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Challenge Prague Half Ironman - Race Report

It was the strangest feeling to not be rushed on race day morning. We set the alarm for 7:30am, even though we knew we would be up well before the alarm went off. After an ok night of sleep (we are really missing the AC!), we took our time getting out of bed as we had several hours until the race start. Around 8am we made our way downstairs to the hotel breakfast (Hotel Merlin) and enjoyed eating as much as we wanted without worrying about an upset tummy as we had plenty of time to digest our pre-race meal. I found myself eating much more than I would compared to a 7am race start which actually was a great thing as I knew that every extra bite of food was more energy for race day. I had a pastry, granola with milk, 2 hardboiled eggs with salt and a banana with peanut butter (I brought the PB which I purchased at the grocery store in Znojmo). Karel had a similar meal minus the banana w/ PB.

We went back to our room and finished getting ready for the race - filling our bottles with sport drinks, preparing our hydration flasks for the run and double-checking to make sure we had everything. We were both excited to race and felt not even an ounce of nerves. I am not sure if it was the later start time or the last race of our race-cation before returning home to our normal routine but we both felt like this was a race with no pressure/expectations and despite the unknown of how our bodies would perform just 27 days after Ironman Austria, we didn't focus on the outcome but just looked forward to the opportunity to race in an incredible race venue.

At 9:40am, we left the hotel and rode our bikes to the bike check-in (the bridge next to the Charles Bridge). It was pretty cool to be riding our bikes in Prague and this just got me even more excited to race. The weather was already really warm (nearing mid 80's before noon) so we tried to stay cool by standing in the shade whenever possible. With our helmet and bib numbers on, we walked our bikes to our position on the rack and then went to the bike and run gear bags to hang them up. There were two transitions (swim to bike was under the bridge on the island and bike to run was on the bridge - so essentially right on top of one another) with two flights of stairs to take us from the swim to the bike.

After dropping off our stuff, we made our way to the athlete area to do a short jog warm-up and then we dropped off our morning clothes bag and made our way to the swim area around 11am. It was neat to see the shorter distance athletes finishing up their race while the middle distance athletes (that's us) were getting ready for our race.

Although the weather was extremely warm on race day, the water was extremely cold. While they said the water was 17 degrees Celsius (~62 degrees) if felt much colder. We were told that we were not allowed to wear booties (even though at an Ironman branded event you are allowed when water temps are less than 65 degrees) so that made for cold hands and feet for our practice swims. Karel and I took our time getting in the water for our pre-race swim and we were grateful that the race organizer gave athletes 45 minutes for a practice swim (11-11:45am). We first sat in the water for a good 5 minutes just letting our body temp cool down. Then we spent another 5 minutes blowing bubbles with our face in the water to get even more comfortable with the cold water. Because Karel still gets a bit of a tight chest when he doesn't do a swim warm-up (and especially when the water is cold), it was really important for him to take this time to get his body acclimated to the cold water. I did the same just to prevent my body from getting so tight before my wave start. After we finally got use to the water, we did our normal swim warm-up. Our hands and feet finally warmed up (or felt less painful in the cold water) so that was reassuring.

After our warm-up we got out of the water, wished each other good luck and then I made my way back to beach to wait for my wave start at 12:05pm.


1.2 Mile Swim: 
Marni - 27:42
Karel: 28:14

What an incredible experience to swim in the Vltava river! With so much history all around us, this was a swim to remember.
I lined myself up on the far right, so that the buoy was to my left. I kept my focus on the turn buoy straight ahead of us, just past the bridge. I really liked this swim course as the sections between turn buoys were long enough to get a rhythm but there was also enough to break up the course so we didn't get bored (we did an out and back under the bridge and then swam around the island). While there was a little bit of a current, I couldn't really tell which direction it was flowing as we swam all different directions throughout this swim course. When the gun went off, I found myself nearing the front of the all-female wave pretty quickly but there were a few fast girls next to me. Nearing the first sighting buoy, it was just me and another girl slightly ahead of me. The girl was sighting off the kayaker ahead of us which helped to keep us/me on course. I felt good in the water right from the start, which made me happy as I've felt good in the pool since Ironman Austria. I kept the girl in my sights for most of the swim. A few times I was next to her or right behind her but she was keeping a strong pace. We passed a few female pros who started 2 minutes ahead of us. It was really neat to swim under the bridge (our transition area) and see spectators looking down on us. I found it easy to stay on course as there were a lot of buoys out to sight off of and the sun was not in our eyes thanks to a mid day start. There were a few patches of warm water which was nice and then a few patches of freezing water. I never felt too cold and actually felt really comfortable in the water as the swim went on.
Nearing the last section as we made our way to the finish, I made my move and passed the girl who had been leading the female wave in the water. Although I had no expectations for this race, I decided that at this point, I wanted to be the first female amateur out of the water so I picked up the pace. Nearing the finish, I heard the cheers from the spectators and the announcer told the crowd that I was the first female amateur out of the water which made me happy.

