So the final race of my season and it’s a big one, the ITU World Championships in Switzerland. Everything I have been working so hard for over the season has led to this race, competing against the best ladies in the world, no pressure!
We had planned to drive to Switzerland over a few days so as to try and keep as relaxed as possible. Ian, my boyfriend, was absolutely fantastic, making sure that I basically didn’t lift a finger, allowed me to nap, drove nearly all the way there and was just generally amazing as usual.
We arrived in Lausanne a day early which allowed us to have a full day of run, bike and swim course familiarisation which was so useful as the bike and run routes were quite hilly in places so it was great to get a feel for them early on.
The first incline on the run!
The swim was incredible; warm, clear, calm and the scenery was breathtaking. I was really looking forward to the swim in the race as there had already been talk of it being a non-wetsuit swim. This would mean that the less strong swimmers might not do as well, as a wetsuit adds buoyancy and therefore speed. The problem beforehand was the not knowing whether it was or wasn’t going to be non-wetsuit, but I had a plan that I would wear it unless it was wetsuit illegal. I was also secretly hoping that the officials would make the decision of non-wetsuit as it would then make the decision for us and make the playing field equal.
The few days leading up to the race was very much about registering, soaking up the atmosphere, attending the opening ceremony, team briefing, watching the elites and trying my best to remain calm and relaxed. The nerves were already starting to build and being around my teammates unfortunately didn’t help with this as their innocent chatter would make me fill with nervous butterflies!
Unfortunately, on one of the days we walked nearly 39,000 steps! I was exhausted, so we made sure the following day – which was the day before race day – we relaxed as much as possible. Lausanne was such a beautiful place so it was easy to find a shaded area next to the lake to sit and unwind; it was the perfect day really.
Race morning came around so quickly, I actually felt quite calm, despite starting my period and having abdominal pains – typical! Ian seemed to be more stressed than I was; I tried to stay focused and get on with my pre-race ritual. I ate my porridge, had a huge mug of tea, grabbed my kit and I was off to transition to get my bike ready.
I love the buzz and excitement of transition on a race morning. I arrived, said hello to my teammates, and started to place my kit out ready and prepare my bike. The officials had made the decision of a non-wetsuit race which really pleased me. We were in for a fair race now; no one was getting any advantages from the swim, fantastic!
Once I finished in transition I headed to the swim start area and met with Ian away from the hustle and bustle. We had a good half hour before having to be in the start pen so I tried to keep warm and calm, it was such a beautiful morning and the venue was stunning, so it was easy to distract myself.
Before the swim start and the nerves had kicked in!
It was time to head to the swim start pen. Nerves were really kicking in now and I just wanted to get started. In the starting pen they tried to keep us all calm by playing music and getting us to dance which was very welcomed and did keep me distracted for a short while, but it was game time so I still wanted to keep my focus.
We were called into the water and it felt choppy already. I stayed to the left of the group but it was crowded so I knew the start would be a washing machine of arms and legs and I had to just get my head down and sprint the first 100 metres or so to get some free water.
The gun went off and this plan worked, although a bit of pushing and shoving did happen to start with. The first thing I noticed was that this swim wasn’t going to be an easy one, it was very choppy, in fact the roughest water I have ever had to swim in. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact it was non-wetsuit as the buoyancy from the suit had been taken away.
There were a few times where I swallowed water and couldn’t catch my breath so had to do breaststroke to regain my breath and take a moment to stop myself from panicking. In the back of my mind I thought that at least we would all be struggling in these conditions so tried to keep plodding on. I reached the final turn and the water was a lot calmer now so I really tried to open up and put in some hard effort to finish, this gave me some space coming out of the water and just behind the first pack of women.
Now to start the real hard work, it was time to really open up the field and try and take advantage of my stronger bike leg. My transition went really well, even making up a few places before exiting.
Note the hill in the background which we had to come down on the bike and the orange crash mats that would protect us if we got it wrong!
I mounted my bike and I was off. It felt great having my name shouted at me and people cheering me on. This is what I love about these World Championship events, this is why I love coming back and what keeps pushing me to try harder, I was in my element.
