Saturday, June 7, 2008

Not the World's Greatest Championships, eh?

Welcome to the official, unofficial, semi-official coverage of the ITU World Championship Triathlon, er, Duathlon, in Vancouver, British Columbia....

Just to give you an idea of what it's like to travel with two newborns, I am sitting in the driver's seat typing this entry with the computer in my lap, as we go on 2 hours parked in line at the USA/Canada border...River is screaming in the backseat and Jessa breastfeeds Terran. We'll switch soon. Jessa will write and I will breastfeed. There are some Japanese people playing soccer in the border-crossing park, and they may want to take a turn also.

People kept telling us we were brave to take an international vacation this soon with the two little guys, but I thought they were talking about the dangerous child kidnapping rings in Canada, not the fact that traveling and sleeping in strange places makes babies think their perfect little world is falling to pieces. But they'll learn.

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The journey began out of Washington at 9am on Thursday morning. Driving to the Canadian border was fast and smooth, with a couple feeding stops for the kids. Here are the little guys crossing the border on their first official road trip:



That little white monument is the an ancient Canadian child sacrifice temple. How quaint.

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We arrived at our bed and breakfast soon after crossing the border. I didn't get any pictures of the place, but it was a gorgeous, perfectly decorated Victorian style mansion, with immaculate cleanliness and a very sweet but insistingly neat hostess named Anne, who immediately recommended that we remove our shoes, and then followed us along, blotting drips of water from the floor and picking up tiny grass clippings that our shoes left by the door. She definitely raised an eyebrow at the kids, but what the heck, I thought. I warned her we had babies in tow.

She recommended dinner up the street at place called The Locust. It was tasty. Once again, as if on cue, the waitress approached our table, eyed the little guys, and said, "You two are SO brave!". What, for ordering the Ahi medium-rare, or bringing a baby into a restaurant? It's not like they're badgers. They're not going to gnaw your legs off if we let them out of their little kennels.

We had her snap a picture of us with the guys:



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The next morning, we awoke for a French Toast breakfast, prepared by Anne, complete with gluten-free, non-preservative bread, organic fruit, and a lecture on probiotics and the benefits of soaking and sprouting beans. And I thought I was a health nut. After breakfast, I hopped on my Specialized Pro, sporting my fantastic new gear from Avia, and headed down to the race venue to check out the course and register.

Upon arriving at the race expo, there appeared to a be a slight amount of disorganization. Not only were most of the expo tents completely empty, with vendors deserting their booths because of the torrential downpour of rain, but when I inquired to a race organizer where I might find bike tech to change out my brake pads, they simply shrugged and said, "I think I saw some guy running around here earlier, but they don't have much. You should go to a bike shop."

May I insert here that this is the freaking ITU World Championships and the athletes have literally paid AN ARM AND LEG to be here and compete. We are supposed to be pampered with team doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors, bike mechanics, and guides, none of which seemed to exist when I showed up. They remained ghosts the entire weekend.

So I cycled around Vancouver, found a bike shop, changed out my brake pads in their wrench room, and went out to ride one 10K loop of the 40K bike course in Stanley Park. After finishing my ride in the rain-soaked conditions, I met up with Roger Thompson in the registration tent, and we headed up to the Team USA meeting.

The meeting was a bit of a joke. In a hotel ballroom stuffed with about 300 Team USA athletes, the Team USA officials held up barely legible handdrawn posters explaining the race course and map. All that was missing was little stick figure runners. Not only was the course slightly confusing, but c'mon people. This this the World Championships. A 6th grader could have figured out how to broadcast a Powerpoint.

BIG: We found out at the team meeting that due to low water temperatures, they decided to shorten the swim from 1500m to 900m. Hmm. Not happy about that. I'm a swimmer. Grow some hair on your chest or drop out of the race if you can't swim in cold temperatures. It's part of the competition, people.

The meeting ended with an invitation to the Team USA party, with the caveat that if we brought *anybody*, they would need to pay 50 bucks. Nice.

