With over 3000 athletes representing over 50 countries for the ITU Multisports World Championships it was going to be great week of sport in Penticton BC, Canada.
Race morning was an early start with the first waves going off at 7am and my wave, of around 150 athletes, starting at 7.33am to complete four laps of the run course, two of the bike course and to finish off the duathlon with two more laps of the run course making up the 10km, 40km and 5km standard distance. Having arrived in Penticton BC, Canada late Tuesday evening I had had time to recce the course a few times, acclimatise to the temperature and almost sort out the time zones, although the early start favoured the Brits as 7.33am was 3.33pm in the UK, the 5am alarm wasn’t needed.
I skipped the 4.30am breakfast having enjoyed two days of carb loading prior to the event and relying on gels to get me round the course for what I was hoping to be around a two hour time. There had been lots of chat amongst the team prior to the event about the speed of the cycle course, a straight out and back along the edge of Lake Okanagan on the main highway 97 equivalent of an arterial dual carriageway in the UK. A recce consisted of a nerve racking single file cycle on the hard shoulder with traffic two deep hurtling past at 50+ mph which, in hindsight, is probably why we all were lulled into thinking the course was so fast benefiting from the drafting effect of all the traffic.
Conditions in the morning were good the 37 degrees heat the previous week had dropped down to high twenties and the wind direction had changed keeping the smoke from the many forest fires, that had plagued the town, away.
Wave starts meant the run course was already busy as we were beckoned forward from the corral and told when to move to the start line at “on your marks”. I elbowed my way to the line knowing that the first two corners were going to be congested as we swung hard left between high curbs before performing almost a u turn and the road opened up to a gradual rise which persisted to a turn in the road before a long straight descent culminating at the front of the GB team hotel then a right turn passed T1/2 and starting the second of the four laps.
The commentary stopped, the crowd hushed, the drum roll played, air horn blew and we sprinted off the line. My plan to start at the front paid off as we get a faller behind me as we corner hard left then around the hard right and the open road.
Having had some time to kill prior to race day I had studied the start list and the form of those in the field, at least for those with previous results for international age group events, and I knew who I wanted to keep in my sights. Lap one and I sat on the shoulder of my American mark, lap two I glance at my Garmin to see my pulse at 168 bpm, not a sustainable level for two hours of racing so I decide to let a gap grow. Lap three and I check the pace and the pulse, 166 bpm, that’s sustainable and a 3:46 pace, I’m pleased knowing that it will bring me in just under 38-min my target for the 10km. Lap four and the bpm are in check but the pace is dropping, I start thinking of transition to get my mind off the leg discomfort and ready myself for a fast switch of shoes.
I have lost sight of my marks as I enter transition looking out for the reference points that will lead to my bike, turn left at first two shiney scaffold poles and line up the bin with the end of the rusty racking poles, bingo I find the bike. I kick the shoes off but leave them tidy, as I will need those later, crash hat on and cycling shoes on before running to the mount line.
“Ride on the right” I tell myself as I clip in and start to build pace keeping the cadence high, I take a gel some fluid before putting the power down as I pass by the spectators, over the blue carpet and out along the lakeshore to highway 97.
One carriageway is closed until 11am and there is significant congestion on the other as it is temporarily operating as a single carriageway. Building the pace and I don’t get the feeling of speed I expected despite hitting the power numbers, I detected a slight rise and the headwind was impeding speed. I suffered the first 20-min as the run legs transition to cycling legs and I was pleased to see the power numbers rise too. The turn soon came and I looked forward to the increasing speed on the return journey – on passed the lakeshore before turning in the road and starting the final bike lap.
It wasn’t long into the lap and I started to get a tingling sensation in my calves, I knew what that was but I blanked it pushing on into the light wind. I became increasingly concerned as feedback from both calves increased but I continued to stick to my power numbers as I approached the furthest point on the cycle course for the second and final time. I dropped the gears and decide to sit in the saddle as I came out of the turn concerned that my calves would cramp with a change in position. A few kilometres later and both calves are cramping up, any movement in the saddle and my calf locks kicking me forward on the bike with a yelp – I’m in trouble – I have a situation that may well end my world championships.
“Think, think what would my coach tell me to do” up the gears, drop the cadence, simulate a climb and come out of the saddle for few revolutions, could I even do that without full lock up? Gingerly I easy out of the saddle having dropped the cadence by 20 revolutions, and am mildly relieved as I stretch each calf for 5 or 6 seconds – “stick with that gear and wind away”, I tell myself as I start feeling more confident. My power numbers are dropping but I accept that as I am managing the cramp. I enter the lakeshore for the final time, take a right up to the turn, take the finish filter rather than next lap staying firming in the saddle. I release my straps just before the blue carpet and pop my left foot out of the shoe but the process of removing my foot causes my toes to point and the left calf locks, grimacing I push down on the heel of my right shoe to remove my foot but no, full calf lock out. The dismount line is dangerously close and I have one foot in and one out. Another attempt, “no” calf lock up, one final go and I hope the lockout won’t be permanent, but have no idea if I can run, some excruciating pain but done just before the line.
I attempt to run but am almost tripped up by my own calves, I convince myself that running uses different muscles and that the cramp will pass, I wonder as I hobble to rack my bike from where I had picked it up just over an hour ago, if I can pull my shoes on without cramping but thankfully I can. Out onto the run course very carefully at first to test those calves but the cramp is passing as I build up the pace towards the drinks station where a welcome cup of water is poured over my head. I look out for my marks as I head towards the turn before descending back towards the hotel, no sign, I think there behind me, although with no colour coding to identify age group it is tough to tell. Down passed the hotel and the shouts of encouragement “go GB” “go Dave” “go Smith” ring out as I start the final lap. Due to congestion at the aid station I miss the water on the way up the hill and decided there was no need on the way down with just over 1km to go.
I see the sign right for laps and left for finish, I head for finish spotting what looks like someone from my category as I take the final left, push on and pass him then hold the elevated pace along the blue carpet and to the finish.
The commentary mentions my name but not my placing as I cross the line and I eagerly search out Helen, finally finding her to be told her phone was out of charge – I join the other athletes in the finishing area and we start sharing stories of our race. Results seem hard to find but finally we start getting some data on the mobiles, I get told my time but I want to know my placing, 5th, 5th in the world. I missed my podium target but with a pb for my 10km, hitting my power numbers, being first GB athlete back for my age group and thereby pre-qualifying for the 2018 world’s, there’s always next year.