Race Report – ITU World Championships 15 Sept 2013

Age Group 70-74, standard distance:

This was a long project for me. At the start of the year Annette drew my attention to the event which fortunately – given my lack of fitness – was at the end of the season. Given the venue and association with the London Olympics the previous year, I just had to have a go at qualifying.

Having more or less given up on running, good friend and previous club member Gwyneth McLaughlin had dragged me from my retirement and got me moving in the latter half of 2012. After a winter disrupted by sickness, I had to start yet again almost from scratch.   The occasional ride and swim had kept me from seizing up totally! NOT a good starting place.

Although too late to enter, I was lucky to get a place from the short list at Chester (the first qualifying race), which was early in the year. I prepared as best as I could and although not nearly fit enough to do a standard race managed to slaughter myself and get within the qualifying time. From then on I had clear objectives, to get fit enough to do the world championships and not come last.

Gwyneth coached me for the run.  I ran regularly and was able to avoid injury. Another couple of months would have been good, but we did the best possible in the time available.

The time-trial bike was sorted out, and with the exception of the big wheel I rode this exclusively through the summer. Time was spent practising such things as running mounts and dismounts and riding ‘U’ turns which were required for the course.

I abandoned the pool and swam two or three times a week at the lake, simulating T1 up to the point of bike mounting on every occasion. (Why did I never see any other swimmer doing this?)

Accommodation was booked at the ‘team’ hotel. A bad mistake as hardly anyone else did, no team events took place there, I never saw the team managers there and it was too far from the venue in Hyde Park.

After a great summer, the weather turned foul. The rain and cold and long walks to and from the hotel did not make me feel good at all. Other races on the days leading up to my race had turned transition into a bog in places, and I decided it would be best to leave shoes off the bike – very disappointing. In the racing on previous days, people were crashing by the dozen on the wet and slippery roads in the Park. There was no way of riding the route so the roads in town were a completely unknown factor.

When race day finally arrived I was there at five in the rain and cold to arrange my kit and then had to wait for an eight o’clock start. Freezing does not describe it adequately. I felt very low, even wishing I was not doing it. At the last minute, it was decided that the swim would be cut to 750m, which after all the preparation was a real blow. A longer swim would have suited me. But then things slowly began to get better. It stopped raining at the start and the sun came out.  When asked to sit on the edge of the pontoon as part of the starting procedure, we found that the Serpentine at 16C was like a hot tub for our frozen feet. And then at last we were off!  Adjusting mentally to the shorter swim was hard. Instead of warming into my stroke and picking my way through, I went off far too hard and didn’t really get into a good rhythm for far too long. The return leg was looking straight into the (now) blinding sun, and the group I was hanging onto didn’t pick a very good line. However, the swim time was OK and I tackled the insanely long transition run. The consistent training worked. It was routine.

Each of the two bike laps included an ‘out and back’ in the park and an ‘out and back’ into the city. There was huge support along the way in both sectors. I noticed nothing on the first bike lap but second time round cycling through Marble Arch and around Trafalgar Square Picked my spirits up, but could not compare with the AWESOME experience of hammering down the Mall with the Palace straight ahead.  I suddenly felt very emotional and for the first time was glad I was doing it.

And so to another long transition run, this time through the bog in cycling shoes, and then onto the run proper. A long and severe camber at the start caused my right calf to almost seize. By now, I wasn’t going to give up easily. I had to ease back and try to run ‘loose’ until it fortunately went off. There was huge support again but best of all was hearing some of you guys calling my name. Of course I had to go survive the camber two more times on the remaining laps. I ran out of glycogen on the second lap. It may not have been so bad if my gels had not fallen from the tiny race suit pockets! I have never had to work so hard to keep going, but everything held together and all was well when I hit the finishing straight.  The noise was deafening.  I have never felt so exhausted, not even after an Ironman.

The difficulty of racing as an older age grouper is that most of the time much younger people are flying past you and it is almost impossible to know who your opposition are. I felt pessimistic about my race position.  Can you imagine how it felt to learn that I was tenth out of thirty four finishers and second Brit?

So what about next year in Edmonton? I am tempted as I know that with consistent raining over a longer period I will do even better, especially on the run. Provided the rules don’t change for next year, I am pre-qualified which means training for the big event rather than for qualifying. Unfortunately, Edmonton could be even colder and wetter than London. The Jury is still out……

For anyone interested, the training has resulted in spectacular changes in some health stats. Heart rate down from around 70 to 50bpm. Weight down from 87 to 74 kg (target 70). Blood pressure from 146/88 to 125/75.

David Edwards