Originally, I was supposed to be racing Ironman South Africa on my birthday, however my husband and I made the decision, I wasn’t ready yet to race an Ironman, so we decided to go to Challenge Roma instead. It was still a race on my birthday and we thought it would be pretty cool to go to Rome for a race.

Also perfect season opener for me to see what condition I was in after a consistent winter block of base training.

We left London on Friday. Flights were with easyJet, all very easy. London to Fiumicino. The race hotel was approximately 8kms away. Once arriving in Fiumicino, we got scammed. We got offered a taxi for €15.00 and was told by the guy to tip say €5.00 to round out to €20.00. We were like cool, that’s reasonable.

All was going well until we got out to pay and the guy said to us €50.00. Happy and I both said no way. Cracked it with the driver and said to him no way we’re paying €50.00 for an 8km cab. Anyway, the driver got €35.00 and an earful.

We stayed at the race hotel, Occidental Arun Blu. Location to the race, was good. All walkable. Our room was fine, the shower was shit. The showerhead did not work, so we used the hand contraption, unfortunately that too was shit. Normally I’m not too precious about this stuff, but when you’re a hotel claiming 4 stars, then you are setting an expectation.

The hotel was only open for breakfast. I guess as it is still off season here, that is to be expected. There were plenty of places to eat along the marina, so that was okay.

Right, let’s get to the good stuff!!

Registration for me was easy. Head down to the marina, look for registration tent (which wasn’t marked clearly), show licence, pick bags up and boom, I was registered.

Race Briefing – it was informative.

Race day!!

In true Italian style, the race started in the afternoon, 1:15pm.

Transition was set up in a car park which we accessed by stairs.

I set my bags up in the areas advised. We could hang our red bags on these little hooks, and our blue bags for the run was to be placed on the ground in another area. Little did I know they hadn’t finished setting up transition.

My bike was racked and ready to go.

After racking, we headed back to the hotel. I put my legs up the wall and watched my friends racing Ironman South Africa.

With race starting at 1:15pm for the pros, it wasn’t really clear the actual format of the race for the rest of us. ie how the waves would start and what time were the age groupers heading out.

12:45pm we were all allowed to jump in the water and get acclimatised to the water temp. Thank god, cause it was fucking freezing. For a few minutes I couldn’t feel my feet and my face/brain froze. It was cold!!! But like true a triathlete, I pissed in my wetsuit and got some warmth from it, before flushing it out.

Now once the pro male and females were off (separate waves and there were 64 pros in total, so a stacked field) there was some serious confusion as to who were next.

Not understanding Italian, I saw women gathering together and heading to the start line, so I followed them.

All the women were set off in one group. Note to Challenge Roma – In future, just inform us of this at briefing. Although you have know what you’re doing before the briefing, and this was not known at time of briefing.

Swim 40:51

It was choppy, freezing and I swam more than I needed to. I honestly did my best. The white buoys were quite hard to sight. This was due to being bashed by the water constantly once we moved out of the marina. Initially I was stuck behind some girls but managed to claw my way past them. Heading back into the marina and finish, I swear I got caught in the current, as all the people I’d overtaken were swimming past me and I was literally not moving. So much so, I actually stopped to see what might be going on. Law and behold I was stuck in a current. I ended up trying to swim diagonally to get out of it. Then a fast male swimmer went by, so I decided it go for it and hang of his feet.

I managed to swim 2086m in 40:51:30 according to my Garmin. So on point for what I had shared on my Instagram acct.

T1 – 00:03:50

Exiting the water freezing, there was a run up stairs to T1. Hubby had said to me, quick transitions for this race, so I was ready. Got to my bag and the freaking thing has been knotted on the hook by a volunteer. I was fuming.

As soon as I got my bag off the hook, wetsuit off, race belt on, sunglasses, helmet on. The ground was far too wet where I was, so I ran with my socks and shoes.

They were yelling at me in Italian not to run with my shoes. Well sod it, there is no rule that says I can’t run with my shoes to my bike.

At bike, socks on, shoes on and straight to the exit.

Bike 02:35 for 77kms

Exiting T1 down a steep short descent before turning corners and then riding up another small rise before freaking out as there was a gutter we had to come down to get onto the road. No matting, no volunteer to warn us. Shit really.

Then the first 7.5km out of town the roads were speed humps and potted holes. By the second speed up, I lost my speed fill. It had my Precision Hydration in it, so I pulled to the side, laid bike on road and ran back to get it.

Back on the bike riding out of town, you had tape blowing in to our line of sight. I saw many riders get tangled in it. Dangerous.

