The EPICally Emotional Race- ITU World Champs Race Report

Here we go with attempt two at writing this race report after losing my effort the day after the race.  For those that follow my other social media accounts, they will know that this race did not go to plan for me at all. In fact, I would say it was both the WORST and best of my life.

After spending the previous 2 weeks exploring some of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen in Canada, I finally arrived in Edmonton ready for race week. I was so happy to be staying in the team hotel when I arrived and saw the team desk decorated with green and gold balloons and Australian flags galore! The excitement started building- I still couldn’t quite believe I was here to represent my country in a sport I love!

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First step was I had to work out how to put my bike together. I had been relying on the team bike mechanic to help- but unfortunately that wasn’t an option. After panicking that I had NO idea what I was doing (especially after paying someone else to disassemble and pack my bike for me post service)…I set away taking it one step at a time and managed to succeed (talk about being proud of myself!). With my bike assembled it was time for an early night so I could get up the following day and get into town to register before racking my bike. Lucky I went to bed early, as I slept terribly. I don’t know if it was excitement, nerves or a combination of both but there was A LOT of clock watching. So the following morning was an early start, after catching a taxi into the city to pick up my race pack, I was so excited to make it back to the hotel in time to catch some of the team breakfast. Another breathtaking moment walking into that room full of athletes here to represent their countries- including the elite team! WOW! It was a truly humbling and inspiring experience, especially watching the Elite team receive their suits.

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After the breakfast it was then time to go get my bike and meet the wonderful Tania and Hannah from Midlife Crisis Triathlon Mums in the lobby to ride to the race precinct to rack our bikes for the following day. Whilst waiting in the lobby, a decked out female triathlete with all the gear approached and I realised we were about to ride to transition with none other than the world champion and Olympian Michellie Jones! Wow- could this experience get any more surreal! My handyman skills were successful and my bike stayed together for the ride (what a relief!). Soon enough my bike was racked and things were getting very real- in less than 24 hours I would be racing!

That afternoon was the opening ceremony. Shuttle buses had been organised to pick us up from our team hotel and take us into the city for the ceremony. We were dropped off a couple of blocks from where the ceremony would be held and were cordoned into our countries ready for the march. What an atmosphere it was down there- so many athletes from all over the world, all so excited to be there and share in the experience – it was electric! Soon enough as an ‘A’country we were being led out by the marching band to start the parade. Honestly, that experience is still so surreal to me, we were all out there marching in our Australian team uniforms behind the Australian flag- how on earth did I get here! Edmonton residents had lined the streets to watch the parade and cheer for the atheletes and the cheer as we entered the final marshalling area was just breathtaking. The cheer and atmosphere continued to build as the rest of the countries marched in, until an absolute eruption as Canada entered. With the formalities done, it was time to head to the opening ceremony athlete dinner. The set up was great, although as this was my pre race dinner and night I was a little disappointed when I lined up for over an hour only to find my only option as a vegetarian was lettuce and bread rolls. So after a bowl of muesli when I got back to the hotel room and setting out my gear ready for the following day it was time to get some sleep before my race. At this point I’m still not sure the nerves or realisation of how huge this was had set in, and I don’t think it did until I entered transition the following morning. With amazing athletes surrounding me and setting up their fancy bikes, it finally started to sink in what I was about to do. Yes I was nervous, but more than anything I was so proud of myself. Only 2 years earlier I struggled through my first triathlon, and less than a year before that I certainly couldn’t swim or ride any real distance, and I struggled to run longer than 30 seconds on the treadmill. Now I was on the other side of the world, dressed in an Australian tri suit and getting set to represent my country in a sport I have grown to absolutely love. I had no expectations of placing in this race, I knew the calibre of athletes I was up against, but I was ready to get out there and do the best I could. My nerves mostly were about how my shoulder would hold up, but after my swim in Whistler I was feeling more confident than not. It was a cold morning in Edmonton and I was happy to don my wetsuit just to keep me warm. Shortly after the exhausting process of getting my wetsuit on, it was time to marshall in the pre swim corralling area. As we entered, bag pipes lead our age group towards to the swim start (another surreal moment !). This race was approaching fast and the butterflies were definitely building. Before I knew it we were lined up on our starting blocks and waiting for the starting gun. I had that pre race excitement, I love racing and there is nothing better than that mix of nerves and excitement to get out there and push your body to its limits.