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I met Jessa after the Team USA meeting and we grabbed some lunch, then went for a walk down to the beach, where I decided to check out this whole frigid water temperature thing. Throwing on my Blue Seventy Helix wetuit, with no cap, gloves, or booties, I headed down to the Pacific Ocean and jumped in.

Compared to Liberty Lake and Lake Coeur D' Alene, the water was B-A-L-M-Y. I immediately thought, "Are you kidding me? They shortened the swim for this?". Seriously, it was actually warm once I started swimming hard with the wetsuit on. I think of myself as a decent swimmer, and much stronger this year than previous years, so I was disappointed about getting robbed of 600 meters of the swim. That immediately steals away a few seconds of my advantage, which, in a race this brief, quickly adds up.

I also brought my bicycle over to bike check-in. This also appeared to be some kind of a weird joke. The ITU has pretty strict rules on bike geometries and equipment. But what appeared to be a twelve year old girl with braces and a ponytail took a glance at my bike and waved me on through. OK...glad to know they're policing this thing so carefully.

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Despite not having payed the exorbitant Team USA shuttle bus fees, Jessa and I managed to sneak onto the Team USA bus and catch a ride back up to the host hotel later that evening, so we could avoid a 3 mile walk back to our car. It's amazing what you can do with twins in tow (Bus Driver: "Hey, nice babies!"; Us, "Yeah, boy are they ever excited to hop on this bus, well we better hurry!"). I felt slightly guilty, but the bus had about 30 extra seats, so what the heck.

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I shaved my legs that night. I'm know for being the hairy legged caveman at the races, but research does show I'd shave a few seconds, which doesn't matter in Ironman, but in this race, could come in handy. The bathtub had alot of hair in it. Yes, that's right, matted hair and blood, everywhere. I emerged victorious from my battle with the razors, legs freshly shaved and madly burning.

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The next morning, I woke at 6:15, hurriedly gathered my race belongings and head down to the race start. It was a blustery day. After weaving through the crowded downtown streets of Vancouver for 15 minutes, I thought, "I wonder what water conditions will be like today?". A second thought immediately followed, "I wonder why I left my WETSUIT hanging in the SHOWER back in the BED AND BREAKFAST?"

With the kids hooting in the backseat, we flipped a U-Turn and gunned it back to the B&B, grabbed the wetsuit, then headed back to the race, arriving at the transition area in a nick of time (each wave start is assigned specific times to "check-in" to transition, and a barely made it). This was just the beginning of a very weird day.

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Quickly, I threw together my transition area, squirmed into my wetsuit, and sprinted to the swim start, which was *nearly a mile run* down a concrete path. You would've thought the ITU would have prepared athlete shuttles or perhaps a more proximate swim start, but this wasn't the case.

In retrospect, I should have brought an extra pair of shoes.

Already, several waves had started their swims, and as I danced down the gravel-laden path, I watched athletes fighting against the swells in the Pacific Ocean, created by strong winds in English Bay. FUN. I was stoked. I love difficult swims and was excited to potentially come out of the water in a strong place.

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Breathless, I arrived at the swim start. Just as I was preparing to jump into the ocean and begin warming up for my start, a voice came booming across the loudspeaker, "ATTENTION ATHLETES, DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER CONDITIONS, WE HAVE POSTPONED EACH WAVE BY 1 HOUR."

What?

It was true. My 9:15 start suddenly became a 10:15 start.

Hundreds of belated swim start athletes how huddled in the "Athletes Lounge" (basically a big circus tent), wrapped in silver space-age warming blankets and waiting to swim. Meanwhile, the other athletes in the waves who had already started were out racing on the course. This was turning into an interesting scenario.

Jessa was already at the swim start ready to watch me begin, and now was stuck in the athletes lounge with our two crying, hungry babies. We found a corner of the tent and a chair, and set-up an area for her to feed while waiting for the delayed swim start. What'll it be, a powerbar harvest bar, or a boob?



