On September 18th I competed in the ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico. I qualified to compete for Canada in my age category in the summer of 2015. This was the Olympic distance race and I knew it was going to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve had in the many years I’ve been racing. Nothing could have prepared me for the heat and swimming in the ocean for the first time. Temperatures were as high as 29 degrees and feeling like 35 with high humidity in the morning hours. Also, no wet suits allowed in the ocean swim. Both scenarios pushed me out of my comfort zone.
I checked my bike into transition the day before the race and with it came an experience I’ve never had before. My bike was randomly selected to be scanned for a motor inside the frame. I knew then that this was going to be a different race.
One of the difficulties for this race, was that athletes had to be out of transition at 6:30am and my age category was placed as the last wave at 8:17. I had almost 2 hours to sit around in the heat before my race started.
Too much time for my body to heat up and my mind to spin with worry.
Just before my wave set out to the swim start, the heat of the day was starting to set in and I just knew there wasn’t going to be any forgiveness.
This swim was my first swim race in an ocean and it came with it’s own set of challenges. The strong current that morning, had convinced race officials to change the distance from 1500m to 1250m. My race began and as I approached the first buoy and tried to make my turn around it, the ocean current pushed the buoy out. I tried to duck under the corner of it as I had no room in the pack with the other swimmers. And as I did this, the current pushed the buoy again, this time over top of me which kept me trapped under it until finally I was able to grab the rope and push the buoy away.
That was the closest moment in my life that I felt to drowning.
After I gathered myself I looked for the next buoy and it was in a boat. The current was so strong that it was pulling the buoys out of place. So for the rest of the swim, my only thoughts were, "just swim and get out of the water in one piece!" It felt like forever but I finally got on land and headed towards transition and got on my bike.
I quickly settled in, and with the bike course being 40km, and flat as a pancake, my goal was to finish it in 60 to 61 minutes. I hit the turn around at just over 30 min which was perfect. Around the the 30km mark I saw this pack of riders up in front of me. Being that this was a non draft race, I was a little upset. As I approached them there was no room to pass. I yelled to get people to move but they wouldn't. Not 30 seconds later an official comes up behind me and gives everyone a drafting penalty.
This was my first drafting penalty ever in 16 years of racing.
I tried explaining that I just caught this group and I tried to pass. Unfortunately he only spoke Spanish and I realized I wasn't going to win this battle. After riding behind this group and realizing the official wasn’t going to move them, I had to play the offensive and move them myself with lots of yelling and a few "F" bombs.
In this race they have a penalty box 300m from the finish of the bike. I served my 2 min and as quick as I could, I got myself off the bike and into second transition. I finished the bike in 1:04 with the penalty. As I ran through transition, strategy set in to my mindset. I counted the bikes that were in my age group. Once my count got to the mid 20's, I stopped counting and starting swearing.
I quickly got on my running shoes and headed for the run. I knew my run was my strong point so I was just hoping I can manage the heat. I starting off with a good pace for 3km and I was happy with my pace and heart rate. I also had already passed 4-5 people in my age category. In the fourth kilometer my heart rate started to climb with the heat and pace was starting to slow a bit. So I had to decide to run by the measure of my heart rate or by pace. I decided to go with pace and that wherever the heart rate goes, I wasn’t going to look at it!!!
With every kilometer I managed to keep passing people in my age category but given the drafting penalty, I still had no idea what spot I was in. So I just kept running hard.
Just as I hit the last kilometer, I was hurting but I kept thinking ‘just 4 more minutes!’
Then I saw another guy in my age category so I thought I will run behind him and then beat him on the final sprint. Well I caught him too quickly. So off I go ... ran past him hard and hoping he doesn't respond. Thankfully he didn't.
With about 500 meters to go I saw another person in my age category and the same thing happened. I went by him hard and thankfully he didn't respond.
As I turned onto the final 250 meter blue carpet, I looked back to see if that guy I passed was catching me, but then I realized another competitor 10 meters in front of me was also in my age category. My body ached and with a few "F" bombs in my head, I knew what I had to do.
With 100 meters left to go, it was going to be a sprint to the finish whether I liked it or not. Once again, I blew past him and thought PLEASE don't respond. As luck would have it, I’m grateful he didn't.
I can honestly say that I left nothing on the run course and my heart rate can attest. Looking back at the results I realized I passed 17 people in my age category and had the second fastest run in my age category.
After the race I knew it wasn't my best race but I was happy with the effort I gave. Going into the race my goal was a Top 20 finish if I had a good race and a top 10/15 if I had a great race. I finished 17th out of 82 in my age category and I’m sure without the bike penalty I would have finished close to the Top 10.
I’m proud to say that my result has me ranked as the top Canadian.
It was a great experience overall and I loved every moment (ok maybe not the almost drowning part and the drafting penalty I could have done without).