Claire Hitchings takes silver at the Cross Triathlon World Championships
In 2015 I turn 45 and I wanted to mark the year somehow…I came up with racing a triathlon or duathlon each month; ideally events I’d never done before, in nice locations and off-road. The final event would be the Cross Triathlon World Championships in Sardinia.
So I got a coach (Paula George from VO2 Maximum) and training started to have some purpose and structure. The road bike went into semi-retirement. Brick sessions became common and I tried to become a ‘mountain biker’ – riding with much superior riders to myself and entering mountain bike races. By the time the Worlds arrived I felt in great shape and was ready to take on the challenging course.
But I was realistic about my chances of getting on the podium. A month before at the Europeans the overall female winner was a GB athlete in my age-group who was on the start list. She’d taken 5 minutes out of me. Plus when I looked at the start list there were ten nations represented so I knew I was up against it. But if there was ever a course to suit me, it was this one. The bike course wasn’t overly technical and as you can see from the graphic below boy, were there some lovely climbs to get stuck into!
The event comprised a 1,500m 2-lap sea swim, a 30km 2-lap mountain bike and a 10km 3-lap run predominantly on sanded beaches as well as off road trails. The swim was non-wet suit, which initially threw me as I’ve never done one of these before. But actually it was lovely to not be restricted and not have the stress of worrying about whether you’d have a quick T1 getting out of your wetsuit. I came out of the swim just off the front pack and was chomping at the bit to get on the bike.
Halfway up the first climb and I was passing riders. I noticed the European champion up ahead. A moment’s panic of had I totally over-cooked the first few k on the bike??? I passed her on the descent and was feeling super strong.
Then things turned for the worse…my bike wasn’t flowing and I was fairly sure my bike wheel had a puncture. Streeeeeesssssssssss! I pulled over; used a gas canister and hoped it would seal. A few kms up the road and it was apparent it wasn’t sorted. I pulled out my pump and pumped like Billy-o. Inwardly the profanities were flowing. I set off again and rode for about another 10k before it was time to try my second (and last) gas canister. More profanities. With about 3k to go on the bike I decided to really go for it and try and gain some extra time.
At T2 I was amazed to see a near-empty transition area - hardly anyone was back. Brilliant! So I set off on the run; trying not to think of all the gazelle-like runners that would be hunting me down. I was nearing the end of the first of the three laps and a runner went past. I nervously checked her calf to see her age group tattoo. Not my age group, so I was safe for the moment. Running on the sand was knackering - I was on borrowed time before either my calves or quads were going to start cramping. I was desperate to reach the finish line. Eventually I was running down the finish chute and I was over the line. I was totally spent - the technical aspect of off-road events means 3 hours of total concentration and second-by-second decision-making, choosing the best lines.
As I crossed the line the guy on the mike announced I was second. I have a split-second feeling of disappointment. Once a World Champion it’s hard to not want that again! But a medal of any colour at a World Champs is something to cherish and be proud of. I was actually grateful to have finished the race as without taking canisters and a pump I’d’ve been taking an early shower (many athletes are more concerned about saving weight and ride with nothing to deal with a puncture – the crazy fools!)
My finish time was 2hrs 58:35, eight minutes behind the winner from the Netherlands, Riikka Vreeswijk-Kelija - an athlete racing as a pro up until two years ago. It was good that her margin was such that I’m comfortable that my bike rear-end issues didn’t affect the result.
So overall it was an amazing experience, rounding off a brilliant season’s racing.
Thanks to all the people that have helped over the year. Anthony, for all his unquestioning support. Paula, Jimmy and Chris at VO2 Maximum, for all their advice. Plus family and friends who help out with childcare. It’s been a real team effort.