A 5th place that I'm very happy with - World Triathlon World Championship
There were talks about the World Triathlon Long-Course World Championship being organized in Hungary for 2022 but they never got the financial support from the government that they were hoping for. I was definitely going to do this race if it was in Hungary. There was no announcement made up until May so I already gave up on it and planned my race schedule and then suddenly they announced a very strange race.
The distance was going to be shorter than a 70.3 (1.9km / 1.2mi swim, 90km / 56mi bike and HM run, 21.1km / 13.1mi) which is normally called middle distance. But this was the Long-Distance Worlds. However, the race was going to be 2 hours away from my mom's house at the end of August and being so short, it would fit perfectly in my training schedule for the Kona Ironman World Championship in October.
They made the PTO Collins Cup 100km race the World Championship, running at the same time, on the same course as the amateur race for the PTO. For the Collins Cup, they had the best triathletes in the world fighting for their teams of Europe, USA or International. That was fun to watch live the day before my race.
Back to my race. Last year the WT Worlds was my A-race, it was a full Ironman distance of 3800m / 2.4mi swim, 180k / 112mi bike, marathon run of 42.2k / 26.2 mi. I was hoping to make it to the podium but of course it all depends on who shows up and who has a good day. I ran my best race, executed well and I don't think I left anything on the table, yet, I missed the podium by 6 mins, which at this distance is not a lot, and came 5th (details and race report here), leaving me a little disappointed.
Last year at Challenge Almere - World Triathlon World Championships
This year, on the other hand, I had no such expectations. The race distance was so short that I knew I wasn't racing for the podium. The 100k is made up of 2k / 1.2mi swim, 80k / 50mi bike, 18k / 11.2mi run. My age group was full of very fast ladies and I just started my triathlon training after running ultras for the first 7 months of the year. Under these circumstances that 5th place finish sounds so much better!
We only arrived to the race location the day before, on Saturday. We left at 7:30 am and got there around 9:30 am. I did the athlete check in, picked up my race kit, then picked up an extra swim cap with a little trick so I can double-cap for the swim (details later).
I did a quick bike check ride and almost missed the bike check-in which closed at noon! I somehow got lost on the way back from my ride which added a little extra time, got distracted in the athlete village, talked to some people, then fixed my helmet at the pop-up bike shop and I found myself having only 10 mins left to check my bike in, but also having told my friend Zoli around 10am, that I would be back in 20 mins - so I kind of had to find him and let him know I was ok and didn't get into an accident since now it was almost 2hs later.
So I rushed (pedaled) back to him, then rushed (pedaled) back to check my bike in, just on time before they closed the transition area. What I forgot was that I was supposed to have my two transition bags with me too and check those in as well. I wasn't the only one though so the guy told me to just pick up a bag there and put my helmet in it and then I can bring my actual transition bags in the morning.
Checking the bike. Photo: Zoltán Schmidt
For my ultrarunner friends who are not familiar with these triathlon procedures, for larger races we need to leave our bikes there overnight because it would be way too crowded if everyone brought their bikes race morning. So the day before the race you need to check your bike in and then leave it there. Same for the transition bags, these are labeled "swim to bike" and "bike to run" in races where they don't allow you to put your stuff by your bike. In shorter events, like sprint and Olympic distance triathlons and some 70.3 events they let you leave your stuff next to or under your bike and in smaller races you can bring your bike in race morning.
The bags are called transition bags and you need to put everything into them that you need when you come out of the swim and go out with your bike (in my case that was my socks, but some people don't wear socks, and then sometimes you need to put your helmet in the bag, or even your biking shoes and any extra clothing you want to wear) and then when you switch from bike to run (running shoes, hat, sunglasses).
But you have access to your bike race morning, so you can put your nutrition on at that time, check tire pressure and fill up your bottles. You almost always have access to your transition bags as well, luckily that was the case this time too, so I could bring my actual bags in the morning and just switch out the ones I put there the previous day which only had my helmet that I was required to leave in transition.
