WITC at the Poznan Triathlon, 27th July 2014
or one and a half iron WITC’ers – by Tristan Sakura
Back at the 2013 WITC Holiday party, Cristina announced that she would be participating in a half-ironman distance race in 2014 (1.9 km swim, 90 km bike, 21.1 km run), challenging others to join her. As one of the WITC female multi-sport athletes of the year, there was no turning back after this proclamation. I was also looking for a half-IM distance race in the first half of the summer and thought it would be fun to join Cristina. We both had a couple other shorter races to warm up and get our bodies (and more importantly our minds) right for the race. Antoine Duquesnay, a part-time WITC member (he shows up for volleyball games and the parties), also thought that a 1/2 IM would be a good idea, especially since he hadn’t done any biking or running since the Olympic triathlon in Ełk in 2013 (folks: do not follow this Frenchman’s training plan). So this odd trio decided to race together in Poznań at the end of the July. To make things even more interesting, former World Ironman Champion, Australian Chris McCormack (aka Macca) would also be starting in Poznań, attempting to take down the fearsome three-some from WITC.
Beautiful Poznań is the perfect setting for a triathlon. Lake Malta sits just outside the city center, and is home to many boat races, an artificial ski slope, an outdoor bowling alley, and miles (look it up if you don’t know what it means) of paths for bikes, running and roller blading. The organization of the race was great (including a bag check and showers, which should be standard), especially considering 2,500 people started between the Saturday 1/4 IM and the Sunday 1/2 IM. Cristina had some problems even before the race started, getting a flat tire on the way to drop her bike off in transition. Luckily the Shimano bike tent guys were even more helpful than usual, fixing her flat and giving her an extra spare to bring with her during the race. And this was after she lost her race belt and left her helmet on the train.
The plan was for all 1200-ish participants of the 1/2 IM to start in the water at the same time. This meant about 10 minutes of treading water before the start, while everyone made their way to the start line. Because the size of the lake, and the fact that the initial stretch is about 800 meters straight before the first turn, it didn’t feel so crowded. This made for a very comfortable swim with limited kicking and punching among the participants. The bike route was nice, mostly flat, and without many turns, while the run was an easy 4 loops around the lake. The most important part of the race was the support from the fans and volunteers. With the temperature around 33 degrees, the run was very difficult. 21.1 km is difficult by itself, but adding to that the level of exercise before the run, and the intense heat with very little shade, and it was a tall task. Luckily, there was a tremendous amount of support from everyone there, passing out water and other drinks, people shooting water from hoses at the runners, even an older couple with small squirt bottles, who smiled so widely as they sprayed anyone who ran near them. The runners smiled too, because it was great that they cared and wanted to help. Ice packs were also a life saver, as supporters handed them out for runners to carry, while participants shared bags with each other on the course, whenever someone nearby needed to cool down. This level of support and care really boosted the morale in what would otherwise be a miserable final leg. Alan and Luca, who not only compete in many races, but are some of the best supporters when not racing, were also there to cheer as they usually do, which was also a great boost. Personally, by the end of the race I was too out of breathe to say “thank you” to all the supporters, but I still tried to mouth the words. I struggled with cramps for the last part of the run, and wish I had some extra salt packets to eat (they say it helps with cramps in hot weather). Indeed I brought some packets with me but forgot to take them out of my running shoes during T2, so they were dissolved in my shoe before I remembered about them. I don’t think salty feet actually help.
The hardest challenge for me was figuring out how to much to eat and drink to maintain a certain energy level. Constant exercise for 6 hours is draining and putting the right amount, and the right type, of fuel in your body can make a huge difference, especially in the intense heat. I had several energy gels, water, and isotonic drink, but also enjoyed a peanut butter, honey and salt sandwich while cycling. I’m not sure if it helped or hurt, but it was nice to have a little picnic on the bike. Asked to explain how he was able to complete the race with only a whopping 32 km of bike training the week before, Antoine responded by singing a modified line from a Midnight Oil song: “How can you bike when your balls are burning?“. “(They) were OK at the end of the run already, strangely, and as for the rest, my butt would die sitting on a saddle. My legs were good, I didn’t have any cramps and felt my back a bit from the bike position but it was gone a couple days later. And the high spirits of finishing makes you recover even faster. The fact that there are three sports makes it really bearable. It is really not the same effort in each discipline, and ending a sport to start the second is always a good surprise about your condition, no matter how tough. To sum up: “ah, not so bad, I’m still alive“.
Cristina had a few thoughts of her own: “For the first 5km running I was just happy I could run. But after the race, I was ecstatic and over the moon with how positive my first experience doing a half-IM distance had been: an amazing feeling of achievement to crown the long hours spent training and learning about racing such distance, training and to wipe the frustrations of fighting to overcome the injuries. It has been an incredible journey getting here and what I’m most happy with is, despite the massive stress before the race, having actually enjoyed every moment once the gun went off. I honestly don’t know when the 6:36′ passed! I’m feeling incredibly proud to be one of the 59 girls who successfully completed the race out of the 964 contestants“.
In the end, Macca had some bike troubles and didn’t finish the race, so you could say that our three WITCs beat him to the finish. I don’t think that was the reason, but as we crossed the finish line, we each were shaking and shed a few tears of joy. Out of everything, the most special moment for me was when Cristina crossed the finish line, and the three of us embraced in exhaustion, smiles and tears, savoring our accomplishment.
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