I've taken a couple of days to collect my thoughts and reflect on the events that unfolded during my second ITU race of my career. Although I ran into some bad luck again this time around, I learned more lessons about this style of racing, had a ton of fun up until the point of the crash, and I was having a GREAT race!
First of all, I was so excited to be able to set up in a transition area that was replete with blue carpeting and individual athlete posts just like on the World Cup circuit! I had never used a transition post before, but it had your name, country, and race number on it. The official showed me that you put your bike wheel in backwards in the slot in preparation for coming into T1, and then when you come into T2, you would put your front wheel in the opposite slot before running out. I guess one advantage of racing elite is that you don't have to get there early to find the best place to rack your bike, because it's already assigned to you and you don't have any say about the matter. You also get a nice purple bin that you have to put your swim cap, goggles, helmet in as you proceed throught the race. If your belongings don't get in the bin, then you have to pay a time penalty of 50s or something like that.
There was no bike warm up allowed, so instead I went for a short jog with a new friend and fellow newbie on the ITU circuit this year, Colleen Latham. Kelowna really is a beautiful place, and we got the chance to admire the backdrop of mountains and the lake while we were running. After the run, I had one last chance to make sure my transition area was set up and it was off to the beach for swim warm-up. I decided not to put on my wetsuit for swim warm-up 1) in the interest of time and 2) because I wanted to experience the cold water and chop before actually having to race in it. My swim warm-up was reminiscent of my time spent boogie boarding in Cozumel and hitting the waves face first, except this water was MUCH COLDER. After 15 minutes of that, I headed back to the beach to stay warm before the start.
The start is always so nerve racking because they line you up according to race number, and they keep you in a "holding pen" as I like to call it. I was nervous, but I was not petrified like I was in Coteau du lac. This time, I told myself that I belonged here and I believed it. With the introductions over with and everyone at their starting position, there is this eerie dead silence before we take our marks and the horn goes off. Once the horn goes off, everyone is racing into the water into a chaotic mass of flailing limbs and white water. I put my head down and threw myself in the midst of all that chaos. My arms were freezing almost that whole first lap, and I was being pulled under and kicked in the face and body but I just kept swimming aggressively and did not let them intimidate me. As we approached the beach after our first lap, I knew that I was swimming in a relatively big group of girls. As I exited the first loop I saw that the two girls immediately ahead of me were Martina Wan and Annie Warner. I was psyched that I was able to keep up with them and launched myself back in the water for another 750m loop of aggressive swimming. I was able to stick with this chase pack of girls coming out of the water, and I ended up swimming 21:14! That is my best open water 1500m, non-wetsuit swim ever! I'm especially thrilled about pulling that off in that choppy water.
So I did my best to hustle down the long stretch over the bridge to the transition area, but it always seems to take me just a bit longer to put on my sunglassess, and helmet before running to mount the bike than the other ITU girls. Either way, the announcer acknowledged who I was and said that I was "rounding out the chase pack"! Me in the chase pack?! Woohoo! What a huge improvement.
The bike course in Kelowna is 6 loops, so we climb Mt. Knox 6 times, and the total distance is 41.6km. Unfortunately for me, I only got to ride about 40km before the crash. It was so frustrating because I was so close to being done and out on the run course! Kelowna was expecting rain on Saturday, but of course it held out until Sunday. It started to come down pretty hard on loop 5 or so of the bike course. On loop 6 of the course, after descending down Mt. Knox and heading into a flat section with lots of cornering, the competitor ahead of me caught the centre line on the first sharp left turn and went down hard. I swerved to the right to avoid her body, but her bike slid out from under her so quickly that I ran into her bike, lost control, and hit the curb with my bike and flew onto the grass. I had only one bike shoe on when I landed, but I seemed to have landed on my right rib and hit my head on the ground quite hard. Thank goodness the officials made me tighten my chin strap during helmet inspection, because that really helped me out on Sunday! Because I landed on the grass, I avoided much of the road rash that normally accompanies a crash, and got less severe grass rash instead. I think I went into shock right away and was extremely dazed after hitting my head. I was hyperventilaing badly, so my face, head, and hands were all pins and needles. It took some time for me to calm down, and restore my breathing, but I never lost consciousness. After my first lucid thought of being grateful that it wasn't worse, I became extremely disappointed that I would be unable to finish the race. I was whisked away in an ambulance, so I don't even know who took my bike away at that point. I did not want to go the hospital, but they made me go to the medical tent where I had ice wrapped around my shoulder and collar bone from the fall. After I finished the medical assessments, they were concerned that I might have had a minor concussion, so they made me promise that I would be under Colleen's care for the next 24 hours.
As disappointed as I am that I couldn't finish the race (turns out my front Zipp wheel took a huge gash to the rim anyway), one of the few races that I consider an "A" race and that I tapered for, I am thrilled with the improvements that I have made in my swimming and even biking over the past 5 weeks or so. Haven't been able to test out the run yet, but it will come. Importantly, I come away from this race believing that I AM a competitor in those races, and I really want to pursue racing ITU for the near future. I have tons to improve on, and i know that I am just getting started. I'm supposed to be racing in Chicago this weekend, but for now I'm concentrating on healing my neck and rib!