ITU World Championships – Race Report

After USAT Nationals last year I paid the required $50 to reserve my spot for racing at the World Championships in Edmonton, 2014. My training this season was focused around my Olympic distance races leading up to Worlds with each race being a dress rehearsal, giving me the opportunity to fine-tune my race execution and make tweaks to the training and rest regimen.

At the beginning of the season I was nervous for my big races but as the season moved on I learned to manage those pre-race nerves. As Edmonton approached I knew I had done all the work I could and I just had to let my body do what it knows how to do.

Downtown Edmonton, City Center.
Downtown Edmonton, City Center.

Patrick and I flew into Edmonton on Friday. With the Olympic Distance race being Monday, I figured it would be plenty of time to get settled in. Unfortunately our days ended up being quite busy. Friday evening we went to City Hall in downtown Edmonton to pick up my packet for the race and after a quick, easy run we went to the grocery store to make salads for dinner (my favorite). We ate in bed, watching TV before turning in for the night around 10.

Saturday morning I woke up by 7 for my last easy run before the race. My run didn’t feel great and my new GPS watch refused to find a satellite connection, which was frustrating. I typically don’t feel great before races so I tried to just let it go. After stretching out extensively we hit up the delicious hotel breakfast. Apparently it was just my opinion but I thought the food tasted so good in Canada, you could actually taste the flavor of everything you were eating. Even the yogurt and granola at breakfast was unusually delicious. Traditional European-style, they also had a custom coffee machine for your classy coffee needs… I love a good cappuccino.

After the stomach settled a bit, Patrick drove me over to the local YMCA to get in a swim. On the way we happened to drive by Gwen Jorgensen and her fiancé Patrick Lemieux. We figured she was heading back to her hotel and off to the race site, since her race was in about 3 hours. There were five lanes at the pool, outside to inside labelled slow, medium, fast. Since another triathlete was in the fast lane, he and I decided to split the lane and take sides. Just as he pushed off, in walks a tall thin woman sporting a Roka wetsuit. I instantly got nervous. Gwen walked over to join us in the fast lane. I quickly introduced myself but I knew she was probably mentally preparing for her race, so I notified the other swimmer we’d be circling and jumped in. We were able to stay out of each other’s way fairly well so it worked out perfectly.

After my swim, I walked back to the hotel to meet Patrick to drive over to view the women’s elite race. I made a huge mistake and assumed the bike course was on roads similar to my race but I was wrong. Both bridges that allow you to drive south to the race site were closed for the race. After wasting almost an hour we drove back to the hotel and jumped on the light rail. After being instructed to get off at the wrong stop we finally made it to the race shuttles.

Watching the elite women's race, Sarah Haskins flying by on the bike.
Watching the elite women’s race, Sarah Haskins flying by on the bike.

Arriving at the race we could hear them announcing the elite ladies running out of the water for their second loop in the lake. It was perfect timing to then catch the ladies heading out for their first loop on the bike. It was highly entertaining to see what happened on each of six loops. I was rooting for Sarah Haskins, but later learned she was really there to help Gwen on the swim and bike still being unable to run (read Sarah’s blog here). Gwen was a little over a minute down from the leaders off the bike but she closed that gap very quickly. She basically just had to cruise the last 1.5K lap to her victory, insane to watch.

After the race we shuttled and light-railed back to the hotel. After hearing an odd noise while cycling during the Women’s YWCA tri I wanted to take my bike for a spin and get it to the mechanic if needed. The noise was still there so I rode over to the Hilton where USAT had bike mechanics available. They weren’t sure exactly what it was but guessed it was my disc rubbing the brakes a bit. After an adjustment I went to ride home and it was worse, way worse, almost constant. I couldn’t stare at my disc while riding but I was almost positive the disc was rubbing the left chain stay.

When I took my bike back to the mechanic a random person waiting to get his bike worked on grabbed my bike flipped it upside down and told me I just didn’t have the wheel in correctly. He tightened the skewer as tight as he could and told me I should be set. The actual mechanic then graciously went outside with me to take my bike for a spin to hear for himself. He was able to hear the rubbing as well and make the right adjustment so I was all set, phew.

After riding back to the hotel, Patrick and I rushed right back out the door to grab dinner snacks and get me to my massage appointment at 5:30. Post-massage Patrick shuttled me right over to the team meeting at 6:30 at which point I was finally able to eat my dinner. The meeting lasted longer than it was supposed to with so many questions; I stuck around to hear all the answers as I didn’t want to miss any random rule clarifications.

IMG_3999
Row H, easy to remember 🙂

With Saturday being such a long day of constantly rushing around we decided to sleep in and relax at the hotel for most of Sunday. I did my bike and swim loosen-up sessions in the morning, had a leisurely breakfast, dropped my bike off at transition then settled in bed to watch the elite men’s race online. One of my favorite ITU race moments of the year was at the end of this race when Javier Gomez and Mario Mola were congratulating each other as they were running to/across the finish line (check out this video of it ~around :45).  It helps that they are both very fit, beautiful people. Following the race Patrick and I grabbed an early dinner to eat in the room. I stretched out a bit before hitting bed at the very late hour of 6:30p.m.

