Surviving the World Championships
Editor's note: Heather Best ‘00 represented America in March at the winter triathlon World Championships in Italy. She sent this report detailing the experience.
When I flew from Amsterdam to Milan over the Alps, I had my first inkling of how things might develop: there was very little snow in the inhabited areas of the mountains. We arrived very tired on Wednesday, got settled in our hostel and ate dinner. The entire team slept in the same large room in beds about two feet apart from one another ó seven-dwarfs style. Luckily everyone was a quiet sleeper, and it worked out fine.
Thursday was overcast, 35 degrees, and occasionally drizzling. We went up to the race venue and found the only snow on the ground to be snow previously made during colder temperatures. It was rotting fast. We previewed the course, and I was optimistic because I could ride more sections than anyone else with my combination of relatively light body weight and fat tires and rims. Then it proceeded to rain all night and the entire next day.
We again visited the course on Friday and found they had plowed the snow off the bicycle section. We would be riding on mud, slush, and ice. The pre-race meeting and opening parade were held on Friday night. It actually cleared off for the nationís parade, which was enjoyable. Local children and adults alike wore traditional costumes, played instruments, and carried flags and signs with each nation's team members. At the pre-race meeting, however, we found we would be both riding and running on the same muddy, slippery course and then skiing on the remaining slush on the ski course. Meanwhile, our uniforms from Speedo had not arrived, and it was the night before the race. It rained hard throughout the night.
Race morning it was raining and 35 degrees. Our uniforms arrived 20 minutes before we needed to leave for the race venue. We pulled out the uniforms, and instead of being made of Speedo's FS-Ice material, from which ski uniforms are made, we had Speedo’s hydrodynamic full-body racing suits — swim racing, that is.
Race morning it was raining and 35 degrees. Our uniforms arrived 20 minutes before we needed to leave for the race venue. We pulled out the uniforms, and instead of being made of Speedo's FS-Ice material, from which ski uniforms are made, we had Speedoís hydrodynamic full-body racing suits ó swim racing, that is. We squeeze ourselves into the swimsuits. They felt warm enough while we were inside and dry, so we figured that we'd be warm enough during a two-hour race effort and headed to the course. As we drove along the visible portions of the course, we saw small streams taking up residence on the plowed-off race trails. We knew we were in for a wet, sloppy race and tried to psych ourselves up for it. Last minute gear adjustments and bathroom stops left little time for a real warm-up, and suddenly we were standing in the rain in swimsuits ready for the start. The run went off incredibly fast and never let up. I never got into a comfortable breathing rhythm and was just trying to hang on to the back of the pack. Another American, pro-mountain biker Gretchen Reeves, and I finished the run together, but I expected her to drop me on the bike. Keri Nelson, who was first at U.S. Nationals, was in first place after the run.
During the bike, I was soon covered in mud, freezing during the down hills, and hoping to regain body heat during the climbs. But each huge puddle I hit drenched me in 33-degree, slushy water and mud, robbing me of warmth fast. By the third and final lap of the bike, I could no longer get warm on the up hills. I came into transition and struggled to get my muddy, wet, cold feet into my ski boots. I noticed Keri standing there, jumping around trying to get warm with one ski boot on and one bike shoe. She was getting hypothermic and had lost the use of her hands. Before I left the transition, I heard her say that she has to get inside, and that she's dropping out of the race. I yelled to some of the U.S. guys, who whose race is after ours, that I needed a hat, but they said that by rules they could not assist me. So I headed off on the ski half frozen and slowly losing control of my legs from the knees down.I managed to stumble through the first lap of the ski, a three-lap race, and decided I couldnít continue because I was getting too cold.
As I came near the transition area, I decided I could probably make another lap. The wind was blowing right through my uniform as I skied up the valley. On my return, I snowplowed on the down hills to keep from generating speed and thus wind chill. At the bottom of every hill was a slush puddle that slowed my skis so much I almost fell on my face. As I finished the second lap, I looked desperately for anyone to tell me to stop, but all the USA people were busy trying to get Keri warm, and the guys were prepping for their race. I suffered through the last lap with purple lips and uncontrollable shivers. I was greeted at the finish line by our "coach," who threw a coat over me, somehow got me out of my ski gear, and rushed me into the shower area. Many other racers were showing signs of hypothermia, and some EMTs and a doctor were in the area. They began asking me questions, trying to assess my condition. I stood in a hot shower for 20 minutes and then was wrapped in blankets with a hot air tube blowing down the front. I didnít feel I was in any danger and just wanted to get dressed, but everyone kept fussing over me. With the language barrier, it was difficult to convey that. As I finally got dressed, I hoped they would cancel the team relay the next day. I definitely didnít want to repeat that episode.
I finished 15th — the last finisher. I saw the Japanese racer still on the course when I finished, but I saw she was given a DNF, so I supposed she got too cold to finish. The Finnish girl passed me on the ski, but I was too cold to give chase.
I finished 15th ó the last finisher. I saw the Japanese racer still on the course when I finished, but I saw she was given a DNF, so I supposed she got too cold to finish. The Finnish girl passed me on the ski, but I was too cold to give chase. It was a disappointing race to be sure, but I take some solace in the fact that I was able to make myself finish in such adverse conditions. I'd like another chance at a real winter triathlon (on snow), and will likely try to qualify again at U.S. Nationals next year (Worlds are in Germany in 2008). On the bright side, I beat all the under-23 women athletes -- whew!
They ended up running the team relay the following day. It got cold overnight, and they were able to improve the ski course. The downhill portions of the run and bike were moved to a road course since conditions were dangerously icy on the muddy trails. We finished fifth in the relay, and I will admit there were only five teams with enough athletes to compete. It was sunny and warm that day though, so not a repeat of the previous day's events. After the relay we took advantage of the first nice weather of the trip and rode our bikes back to the hostel, enjoying the views. We drove to Aosta that evening for dinner and drinks. The next morning it was early to the airport.
Overall, I'm glad I went. The last day's weather and views made the trip worthwhile, even with the terrible racing conditions. And though I would have liked to have seen more, I had fun with the other American athletes and was thoroughly impressed by the performances of the Europeans.Official race results
Official race story
Inside Triathlon story
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