The decision was made at the start of the 2015 race season that this year's goal was to qualify and race at this year's Age Group World Championships being held in Chicago. After racing at the Europeans for the last couple of years I wanted to experience a World Championships and take on a new challenge. There was three qualifying events in the year, Little Beaver, Chester and Dambuster and although I just missed out on one of the four straight qualifications spots on offer at each race, I was offered a position on a roll down - so without hesitation booked myself onto the team.
At each race I have competed in this year I have learnt more about myself and the skills of racing needed to compete at the highest amateur level so when the day came to leave home for Chicago I was more than ready. So on Sunday 13th September myself, my husband Pete and my coach Rodge set off down to London for a very welcoming overnight stay with Rodge's uncle and auntie, Derek and Gloria, for our flight the following day. Arriving at Heathrow early on Monday morning it was quite clear that a large majority of the plane was taken up by other age group racers. Rather than staying in a hotel we decided to go self catering and had rented an apartment about 1 mile away from the race venue. After a long delay (2 hours) waiting for my bike box to arrive through the over size luggage we were on our way into Chicago City. Arriving at the apartment we were met by the owner who gave us a quick tour and after a long day travelling we grabbed a quick bite to eat and got our heads down for a bit of sleep.
Tuesday morning started with an easy run out to the race venue with Rodge for a quick look around and to get our bearings. The organisers had just starting putting out the main infrastructure, swim exits, bike racking etc, so we were soon on our way back to the apartment. Whilst we were out Pete had reassembled my bike and had made sure nothing had been damaged in transit, thankfully everything was in working order. That afternoon I headed back out with Pete to take another look around what was going to be my transition area and the swim exit, bike mount/dismount points. We had been told prior to arriving that we would be unable to recce any of the courses as the swim was in an active harbour and the bike and run courses were using some of the busiest roads in Chicago city centre. However once we arrived we were told there would be a swim familiarisation on the Wednesday afternoon so at least I would be able to get a 'feel' for the water. I wasn't overly concerned about not getting onto the bike course, I had watched a couple of videos of the course and didn't see anything that had me worried, if anything I was quite excited by the prospect of racing through the tunnels.
Wednesday morning came and we all headed out to give support to the Age Groupers racing the aquathlon, this also gave me a chance to take a look at the run course as this was the same for the aquathlon, sprint and standard distances. It also gave me a chance to give my TT bike a little blast out on part of my bike course as the road was shut for the aquathlon. The bike and short part of the course I rode on felt quick. Heading down to Lake Michigan in the afternoon, the organisers had set out a short course and were counting people in and out. I wasn't too concerned about the swim but it felt good to be in the water and get a few practice starts under my belt.
Thursday was the AG sprint and it was a good chance to watch the starts, there wasn't much, if any time, between the 'on your marks' and the hooter going, another thing to remember come Saturday. The weather for the sprinters was uncomfortably hot and having watched the weather forecast on TV for the last couple of days I was pleased to hear it wasn't going to be anywhere near as hot, if anything they were expecting some heavy showers between Thursday and Saturday so much so that the organisers moved the Elite women's race from 5pm to 1pm to try and avoid the heavy rain that had been forecast. Watching the Elite women live that afternoon was incredible, the close quarter racing on the bike and then Non Stanford and Vicki Holland fighting it out with Gwen Jorgenson on the run was very inspiring. That night the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening that came with it was amazing to watch from our 11th floor window.
Friday was a complete day off, I had nothing left that I needed to do, the bike was ready to go and mentally so was I.
Saturday - Race Day
Having gained my position via a roll down place one of my main aims, apart from giving my absolute best effort, was to get inside the top ten of the British women who were competing in my Age Group, so with 14 Brits (including me) I had my goal set.
