Challenge Forster is a race that has been on my must do list since taking up the sport. There are a whole lot of reasons for this, first it takes part on the same roads and paths as the original Ironman Australia so it has a deep history, second it is run by Elite Energy who always put on a great event and finally I like the brand and different flavour that the Challenge Family is building. This year I had the perfect excuse as it sits as the perfect lead in race for IMWA that I am racing in 4 weeks time, and, I am still chasing the elusive sub 5hr half so the race is perfectly placed in my buildup for IM. Turns out at the briefing on Saturday night the Pros were mostly using the race as a leadin for IMWA, all hoping to lock away their Kona qualification early in the year.
I had only been to Forster once or maybe twice as a kid and really don’t remember it well. If I am honest the place is a little underwhelming, it seems perfectly nice, but just lacks something that both bigger towns like Port Macquarie and smaller towns like Husky have. Maybe it suffers from having the main road cut the place in two. There also wasn’t any real buzz around town in the lead to the triathlon. This is something that both Port and Husky have and it was very clear the town itself really wasn’t that excited to host the race. It’s a real shame as it was very evident by the number of No Vacancy signs up that the race is good for the local economy.
Enough ranting (for now) though… The important thing is I got out there and finally smashed through the 5hr barrier posting a 4:52 for the half. One mission accomplished!
Training and Pre Race
My lead up has been full of 7-8hr training weeks topped up with regular racing. I felt quite well recovered from the Kedumba Half and my foot blister had stabilised well. I always feel a little stressed that I haven’t trained enough and as usual swimming was the most underdone but my pace in all three disciplines in training was as good as it has ever been, my clicky shoulder pre Sunshine Coast had disappeared, so I had to trust I was in a good spot.
The original plan when I entered was for the family to travel up for the weekend however its that time of the year when there are plenty of events for the kids at home. This weekend Isla had her annual dance performance so I travelled up alone and camped at a caravan park close to the start at Forster Keys. Registration went smoothly and I went for a quick ride before racking my bike. I liked this part of the process and it was much smoother than my 70.3 races. To be fair the number of entrants was quite a bit less than the Sunshine Coast 70.3.
I spent the afternoon trying to find a good beach, with limited success, grabbed an early dinner (chicken nuggets) and headed off to the pre-race briefing. The briefing part was actually very brief and most of the event was focussed on interviewing the key male and female pros. This was a nice change given I now have a number of races under my belt however I remember my first Tri at Port 70.3, every bit of information was valuable including transition tours etc. One disappointment was that usually at the race briefing at IM events they advise you that you don’t need to wear your race number on the bike. I like this being a bit aero obsessed. Challenge didn’t offer this option, which is fine as long as everyone sticks to the direction. In this case without the clarification at the briefing the race manual was clear – you must ear your race number on your back for the ride. Unfortunately maybe 50% of riders elected not to and the TO’s were not enforcing this. My view is that 2 numbers (a helmet sticker and a bike sticker) should be sufficient but if the rule is you wear a race number on you back then everyone should follow it.
Post briefing I was still hungry so grabbed some choc muffins and milk and fell asleep early.
Race morning I was up at 4am and packed away the tent before moving the car to nearby the finish. This would enable a quick getaway and save the 5k ride back to the campsite after the race. The organisers had put on a shuttle bus to the start (the race had split transitions) which was a nice touch that I took advantage of.
One slight hiccup was that I had forgotten to fill my water bottles and unfortunately there was a lack of water in transition. Various TO’s and organisers had no idea of where there was water (or if there even was water) on site. Finally the RD directed me to the public toilets. I kind of think having a supply of water at the start is pretty important and not briefing the management team is a bit of an oversight.
Forster Keys is maybe one of the most ideal locations I have had for a swim. The water was super flat although there was quite a bit of tidal current from right to left assisted by the wind. The course was 2 laps with the down current leg in the middle of the channel and the return leg closer to the far shore which was smart. The course itself was a little short, maybe 150m. My GPS measured 1650m but didn’t seem to get a fix until about 100m after the start. My pace was 1:39m/100m which is pretty much spot on for may race pace.
