Triathlon Olimpico di Avigliana
This was one funny adventure! Although stressful at the time!
In the past I have always done my full Ironman at the end of the season and did not have to gain speed for a shorter race afterwards. I would take an off season break and not race for the next five months, giving my body plenty of time to go back to normal.
This year’s transition to speed in the middle of the season after Ironman (Nice in this case) was a first, and not an easy one!
I have heard from those who have done it, that the first race after Ironman does not feel very good. I did not think much of it, but it was a lot worse than what I was mentally prepared for!
My coach decided it would be a good idea to do an Olympic distance race as a tune for the Australia 70.3 World Championship at the beginning of August. I wasn’t signed up for anything, so to find something last minute would be a challenge. There weren’t any races in France or the registration was closed. So I decided to search in nearby Italy. With the help of Google I found an Italian triathlon race calendar. And voila, there was what seemed like the perfect race at the perfect time, only 3.5 hours away, near Turin, but registration deadline had passed. Shoot. Well, maybe I can write the race director and see if they might be able to get me in. It was Italy after all. I figured their rules might be a bit relaxed.
With the help of Google Translate, the Tuesday before the race, I wrote what I thought was a sweet email in Italian, explaining why I would love to do their beautiful race. I sent it and let it be. I dis -attached myself from the idea that they would actually respond. I thought the chance of them doing a favor for someone they don’t know would be slim, although I really wanted to race. I was getting a bit tired of the voluminous training and wanted at least a bit of a taper and recovery before and after the race. My boyfriend was away on a business trip and I did not feel like going out by myself with our friends and be tempted by late night Côte d’Azur summer parties, the kind of lifestyle I was not supposed be leading at that point in time.
The next day I wake up and to my great surprise find an email back in Italian. I skim through it and it looks positivish. I paste it into Google Translate to be sure. They ask that I send them my passport number, date of birth, etc. and pay by noon! Wow. That’s great! Now how do I transfer money to an Italian bank? I carefully look through their site again and find some kind of a reference to PayPal. Though not specifically for explained, I try to send the $ to one of the email addresses listed. I get a confirmation of payment and forward it on to the race organizers with the rest of the info requested.
With excitement I email my coach back and ask him to lower my training for the rest of the week. He is a bit skeptical since I don’t have my confirmation that I’m in yet, but I am already operating under this scenario. I try on my new Team Zoot kit and pack.
I don’t hear from the race organizers that day or the following that they have my info, feeling a bit nervous. They do finally write back in English to say, all is good, just with the PayPal payment you need to pay an additional 5 euro at registration, and don’t forget your card! The card? They must mean my passport, I thought. Or my doctor’s note as they require in France? Either way, I will bring both. I have emailed my doctor in Mexico in the meantime to send me a doctor’s note translated into Italian.
So I find a random hotel that seems to be close to the race site on trivago.com and am all set to depart on Saturday to make it to race packet pick up by 6pm. It was not clear from the Italian site where race packet pick up was, but I figured I’d inquire in town. Hmmm… As I was driving I realized people in town might not know. Triathlon is simply not your local football match. It is always that event that only the triathletes know about, if it’s just a simple, local race.
So a little worrisome as to how I will find my race registration site, I arrive at the hotel after a 4-hour trip. As I start to park I see a couple of guys getting out of their van with timing equipment. Excuse me, are you the triathlon race organizers (?), I ask in English. Yes, are you Hana? Wow, am I in luck, I thought. I am Mario, I was emailing you, says one of them. How great. Can you let me know where the packet pick up would be? They show me a tiny track/ football field, mark it on my Google maps, and off I go.
When I get there, sweet Italian ladies and their kids give me the packet and ask for my “card”, and the 5 euros. I give them my passport. They shake their head like they need something else. Oh, I give them my medical note. They read it, take it, but are still not happy. They want a license. But I don’t have an Italian license, I say. I live in France and this is all that is needed there. They look at each other and just give me the packet, number 22.
I then see the starting list taped to the wall. Roughly 500 participants. Quite sizable. Then I look closer and see that number 1 – 22 are women. That’s it? Only 4% of the participants are women? Guess women are still supposed to focus more on building a family than sports around here. But what that means, those 21 competitors of mine will be fierce, if they are defining the society and pursuing this manly hobby, I thought.
