Cascais IM 70.3 -September 30th 2018 (L)
Race Reporter: Claudio
Getting to Cascais
Your first impression of Cascais depends on how you get there. The train station is this white elegant building, located next to the Ocean and a five minutes walk from the center, a gentle welcome to your beach holiday. On the other hand, if you, like me, prefer the comfort of a taxi taking you and your bike to your accommodation, then you, like me, may experience the madness of traffic jams that will make you think of Paris on a Friday afternoon rather than of that cute little village that is Cascais.
A closer look reveals an unusually high number of expensive cars: the latest BMWs, Mercedes, a few Porches, some Jaguars. It turns out that Cascais is the richest beach town in Portugal, home to former prime ministers, presidents, football players and actresses. Despite the many affordable (and excellent) coffee places, restaurants and bars in town, buying a house is serious business: the penthouse apartment on top of the scenic « Baía do Peixe » that overlooks the bay sells for 3 million euros.
The Ironman registration stand is right in front of the bay, at « Hotel Baía« , can’t miss it. It’s also the start of the swim and the finish line. The transition area it’s uphill, a 600 meters run from the exit of the swim. The organization gives you the choice of whether you want to run it barefoot or with shoes. Whatever you decide, there is a red carpet that takes you all the way to transition, so it shouldn’t make too much of a difference on your time whether you use shoes or not.
Next to the registration desk, you’ll find the bike repair area. The number one tip that I have for anyone new to the race is to turn in your bike for a check-up. You’ll have to pay for it, but the peace of mind of knowing your bike is OK makes it worth it. In my case, the flight had damaged the carbon disks, so I didn’t have much of a choice. Of the 335 people in my age group, 60 didn’t finish the bike leg, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of them regretted not spending the 25 or so euros for the bike check-up. FYI – the bike service is free on race day, and it’s in the transition area.
Race start and swim
That moment in the morning when you wait with hundreds of others in wetsuit on the shore, the sun raising from the water at the horizon, the multitude of drones staring at you in perfect mid-air stillness, that moment is worth coming for. The start of Kona is signaled by a cannon, the Barkley marathons are initiated by a cigarette lit by the race director, and Cascais 70.3 IM begins at the ringing of a bell. The swimmers decide where to start, according to four time groups, listed here verbatim from the race speaker: the « dolphins » (<25 mins), the « good swimmers » (<35 mins), the « humans » (<45 mins) and the « bricks » (>45 mins). I’d recommend you choose your group or the one faster-up if you are at the boundary of two time groups. The fighting in the water isn’t too bad but it’s still 2,600 people getting in the Ocean at the same time.
Out of the water and on your way to transition, that’s the ideal spot for your support team and their phone cameras, as you’ll pass this road twice in fast sequence, at the end of the swim and at the beginning of the bike. After that, your folks can go for breakfast and come back to the same spot in whatever time it takes you to do the 90km. Then again, they’ll cheer you up as you finish your bike ride and start your run. Smile! It’s going to be as long of a day for them as for you.
The bike ride is as follows. The first 25 km are a beautiful ride on the coast, direction Lisbon. Ups and downs but overall it is slightly downhill, so you can start relatively fast even if you are going for a negative split. At km 25, the direction is inverted with a sharp U-turn, and you start cycling back to Cascais. Keep on enjoying the views. Here you’ll probably average a couple of km/h less than in the first sector, as you are still doing ups and downs but overall you are going slightly uphill. The bike ride starts to get interesting at km 50.8, where you get the first climb (2 km). In writing this report I’m looking at the race plan that I had sketched for the bike, and under this first climb I had noted as target pace « survive ». I’m aware that most of you are better than me on the bike so you may actually welcome this first climb, but I was dreading it.