The road surface was pretty atrocious. Just potholes everywhere. You had keep looking behind you to ensure you could pull out to avoid what was in front of you!

I was hoping that once we got to the loop section the roads it would be smooth but it was pretty much more of the same for the entire race.

If those roads were smooth, man what a bike course it could be.

Anyway, we were to ride out, complete 3 loops and return back. The first time I took the first turn, I was like shit shit shit, I need to unclip. I’m simply not skilled enough to turn that tight and to my left.

Each turn was tight and I unclipped every time.

Drafting was atrocious and I felt the marshalls didn’t really ping anyone.

Right, so I completed my 3 laps and turned to head back towards the finish. I looked down at my watch and I was like shit was I supposed to do another lap?? I kept thinking the entire way back that I had missed a loop as the my watch at this point was only showing 70kms and I was like it’s not 20km back to town.

As riders went by I kept asking them, how many Kms do you have. Each were saying the same as what I had, so I knew that I hadn’t done something wrong.

The course was short by 12/3 Kms!!

I was pissed, because I was using this race to see where I was with my cycling and coming off the bike with only completing 77kms of a supposedly 90km bike course had me shitty.

Returning back into town, you had people crossing the course not giving a damn; at one point I thought a dog was gonna cross the road. The locals couldn’t have given a shit, they just did what they wanted and ignored the police and volunteers.

Final kms were fast and then as I turned to return to transition, stupid idiot me, forgot to get into the lower gear to get up the bloody steep ramp. Managed it but what a silly girl.

Completed the bike 77.7kms in 2:35:06 with an avg pace of 30.1p/h. I’d achieved my goal of holding a 30kmph avg. So I was happy with that part.

(Reason the course was shortened by 3km each way on the loops (we had do 3 times) was due to volunteers not showing up, the police felt for our safety that shortening the course was better for our safety. Problem is, they didn’t tell anyone, so no one until we all started returning and commenting that the course was short.)

T2 – 1:43:50

I managed to get off my bike, run it down, grab bag, ditch everything, runners on, trucker on, and I was off!!

Run 2:17:29 – 20kms

Well the run. I had lots of thoughts going through my head. It took me ages to find my rhythm. I have to admit, there was a little bit of walking but with so many friends on the course racing and encouraging me, there was no where to hide. I had to keep running. I was in pain but everytime I wanted to soft out, I remembered that my husband who loves this sport cannot race, my friends who have stress fractures cannot run, my friend Lauren Parker can never run again, so who the hell was I to be complaining, with these thoughts in my head.

I also kept thinking of what my friend, Helen Smith had said to me earlier in the week, ‘you’re a lot stronger than you think, just remember that’. That I did.

So with all these mantras, I kept going. Walking very little compared to previous half distances I’ve raced.

Now what I wasn’t prepared for during the run leg, was a pretty empty aid station, no gels, no coke, no bananas (during the first 2 laps for me). There was only red bull and water. Another issue was there was only one aid station and they simply couldn’t hand out the water/red bull quick enough.

Along the run course the surface was poor, and at the top end of the run course along promenade we had to run through sand. I’m sure for everyone else this was fine, but for me, it was hard.

3 laps of the run course and yet it still came up short. Now, why it may have come up short could have been due to running under a tunnel 6 times for a couple of hundred metres at a time. We will just never know.

I managed to finish the run in 2:17 and the overall race in 5:39:25.

I finished 7th in my age group, missing out by one spot for the Challenge Championships in Slovakia.

Overall the race got done but I’m sorry I will not be returning. The awards was a shambles, with no one knowing where to go, then they were running late and to top it off many of the awards broke in transit. I think Italy need to go back to the drawing board and learn from its peers in Germany/Austria etc on how to run a smooth race.

I’ve raced many a Challenge Family event and will continue to do so, just not this one. My personal opinion is simply pull this race and find another location in Italy and call it by its true name. We did not race in Rome. We raced in the Port of Rome, Ostia. Approx 30kms away from Rome.

For the brand, Challenge Family, I feel this race may have hurt your brand a little bit. You must understand, that we have come to understand a standard when we race, regardless of location. The experience has to be the same. This was disappointing on many fronts.

I was grateful to catch up with many friends who I have come to know that social media, in person. That was a highlight.

Also to race on my birthday, well that was fun.

Lastly, when Happy and I sat down and went through my data for the race and based on where I’m at fitness wise, I actually did really well. So for that, I’m very happy.

What’s next……. Not sure but I may look to get another 70.3 in before Ironman Kalmar in August.

Thanks for reading guys, this was a bloody long report!