Karel's wave started 20 minutes after me. He said it was really chaotic right from the gun as it was an in-the-water mass start. Compared to my all-female wave (there was less than 200 females in the race compared to over 800 males), he said it was quite brutal. Karel stayed calm and used this as good Kona practice (well - perhaps a more calm-downed version). Karel also felt good right from the first stroke and any time he found himself uncomfortable in the water, he just took a second to remind himself of this epic experience, swimming in historic Prague - in his home country. Karel had a great swim and although neither of us knew our times when we exited the water (Karel's Garmin watch is malfunctioning so it only works on the run), we were both happy with how we executed.

T2 (Swim to Bike)
Marni: 6:00
Karel: 4:24

This was the longest transition ever! First we had to run on the red carpet (on top of packed sand) all the way to under the bridge where we grabbed our red swim to bike bag. I entered the women's tent and sat down with the girl who I passed in the swim, as well as a few other girls just behind me. My transition was super slow as I took time to put on my light-weight CEP socks as I didn't want to get blisters from calf sleeves + socks on the run as I knew I'd be pouring lots of water on me to keep cool. I probably could have transitioned quicker so this is an area that I will focus on for Ironman Wisconsin. After putting on my helmet and race belt with bib number, I grabbed my cycling shoes and made my way up the two flights of stairs and then all the way to one side of the bridge to enter the transition area (how cool - our transition area was on a bridge in Prague!) and then to the other side. The bridge was 300 meters long so we did a lot of running in our barefeet just to get from swim to bike! I quickly put my shoes on in front of my bike, grabbed my bike and then ran to the mount line. I saw a few girls in front of me so I was looking forward to hopefully catching back up on the bike.

Karel had a super fast transition as he wastes no time in there (he says nothing good ever happens in transition so get in and out). Karel had his cycling shoes on his bike so that he could quickly do a flying mount.

56 mile Bike
Marni: 2:31.03
Karel: 2:18.38

Over the past ten days or so, my legs finally started to come around on the bike after recovering from Ironman Austria. I had been feeling good in my last few rides in Znojmo so I was excited to see what my body could do on this mostly flat course. While a flatter course for us, there was also one section of climbing to give us about 1500 feet of elevation on the bike. I had never done a two-loop half IM course before so I was looking forward to checking out the course for the first loop and then trying to ride it a bit better on the 2nd loop.

After passing a few girls who passed me in transition, I noticed that there was still one girl ahead of me (female amateur) but I didn't let that get to me. I found myself with a professional (number 51) and I really liked her riding style. We ended up riding the entire bike together, taking turns pulling for long segments at a time. Because of the two loop course, there were lots of officials on the course. I felt I did a good job drafting legally and so did the other girl. It was a neat experience for me to be mostly alone on the course for the first loop and to work with the other professional female. We never talked to each other but it was unspoken that we were working together. As the age group males started to catch up to us, they quickly passed us. This was kinda nice to be in the front as it really eliminated clutter on the course with female and male athletes getting mixed up together. Also with a smaller race (1000 athletes) the course only got a little busy near the end of the last loop.

The course was completely closed to traffic and we rode out and back on a highway-type road before making our way to more of a nature-filled road that was rather small. There were a few out and back sections on the course to change up the direction, which was nice since the wind was picking up. It started to get a little cloudy near the end of the bike which was heavily enjoyed as it was hot out there. I loved the climbing section of the course as it was a very steady climb and nothing steep. I did switch into my small chainring for the climb to keep a steady cadence but I didn't have to get out of the saddle for the climb as the pitch of the road wasn't too steep. The descend was fun and a nice break from pushing on the pedals. There were a few sections on the course that I needed to get out of the saddle for as I wanted to stretch my legs - I'm not use to being in the aerobars for so long!

