WTS Edmonton

What. A. Race.

And for many more reasons than one.

When it snowed in Edmonton 1 week after the world champs there last year, the same weekend that WTS Edmonton was scheduled to be held this year, there were questions floating around of what would happen if the weather turned early again this year…

Snow in Edmonton September 8 2014

We laughed it off though – the weather had been fine the week before and it was quite unusual to be that cold in September. Surely it would be fine.

A week and a half out the weather looked fine.

One week out it looked cool but OK.

3 days out it looked cold, with the possibility of some light showers.

Then every time we checked the weather man decided he wanted to be a little more cruel.

The forecast top dropped from 14, to 13, 12, 11, 10… and by race day 9 and rain.

The day before the race I gave up hoping for the forecast to change and went on a quest to buy a pair of toe warmers for my cycling shoes – something I’d been adamant I’d buy before my next race after my frozen feet in London. Unfortunately though, all the age-groupers racing earlier on Sunday had had the same idea and all the bike shops we visited had sold out only the day before! Cue plan B – a packing tape job by Mossy to cover all the vents to keep out the wind and rain as best as possible.

I still had no idea of just HOW cold it was going to be. Numb feet were the least of our worries.

With the forecast dropping another couple of degrees overnight to below 10, we decided that swim warm-up pre race would be out of the question and instead headed to the pool a couple of hours before race start to get the arms ticking over.

The age group race was changed to a duathlon; cancelling the swim leg and replacing it instead with a second run.

Then questions were asked of our race – according to the rules if the water temp was below 18 and air temp below 8 the swim would be cancelled. Would WTS points still be on the line? Olympic ranking points? If not was it worth risking racing at all in such conditions less than 2 weeks out from the World Championship grand final?

Trusty old Google weather told us the temp had not yet reached 8. We went down to the race prepared to race either a triathlon or duathlon. As cold as it was, I wanted it to remain a triathlon. After missing the early season races I really needed the points from this race, and after all, no matter the format it was going to be cold and wet on the bike. A swim wouldn’t make that much difference.

One thing was for sure though. It was going to be a race of survival. Who could cope with the cold? Who could run with no feeling in their legs? Who’s bodies would start to shut down, and who’s push on?

Down to the race venue we went in the wind and rain. The verdict? A triathlon it would remain.

The official temp? 7.6°C with a water temp of 16.1°C.

The phrase “warm up” had never been as literal as it was yesterday. The focus was not so much on trying to activate the muscles as much as get the core body temperature as high as possible. I did my run warm up in my wetsuit with gloves and ear warmers, significantly faster than I would usually. I should have worn a jacket as well.

Plunging into the cold. Rich Cruse/ITU Media

I had a fairly ordinary start, more stumbling into the water rather than gracefully running and diving in. Immediately there was a line of girls in front of me but it did mean that I had feet to follow from the start. The swim was fairly uneventful, however with the flurry of arms and legs, the rain, and my goggles fogging thanks to the cold air and water, I had no gauge of where I was in the field.

As we exited the water I was pleasantly surprised to be able to see the leaders just up ahead. I wasn’t quite as far up as I’d ideally like to be but was only 14th out and 15 seconds down on the lead.

With the wind chill factor and the exposure, the bike was going to be the toughest part of the race in the conditions. And it was brutal. First my feet went numb, then my face and my hands. As unpleasant as that was, it was my core body temperature that was more important. I knew if I could keep it high enough throughout the ride, once I headed out onto the run I’d be OK. Cold, but OK.

A lead pack of 15 formed on the bike. We had about 30 seconds on the chase pack which contained some fast runners. The group was working well enough to maintain the lead, so my focus turned to making sure I did enough work on the front, and at regular intervals, to avoid getting too cold.

By the end of the 3rd lap my hands and arms had become so cold that I couldn’t move them properly to change gears, and was worried I wouldn’t be able to break either. For the rest of the bike I was riding along, forcing my fingers to move, desperately trying to get the blood flowing again enough that I could use my hands.

As we entered the park on our final lap, heading back towards transition, I put in a surge to get any advantage I could heading into T2. In such cold conditions, T2 could end up being a major deciding factor in the race.

I was first off the bike and into transition. Having anticipated it being difficult to put on run shoes with frozen hands and feet, I’d left my laces looser than usual. It was slow and somewhat clumsy, but I got them on without wasting too much time.

But that helmet.

That wretched helmet.

Usually the easiest part of transition but an impossible task without fine motor control.

I struggled for a short while, and briefly entertained thoughts of giving up and doing the run with it on. I was by no means the only one struggling with my helmet though; the cold had wreaked havoc on the field in T2 stringing everyone out before the run had even begun!

Eventually I got my helmet undone and was out onto the run in 7th, 10 seconds down on Anja Knapp and Dominika Jamnicky, the only 2 who seemed to have managed to get through T2 without issues!

With the field so spread out already, I didn’t pay much attention to my position, or how anyone else was running and just went out at a good pace – or at least what I thought was a decent pace. It was hard to tell as I couldn’t feel my legs!

At about 1km into the run, the point by which most of the faster runners who were behind coming out of transition would usually have caught and passed me, I noticed no one had, and they didn’t seem to be coming.

Vicky Holland and Flora Duffy were running together in the lead. I was in 5th, 8 seconds back and about to catch the two girls who had led out of transition and were running in 3rd and 4th…

I took a moment to compose myself, shut out thoughts of what I was about to do, and moved into 3rd just after the turn-around on the first lap of 3.

Running in 3rd. Rich Cruse/ITU Media

The next 2 laps were a bit of a blur.

The further the run progressed, the more confident I got, the faster my legs moved, and the more detached I got from what was actually happening.

I could hear Mossy and the other Australian coaches screaming at me from the sidelines.

My legs felt like they were flying.

Or at least, that’s what my mind was telling me.

In reality I couldn’t feel them at all.

Apart from that disgustingly weird sensation in my feet that the bones were landing on big, fat, squishy jelly pads and sliding around every step. Gross.

Onto the final lap and I could see that I was gradually gaining on Flora who had dropped into 2nd. Mossy’s mad shouts weren’t so mad after all. Half a lap to go, and I kicked it into my last gear heading down the hill back to transition.

About to turn onto the blue carpet it started to sink in. I saw Vicky cross the line in first. Then Flora. Then it was my turn.

Rich Cruse/ITU Media

I had goosebumps on my scalp. And not just from the cold.

It was the most amazing feeling.

The result was so far beyond what I had imagined only an hour before that I didn’t know what to do other than cry. That, and reach for as many blankets as I could get!

How does it feel to be on a WTS podium? Cold! Rich Cruse/ITU Media
Champagne showers. Rich Cruse/ITU Media

One thing is for sure – I won’t be forgetting this race any time soon!

Gillian



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