The journey to get me to this start line was way more challenging than any other race I have done. A severe head injury and 6 weeks layoff directly beforehand meant that being at this start line at all was in the balance for a long time.
I only firmly decided if I would travel about a week before hand, and was forced to set myself a whole new set of goals.
Originally, I had decided I would like a top 20 finish, managing 31’st place last year in Budapest, it seemed a reasonable ask. In actual fact, I wanted it closer to the top ten if possible, so I was forced to completely evaluate.
I spent quite some time thinking about whether I would actually get anything out of competing at all, having done no training whatsoever and still suffering from the head injury. In the end I decided I would take it as an opportunity to try a complete reverse pacing strategy. I would take it easy on the swim and bike, then see what I have left for the run. This is not what I would normally do at all, being a strong swimmer / cyclist.
I felt all wobbly this morning, both physically and mentally. Its torrential rain outside, and its freezing. A 4am get up was not sitting well with me, and I was regretting not bringing my own porridge, no porridge in sight in china!
We stood, freezing, in the flooded timing chip marquee watching with amusement as the Chinese swept the water out one side, only for it to flow back in another just as fast. The standing water was beginning to concern me. The Chinese roads would not be used to this volume of water. When I asked an ITU official about the danger element I was told ‘just cycle slower, we aren’t changing the race’.
Transition set up was wet and waterlogged. The only function for my purple towel was to indicicate a visual cue to me, it would not be keeping anything dry at all! Some deliberation over whether to put shoe on bike or not, put helmet upside down on bars or not... I decided just to do what I always do. Water is only water after all. I also decided to leave the union flag in transition too, having not found anyone to give it to for finish line delivery, I decided to take it myself!
We were kicked out of transition an hour before our start, so we stood freezing under the shelter of the bag drop for another hour, after a brief and minging visit to the portasqats.
Leaving it to the last possible moment before moving to the pre race pens, I spotted Richard Stannard standing nearby. I congratulated him on the Aquathlon win, and he wished me good luck for my race! Pre race warm up was almost impossible, with no shoes, and temperatures so cold. Everyone was shivering.
I was looking forward to getting started so when I was ordered to get in and the water was still 27 degrees (no where near anything like the air temperature!) it was like getting into a bath! In fact this was the warmest point in the whole race! The hysterical Chinese lady next to me made me laugh, panicking about having to get in, panicking about where and how to hold onto the pontoon, etc etc. I was positioned in the middle, not ideal, so I put on a strong start to get clear of the people around me after the hooter went off. I caught the back of the previous wave (men) and had a good time. I liked the none wet suit, you were able to work out who was around you in the water. The weedy swim exit was all gone, pretty amazing!
Mammoth run to T1, and I noticed Rossiter’s and Wood’s bike were still there. Pretty good. Clearly a non wet suit swim does me big favours. I was also in front of Penny Bulley, usually a top 5 finisher at least.
Not for long though, she soon came past me on the bike! The bike course was extremely waterlogged. I was glad I wore glasses, I almost didn’t, but it kept the spray off my face. It was very hard to race the bike course, perhaps also a little hesitation in the back of my mind too because of what has happened, I was more concerned about getting through it unscathed, which is a shame, because on a dry day, that course would have suited me well. I saw one guy crash, and then get rescued by motorbike, so I was rather wary. The biggest hazard on route was the Chinese competitors veering across the middle of the lanes, wearing ordinary pumps! I even saw a mountain bike! What on earth!?
GB Newcombe was directly in front coming into T”. I managed to focus on just me, my race. My strap line for the run ‘ham strings and tree tops’ which I tried my best to focus on throughout. I successfully managed to focus on just me, my race. A few more came past, but I was OK. I was executing my own race plan. I unfolded the union flag from inside the front of my suit as I approached the finish straight. I crossed the line, flag held high, proud that I had managed to reach the start line, after an awful run up to this race, and equally proud that I managed to execute my own race plan without getting distracted.
Result? 17th place. Better than I could ever have hoped for, all things considered.
So, next year, top ten then yes? ;)
I didnt once need my inhaler, despite the awful thick smog, in fact i still havent used it in months. Back to using the Powerbreathe regularly again (was tricky in china amongst all the pre race stuff going on) and i am ready to move to level 7 i think!