I went through all three bottles of INFINIT on my bike and used water at every aid station (two each lap) to cool myself.

Karel also enjoyed the bike. As a stronger swimmer, it puts him in a better position on the bike. He found himself in a good group of guys but they were getting a bit too close together and Karel wasn't comfortable with that situation as he wants a fair race without drafting. So he held back a bit as they were obviously riding much stronger working together. Karel said his legs didn't feel too good on the bike which didn't surprise him too much as his cycling legs didn't recover as quickly as his running legs after Ironman Austria - strange! But some of this could be from his back/hips that have been getting really tight from all our driving and walking around. Karel managed to put together a good bike so he was happy about it but his legs just didn't feel good. He didn't let it get to him as he had no expectations or goals for this race but instead, just use it as a way to wake-up the body before we get back to our Ironman training for the rest of the season.

The bike went by super fast and I felt strong. I was really happy with how much energy I felt which was a huge difference from Ironman Austria - where I had no energy and didn't want to be racing. For this race, I wanted to be out there and I was having a lot of fun!

Nearing the last few miles of the bike, I could see the professional athletes start to run. I did see Karel on each loop of the bike and I knew he was getting closer to me. The last few miles were in the town so I was having to navigate a lot of obstacles on the road (riding through a big city isn't easy when you are racing!) which cost me a little time but also helped to loosen out my legs. I removed my feet from my cycling shoes and then dismounted my bike.

T2 (Bike to run)
Marni - 3:07
Karel: 2:50

Another long transition as we mad our way across the bridge once more. After racking my bike and seeing one female amateur bike already on the rack (all female athletes had our own side of the bridge for our bikes - nice!) I knew the girl who was biking super strong ahead of me was a ways ahead of me. So my focus now was just executed a good run on this 4- loop course. I quickly transitioned from my bike to run gear, putting on my hydration belt, visor and sunglasses and then my running shoes. I grabbed my watch and after putting my helmet back into my gear bag, I ran out of transition while fumbling to try to put on my watch. It took me several steps to get my watch on and finally I was able to settle into a rhythm. I also grabbed a small flask from my hydration belt (I had a Enervitine gel diluted with water in it) as I like to hold things when I run (it helps my form) and I knew I'd also be holding a sponge so that I could have something in both hands. I didn't plan on using the flask (as I had my calories in my two flasks on my hydration belt) but it was there if I needed it.

13.1 mile Run
Marni: 1:40.27
Karel: 1:23.33

I was really looking forward to this run course as I love loops! I also new that the terrain would be changing a lot from the sidewalk to cobblestones to the street. There was a lot to focus on with this run. I used the first loop to not only find my stride and get a good running rhythm but to also learn the course. There were some parts that were faster/slower than others which helped with my execution for the next 3 loops. I never focused on the kilometer signs as my mind/brain loves loops as I can focus on where I am in the loop instead of thinking about how far in distance I still have to run.
The first loop was super hot but I felt ok. I wasn't too hot but I made sure to take advantage of the 3 aid stations on each loop of the run (each loop was about 5K). I used water for cooling and then a sponge to keep myself cool from each aid station to aid station. After the first loop, the clouds started to thicken and there were some drops of rain. YES! What a treat! Although the overcast sky and drizzle only lasted about 1.5 loops, it was such a gift to have a change in weather - even if it was brief. Karel ended up passing me on the second loop, around mile 5, and he was flying. He looked so good running and he said he felt really good from the first step (he told me this after the race). Karel is able to run in any condition and he was really happy with how he felt on the run. It was one of his best runs off the bike in a half Ironman, which was a nice surprise just 4 weeks after Ironman Austria.

I never had any low moments on the run in terms of wanting it to be overwith as I felt that way for all 26.2 miles of Ironman Austria and I hated that feeling. I love racing and for this race, I wanted to be there racing and suffering. I wasn't able to dig deep (I blame my high hormones once again - I got my menstrual cycle that evening, just a few hours after the race) but I felt strong and in control. Certainly, I went through bad patches where it felt hard but I reminded myself that that's racing.

