The World Triathlon Series season opener was once again held in Abu Dhabi. Leading into the race I was feeling fit, confident, and excited to deliver on a course I knew from last years race suited my strengths.
The Abu Dhabi course is unique in that we get the opportunity to race on the F1 track on Yas Island. It makes for a fast, smooth, technical but flowing course on the bike, and a moderately challenging run. It was a lot of fun to race on last year, but this year produced carnage.
With a desert climate and rain falling on average less than 10 days per year, a wet race was certainly not expected. The surprising forecast of rain turned out to be correct, and the fast, smooth, flowing course turned to a slip and slide with the oil, tyre debris, and desert sand not helping matters.
With the men off two hours before the women, we had the opportunity to watch the coverage of the first lap of the bike to assess the conditions before we headed out ourselves. The men were crashing left, right, and centre despite riding very cautiously – given how grippy the course felt in the dry, I wasn’t expecting it to be so slick!
I wasn’t overly concerned about the conditions, knowing I have quite good bike handling skills, and even thought the conditions could play into my favour. All I had to do was ride sensibly, confidently, and position myself well to stay out of trouble.
I had a solid swim, exiting the water within reach of the lead and chased hard through transition one and onto the bike. By the end of lap one, I had caught onto the lead pack but knew I needed to move up to both stay out of trouble and do my share of the work to keep the pace on. In my eagerness to get away from the back of the pack, I lost sight of the importance of staying upright in the conditions. With a boost of adrenaline and a slight lapse of judgement I hit the U-turn at the start of lap 2 with too much pace (but still quite slowly!), and with a bang hit the ground too. My crash caused the group to split (sorry to the girls behind!) and I was able to jump back up and back on to the girls who had been riding behind me. Another 4 girls dropped off the front pack and we were able to bridge up to them as well. With a knock to my right leg, and a knock to my confidence I wasn’t able to ride as strongly or as assertively as I normally would for the remainder of the bike. The lead pack, now down to a meagre 6 girls opened up their lead to 50 seconds by T2.
Off onto the run I brushed aside the mounting stiffness in my right hamstring and backed myself to run strongly, as I knew from training my run form was good. I ran with the lead girls from my pack for the first 2km of the run, feeling within myself. My hamstring continued to tighten however so I pulled back the pace slightly hoping that I would be able to get through the next 3km without it seizing up completely.
Coming through transition to start lap 2, I was still running strongly, and sitting comfortably in 10th position. By the 3km mark however things were not looking so good. I was starting to get pins and needles in my right foot, which progressively worsened and moved further up my leg. With about a 1km to go I stopped momentarily to shake out my leg in the hope that this would alleviate the pins and needles and allow me to run on but to no avail. 500m from the finish the line was in sight, but I was starting to question whether I could get there as the pins and needles were replaced by complete numbness in my foot, and my run reduced to more of a limp. Agonisingly close to the finish I was being passed by girls like I was standing still. I made it to the line in 27th, somewhat distressed by my condition, but relieved to have made it.
My crash had caused a deep contusion in my hamstring and glute which in turn put pressure on my sciatic nerve. Fortunately I had no lasting symptoms just a very, very, swollen hamstring, and some seriously impressive bruising! I was certainly in good company with girls crashing on every lap, and am relieved to have come off relatively lightly with many unable to finish and getting taken to hospital for patching up and scans!
While I’m obviously disappointed the race didn’t come together for me on the day, there are still plenty of positives to take from it. My form is where we want it to be at the moment, and it’s good to have ticked off the first big race of the season and remember what it’s all about.
In a race that turned into a case of the last woman standing, those who were able to ride to the conditions, both confidently and cautiously were rewarded. It was great to see fellow Aussie Nat Van Coevorden on the podium for the first time taking the Bronze behind Jessica Learmonth and first-time winner Rachel Klamer.