On November 19, 2016, I crossed the finish line at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship in Australia. How did I get here? Well, here is a timeline. In June of 2015 I raced and qualified at the Canadian Championship. Got a second job in August. Applied to triathlon Canada for the permission to go in September and in November I was receiving the permission from my full time employer to take my vacations outside of the approved window. A year later, I had my head upside down racing with some of the best triathletes in the world.
In that year, I raced from the end of April to the start of October, anything from my first Half Ironman to a trail run.
In order to go, we also had to research and book some hotels, a car and the best combination of non-athletic activities for our 14 days down under. In between all that, I trained hard and when I sat in the plane on November 11, I considered to be in a good shape for a very very late season race.
Few days before the Championship
Our plane left Toronto at 8:20pm on Friday night and landed in Sydney at 10:25am on Sunday morning with a quick stop in Vancouver. The 22 hours flight went quite well, I spent most of it acting like a cat: sleeping, eating and not doing much.
Once we settled in the first hotel, I ran 5km to get my heavy legs moving. Running in shorts and t-shirts towards the Pacific Ocean mid-November is a nice way to get yourself out of the door. Later that evening I built my bike and was happy to see that it was in perfect condition.
After two days in Sydney and one night in Canberra, where I had the chance to swim in one of many 50m pools, we headed to the race site.
Yes, I got to drive on the “wrong side” of the road, while seating in what felt like the passenger seat. After getting used to it, not mixing the sticks for the flashers and wipers became the hardest part. I got a good laugh when I confused them back in my canadian car this Sunday.
The days on the Championship site
Wednesday I got to pre-ride the bike course, which was a 15 km loop that we had to do it twice on the race day. It was awesome: very nice flow, quite fast with couple places to pass and a nice view to distract you. There I saw my first kangaroo and was able to catch it on my GoPro. That seriously made my day.
I followed the ride with a lap of the run course, which was 3.3km and I would have to repeat it 3 times on Saturday. The easiest way to describe it is to say that it was an obstacle course. You started with three down and ups where the bottoms were big puddles of mud, followed by a suspension bridge (ever tried running on one of those with 2 other people?) You then went up for about 1 km, but you could not really get your speed back on the downhill that came later, since it was full of obstacles like rocks to go around or over and mud that was quite slippery. About half way, you had to jump into a river and run in it for about 300 meters. You could not really see where your feet were and at some point I had water well over my hips. After you were out of the water, you had to run through bushes on some uneven grounds and some boulders before going in a tunnel which was only about 1 meter high. Once you exited it was back uphill with some obstacles before heading back to transition.
At that point I realized that I was breathing quite hard and after some research, I was told it was because we were high in altitude. Sweet, another challenge!
Wednesday was completed with a meet and greet with team Canada at night. We were only 5 racers, but it was fun to get to know them and spend the next few days with them.
The next day I went for a quick swim and there are 2 things that you should know: the race is taking place at the end of their spring and the lake is fed by the melting snow from the mountains (there was was still some snow on the summits). It was very cold but I’m glad I jumped in and did one lap of the swim course, because it wasn’t your standard triangle or rectangle course. There were many turns, and I needed to be very careful on race day.
I joined Yuliana at the manager meeting and learned the last few details about the races. After relaying the information to the teammates we went back to our hotel which was 20 minutes away from race site.
In the evening we headed to the Opening Ceremony. The whole evening was quite special, as this was my first World Championship and I never participated in a ceremony of this scale. I know that it wasn’t the Olympics, but it was quite special to walk behind your flag, to enjoy the show put on by the welcoming community and to see the colors of the 28 nations all together, all brought to this corner of the world by the sport of triathlon.
On Friday I woke up early and went for a 20 minutes bike ride in the trails around my hotel. I had to stop myself because those trails were a lot of fun, but had to keep my legs for race day. The ride was completed by an attack of magpie (very common bird in Australia). I saw it many times on Instagram but experiencing it first hand was quite funny, I got the chance to film the end of it.
I followed the bike ride with a quick run, before we packed all our stuff for the day and headed to the race site.
Friday was the women’s race and it gave me a chance to see how everything went. It was quite cool to be able to cheer not only for our Canadian teammates, but also for all the other countries on the course. Overall, Canadian women did show the incredible strength and dedication each overcoming every obstacle the day threw at them and even bringing one silver medal home.
Once the race was over and the transition opened, I dropped my bike off and headed to an Italian restaurant before a short quiet evening at the hotel.
The Championship race day
On Saturday, I woke up early and started with my race day routine: eat, dress, stretch and pack. The car was showing 9 degrees on our way there and I only could think of the water temperature. Many people were concerned, but it went up to 24 by race time and the water wasn’t too bad, mostly because of the adrenaline. I set up the rest of my transition and tried to relax before putting my wetsuit on. One of the day’s challenge was that the warm-up in the water was not allowed and there was a lot of waiting in the corals, clearly not ideal for such a fast pace race.
I was in the first wave and after all the official announcements were done it was the go time. I was quite nervous, my goal for the swim was to hold on to the feet of the pack for as long as possible. The horn went off and we ran for the water. I will be honest and sorry for my language but I got my rear handed to me. I lost the feet of my competitors in the first 100 meters, just before the first turn. Those Australians know how to swim! The rest of the swim went somewhat smoothly. When I got out on the beach heading for my second lap, I knew that I was last or second last in my division, but I couldn’t do much here but just to keep working hard.
The lake had dirt around it, not the usual sand, and because of its size combined with the movements of the hundreds of people, half of my second lap I was swimming in the thick muddy water. I couldn’t even see past my elbow! My breathing got a bit better in the second lap, I was able to relax and set myself up for the next leg. I was happy to touch ground after my second lap and go into transition. I believe I got a personal best for the 1500 meters swim that day.
Transition went smoothly and got on the bike course. The first kilometer was where all the man-made obstacles were and it was also uphill so I chose, like most athletes that day, to not clip my shoes on my bike, and it was a great decision. The bike went well, pushing hard where I could and not crashing once, even after few close calls. Even at the World Championship level I was surprised how friendly the competition was. Everyone was calling their passes using the name or country on the other person’s uniform and offering encouragements along the way.
My main mistake on the bike course was probably not to drink enough, but except that it went smoothly. I was at the back of my division but I had to remind myself that everyone out on the course had to qualify to be here and they were pretty much some of the best in the world. Once I got that in my head I was able to enjoy it, be in a good mood and even push a bit harder.
The run on the other hand was everything but smooth! I was already tired from over 2 hours of racing and at the start of every lap we had to go up and down some stairs to cross the bike course. I survived the run achieving my goal of not walking, but it was not easy.
The toughness and pain from all the obstacles described above and all the uphill sections was reduced quite a bit by all the support from the sidelines. I think ⅔ of the run course had people cheering for everyone and I can say that Australians do like us Canadians.
After 3 laps of running in mud, rocks and water I climbed the stairs one last time and headed for the finishing chute. What a feeling! Running on the blue carpet and getting your name called as one of the finishers.
Another cool thing about this race is that it was broadcast live on YouTube. I know some family and friends watched it. I will be honest, it was quite special to receive the congratulations text just few minutes after finishing the race. It was from my parents and it was a picture of me crossing the finish line on the TV in their living room.
I joined my teammates for a beer few minutes later and I got told that I was racing the relay in less than 24 hours. I guess the end of season celebrations had to wait a bit longer.