Being in Chicago and being part of Team GB was bigger and so much better than I could have imagined. There were nearly 600 of us there racing for Great Britain in various age groups and over various distances. There were some people there racing in their first World Championships and a lot who had done others before in past years, yet we were still as excited and full of apprehension as each other. It transpired whilst we were there that some people had entered 3 events - the Aquathlon (swim, run), the sprint and the standard triathlon! Completely bonkers, as I was finding it nerve wrecking enough knowing what lay ahead of me on just the standard.
We arrived in Chicago 5 days before the event, which gave us plenty of time to relax into the change of time zones and also have a nose around the course. I've always preferred to reckie a course before racing on it as it helps you to iron out any nerves of what may lay ahead, however on this occasion it wasn't possible, we were only able to go on with what we were told by the team managers and from what we could see in maps. This was down to most part of the the bike route being "subterrainial" and on majorly busy roads. The swim was also in an active harbor, meaning that again, we got very little swim practice in before race day. Nevertheless I was trying to keep calm by using the philosophy that it will be the same for everyone!
As race day approached the weather literally heated up - it was in the mid to late 20's by Thursday, making it extremely hot work for the sprint racers. However after a couple of massive thunderstorms and a tornado warning, it did cool down slightly for our race on the Saturday. Our transition was in a field and after flash floods on the Friday night the field was particularly muddy, so sand was laid down - the prospect of sandy feet in my running shoes did not appeal. But again I just thought its going to be the same for everyone so just get on with it.
Race day - with strong winds forecast, disc wheels were banned for the race which sent a lot of people into a frenzy of trying to locate alternative wheels. I had deep rims on my Planet X bike (borrowed from my dad), so I hoped this wouldn't be a problem. Due to the inclement weather conditions, friday night racking was cancelled which meant my mum and I could ride our bikes down to transition on the morning of the race. Transition was opened from 6am to 9am for all participants. My race time was 10.44am which was fine, but the early start meant a lot of waiting around for the likes of my mum who's start time wasn't until 12.00pm.
We made our way into transition to locate our spots, it was the biggest transition I had experienced, with bikes that looked like they had been galvanized from some space age plastic. The bike course was set to be a fast one and people were definitely trying to capitalize on this. My spot was roughly in the middle of transition and after a few practice runs I was fairly confident that I knew where I would be going when I came in. I had practiced having my shoes already on the bike which would make running across the wet grass/sand a bit easier. The run from the swim exit to transition was also a good distance, roughly 300meters, which meant again the shoes on the bike thing would be to my advantage. After racking, double and triple checking my equipment me and mum left to get some breakfast and try to calm the nerves.
Time soon passed and before I knew it, I was standing in the holding pens with the other girls in my age group, all excitedly chatting and most wishing each other good luck. I tried to focus and pick out the yellow and orange buoys in lake that would signify the swim turn around and eventually the exit. They seemed an awful long way away. Eventually we were instructed to walk out onto the blue carpet of the swim pontoon and make our way into the water. I took a couple of deep breaths adjusted my goggles and jumped in, we hardly had any time to think before the klaxon went and the water turned into a frenzy of arms and legs. There was about 87 in my wave and not being the most confident in the open water I decided to keep my distance. Lake Michigan is huge, I mean absolutely massive, over 100miles wide. which means there was fare bit of chop on the water. I just tried to keep my stroke long and breathing relaxed. The swim seemed to go on forever, but I felt like I was keeping a good line and didn't seem to stray off course to much. That said towards the end, the wind must have picked up as the water became choppier and I did take on a few mouthfuls of water, its fare to say I was ready for the swim to be over and just kept focused of the yellow exit buoys. Exiting out the water I pulled off my swim hat and goggles and tucked them into the arm of my wet suit (good tip mum). I jogged the long strip to transition, by which time my wet suit was drying and I struggled to get the suit over my legs. After a small amount of faffing in transition I got my bike and I was off and on to the best bit.
The bike was by far the most enjoyable of all 3 events. As soon as my feet were securely in my shoes, I thought to myself lets get this party started. I was still slightly anxious about what lay ahead, but looking back I didn't need to be worried. Basically, Chicago is built on 3 levels, street level where the buildings are, a bottom and middle level for the traffic and buses. being underground meant it was going to be sheltered and hot. After leaving the main South Columbus highway the course entered the tunnels, where the route weaved around some time u-turns, long drags and up and down ramps. There was plenty of time to get down on the aerobars and churn out a high gear, however due to the technical course and risk of pot holes and dead turns you really had be aware of what was approaching. I saw plenty of people on the side of the road having encountered punctures and the course was becoming littered with drinks bottles and other biking accessories that had popped themselves out their holdings because of unexpected pot holes and bumps in the road. Nonetheless I had a trouble free bike and was enjoying it so much I wasn't ready for it to be over and the endure the 3 1/2 laps of running. The dismount line was quite soon after a sharp hair pin bend so I made sure my feet were out of my shoes in good time. The dismount was smooth and I ran with my bike along another long drag into transition. Again, I was able to locate my spot on the racking easily, hooked my bike over and took off my helmet. I was quicker in transition this time round and with a few deep breaths I headed out, for what was going to be the hardest part for me.
The run was just 3 1/2 loops up and down South Columbus Highway. It was long and flat with no shade. You could see from one end to the other, the only slight break in proceedings being the loop around Buckingham Fountain where you passed the finish. Again mentally challenging as come lap 4 this would be my finish! There were only 2 water stations out on the course and as the temperatures rose to the early 20's, I could feel the heat radiating off the ground. The crowds lined one side of the course and cheered on the runners as well as the other cyclists who were still going up and down along side us. The whole atmosphere was amazing and having my name on my suit really helped. I decided to carry my garmain watch so I could keep track of my distance, that first mile seemed to take forever. By the time I had completed one lap I was really starting to feel the heat. I was trying to concentrate on keeping my pace easy as I knew this wasn't going to be a race where I could run hard. My pace was steady and I was averaging 8:15min miles. Under normal running circumstances this would be a very easy pace, however I was starting to struggle to maintain this. As I approached the first water station on the 2nd lap I walked through it collecting water and tipping it over my head. It was then I decided to do this each time I passed a station, trying to keep my head and body as cool as possible was my priority. It all became a bit of a blur but as my watched ticked on it finally bleeped for the 6th time indicating I was so nearly finished. Although this wasn't technically the case as I was over half a lap away from the finish. It turned out the course was 6.7miles and not 6.2 as standard 10K would be. I just dug deep and thought about the finish and all the training runs I had done, I could do this. Coming round the Buckingham Fountain for the 4th and final time was amazing, I could see the finish. I heard the loud hailer welcome "Heidi Yates from England, representing Great Britain" and I was so happy. I ran down the finishing shute with my arms in the air and a smile on face!! Shortly crossing the finish line, I had to sit down and was sick a couple of times, I think the mix of heat, exhaustion and energy drink had just about done me in.
So that was it, one of the best hardest experiences of my life. At times during the run, leading up to the start of the race and during all the hours of training, I would often question myself, why am I doing this, why don’t I just stay in and watch TV or doing normal things like most people? Why do I put myself through this mentally and physically to the point where I'm sick? A lesser person may have given up or decided this was an impossible challenge so why even bother attempting it. Which is just the point isn't it. We do it to prove that anything is possible and to achieve that the feeling you get when you cross that finish line and can say, yes I did it, I overcame that challenge. Its something that only you and the people finishing along side you will only ever know, and its awesome.