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This weekend the world’s best Olympic-distance triathletes are battling it out for top honours in Auckland, but it’s also the biggest race of the year for hundreds of age-groupers. Julian Richards reports on his experience of the event.

14 October

ITU World Age Group Championships

Julian Richards proudly representing Great Britain

So, this is it then, traveling to the other side of the world for the biggest race of my life! Feels a little strange to be traveling for 30 hours for a one-hour race but I can’t wait to experience the whole thing.

The journey started with an emotional farewell to my partner Zoë and daughter Nyah. This will be the longest I’ve ever spent away from them since Nyah was born two years ago. Dressed in my GB kit, struggling to hold back tears as I walked down the platform laden with kit and bike box, a random man shouts good luck to me which makes me smile and it marks the start of the adventure beautifully.

The whole traveling to London and boarding the plane goes without a hitch, everyone is very smiley and enquiring what I’m doing with the massive green box that I’m dragging around with me. When I explain the common reply is to do the country proud, that’s when it hits me for the first time that I’m actually representing my country in a sporting capacity. Something that, if you had asked any of my friends a few years ago, was about as an unlikely a prospect as ever there was one. It’s something that I’m hugely proud to be doing and hope that I will do all those well-wishers proud.

The other great thing was seeing all the other age-groupers wondering around the airport. It felt like some kind of secret club, quiet acknowledgments, a slight nod of the head.

So, this leads me to here, sat in the business lounge of China Southern airlines at Gaungzhou airport enjoying complementary water/coffee until it flows out of my ears, waiting for my connecting flight to Auckland. I’m still struggling to believe I’m in China let alone that in a further 12 or so hours I’ll be on the exact opposite side of the world to where I’m used to being!

17 October

Well I appear to have acclimatised quickly which I’m  happy about. The second flight went without a hitch and I even managed to grab six more hours sleep on the plane, which was great, but left me completely confused as to what time it actually was!

There was a definite moment the whole experience stopped being dream-like and became a reality. I had asked for a window seat on the plane and on the approach to Auckland we flew in past the docks and there bathed in glorious sunshine was the distinctive blue carpeting of an ITU event, the pontoon floating in the harbour and the event venue, The Cloud, eclipsing everything else on the quay. I was suddenly very, very excited!

I got a shuttle into town and met with my friend Mike whom I went to school with back in Cornwall. He now lives out he after a 12-day holiday that has turned into five years. He races for New Zealand in my age group so come Monday we shall be squaring up to each other on the start line. I got back to his place only to find out it’s got a pool and a hot tub!

Tired and filthy from the 30 hours traveling, I got cleaned up, had some food and then headed to bed. Managed to go to sleep pretty much straight away and woke with a start at 6am. I was wide awake too, no going back to sleep for me. I got up, retrieved my bike from its box and put it all back together it see if it had survived the trip, I needn’t have worried, it was probably in better shape than me. The bike box that was kindly supplied free of charge by The Triathlon Shop had done the job and within 30 minutes I had a fully functioning bike.

I headed for town to check out the event venue, the team hotel (to book a massage!) and to have a little peek at some of the bike course. First thing that struck me was how much space there is in New Zealand, nothing is crammed together, the roads are amazing and people super friendly. I got down to The Cloud, got my training wristband and grabbed breakfast. As it was only 9:30 by this time, I went of for a bit of an explore of inner-city Auckland on the bike, this also gave me the opportunity to test the bike out and get a feel for the new wheels (having never ridden a set of 90mm rims before, it was quite interesting considering the windy conditions). Even the city centre feels open here,  especially compared to major cities back home. After a short ride I headed to the hotel to book a massage and check the notice boards and then headed out to look at the back end of the bike course, no nasty surprises and one of the ‘hills’ I was concerned about actually isn’t all that bad.

Later on I went to cheer on at the aquathlon. I had originally been tempted to take part but decided against it, thinking I would still be struggling with jet lag. However, standing on the side of the quay in the sunshine feeling pretty good, I was disappointed not to be taking part – oh well, it’ll build the hunger for Monday!

While we’re out here we’ve got free access to loads of swimming pools so I decided to head over to an 60m open air salt water pool which is roughly the same temperature as the sea; I figured it would be a good way of acclimatising. One thing it showed me was the state my wetsuit is in, holes everywhere and tearing more every time I put it on – I might have to check the expo out to see if there are any good deals because I’m not sure my suit will last till Monday swimming in it every day!

Its hard to believe I’ve been here less than 24 hours, I feel like I’ve already crammed about four days worth of stuff in already. I’m going to take it easy tomorrow before the athletes parade tomorrow night.

We’ll catch up with Jules to find out how the race went later. Meanwhile you can watch the elite men’s race live on at 13:06 local time, Sunday, 21 October.