One of the problems with triathlon is that you spend the entire event thinking about how you are going to write the damn report.
It had been a fairly average year. A couple of decent events interspersed with some real tripe. Eton Dorney – just awful. Nottingham – lost the timing chip before start, realised during the race briefing, panic. Dambuster – lost ID and late. Plus, it rained.
During some recent races, I have been in so much pain in the latter stages that I question if I am actually enjoying it. Why am I doing this?
However, I have bought the bloody suit. One hundred and sixty of the Queen’s pounds. It even has my name and country on it. So, I find myself laying down even more cash and heading to Chicago for the World Championships.
Things do not start well. For some reason my ESTA has not been pulled through onto the American Airlines system so they don’t let me fly. I am bumped onto the next flight. £11 of breakfast vouchers do little to alleviate my mood. Luckily I have booked to come out to Chicago 6 days before the event so no harm is done. There is still plenty of time to register all the paraphernalia that the Americans demand (what the f*** is a helmet waiver and why do I need it?!)
On arrival, it is hard not to be inspired by the build up to the event. Signs are being erected that say “ITU – World Championships”, and I can see the finish chute down which I will stagger/walk. The weather is glorious, and I perform a few last minute swim/bike/runs in the pathetic hope that it will make me faster.
I meet others from my Tri London club Amy, John and Sophie, and we attend the GB race briefing, which is pretty hilarious. People are panicking and behaving like they have never done a triathlon before (they must have done at least one to qualify surely…?). Upon being told that you can wear a long sleeved t-shirt under the Tri suit, one person, wearing enough compression gear to convert coal into diamonds, puts up his hand and asks: “But can we wear a short sleeved t-shirt?”
Race Day. The registration packet we have been given and the ridiculous number of emails lays out the strict instructions that are to be followed, and the times you must rack the day before. However, due to bad weather, these are changed last minute and we are told to rack on race day. I hope Short Sleeves had a paper bag to breathe into in order to calm himself down.
Even racking is meant to be done in a particular order, from a particular gate, at a particular time. I don’t read the emails and turn up. It is fine. Nobody cares. I rack in the biggest transition area I have ever seen and get rid of anything I don’t need. No extras required here. In fact they will removed. Shoes and bike. Keep things simple.
I head to the assembly area and wait for my wave to be called. This bit is cool. All the other athletes are congregating and there is a mix of international Tri suits. With 5 minutes to go I (wet)suit up and begin my mental preparations, a strict regime I follow at the beginning of each triathlon in order to get myself in the right frame of mind. If the mind is focussed the body will follow I always say.
Swim, bike THEN run.
Mental preparations compete there are now 4 minutes and 50 seconds to go. All the silver hats are slipping into the water and warming up. I follow them in and pretend to warm up as well.
Ha. Who am I kidding? I can’t swim!
I float instead and make a few passing remarks with some Canadians. They seem similarly happy to be there, and we mock the athletes furiously splashing around. 30 seconds to go. The jokes stop and we ready ourselves for the start. Adrenaline starts to build.
The horn goes and my goggles immediately fog up. Classic. It is cold. My testes have shrivelled up. (I will mention the testes in the report. Jeremy did too, it seemed to go down well.)
The start is the worst I have been a part of. We are in quite a narrow lane and things get rough. I am in the right frame of mind however, and remain focussed. After the first buoy things settle down and and I get into a rhythm. I sit on the hip of another athlete and try to get sucked along in his wake. This works well as my time will reveal later: 23:30, a new PB. A good start. I head for transition.
4 minutes later I am still running. Where the hell is transition? Have I mistakenly gone straight onto the run course?
No, there are still others with wetsuits on. At least one of them must know what is going on. Keep following them. Thank God I am not leading this race or it would be a farce.
Transition goes smoothly and I head out on the bike. The bike course is what caused most of the panic in the GB briefing. It is mostly underground and could not be ridden prior to the race. Having never done a pre race rec in my life this was the least of my worries, but for others it was clearly causing angst. Upon being told there might be train tracks to negotiate, several people screamed and fainted. Short Sleeves’ nose started to bleed.
However, as ever, these things appeared to be greatly exaggerated. The train tracks had been covered, and the course was well marked. There were no issues. I settled into a nice rhythm and started the usual game of guess the age group. I saw Amy emerge from the transition on my second lap and gave her a rousing cheer.
Damn. Now I’ll have to cycle extra fast so as not to get overtaken.
The crowds on the overground sections are fantastic and there is plenty of British support. Every shout brings an extra surge of adrenaline and excitement. The course is mostly flat but a bit windy, and I can feel the lactate building in my legs. Running is going to be fun…
T2 is equally long. I find my spot and re rack my bike, pull on the trainers and begin the supposedly 10km run. I start well, and think that this might be okay. Maybe this will be the miracle run where I actually feel good?
Nope. 5 minutes in I get hit with a stitch that never properly abates. I have a tendency to drink a lot of water whilst swimming, and I can feel it sloshing around. That is probably the cause. The run is a soul destroying, 4 lapped affair. Out and back. Out and back. Out and …
Once more? Who knows. Surely I must have done 4 by now?
I can feel myself slowing and try to push but immediately get hit with a stab of pain in my side. Jog it in Graeme.
The support is incredible however, and the scenery inspiring. It is an incredible place to race, and I feel privileged to be there. My family are on the sidelines cheering so I try for a crowd pleasing final surge. The video footage my brother took will later require frame my frame analysis to reveal actual two-feet-in-the-air running, but whatever, I ‘sprint’ for the finish line!
I cross and immediately stagger to one side, hands on knees holding back a mini sick. Typically, this is caught on the finish line cam and several amusing close ups are quickly circulated on social media amongst friends.
Once I recover I check my time and splits. 2:09 with the aforementioned 23 minute swim, a 56 minute bike and 43 minute run. Chuck in about 5km of transitions and that is a reasonable time! Hang on … a 43 minute run?! I check the Garmin. 10.8km. No wonder it took so long. How difficult is it to measure a bloody run course?! I imagine Short Sleeves furiously stopping and grabbing officials at the 10km mark and demanding the finish be brought to him. I grin at the thought.
What a wanker.