Lausanne World Championships - Sep 19
We’d left the UK late on Tuesday (Aug 19) and took a leisurely drive through France to Switzerland, arriving at Lausanne early on Thursday morning, three days before the race. The sun shone down from a clear blue sky and Lac Leman was as calm and as clear as a bottle of Evian. The forecast for the next two days was for the same, calm, sunny and warm, sounds great but there was an ever-increasing chance that wetsuits will be banned for the race. So I put my tri-suit on and ventured into the lake, which is vast! The water was ok and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my back. I swam out a few hundred metres where the water was very deep, but so clear. Feeling good I returned to the shore and dried off in the sun. All was feeling well and it would only be warmer on the day.
We were staying to the north of the city at the Aquatis Hotel. This turned out to be a great choice with big rooms that easily took both bikes and was located pretty much at the end of the metro line and right above the station. Free metro tickets were provided by the hotel for the duration of our stay which took about 20mins to get into the city.
It was hilly!! Having mapped out the bike and run courses as soon as they were published I’d seen the profiles, but until you are there it was difficult to envisage. Apart from the road along the water’s edge, all other roads seemed to be up or down, a San Francisco like up and down, steep shortish ramps, sharp turns and loop backs which made the course quite technical, thankfully the forecast was dry. We registered, ate and attended the parade of nations, which was larger than the Europeans in June, but just as weird. We headed back to the hotel as Judy was racing in the open race the following day.
The next day dawned sunny and we went for a ride. Judy did a quick recce of her course and ended up riding with some of the Spanish elite team, which made her day. I completed a couple of loops of the more technical half of the course. The roads were silky smooth, but with plenty of manhole covers in the wrong places on many of the corners. Hay bales had been strategically placed on the tightest of corners, which were used quite frequently over the weekend. I took my bike back and Judy collected her number and racked her bike. Race time was late afternoon for Judy and it quickly approached.
The start waves were quite small and it was exciting to see Judy jump into the water and swim away. A quick run for me to the swim exit and soon after she was out. I saw her a couple of times on the bike and the run, she was smiling as always. It was great sitting in the grandstand watching Judy running down the blue carpet and across the finish line. I was getting excited for Sunday and my race. Judy had a solid race, but it was very busy and a lot of people with poor awareness on the bike, but no major issues. We gathered everything and headed back to the hotel for food.
Saturday was team briefing day and it all started to feel real. I recognised a few faces from the Euros and spoke to other increasingly excitable teamies. After a team photo we went our separate ways. I went for a run round the course, to stretch the legs, calm the nerves and learn the course. It was stunning with views across the lake to France. Like the bike course it was hilly, but the stunningly manicured gardens near the Olympic Museum seemed to make them a little easier. We went back to the hotel, had lunch and then took the bike down to transition where it was staying overnight. After watching the elite’s race, we carb loaded and went back to the room. I spent too much time checking and double checking everything, as usual, and soon it was time to sleep.
The morning came all too quick, I’d had a good sleep and woke feeling ready. The text came through confirming no wetsuits today and the nerves emerged. I looked at the forecast and the air temperature was lower today and cloud was forecast. At least it would be dry. Breakfast done, kit bag packed, GB tri-suit on for the second time this year. The metro journey was quick and full of athletes from around the World, all excited. The Mexican team had the most amazing ‘day of the dead’ styled uniform which put our plain blue GB ones to shame. We walked to transition, completed the final set up and then walked 15mins to the swim start. It did not feel warm. I kept additional layers on for as long as I could, but soon I had to give these to Judy and wait for my wave to be called through to the start pen. I was getting cool and the wind was not helping.
Soon we were by the stony shore. We walked into the water as the previous wave swam away, I spotted Judy and received an excited wave. The water felt warmer than the air, thankfully. We negotiated the stones on the lakebed and jostled for position as we tread water awaiting the starting horn and then we were off. Around 100 in my age group and all keen to get going. I’d found some space and all was going well. The course took us away from the shore for around 200m, sharp left parallel to the shore for 1000m and then a dog leg back to the shore for the remaining 300m meters before exiting back near transition.
