The final instalment of Jules Richards’ antipodean experiences at the ITU World Championships.
So, a few days have passed since the ITU Triathlon World Championships, although with the amount of things I’ve packed into those days it feels like a lifetime ago!
New Zealand is truly an amazing place, the speed limit on most roads is 100kph, I reckon this is because the scenery is so stunning that if people drove any faster there would be crashes everywhere because you find yourself staring, open mouthed at the vistas around every corner. There must be a country somewhere that’s really mundane because New Zealand has stolen all the beautiful countryside.
Anyway back to the race. My friend Mike and I were fortunate enough to be offered a hotel room for the night before the race to cut down the amount of time it was going to take us to get to transition – we were going to have to get up at 5am as it was! We had to share a bed but as we’ve known each other since school it wasn’t too strange – not exactly how I had expected to be spending the night before the world championships – but I was so tired I could have slept anywhere.
As you can imagine I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, constantly worrying that I was going to sleep through my alarm meant I woke at 30-minute intervals from about 3am, nevertheless I finally got up at 5am feeling nervously excited and ready as I was ever going to be. Looking out of the window I could at least see that it wasn’t raining (result!) and more importantly that the wind had dropped.
We strolled through town amidst other athletes from all over the world and locals making their way home after a long night out. Stopping for a coffee, Mike was quizzed by a drunken local as to why he was carrying a bike wheel, he told her it was a new clubbing craze to carry bike bits around with you…wonder if it’ll catch on?
Having already racked my bike I walked through transition, which was massive. It must have been the best part of 600m from the swim exit to my bike. There was some nervous chatter among the athletes about whether the weather would hold and soon enough it was time for last checks, a final toilet stop and to get my wetsuit on. Lining up in the holding pens there was some good banter going on, the first wave off was a combined one containing the 16-19 and 20-24 year-olds. 100 nervous people’s leaped into the docks and 30-seconds later they were off. The age-group world champs had started, no going back now!
Soon enough we made our way onto the blue-carpeted pontoon and sat down. I sat there staring out at the turn buoy, 350m in the distance, thinking about everyone and everything that had got me to this point. I’m unbelievably thankful that I’ve got such a supportive family, friends, work and great sponsors that insisted I should go to New Zealand when I was considering not going.
We got into the water, which wasn’t as cold or salty as I had been led to believe and then the starter’s gun went. The swim start was the usual carnage, arms, legs and bodies everywhere, getting punched and kicked in all directions, the only difference being was that it continued virtually out until the first buoy as the standard of swimming was that much higher.
Finally I got my own space and managed to get into my stroke and calmed down, the leg back in felt great. I could see that I was catching the wave before me and there weren’t huge numbers of blue hats ahead, as I climbed up onto the pontoon I realised I was leading the chase group out of the water which felt really good and spurred me on through the massive transition.
I completed the swim in 12:45, which was slower than I’d hoped for but I know that it’s a slow course (Richard Varga and Jonny Brownlee came in just shy of 19 minutes compared to the 16:55 swim by Varga at the Olympics) so I couldn’t be too disappointed.
I knew transition was going to be useful to me as I’m a runner and the distance from the swim exit to the mount line was pretty big, this meant I could put some time into people by charging through as fast as I could – in a safe, controlled manner of course! T1 was good, in fact for me it was very good, 3:09 which was the seventh fastest in my age group and 71st out of nearly 1,300 people.
Unfortunately my mount then proceeded to let me down in a big way, jumping on my bike I had appeared to have entirely forgotten how to ride my bike, all the good work done in transition was quickly undone as the people I had overtaken sailed past me whilst I wobbled down the road unable to get my feet in or even on top of my shoes!
Finally, after about 300m, I managed to sort myself out and get going. The first part of the course was pretty technical and hilly with some dangerous downhill sections. It was definitely going to be won by the guys who put it on the line and escaped unscathed. About a third up the first climb my friend Mike passed me, this actually really helped focus my work and it wasn’t long before I had reeled him in and gone past him. He said later he struggled on the hills but him going past was just the kick-start I needed.
I successfully negotiated the trickier parts of the course without incident, the FFWD 90mm wheels I had been given to use were fantastic, especially as the wind had dropped and I could really feel the benefit of having deeper section wheels than I normally do. Soon enough I hit the turnaround and headed back into town, even managing to pass some people by now as we went straight into a headwind.
Coming towards the mount zone, the crowds were amazing; everyone was shouting and encouraging us, including standard-distance athletes whose races were later on in the day. I came off the bike in 35:05, which considering my start, I was pleased with. It wasn’t a hugely competitive time, but it was good enough for 39th in my age group and was a massive improvement on where I was at the start of the season considering I struggled to ride a sub 35-minute 20km on a flat course, let alone on a technical course with some stiff winds.
I blasted along the lengthy transition area, which meant by the time I’d got to my shoes I had pretty much already found my running legs. I steamed through T2 in 2:44, 9th fastest in my age group and 66th overall.
The run course was flat with lots of turns and I tend to run better on a harder run course. It was also long at 5.3km but that played to my strengths as I’m a stronger runner. Soon enough I was taking back places that I’d lost on the bike.
The run felt really good, picking people off in a world championship race feels amazing, especially if they’ve gone by you on the bike. Again, the support on the run course was fantastic with lots of people out cheering us on all the way round, I think it helped that the sun was out and it was now past 8am!
Coming down the road to the finish chute, the crowd was really dense. It was an amazing experience and turning onto the famous blue carpet was insane! I had a quick look behind me and saw that I had no one chasing me down and I hadn’t seen anyone in front that I was likely to catch, so as came round the final corner my intention was to cruise down the last bit soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the shout out by the race commentator.
However, as I turned the corner there in front of me, about 50m up the carpet was an Australian, I wasn’t sure if they were my age category or not and I wasn’t going to waste any time finding out, I stuck on the afterburners and chased him down for all I was worth, I passed him with about 30m to go, crossed the finish line and nearly threw up on the camera streaming live to the world! At least it showed I was trying! In the end I completed the 5.3km run in 18:44, which would have given me a PB if it had been a 5km course.
Staggering down towards the athletes’ finishing area I caught up with a load of other GB athletes, which was great, but obviously meant that I’d missed put on one of the three automatic qualification spots for London next year. In the end, I was ninth GB home out of 18 so I’m pretty happy. I went into the cool down area, got some fluids and food on board and grabbed a free massage, which was excellent.
I walked out into the early morning sun to the realisation that it was all over; the major goal, the thing I had been working towards for four months was now over and I could fully relax and enjoy New Zealand.
I managed to catch up with my team-mate Chris, who felt his race hadn’t gone brilliantly but as it turned out he placed very credibly in his age group, which was won by Mike Parsons – who I’d got to know on the flight over – and considering he was suffering from a stress fracture, it makes his win even more impressive, placing 11th overall!
Overall, the race couldn’t have gone better for me (apart from the horrendous mounting incident) and although my placing wasn’t fantastic there’s not a great deal more I could have done, so I feel that I did myself and my family proud.
A big congratulations should be given to the organising committee – the race itself was excellent. The bike course had something for every type of rider, hills, technical sections and places for the real powerhouses to get into their rhythm. Not only that, but the whole organisation from the parade of nations to racking and all the facilities provided were amazing. It’s a race I’d do over and over again – if it weren’t on the other side of the world!
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