I then ask about the swim start and transition. They had two transitions set up, quite complicated for a little race. I drove to T1 and then walked to where I thought the swim start would be, not finding the correct one, but being able to get in the water, along with two other local Italian tri newbies.
After my swim in not the nicest lake water, I head back to the hotel.
I enter my room and the receptionist calls me letting me know she has a message for me from Mario, one of the timers. She passes me his number. Hmm, what can it be? I call Mario right away and he tells me I can’t race. What? Why not? You don’t have a license. Again I explain his is not possible since I don’t live in Italy. All I have is my US membership card. A US license, he asks? Well, yes. Ok, you can send that to us. So I quickly go to renew my expired USAT membership card and send it over.
I go to dinner at the restaurant next door and within an hour I have a confirmation from Mario that I can race! Super excited and relieved that I did not travel so far for nothing, I return to the hotel to sleep. This, however, is not an easy task, as there is a super loud, heavy rock band playing next door. I toss and turn, put toilet paper in my ears. Nothing helps. I go to complain and ask to just sleep at another room not facing the restaurant with the band till 5am, without having to move all my things. And as I lay down at midnight in the other room, I realize the music had stopped. So I go back to my room. I wake up, follow my morning routine of bread with peanut butter and banana, Osmo pre-race hydrator, my effervescent vitamins with caffeine, and I had out with my bike.
In front of the hotel I see an Italian female athlete checking her bike with her friend. She must be a beginner, I think, she does not have a tri bike yet, nor an aero helmet. I smile at her and her friend and head over to the start.
I get to the race start and start preparing my T2, my shoes, my race number for the run. I talk to one of the race organizers who happens to be a British lady about the course. I am all set, I grab my bike and decide to head over to T2. And as I am about to leave the football field, another race organizer gives me a blank stare. His jaw just drops as if he had seen a ghost. I look back at him, wondering what on Earth is going on. You can’t race on that! He exclaims.
I go to talk to him and he says – you can’t use that for drafting. “What do you mean? I don’t plan to draft!”, say I. But in this race you can, says he! Oh. A draft legal race. I completely overlooked that. You can’t use a time trial bike. You can hurt others if in a pack. I feel desperate, this can’t be happening. Why don’t you just let me start at the end of the race, so that I can at least use this for training? “That’s not possible, that’s the rules.”
We go talk to the British lady, Jaqui, again. There is nothing I can do, says she. Let’s see if we can get you another bike. She asks another organizer to make an announcement over the loud speaker. I make out from my weak understanding of Italian – an American lady who does not know our rules here needs a bike of size 54 or so, or medium. If you happen to have a bike nearby you can let her use, please come forward. It is 7.20 at this point and the race starts at 8. I have a seat on a banquet and start thinking about what I’ll do with my day. The chances of someone showing up with a spare bike that might fit me are close to nil. Go biking/ training here? But I don’t feel like training! I look around and see a dirty mountain bike. This must be a lead vehicle of one of he organizers. Maybe they would let me race on it? That’s just crazy, I realize. I surrender to the thought of having to do something else with my day. I feel embarrassed for having to tell everyone who knew I came to race that I couldn’t.
Then I see an older gentleman with a bike and his race number attached coming to talk to one of the race organizers. They look towards me… I look back – could this be? No, he has his number taped on. He’s racing.
Then I walk over anyhow and they explain this gentleman is having back pain and decided to withdraw from the race. He’s willing to lend me his bike if I can not crash it. I will certainly try! I was excited for a minute but then looked at the pedals. They were nothing like what I’ve seen before. And mine were totally unusual also as they were from Garmin and had a power meter built into them. And I did not have the tool to take them off my bike. Despair. So close yet not close enough. The only way I saw was to race in Luca’s shoes. What shoe size are you, I ask. 42, says Luca. Close enough. I am 40. Can I borrow your shoes too? Kindly Luca passes me his shoes. I am having a hard time putting them on, but finally I manage. They feel ok. Not the best fit, but I’ll be clipped on the bike, not running.
Ok, this must be it! After all the commotion, I will be racing! At this point, it really is time to head to the race start as it’s in less than 20 minutes. I start biking over, I rush to arrange my things in T1. As soon as they show me my spot, the race organizers take my helmet away. You cannot race in this. Oh no! Not this! There is no way I can find a helmet now! So close and yet the disappointment! Don’t worry, they say. When you finish the swim, there will be one of our son’s helmet at your bike. We will bring your helmet to the finish. Phew. How nice!
