Challenge Venice on 5 June was my second full distance race so I had some idea of what to expect – mainly the grueling training regime which had been going really well. I’d been on the F4L training camp in Mallorca in March (fantastic by the way) and was feeling the benefits of that and I was in fine fettle for a 70.3 build-up race in Vietnam on 8 May. But, as one saying goes “always expect the unexpected”. Well – my unexpected that day in Vietnam was a very unlucky crash. But luckily enough I was able to finish, for 2 reasons really....my helmet saved me from a bash on the head and my lovely husband Stef Economides took time out of his run to fix my bike so that I could get to T2. At about 78km - a car hit one of the temporary metal barriers that was separating the cars from the cyclists, said metal barrier then spun round at speed and hit me head on sending both me and bike flying. Thankfully no one else was involved and my injuries albeit very sore, were soft tissue and muscular (my legs and back took a big thump). I picked myself up, sobbed a bit, dusted of, picked up my bike and limped in the direction of transition. Bits of the bike had been knocked out of alignment, tri bars fully snapped off with the impact from the barrier. Not having the strength to force it back into alignment and with my legs and back rapidly swelling I thought my race was over. But it wasn't - Stef saw me and fixed the bike into a rideable state; no gears and dodgy brakes but it worked. Creaked my way through the last 12km into T2 and limped round the run. Battered, bruised and broken. Four weeks left to Venice race day, unable to train for over two of those due to crash injury and feeling sore and sorry for myself. So, I revised my race goal from “should be able to do really well” to “get round in one piece and in good order”. As it turned out, I think that goal revision removed the usual self-imposed pressure and tension that normally shrouds me in the run up to a big race. This was the first Challenge event in Venice and was nicely low key compared to some other big events I had been too. It was actually based in a municipal park Mestre – which is the ‘real life’ residential area on the mainland just across the water from Venice itself. We had found a conveniently located self-catering apartment to stay in which was well serviced by public transport and essential amenities. The airport was only 20 minutes away by bus. Race day morning was fairly full on. Primarily because the swim start was 3.8km away from transition, in Venice itself. So after the usual faffing around in transition we had to jump on a bus which took us across the causeway to Venice, jump off the bus, then a 15 minute walk. It was pleasant enough though, walking through part of the old town to what I thought was a very civilised swim start. There was a holding area and we were called forward by age groups and then 3 at a time, assisted down some steps and of we went. I think this would be a good swim for those who are wary of this discipline, despite there being no swim practice prior to the start. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be calm water as it’s in a sheltered lagoon, the sun is behind you and it’s a straight 3.8km channelled swim between the causeway and some wooden posts – you can’t possibly go “off piste”! A couple of downsides to the swim is that the last 200m is yukky yukky yukky – shallow waters (not helped by a low tide) to the point that arms got stuck in the mud and if you tried to stand up you sank up to your knees and if you were really lucky, got cut to pieces by sharp rocks. Vision in this last bit of water is non-existent as you really are swimming through a sea of mud. Another downside is that there is no official swim practice in the days preceding the race. Possibly because it’s quite busy with everyday boat traffic and you really wouldn’t find any locals swimming there! There are however, a couple of public pools that do the job for practice. Anyway, out the water and a long jog to T1 and onto the bike. Essentially, a 30km ride out into the country, 3 loops and 20km back into T2. Lovely countryside and flat, but a bit more technical than I expected. The first and last 5km was a narrow twisty turney route in Mestre town on cycle paths, foot bridges and the like. There were quite a few U turns and plenty of sharp corners out in the country side. But all in all, pleasant enough. Through T2 and out onto the run. OMG. 5, that’s FIVE, loops in a municipal park. Lots more twisting and turning to make up each 8km. And I have to say, I was a bit fed up by the time I started the 4th loop. Great for spectators though. And it did get a tad warm mid-afternoon, and that’s from someone who lives in Dubai! One aspect I thought was particularly good at this event was the volunteers – they were excellent. The best I have come across. They were well organised, attentive, happy and supportive. There were plenty of aid stations, well positioned and on the whole well stocked – though I did hear that a brand of gel that had been advertised in the race bumph wasn’t available. Overall, a good race in a good location. From a personal perspective, I felt I had a steady race the whole way through. My run was probably a bit slower than it should have been but under the circumstances of crash recovery, I can live with that! I managed to get a PB by over 30 minutes and just snuck in under 12 hours – very happy with that too. Finishing this event in good order also bought home to me just how battered I was after the Vietnam race. And the best bit? Well, a week later I got an email from Challenge saying that I had qualified for the Challenge Championship in Samorin, Slovakia next year. Completely unexpected – but as the saying goes…..!