Racing for Your Country
By Stephen Eid
Posted July 2015
Triathlon is a sport that challenges the individual at different levels through different distances; from the ‘all-out’ physical nature of Sprint & Olympic distances to the dedication and mental effort required to complete an Ironman distance event. In all of these events you are supported by your teammates; however you are still competing as an individual. One of the great facets of Triathlon is that it is one of a few Olympic sports that have annual World Championships where Age Groupers representing their country race side-by-side with professionals for the honor of becoming a World Champion. I have had the opportunity to race as part of Team USA in 2008, 2012 and most recently in 2015.
Each year the International Triathlon Union (ITU) hosts an Olympic (1.5K, 40K & 10K) and Long Course (4K, 120K & 30K) World Championship. In 2015 the LC race was held in late June in Motala, Sweden and the Olympic distance event will be held in Chicago, Il this September. For the US athletes, the qualification starts the year before at the National Championship. The 2014 LC National Championship was held at the Grand Rapids (HIM) Triathlon. In June 2014 I traveled to Grand Rapids to compete. I had a great race and took third in my AG with a 4:23. With my slot secured our family started to plan a 2015 vacation-race to Sweden (note: The top 20 finishers in each AG qualify to represent Team USA at the following years’ World Championship).
In the run up to the World Championship, Triathlon USA and TeamUSA are in regular communication with you prepping you for the race. For me, the adrenalin starts to flow when you receive your official TeamUSA uniform four weeks out from race day. It is then that it hits home, you are racing for more than personal honors. You are racing for your country.
As we did in 2012, our family decided to build a vacation around the race. We arrived in Stockholm on the Monday before the World Championships. We enjoyed a few days of sightseeing before we headed down to the race site. TeamUSA had reserved space at a centrally located hotel; however we opted to stay at a B&B 10 minutes outside of town. The B&B was a resorted grist mill from the early 1800s, beautiful. It turns out there was another athlete from Canada staying at the same location.
The ITU World Championships have a different feel from other corporate races. Most athletes wear their national uniforms and as a result you are identified by your affiliation to the country you are representing (e.g., USA, France, Sweden, Japan, etc.). Anyone wearing TeamUSA garb was immediately a teammate, supporter and friend. Packet pick-up went off without a hitch, but the weather was not cooperating. The temps were in the mid-50s and it was raining. The water temps were about the same; so much of the talk amongst the athletes was about how ITU would shorten the swim from 4,000m to 750m or 1,500m.
Two days before the race there was an official bike recon. All the athletes tend to come out for this event wearing his or her national uniforms. This creates a fun, social, international atmosphere where you ride and talk with triathletes from around the world. After the recon ride, I decided to test the water. 56F water can take your breath away! The neoprene cap is one of the greatest inventions of all time (if you are swimming in 56F water). I discovered that while the water was cold, it was certainly manageable for an hour. (pic) This was good news and allowed me think about what I was going to wear on the bike. By ITU rules racers have to race in official team uniforms. We were issued TeamUSA jackets, but they tend to balloon up on the bike (think parachute), so I decided to race in my tank top + arm warmers.
The day before the race we had our TeamUSA picture taken. 94 athletes from ages 20 to 78 representing the USA. All the TeamUSA athletes had qualified at GrandRapids the year before. The evening before the race ITU hosted the official opening ceremonies and Parade of Nations. This is a great event and a great opportunity to swap USA Triathlon garb with other athletes.
As race day approached the weather improved. Race day brought sun and temps in the 70s . The water temp increased to 58F so the official swim distance was set at 1,500m. This was a bit of a bummer as the swim tends to be my stronger leg (after which it is all down hill). The swim for AG’ers was set-up in two large waves of 400+ athletes : Wave 1 - M18 to 54, Wave 2 – Everyone else. The compliment of 100 pros left 10 min ahead of Wave 1.
The swim was a deep-water start. Cold water, blue sky and thousands of supports lined up along the quay made for an awesome atmosphere. I had a good swim and exited the water just under 21 min, 1st in my AG. That did not last too long as I had my traditional long transition and a couple of AG’ers beat me out of T1. The Scandinavian nations were well represented and they are super strong bikers. A number of these guys averaged over 25 mph for the 75 mile course. Impressive stuff. The bike course was spectator friendly and consisted of 3 loops of 40km through rolling farm country – beautiful. The great thing about high profile World Championship events is that the hosting community goes all out to ensure the conditions are as close to perfect as possible. This was true of Motala. The road surface was perfect. Any crack or hole in the road had been patched.
As each bike loop brought the race back to the town of Motala, I got to see the family who was out supporting TeamUSA. Another great facet of racing as part of TeamUSA is the peer support. Anytime you pass (or were passed) a TeamUSA athlete you cheer each other on with ‘Go US’. I had a decent bike and finished with an average speed of 22mph.
I left T2 in 22nd place in my AG as I started my 30K run (yes, passed by 21 folks in my AG!). The 3 x 10K run went mostly through wooded parkland along the lake. During the first loop I passed 5 athletes in my AG so I moved up to 17th. As the run course brought the athletes back to the start/finish the crowds swelled with thousands of supporters. There were lots of Americans who energetically cheered all TeamUSA athletes. The Swedish crowds were great. As I ran past groups of Swedish spectators, they would cheer, ‘Hej, Hej, Go USA’. Very cool. I even got a few ‘I love USA’, with a Swedish accent.
On the second lap the lead motorcycle pulled in front of me. I figured one of the pro leaders was right behind me. 15 seconds later, Mary Beth Ellis (USA) passed me. I shouted out some words of encouragement as a Finnish athlete was chasing her. She gave me a ‘Go US’ in return. She went on to win the race and become the reigning World Champion.
My third lap was a little rough with some GI issues and my pace dropped from 7:30s to a 7:50/mile final pace. I finished 17/82 in my AG and 177/843 OA. All in all, a solid race and an exceptional experience. Once we wrapped up our race activities in Motala we moved onto to spend vacation time in Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Kalmar (IM Sweden) before we headed back to Stockholm.
World Championships Info: In 2016 the LC World Championship will be hosted in Oklahoma City, OK on the RedMan Course. The qualification race will be held this Sept at the RedMan (HIM) Triathlon. In 2017 the LC WC will be hosted in Penticton, Canada and in 2018 the race returns to Scandinavia, hosted in Odense, Denmark. Count me in for 2018 as Copenhagen is the most cycling obsessed city in the world. The Olympic distance World Championship in 2016 is slated for Cozumel, Mexico, Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2017 and Gold Coast, Australia in 2018.
Are you looking for a different Triathlon experience? Try racing for your country.