Before I knew it, the first of the 3 main climbs was upon me. It was tough but I just sat and dug deep, my heart rate was now through the roof but luckily there was a flat section and descent to allow for it to come down slightly.
I was at the turn point and up the next incline, this wasn’t quite as tough as the first but I still needed to sit and dig in. Next up was the part of the course I was dreading the most, it was a fast 13% descent with a sharp right hand turn at the bottom. We had been warned to take it easy but after crashing in a race before I didn’t want to repeat this here! I took it easy all the way down, probably too easy but the smell of rubber and break pads was in the air and the crash mats didn’t look as though they would be much cushioning so I thought I would rather stay on the bike and lose a little bit of time on this section than come off and potentially risk the whole race.
I was down and safe, now to gurn and push on. It was fast and flat and felt fantastic! I passed so many competitors of both sexes and was using them as targets to try and push myself harder.
Lap 1 done and I was off onto the next, it was pretty much the same as the first in that I kept pushing myself using other competitors as a target to try and get past, I just loved it. Whilst riding around I did notice a name of a lady who I would keep passing but then she would overtake me further along the course, this happened a few times but I didn’t think much of it and just kept to my little game plan. Bike course complete, transition 2 went smooth and quick and I was onto the run.
I knew this was going to be tough. The weather had been perfect all morning, not sunny, slightly cloudy, and warm. When we got on the run, the sun had started to shine and it was getting hot and with those hills coming up it was about pacing it out and making sure I had enough energy to get round.
Once again, the support was incredible, so many people shouting and cheering my name, fellow GB competitors on and off the course supporting each other, it was fantastic! I reached the first incline and it was tough,
My face captured as I approached ‘that’ first hill on the run.
I tried to keep the legs turning over and not go too quickly, I had a long way to go yet! The lady, McDonald, passed me again but it didn’t click that she might be in my age group or chasing me, I pressed on. The run, other than the 2 inclines in each lap, was a beautiful, flat route which took us past the Olympic museum and through the gardens with sculptures in it, the scenery of the mountains and lake really helped to take away some of the pain as well.
1st lap done and it was time to dig deep. I overtook a few ladies but at this point I had no idea if they were in my age group or if they were on their first or last lap. I didn’t care, I was running at my limit now. I couldn’t push any harder, it was really starting to hurt.
The American, McDonald, was just up ahead of me. I passed Ian and he just told me to reel her in and get past her. I didn’t think any more of this other than to use her again as a target to get past and focus on and I was going well at this point. I went to overtake her and she stayed on my shoulder this time, we were pushing each other on.
We had 1km to go, the American supporters were screaming at her to beat me, that she had this etc but again I had no idea who she was or even if we were in the same age group. The final twists and turns came and we were shoulder to shoulder. Once we turned onto the blue carpet that was it, I knew I had to completely empty the tank, give it everything I had, I sprinted past her and managed to finish in front of her.
Relief – I had done it!
I felt so proud, I really had given everything I could the whole race. I congratulated McDonald on her race and offered a hand, she very reluctantly shook it but otherwise didn’t acknowledge me and in fact just gave me a stare, very unsporting I thought!
I walked to the post-race recovery area and chatted with fellow triathletes from all over the world, talking and giving feedback of our experiences, just a fantastic moment and I wish I could have sat chatting for longer but it was time to find Ian and celebrate.
I found him in the crowd and it was only now where things started to fall into place. He told me I had come 4th, which I was truly gobsmacked about! I couldn’t believe it. He also told me that the reason he told me to reel in the American was because she was 4th at that point. It was his way of telling me without telling me and it obviously worked! No wonder she didn’t seem happy to shake my hand!
On reflection, it was such a great, honest course as it really opened up the field and exposed any weakness you might have had, it made you work hard and you had to be careful and aware of that as if you took it too hard it would take it out of you in the later stages of the race.
Anyway, off we went to celebrate, what a race, what a season, I seriously couldn’t be any happier with how the year has gone. It’s left me feeling sad that the season is over as I have a belly full of fire to go out and improve but equally I am ready for the rest. It’s been a hard slog this year but I can’t wait to come back harder and faster!
About the author: Claire Williams is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.