my triathlon journey
Wow! What a trip! Australia has completely taken my heart. A country that runs very efficiently, in some ways feels like the USA, but has its own charm, a bit like the UK or Europe, with very fit people and great food. People tend to be more interested in a quality life, whether it includes surfing or traveling, than a hard core career climb. Sometimes perhaps going too far in the enjoyment of life and drinking alcoholic beverages to be tagged a ‘lodger’. What I’ll miss the most is the freshest seafood I have ever tasted, the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs or Australian Shiraz, the plethora of Asian food, the lovely, moderate weather, clean beaches, and easy-going attitude and accents. Of course, this is a generalization, and I experienced both good and bad as one would wherever they live.
The main goal for this trip was attempting to do well in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. I wanted podium (which at the championship level is top 5) and I missed it by less than 30 seconds. And I know exactly where I lost those 30 seconds might I say due to a bit of bad luck. Being so close is certainly disappointing. It was not as close as the second pro male finisher, Sebastian Kienle, was to the World Championship winner, Tim Reed, i.e. 2 seconds. As a professional athlete, those 2 seconds cost Sebastian a significant amount of money from Ironman, and I am sure his sponsors as well, a way he earns his living by pursuing a sport that underpays its athletes in comparison to other sports. For me, it just meant not coming back with a trophy, the disappointment does not measure up. One can always ponder whether I would have ran faster if I had known my standing in comparison to other competitors had someone told me, which is not always easy, due to athlete trackers being delayed, only taking a snapshot of your position when you cross the timing matt.
Keeping things in perspective, I did better at this 3rd 70.3 World Championship that I participated in so far than ever before (finishing in 6th), having come in 12th during my first one, and 9th during my second.
But as Mark Allen, the Legend, the multi Ironman World Champion, whom we had a chance to chat with during this World Championship, said during the opening ceremony, it’s about the whole experience, the journey, perhaps a lesson that you get from each competition that matters, something you learn about yourself that is applicable to life outside of just swimming/biking/running.
For me, I had an overall amazing experience, made new friends, such as my roommate for the duration of the World Championship Festival, Christina Willis, felt I managed certain stressful situations quite well, thus growing as a person. Every time, we also learn a lot about how our pre-race, under-pressure behavior impacts others, mainly our support crews. Every time I get to appreciate what they do for us. This is not an easy sport to spectate for! As much as we, athletes, want to stick to our pre-race routines and plans, it’s necessary to exercise flexibility. Our plans may not be as much fun for our Sherpas, and as much as it is all about the race, we have to step back and see whether we’re being selfish. My boyfriend had to take phone calls in the middle of the night to remain on Central Standard Time, resulting in poor sleep for him the entire trip. That’s when I had to ask myself the hard question – would I be willing and capable of doing the same? I hope so, though it would very tough, and I certainly appreciated his sacrifice.
The trip started with some big time bike drama, which did not get resolved till the day before the race.
Upon arrival in Sydney, it rained and it was quite cold, so I did my first workout on a gym bike. Not ideal, but better than getting sick. I then put my bike together not realizing a bolt inside my fork had fallen into the fork, thus the handle bars could not be screwed in properly. I went biking and the handle/ arrow bars were moving from side to side. Scary and dangerous, plus it started to rain. I returned home to the gym bike again. Next day I decide to head to the bike shop. Upon arrival one of the mechanics looks at my handle bars and tells me my carbon fork is cracked. As the bearer of bad news, he tells me this is too much liability, I should not race on the bike due to how dangerous it would be, and he would not touch it. Other than getting into an accident, this was about the worst that could happen for my race. I could only replace the fork with another Ceepo fork, as tri bikes are very unique and you cannot easily swap one fork from a bike for another.
I called the Ceepo dealer in Sydney to see if they could sell me a fork and they could only sell me the entire bike. I emailed our Ceepo sponsors in Canada, who were asleep due to the time difference. I started searching for bike rental places and emailed Ironman to see if they could recommend someone. I found a road bike rental place, but no dice with a tri bike rental. It was starting to look like I would have to race on some sort of borrowed bike. I would be able to finish, for sure, but it would not be a race where you truly measure yourself up against the best in the world, with your own, tested and fitted equipment.
My boyfriend suggested we try another bike shop. See if they will somehow screw on those handle/ arrow bars despite the crack. The handle bars were so loose now, the fork just slipped out of the bike and many small pieces with it when we entered bike shop #2. The staff grabbed the bike and starting fixing it. No mention of a cracked fork. They had a hard time putting the handle bars on also, but what seems to have worked was dropping the arrow bars lower. Now all the loose pieces did not seem to have been put in the correct place and a hole was now created in the set up. It did not look right, but lowered arrow bars and a hole seemed better than no bike. The mechanic seemed to think it would be fine, so I tried not worry about it.
I went on a ride to Northern Sydney the next day. It was a lot of stop and go with traffic lights, not a great workout, where I was mostly upright, not in my arrow bars.
