July 29, 2012 ITU Long Distance World Championships – Vitoria-Gasteiz
4K Swim 120K Bike 30K Run
This race, like many, was a long time in the making. And, like all others, it snuck up on me quickly and before I knew it Paul and I were packing for Spain. I have to be honest, while I always knew what an honor it was to be representing Team USA at the World Championships the gravity of this didn’t hit me until the night before I left. Until that point it was just a race in a foreign country wearing a uniform with my name on the back. As the reality of the World Championships settled in I started to melt down a little. For all of you who talked me off the ledge and calmed me down, you know who you are, thank you. Four flights and nearly 24 hours later, we arrived in Spain. Surprisingly, I was not as much of a wreck as I expected. The days leading up to the race seemed to fly by as I tried to balance race prep with taking in and experiencing my beautiful surroundings. Before I knew it, my bike was dropped off, shoes placed at T2, and race day was upon us.
Going into this race I felt the least prepared for the swim. The distance was longer than a full Ironman swim and I have missed a few longer open water swims in training. I knew I could complete the distance but I didn’t think it would be very pretty. I was hoping to finish in around 1:30 – 1:35 which is slow by any standard especially in the competitive field I was racing. Thanks to Moka’s pre-race dare dance and chatting with some of the other Team USA girls in my wave I was actually fairly relaxed before we started. Hugged Adrienne and off we went. I cleared the crowd pretty quickly once the gun went off, probably because they were all ahead of me. The water was warm and flat until the first turn buoy and then the chop started. I know I slowed down a bit in the chop but just kept moving forward and was actually passing people who had went off in some of the earlier waves. I also knew there were at least a few white caps (women 39 and under) behind me. I pretended Rose was with me and we were just doing 5 loops at Corona Del Mar. Exited the water just behind about 4 other white caps and headed toward my bike. As always, immediately looked down at my watch and it was 1:31 and change, so I was content. I was even happier when I found out that the swim was closer to 2.7 miles instead of 2.5. Nonetheless, my bike was one of the last one on the racks. Eh, it just makes it easier to find.
You may want to settle in and get comfortable for this part. I have never raced for cut off times or been very concerned about meeting them until this race. A few days before leaving for Spain I was looking at the cut off times for each event and started to get a bit nervous about the bike cut off. The times were tight buy this is the World Championships, so they should be. Because I knew my swim would be on the longer side I had to make up time on the bike and have a solid ride to clear cut off.
The day before the race Team USA had organized a driving tour of the bike course and I had also ridden a portion of it earlier in the week. The road quality was great, some of the best I have ever had, and the terrain was lightly rolling. It was a two-loop course that went through some beautiful Spanish countryside and towns. Unlike my friend and teammate Laura I generally don’t notice my surroundings on the bike but even I could not help but notice how amazing the course was and count a few animals along the way. Locals were lining the streets and screaming USA, pronounced “ooh – S – A” as we passed by them. The energy was great! During the first 25 miles (one third) of the course I was following the wattage ranges my coach, Joby, had set and was on target for my fastest bike split ever and was feeling great. Macca came up next to me as he was finishing the second loop of his race and screamed “Go USA” to me. I was a little star stuck and managed to scream “Go Macca” back. Seriously, he is a professional athlete competing for the ITU World Championship title (which he won by the way) and takes time to cheer for an athlete in the middle of his race, that’s classy. It was about this time that it really hit me; I was racing in the World Championships with some really amazing athletes. My racing high was soon to end when I came around a roundabout right around mile 27 and my front tire was suddenly flat. I have never flatted in a race before and these were some of the cleanest roads I have ever ridden, how was I getting a flat? Nonetheless, I pulled over and tried to not get flustered. One of the policemen who were controlling traffic crossed the street and came over to me. If I accepted any help in changing my tire I could be disqualified so I tried to explain this to him in the very little Spanish I knew. He stood next to me anyway and blocked me from getting mowed down by other bikers which I thought was nice. There were 35 race officials on the bike course making sure we were not violating any rules. Normally races have just a few of these officials, but this race was very strict. One