Tuesday, October 27, 2015

All about the ITU World Championships

Since I was gone at ITU Worlds for a week, this is going to be long. Here are some links to jump to the parts you are most interested in:

Pre-race Logistics

The Race

Opening Ceremonies

Not Enough Volunteers

The Elites

Closing Thoughts


Pre-race Logistics

I arrived in Chicago on Monday evening and took the "L" from O'Hare to downtown. There was another guy on the train who had a fancy bike box and I was pretty sure he was going to the same place I was, but I never got up the nerve to talk to him.

The Hostel

Coach Dave met me on the street once I got off the "L" and walked me to the Hostel. I decided to stay at a hostel because one week there cost as much as one night in a budget hotel in Downtown Chicago. I was in a "semi-private" room with eight other women. There were two bedrooms with two bunk beds in each and a bathroom and a sitting room.

Oh and a "kitchen" which looked like it had once been a full kitchen but all that worked were the fridge and microwave and the cabinets were completely empty. Weird.

It was a little awkward at first rooming with people I didn't know. Plus, I was assigned a top bunk which meant at least once a day I almost died trying to get either up or down the ladder. But, as the week wore on, it got more fun as we got more roommates who were into the Hostel thing and immediately introduced themselves and started chatting.

However, I definitely recommend that, if you are going to share a room in a hostel, you know at least one of your roommate. Having to constantly introduce yourself to new people and adjust to them is a bit wearing.

Packet Pickup

The next day Coach Dave and I went down to get our packets. The procedure was a breeze for us, but there was a sign telling the Canadian athletes they weren't allowed to pick up their packets because their National Federation hadn't paid yet! I thought that was a shitty thing to do actually. ITU could have just said those athletes couldn't get their packets and to talk to your federation. The public shaming wasn't necessary especially as later on Brazil got added to the sign, which suggests maybe the ITU was part of the problem.

After we got our packets and our bodies marked, we decided to check out the course. This involved a lot of walking. A lot. That's because packet pickup was on one side of the venue and the Swim Out and World Champion transition area was at the other. The venue was about a mile long. Getting from the Swim Out to the Transition entrance and the all the way through transition to Run Out was almost half a mile on top of it. I probably ended up walking over two miles just that morning and maybe four miles over the course of the day. That's a lot of walking right before a race.

My New Best Friend

One of the cool things about being at Worlds is meeting a bunch of other athletes who are similar to you. At first, all I could see were these super hard-body athletes. I was feeling fat and uncoordinated and like a poser. But then I ran into the Austin Gals -- a group of women my age with all body types from Austin, TX who were all doing the Aquathlon, too. One of them introduced herself as "Hi, I'm P and I'm your new best friend." I answered back "Okay. Oh and I'm Mac" and then we all hung out for the rest of the day.

We attended the Aquathlon Team USA Photo shoot and did the Swim Course Preview and had a great time comparing notes on how we got there and how we expected to do.

Swim Course Preview

Speaking of the Swim Course preview, I also got to swim in the harbor. Originally we were told we couldn't do that and we'd have to do our swimming somewhere else. At the last minute they put a course preview on the schedule. It was a chance to see how cold this "very cold" water was and to try out my racing kit.

The water was wonderful. We were told the water temp was 16° C and that wetsuits were mandatory. I am pretty sure the water was warmer (low 60s) and, since it was so hot on land, it felt so good when I jumped in.

I just swam one loop which they said was 350 meters. I had no watch but it felt like a good swim. I wasn't the last out of the water of our group that all went in at the same time. And I felt like my stroke was efficient, if not super-fast.

Race Day

The next day I didn't have to get up very early because I didn't have to be into transition until 9:30 am! My wave didn't go off until noon and we had to be out of transition by 10:30. Plus ITU does this thing where they want you to have a "clean" transition area. That means no mats or towels or water bottles or sunscreen. Just your biking stuff (if doing a tri) and running stuff. Oh and no transition bag either.

All of this caused me to be a bit off my game. I ended up switching bags to a smaller one after packing the night before and this caused me to forget my timing chip as it got stuck to the first bag without me realizing it.

Setting Up

I got to transition pretty early, around nine, and set everything up, watched the officials yell at people for having transition mats and make them put them away and then did my 10 minute run for my warm up. There were a lot of other people running in transition too.

I was worried that warming up 2.5 hours before my event was a bad idea, but I wasn't sure what else to do. Then I left my shoes behind and walked barefoot to the bag check area to turn in everything but my wetsuit.

