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10.09.2011 – Sarah Lester – Dextro Energy ITU Triathlon World Championships 2011 race report



Sarah Lester

Dextro Energy ITU Triathlon World Championships 2011

Beijing, China – home of the 2008 Olympic Games and now, in 2011, on exactly the same course as the Olympic Games, Beijing was to host the 2011 Dextro Energy ITU Triathlon World Championships. To say Beijing is a bit misleading however. The location of the triathlon was more like a 2 hour drive from Beijing and set amongst the mountains of the Ming Tombs precinct. This was “real” China.

I arrived Tuesday, and was due to race in the World Age Group Sprint Championships on the Saturday. Long enough prior to racing to adjust to the climate but not long enough to be subjected to too much food and the chance to get sick. The days leading into Saturday were filled with training, registration, athlete briefings, Australian team events and lots and lots of sleeping! A definite highlight was our team dinner, combining the Australian age-group team with the Australian elite team. It was an incredible opportunity to mix with the likes of Emma Snowsill and Chris McCormack and see that in actual fact, they are indeed normal people and impressively down to earth.

As the days drew closer, I have to admit to being completely preoccupied with the upcoming race. The nerves took over, the doubts crept in and every scenario possible was played out in my mind. I was getting restless, but I knew this meant I was ready to go.

Saturday 4am, my alarm went and 4.20am I left to find the athletes’ bus that would take us to race check-in. I was greeted by the best news I had had all week when I stepped outside: it was freezing cold and it was raining hard! This was Melbourne weather, this was the weather in which I’d performed above expectation in Budapest a year earlier, this was cross-country weather, this was MY weather.

Marshalling was terrifying. Every athlete looked so prepared, so fit, and so intimidating. Not only that but I couldn’t help but notice all the different sponsor logos on some of the girls’ race suits. Oh God, they must be amazing to be sponsored! I made small talk in Chinese with the Chinese marshal – those years of studying Chinese paid off in those moments. Anything to focus my mind on something other than what was about to occur.

The course was amazing, but challenging. The swim was in the Ming Tombs reservoir, in 26-degree water (no wetsuit). The 2 lap, 21.96km bike course was hard and technical as it looped around the perimeter of the reservoir, undulating and with lots of twists and turns. There was a killer hill on each lap that even had the elites talking about the “toughness” of the course. The run was flat and fast as we ran the full 5km on the famous blue carpet.

Of course, I had done my due diligence on the field. Essentially, I was prepared to be mid-field off the bike with nothing to do but run through the field as best I could. After all, that’s what had happened in Budapest and was what I had become accustomed to doing. I came out of the swim in about equal 6th and a minute down on the lead pack, which included a Brazilian, an Irish, a couple of GB athletes, USA and a Canadian was right with me. I was thrilled. The 5.30am starts in an outdoor pool through the freezing Melbourne winter had paid off. But now there was a lot of work to do as we set out on the 22km, very hilly and technical bike course in torrential rain. Within 5km, I had ridden through all but the Irish and the Brazilian. At 6km I did a double take. Was that the Brazilian girl just ahead of me? In all the scenarios I’d played in my head, none had had me catching her this soon. I rode past her as hard as I could, knowing that every second I could get away from her was another second she’d have to chase down on the run. I came into T2 with one of the Canadians and almost stopped in shock. There was only one bike racked ahead of us. I was in a medal position after the bike. This wasn’t what I’d planned. I’d thought I’d be further back. To be honest, it rattled me at first. I ran past the Canadian within 100m and knew the Irish girl was probably uncatchable. For the first 1km, I was almost confused. I’d never been in this position before. Every scenario I’d played in my mind had not taken this into account. I didn’t know how to run when it wasn’t the somewhat desperate catch up game I usually have to play in races given my running background. This was just unfathomable. So I just ran. I thought about all the brick track reps I’d done in the weeks leading in, and I ran. I ran 18.37 for the 5km and got the silver medal. If I thought 4th last year was hard to fathom, this was even more surreal. Even at the awards ceremony the following night, it was like living a dream. 2nd in my age group at the World Championships, that’s definitely not me.