The transition area. Photo: Zoltán Schmidt
Other than almost missing the bike check-in and not having my race bags ready, everything went quite smoothly. Zoli, my friend who accompanied me for the race, and I were heading to the swim course for a practice swim when we came across an old childhood friend of mine who participated in the PTO Age Group race and had the perfect seats to watch the Collins Cup start at 1pm. So we sat with them and watched a few waves with the biggest stars of triathlon including Olympic champions, World Champions and retired legends as captains.
Luckily the WT swim course was on the other side of the bank in the Danube so once we've seen enough, we could actually do a practice swim on the race course. I don't believe we were supposed to, but we weren't the only ones. There were dedicated times to use the course but I have no idea when those were.
I carefully read the Athlete Guide since a lot depends on the local rules and each race has its own set of rules which can be very different. Then there is also a race briefing which I have always attended in all my races but this time the briefing was on Friday and we only arrived on Saturday. I really didn't want to spend one or even two extra nights away from the girls to attend an 8am briefing on Friday. However, I should have watched the video recording of it, I just never thought there might be the exact opposite said at the briefing than what is in the Athlete Guide.
The rest of the day was very relaxing, our AirBNB host was very nice, great house, nice room, hot bath and early bedtime. I really liked the 9:30am start for our wave which is way better than the usual 7-8am for Ironman races, in which case I have to wake up around 3:30-4am. This time I had my alarm set for 5:30 but because we went to bed early, I woke up around 5:15 with no alarm. I had a great sleep.
The weather forecast looked awful. We spent the week at Lake Balaton in Hungary with my mom and my girls, we were at the beach every day, the temperatures were soaring, we were in the lake all the time, Monday-Thursday, driving back to Budapest on Friday so we can drive to the race with Zoli on Saturday. I was hoping for the same weather for race day on Sunday, because I do really well in the heat but the forecast was rain and cold. As a Canadian, I actually also do really well in the cold. Not sure about the rain, but I feel that I adapt very well to any adverse conditions and just deal with it thinking it is the same for all of us so it is neither bad nor good for me. And if I deal with it better than others then it is actually good for me. I was still happy to see the forecast change that morning showing a bit warmer temperatures, ideal for racing and no rain.
Right before the start. Photo: Zoltán Schmidt
Race morning was uneventful with coffee, breakfast, Zoli braiding my hair (!!!) - first time he ever braided hair, haha... he did a great job. Coffee. I changed my caffeine strategy for triathlons. Several new research studies came out that suggest that when caffeine is taken for performance benefits, there is no difference in effectiveness between habitual users and non-users. And it is just so darn hard to go without coffee for a week or two before each race. So now I reserve caffeine withdrawal for ultras where I take caffeine to stay awake - assuming that there is a difference in effectiveness between habitual users and non-users in that case.
I also learned a few new things to tweak my caffeine strategy. One, that you start feeling the effect about 15 mins after taking it, two, the effects peak at 1h after taking it and three, half life is about 6h, meaning in 12h it basically empties from your system. My conclusion is that dosing caffeine should be done by 12h rolling periods and not by 24h as I did before. Now I also know that my tolerance is 800mg and not 700mg, at least when I don't withdraw caffeine pre-race - since I took 800 in this race with no issues. As I previously experienced, 900mg is too much for me - that was after a two-week caffeine withdrawal. It is quite a lot actually, 1600mg in 24h but I need to make sure the rolling 12h period doesn't exceed 800mg. The upcoming 48h World Championship will be the perfect time to try the new strategy with the new cap.
Swim start. Photo: Zoltán Schmidt
Pre-race I warmed up with my usual run and made it back right on time to line up for the start when I realized that I was thirsty. Luckily Zoli was around who rushed back to the finish line building to get some water for me and made it back right before we had to get into the water. I believe this was only my second race to start in the water, where we don't run or jump in from the shores but have to tread water for a few minutes before the start gun goes off. If I'm not mistaken the same race, back then called ITU Worlds had a start like this in 2019. I finished 12th in my age group in that one, it was before my break-through year of 2020.
