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What's it really like racing at a World Championship event?

Triathlon Triathlete Ambassador Sundried Running London

We talk to Sundried ambassador Christine Lutsch about the emotions and experience of racing at the ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Rotterdam. 

What was the atmosphere like the morning of the race?

It was still dark when I walked the mile or so from the taxi drop-off point to transition 2 (T2) at 6am on Sunday. Shoes dropped off, landmarks visually memorised, I made my way out of the large transition area and had to ask around to find my way to the ferry pickup point. A bunch of nervous athletes from all over the world boarded the ferry, some sitting on the floor, some had found themselves more comfortable seats, to be ferried across one of Rotterdam’s large water masses to T1 and the swim start.

I looked up at the sky. It looked clear. The last time I checked the forecast the evening before they had forecasted showers and even thunderstorms at various points throughout the morning. If you had watched the elite races on Saturday you would be aware that the weather on Saturday had been worse than miserable and very cold. Now it was looking very promising - fingers and toes crossed!

How was the set up process?

From the ferry we walked another half a mile or so to T1 (if possible the transition area was even more enormous than T2), where our bicycles had been racked overnight. In a way it was easier to deal with one transition at a time, and it went quicker than I expected. I relatively successfully dried my bicycle with my bare hands, wet from being outside overnight. There were several bicycle pumps near the mechanic’s tent so I gave my tires one last pre-race pump. By this time it was lighter and I was happy to meet a few fellow athlete friends, all getting ready to roll. We had to finish racking by 7am (which we didn’t, but no-one seemed to care) even though I was not due to race until after 9am.

What's the city of Rotterdam like?

We walked back to the swim start where some friends had to prepare for an earlier race start. The morning had become very beautiful. Rotterdam’s tall buildings were silhouetted against the backdrop of an orange sun rising over the large body of water and there was a slight fogginess in the air, all of which calmed the mood somewhat.

Together with a friend in my age group we saw off our friends who were racing in an earlier wave, and went inside the stunning Hotel New York with its high ceilings and warm décor to enjoy a last cup of coffee, clean toilets and some warmth. At this stage all start waves were delayed by around 15 minutes, which gave us plenty of time. Finally, the time had come to drop our orange race bags off at the bag-drop and go to the swim start to be cordoned into our race pen ready to start.

Talk us through the swim.

And then, suddenly, it was time to get on the pontoon and into the water, ready to start. As usual I took a wide angle, perhaps not the best strategy for the speediest swim, but from experience I prefer to swim at my own pace rather than be caught up in a bunch of flapping arms and legs. The water temperature was fairly chilly, but felt lovely and refreshing. As usual, I loved the swim, even though it wasn’t my fastest swim ever. Upon exiting the ramp, the blue carpet was laid out all the (very long) way to T1 and there was the usual faffing to undo the velcro flap, as evident from my race photos.

How did you get on at transition?

I located my bicycle with ease, marked by a footpath as well as a large square orange “thing” in our row. The wet suit, swim hat and goggles had to go into our race bags which took slightly longer than the usual throwing it onto the ground to worry about later. I put on my brand new aero helmet with visor (my first ever helmet with a visor) but the outside temperature was in stark contrast to my body temperature so they immediately fogged up and I couldn’t see a thing. Thank goodness they had a magnetic clip which means I could remove them easily and put them back on just before I had to mount my bike, at which point the temperatures had adjusted and I could see through them.

What was the bike course like?

I have never encountered such a technical bike course. First, we went over a little foot bridge, then down and round onto a pedestrian walkway, up a ramp followed by a 180 degree turn to cross the large bridge over the river, then around hairpin bends, over more bridges, on footpaths, on red cycle paths, on red brick roads, up staircases (literally… they had been “ramped up”!), on cobbles, and yes, there were some normal roads too, but few and far between. I can only say it was lucky that the roads were dry on this day!

Initially I set out with a lot of caution. Like our team manager said at the briefing – rather arrive in one piece than not at all. Around halfway through the first lap I got overtaken by a fairly large crowd on a straight stretch, only to get caught behind them on the corners. This gave me a little bit of confidence in my bike handling skills and made me push harder to overtake so the road was as clear as possible in front of me when it got to those corners. The bicycle section went faster than I expected (this is usually my least favourite part of a triathlon) and before I knew it 2 laps were done and it was time for the run.

How was the run?

I located my running shoes with ease. I set off steadily knowing that my body needs to ease into the run slowly. The run course was my favourite part of the course. It was a tricky course with many sharp corners, some off-road parts, up sharp little hills, over the roots of trees at one point – through the beautiful “Het Park”. Even Elvis made his appearance several times on the course – at one point told me to “catch my team mate in front of me”. I didn’t exactly hear him sing unfortunately.

My legs were holding up ok, but I also knew that if I pushed any harder, they were at risk of cramping so I tried to hold the pace as best I could. As always in a triathlon it is impossible to know who you are racing (unless you happen to know them) or where you are in the field, in particular as waves go off at different times and different age groups are racing at the same time. Therefore you can only race your hardest and hope for the best.

Finally the two-lap run course was done and I made my way down the blue carpet to the finish line as hard as I could – the photos attest that I was in pain at this point!

How did it feel to finish a world championship race?

Just as suddenly as it started, it was all over. All the build-up to the race, the months of hard work and preparation, culminated in this moment.

I saw many of my fellow age group team athletes at the finish line, and it was great to put some faces to names since we don’t always have the chance to meet at qualifying races due to the various locations. In the end, we were all happy that the weather gods had been kind to us, that we all finished safely, and that it was all over now, for another year.

We went to pick up all our race bags, which took a while, and then we had a large portion of Dutch chips with mayo – perfect post-race recovery food!

 Any final thoughts?

My finishing position wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but the small gaps between finishing times proves that the field was quite competitive. I raced as hard as I could and gave my best, so in that sense I am happy with my performance.

This was a logistically difficult race to organise, but I feel the organisers lived up to the task. Throughout the race people were friendly and helpful. Our GB team managers did a great job as well. As always, it was a great experience to race at a world championship!

Now, I look forward to putting my feet up for a while and then starting the preparations for next year, which, rumour has it, will be in… Gold Coast Australia!

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