I was stuck (once again) in UK over a weekend for work. Not wanting to sit around the corporate apartment or in a pub stuffing pie and ale in my face, I found something more amusing – ITU Stockholm Olympic Triathlon. http://stockholm.triathlon.org/site
ITU (International Triathlon Union) is the international governing body for Triathlon, and helped make it an olympic sport. They run a series of tri’s all over the world. Their format is a weekend festival, with a men’s and women’s elite races, and they’ll have a bigger amateur/age-group race, which usually includes Olympic and Sprint distances. It’s a great combination, allowing participants to take in the elite races and get inspired to go and do their own.
ITU Stockholm was the second to last event in the season for ITU. It also had over 3000 participants, making it the largest triathlon ever in Sweden. It also claims to be the toughest race on the ITU circuit.
Due to a lot of travel over the last couple months, I knew going in that my form was not going to be stellar. In fact, over the past 3 weeks, I’ve had 4 trans-Atlantic flights and all the jet lag that goes along with them. But, hell, this is all for fun, so let’s do it!
I had never been to Sweden before. At first, Stockholm seemed almost sterile in its cleanliness. But, everyone I met was really nice, smiled easily, so soon the place grew on me. I stayed in the “2 Kroner” guest house, a hostel 600m from the main train station. Good thing it was close, too, because I had to drag my bike in its case over the cobbled sidewalk (padump, padump, padump…).
Registration was straightforward. Though, I did get quite confused. The starting waves looked like this –
Time Wave Class/distance
08:00 A Olympic – Race license required
08:30 B Olympic, Men
08:40 C Olympic, Men
08:50 D Olympic, Men
09:50 J Olympic, Men…and so on for 9 waves of “Olympic, Men” then women and so on.
I noticed I wasn’t registered as “Olympic Men” but as a “licensed” athlete. This being my first ITU, I was concerned that somehow I’d gotten registered as elite or some other classification. At registration, they asked for my race license. I explained as best I could that I am not in any elite class, do not have a “race license,” I am just a registered member of USAT (which you need to do for insurance purposes at most US tri’s with an open water swim).
They took my USAT number and said, “Ya, all good. Ya.”
I said, “I am just an age-grouper, yeah?”
They looked my paperwork over again. “Ya, all good, ya.”
I said, “I am just a regular guy, not fast or elite.” They nodded and smiled. “Ya. Try hard to win!”
Well, that was that. Later I was to find that “race license” supposedly only means you are in a tri club of some kind. The “non-licensed” racers were “recreational” athletes. Judging by my position among the “licensed” athletes in my AG, I’m guessing European licensed athletes are a pretty serious group!
ITU Elite Women
After registration, I stuck around to watch the women’s elite. This was a top-end field including London Olympians. Their swim and bike course were a little different from the age-groupers. Swim started just of the city center, then the bike was an intense 9 loop criterion up and down hills and over cobbles, all in the center. The run course also went around the center, and was almost the exact same course as the age-groupers would take.
Involvement of the elite races, with all the media coverage, really elevated the level of the event. Plus, how could you watch elite’s like this crush it on the course and not be excited to get out there the next day, and do the same on that very course?!!!
ITU Elite Women
Morning check-in was limited to a quick check of brakes and helmet strap as we entered Transition Area (TA). It was my first view of the TA, and it was a bit stunning. TA was setup next to the Stockholm city hall, a big imposing brick structure. TA stretched along the waterfront for a full 500m (1/3 mile).
Start waves went on from 8am until 12:40, so the only time requirement was a suggestion that you show up 90 minutes before your wave starts. At 6:30, TA was vacant except for us “licensed” athletes. There was some confusion because the racks were numbered, but not in order. So, everyone just picked a spot regardless of the numbering scheme. Other than that, organization was pretty good.
After a light warm-up running up and down TA, I got my wetsuit on and went for a little paddle in the water to warm up for the swim. The pre-race briefing was limited to one of the officials standing on a bench, shouting about the swim course. “Start by the yellow buoy, swim past two orange, turn right at the red and come back. OK? Any questions?”
ITU Stockholm Course
Perhaps it’s my typical American ignorance of geography, but I expected the water to be salty. But, we were far enough inland from the Baltic sea that it was fresh water. Well, maybe not “fresh,” but not salt water. It was 19c, which was a nice improvement over the 14.7 the women’s elite had to swim in the day before.
My swim was not great, but not terrible either. Due to all the travel for work and vacation, I’ve hardly been in the water at all this summer. So, 35 minutes is fine! And no Jellyfish like in Aarhus, so bonus!
That T time was as long as for an Ironman! J
From swim exit to bike out was a distance of over 1/3 mile running in bike shoes, plus wetsuit extraction. I really need to learn to mount/dismount leaving shoes clipped in.
The bike was a 3 loop course along the waterfront and through the center of Stockholm. It had some nice technical sections and was beautiful throughout. A lot of times when a race is hosted in the center of a city, there will be some part of the course (especially the bike) where they will send you out in some no-mans-land to make up a few miles. But this course was all urban, all beautiful, and all interesting. It started with a climb up a pretty high bridge (~100 feet elevation) then decent to a set of tricky turns to a straight shot up the other side of the channel. Then some more tricky turns, ins and outs, ups and downs, then through the center, turn around and go back.
In one of the more technical sections, I was going through a tough pair of corners in a “z,” I heard a frightened shout behind me. Some guy shot up on the inside of the turn from me, just missing my front wheel. And behind I heard the sickening smack of meat and carbon fiber on asphalt. I turned and saw two guys tangled up laying on the ground. Fortunately, they were at the feet of two race officials. So, while they were probably torn up a bit, help was right there.
Overall, it felt like HR was a bit high for the effort I was putting in, so I relaxed a bit (maybe too much) to save a bit for the run. Had some stomach –ick in the morning before the start, so thought I might be at risk for low glyco later on.
The run went up across the bridge back into the old-town, then did three loops around the center. It was a really great course, complete with cobbles and one really savage hill that we had to cover 4 times, including the final finishing leg. Spectators lined nearly the whole course – it was enough to make you feel like one of the elites!
I started to get a bit low-glycogen in the run. I noticed that my RPE was a full zone higher than what my HR was showing. I chomped on a couple hard candies to get me through, and just pushed. First 4 miles paced OK, but mile 5 I started to feel a bit crap. After I saw my pace drop by a minute, I picked backup and pushed hard to the finish. The organizers must have gotten a good chuckle out of putting the finish at the top of that hill 🙂
ITU Stockholm Finish
- GREAT DAY!
- Not a great race result, but for where I was in training, and for being a recreational triathlete in a “licensed” class, that’s OK 🙂
- Stockholm is a great city. I will definitely be back!
- This ITU event was a blast. If they do another one in San Diego in 2014, I’m definitely going to see if I can get the family up there.
- Olympic distance takes some time to master. This was only my second one, and I can see that there’s lots to learn still. It seems to be a real balancing act between going all-out and just sucking up the pain (like in a sprint) and having some pacing finesse (like long course).
So, I reviewed my performance with my coach. Though it was a great day and I wouldn’t trade it for anything (except maybe the same day with a faster time 🙂 I was wondering why my times were so slow. He looked at my HR data and said it was quite interesting – and postulated that I was just really fatigued from stress and travel. At first, I thought, “Nah, I didn’t feel stressed and fatigued! Must have been something else.” Then I did the math. In the 3 weeks leading up to this event, I have traveled over 26,500 miles and lived/stayed in 6 countries. Hmm. Maybe he’s got a point 🙂 Will plan for a more relaxed schedule next time I want a really strong showing!