Training with Embark leading up to Challenge Almere was so much fun training with awesome people. Having a program to follow was really useful and simplified training. Being on a scheduled training program also helps to remain injury-free.
The swim was a bit of a nightmare from start to finish. We had to swim two laps of 1.9km in lake Weerwater in Almere Stad. The sky was grey, it was drizzling, the turn buoys were pretty much invisible, and unlike Ironman, Challenge still believes in mass swim starts. When the start gun went off, there was pure mayhem with people swimming right over one another. Having survived lap 1, finally calming down and actually starting to enjoy the swim, the start of lap 2 coincided with another mass start, this time for the 70.3 athletes. Mayhem once again! The chaos finally ended after a slower than I hoped for 1h14m 3.8km swim.
After the madness in the lake, I was very happy to be on the bike. The course consisted of 2 loops of 90km, with some of the smoothest, flattest roads I've ever cycled on. The scenery was quite special, with a significant part of the route on the Oostvaardersdijk, which separates the below-sea-level land from the Markermeer.
This was my first triathlon on a TT bike, and it was the fastest, most comfortable bike split I've ever done, with a moving average of ~35kmph over the flat & fast 180km route. While the wind picked up quite a bit during lap 2, I was happy to get to T2 with a 05h14m bike split.
Once off the bike, the wind & rain seemed to disappear. We had to run 6 flat laps of 7km all around lake Weerwater. The aid stations and volunteers were simply phenomenal, with everything from Red Bull, Coke, gels and energy drinks to oranges, potatoes and sandwiches every 2-3 km. While the crowd support was also special, it didn't come close to the support I've experienced in Port Elizabeth or more recently in Mossel Bay. Lap 6 was quite hard, and I was very happy when I finished a slow but steady 04h09m marathon for a full distance PB of 10h51m.
The finish line was out of this world, with music and cheerleaders, unlike anything I've experienced at other triathlons before. We also had access to excellent post-race food & drinks.