Out of the water and into transition everything was going smoothly until I went to grab my transition bag that was issued to transfer the wetsuits goggles etc to the finish. It was missing. After a frantic search I found it about 4m towards the transition exit. Seems that someone must have snagged it on exit. With that I headed out onto the bike.
My favourite leg. The bike course at Forster is lovely. Its fast and reasonably smooth. I did lose a drink bottle however at one point so its not Sunshine Coast smooth! The course was made up of one long lap and one short lap. There was a slight northerly blowing which made the return legs back into town a bit slower than the outbound but it wasn’t too much of an issue.
I did have a big issue when I returned into town to head to T2. At the Forster Keys roundabout I turned right instead of going straight through. I had no idea which way to go. There was no-one directing athletes and so many people including traffic controllers just sat there and watched me without saying a thing. After about 1k I was looking around for other riders and couldn’t see anyone so decided to turn around. A 2k detour that probably cost me 4mins. Annoying and really poor organisation. I know that roundabout is particularly tough to manage but that is even more reason to make sure the cyclists know exactly where to go without any doubt for safety. I hate to imagine the consequences of me turning right had a controller assumed I was going straight per the course and sent traffic through.
Despite the detour I still managed the 10th fastest ride in my AG so it didn’t hurt too much.
The thing most obvious to me at this point was that the locals really don’t give a stuff about the success of the event. It was after all 9am on a Sunday morning and really should not have been any real inconvenience to properly close the road to the tiny minority. Maybe it would be better to finish the bike at T1 and run into town?
Like the bike, the run at Forster is also really nice. T2 went really smoothly. I found my spot quickly and my transition bag was nicely laid out ready to go. My watch told me I was bang on 3hrs exiting transition. A sub 5 result was easily on the cards. Out onto the run I started off at a great pace and felt very comfortable apart from a slight cramp in one of my feet. But… then came the thoughts… “how long can I keep this pace up for”, “maybe I should slow a bit”. At about 2k I noticed I was struggling to control my heart rate and so snap… I had a walk. I continued my recent strategy of running and then walking the aid stations thereafter. Eventually I discovered that Coke was really working well for me and I started to build my pace up again.
One annoying thing was there were a few people driving electric mobility scooters on the run course, walking dogs etc. It was pretty obvious there was a race on and just shows again that the people of Forster just don’t give a stuff #itwouldnthappeninport.
Before long the finish loomed and my 4:52 result let me tick off another goal. Very Happy.
All things considered I am really happy and enjoyed myself. You can never complain about a PB especially a major breakthrough result. The bike and run course are as good or better than any other I have done. The swim was fine and the transitions (except the lack of water at the start) also as good as any. I liked the organisation of the Elite Energy guys with the exception of the management of the Forster Keys roundabout and there were plenty of nice Elite Energy and Challenge touches.
BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY THE PEOPLE OF FORSTER JUST DONT GIVE A STUFF. Its pretty clear the town is slowly running down and is very much a welfare town rather than the tourist town places like Port Mac, Husky and even Orange have built up for themselves. Mooloolaba was a million times better in terms of accommodating this type of event. Even the complete lack of locals getting out and cheering, the notable absence of people with hoses out the front of their houses offering a cooling spray etc.
Because of this the organisers are always pushing it uphill. #itsnotworthit. Forster should be left to die. The government should turn off all the welfare and wait for the town to rot out completely. Ironman was right to move to Port and Challenge should move on ASAP too. This would let Elite Energy and Challenge really shine like they deserve to. There are plenty of great towns that deserve your brand. Forster doesn’t and the triathlon community should forget its heritage there just like the townsfolk have.
I won’t be returning, despite the convincing strength of Elite Energy and Challenge because #forstersux
That is all!