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Fifteen minutes later, the voice boomed over the loudspeaker again, "ATTENTION ATHLETES, THE SWIM HAS BEEN CANCELLED AND WE WILL NOW BE RACING A DUATHLON. PLEASE HEAD BACK TO THE TRANSITION AREA. YOU WILL BE RUNNING A 3K, FOLLOWED BY YOUR 40K BIKE AND 10K RUN. YOUR WAVE WILL START 90 MINUTES AFTER IT'S ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED TIME."

Hell broke loose.

Six hundred athletes huddled in the tent now rose as one body and began trampling each other in their haste (excitement?) to go back to transition. Seemed alot of the non-swimmer skinny athletes with tiny shoulders were especially happy about this scenario. I was amazed at the number of people who seemed *relieved* not to have to swim! Are you kidding me? GROW A PAIR. If you can't swim, then go home. There's a reason the sport is called triathlon. Sure, one cool thing about triathlon is the fact that anybody can compete, but at the World Championship of Triathlon, you don't make exceptions for weak swimmers. That's why it's the World Championships. These are supposed to be the best of the best, in all 3 sports.

Later, I found out that lifeguards were also complaining about people getting blown towards shore and ending up on rocks. So maybe part of it was the lifeguards. Either way, I was royally pissed about not getting to swim. Guess I could have left my wetsuit at home after all.



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I slammed a bottle of Nuun and a Bumblebar for my "second" breakfast and headed back down to the original transition, Jessa and twins in tow. My wetsuit was warm, so I kept it on. Good for something. Thanks, Blue Seventy.



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Finally, close to 2 hours after the originally scheduled start, I was standing in line with 109 of the best 25-29 year old age groupers in the world, waiting for the 3K run start. Scores of countries were represented, including Mexico, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, USA, Australia. No longer needing a wetsuit, I was now clad in my official Team USA uniform.



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There goes the starting signal and we're off!



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Granted, none of us knew where the hell we were going. The race officials simply pointed and questioningly said, "That-a-way?" Somehow, during the one hour postponed swim delay, the ITU had thrown together some haphazard 3K with randomly placed timing mats and cones. It wasn't until after the race and looking at the completely muddled computer results that I found out how "thrown together" the whole thing really was.

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I'm not a duathlete. Don't claim to be. I hate running "cold", meaning prior to my swim-bike. My 3K legs felt stale and I stayed "middle-of-the-pack" throughout. I think I was about 39th heading into bike transition, which was a complete cluster because we all piled into bike transition within about a two minute time span.

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Once again, similar to my last race, the bike felt fantastic. I'm riding the Specialized Transition Pro, from Wheelsport East. Here's how my bike splits progressed (thanks to Phaedra Cote for sending this to me):

1st 10k bike: 9:56 39th place
2nd 10k bike: 24:17 gross time 15th place
3rd 10k bike: 38:15 8th place
Bike finish: 51:57 (1:41 back from leader) 6th place

As you can see, I had one of the fastest bike splits of the day, passing 32 people in my division. I FLEW. If my bike feels this good for Ironman Coeur D' Alene, and I think it will, my race will be dynamite.

I had 300 calories of tasty mango-flavored GU Sport Drink in my aero bottle, but I barely touched it. I was too busy trying to steer.

This was because the bike course was another cluster. About 1200 people were packed into a four lap, 10K bike course that was poorly marked and poorly officiated. Drafting abounded. There were large packs of riders everywhere. Several times, I came across riders completely wiped out on the side of the road.

At one point, as I climbed a gradual grade on the backside of the course, an ACTUAL OFFICIAL ON A MOTORCYCLE ordered me to move to the right because, GET THIS PEOPLE, there was a *pack* of riders coming up behind me. Are you kidding me? This guy is supposed to be officiating the drafting and he's actually "paving the way" for the packs. Unbelievable.

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I came into 10K transition pretty excited, because I knew I was flying on the bike and I had a chance to run in my sleek new black Avia racing flats. I slammed a GU Espresso Gel and came rumbling out of transition.