The thunder and rain from the previous two nights had cleared to give almost perfect race conditions. After racking my bike in transition I had just over 2hours to wait before my start time of 10:44. As my start time approached me and Rodge completed a warmup and I was soon getting in my wetsuit. With a couple of holding pens where we were given final instructions on the swim course we were soon directed down the pontoon. This pontoon would break later in the day meaning some of the later waves had their swim distance changed from 1500m to 750m, luckily for me, being a strong swimmer, my swim remained 1500m. Getting to the end of the pontoon we were directed into the water and having watched previous starts with Rodge a strategy of getting dead centre on the front was made. Being one of the first in the water I was able to get the ideal position and then it was just a case of waiting for the 'on your marks'. The next thing I heard was the hooter and we were away. Like many of my races this year I got a good start and was soon trying to find feet and hips to swim off. Getting to the turnaround buoys I found my self in a good position but unfortunately started to loose the feet on the return leg. The return of approx 1100m was quite choppy, I did my best to protect myself by swimming on the right of other women but never quite got in an ideal sheltered spot. I exited the swim in 20th position and the first Brit out.
The run to transition was just short of 400m and mostly up hill. The organisers had done their best and carpeted the majority of the run but once into transition proper we had grass and sand to contend with. Finding my bike easily I was soon out into the unknown.
The first part of the course was straight down a major highway, great to get my legs up to speed and then I quickly found myself in the start of the tunnel. Although there was no wind to speak of there was a blast of heat that took me by surprise. A left hand bend and we were in the tunnel proper, the road surface was fairly smooth with a few man hole covers to contend with but otherwise it was quick riding. Before I knew it, I was on the first u-turn and heading back to where I came from but without coming out from the tunnel the course headed out on a 'busway'. The story goes that this road was built by an ex mayor who wanted access to his house to avoid the city traffic, whatever the reason behind it I absolutely loved riding my bike on it. It felt like my own private, if you can ignore the other racers, race track. The opportunity for drafting was evident, I saw large groups of mostly men riding together and at one point on my second lap was witness to a Canadian athlete from my Age Group blatantly getting a tow from a male Canadian athlete. As a non-drafting event I always try to uphold this ruling, this is my race and I would not want to finish with the feeling that I had somehow cheated myself and my fellow competitors. Round the second u-turn, retracing the course on the busway and I was soon out and back on the highway to start my second of two laps. Knowing the turns of the course now I felt like I was able to really put the hammer down. To say I loved this course would be an understatement, the feeling of speed and close quarter racing was incredible to be a part of and I don't think I will ever get the chance to race on a course like this again. I returned to T2 in 20th position, 5th Brit back.
Into T2 and it was another long run, by this time the temperature had risen and there was to be no shade on the run course at all.
For me the run is the weaker of the three disciplines so I have to draw on all my mental strength and this race needed everything I could muster. 3.5 laps of an out and back course finishing at the iconic Buckingham Fountain. The support out on the course was incredible and did really help but in hindsight I probably suffered more by not finishing my drink on the bike. Completing the run in the afternoon heat took its toll and I was so pleased to cross the line and get into an ice filled paddling pool. I finished in 39th position, 7th Brit. Mission accomplished.
In the days following the event I learnt that the bike course was 37km and the run measured 10.7km which unfortunately for me didn't play into my strengths.
Some people interpret 'results' or times their own way, but in my opinion what's important is what you - the athlete thinks. I have been training with my coach for the past four years, working on all aspects of training and racing and I know that on race day I got everything out of myself I possibly could and thankfully the people who know me best know this as well. I want to thank everyone who took the time to send me messages before, during and after the event. Although I've not had chance to reply to them all, every single one of them meant a lot and I was able to draw on them when the going got tough. However there are two very special people who without non of it would be possible. Firstly my coach, Rodge, he drives me to be a better person and athlete, we have a very honest relationship where the truth is always spoken which can be hard to hear but I always know (sometimes begrudgingly) that it is for the greater good. The second person is my husband Pete, to have him by my side through the sweat and tears is overwhelming. His unfaltering support and encouragement mean I can train and race safe in the knowledge that no matter what happens he has my back and that means I 'win' every time.
So that's it my first World Championships done and dusted and what a place Chicago has been. I had been considering 'going long' next year but having felt like I really raced here I want more of this and I hear Mexico is nice this time of year