Alarms went off at 4 a.m. Patrick was responsible for brewing coffee while I stretched. We were meeting Stopwatch Greg around 4:30 to get a ride over to the race site, since public transport didn’t start until after 5. The air temp was close to 45 degrees and getting colder still. It was pitch black when we got dropped off at transition. I was immediately cold. I dropped my bag and quickly put on all the clothes I could to stay warm, it still wasn’t quite enough. When transition opened I went in to start getting my bike setup. I could only do one thing at a time as I needed to put my freezing hands back inside the socks I was using as gloves, so it was a slow process. Once I was pretty much setup I wanted to find a place to get warm so I left transition to find Patrick.

It took me a while to find him, when I did I was on the verge of a mental break down. I was so cold, stressed about being cold and how it would affect my race. Patrick, still having sanity, suggested we jump on the shuttle bus and take the 15 minute round trip to help get me warm. The bus driver was kind to crank the heat for me and I was able to thaw and loosen up a bit, smartest move of the day. When we got back to the race site I headed back into transition to do a warm-up run and stretch out. I made the final touches to my bike and headed over to the athlete ready area.

Running out of the lake.
Running out of the lake.

Getting into my wetsuit felt great because it was nice and warm, but about 30 minutes prior to the race we had to line up at which point I had to abandon my shoes. My feet were completely numb waiting for the race start. Women 34 and under were going in 3 heats 3 minutes apart, youngest to oldest. After the 25-29-ers took off at 7:53 we lined up on the dock built on the sand a few feet from the water. They let us jump into the water for a few seconds before the start. I jumped in hoping to ease the shock when we started. Luckily the water was much warmer than I had anticipated, my feet actually started to thaw. Lined up on the sand with one foot touching the dock we all anxiously awaited the starting horn. As the horn blared we all rushed into the water, one step to a huge drop off so we were swimming immediately. I was able to make a pretty clear break right away and had no contact to the first buoy. Being a two loop course after the first buoy I was chasing down men on their second loop and all the 29 and under ladies. After a gradual out and back you make a hard curve around an island. Everyone was trying to stay tight to the buoys so it got pretty dense in this space, probably the most contact I’ve had in a race. Around the island to head out for my second lap I got a nice egg beater kick to the chest, a little unexpected but thankfully water polo prepared me for full contact swimming. Making my way around the second lap things thinned out a bit and I was able to concentrate more on my swimming than the people swimming around me. Sighting the buoys around the island and into shore was tough with the sun in your face. I don’t like to follow the feet in front of me because you never know who or what they’re sighting, so I did my best to swim straight at the blow up arch at the swim exit.

After reaching the shore there was a long run to transition, I glanced at my watch to see where I was at, 18:40-ish out of the water. I was initially disappointed but I figured it was just a bit long of a swim. Mom and Dad were cheering for me as I made my way to transition. I started to mentally get prepared for the bike, my favorite leg of the race. Finally at my spot in transition I struggled getting my wetsuit over the timing chip. They had made us pull them outside of our wetsuits and I usually tuck mine under. I quickly put my helmet on and rushed out with my bike alongside many other athletes.

I mounted my bike and was very slow getting my feet in my shoes. I had put my toe covers on because the air was cold so I struggled a bit to get each foot in. I had to take a few extra pedal strokes to keep moving forward then try again. Once in my shoes I was preparing for the first of many climbs on the course. The course was 2 loops; each loop had 4 out and backs and 3 climbs. I switched to the small ring for the first short, steep climb;after getting over the top I tried to move back into my big ring but it wouldn’t go. I switched back to the small ring and tried again; it just clicked and clicked but would not turn over to the big gear.   There wasn’t time to stop so I settled on racing in the small gear, which I’ve never done. Being on a slight down-hill I was already frustrated not being able to turn over to a harder gear. About a minute later I had to try again and thankfully it switched over this time and I was able to race in the gears I like.

Biking out of transition.
Biking out of transition.

On the last out and back on the first loop I was concentrating on the cones dividing the traffic. Heading into the turn-around the cones went to the sidewalk. I was immediately confused. I had to slow down almost to a stop to figure out where I needed to go. It was very obvious but I had been so concentrated on the cones that my race mind didn’t follow. At least I’d know what to do on the second lap.

