The 2015 World Championship was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The overall experience has taught me so much about perseverance, camaraderie and also reinforced my love for the sport.
My parents, grandparents and I all flew out on Monday morning at 9am on a 9hour flight. The pilot was kind enough to wish all 150 GB triathletes on the plane good luck for the up and coming events. We arrived at the airport and suffered a long wait for the bike boxes to arrive, however this was a perfect opportunity to meet some of my team members and get to know them a bit better. After a bus journey to the centre of Chicago, we were dropped off at our hotel ‘The Renaissance Blackstone’. The hotel was enormous and luxurious (it even had a Starbucks inside... RESULT!!).
I spent the first few days practising and perfecting all the triathlon components. I went out for a few short runs and bike rides to get use to the heat and the wind. All the parks and pavements, (or sidewalks as they call them in America), were packed with triathletes running or cycling backwards and forwards weaving their way between the residents. I attended a swim reccee on the Tuesday to get a feel for the water temperature and the choppiness of the lake. Whilst queuing, I got to meet so many lovely people of all ages, who all had amazing stories of triathlons of all distances from across the world. There was even a story about a chilly Ironman in Canada, which was so cold that the participants wore their wetsuits during the bike and the run also. On the Wednesday I attended the race briefing for all GB Sprint athletes, which was very informative and cleared up any last minute issues. After the briefing we went for a huge group photo in the park, which was very friendly and great fun.
On Wednesday afternoon I had to check into transition and rack my bike. This is where I met two very friendly female fellow competitors, who were lovely. We racked our bikes chatting and discussing the up and coming race as we did so, I did my usual run through transition to make sure I knew where my space was. Just coming out of transition, I met one of my friends from the hotel, who asked me if I had let the air out of my tyres, which I hadn’t. I had heard people discussing this topic in transition, however I didn’t really take much notice. After talking to a few more people and hearing horror stories about tyres popping due to the heat, I promptly returned to transition to let the air out of my tyres.
That evening, it was the opening ceremony, which was an amazing experience as all the nations came together for the ‘parade of nations’. I was impressed with the amount of Great Britain participants, approx 600, however I was gob smacked by USA’s 1,200 participants. It was a wonderful sight to see all the nations together, the mixture of flags and race colours was an awesome sight. I left the ceremony early to get a good night sleep. I clearly remember being sat on the hotel bed eating my pasta meal and looking over the race map. There was a mixture of excitement and nervousness in my stomach, which sat there all the way to the race start.
Luckily I was not affected by jet lag so managed a good nights sleep. Mum plaited my hair as usual and I got changed into my Zerod suit, we then headed off to transition, so I could finish setting up. In transition I tried to pump up my tyres, to no avail, the air kept on seeping out and the pressure dial would slip depressingly down back to where I started. After many attempts with a couple of different pumps, I had to go to the bike mechanics, who luckily were on site. Trying to stop myself from stressing out, I sorted out the rest of my transition, as the mechanics poked and prodded at my bike. Finally it was sorted, it was just a faulty valve, which they swapped out. I thanked them profusely and then left transition happy with the lay out.
Whilst sitting by the side of the road eating my pre race food, the temperature slowly started to increase and became more humid. I did my warm up in the shade, under a long line of trees, trying to avoid over heating. Finally, it was time for myself and fellow competitors to struggle into our wetsuits and stand in our allocated ‘pen’. Some competitors chose not to swim in wetsuits, but later said this had not been such a good idea as it was quite choppy water and could have done with the buoyancy. The heat was well past 25 degrees and I was sweltering for 20 minutes in my wetsuit and swim hat waiting for my wave to start. It was an amazing communal atmosphere, the girls were hugging, talking and wishing each other good luck. We had a last minute race brief before we were let into the water for a minute before our start.
I climbed in the water and quickly positioned myself closer to the further buoy, so I would be further from the scramble, but also made sure I had a clear short line to the final buoy in the distance. I wished the girls next to me good luck and shortly after the starting horn was blasted. I kicked extremely hard to get a good start for the swim and found myself near the front, which was a good confidence boost. After people started to drop the pace slightly, I started to slowly pick swimmers off one by one. 350m into the swim, I was just a few metres off the front pack, pushing hard to catch them up. The swim was choppy and the water was tainted slightly from motor oil, but I didn’t really take much notice. The crowd slowly followed the swimmers along the shore, until we finally climbed out after 750m. I came out of the swim 5th and ran the 360m run into transition. The run was hard as I had a few issues getting my wetsuit unzipped, but after a while it seemed to work. My first transition went smoothly, wetsuit down, helmet on, grab bike, run out. The run out with my bike was interesting, as there were huge patches of sand in the transition area to stop the ground being boggy from previous rain. My feet were plastered in sand as I jumped onto my bike and one of my friends later described it as a sandpaper effect in their shoes as they cycled, luckily I didn’t notice.