The next day l went biking in Centennial Park, and since I had very mediocre bike workouts all week, I went a bit harder and longer than I should have, as to compensate for the rest of the week. And that is probably what caused me to be less than ideally rested on race day. My back was also sore from this new aggressive aero position, but I figured I would not try to change anything now, since things were working reasonably well. I.e., I had my own bike to ride.
We then arrived in Brisbane. I put the bike back together the way it was before, with a hole and dropped arrow bars. I took it to a local Brisbane bike shop (#3) to have it looked over. My power meter was not connecting, something that was an issue already in Sydney and I wanted to see if they could make it work in Brisbane. The Brisbane mechanic looked at the bike and said it needed a lot of work. What ??? The wheels needed to be trued up, they were shaking, all in all, $150 in repairs. How did I just create a new problem? Ok, do what needs to be done. It would take two days also. So back to the gym bike again for training.
Later that day I got a call from the shop asking if the hub where the cassette attaches has been replaced. Somehow it was not the right fit. I didn’t really understand what the issue was but did say my bike had been built from scratch. In two days I picked up the bike, apparently it was fixed as best as possible, but eventually I should have it checked out. The handle bars still looked the same, with a hole. I rode it and when in the very small ring it was making a clicking sound. And I would be needing that small ring in this race on that one beastly hill everyone was talking about. I came back to the shop and mechanic Simon said it would eventually adjust. It sort of did. My bike did not feel like it had some amazing tune up, the chain was over greased and my Garmin power meter pedals were still not working. It was four days before race day and we had to travel to the race site.
I started calling Garmin daily to get their advice on how to get the power meter to work. To my disappointment they would not have a booth at the race. I tried everything they suggested. Taking out the batteries and putting them in the wrong way for 20s seems to have connected it, but the power reading was off.
I came to terms with the fact I would not have a power reading for the race and went for a ride to the beastly Rosemount Hill that everyone was scaring us about.
I consider myself strong when it comes to climbing hills, but must admit, this was not easy on a tri bike. You had to get out of the saddle and engage your abs. It was short, but steep (20% grade). I made it though and felt comfortable I could do it on race day also. I later found out many athletes had their cassettes changed just for this race to have an extra small ring to get up. I also tried riding in an arrow position again, and it was not comfortable. How will I manage during that initial half of the bike course that is all flat, I thought?
I tried not to worry about it, but it was on my mind. In the meantime, I continued my calls to Garmin and despite recently having changed my power meter batteries, I went on to buy new ones, as per their recommendation. And voila! The power meter finally started to work with the correct reading. I was excited to finally have this functioning two days before the race, after trying to figure it out for a week.
So after some fun events like the Boardies Run (much less of an event compared to the Kona Underpants run, which resulted in us making the local paper!), or the Parade of Nations, where I met some really strong fellow Czech athletes, the pre-race day came!
One more swim in the ocean with my roommate Christina and her team. Then I was supposed to run, then drop off my bike in transition.
I decided to check my bike one more time and fit a little bike ride in there as well.
I felt how aggressive my aero position was again and decided to visit a local bike shop to see if they might have time to lift the bars. It was 9am, the bike shops would just be opening, and hopefully everyone will have had their issues sorted by now. I asked some local traffic controllers if there was a bike shop nearby and sure enough they sent me to Giant right around the corner.
This bike shop was huge and it seemed calm. I saw another Ceepo being worked on and one of the mechanics greeted me cheerfully, asking if I was alright.
Well, sort of. I was nervous about trying to fix something the day before the race, maybe they will find one more problem!
I asked about lifting the dropped aero bars and Justin, the cheerful mechanic, said sure!, no problem!
He looked at the fork and noticed the gaping hole and also how my Di2 electronic shifting cable has been getting caught in that hole, to the point that its rubber sheath was getting worn down and the metal inside was starting to protrude and split. I have not noticed it before but it was very scary looking now that he pointed it out!
Is it still shifting?, Justin asked. So far yes, I replied. (But it easily could stop during the race, I thought). Then don’t worry about it, reverted Justin. Unfortunately it was not possible to replace the cable at this point.
Justin completely changed how the handle bars were attaching to the fork using new parts. He also could not fit a regular spacer at the top, but shaved one down on a machine to custom fit it. He was done within 20 minutes and the cost was only $30, unlike my $100 something experience in Brisbane, for not sure what.
I was so much more comfortable back in my fitted aero position and much calmer going into the race.
That night we had a nice home cooked pasta and fresh local cod for dinner and after some yin yoga and half an aspirin, I hit the bed. I slept amazingly well for the first two hours, surprisingly, then my boyfriend’s phone rang, disrupting everything. I had to work on calming myself back down to sleep, and the morning came before we knew it.
In transition I asked a casually walking Australian in flip flops if I could borrow his pump. He not only agreed to lend me the pump, but also pumped my tires for me. I also helped an Australian girl next to me pump her tires and chatted with a girl from Chile on the other side of me. She is the mom to three kids and could not bring them this far. She was nervous as this was her first world championship. I was impressed with her dedication to the sport while having the responsibility of raising a family. I love these little comradely experiences in the moments leading up to race start. They calm me down.