Then we waited. It was hot as heck, so we stayed by the bag check area because it was shady. Around 10:40 am I was looking at people's legs and realized I had no timing chip!

This is when I did something dumb. I got my hotel key from my gear bag and ran back to the hotel to get my chip. It was only three blocks and I felt good. But it was dumb. I was running in bare feet which kills my feet and I was wasting energy. I should have just gone to the swim start and asked for a new one. However, I didn't even think of that until the next day.

The Swim

I ended up back at gear check at 11:00 am with an hour still to kill. Eventually I went over to the swim start and resisted the urge to put on my wet suit. I put it on up to the waist about five minutes before our wave was called to the holding pen. Then I put the the rest of it on right before we moved to the "on deck" pen. So that went well. I wasn't nearly as hot as some of the people who had put their suits on much earlier.

We were given instructions and made our way to the water. After standing in the heat, the water felt great! TPTB were going on the day before and that day about how cold the water was but it was only in the low 60s. I thought it was perfect. The only thing I would change was having the wind whip the current towards the swim out and not away from it!

The starter said "on your mark" and blew the horn and we were off! I swam strongly and was able to keep up with my new friend Elle for about half the swim. I thought that was pretty good because she is definitely faster than me.

I ended up falling off the fast pack after a while, but I was able to keep ahead of the slower pack. I got out in about 20 minutes with at least 16 people behind me. Without my Garmin it's impossible to know if the swim was short or long and if that was a good time or not, but I was okay with it.

Results: Swim Time: 20:35. 19/26 in Age Group, 250th Female, 655th overall

Transition

Then I ran (and ran and ran) to the transition area. I had a decent transition -- no wetsuit snagging and got my shoes on reasonable fast. I grabbed my race belt and put it on as I was running (and running and running) to the run out.

Results: 4:59. 15/26 AG, 222nd Female, 581st Overall

The Run

Normally, my run is better than my swim, but not on that day. I think the issue was that it was hot. Add in that I ran back to my hotel and I just could not get my legs to turnover like I wanted to. I pushed it as much as I could but I got passed by lots of people including most of the people in my age group that I'd managed to beat out of Transition.

As I was coming in for the finish, I grabbed a flag from the Team USA people and ran in. And then I was done!

Results: 24/26 AG, 267th Female, 669th Overall

Overall

So my end result is that I beat the two gals from the US that I was ranked ahead of and the one gal who quit after the swim but no one else. I was a bit disappointed in that, but I got over it.

Results: 23/26 AG, 260th Female, 664th Overall

Opening Ceremonies

After hanging out behind the finish line with my new best friends recovering, I went back to the hotel to shower and change. Then back to the fountain for the Team USA group photo. I ended up photo bombing the Sprint team's photo by accident. So did half of my new best friends!

After the picture, I acquired a new cowbell (by making a charitable donation to some group that helps challenged athletes) and we decided to go to the Expo. There were some cool booths there. 

In particular, I got to try this new recovery system where you put on these boots that go from toes to hips and massage you with compressed air. It was weird. I'm not sure how much it helped, to be honest. I think it did a little but the system cost over a grand. It didn't help that much!

We also got our pictures taken at the ITU/WADA Say No to Doping booth. And tried out a new cream for injuries. Because the world needs yet another pain numbing cream. We tried some samples at the various nutrition booths and had some dinner.

Somewhere in my travels, I lost my sunglasses. But it was time to collect for the Opening Ceremonies so we went to the collection point. And waited. And waited. 

Eventually the parade started. It was fun! Team USA, as the hosting nation, came in last. Then there were some (mercifully short) speeches and then a Blues Brothers cover band played and people danced. Those of us racing the next day left early and I did too because I was tired.

Not Enough Volunteers

Thursday was the Age-Grouper Sprint race. Coach Dave was in that. Since he'd cheered me on during  my race, I decided to cheer him during his.

I stayed with him during the Swim Start and then walked down to the Swim Out and took pictures and cheered. Then I ran up to the bike course and tried to catch them there. I was able to see him bike out but I was so far away I didn't cheer (as he wouldn't have heard me). I decided to cross over to the other side so I could cheer when he came back.
This took F.O.R.E.V.E.R. The volunteers controlling the crossing didn't seem to know what they were doing. And the Run Aid Station near the crossing seemed seriously under-manned. This is not your problem, I told myself. Someone will call to the Volunteer Coordinator and get more. Just go find Dave.

So I crossed and was able to cheer when Coach Dave came back into town. I don't think he heard me but I did see him and scream "Go, Dave!"

