Going into the race, I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened during the race, I would not lose focus of what I was there to do. I was there to race for myself. But I had no idea what those words would actually turn into, boy was I in for a big surprise!!
Just like every ITU Age Group World Championship race, the days leading up to the race are jam-packed with things to do. There is the opening ceremonies, including the Parade of Nations complete with dancing Chinese dragons. The parade was longer than I remember from before; which, I wish I would have planned for by not guzzling a 1 liter bottle of water before hand! Luckily, just as we were headed into the Stadium for the Ceremonies to begin, I spotted a restroom, which turns out was my very first squat toilet experience...my aim needs a little work ;) After the ceremony, we were to have a dinner, also in the stadium. Since we had all not eaten for at least 3 hours, a very long time for triathletes, everyone rushed to the food lines. We were handed these nice looking boxes we figured was our dinner. Inside, we found all sorts of preserved food items like a chicken leg, a pork product, preserved fruit, etc. We sort of just stood there staring at the food and each other in disbelief that this was dinner! As soon as I was about to dig into something, someone walked passed with pasta. What? Real food? Immediately we rushed to figure out where it came from and how we could get some. I don't remember ever eating pasta that quickly, it was like I had to eat it just in case that was the last time I would see familiar food again!
After the ceremonies, our days filled with course previews, registration, meetings, team lunch, bike drop off, etc.
Finally race day!!! The bus left our hotel at 4:15am, which was fine since I can't sleep well the night before a race anyway. I tried to eat breakfast, but all I managed to choke down was a piece of toast with jam. Once we arrived to the race venue, everything was great...until I couldn't get air into my front tire. Sometimes the valve closes itself inside the valve extender, which means I have to take my tube out and re-do the whole thing, NBD. That is, it shouldn't be. Sadly, our team mechanics were no where to be found (I found out later that the officials wouldn't let them into the venue and had to sneak in just as the race started) so I had to head to the official race mechanics, who did not speak English. Somehow we managed to fix the problem in just enough time to hustle back to transition and get in line for the toilet. 40 minutes and no warm-up later, I had enough time to check in my remaining gear at the bag check and run around transition barefoot for 5 minutes before being corralled for the race start. More than anything, I count on my warm-up to calm my nerves before a race, but since that didn't happen, I figured some good old fashioned girl talk would ease the tension a bit. It seemed to work just fine.
The water was too warm to be wet-suit legal, which I wasn't planning on at all, but I figured it's better than freezing to death in 40some degree water like earlier in the season. I had high hopes for the swim, but it turned out just about like every other swim I have done this year - not that fast. "Crap! That's okay", I told myself, "stay strong, stay calm and carry on". I grabbed my bike and headed out to the course, which was about a 100 meter down hill run out of transition. I jumped on my bike and immediately knew something was wrong. The first part of the bike course is on rubber mats, so I told myself that it was the mats. As soon as I hit the pavement it was certain, my front tire was completely flat :( I had no idea what to do. We had no CO2 cartridges so I was unprepared to fix a flat. The course was fenced off, and hundreds of bikers were flying past me, so I figured the only thing I could do was keep moving forward. I took my shoes off and started to run, pushing my bike along side. The first official I saw said something in Chineglish about my race being over and to hand in my timing chip. Confused, I just said NO and kept running! A few other officials stopped me, all begging me to just turn in my chip, but I was not ready to have my race be over. I just kept running, obviously knowing I couldn't exactly run the entire 25 miles barefoot, but I was not ready to give up. I was not willing to quit the race just to save face, I wanted to finish that race even if I came in last place and killed myself doing it. For some reason, about 2 miles into my run, there was a wheel pit. Outside help usually disqualifies you in an ITU race, but I figured it was going to be the only way for me to finish, so I grabbed a wheel. It was too wide and had some sort of off-road tred and about 90psi, but it was my only choice. Once I was riding, I can't remember having so much fun. I love going fast on my bike and I felt like I was absolutely flying! It was a 3 lap course and I ended up doing the last 2 laps in about 20 minutes each.
The run was also 3 laps, with a nice long hill on each one. Despite the hill, the course was really fun! I had a great time on the run and somehow managed to even pass a few girls in my age group! On the last lap, for the first time in a long time, I was sad the race was coming to an end. Even though I was devastated that I didn't place very well, I had so much fun doing it! After the race, there was one remaining obstacle...getting my wheel back.
After getting the run-around, I found out that the only way to get my wheel back was to actually retrieve it from the wheel pit. Great. Ok, NBD...except that I had 30 minutes or so to get back for the bus to our hotel. Oh man, it was getting hot and I was thirsty and ravenous but the only way out of this was to run the 4 miles to get me and my wheel on the bus. Just as in the race, I was stopped numerous times and had to explain to the Chinese officials what I was doing, using lots of hand gestures and made up sign language. There is not very much freedom to do anything without being questioned and followed. I was a little late for the bus, but somehow managed to make it back. In case you are wondering, a 40 minute cool-down run does not feel very good!
People have asked me how I feel about my race now that I've had time to reflect. Maybe I should feel frustration and disappointment, but I don't. I raced for me. For once, I didn't give up on myself during the race, not once. I'm proud of what I accomplished regardless of where I placed.