Well, it has been about a week now since I got back from Austria and one of the most incredible experiences of my life. There are so many things I would love to tell you about, my mind is just brimming with all of the details, so here are some of the highlights.
The Swim: 27:07, 13th place
As some of you know, I was in the very, VERY last swim start of the day. Besides the fact that we started the race super late, the pros went off at 10:45 am and my group went off at 12:05 pm including all females from 18-29 (one of the largest swim groups of the day). Also, Europe is currently going through a very uncharacteristic heat wave so temperatures went above the 90’s. This pleasantly left my group with one of the hottest overall races of the day.
Ok, so back to the swim. Another thing to mention was that the transition area was super confusing. We were only allowed in one side and had to be through to where the swim start was at 10:45 when the pros went off. We weren’t allowed to leave or exit after this point. So 2,500 athletes were shoved into this area, by the swim start, while temperatures rose, sitting in the sun trying to stay cool and hydrated….um, yeah tell me how that works again?
It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Since I had no real expectations about how this race was going to be, I actually remained pretty calm leading up to the race. I was joking around with other people all waiting for their swim waves to go off. My friends I had met were in earlier waves than me, so I was left to my own head games as I waited for my wave to go off. There were hoses to put water in our wetsuits, so I did this before jumping in the water.
There were a ton of people being really aggressive positioning themselves in the best possible start for the swim. I was actually shoved off to the right a little but thought this was better than getting kicked in the face (again) in a potentially better position that would be in the second row. Well, I don’t know if there would have been any good position in this situation. The gun went off and everyone, was off to the races!
There was a wall on either side of me of swimmers and we were all going the same speed. No one was letting up so I just kept going. I choked on water a couple times and thought about slowing down but it was the freaking World Championships, I couldn’t back down. So I kept going. We started rolling over waves in front of us and I thought someone was going to drown. Eventually, we started establishing position and the wall sort of went like a group of birds migrating, like so ^.
It was a pretty crowded swim and I didn’t feel like I was going as fast as I thought I was going to. I lost contact with the group I was swimming with and just started dodging waves in front of me.
Finally, I got to the swim exit. However, the water was super muddy and murky so I kind of slipped out of the water because I didn’t want to bang my shin against the metal stairs.
They announced my name, “BARBARA!” and then continued into some unintelligible German something or another. Not sure what it meant but I looked down my watch and was pretty happy with my swim.
The Bike: 3:08.22, 54th place
Going into the bike, I had some major reservations about the 7.5 mile sustained climb with most of the 3,000 feet of climbing predicted for the bike, with the last mile at a 15% average incline. But out of transition we were flying. There was a slightly steady downhill for about the first 10 miles.
The only problem was there were so many people that came out of the water together that there were actually quite a few drafting packs. I did my best to stay out of the way but it was nearly impossible. I looked over at another woman riding next to me (also named Barbara), and she just said “Come on!” Everyone was in the same boat. I actually stayed with a few of these initial women for the entire bike portion of the race.
Next we hit a really sharp but short downhill and then it was to the money of the ride. We hit the “up, up, up!” as the locals kept saying. I felt surprisingly good at this portion of the race. I held back slightly to save my legs for the run. Something some of the other competitors did not do. I was talking to people and encouraging others who looked like they were having a hard time.
I had driven the course a couple days before but this seemed a lot longer than I remembered. We kept going and going and going and going….I was still feeling good but I was looking for the last town we entered before that last steep incline. Finally, we made it.
And there it was. The last 2k at that 15% grade. And it hurt like a b*tch. I just kept chugging along, thinking of Death Ride and Wildflower and all those other really tough rides I have ever done. But man, this one hurt. I bent over to grab my water bottle to squirt some water on myself because it was boiling hot at this point. When I went to put the water bottle back in, I slowed down so much that I almost fell over. So I just held the water bottle in my hand all the way to the top.