I was off onto the 20km bike course, which took me through the streets of Chicago. I must admit, that during the bike and the run, I took no notice of the wonderful scenery or the large skyscrapers that loomed largely above. It was a tough bike course with strong headwinds and a sweltering heat. The course had two 180-degree turns and two 90-degree turns per lap, which proved difficult as momentum and speed, was completely lost. I was cycling well but the American girls on their bikes were rapid and strong. The bike course was slightly bumpy with lumps and potholes littering the course. I was comfortable using my aerobars when I had the misfortune to cycle over a speed bump at which point my aerobars collapsed downwards, I was extremely annoyed. I tried to fix them, but they were too stiff to move and doing so proved slightly dangerous as I weaved across the bike course. I could just about use them, even though my arms were in a twisted position and I wasn’t very ‘aero’ any more. For most of the bike, in hindsight, I feel didn’t drink enough as I was concentrating on the other athletes on their bikes and the twists and turns within the course. After 3 laps I ran into transition (another 300m run into T2 with my bike), and was off onto the 5km run course.
By this point, it was getting hotter and the heat was unbearable and unfortunately I could feel my body becoming more and more dehydrated during the run. In the race briefing, we were told there would be four water stations on the run, so was a bit frustrated to find that there were only two. The run course was adjacent to the bike course on the road in the sun, I tried running at my normal pace but I felt that no matter how hard I pushed, I wasn’t getting any faster. I could hear the enthusiastic calls of spectators, who cheered me on, but it was by far the hardest run I’ve ever done. I now know this is an area I need to improve on by training in the heat more as I was not used to it. I knew that if I didn’t slow down the pace slightly I wouldn’t be able to finish the run, due to heat exhaustion. Some of the other competitors stopped or passed out due to the heat. It was such a relief when the drink stations came into view, I promptly threw the water over my head and grabbed a cup of Gatorade to drink, however completely missed my mouth and ended up with half a cup of Gatorade down my face and in my eye. Safe to say at the next drink station I was more careful. The last half lap was the hardest and I knew that I had the start of sunstroke because of the heat and the lack of fluids. My mouth was so dry that my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. Finally, after an exhausting run, I lapped the fountain a final time and the finish line was in sight, which I was relieved to see. I ran down the blue carpet just grateful that I managed to finish the race. I crossed the finish line and stumbled a few metres before everything went blurry, I remember the marshal catching me and then a few seconds later I was laying on the floor semiconscious, (I guess you could say that this was a sign that I had given it my all). Everything was spinning as I was walking out of the finish area to the recovery area. Next thing I heard a strong American accent commanding “Ma’am, I think you need to sit down,” and a hand on my elbow guiding me to a patch in the shade. I sat there for a while before going to find my family, who were waiting on the other side of the fence of the recovery area. I staggered over towards them and collapsed in a heap on the floor beside the fence, laying down with my eyes closed, splashing cold water over myself. My dad suggested I should eat a banana to get some energy into me, but I felt like I couldn’t move and go and get some. At which point my Granddad took it upon himself to blatantly walk past the officials and walked straight into the athlete recovery area so he could get me some recovery food, bless him. Granddads are very useful in Triathlons!!! He did get chucked out of the recovery area though. When I had recovered I spoke to fellow competitors from all ages groups and a lot of GB athletes said they had struggled in the heat. Well done to those who raced later in the day, I don’t know how they did it. It was a shame the conditions were not so good for me, but there is always another race.
When I got back to the hotel to cool off and check the overall timing I searched the results, however in my female age group my name didn’t come up at all. This baffled me, so my dad went and looked at photos from the race. I had a terrible sinking feeling in my stomach that I had been DQ, however my name wasn’t on the DQ list. Finally, my dad spotted that in all photos of me, including the ones of me exiting the swim, my timing chip wasn’t on my ankle. I was so frustrated, my chip must have been pulled off during the swim as I had it on when entering the water. The timing chip straps were quite short and not very sturdy so I’m not surprised to find that it wasn’t just me that had trouble with them. After an extremely long process of speaking to officials and timing managers, it was placed forward to the judges to decide whether or not my place would be allowed. They had to look at the filming of the race to prove that I had done all the laps (which I did!!). They knew my overall time and result as there were cameras on the finish line, which showed the time I finished the race. In the end my result was allowed, however it takes a few months to be put on the official results. Many of my friends at home had been eagerly waiting on the results to see my name and were puzzled by why my name didn’t come up at all. Now I have learnt to take my own timing strap to each race, just in case.
Overall, I came 12th out of 64 females in the under 20 category with a time of 1.12.41. I was fairly pleased with my overall result, however disappointed with my performance as I think that, in cooler temperatures, I could have performed much better and perhaps placed higher up. However, it is all about learning and enjoying the experience, which I did so very much.
I spent the rest of the week doing tourist activities, like going to the aquarium and the museum, watching the other races and completely stuffing my face with deep-dish pizzas (they were AMAZING!), ice-cream, burgers, chips and hotdogs… You know, all the essential food groups in an athlete’s diet.
I would like to thank ITU for organising an amazing race and making my first abroad race such a great experience and Nirvana for organising the trip very well. I am also going to thank my grandparents and parents for all their support (and also paying for all my food, of which I ate a lot!). Another huge thanks to all my lovely sponsors, Banbury Swimming Club, Leisure Interiors, Norbar, Wowme Design, who have given me such great financial support. Also, thanks for all the amazing support from Team Cherwell members, neighbours, friends and family. But mostly, as always, a huge thanks to my amazing coach, Brian Butler, who made the whole trip possible by giving me the most remarkable coaching, to be able to qualify and compete at such a high level. That pretty much wraps up the season, now for winter training…..