It all started in 2012! The Brownlee’s impressive performances at the London Olympics, reignited my passion for triathlon after an eight year break. My fourth return from competitive sport soon followed in 2013 (I’m on a par with George Forman for come-backs!). So it all began with a 4km-400km-40km triathlon challenge for my 40th birthday, then dabbling in local races, through to completing a level 2 coaching qualification and establishing the Chippenham Triathlon Club. Then it really snowballed from there, such that I decided to attack an unfulfilled goal of competing for GB (age group) at Olympic distance. Project Chicago 2015 was born!
[pullquote cite=type=”right”]…training had to be very focused, and creative…[/pullquote]
Once you decide on an inspiration goal, the training becomes so much more focused, and even enjoyable. However I had the major challenge that so many middle-aged triathletes have – fitting in training around a full-time job and family commitments (for me that meant balancing my 3 children’s activities and my wife’s ultra-marathon goals!). So training had to be very focused, and creative (such as biking to work, or slotting in training while the boys are at football). Recovery and strength training were equally important to squeeze in, along with regular sports therapy. Thanks to Sam and Phil at Active Potential Therapy for regular support in this respect.
My goal for qualification was sealed at Chester’s Deva Triathlon. It was one of my best triathlon performances ever, and also one of the best events I have competed in. Such a friendly and supportive atmosphere, helped by great spectator viewing, such as the bridge over the river. My watching eight year old twin boys were hooked…the next Brownlees?
So onto Chicago? Well the reality of the cost that I’d put to the back of my mind, suddenly hit home! Yes the flight and accommodation, but then there’s the £100+ trisuit, £240 entry fee, and it keeps adding up! So after a lot of deliberation we decided I really should take this once in a lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately we couldn’t justify the family coming too. The whole event, with the age group teams racing alongside the elite grand final would have been incredibly inspiring for the boys. However we accepted there will be other opportunities such as Leeds 2016.
There has been a lot of discussion, including recently in 220 about the status of age group competition, and whether cash generation overrides the standard of those able to don a GB trisuit. It certainly is inclusive in terms of offering a range of abilities the opportunity, but I do question whether its too restrictive to those that can afford it. And looking at the representation across other countries, you do wonder if we are kidding ourselves that it’s a true World Championship. But that all aside, I for one was captivated!
[pullquote cite=type=”left”]There was always a risk I wouldn’t adapt to the time zone, but such is balancing life as an age grouper….[/pullquote]Once all the arrangements had been made, the excitement and anticipation grew. And the hype really escalated with the publicity around BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin competing. I flew out to Chicago on the Thursday before the race on Saturday, delayed due to work commitments and cost. There was always a risk I wouldn’t adapt to the time zone, but such is balancing life as an age grouper. It also meant I missed the opening ceremony, Aquathlon and Sprint Race.
The flight out was a dream, with 3 empty seats next to me so I could stretch out. The added bonus was my bike arrived on time and in one piece! This was actually quite surprising given the oversize luggage arrangements at Heathrow. Leaving my bike bag on an unsupervised and unsecured trolley was not going to happen – and the check-in supervisor had my ‘athlete-in-taper hairdryer treatment’ for that!
I arrived in downtown Chicago, and it was hot! Subsequently I started to get the reports back from the team that the run in the sprint event had been brutal! I think the heat had perhaps taken many by surprise, and with it ‘only’ being a sprint people had not taken enough drinks. The heat radiating from the tarmac took its toll on several of our GB athletes. A reminder of the importance of hydration, event for shorter events.
The whole event was very well organized, and the Americans are incredibly reactive to situations, sometimes fitting the stereotypical ‘over the top’ approach. This was particularly apparent with the storms that swept across Chicago. On the Thursday I was ambling around the athletes expo under blue skies, when suddenly a full scale evacuation took place! Apparently a storm was coming, and to be fair about an hour later it did rain! On Friday the forecast was similar, so the organizers rightly brought forward the Women’s elite race. And then a further announcement made my heart sink: apparently strong winds (and even a Tornado warning!) were predicted and disc wheels would be banned! I always knew of this risk with my disc, but I don’t actually own another rear wheel other than on my training bike! One for the Christmas list…but this didn’t help in September! After attempting to find a compatible wheel, a good friend offered me his bike. Not ideal for the technical bike course to follow, but it would hopefully get me to the finish. So I went to bed (not sleep) with two bikes in my room, not knowing quite what race day would have in store…
Transition opened at 6am, and the dedicated GB team managers were there on the dot to ascertain the final situation on disc wheels. With myself and I’m sure other team mates on tenterhooks back in the hotel, their message came through: disc wheels are permitted!! Bring it on!