Another thing I loved about this race was how many spectators there were! I have never been to a race with so much support. People were all over the place, rooting for us. And there were a ton of people at the top. It felt like the Tour de France.
Then came the dreaded downhill. After my crash in Knoxville, I still am not completely over my fear of descending. I white knuckled the first couple 180 degree switchbacks but gradually settled in and let lose a little.
After the downhill was one of the my most favorite parts of the course. We were out in the country, with all these cute little cottages and all the alps towering over us in the distance. One of the things my coach, Craig Paiement had told me as part of my race plan was to smile every 5 miles, and smile for the cameras, but not too much or people would think I was soft. So here I am, smiling.
By the time we got back to Zell am See, there were still 20 miles left on the bike course. Where the hell were we going to go? We did a short out and back and this was the only part of the race where I saw anyone get a drafting penalty even though I had seen many illegal maneuvers and this was the World Championships. This part sucked and I was feeling the heat. My nutrition on the bike had melted into a incomprehensible mass of goo and my water bottles were boiling. It was time to get off the bike.
The Run: 1:50.36, 45th place
By the time I climbed off my bike. my legs felt like lead, like they do only when you finish the bike in a full Ironman. I knew after a couple miles that the initial feeling would wear off. As I started to run, the heat hit me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe but I just kept going.
At the first water stop, I completely stopped dead in my tracks and just took water and dumped it everywhere. I wasn’t in a good place but then saw my mom and Kristen right after this and it lifted my spirits to hear them cheering for me. It was going to be a long and hot run.
As we went out for the out and back around the lake, I was trying to calculate the miles in my head to try and figure out how long I was going to be out there for. The first loop was just a survival march. At every water stop I would get more water and dump it on myself and cool off momentarily but then less than half a mile later it felt like all the water evaporated. Around 5 miles in, we hit an uphill that was completely in the sun and I felt like I was going to die. I just kept thinking of everyone at home cheering for me and knew I couldn’t stop no matter how much I was hurting.
My liver was very angry with me for the rest of the run. We ran back into town right by where the finish line and everything inside me wanted to be done. But I turned away and kept going out for the last loop.
Participants had thinned out at this point as we reached the bike cut off and we were towards the end anyways. It seemed like no one was really having a good race at this point. Everyone was hurting. I ran with another girl from the USA for a little bit but then she picked up the pace and I couldn’t hang on.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I reached Zell am See again and knew I was also to the finish. I have never cried during a race before until I got to the finish chute. I was in so much pain, but so happy for the whole experience and just overwhelmed with the journey that had brought me to this point. Also for the first time, I took my time giving high fives and soaking in the moment before it was all over. It was everything right in my heart on the surface for everyone to see. I came across the finish line and jumped for joy!
One of the best things about this whole experience was the people I met! I got connected to an extremely nice and welcoming group of people competing and spectating through the Women for Tri facebook page. Shout out to Sami, Kristen, Jenny, Charlie, and Jenny’s parents for welcoming my mom and I into your group!!! We had the best time with you. I know we will race together again! These were just some of my people, I knew right from the start.
The hugest shout out of all however has to go to my mom! She choose to spend her very special birthday with me in Austria and was the best support system ever. I get a little stressed, hangry and crazy sometimes before races but she dealt with it all. We had such a fantastic adventure together and I am so thankful to have such an amazing friend and mother in my world. So thank you mom (and to our colleagues)!
It truly amazes me how many of you have supported all the ups and downs of my journey. Even though I got 45th place in the world and am happy with how I did, I still hunger for more. I know in a different situation, without a healing liver and maybe to a course suited better to my strengths that I could have done even better. So I really hope that I get the chance next year to prove it at the 70.3 World Championships in Australia on the Sunshine Coast and to all of you! Thank you all for your support. It really humbles me that people from all corners of my life get to share all of this with me. Thank you, thank you. Next up is the Olympic World Championships in Chicago next weekend on September 19th! Stay posted for more blogs!