ITU Long Course World Championship
Almere, the Netherlands
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Official Race Photos
Out in the polders of the Dutch country-side, the wind is sturdy and, on the exposed flat land reclaimed from the sea years earlier, always stiff. I learned first-hand why locals would rather ride Tour de France’s Alp d’Huez than be caught stranded by the lonesome in the polders.
In the picture above, the only reason there are trees in the background is because this is a part of the course that navigates back into town. All trees out on the polders, or even in town, where there are more, were planted by man, for the entire flatland used to be the bottom of the salty ocean. Man has since reclaimed the land, built houses, and planted trees. This is also one of the reasons the wind is always a factor.
The story behind this picture is, as I’ve learned, reflective of German and Dutch riders. Just after completing the first 60K lap of the bike course, right after I saw Heather near town on the side of the road cheering me on, this Canadian guy in the picture pulled from behind to beside me. “You’re a train,” the Canuck said. “You’ve got five guys sucking your wheel behind you.” I couldn’t believe it. With the wind rushing at my ears, I was fighting into a very stiff wind. I couldn’t hear a thing behind me, nor did I think to look behind, for I was focused too much on my own race. But sure enough, a glance back confirmed my suspicions. As I’ve learned later, Germans are notorious for drafting when it’s illegal, and the Dutch, although very nice people, aren’t far behind. Pictured is the Canadian just after informing me, me, the German, who sucked my wheel for about 10-15 miles, and the guy from the Netherlands, who went on to suck my wheel for more than an hour in spite me trying to shake him. After spraying sport drink out of my mouth directed behind me, totally dousing him, didn’t shake him, I eventually dropped the hammer a little more. And then he was gone.
The course was so flat and so windy that it was a good thing the race was a World Championship. Because otherwise I may have lost focus. Although the country was beautiful, the flat lands with the same scenery over and over made it monotonous. Wild was that out on the polders, where the land cannot get any flatter, there are turbines litterally as far as the eye can see. If you take a snapshot before you, of the fields of farmland sprawling across view, you will capture over 200 turbines until you can see no farther.
The World Championship run course went the complete opposite way of the bike course, more toward civilization, which was a good thing since the day grew very hot. The sun seemed to be very strong. The day before the event, the sun made an appearance for the first time since Heather and I arrived. Having some downtime between me fulfilling Team USA obligations, Heather sat out in the sun for an hour to read. She came back completely burnt. We weren’t surprised, because the sun there seemed very, very strong, much stronger than at home. I knew this too because I was out on the bike in the heat, and where I normally go through just over a bottle of fluid an hour, I was already through a full bottle after only a half hour. So I knew I’d have to deal with the heat of the sun, too. And that’s what I did.
Run Loop 1 – Proudly displaying pride in country 10K into the run course. Just after I pointed at the letters U-S-A, the camera man, in an unrecognized foreign language, clicked the photo and said, “Go U-S-A!”
Run Loop 1 – Although the heat was rising and the body growing fatigued, I was running on edge but still within. My first 5K out of the blocks was 21 minutes, but after feeling the heat and seeing how 18.6 miles required more pacing than going out hard and holding on, I purposely dialed effort back to around 7:30-:45 minute miles.
The picture above is interesting in that I no longer have my hydration belt. I had started the run with my hydration belt and my sunglasses, but I could never get the shades clean and clear, and since they bothered me I stuck them in my Tri-top, right where you see my last name. However, I ditched those as I started the second and final loop when I stopped for a kiss with Heather. My hydration belt, due to me sweating so much, caused too much chaffing, so I had ditched that too and instead carried one of the water bottles as insurance to get me to each aid station. If you look close, you’ll see my great big Hammer, Mjolnir… no, wait, I didn’t mean that! If you look closely, you’ll see two bludges on either side of my Tri-shorts at my thigh. Since I ditched the hydration belt and didn’t have any pockets to stash things, I stuffed a Gu packet under my shorts at my right thigh and a small Ziplock baggy of salt tablets in the left.
Run Loop 2 – Although I was hurting, there was no mistaking the pride I felt toward competing as part of Team USA and representing my country, something I only dreamed of as a child. By this point when the picture was taken, although my pace was slowing very gradually, and although my time was limited for holding on, I knew I would do it. It hurt. Something fierce. But I knew my mental game was too strong. And knowing I’d hit the finish, I couldn’t help but smile.
Finish Line Celebration
With 1K to go, after holding on to my run for so long, I finally saw Heather on the other side of the barriers leading toward the chutes surrounding Transition and the path toward the Finish. She knew what to do. For she was already prepared and at the fencing, waiting for me, with an oversized American flag in her hand. As I came to her, I stopped running, gave her a kiss and a very long hug — one I will never forget. I looked her in the eye and said softly, “I’m a World Champ.” With that I grabbed the flag for a homecoming that I still get choked up over just thinking about, and seeing it in pictures is… it’s an experience in pride, my proudest moment as an athlete.