Unfortunately, although I ran a 37:19 10K (right around my anticipated speed), I was disappointed. The aid stations were completely disorganized, with untrained people nervously clutching cups of gatorade and water as 75 year old age grouper women stumbled through the aid stations clutching this way and that for water and 25 year old competitors sprinted past, trying not to knock them or the volunteers over. People weren't even letting go of the water cups, they were just kinda holding them as you tried to wrestle the cup out of their hands. The 10K was a confusing 3 loop course, again littered with random timing mats and confused race officials.

Get this: several people in my division didn't even run all 3 loops. They just did 1 or 2 loops (anywhere from 4K to 7K) and then sprinted through to the finish. Hell, the winner in my division appears to have run a 22 minute 10K according to the online results. Yeah, rrrright.

Of course, there was ONE solitary person standing at the Y between the finish line and the loops, with absolutely no clue who was going where or which loop anyone was on. It was a complete fiasco. I grew more and more disappointed during the run as I realized that nobody seemed to know what was going on.

This race was similar to shouting fire in a crowded movie theatre. Except the movie theatre was the stage for what was supposedly the most important race in the world.

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I crossed the finish line in 1:44:02. According to the online race results, I was 24th out of 109. I don't know how many people ahead of me skipped parts of the run. I'd be happy if I was top 20 for my World placing, but we'll see. After the race I popped some Recoverease, iced up my slightly sore knees (hey, I've got Ironman in 2 weeks!) and met back up with Jessa and the boys.



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We hung out for awhile and made a few feeble attempts to interpret the posted race results. While Roger Thompson and I stood in the tent scratching our heads over the completely messed up results (included 14 minute transitions?), a race official approached and KICKED US OUT of the athlete's lounge, because they need to have a race official meeting. Um...OK? Isn't this the ATHLETES LOUNGE? We hung out on the beach for awhile (in what turned out to be a gorgeous sunny afternoon) then headed back 10 blocks to the car which Jessa had parked after dropping me off at the race that morning.

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We got back to the car and it wasn't there.

"Jessa, are you sure this is where you parked?!"

"Yes."

"Crap."

I spent the next hour calling police stations and towing companies in an attempt to track down our car, spending my entire month's mortage on the wonderful and generous 53 cent/minute international cell phone plan from ATT.

I spent the next month's mortgage paying parking tickets and towing fees after riding my bike across the entire city of Vancouver to retrieve our car.

Much thanks to Mark Hodgson and the Roger Thompson family for helping take care of Jessa and the boys, then feeding us after I hunted down our rig.

Wow. What a day.

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That evening, the kids were grumpy from their long day in the sun at Stanley Park at the race. They squirmed and wiggled and screamed and cried there in the immaculate bed and breakfast room. They have thrush also, a type of yeast infection of the mouth. Jessa has been treating their thrush with Violet Gentian. It is like India Ink. Anything it touches, it immediately stains. The insides of their mouths stay purple for days after she applies just the tiniest drop.

While feeding the kids, Jessa accidentally elbowed the bottle of Violet Gentian and sent if flying across the room, where it splattered the walls, cupboards, bedside furniture and carpet of our perfect little B&B room.

We looked at each other in horror. It was late, we couldn't buy cleaning supplies, and we had no clue what we would tell Anne. I shuddered at what she would do upon seeing this disaster. We spent an hour trying to clean the mess, then decided to just let her know in the morning and hope we wouldn't get thrown in some kind of cruel Canadian prison.

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So that's about it. Who know when (and if) we'll ever see official results from this race. Who knows if Anne can ever forgive us. I'll never again judge a race by its cover, or an innocent bottle of baby medicine by its label. I was excited for this race because I thought it'd be an amazing venue. But no matter the prestige or showcase nature of the event, sometimes it ain't that way.

We'll spend the next few months paying off parket tickets, towing fees, and room refinishing bills.

But you know what?

It's all worth it, because life is one great big adventure and we're living it.

Over and out,
Ben




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