Unfortunately my wave start was all the way towards the end at 8.05, after the pro start at 6.15am. That gave me time to stretch and soak in the atmosphere, and even run to our condo to use the restroom and charge my Garmin which wasn’t fully charged somehow from the night before.
My boyfriend helped me into my wet suit it was time to line up!
We had to swim towards the two buoys in the ocean start line, a bit of a warm up. It was a bit far, but a good warm up. I tried to line myself up behind a couple of girls who seemed to be confident swimmers to try drafting behind them. The gun went off and the girls were swimming fast. I tried to stay with some feet, then lost them, then tried to swim with another pack, then lost them. I just tried to swim as straight as possible with as good a technique as I could. I ran out and saw 29′, pretty much my standard time nowadays, and saw my boyfriend, which made me happy.
I ended up in 21st place vs. 50th at my prior 70.3 WCs, definitely an improvement. People wonder how I can move up from that position all the way to 6th. And that’s simply because the swim makes up about only 10% of the race in a half Ironman.
I ran into the area with transition bags. I saw my number, underneath it my pink helmet inside the clear plastic bag. I grabbed the bag and ran towards the changing chairs. I sat down and pulled my wetsuit down. I opened the bag and starting taking its contents out. Sunglasses came first. Sunglasses? I left my sunglasses on my bike? I was confused. Next the pink helmet. Even though pink, it was a regular road bike helmet, not an aero helmet. I realized what happened. I took someone else’s bag! It was number 2398, not 2396. I felt so bad for 2398! Hopefully she hadn’t finished her swim yet and was not frantically searching for her bag. I ran back holding my wetsuit and grabbed my bag, left hers in its place and ran back to change. This is at least a 30s mistake I though. It was bugging me. I knew there was no room for these kinds of mistakes at the World Championship level.
I dropped the bag off and got on the bike. I went up the first hill and felt a heaviness in my legs. Oh no, this is not what rested legs should feel like. I was upset that I had probably done too much leading up to the race. I would just have to suck it up and do my best, as if this was a workout on tired legs. I was pushing at around 240 w. I was passing a lot of people. I saw a draft pack of men on the other side. It’s always so disappointing to see. There were a lot of race officials on the course, but I suppose it’s hard to give 20 people or so a penalty at the same time?
I got passed by another girl in my age group. I tried to keep her in sight, but felt the pace was not sustainable to also have a good run. I was impressed with her strength.
I got off the highway and saw some athletes in the opposite direction. I knew ‘the beastly hill’ was coming soon, but forgot which km exactly. It came up on me as a surprise, I put the smallest gear in and went for it. There was a comedian on the side of the hill making some funny comments. He was half naked and it was entertaining. It was accomplishing the goal of distracting us. I got up the hill and felt pretty wiped out. I was happy to be done with this section and had to bring my heart rate back into a more normal range. There were some technical sections with other athletes merging and going too slow at times out of caution. It was necessary to adapt to them and it was a good time to rest and but also lose unnecessary time.
I tried to keep my watts up and follow my nutrition/ hydration plan.
I was feeling quite worn out from the windy bike and hills and not a fully rested body, but was enjoying the challenge. My Heart Rate was within the zone I wanted it in and I kept pushing to keep it there. I made sure I took my last nutrition serving before getting on the run. I started to get out of my shoes a bit too early, so I had to peddle with one foot on top of the shoe, not ideal.
I made it to transition and made extra certain I took the right run bag! I contemplated using the restroom but knew I did not have that kind of time to waste, after already making a mess of the first transition.
I started running and was surprised at how relatively easy a 7 minute mile pace felt. It felt awful the month before at my Olympic distance race in Italy. There came the hill and slowed the pace down. Even though I felt relatively good, my body was somehow lacking the confidence to go faster, to breathe heavily right from the start, as if it was still stuck in full Ironman mode, saving energy for a marathon. In the past I always did my full Ironman at the end of the season and did not have to gain speed for a shorter race afterwards. This transition to speed after Ironman Nice was a first, and not easy. I felt like one more time up race before the WC would have been perfect. I just kept focusing on my form, ran past another Team Zooter and we tried to run together for a bit. I tried to go under a 7 minute mile pace, but was only so fast. I was not sure of my position and just tried to pass other women. When starting the second loop, a girl from Ecuador, clearly not in my age group, passed me with very heavy breathing. I can stay with her, I thought. In fact, this is how hard I should be breathing, I thought. I would not let go of her and we kept working together. It was fun, exactly how I like to run my races. My heart rate went up and I felt in half marathon mode again. The last 6k I started to drink coke, but the aid stations were only every 2k apart and I did not feel it gave me much of a performance boost. We kept running with Karina from Ecuador side by side, passing some women, with the kind of mental force that this kind of teamwork provides. We sprinted all the way to the finish line, knowing everyone around us was pushing those last meters as well. We crossed the finish line and thanked each other for the great teamwork.
I saw my boyfriend in the finish line and after waiting for more girls from Ecuador, we went to get a glass of champagne.