Le sigh. I’m a person that loves to plan, schedule, and prepare everything going in to a race. ITU sure made my compulsive planning difficult. From getting late, incomplete, and conflicting information about rules and schedules, it certainly was a good test and learning experience for dealing with the stress and unknowns of race week. I’d probably give myself a C- on this test.
I’ll spare going in to too much detail, but it resulted in a lot of hauling bikes and gear down impossibly narrow staircases, standing around aimlessly for hours unsure of where to go, and then there was the disc wheel debacle. The day before the race, we get an email from ITU: “Disc wheels are banned.” We get another email about an hour later saying it’s supposed to be windy and the RD has the ability to ban disc wheels, a decision will be made race morning. Seriously??? Immediately, mayhem ensued. The host hotel looked like a scene from a war hospital in a WWII movie. “I got a 10 speed bike over here with an 11 speed wheel, get that wheel over to the 11 speed bike and keep searching for another non disc wheel STAT!” There are a number of reasons why this scare was a bad move by the race organizers:
- Many athletes traveled from across the globe with only one rear wheel, a disc, because it’s the best and fastest wheel choice in almost every scenario.
- The bike course is entirely sheltered from the wind with the exception of four 1.5 mile segments as you ride in and out of transition and between your two laps.
- Disc wheels actually aren’t bad in windy conditions. Here’s an excerpt from a post by Wheel Guru Dave Ripley:
“In windy conditions, the single biggest variable to pay attention to is your front wheel. Your front wheel is attached to your steering lever and depending on the shape and depth of your wheel can get blown off axis… And, to finally debunk the “too windy” [for rear disc wheels] myth, the faster the wind gets, the faster the disc gets. Because the disc has a constant surface area there is nothing to disrupt the airflow across it. This accelerates the flow across the windward side and releases the low pressure pocket on the leeward side- stabilizing the entire bike. This balancing act also shifts the center of pressure of the whole bike and rider system towards the rear, relieving some pressure off of the front wheel…allowing it to steer more freely. “
So now you have these athletes with deep front wheels (poor handling in the wind) and shallow rear wheels (opposed to a disc that stabilizes the bike) who are now WORSE off in the wind. Oh boy. Anyways, come race morning, I hear the news that discs should be allowed, carry my extra wheels to transition to have the mechanics put my disc back on my bike. Immediately, everyone around me starts admonishing me for making such a poor choice. The check in volunteers are doubting my ability to ride my bike in severe conditions, the TeamUSA coach reprimanded me particularly sternly because she believed I would simply get stopped at T1 and pulled from the race if the winds picked up during the day. Kyle reaffirmed that riding the disc was 100% the right decision, but I caved to the pressure and took the disc wheel off my bike. Back to the hotel room, back to transition because I remembered I pumped my tires with my disc on, not with my other wheel, back to the swim start. I covered at least 3 miles on foot going back and forth race morning and feel like I aged 10 years from the stress.
Swim – 20:59
The swim start was abrupt. And narrow. 100 people jump off the dock, 4 seconds to squeeze in between the start buoys and GO! It was one of the roughest swim starts I’ve experienced, probably due to both the tight space and being surrounded by many more girls my swim speed than usual. I had some fast feet to follow and things were going pretty well until the first turn around buoy about 300m in. When I came out of the turnaround, there was someone on the inside swimming and pushing me to the outside, away from the feet I was drafting off of. I tried to get back inside to catch the draft, but before too long that swimmer was gone. I figured I’d settle in to the group I was with, and move behind someone so I wasn’t the one in front pulling us all along. I sat in 2nd spot. But then, I started to fade, couldn’t keep up on the toes of the girl in front of me. Moved to 3rd. Then, same thing. I was trying and trying and swimming so hard I actually thought I was going to puke. I just kept dropping back further and further in the group. This has NEVER happened before. I’ve had bad days and bad races, but never a bad swim. Swimming just happens so easily, why did this feel like such a struggle. I shouldn’t complain, because a bad-for-me swim is still within the top 10, but I started to realize that the stress of the week may have been more physically taxing than I’d realized.
Bike – 1:01:00 (38k, maybe??)
When I got on the bike I decided to put the swim out of my mind and focus on the bike as its own event. At the same time, being so far back in the swim took a bit of the “do or die” feeling off knowing I wasn’t likely competing for a podium AG spot, so I better finish this race in one piece. There were a lot of U-turns, dark tunnels, narrow single lanes with people passing 3 wide (saying “on your left” in a variety of languages). Risky and aggressive moves on the bike weren’t worth it at that point, and I might as well wave at my family each time I passed them on the course, try my best, and appreciate the day.
Run – 46:12 (6.6 ish miles)
My watch didn’t get fully charged the night before the race, so it died 1 mile in. I had no idea what pace I was running, but it felt hard. Really really hard. I took the same approach to the run as the bike. Forget about the previous ups and downs of the race and have the best run I can eek out. High five my family and enjoy the day.
I figured I was beyond the point of worrying about saving seconds that I could go grab a huge American flag from my family to run across the finish line with it. It’s a lot harder than I thought. My finisher photos didn’t turn out nearly as sweet as I was imagining.
The spectators along the run course were amazing though. I was constantly getting “Go USA!” cheers and people cheering the name on my kit. It was equally as cool to watch the British and Australian and Mexican etc spectators cheer on their fellow countrymen. It definitely adds a new level of camaraderie and kinship when you’re cheering on your “team” in every age group, not just a bunch of disconnected athletes in various colored/sponsored kits.
At the end of the day, I had an amazing experience representing my country with the best support crew around. My parents, my grandfather, older sister and brother in law, my boyfriend Kyle, his parents ALL came to Chicago just cheer me on. And to eat, drink, and have a great time in Chicago.
Maybe it wasn’t the race I was hoping for, but the experience of representing my country and racing against thousands of the world’s best triathletes is certainly one I will cherish. And when it comes to the competition of best cheering squad in the world – my family won that one hands down!