Dispatch: The Champions Of Challenge Laguna Phuket

Dispatch columnist Holly Bennett caught up with the men’s and women’s professional champions.

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Dispatch columnist Holly Bennett caught up with the men’s and women’s professional champions at the Sunday night awards banquet–before the legendary Laguna Phuket after-party kicked into full swing–to hear a bit about each of their race days. Here, she recaps the action in Phuket and shares their comments.

The hottest day of the week thus far in Phuket, Thailand greeted athletes racing the inaugural Challenge Laguna Phuket, with the temperature soaring near 90 degrees and the humidity extra thick due to recent thunderstorms. With the sun blazing, more than 600 competitors tackled the course that is touted as one of the toughest half-iron distance events in the world, with many adventurous aspects including a two-segment swim (from sea to fresh water via a steep sand dune), a bike course highway overpass twice traversed on foot, quad-busting bike climbs containing 22 percent grades and a run course comprised of asphalt, sandy trail, grass and cobblestones. Challenge Laguna Phuket is hardly for the faint of heart!

In the professional race, it was no surprise to see super swimmer Dane Rasmus Petræus (DEN) first out of the water, with Radka Vodickova (CZE) leading the women’s charge.

Petræus would continue a game of cat and mouse throughout the bike with Italian athletes Alberto Casadei and Alberto Alessandroni–and at 30-kilometers Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs would also make his way to the front–but ultimately it was the Dane and the Italian duo that arrived at T2 together, ready to test their mettle on the blistering hot run. Petræus slowly and steadily stacked up a lead that would eventually seal his victory by a two-minute margin, with Casadei finishing second and

Alessandroni following closely for third.

Ironman 70.3 World Champion and specialist at the half-distance, Australia’s Melissa Hauschildt–rallying back from a bad bout of food poisoning that plagued her since Tuesday of race week–reached rival Vodickova before the first set of cycling hills, enjoying a minute lead at the 40-kilometer mark. Although her usual run confidence was in question due to a lack of race week calories, Hauschildt still managed to hold off any attacks, ultimately claiming a five-minute cushion of victory. Vodickova also remained on fire across the entire course, finishing a strong second. Belinda Granger (AUS), a beloved fixture at the Laguna Phuket race, seemed poised to finish third, but was caught by Tamsin Lewis (GBR) toward the end of the ride. She couldn’t regain time on the Brit, but battled hard to hold fourth place over her hard-charging countrywoman Ange Castle (AUS).

Here’s what the newly crowned champions had to say after the race:

Rasmus Petræus
(On his day coming together perfectly and the benefits of the relaxing vibe in Phuket.)

I really enjoyed the race because it turned out to work–all of it. Usually I’m really good in the swim and not that good on the bike, but today I was more than good on the bike. And on the run I stuck to my plan and that worked out as well and I had the energy to keep the pace. What’s really good about this race is having the right environment. If I have too much pressure, like if I need to win to get a spot to something or to win money, I always perform like crap. But when I’m in an environment where I feel like home–like when I race at home in Denmark and all my family and friends are there to support me–I race really well. And now with everyone here in Phuket, it’s such a good environment it feels the same. I knew Felix and some of the Challenge guys from races I’ve done in Europe, but here getting to know so many more people, riding scooters around with Tamsin [Lewis] and Till [Schramm], and just sitting and talking with Pete [Jacobs] and Macca–it’s been incredible. Coming from short course, when people go to a race they just stick with their own group, nobody mixes up. It’s so serious. Here people are serious athletes but everyone is also having fun. It’s very friendly and very easy-going. In the last year I’ve started to work with an osteopath–he works with meditation and all that kind of thing–and I talk with him a lot about how I perform. For me it’s all about learning to relax in my racing and in my training as well. That’s what works for me­–and then if something does go wrong I just don’t stress.

Melissa Hauschildt
(On how she felt heading into the race after several days of sickness and being unable to keep food down or eat a proper meal since Tuesday.)

I had absolutely nothing in me! Last night I did have a quarter serving of rice and a couple of eggs, and that seemed all right. I was still hungry but I stopped eating, because the night before I tried a half serving and that didn’t go so well. I got up this morning and had my porridge, and that seemed to go in all right also. But yeah, I was so nervous in a different type of way. I felt good in my warm up for the swim, and I just kept trying to tell myself I would be all right. I swam well, but as soon as I got on the bike, about the first 5-km, my legs felt like someone was squeezing them. I’ve never felt like that, but I figured it was just the dehydration. It never really went away but it didn’t become actual cramps, just this squeezing feeling. I seemed to be going all right though, so I just kept pushing. When I really felt it was on those steep uphills–then I could tell my muscles were really dehydrated. But I got off the bike with a five-minute buffer and was really happy. That was my plan, because I knew that if it was going to really affect me it would happen on the run. In transition I sat down and told myself I had to totally relax–I knew I could not afford to bolt out of there. So I sat down, put on my compression socks and just slowly jogged out. I saw Jared [Hauschildt’s husband] down the road a bit and he told me I had five minutes. I felt comfortable so I just stuck it out until 6-km to go, and that’s when it hit me. I just felt drained. I started getting dizzy and everything. But I thought: I haven’t come this far to lose it now! I had been too scared to take any gel–I mean I had three gels on the bike and I thought: That’s more calories than I’ve had all week! So I was terrified to take my gel on the run, and instead I was just sipping Coke at each aid station. But with 6-km to go I took a gel and I felt a little bit better. But I was just shuffling home. I went straight to medical and got an IV drip and then I actually started eating at the food tent. Then I went home and I felt hungry again! If the food poisoning had happened one day later I don’t think I would have made it, but I’ve eaten heaps now and I’m all good.

More from Phuket.

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