ITU World Long Course Championship
I have been reluctant to write this because 1) it’s difficult to get the full experience out in writing and 2) I am trying to get to a point where my bitterness has subsided. Like anything in life, it’s tough to put so much into something and not get the desired result. Writing this might be as painful for me as it is for you trying to just get through it (don’t worry, I have sub headings so you can skip to the end). We learn a lot from racing and generally this knowledge makes us better athletes. This race, and preparing for it, has made me a better athlete.
Here’s a bit of history for you peeps who want to know what this ITU thing is all about… The International Triathlon Union is the world governing body for the Olympic sport of Triathlon. It now has over 120 affiliated National Federations around the world and is the youngest International Federation in the Olympics. ITU has a long course triathlon series that culminates in the ITU Long Course World Championships, where nearly one thousand athletes from dozens of countries compete for elite and age group world champion titles by racing a 4K swim (about 2 and a half miles), 120K bike (just under 80 miles and 9,000 ft of climbing) and 30K run (a little over 18 miles and 2,000 ft. of climbing). This year, for the first time since 1996, the ITU Long Course World Championships came to the USA, in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas. …. And…. I qualified.
I go down to the lobby to wait for the shuttle when I overhear athletes talking about the swim being cancelled. Talk about going from “race-mode-ready-psyched-about-the-day-feeling” to “did-someone-just-punch-me-in-the-stomach-feeling”. I mean I woke up at 4am READY. Not tired, feeling good, and ready. I was standing there in shock. I tuned out the nonsense and decided to just go to the race start. Sure enough, we get off the shuttle and they are making announcements: “The swim is cancelled today due to the combination of the outdoor temperature (40) and the water temperature (62)”. Not compliant with ITU rules. So, let me get this straight. It is November. It has been this cold during a race day before in Lake Las Vegas and you say we can’t proceed? Wow. This was totally out of the blue (teach me to read the 20 page event manual) for a lot of people.
THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. I didn’t come here to “simply” bike and run. I didn’t train at the pool at 5am and swim in the ocean weekly to not be able to swim 2.5 miles. This is the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. How can they cancel the swim?? It’s a triathlon (for those new to the sport, this consists of three sports). I was pissed.
People around me had one of two responses a) denial / sad, or b) extreme joy. You see, roughly 90% of triathletes would.. well…. rather not swim. This doesn’t mean people at Worlds aren’t good swimmers, it just means most people would prefer to have the swim be very short (or non existent). This is why, my friends, people were dancing around me. People were thrilled there was no swim. For those that know me, I have been swimming competitively since 8. I wasn’t dancing.
Needless to say, it took me a little while to get over it, but knowing I only had a short time to prepare for my new event, I knew I needed to move on. GET OVER IT. I needed positive energy to – deep breaths – bike and run.
OK. New plan. I didn’t start now until approximately 8:55 (we all left time trial style 5 seconds apart so it wouldn’t be too much mass chaos on course). This means 2 ½ more hours to get ready. Do I eat more? Go back to bed? Double-check my bike AGAIN?
I hung out at the hotel w/ family and friends (yet another time over the weekend I was thrilled to be surrounded by loved ones) ….ate a little, drank a little, stretched a little, and went back to the race site around 7:30. Simon, my sister, Mary and I just sat around watching the pros start, and everyone else gather their bikes and wait in line to be sent off. It was strangely pretty mellow. It was about 40 degrees at this point but the high was 60 and it was sunny and gorgeous!! I digress.
This type of thing is difficult to overcome. Some might know this story, but for those that don’t, I had a similar experience in 2002 at Ironman Provo. We started the swim yet they pulled us out (swells as high as 5 ft) after about an hour in the water and cancelled the swim. I have a race report on this one too – available upon request J. Talk about disappointment!!
OK. I trudge back inside the heated tent to prepare for the bike ride. It was still very cold, but the sun was out at this point (a beautiful time to swim), and you could tell it was starting to warm up. I stripped down to my USA Uniform, put on some long finger gloves, arm warmers, then bundled up again only to throw off my jacket right before I headed out at the start….. (thanks Simon!). The girls in my age group all headed up the hill to mount on our bikes and get our 5-second send off. It’s a strange way to start a race and people were still pretty psyched about the no-swimming thing. Funny how positive energy can make you crabby!
(this is not normally how I like to start a triathlon but nice to have a chat with the hubby beforehand!)
Now, (finally right?) to the RACE REPORT.
I started the bike. Had my husband, sister and friends out there cheering for me and off I went!! Saw my parents and kids a few miles up the road, went up a few hills and everyone met me again at the roundabout. Very fun to have people yelling!! It was like “where’s Waldo” in regards to when they were going to pop up on the course all day. In a 7-hour race, it’s so nice to have something to look forward to….