of them pulled up and thought I was getting assistance. Both I and the cop gestured that I was not and I was just hoping I didn’t get disqualified or penalized considering they could not understand me and I could not understand them. They pulled away without giving me a yellow or red card, so I was good. It took me around 6 minutes to change the flat which I was pretty pleased with. I hopped back on my bike and headed out to try and catch some of the people who passed me when I was stopped. I settled back into my wattage ranges and checked my pace since I knew I had to maintain a certain pace to make cut off. Surprisingly, I was still at a pretty solid pace. No longer my fastest bike split ever but I put the flat out of my mind and wasn’t going to let this ruin my race. And, I passed the majority of people who rode past when I was stopped. As I approached the start of the second bike loop I saw another member of Team USA, Michael, and it looked like he was unclipped on the left side which is odd. As I came up alongside of him I asked if he was OK and he held up his left crank arm and said it had come off at mile 20. He was riding with one leg and was just getting it done. This was so inspiring to me. He completed 55 miles pedaling with one leg. Actually, 53 with one leg and then his right crank arm came off with 2 miles to go and he ran it in – amazing! I was so happy when I saw him out on the run course when I was finishing because I knew he had made the bike cut off. Anyway, back to the second loop of my bike ride. I was in a good groove, riding strong and about to approach the roundabout in which I had gotten the puncture during the first loop. I was purposely being careful and looking for debris in the road. I no sooner cleared the roundabout that I felt my back tire bouncing flat. Again, I have never flatted in a race and during the most important race of my life I get two flats, one in the front and one in the rear 25 miles apart in the same strip of road. Seriously, you can’t make this crap up. Thankfully, I always carry two spare tubes and three CO2 cartridges. I changed the flat in about 7 minutes and headed out for the last 20 miles of my ride. At this point I was scared that meeting cutoff was in jeopardy. I checked my pace and if my math was correct, which is always a crapshoot during a race because I am doing it all in my head, I would still be fine. If I got another flat, I had no tubes left. I wouldn’t say that I rode tentative, but this was definitely on my mind. I finished the ride with no further issues and just wanted to get out on the run. Final bike time – 4:23:45. While this is slower than it would have been without the flats, it was still a decent pace for me. More than that, I changed two flats on my own and didn’t let it get in my head. I am proud of that.
This was a flat run course and the weather was in our favor, mild and a bit overcast. I was a little worried that all the stop-start on the bike because of the flats would make my legs seize up on the run. But, there was nothing I could do about that so I just got on with it. I started out a bit fast. I knew it. My legs felt good and I knew I had to make up time on the run. The run course was four laps and it was easy to get drawn into other people’s paces. I slowed myself down after the first mile or two because I knew I had a long run, nearly 19 miles total, and what felt easy early on would be impossible during the latter miles. Each lap was about 4.5 miles which is how Joby broke down my pacing. I was passing a lot of people but had no idea what lap they were on. Because of my bike issues I knew most people had at least one and maybe two laps on me so I had to really focus on running my own race early on. The first lap went by really quickly. The crowd support was amazing! Between the locals and Team USA spectators there was always somebody screaming for me. It was also quite a scenic course through the streets of Vitoria. Everyone knows I hate loops but they did not bother me at all on this run. I figured my legs would really start cramping from fatigue around lap three. They were definitely burning but I was able to maintain and actually better by a few seconds my second lap pace. I had a solid run at 2:48:35 which I was really pleased with. Crossing the finish line, representing my country was an amazing feeling.
This entire experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity and sharing it with Adrienne and Moka made for some unforgettable memories. I met some amazing athletes from different countries and may have been persuaded into doing an Ironman in Port Elizabeth South Africa at some point – yay!
A huge thank you to my coach and teammates who made training for this, and really all races, so fun. Paul continues to let me drag him all over the country, and now internationally, for this sport. I don’t really count Canada in 2011 as international travel. In all fairness he has gotten some good vacations out of it but I know being a spectator is hard work and racing would not be the same without his support.