RACE REPORT: ITU WORLD LONG COURSE TRIATHLON AGE GROUP CHAMPIONSHIPS
written by: Rachel Saks
"Hej" from Sweden!
I have to preface this race report with a brief description of the athlete parade and opening ceremony. On Thursday, two days before the race, Team USA gathered in Säter, Sweden for the traditional team USA photo and parade of athletes. Team USA only took about 30 minutes to organize itself in front of a huge triathlon sign, which was made up of huge, funky plastic figures of a swimmer, biker, runner (if you have seen this photo on the BTT website you may understand why the big joke was that the runner was getting a little to frisky with the biker).
After showing our best Team USA smiles, we hurried over to where the parade of athletes was to start, only to find that the parade had just left. It's a good thing our country starts with a "U" because we were able to barely slide in at the end of the departing parade without breaking stride. After walking and waving to the energetic crowd in the small town of Säter, we headed down to Säterdalen, a small park on the edge of town. The walk and parade took about 20 minutes, and when it was over we found ourselves in a cozy amphitheater in the woods (one US athlete was heard claiming he wanted to log those miles!). A man on stage blew a huge horn that reached from his lips almost to the floor (yes, think Ricola), and after a few moments of anticipation, out of nowhere a group of 8 or so Swedish musicians in traditional clothing entered stage left. A great effect. The MC of the ceremonies said everything first in Swedish, then English. Several VIPs spoke, including the governor of the region. She announced, with a great hoo-rah, the triathlon championship, "OPEN!". Ms. Säter 2004 gave us her well wishes, fireworks flew from the stage, and we were on our way.
The sun rose at a delightful 3:45am on race day. You gotta love those summer Scandinavian nights. Team USA gathered for breakfast at the team hotel, and then along with some British and Canadian racers, boarded the buses that had been our trusty transport to and from the race site.
Race prep went as usual, and I was glad to find that at this race we were able to keep of our vital race gear, food, lucky charms, etc. at transition (no IM-type bags). The females started the swim in the fourth of five waves and I was really ready to get this race going. I knew I'd be at a slight warmth and speed disadvantage being one of just a few in a sleeveless wetsuit, and I didn't want to get cold. The lake looked like an oversized Walden Pond, which made me feel at home, though the temp was more like the water at Hyannis I. After a feisty female start, I finally got a rhythm going about a third of the way through. Swimmers zigged and zagged in front of me, as I passed white flag marker after white flag marker after white flag marker. You just have to hope that you have a good song in your head for these long, 4K (2.5mi) swims! I enjoyed the swim and began to look forward to the bike.
After exiting up a mucky shore to transition with cold feet and arms, I learned that putting arm warmers on wet arms is about as easy as whistling with crackers in your mouth. Got 'em on and went on my way. The bike course was beautiful. Three loops of 40K brought inclines and declines and a few uphills. A few spectators shouted, "Go Saks!" or "Go USA", and I realized that some had the program and were looking up my number. What great race fans! I also got a kick out of the two shirtless men at the 10K mark who were banging their kettle drums and singing to cheer on the athletes.
As we passed fields, farmlands, and small Scandinavian towns, I was able to take a few moments to absorb the vistas around me and soak up the sunshine. Good thing I did because as you know when you race long, what goes up also comes down. Speaking of coming down, the rain did just that. In the middle of the last loop I felt the first of what would be many big, fat raindrops. The kind that come down so fast that just when you think it can't rain any harder, it does. The high puffy clouds had turned stone cold gray, and brought the temperature down with them. Hail mixed in slowly and didn't last that long, but long enough for me to experience the pellets going through the holes in my helmet.
I guess I am lucky I am from New England, because I think all of us NE riders have experienced something like this. So, when my hands got so cold I could barely shift my bike (as in, uh-oh, I can't get out of my big ring and here comes a hill), I just took a deep breath instead of panicking. I knew it would be over eventually.
Riding back into transition it was great to hear the crowd cheering, but I was unfortunately off the satisfying pace I had set pre-rain on the bike. My main goal now was to warm up, get the feeling back in my hands, and complete the 30K (18.6mi) run. I also had to somehow get dexterity back in my hands so that I could pin my race number back on my race belt because one side had ripped off during the bike (come ooooon safety pin!). I heard my stomach growling through the cheers, so I managed to grab a Luna bar from my transition stock of "things you never know if you might need", and ate it so fast that I almost started on my fingertips next! Then, I put on my Team USA long sleeve shirt and went on my way.
The run was four lollypop loops around one side of the lake and through the town of Säter. People cheered for all athletes and all nations (I got a few more, "Go Saks!" and "Good on ya, Saks!" which impressed me that the crowd was really making an effort). I felt pretty crummy on that first loop, with cold legs feeling like jelly, hands that were tingling from being cold, and a core that was trying to warm up. The sun came out after the first loop and I was able to toss my Team USA long sleeve layer to the coach at the Team USA assistance area. My memories of the run are a bit random - the Swedish crowd cheering, "hey-ya, hey-ya, hey-ya. U.S.A-ya!", running along side a Swede apparently named Matilda (she received a lot of cheers by name), smelling the BBQ up the one major hill on the run loop and thinking, should I stop?, it would technically be a cultural experience.and therefore ok?, and there was a Swedish teenage girl volunteer at one of the water/food stops who stood for hours offering, "buns?. buns?. buns?..." The cultural differences are some of the many elements that make the experience of doing a Worlds race unique.
I eventually got back into a rhythm and was able to pass two women in my age group in the last loop - a good feeling. As I finally came around to the finish line I soaked up the moment, raised one hand to signal my inner victory, and crossed the finish line with pride. Another one for the books!