It took me a while to get warmed up, but in the process I already passed 4 people from my age group. Things are all of a sudden looking good!! The next 20 miles were rollers but absolutely gorgeous. Mountains, lakes, sunny skies – it was truly picture perfect and a really great challenging course. I was averaging 20mph and feeling good – but I knew there are some tough climbs ahead. Turned down the next “clover” and as I was flying downhill, all I could see was the people coming back the same hill – moving very slowly out of their saddles back up that hill. For some reason, it’s not as fun descending hills if you know you have to turn around and go back up them. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the challenge! It was about 15 more miles of hills (this time steeper and windier) then we turn around and do them again, in reverse. TOUGH. Still felt good (benefits of proper training) – but definitely had to push the limits. The race was getting harder by the minute. I also knew that the famous “three sisters” were next. These are three short hills with grade of 15-18%. I get to the first one and heard the yelling!!! My fans were back!! YEAH!!! I flew by some girl so excited and raced up the first hill. Probably not the smartest thing but it was fun biking up that hill with my husband and son running alongside…. I needed that. Did the next 2 hills – which were as steep and as challenging but – honestly – what was worse was the next 8 miles. It was a “false flat” with high winds. Looked like you could pick up some speed here but I couldn’t get my speed over 12 mph. Really sad when there is only 17 miles left. I was so close and right on target. GO. Fight. GO!!!! Went over a bump and my water bottle fell off. I’m pretty sure I shouted a few expletives. Normally, I wouldn’t care – but I worked so hard on my nutrition and that particular bottle had 300 calories in it – which I needed to get me through this run I was about to endure. Yes, I picked it up. We got on open roads and headed back to the 2nd transition (different than the first) where the run would start. More hills, more descents….. arms hurt from holding on so tight during this wind (it can be very easy to lose control of your bike in these conditions). All of a sudden I couldn’t wait to get off my bike.
I rode into T2, handed my bike to a volunteer (gotta love the valet service at events like these) and went into the tent to grab my gear bag. I’m not sure what I was doing in there, but let me tell you my transition time was over 3 minutes, WHAT??? Why do they heat these things and give you chairs??? And a volunteer whose only job is to help you? Are you kidding me – this is a great place to be! Maybe I was trying to make up for the fact I didn’t have to go through the first transition tent? Not sure but that’s an embarrassing amount of time to spend in the tent with no excuse. I grabbed my water bottle belt, ran out the tent (yes, I did run), decided to stop for a pee (why not, I already stretched and got relaxed)… and then…. Headed out. And – just like Where’s Waldo – out popped my FANS!! SHOUTING SO LOUD!!! I felt great.
Let me tell you a little bit about the run course. It is basically an out and back course that needs to be repeated 4 times (each “loop” is 4.7 miles). You go downhill for about a mile, then turn around and go up hill for about 2.35, then go back downhill and do it all again. 4 times. The only good thing about this course is I saw my friends and family 9 times – about every 20 minutes. Thank goodness because there is something about having to “look good” every time you pass people cheering for you. By the 4th loop, I knew I had to just make it up one last 2 mile climb, and then it was a 1 mile downhill stretch to the finish line. Something lit up inside me as I raced down that hill – knowing I would hear the cheers ahead of me and the finish line was in site.
Did it. 18.5 miles at goal pace.
And somehow the thrill of crossing that finish line wasn’t near the feeling I had imagined.
You can always look back on a race and say “what if —“ or “I should’ve —“. This is how we get faster – we learn. Of course I am kicking myself for dropping my water bottle in the first place. And spending too much time in transition 2. But those things I am allowed to beat myself up on. I can’t beat myself up on the fact they didn’t let me swim.
People have been asking me how I did and it’s a tough question to answer. I am very happy with how my race went – everything was aligned (nutrition, training, etc.) to have the perfect day. I finished 14th in my age group at a World Championship without even swimming. My time was 6:52 and my goal (with the swim) was under 8 (could’ve happened). I was expecting a different experience, but, with triathlons, you have to be prepared for anything that comes your way. I trained for a 4k swim, 120k bike, and 30k run. I was given the 120k bike and 30k run and raced it well.
I can’t say enough for my support. People say to surround yourselves with people who support you and generate positive energy. I did this successfully – and met a lot of great people in the process! I got more well wishes via text, phone, & cards then ever before. I oftentimes felt consumed by this race and no one ever doubted me, or questioned me. Said I was crazy, yes, but always there for support. You know who you are, thank you. If you are still reading this, you must give a damn about me J Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. To my parents, sister, and LA crew who all knew how much this race meant to me. Thank you to my kids for cheering me on and never getting grumpy throughout a very long day. And – of course – a huge thank you to Simon for supporting my goal of making it to Worlds and allowing me the time to be prepared for race day. I couldn’t do this on my own.
At the end of the day it’s really not all that bad. This year was good to me – Seven 1st place finishes and I learned how to push my body to limits it hasn’t seen since childbirth.
See you in 2012!