I double-capped for the swim, putting one cap under my goggles and another one over (hence the second cap that I scooped up saying they forgot to give me a cap - they didn't look at me nicely when I first asked for a second cap so I changed the story when I went to the other desk). This worked surprisingly well coupled with not putting any hair products on that would make the cap slide off my head! The water was extremely choppy. We swam in the Danube river and I didn't feel much current, only the waves. Interestingly enough I could breath better if I turned my head towards the waves and not away from them and didn't seem to swallow too much. Swim is my weakest discipline and based on some current tests we expected I would come out around 50 mins, maybe even worse with the waves. I finished in 47:05 which was 3 mins better than expected. It is still pretty bad even for me, I hope it will get better in the next few weeks for Kona but that's unlikely. It seems to be worse than it was a year or two or even three ago, despite all the effort and learning I'm putting into it. But maybe for the first time ever I kind of enjoyed the swim. The good news was that according to my watch I swam 2017m for the 2000m course, which is actually great sighting and staying on course.
The hardest part is over!
Once I got out of the water, there were some slippery stairs to run down and it took me a while to realize that I shouldn't try to take my wetsuit off while running down the stairs because it is extremely slow, basically walking, trying to pay attention to both, on the other hand there is also a great chance of falling on my face with my arms stuck in the wetsuit which wouldn't be a desired outcome. So from about half way I just ran down those big stairs and once I was on flat ground I continued to pull my wetsuit off my torso.
Hit T1, the first transition, put my socks on from the 'Swim to bike' bag, put all my wet stuff away and off I went to grab my bike, where a nice referee was waiting for me with a shiny yellow card - DAMN! He blew his wistle and declared 'helmet violation' - what the heck? I had to stand there for 30 seconds before I could keep going. I clipped my shoes and helmet onto the bike. Others also clipped their shoes on the bike, I even had to borrow one rubber band because I could only find one of mine (note to self: pack more for next time). Usually if you can clip your shoes on, you can also clip your helmet on. The Athlete Guide said specifically that "helmets have to be placed in the bag or attached to the bike by one strap to make sure the helmet doesn't fall off." World Triathlon rules say the same. But it all doesn't matter. Only the last communicated information matters which was at the briefing and stated that helmets have to be put in the bag and can't be attached to the bike. If I had any suspicion that it is not allowed, I could have just looked around and noticed that nobody else has the helmet attached to their bikes which could have clued me in. Out of the 700 athletes racing, 3 got this penalty, including myself - the rest of them listened to the briefing! Lesson learned - it was actually quite a cheap lesson for learning that only what is said on the briefing matters, and that I should never miss a briefing again. I was lucky that nothing depended on those 30 seconds at the end. I would have been mad...
So finally I got to put my helmet on and off I went on the bike. My power meter was broken and I was quite upset about the lack of response I got from Rotor. The Canadian dealer was amazing, my PM is still under warranty and he got back to me right away, however, I was already in Europe when it stopped charging and there was nothing he could do for me from Canada, only after I return. He suggested I contact a local dealer. I was staying with my family in Hungary and there is no Hungarian dealer so I contacted the Slovak (since that is where the race was and Rotor even had some sponsorship deal going with the event) and the UK dealer (they are the main European distributor). Neither of them got back to me in the 2 weeks I had until the race. The day after the race I got an email from one of them that they closed my ticket. Not the treatment you would expect when you spend so much money on your components and power meter. I hope the Canadian guys, who have provided great customer service so far, can get it sorted before Kona. I would hate to race without a power meter there.
The consensus with my coach was to just go for it full gas and push it as much as I can on the bike. Neither of us were worried about overdoing it and not being able to run well so it seemed like the right way to go. Plus, Sam Long just did a race with no PM with the same strategy and won - I just need to follow his example, right?
It was a simple out and back course with a few turns getting out of the start/finish line area but then basically flat and straight with mostly good roads, a simple out and back. We had tailwind going out, that was so cool! I wasn't going to save myself so I just pushed it full force, I was in my biggest gear for almost the whole time, pedaling hard - 42 km/h (26 mi/h) average speed at the turn around! The way back was just bad... I mean, it didn't bother me much, but we were going into strong headwind so the speed was way slower and it was obviously much harder. But I was just sitting there in my aero position, trying to be as small as possible (not too hard with my size) so that there is less drag. I had my cooling shirt on and by the last two aid stations it was warm enough that I poured some water on myself to activate the cooling effect.