Then I crossed back to yell on the run. This also took forever. And the Aid Station only had five people at it. That was crazy. So I jumped in and started handing out Gatorade. One of the guys also commandeered a spectator to help him move some boxes to get more Gatorade.

We gave out our water and Gatorade for a couple of hours. I thought it was hot the day before but it was seriously hot on Thursday. The athletes were grabbing water from every volunteer and then were disappointed that I had Gatorade and not water. They were drinking some but mostly just throwing it on themselves.

Coach Dave came by on the first loop and he had that look like see at the end of an Ironman. Pasty completion and clammy skin. But he didn't look like he was going to die. So I told him that he could do it and I'd see him at the second loop and gave him a hug. (This is how I knew he was sweaty and clammy.)

Sure enough I did see him on the second loop and he didn't look any worse and we were very near the finish. So I gave him Gatorade and told him he was almost done. I'm sorry I didn't get to cheer him at the finish but there were still a ton of athletes who needed Gatorade.

I have a friend who is an ITU "Technical Officer" and she told me they were having trouble getting volunteers. So I went down to the tent and got a volunteer t-shirt and promised to come back later on to volunteer some more.

The Elites

The next day was the Women's Race. I was going to the Team USA breakfast, then go for a two hour run, do some volunteering, then watch their race. However, the weather threw a big crimp into those plans. Because it was threatening to ran and thunderstorm, they changed the schedule all around.

I did go to the breakfast. That's also when the Aquathlon team finally got their medals. (They were stuck in customs for our actual race.) Then I went for my run. But it was hot and I got lost. I ended up in a sketchy part of town when I had wanted to run along the lakefront. So I made my way back to the  hostel as best I could. 

After 1 hour and 45 minutes, I was totally beat and ended up walking the rest of the way back. Then I showered and changed and at this point it was time for the Women's race. So I never got to volunteer.

Elite Women

The Women's race was also close. Gwen Jorgesen was undefeated going in and USA women were ranked one through three. So there was a possibility for a USA Podium Sweep. 

Gwen was not first out of the water but ended up in the first pack of cyclists. She stayed there for the entire bike course. Then, on the run she made her move and it was her and another gal neck and neck for most of the race. On the last lap, she put on a burst of speed and left everyone else in the dust! So she defended her title and also won the series thus being set up very nicely for the Olympics next year.

The other USA teammates did not podium at all but at least one of them has already qualified for the Olympics.

While the Elites were out on their run, the TOs swept in and set up transition for the Under-23s. They actually started their race before the award ceremony was done for the Women. In the end, everyone got to race before the rains came.

Elite Men

The Mens race on Saturday was very exciting. There were a handful of guys who stayed with each other almost the whole way. And two of them raced to the finish together! The Worlds' #1 actually came in 2nd but he won the series.

But before that race, there many other Age-Grouper races. I volunteered at the swim start for the Age-Group Standard (Olympic) Distance race. I got to see my friend Kyle before he started his race. I also got to see the pontoon break! Well, actually, there wasn't much to see. But it was declared broken and the last couple of waves ended up doing a 700 meter swim instead of a 1500m swim because they couldn't use the pontoon to get into the water. I found the whole thing to be most strange.

Then I hung out at the Expo some more. That's when I found my sunglasses! Because I'd put my name on them and Team USA just as the email from USAT recommended, I was able to get them back when I went from booth to booth saying "Have you seen my sunglasses?"

Closing Thoughts

The next day I got up at the crack of dawn and took the "L" back to the airport. There was another guy with a bike in my car and this time I talked to him. He was a native who had done the Aquathlon, just like me, and he talked about training in the area and how he made the team. Then he got off to meet friends for a Sunday bike ride.

All in all, this was a very interesting experience and, if I could have done it all over again, I definitely would have done some things differently. It's very exciting to be on such a high performing stage. I was thinking of this as a once-in-a-lifetime thing but then I got the bug to do ti again.

Next year's race is in Cozemel, which is a place the whole family would want to visit. I thought seriously about going to Oklahoma City for Aquathlon Nationals as there were less than ten people in my age group registered and I would have guaranteed myself a slot on the team if I was one of them. But, in the end, the cost to fly out there was too much and I had to skip it.

I just have to hope I can make the team based on rankings like I did this year. I've moved up in the rankings this year to 9th out of 15 but there are no guarantees.

Or maybe by the time 2016 ITU Worlds rolls around, I'll have moved on to other goals. I do still have the goal to qualify for Nationals in Triathlon and qualify for the Boston Marathon and there are only so many hours in a week for training. 

We'll see.
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