After hearing good reports regarding Challenge events and the unique opportunity of swimming out of the heart of Venice and cycling through the surrounding countryside before finishing with an atmospheric marathon. “I was sold for my next challenge”. VENICE.

However, I was disappointed to receive an email two weeks prior to the event to say that the bike course would be changed.  The email outlined:

“The new bike course for Challenge Venice was designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Porto Marghera.  The bike course was designed to discover this INDUSTRIAL PARK of Venice.  The course will leave the Parco San Giuliano to go through Mestre and into the Port of Venice for around 9.4 km, and after there will be a circuit of around 22.6 km that the athletes of the full distance will do for 7 times.  Optimistic, I arrived at registration on the Saturday smiling like a triathlete with a new Tri suit wanting to set Venice alight!

The atmosphere in the registration and expo was limited but I was sure this would grow as the weekend went on. Race briefing was informative but controversial when the PowerPoint slides and race Marshall rules conflicted after which the audience soon voiced their disapproval and the briefing soon became very negative.

Transition which was well staffed but it was starting to feel like a local triathlon rather than an international event. With two portaloos for all athletes and marker pens for race numbers given the day before “which the hotel bedsheets found don’t last long” Race day started with a short bus ride to the start line which saw all athletes walking about 15 min to the heart of Venice.

But hopefully an unforgettable experience! The swimming section got underway with a mass start in one straight line of 3.8km in the internal lagoon in front of Venice. With calm water and after doing Slateman two weeks prior, this was going to feel like swimming in a bath with the temperature of the water being around 20 deg C.  However, unless you bathe in petrol and can endure the taste, this wasn’t the picturesque swim I imagined.  With only start and finish markers due to athletes following the wooden boat markers it also made it mentally draining.  Also a tough current meant I completed the swim in 1:25min which is 15min slower than on my UK IM distance swim.

Then onto the bike, grabbing my bike bag from transition (which had been left out all of yesterday and race morning) which meant that washing that petrol taste away with boiling nutrition didn’t have the desired effect  “Learning point 1”.

The bike course leaves transition to go through Mestre and into the Port of Venice for around 9.4 km, and then you have to complete 7 laps of 22.6 km before heading back.  The course is very fast and basically flat with no elevation, with an aid station every 22 km loop. However, I CHALLENGE YOU NOT TO GET BORED on the Venice bike course—a far cry away from what was initially outlined.  It resembled cycling around your local supermarket car park.  The circuit and the course roads were closed to local traffic. The fast course meant I completed the bike in 5:26min however, which is 30min faster than on my UK IM distance bike.

So, off the bike and onto my strength!  Time to chase down those slick Italians.  The final marathon course of Challenge Venice was run in the park, on a large bike path, totally safe and without traffic, There are 4 laps of 9,2 km and 1 final lap of 5,4 km. My planned Race pace of 6:40 min/mile soon become a pipe dream with 28 degree blazing sunshine showing my Garmin 6:40 soaring like the heat to 8:40 min/mile. It soon became survival rather than target pace.  “Lesson 2”  Northerners can’t train for these conditions.

The mental challenge became even more difficult with limited, if any, course atmosphere.  The aid stations at each 2 km began handing out cups of water due to limited bottles and keeping my body temperature down became a real issue.

Final lap and still passing zombies and there it is, the finishing line.  A hero’s return was unrealistic but with more atmosphere at a local Park Run my Challenge Venice experience had really hit an all-time low! My name was not even called.  I was passed a T-shirt and a medal and sent on my way!  RACE OVER!   The crazy heat meant I completed the run in 3:41min which is 24min slower than on my UK IM distance run, giving me an overall time of 10 hours 47minutes.

Overall, after seeing the organisation and atmosphere of the Aiming Higher Slateman event and the Ironman UK Bolton event, Challenge Venice fell short of my expectations.  I’ve became more experienced but also more critical as to what I expect from an event.  From my experience, Challenge events, like my run in the heat, is way off pace.

Jimmy Anderson


Was it Lord Byron, swimming round the islands in the Venice lagoon who came up with the idea of taking part in a triathlon there? Though even he would have thought the idea of riding a bike pure fantasy. Anyway, this is Jimmy Anderson’s account of taking part in the Venice Triathlon in ferocious heat-and not even a Cornetto to sustain him!

Noreen Rees