Case study: GB Age Group Triathlete Colin Pink

I think many will know that last week I was lucky enough to be able to race
in a British vest at the World Age Group Championships. Certainly any of
you that are Facebook friends will be well aware due to the many, many
updates from Mrs Pink on what was a brilliant week in Chicago!

Well, we don’t seem to do this as much anymore, but after a couple of
people asked about it I thought I’d do a race report. (Note, this goes on a
lot! No offence will be taken if you don’t read it!)

Firstly the background. In case you don’t know, each year as part of the
final ITU Series event the ITU run the World Age Group Triathlon
Championships at both Sprint and Standard / Olympic distances. To qualify
to take part in this event you have to qualify through one of the (usually)
3 qualification races earlier in the year. About November last year I
decided that I should take a season off from just watching and marshalling
races and actually do some training and try my luck at getting one of those
spots on the team for Chicago. I figured it would be a good year to try
because the race was quite some distance away and some might be unable to
afford the time and expense that would be involved in getting to the race –
it’s all about the planning you see!

With the help of Dave Bradley’s guidance and encouragement and a lot of
hard training I targeted the qualifying races in May. The first at St Neots
was pretty much a disaster for me but I raced well at Eton a couple of
weeks later and ok at Nottingham another week later. I didn’t get an
automatic qualification, but had a ‘percentage’ of 112.9 from the Eton race
so at least had given myself a chance of a roll down place. There were a
few people ahead of me on that roll down list though, and so when I
received an email in the middle of July offering me a place in the team for
Chicago the initial reaction was shock, quickly followed by excitement and
then an amount of trepidation. I quickly accepted it and then the
realisation hit that my training had not really been very structured since
the end of May and I needed to get my head back down to make sure I was in
some kind of shape for September! Another call to Mr Bradley and a 2 month
training plan was created to try to get me in the best shape I could be.

September comes around, GB kit is bought, Andy B’s bike bag is borrowed, my
bike is dismantled and packed carefully in it and my wife and I fly out to
Chicago a few days ahead of the race.

For some time my head had been regularly swinging between the states of
wild excitement and fear / panic but I had got myself to a place where I
had accepted that I had achieved my target of qualification and whatever
happened now was a bonus – but always with the nagging doubt in the back of
my mind of “What if I finish last?!”

Chicago it turns out is an absolutely fantastic city. The 3 days we had
before the racing started was spent walking, going to the top of
skyscrapers and walking some more. Seeing as much as we could but still
only really scratching the surface and it is definitely on the list of
places to go back to with more time to see more than just the Downtown area.

By the Wednesday, the day before my race, I had realised that 20k or more
of walking each day was possibly not the best race prep and so tried to do
a bit less that day. This wasn’t easy though because there was a race
briefing by the GB Team managers to attend, I had to rack my bike that
evening and then there was the “Parade of Nations” (opening ceremony). Bike
racking was a bit of a shock. I had in my head a nice blue carpeted area
with individual bike stands like Alistair and Jonny have so was a little
disappointed to find that the age group transition was on a somewhat less
than flat grassed area, and even more disappointed to find that my racking
position was in an area that could only be describes as a beach.

All that was forgotten when I got to the parade of nations later. This
brought it home just how big triathlon is in the UK compared to many other
countries. There were big teams from the USA, Canada and Mexico but the
Brits were very close behind them and then another 40 countries were
represented in varying numbers but most with much smaller numbers than Team
GB. It was a great atmosphere and really set us up for the next day – race
day.

The Sprint distance age groupers started at 10am on the Thursday but my
wave (the second wave of 40-44 men) didn’t start until 11.35, which meant
that there was a lot of time to kill in the morning and I had to try very
hard not to be at the start line in my wetsuit and ready to go more than 20
minutes before the start time. The temperature in Chicago had been climbing
all week and by the time I started to get my wetsuit on it was hitting the
high 20s and the humidity was also quite high.

15 minutes of standing in the sun in my wetsuit and I was sure it had
melted on to me and it was a relief to finally get in to the water which
was a much more pleasant 16.8 degrees.

The swim was a very straightforward straight line swim along the harbour
wall in Lake Michigan. None of that bashing and fighting around buoys would
be needed and so when the horn sounded my aim was to try and find a pair
of feet that appeared to be going slightly faster than me and hang on to
them as long as I could. I did that for about 400m but then I started to
fall off the back of the group that I was clinging on to. Someone else
dropped off the group as well and I dropped in behind them but soon
realised that they were dropping back faster than me and so I went past and
they had to try and hang on to me. Coming out of the swim I looked at my
watch and couldn’t believe how slow I was – but then remembered being told
by someone who had done the aquathon the day before that it was more like
an 820m swim rather than a 750m and couldn’t do the maths so got my head
down and started the 400m run to transition – this was more like it, blue
carpet all the way!

I got to my bike and briefly considered finding a beach towel and doing a
bit of sunbathing but decided against it and instead collected the bike and
trudged through the sand to the mount line. The bike was pretty uneventful
it was a 3 lap course with very few turns but they had thrown in a couple
of rough road sections that they had tried to fix but had only succeeded in
creating a couple of sleeping policemen that you had to try and bunny-hop
over on your TT bike. The three laps seemed to go by pretty quickly, there
were a lot of people of the course because of the number of waves so at
times it got very difficult to pick your way past people (or keep out of
the way as people came past you). It was mainly a long straight road that
was in the direction of the breeze so it fast one way and then you turned
directly in to the wind, then at the bottom of the course we looped around
to the far side of Soldier Field (Chicago Bears ground). I had set off hard
but then had held back a little because I had started to realise how hot it
was and was starting to worry about the run – a rookie error, it is a
sprint, you don’t hold back on a sprint.

There was another long run to transition after the bike and then with
plenty of sand in my shoes it was off for a little 5k jaunt. Coming out of
transition I was right behind a small Mexican and my aim was to tuck in and
hang on. That didn’t last long, maybe 500m! At 1k I looked at the Garmin
and it told me the bad news, I was not running fast. I tried to increase
the pace but at 2k I was slower and it was all downhill from there. I was
more than 2 and a half minutes slower on the run than I would have hoped
and expected. This was partly explained by the commentators as I was
crossing the line who where explaining that the Event Alert System was now
at red and everyone should consider slowing down or stopping. Clearly I was
just following their advice.

Looking back on the race now I am sure I could have hydrated better, I
could have gone harder on the bike, I could have done all sorts of things
to improve my time and result but I finished 77th out of 102 finishers and
I am sure if you asked them, everybody else could have gone faster as well!

It was a great experience racing on the same roads as the elite athletes
the next day but unfortunately I could only stay long enough to see the
ladies swim and transition to bike before having to head to the airport to
get back for a family commitment. Would have loved to stay to see the men
and Gomez’s victory and the closing ceremony/

I will take a lot of great memories from the week, and have to say lining
up for a race wearing your countries vest is up there with the proudest
moments of my life. I would encourage anyone that is even idly thinking
about giving qualification a shot to try, you can’t lose anything and if
you succeed, you get an opportunity that very few (if any?) other sports
offer.

Colin