The starting gun went and we were off, there was a furry of athletes in the water but I managed to stay clear of any stray kicks or whacks with the arms. Unfortunately only about 50m into my swim, I had a sudden sharp pain in my shoulder like someone had just stabbed me with a knife. I knew what this was, it was the oh to familiar feeling of my bursitis at its peak level of pain. I tried a few more strokes and the pain persisted. Panic started to set in. I couldn’t touch the bottom and I had no idea how I was going to swim the rest of the way. I stopped and tread water for what seemed like an eternity. I could see the lifesaver on the paddle board starting to become concerned about me (I’m sure I must have looked like I was drowning as I struggled to breathe as I tried to tread water). My wetsuit felt like it was suffocating me and I would have done anything to be able to rip it right off then and there. Obviously this wasn’t a possibility and I had to decide if I was going to keep going. The lifesaver asked did I need help and I managed to tell her in between gasps of air that I just had a sore shoulder. Shortly after this I tried another few strokes of freestyle, the rest of my age group were approaching the turn around of the swim by this point. I had no hope of catching them, which made it even harder to convince myself to keep swimming. The pain persisted with that movement through my arm, and I had no choice but to try and work out how I could swim with one arm. With the panic still going, the easiest way to begin with was one armed breast stroke, which I can assure you is not the most efficient way of swimming. I tried one armed freestyle after a little while, but this wasn’t much easier. Determined to keep going, I kept pushing on and tried not to think about what this meant for the rest of my race. I am not sure if the officials held back the next wave because of my issues in the water, but they only caught me as I was approaching the finish. I had been fearing this moment, certain that these hardcore male triathletes would no doubt swim over the top of me and I would end up with multiple kicks and possible punches being inflicted on me but I was pleasantly surprised. They appeared to swim slightly off course to swim as a pack around me, and we shortly exited the water together. As I got out of the water some of the emotion set in, but I knew if I let it all out now it would be hard to keep going. The swim was done, it was time to concentrate on getting out on that ride and getting to that finish line. I ran up the swim exit chute with my right arm held still across my chest. People were yelling at me to take my wetsuit off and I wanted to yell back at them I couldn’t. Unconventionally I had to wait to get to my bike before I could attempt the one armed struggle to remove my wetsuit. For those that have never done this, these things are hard enough to get off at the best of times but when I have an extremely sore shoulder and can only use your left arm, the struggle becomes much greater! Eventually I managed to get it off and it was time to get out on my bike. My shoulder was still throbbing and was not happy with the idea of being extended forward to hold the handlebars. It was becoming clear that this was about to become my first (and hopefully only) one armed triathlon. For the majority of the course I held my arm against my body and did my best to steer and maintain control of my bike with my left arm. There were some tough hills on the course, made even tougher by the wind that seemed to spend most of its time as either a head wind or crosswind. I had no chance being able to come out of my saddle to make it up these hills, and just had to drop my gears and spin up them the best I could. The first hill was not far out of transition, and after realising how much of a struggle it was going to be to continue to get up these I again considered pulling out of the race. If there had of been a way I could have done this easily, it would have been hard to talk myself out of this idea. But I just had to keep riding and soon enough I was approaching the second lap of the course. I just had to do this one more time and then it was only a 5km run sitting between me and the finish line. My shoulder was absolutely killing but I pushed on up those hills again and just focused on finishing the race that I had put so much training into and flown half way around the world to do. I entered transition, racked my bike and head out on the run. My shoulder was absolutely frozen by now and it wasn’t going to work with me to give me any momentum. Yet again strapped across my body I set out on more of a jog than a run, but I was going to finish this race. Not far out of transition the run course turned into a trail run. I know there were a lot of athletes that were disappointed by this as it meant the crowds weren’t there to cheer you through this section but this was the exact zone out I needed. I love trail running, and this section of the course meant that I could just relax and get back in my head and regroup on how I WAS going to finish this race. It was by no means the fastest 5km ever, but it was a better pace than it could have been. Soon enough I was approaching the finish chute and it was time to see if I could get my one armed sprint on- and I did just this. There was a lot of cheering and as I crossed that finish line it was like a switch flicked and the flood gates of my emotions from the last 1 hour and 40 something minutes (I know- slowest sprint tri I have ever done!) could come flooding out. Another panic attack was starting as I became overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions, I was so happy to have finished the race, but at the same time I was unbelievably disappointed with how the race had gone. I had spent so many hours training for this race, and spent so much money to get myself over to Canada to participate, and it felt like that was all wasted. I cried as the lovely volunteer put the finishing medal over my neck and continued to cry as I headed towards the post race aid area. There I met one of the people I follow on IG, another Australian athlete, who managed to calm me down and congratulated me on my finish. I was in so much pain, and all I wanted to do was get out of there and have cry. Shortly after I saw Tania, from Midlife Crisis Triathlon Mums, who had sped past me on the run course to finish with an awesome time! The other member of the duo, Hannah, wasn’t far from finishing and she was waiting to cheer her through the finish line. Unfortunately she too had hurt her shoulder out on the course and was also having an emotional finish. Despite this she had absolutely smashed out the run to finish with a great overall time. Everyone that I ran into kept commenting on how great it was that I had kept going and pushed through. I knew they were right, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of overwhelming disappointment. I wanted desperately for transition to open, unfortunately that would mean I had to get back on my bike and ride back to the hotel. The group I was with were absolutely lovely and one of them even rode with my backpack on their front, so that I didn’t have any extra strain on my shoulder. What wonderful people this sport and event had let me meet. Back in the hotel I just wanted to hide away and be alone. The last thing I wanted to do was update anyone back home with how my race had gone, but I knew there would be lots of people waiting for just that. Again the support I received was overwhelming and all very positive- this page has brought so many wonderful people into my life. I went out for a celebratory dinner that night with some of the other Aussie athletes, but really wasn’t feeling much like celebrating and was happy when I was in bed to leave the day behind me. The following morning I was still feeling very emotional about my race, and would tear up every time someone asked how it went. I had grandstand tickets to the female elite race that day and set off to watch this and start to enjoy the rest of my weekend immersed in this amazing sport. Watching this race was exactly what I needed, with some of the elite athletes having to pull out of the swim leg and then some more on the cycle leg, it was the reminder I needed that you can’t always have the perfect race. If these women could bounce back from these situations at their level, I had to be happy that I just pushed through and finished. That afternoon was the paratri race, and I am not sure I have seen anything more inspirational in my life. These athletes with varying degrees of disability from missing limbs to vision impairment, were out there competing on the world stage in this fantastic sport and absolutely smashing it! I had to do one race with a sore arm, and these athletes get out there and train and race with their disabilities every day and don’t let it get the better of them. I was feeling much more positive and couldn’t wait to enjoy the rest of the weekend in Edmonton living and breathing triathlon. What a journey- it sure was EPIC!

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