[pullquote cite=type=”left”] It certainly impressed my eight year olds that I was swimming in one of the great lakes, that “you can see from space”…[/pullquote]
So in the end it was a perfect day for triathlon at least at the start (it unexpectedly hotted up later which would make the run tough). After racking my bike in the massive transition (which was a cross between a traditional British field complete with big pools of rain water from the night before, and a sandy beach), I was all set for the 1 mile dip in Lake Michigan. It certainly impressed my eight year olds that I was swimming in one of the great lakes, that “you can see from space”. Once we were cajoled into our wave (we were split into two 75 athlete waves for my age group), it was the long walk along the elite starting pontoon (which felt a bit like walking the plank!). With one minute to go, we were allowed into the water for a deep water start, and with the sounding of a hooter the preverbal washing machine started! Coming from a running background, and only swimming once a week, means this is usually my weakest of the 3 disciplines. A real focus on swim technique rather than pounding up and down the pool however has helped me limit my losses on this first discipline. My swim in the great lake was about to par, coming out the water in 24 minutes, not quite living up to the fish-like athletes ahead of me but a good start.
[pullquote cite=type=”left”]Indeed the 180 degree turns, tight narrow bends, light level changes from bright sunshine to the dim tunnels, pot holes, ramps requiring ‘bunny hops’ and a range of biking abilities and practices from competitors, meant the bike leg certainly needed concentration![/pullquote]Following the swim there was a long run over to transition, and then it was successfully negotiating the challenge of finding my bike in the field-cum-beach transition and heading out on the long South Columbus Drive against the wind. It took a while to find me ‘bike legs’, but after about 10 minutes I was in the zone. There had been a lot of talk about the bike being technical, and worries about the long sections ‘underground’. Indeed the 180 degree turns, tight narrow bends, light level changes from bright sunshine to the dim tunnels, pot holes, ramps requiring ‘bunny hops’ and a range of biking abilities and practices from competitors, meant the bike leg certainly needed concentration! Cycling past the aftermath of a few crashes reinforced my focus. I had little idea how fast I was actually going as my Garmin had ‘thrown it’s toys out of the pram’ due to the long underground sections. So I was pleased to get to T2 (a) safely and (b) in 56 minutes (accepting that the bike was a couple of k short of 40).
[pullquote cite=type=”right”]As I turned into Buckingham Fountain and hit the blue carpet, my hairs stood on end…[/pullquote]Following the dismount, we were treated with a run the whole way around the outside of transition on tarmac in bare feet. Then with bike dispatched and trainers on, I hit the run. To start with I felt good, and thought I was going well, passing swathes of athletes from previous waves. After the first of the 3 and half laps though my legs started to tire, and cramps in my quads set in. A combination of the accelerations on the bike (from the turns), possibly jet lag, and the increasing heat were taking their toll. With some electrolyte drink at the feed stations, and the phenomenal support (not only from the GB team and supporters, but from spectators of all nationalities), I kept a decent speed. As I turned into Buckingham Fountain and hit the blue carpet, my hairs stood on end. Under the ITU arch and I’d finished in 2hrs08, placing 31st in the World for 40-44 middle aged men! As it turned out the run was closer to 11km, and I wasn’t too disappointed with my 41mins (I was in sub-36 minute 10km for a standalone run) when comparing it with the rest of my age group. The support from the GB team management (Ian and Mike) and wider team before and during the race was magnificent. I probably missed some of the team spirit being away from the team hotel, but it was still noticeable how tightly bound the GB team were. The team mechanic Terry, one man supporting 500 athletes, did a phenomenal job. He even humoured the state of my bike, and performed some last minute repairs for me (including a tubular tyre change when I became paranoid that my tyre was due to puncture). Fitting-in TLC for my bike is definitely one of my improvement points following this event! In these days of social media, the GB Facebook page was a great resource and opportunity for everyone to support and help each other out. Advice on the course, kit and offers of replacement wheels in case of the disc ban are all great examples. I also had to chuckle about some of the posts, which I’m not sure were too helpful to the less experienced. Such as the video the week before the race of huge waves crashing in from Lake Michigan, and the post about swapping brake cables around to meet US standards!
Race day was completed watching the very impressive elite race in the late afternoon sunshine, with a beer in my hand – knowing I was 31st 40-44 year old in the world – Utopia!