Km 52.8 – 63.2 are still uphill but way flatter, and you can pick up a fairly regular pace. You are on your way to the Estoril autodrome, which is very very cool. The bike ride in the autodrome was my favorite. I couldn’t stop mumbling « VRMMMMMMMMMM » every now and then. Cool cool cool. Back on the road, you meet your second climb at km 63.2 (for 1.7 km). Again from my notes, target pace is « survive ». Km 64.9 – 72.3 is like the previous fairly easy bit (Km 52.8 – 63.2), and your last climb at Km 72.3 is less than a km. From the end of the climb until km 90, go go go! You’ll pass along another beautiful view of the Ocean, the most windy section of the bike ride.
One sad note. On October 7th, 2018, there was a huge fire in Sintra. This will result in either track changes – in which case my notes on Km and pace are utterly useless – or same track but barren woods, which is a real pity.
One piece of advice on the aid stations. Fruit and water were fine, but the electrolyte drinks they provided this year were banana flavored and I hated them. Taste is very personal and when it comes to gels and electrolyte drinks I’d recommend sticking to what you bring with you on race day.
The run is a two-loops along the Ocean, that repeats the first part of the bike. There are two things to keep in mind here, temperature and hills.
(1) If you are targeting 5 hours or more, then you’ll likely get on the run around 11-noon. It’s hot. And it just gets worse during the day. You are targeting a finish time around 1-3pm. On Sep 30th, 2018, the air temperature at 1pm was 30C. But you are not running in the air, you are running on asphalt. So really you feel like you are walking over the Sun’s surface. I started off my run at my planned pace, my heart rate was in check, and then at Km 8 I panicked without knowing why. It’s because my head was boiling like an egg. Did I say it’s hot? So what to do. Well, there is plenty of aid stations during the run. If in doubt, just refresh your head with a glass of water, or even better with one of the sponges. I realized it when I was already boiling and that made me slooooooow down.
(2) The run is not flat. It looked flat to me on the bike, because well, I was on a bike. But on tired legs, you soon realize there are a couple of nasty hills, which you do going and back so that’s four climbs per loop. You do two loops, so that’s eight climbs. I’m not saying it’s not easy. Some of you can climb with one leg and still be faster than most humans. I’m just saying, don’t underestimate the hills on the run, or at least take them into account when preparing for the race, as they can be nasty after 90km of bike.
At the arrival, you run on a red carpet (you deserve it) but your support team can’t access the finish line (sad). They can wait for you at the entrance of the last 50 meters on red carpet, and if they have a good camera they can film you all the way to the end. Race finish picture, pasta stand, pictures with family and friends. Congratulations, you are an ironm….ehm not really right? that was just half. Well it already felt pretty hard. Go have a restoring nap, the night will be full of happy triathletes dancing and drinking in the bars of the city center.
Tips on food.
I loooooved the food in Cascais. My absolute favorite was « O Cantinho da Belinha« . Fish restaurant, ideal for lunch, cheap and excellent, serves the catch of the day and fills up very fast, so try to get there when they open (noon). « Pizzeria Il Siciliano » is where I recommend you go the night before the race to get your carbs. Again, it fills up quick, so try to be there when they open (6:30pm). « Empório Cascais » is where I had my breakfast every day, for the whole week I was there. The owner is French, has been in Portugal for 40 years, is lovely and more than once I asked her if the check was right because it seemed too cheap. If you are into octopus, « Polvo Vadio » is the place to go. The restaurant is quite small so make sure you reserve in advance. Yes all the good places get full pretty fast, that’s what happens when you have 2,600 hungry triathletes in a small town.
Tips on getting around
At the time of this writing (2018), Uber is legal in Portugal and still quite cheap (for European Uber standards). You can get a taxi or Uber from the airport to Cascais (and vice versa) for about 35-45 EUR (30-45 mins). The train is the best way to get in and out of Lisbon, with regular service between the two cities. Getting to and from the airport in Cascais by public transportation is not ideal, as it requires to get in Lisbon first, for a total travel time of approx. 1h30.