mixing it with some of the best age groupers in the world was amazing. If only Ireland had regular temperatures in the high 20’s, sure we’d be flying at these races!! It’s definitely worth giving qualification for this race a lash.
The Challenge races are also lovely events and far more relaxed than IRONMAN. Your support, if needed, is allowed into transition on race morning. They provide a point on the run course where your support can give aid and your support is also allowed run with you down the red carpet and behind the finish line to greet you. They don’t oversubscribe their races meaning less drafting and more honest racing. A very chilled and stress-free environment, I’m sure I’ll be doing more Challenge races in the future.