Friday, September 13, 2013

London Day 4 - Final Pre-Race Training, Paratriathlon World Championships

This morning was my last pre-race training with a short-ish ride and short run, both with some pickups to keep things sharp. Hyde Park was closed to cyclists other than racers so I made my way to Regents Park about 2 miles away which was no easy feat on London Streets and in the rain. I kept getting stuck on one-way roads or running into major thoroughfares or cobblestone roads and I wasn't really sure about bike laws, like could I bike on a sidewalk? I guessed not. Anyway, thank goodness for maps on the iPhone, that's all I can say. I made my way and was finally able to open up the Roo on the outer loop which got me excited to think about racing. It'll be nice to just GO on Sunday!

I was surprised to come across the London Zoo in Regent's Park! I stopped to ask if they had a loo (having had several cups of coffee) and was directed to some facility that sounded too complicated to find. So with that big park, I resorted to what cyclists and runners so often do.....

I made my way back much better. Every few blocks I'd ask someone if I was still headed in the general direction of Hyde Park, from which I could find my way. As I passed by Hyde Park I saw some of the sprint racers cycling and *just* as I looked, I saw and heard a major bike pileup. It was drizzling and slick and with the twisty course there were a number of accidents.

After a quick shower, I headed out to meet Sarah to help get her and her gear to the venue. She had her bike, a big transition backpack, and a baseball bat bag that held her bike leg, run leg, crutches, and few other things. That sucker was heavy!! She had to put her race number on all her equipment and even on me.

Paratriathletes had a designated gathering spot, tent, restrooms, and bike parking. They have so much more equipment and need to be in close proximity to transition. While we waited in line to register, an athlete from another country asked if she was Sarah, and continued on to say that she had inspired him to do his first Ironman! Over the last several days I saw many people stop her to tell her how her racing or her courage on the show The Amazing Race had really impacted them.

Having spent 12 of 30 hours with her, I can tell you she's just like any triathlete. Just like me, she debates transition details, fueling, and equipment. She gets nervous. She digs deep. But she's very grounded, maintains perspective, and is so gracious and positive. You could not ask for a better ambassador for endurance sports and triathlon!!

Walking to the athlete lounge/check-in
Bike, handcycle, and wheelchair parking!

with her "transition assistant"....I was not real fond of the term "handler"

With Coach John Murray.
Sarah asks "one last" question of the ITU official

It's very important to know and follow the rules or you risk time penalties or disqualification. Because every race and venue is a little different, it's necessary to clarify.

We got all set up and verified how things would go. We went to the pre-transition area adjacent to the water, where she removed her leg and put on her wetsuit. She used crutches to get to the water, then we left her bike leg and crutches at pre-transition. It was so fun to walk out on the pontoon with her as she was announced. I think I was just as nervous as her. While I knew her nerves dissipated when she began swimming, mine did not. I have a whole new respect for how exhausting it is to be an invested spectator!

After the swim, ITU handlers got her to a chair in pre-transition and stripped her wetsuit then she put on the bike leg and used the crutches as insurance to get to transition. When she met up with me, she put on her helmet and sunglasses and I pulled the bike out. Off she went for a six-lap bike course.

All the handlers waited nervously for athletes to come out of the water! We had to have on our credentials, athlete number, and handler shirt. I was not even allowed to wear my rain coat over it, which was a bit of a bummer when the rain picked up and temps dropped!

Sarah on the bike!

 blind athlete with his guide

It was cool to have a front-row seat to the action. The runners came right past transition. I was really amazed by the blind athletes and their guides. Often you would see the pairs in perfect rhythm, stride for stride!

Pretty cool to have your name like this!

Across the finish!

I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to be involved in the paratriathlon race, and to do so with Sarah in particular. I was just blown away by the athleticism, courage, and determination all around me. Logistically things are so much more complicated for a paratriathlete and they have to want it more and have an even greater level of commitment than other athletes. There is nothing "less" about paratriathlon but in fact there is so much more. The first guys out of the water swam sub-10 minute 750 m swims. An athlete did the 5K on crutches. The blind athletes had no idea where their feet were landing.

Paratriathletes epitomize "running your own race." Every physical challenge is unique, there are no age groups in paratriathlon, and athletes have differing levels of support and training. The sport truly transcends country, age, and physical ability.

I thought how I'd love to be a guide for a blind racer someday. Maybe that is the extra motivation I need for my swim ;-)

That closes out another great day in London. Tomorrow is resting/sightseeing by bus maybe, and transition check-in at 6 pm.