Thursday, September 8, 2011

7th at the Beijing 2011 ITU Aquathlon World Championships

Today was the Aquathlon. It was an event that I signed up for in addition to the triathlon I'll be doing on the weekend. It consists of a 2.5km run, a 1km swim, and another 2.5km run. I was excited to be competing in my first World Championships race, but my body wasn't. I woke up feeling tired and sore. What? I thought I had a decent sleep last night, and felt great after the workouts two days ago. The training yesterday was pretty easy (almost a warm up for today), so who am I sore?

After breakfast (which didn't seem nearly as appetizing as previous days), I took the early bus up to the venue with a bunch of athletes from other countries. I met "Bullet" Bales (not Bates); nobody knows his real name. I also met an ultramarathoner (he does 100+ mile runs) and a couple of Brits, wearing uniforms for Hungary. Getting on the early bus meant that we had more than two hours to kill before the race started. Some of the older athletes had three or more hours. Unfortunately, the only other option was the late bus, which was supposed to pick us up at my hotel at the time my race was to go off. So I got there early.. It's a good thing too, because no one seemed to know where we were supposed to go or what we were supposed to do. I eventually found an official, and he got things sorted out.

It was really exciting to be on the course where Simon Whitfield won the Silver medal in 2008. I was so excited, I felt like I was going to wet myself! It didn't help that Chinese people don't use (or stock their bathrooms with) toilet paper, so I stayed away from those.

Aquathlons are tricky, because you don't really know what to do with your equipment. You could leave it all at the transition zone, but would end up wasting precious seconds putting it on. In a race this short, those few seconds can make all the difference. Some athletes ever had two pairs of shoes: one for the first run - which they could quickly kick off, without worrying about the tongue position - and another already laid out, neatly arranged, ready to be slipped on in a hurry. I only had one pair of shoes, so that option was out, but I elected to carry my goggles and swim cap with me for the first run. I learned this trick from a fellow teammate, who had won the Aquathlon at the World Championships in the past. This would be his 11th World Championships, and 24th World Championship race, so I figured he knew what he was doing.

After the gun went off, the entire field surged ahead. I am a good runner, but not the best sprinter, so this was to be expected. The course flew by, and before I knew it, we were heading back into the grandstands, and I was in the lead pack, right behind Jason (the guy who carries his goggles). Everyone seemed to be slowing down, and I felt good, so I kept pushing the pace. I put my goggles and swim cap on rolling through transition, and entered the water fourth overall! My run was third fastest in my age group (16-19), only a few seconds off of the leader, and I made up a lot of that by not having to stop in transition. I rand down the ramp, dove into the water, and began the swim.

I knew swimming was my weakness, so I tried to keep my lead for as long as possible, perhaps drafting off of someones feet. A lot of people wanted to go easier in the run, so it did not shock the body as much at the start of the swim (where the heart rate is generally much lower). Unfortunately, this got me, too. My arms immediately started aching, and Jason passed me just after rounding the first buoy. Not used to swimming after running, it definitely took a toll on my body. My legs felt weird after running, so I didn't know how hard to kick (would it tire them out too much?), I swam steadily for the first half of the swim, and picked it up a bit on the second half, when I knew I wouldn't die. Unfortunately, my goggles fogged up enough that I could no longer see the buoy, so I had to pause to clean them. I thought I was on course, but the rest of the swimmers appeared to be 20 metres (yards) to my right. I finished the swim, exiting the water in about the 30th position.

Coming through transition, I felt terrible, knowing my swim was bad. I had a lot of ground to make up. There was one Brazilian athlete just ahead of me coming out of transition. I took one look at him, thinking "Oh, my gosh, you're so dead," and flew by him. Although I felt like I was flying, my pace was slightly slower than my first run. Everybody slowed down for the second run; some by less than a minute, others by several minutes. My time was about 30 seconds slower.I passed several athletes on the run, pickling them off one by one. I noticed that I was not too far behind Jason (not nearly as far as I thought) and that encouraged my to go even faster. Coming back into the stadium, I felt like I wanted to puke. The finish line was in sight, but you had to run about 5 or 600 metres (1/3 mile) down the straight in front of the grandstand, before turning 180 degrees and running another 200m towards the finish line. That was the longest half mile of my life. I passed a few people, and almost caught another group of them. One Australian man was further ahead. I got so close to catching him, but he sped up and I was spent. I finished with a time just over 35 minutes. What sucks was that the guy who won my age group swam more than 3 minutes faster than me, but beat my time by a little over 2 minutes. This raelly motivated me to work on my swimming as much as possible before the triathlon on Sunday.

After the race, I had no idea what place I came in. I cheered on the other Canadian athletes as the crossed the line, and congratulated my opponents.I later learned that my second run split - the fastest in my age group - was one of the fastest times overall. Only one of the elite (professional) men beat it, by only 5 seconds!

While we were waiting for the Award Ceremony, one of the security officers came over and had a conversation with me. He, like all of the locals, was really interested in my younger brother. They were all swooning him, giving him lots of attention. I guess the cop must have been really bored to have been hanging out with me. We talked a bit, I finally got some food, watched the awards, and went home. Two Canadians came third in their age groups (one of them was borrowing my *lucky* goggles), and another came in second. Congratulations to all of them! Apparently, we were supposed to get a Certificate after completing the race, but I didn't find out about it until later. Oh, well.

On the way back from the race, I met a few athletes from Great Britain who had won medals today. The girl came third in her age group, while the guy won the Elite race.The team made them walk back to their hotel! Richard Stannard, the Elite winner, is a veteran in the sport of triathlon, having competed for a very long time. Recently, he had taken time off due to some pretty serious injuries, and is now making his comeback to the sport. He was talking about his goal of qualifying to get a spot on the British team for the 2012 Olympics in London. It is such a difficult task, because the British team is very strong. It contains athletes like the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, who are ripping up the ITU Series races and are currently ranked numbers 1 and 2 in the world. They lead a pack of other great athletes, including the likes of Tim Don, and others who Stannard has to beat if he wants to ensure himself a spot on the team. How great would it be to compete in the Olympics at home? I admire Stannard's courage, and wish him the best of luck in his endeavors.

We tried to go to Pizza Hut for dinner (I heard you can get a massive pizza for $8), and asked the volunteers how to get there. They took us there personally, only it wasn't Pizza Hut. It was a small restaurant called Origu's. It was raining pretty hard, so we decided not to walk around looking for another restaurant, and went inside. It was a buffet (they had pizza!) and was surprisingly good, especially considering it was only $8 per person. They had a mix of Chinese and American cuisine, including duck! The ice cream was absolutely freezing. Like -40 freezing. Like one-bite-and-you-get-brain-freeze freezing. But it was ice cream. And it was good. And I am tired. And sore. Good night! I'm 7th in the World!!!

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