After a strong start the first turn buoy approached, ‘keep pushing’ I thought, make the turn and then settle into my pace for the remainder of the swim. The buoy approached, I took a couple of dunks as I made the turn and then all went wrong. Now outside the shelter from the upwind marina the wind had created quite a chop and we were heading straight into it. Out of breath from the initial effort I struggled for air and after a couple of mouthfuls of water and a bit of coughing I had to stop. This annoyed me as others started to swim past, all I could think about was ‘another place lost’. I took a few deep breathes and started to swim again. It felt hopeless, every time I went to breath a wave would hit my face, I could not get enough air. I became anxious and without the wetsuit could not relaxed and needed to tread water just to keep my head above the water. I looked around and spotted the safety boats, they seemed busy with a few from the previous wave being taken to the boat. I decide to breast stroke, at least I was moving in the right direction even if very slowly and of course the waves were then straight into my face. I tried to time my stroke with the waves, but they seemed to just keep coming at the wrong time, far more frequent than sea waves. Don’t get me wrong, they were not big waves, I just could not find a way to swim in them. I also could not get my heart rate down and I started to worry. Eventually it started to feel like I was making some progress with the next turn buoy closer than the one behind. I saw another person get pulled out as the lead swimmers from the next wave started to pass me. This made me even more anxious. I thought about quitting. I also thought about the other options, but one was not going to happen. I decided to push on, I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. Focus, I will get there, I’ve not come all this way to quit. The next turn buoy, after what seemed like an eternity, was not far away. The anxiety started to fade and I knew I could make it. I turned and immediately felt better. I naturally breath to the left and now with the waves on my right side all become so much easier. My heart rate dropped and I began to swim again and made up a few places. I negotiated the remainder of the turns and the beach was now ahead and in front of me calm waters. The lakebed became visible as the water shallowed. I had a chat with myself and agreed there was nothing I can do about the past, just focus on the rest of the race and enjoy it. I pulled myself out of the water, across the sand and up the concrete jetty towards transition. I spotted Judy, what a relief it felt to see her and she looked just as relieved, as the swim took 10mins longer than planned. Transition went well, the long run to the mount line was over and off I went on the bike.
The swim played on my mind for a while until the first hill arrived. My legs felt good, but I was cautious and made a conservative effort whilst I really got focused on the bike. After the initial up and downs and loop back I was soon onto the long straights of the second part of the lap. I’d not recced this part, but thankfully there were no surprises. I overtook more than I got overtaken by, but it was difficult to spot who was in my age group. I had to be pretty much at the back after that swim! The second lap started and I pushed on. Mentally back in the game now and looking forward to the run. The one good thing about the swim was that I did not get cold and even with the cool air and cloud cover, I felt a good temperature on the bike. The bike section concluded without any excitement, some were not so fortunate. Off the bike, run to my place, rack the bike and on with the shoes, all without any drama.
Just 10km to go. The run course felt busy with all the other waves. Two laps of 5km with each lap about 50% flat, the other 50% not. My legs felt good and I pushed on. I caught other athletes that looked in my age group and passed them. It was difficult to tell, but I used everyone as a target and a motivation to keep pushing. Water station (not that I wanted to see water again in my life), sharp left and onto the first hill. Tip toe running steep but not too long. Many were walking up it, I passed them and turned at the top onto the flat. Having weaved around the gardens, up and down a few hills it was back onto the lake side road. A couple of loop backs, that I used as an opportunity to see who was around, and I set a few more targets as I headed towards the finish area for the first time. Passing the grandstand was exciting and the next time I see it I’ll be crossing the line.
The run continued to go well and my positioning out of the water made for a great race as I was able to pick off those whose running is not their strongest discipline. Up and down the hills for the final time, into the loop backs and I saw a couple of teamies ahead, closer than before. My watch beeped up another 1km lap, now there was just two remaining. Time to go hard or go home. I caught one teamie and pushed on. With the second blue tri-suit ahead, he and the finish line were getting closer, it was going to be tight. I passed a few other athletes and caught the GB teamie, I passed, well I thought I did, but we ran side by side. We exchanged smiles and pushed on. Probably 500m to go, I was spent, I could not go any faster as we continued to run side by side. Who was going to get to the line first? We rounded the corner and the grandstand came into view. We passed the blue carpet and up to the final loop back. I held the inside line and pushed again after the turn. I did not look back, forward is the only way to go. I gave it my all. Final turn onto the carpet and my teamie was a few metres back. With the finish line ahead, I spotted Judy in the crowd and took the final few steps to cross the line. Elated and knackered I came to stop. Wow that was fun. I turned and hugged my fellow countrymen, we were spent.
What a race. My worst ever swim and the first time of having anxiety almost ruined the day, but as it turned out, it made for some great racing. I almost quit, but so glad I did not. The race is just the end of an amazing journey, a journey that physically started in October 2017 and ended on 1st September 2019. I look back now at all those hours of training. Those days of self-doubt when the wind, rain, cold just made me want to stop. The sessions that when I woke in the morning thinking I just can’t do this one and dreams where I had forgotten how to run! These were the days that got me to Lausanne and the days that got me through the swim. I finished mid field, in the World! It was never about winning, it was about the challenge and the pride of representing my country and it lived up to every feeling I was hoping for. I’ll be back, sometime.