Portugal Ironman 70.3

Sarah Jepson

Early into planning my 2018 race season I decided to fit an end of season event in abroad. A couple of other Racepace athletes were also planning this so we decided to enter the Ironman 70.3 event in Cascais, Portugal.

Having looked at the event details it appeared to be a great course in a fantastic location and luckily it didn’t disappoint on many fronts.

Unfortunately due to personal circumstances the other Racepace athletes couldn’t attend so a week before myself and my husband Pete arrived in Cascais to what the locals said was unusually hot weather for this time of year. The first day was spent casing out the town, looking at where the swim was going to be and also the long run up to where transition was going to be. So far so good.

Day two and I decided to get out onto the bike course. The first 50k is an out and back along the main road to Lisbon so I didn’t bother riding that (although we did drive it later in the day as the run course also used the same route). The last 40k of the bike heads up into the local hills towards Estoril race circuit before returning to Cascais along the coast road. I was lucky enough to catch up to two American guys who were also out reccing the route. One raced here last year and actually lives in Lisbon whilst the other, like me, was his first time to Portugal. Having the knowledge about the course was a big help as was the wheel for the draft back along the coast rode into a headwind. I hoped it wasn’t going to be so bad come race day.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing, registration and getting transition set-up on the Saturday. Race morning came and I felt ready to go, it was quite a sight seeing the sunrise with all 2000 competitors getting ready.

We had been told prior to the event that the swim would be a rolling start into the sea with 6 competitors being released every 6 seconds. In reality it just felt like a mass start with all the athletes in the ‘under 25min’ holding pen running down to the water in one go. I had positioned myself well so got a good start into the water and with plenty of good sized buoys to sight off got into my swimming quickly. I was also able to find plenty of feet to swim on so even when the water became quite choppy I still felt in control and I was soon out of the water heading out onto the 600m run UP to transition. The first 250-300m out of the water was up hill. A small transition zone had been set up near the bottom for those wanting to put trainers on for the run to the main transition but as the whole route was carpeted I decided against this. After a quick change I soon headed out on the bike.

I’ll start by saying this has to be one of my favourite bike courses for this year but unfortunately it was let down by the amount of drafting that was happening in the first 50k. There were race officials out on motorbikes giving warnings but when the groups are so large it’s hard for them to give penalties as everyone would be then in the penalty tents causing chaos. The best part of the route came in the last 40k, we were allowed entry onto the Estoril motor-racing circuit. With super smooth tarmac and big swooping bends it was hard to not make car noises out-loud whilst going round the corners. I came off the circuit with a big smile on my face but knew the climbs were still to come. At this point I didn’t know where I was position wise but knew being a strong climber and descender I couldn’t sit up and let off the gas. So a little caution was thrown to the wind on the descent and I was passing some men, now all I needed was a bit of luck and a tailwind back along the coast, and today I was in luck. Within no time I was back in Cascais and getting my feet out of shoes heading into transition for the second and last time. 

Before arriving in Portugal I had assumed as the run was along the coast it would be reasonable flat but having driven it once we arrived and ridden it earlier on race day I can only say it’s ‘mildly undulating’ with several small inclines along the way. The route is 2 laps, heading out along the coast before returning to the crowds in Cascais. With several aid stations my intentions were always to keep moving and grab a bottle of water at every station, tip most over my head and a couple of mouthfuls, couple this with 3 of my own gels and I knew I would have enough to get me to the end. Starting the first lap Pete called out I had 8 min lead over 2nd place. To start I was amazed I had such a lead but didn’t want to rest on my laurels not knowing the other women or how good they were at running. So I set myself a pace and stuck with it, my fuelling strategy and plan for the feed stations worked a treat and was able to keep moving whilst those around me seemed to be stop/starting the whole way. Coming back into Cascais to finish my first lap, Pete called out I had increased my lead to 12mins. I could have quite easily eased up a bit but that’s not me and I wanted to see what I could do. I like to race and push myself so that’s what I did. I committed to not letting myself back off, using the last 7 years of race experience to get the absolute most out. 

I crossed the finish line exhausted, found Pete and celebrated. I came to Cascais wanting an Age Group podium finish but to come away with first place just tops off what has been a pretty special year of racing. I have definitely enjoyed the long course racing and at times it has tested me and helped me improve as an athlete but in my opinion the short course style of racing is more exciting to be a part of. Time now for a bit of R & R and to assess where and what I want out of next year.