I no longer knew what I was feeling. My nerves and emotions were so all over the place, mixed in with caffeine of my pre-race drink. I ran to the start where I had one of the Italian girls explain what the organizers were saying and what the swim course was. I just wanted to accomplish the goal of finishing this tune up race. I knew some stellar time was out of the question on borrowed equipment.
So the 480 men start their swim and us women 5 mins after. All women looked ripped and serious about the sport. It was a two loop course with a little walk after the first loop to jump back in the lake and swim the second.
To my surprise I had not feet to draft off of, I was swimming in first place. That never happens to me. I was not feeling particularly great, in the midst of my heavy training, with hardly any taper. I was just trying to swim with good form and eventually ran into some of the men. Then after the first loop when getting out of the water I heard “prima donna”, which I guessed meant first female. I couldn’t tell if I was still in first on the second loop as we got mixed in with the men, but I still was not feeling fabulous and just wanted to get out of the lake!
There was a pretty long, steep hill into T1, quite the killer after a tough swim. I got into transition and started putting on my shoes, which I could not quite figure out how to do, and same with the helmet. It had some kind of magnet and I wasn’t sure if it was clipping in. I saw any lead I may have had dissipate and saw other women briskly leave transition to get on their bikes.
Whatever. After a few turns, we started climbing. Steeper climbing than in Ironman Nice. It was beautiful, the roads were in a forest and twisting around a castle. I soon saw a woman with a starting number 1. I wanted to catch her but was feeling somewhat powerless. I could not get my heart rate to climb up to where it should be in an Olympic distance race. A couple of guys caught up to me. They were drafting each other, working together. It was cool. It was the first time I did a race where this was allowed. I jumped on their wheel and tried to work with them also. It did not last very long. My powerless state continued, as if I only had slow twitch muscles and the short ones were sleeping. I wondered if I would ever have the speed you need for an Olympic distance race again. The girl with #1 disappeared also and I just kept pushing. After 10 miles of climbing and almost an hour and a half into the race, when I would be nearing the end in a flatter course, I wished I had brought more liquids with me on the bike. My legs felt really trashed. And that’s when the steep, technical descends came. They were very sharp serpentines and I was not feeling that confident on my borrowed bike. The thought of Luca and his fears of me not crashing his bike also crossed my mind.
I got pased by some men, women as well. Then I caught a pack of men and drafted behind them till the finish. I really enjoyed this feeling! It was allowed!
I ran into transition and could not take my shoes, nor my helmet off. My helmet got tangled in my hair. I had to sit down to try to take my shoes off. I managed with the buckle still clipped in.
Finally I started to run. And it felt slow. I felt the heaviness of my legs after the alpine climbing they just went through. Maybe I just need get in the groove and my legs of lead will warm up. I was pushing and it just wasn’t flowing. My 10k pace was barely a half marathon pace. What is going on with my body, I thought? I did not feel so tuned up. Will I feel better in a month in Australia, the A race of the season?
It was hot and hilly and I did not feel particularly hydrated. There were three loops and only one aid station after each 3.3k. When I came to the first turnaround point I could see what my standing in the race was. One, two, three, four women ahead of me. That’s all that I was capable that day. I just had to come to grips with that.
I had great cheer support from everyone, with only 20 women in the race (there were another two who came from Monaco with their triathlon bikes and did not get to race, hence the female count reduced from 22), we were a rare sight to see!
On my last loop almost in the finish I could see I was closing in on the fourth woman, but I needed another couple of hundred meters to catch her.
I was just happy to cross the finish line. I got interviewed as a guest of honor, being the only non-Italian. Where, why, what was I doing in Avigliana? Google.com! I returned all equipment, expressing my gratitude to all who helped me race. Suddenly it felt like I had a new, Italian family. That’s what sportsmanship is all about.
During the awards it turned out that I had won my age group. With only so few women, it wasn’t that hard. But my prediction that the few women would fast, was right.
I then took some pics with the lovely timing team, who so graciously accepted me into the closed race.
And it was time to head back. I immediately emailed my coach expressing my concern about how I felt during the race. He got back to me saying that it was normal to feel yucky the first race after an Ironman. I should be feeling ok again in Australia. And since he coaches the best in the world, I decided to trust what he had to say and the process.
I decided I liked draft legal racing and wanted to do more of them. Next season maybe?