Looping back to transition Patrick, Mom and Dad were cheering me on. I was close to 32 minutes at this point so I knew I was in a decent spot but I was starting to worry about the competition. Headed into lap two I focused on staying mentally tough and racing, I paid more attention to where my competition was on the course and used it for motivation to crank out a faster second lap. Unfortunately with such a small course and thousands of racers you’re bound to run into a few slow-downs. On the last out and back which was a single lane each way I caught a pack of athletes three wide and three deep with a motorcycle in the middle of it. There was really no way around it.   I had to slow down significantly and work my way through the tight pack. This situation was frustrating not only because those athletes were drafting and the motorcycle did nothing to tell them to break up, but they were basically blocking the road for faster racers.  Overall, the ride flew by and I came back into transition ready for the last leg of the race.

The run was also two laps each with two out and backs, with about a third of the course on a trail. Running out I was feeling strong, Patrick, Mom and Dad were there to cheer me on as I headed down the road to the trail. We cut across the grass and headed onto a gravel packed trail through the woods. I wasn’t completely prepared for a semi hilly, curvy trail run, but it turned out to be fairly distracting only being able to see 10-20 yards out in front of you. After the trail portion we were directed back onto the road for another out and back. Running back on the road for the turn-around at transition Dani Fischer was only about 20 seconds behind me. I was hoping to reach the turn-around before she caught me but it was obvious at that moment it would be much sooner. Dani gave me a nice motivational slap on the butt as she ran by cheering me on. I told her something like, get after it and got back to work. Running towards transition I was starting to feel a little tired and fatigued, Patrick, Mom and Dad were there to cheer me on and I really wanted to give them a thumbs down (my mental state) at that point but I just kept chugging along.

Leaving transition for the run.
Leaving transition for the run.

I was worried for the second half of the run but once I reached the trail again it was distracting and the turn-around came quickly. This time headed out to the road my Dad had walked up to the path to cheer me on. I didn’t pay too much attention but it was a nice pick me up with about 1.5 miles to go.  Hitting the road I knew the race was going to be really close. Off in the distance I saw Robin Pomeroy for the first time, (who was 2nd at LFT Minneapolis) as I ran by I looked at my watch to time where she was at. Not too much further behind was Dani so I checked my watch again. The turn-around was further than I hoped. At the turn-around my approximate time measurement had me ahead of Robyn by only 10 seconds, 30 ahead of Dani. With about a mile to go I knew I had to crank it into gear, I did not want to lose in the last mile. I stayed strong and picked up the pace as much as I could. Coming back to transition Mom and Dad were cheering but not like normal, I could hear the serious urgency in their voices. I took a sharp right turn and then left heading towards the finish and started to sprint. There was one more hard right and left turn to the finish, the USAT folks were near the turn handing out flags but they just said “Heather you could do it go get it.” After the hard turns I sprinted as hard as I could, passing a few men on the way. In my mind my first thought was “this hurts bad” but right away I switched to “it doesn’t matter” and got to that line as fast as I could. I finished in 2:09:32, but I had no idea what that meant.

The volunteers hustled us to the post race area where I found Dani and Robin. Neither of them wore watches so they had no idea where they finished. We hung out for some photos, got water and headed out to greet our families. I rushed to Patrick to see if he had any idea where I finished. I asked him if he knew how I did and he just said “you did it”. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant so I had him clarify. He wrote down all the times of the top girls in each age group, I finished 12 seconds ahead of Robin and Robin was 14 in front of Dani. USA went 1-2-3, it didn’t seem real (and still doesn’t).

Results were finally in, I did it , #1, USA, World Champ :-)
Results were finally in, I did it , #1, USA, World Champ 🙂

Post race we hung out (eating delicious mini donuts) to see the 35+ results come in. When they did I was still on top. Making the overall podium was a goal of mine that I wasn’t sure was within reach, but I’m proud and honored to have made the top spot. World Champ, a title I never would have expected a year ago and I couldn’t have been happier. The long hard weeks of winter training, endless racing and training all summer, and too often missing out on friends and family had finally paid off. This made it all worth it.

My swim was the fastest female swim of the day by 21 seconds and my bike leg was the 5th fastest, so I was very pleased. My run time wasn’t my best split of the year but with the trail portion of the run slowing everyone down a bit I think it was pretty close. I’m very pleased that I only had a minor mental struggle on the run but was able to remain positive most of the way, a huge victory in my book.

After the race was over I packed up my bike gear and Patrick, Mom, Dad and I crammed on the shuttle bus and light rail back to the hotel. Mom and Dad packed up to leave pretty quickly as they had a 20 hour drive home to St. Paul. Patrick and I got some snacks to eat in bed, napped and headed to awards at 5:30p.m. We were lucky to sit with Diane Hankee (third in her AG in the sprint), her mom and sister, and also Dani. We had great conversation with the dinner and awards ceremony. After getting our age group awards we all left.

Patrick and I weren’t leaving till Wednesday so we were able to be tourists on Tuesday. We hit up some spots recommended by the Hankee’s. It was a beautiful day and relaxing before heading home Wednesday back to reality.  Thanks for reading! Check out the race results.   View more photos.

Beautiful shot from downtown Edmonton.
Beautiful shot from downtown Edmonton.
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