After finishing two loops, I told myself just one more loop and then you are on the last loop! I actually enjoyed the cobblestone section of the course more than the other part of the course that was more flat and stretched out, but the cobblestone section was incredibly hard to run on - my feet were sliding around and going all over the place! And as the course got more wet, it was harder to run on the cobblestones - especially downhill! The aid stations were also getting more packed which made it really hard to keep moving quickly through the aid stations. I grabbed coke on the last two laps which was refreshing and also finished my two flasks (one flask with 100 calories Carborocket hydration and another flask with 120 calories Osmo mango).

Nearing the last loop, I was super happy about my race. Even though I was passed by 2 girls in the last loop, I felt like I was putting together a race where I was in control the entire time and I could work my mind with my body.  Although I had no expectations for this race, I love to compete and I felt like I gave it my best - making good decisions, staying in the moment, having fun and not leaving everything out on the course. Karel reminded me that neither of us should dig too deep in this race as we need to get back into our Ironman training later this week when we return home from the states.

Because every finish line feels amazing, I really enjoyed this one. Coming from a horrible-feeling with no energy at Ironman Austria to feeling energized for most of the race (of course, the last few miles were tough as in any long distance race) at Challenge Prague, I couldn't wait to see Karel at the finish line and hear about his race and share stories about our experience. Karel was super pumped about his race. There was a mistake in the results and I was listed in the 40-44 age group and Karel was in 35-39 (they switched us) so there was a moment when Karel was first AG and then 2nd AG but then 1st again. He was shocked as he never thought he would get on the podium here so he was really happy about his day. I was also happy to be on the podium, especially for a no-pressure, just-have-fun type of race. Funny enough, it seems like these are the races where the body performs the best. Maybe there's something to say about putting too much pressure on a race performance/outcome and not being able to perform to your full abilities.

After taking a cold shower after the race (love it when races have shower trucks!) and cleaning up, we reunited with Karel's brother who took a train in to see us race and spend the next 1/2 day with us. It was great for Karel to see his older brother, who just got back from a one-month-long bike-riding trip over parts of Europe (with his wife).

It was nearing 6pm when we went back to our hotel to drop off our bikes and gear bags before heading back to the race venue for the awards. The award ceremony started at 7:30pm and was top-notch! It was an added bonus for us to each win our age-groups as we were both just so happy with this awesome race experience in Prague.

After the awards, we were ready to eat a real meal. We went to Cafe Louve for a delicious (late) dinner before a night of restless sleeping.

If you are looking for a well-run race in a historic town, as part of a race-cation, we highly recommend Challenge Prague. We would absolutely do this race again!

Karel Sumbal
Swim: 28:14
T1: 4:24
Bike: 2:18.38
T2: 2:50
Run: 1:23.33 (10th fastest run split, including pros)
Total: 4:17.22, 1st AG (40-44), 18th overall, 6th amateur
Swim: 27:42 (1st amateur female out of the water)
T1: 6:00
Bike: 2:31.03
T2: 3:07
Run: 1:40.27
Total: 4:48.21, 1st AG (35-39), 17th overall female, 4th female amateur 

2018 Trimarni Supporters and Affiliates

We would like to send a BIG thank you to our Trimarni sponsors and affiliates for supporting the Trimarni team:
  • Run In - for helping us with our running gear/shoe needs
  • Mg12 - for helping our muscles stay relaxed
  • Clif Bar - for quality, organic ingredients in quality sport nutrition
  • Carborocket - for providing a quality bike and run nutrition in tasty flavors
  • Base nutrition - for making delicious bars and a variety of products to meet the needs of endurance athletes. And for being all around awesome. 
  • Veronica's Health Crunch - for the most delicious hand made crunch - ever!
  • Infinit - for customizable sport nutrition with safe and effective ingredients
  • Levelen - for helping athletes optimize our hydration needs through sweat testing
  • Hot Shot - for boosting neuromuscular performance and preventing muscle cramps
  • Solestar - for maximum stability, better power transmission
  • KLEAN for making quality products, tested to be clean and safe for athlete consumption.
  • Boco Gear - for helping us race in style
  • Canari - for the most comfortable, functional and stylish gear and for helping our athletes race in good-looking kits
  • Amrita bars - for making the most delicious tasting, high-quality plant-based protein and energy bars. 
  • Xterra - for the fastest, most comfortable wetsuit ever.
  • Alto cycling - for engineering the fastest race wheels
  • Swamp Rabbit Inn and Lodge - for keeping our campers happy with perfect lodging options
  • Ventum - for designing a cool-looking bike that has been backed by research and top-notch engineering. And for supporting athletes whe