This was a monthly wildcard challenge and a half! Putting my strong cycling and swimming training to good use I entered a middle distance aquabike event called 'Conquer the Chilterns'. This event was certainly to live up to it's hilly name, which is all very fitting given the nature of my virtual challenge this year.
Difficult though the 6am arrival at the start at Henley felt, we were rewarded with some rather lovely, misty landscapes to take my mind off the task ahead. This mist was to prove a bit troublesome for the race organisers though who had to delay the start of the swim as it was making it too difficult to see the turning buoy further up the river Thames. All this hanging about just escalates the anxiety levels so I was glad to get in and get started. This was the first race in 'Covid times' that I have been in where they did a mass swim start and it was as frenetic as I remembered, people clambering over each other for position. Something I didn't do particularly well as I found myself veered off course too far to the right and having to work hard to track back in at the first turn. My watch in fact recorded 2.1km rather than the 1.9km we were supposed to do, so I was pretty happy to get complete it in just under 38mins.
It was a significant run up to the bike transition and then I was out on the road. It took me a while to get into my stride here as I wasn't familiar with the short loop that had been added into the start and was just thinking about the hills ahead that I knew about from my mountain bike outings. Although the first 15 minutes of the hill climb section is quite steady, it actually felt like more of a slog than the final 10 minute steep section that I had been practicing. It felt energy sapping on my thighs on this first lap...and there were two more repeats of this to come! By the top of this first 300m climb though I was happy to see that the downhill wasn't as scary as I had anticipated and in fact was quite short. Pros and cons to that though, it meant that I had to get into 'speed mode' to try and push for the next 30 minutes until the second climb was upon me. By this time the people who were doing the shorter versions of this race (the standard and sprint distances) were starting to join the pack, but I was pleased to see that I was still able to pass people on the final climb, by which point some people were actually even walking! Oh wow though my lower back was screaming as there seemed to be no let up in the effort with such a short downhill respite, and I found myself doing a sort of back stretch with funny hip movement whilst I cycled every now and then to try and ease it.
I had a finish time in mind on the bike of around 3:20 having looked at previous results and the profile of the 78km course and so had been frantically calculating in my head as I completed each lap to see if I was on track for this. As I reached the top of the third climb I felt like I could do a lot better than this and so started to do my usual internal mantra of "15km to go, that's only 3 laps of Regents Park....10km to go, that's only 2 laps..." and so on. By the time I was at 5km to the end I was shouting "push, push" to myself in my head and was averaging about 35-36km per hour on the flat section. I was SO pleased to see Ian waving at me at the end of the bike course and shouting at me which way to go. Yes, you may think this would be obvious, but the thing about Aquabike events is that it never seems to be completely clear where your finish line will be. In fact at the start of the race one of the marshals was trying to do a shout out to tell us that she had changed her mind about where the clock would stop for our race. So as I arrived at the bike finish line bang on 3 hours, it was a bit disheartening to see that I still had to run about 500m with my bike uphill to actually finish. All taken in good spirits though with Ian shouting "keep running, don't you dare start walking" at me. Ah, he is the best support crew, and as we joke 'Officer in Charge of Photography'. He did a great job on both counts.
Having had a total race goal of just over 4 hours in my head I was delighted to complete it in 3:46 and to be first female in my age group.
And of course all of this adds into my overall challenge goal for this year with the distances looking like this for the week (balancing tapering with distance!):
With just over 5,650km completed to date I would now be at the small town of Copiapó in Chile. This is a location that had been on the original route of my actual South American adventure in 2017, but extreme conditions in the Atacama Desert had meant we had to reroute, which is a shame as it was a location that I, like many people had an interest in.
Copiapó lies about 800km north of Santiago by the Copiapó River, in the valley of the same name. In the early 21st century, the river has dried up in response to climate change and more severe droughts. The town is surrounded by the Atacama Desert and receives just 12 mm of rain per year.
What most of us remember this location for though is that on 5 August 2010, the San José Copper Mine collapsed, trapping 33 miners underground. The mine was about 45km north of the city. The miners were 700 meters deep and 5km from the mine's entrance via spiralling underground ramps. Private, local, national and international resources cooperated in their rescue. The miners survived underground for 69 days until all were brought to the surface on 13 October 2010, a record period of time. I still vividly remember this news story as it captured the hearts of nations across the world who collectively held their breath hoping for a successful outcome.
And so here is to a celebratory week personally, and remembering successes from the past.
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.