We expected a 2:20-ish ride, also not great for me, but it's what we calculated based on my current bike fitness. I came in at 2:17:06, another 3 minutes faster than expected, I was happy with that, although at the turn-around, when I was half way and under 1h, I was hoping for better. That was enough for 3rd best bike in my AG, only 26 secs off 2nd place. I passed 3 girls on the bike, so came up to 5th place from 8th. Coming in from the ride I was thinking Zoli would tell me I'm in 5th and that is exactly what happened. No surprise there, now I just had to keep that position on the run and I would be happy!
The dismount line, where we had to get off the bike came so quickly after a turn that I didn't have time to get out of my biking shoes, so I unclipped and tried to run in them, which I haven't done in a race for years. I couldn't handle it, so I stopped and took the shoes off, I figured it doesn't make any difference in time if I take them off here or later. I was contemplating if I should put on my cooling buff and the Omius cooling headband as it was warming up so I decided I would need them. Then out the transition I went.
My watch did something weird and showed 2 minutes something for the first km. I think what might have happened was that it counted the transition area run towards that first km, but I'm not sure. For the rest it seemed to be accurate and my numbers were in line with the official results. My job on the run is always to hold position and not get passed. Back in 2019 at the WC I lost 3 positions on the run, from 9th to 12th. But my run improved a lot since and I don't think I have been passed on the run the last 2 years, in the Hungarian National Championship where I won in 2020 I even passed people on the run, after coming off the bike in 4th! (details of that race here)
But at the World Championship level it is all about not getting passed, that's all I can shoot for. The girl in 4th was 3 minutes ahead of me, I knew that was impossible to make up in 18km / 12 mi. Zoli first said that the girl behind me (who seem to have competed earlier this year and in the past in the pro category in Slovakia) was way behind so I didn't need to worry about her. That changed not much later and it was actually quite scary! She was running the fastest pace of all of us! I think she came off the bike about 6 minutes behind me but made up 2 minutes just in the first lap! The course consisted of 4 laps - which would have meant that she would pass me if I couldn't pick up my pace. My first lap was actually not great, I felt much better from the 2nd lap and later once I knew the course. This was a loop with an out and back part, and we were going out in headwind and coming back with tailwind. That's a better set-up than the other way around.
I wasn't feeling great in the first lap of the run
At the turn around I could see her, and also where she was relative to me. Tall, blonde Slovak girl, I spotted her in the second lap, she was about 4 mins behind me. Luckily, she slowed down a lot by the 2nd lap and only made up 30 seconds on me. Not sure what happened to her, it could be a lot of things. Motivation and nutrition are the most common ones. Maybe she didn't really care once she learned that she is killing herself for 5th place and decided to cruise for the rest of the race. Maybe she was hoping to podium. Or she could have had GI issues or other nutritional problems. Whatever it was, she didn't make up any more time on me. By the 3rd lap, we knew I got it and that I just had to keep doing what I was doing for another lap and a half and I would finish 5th. So that lap and a half was very happy running, I was really enjoying myself and soaking it all in. The way I felt was very strange - I had a feeling that I could go for much longer, but I didn't have any more speed in my legs, I couldn't have gone any faster. It was odd.
The finish line was as satisfying as it always is and I was surprisingly well after. I could walk to the food station, also picked up my finisher shirt, etc. No lying on the floor dead kind of thing. I am not sure what would have happened if I had to race for a position at the end, if I could have found any more speed in my legs in that case, but I was happy I didn't need to find that out. I'll gladly take the comfortable 5th place this time. The gap between the girl in 4th place and me grew to 9 mins by the end of the run - I'm glad she wasn't the one behind me! Run time: 1:32:48, finish time: 4:46:26 .
Next up is the GOMU 48h Ultramarathon World Championship in just 3 days, now there, I have big goals, there are high expectations and I want to live up to all of them!