Sunday, July 15, 2018

ITU World Championship

Brace yourself for what is surely to be a long story. First, let's travel back to 2013 when I did my first tri. As many of you know, I did that race completely on a whim. It just so happened that the company I worked for at the time sponsored the Chicago Tri and I got a free entry into the Sprint. With about a month until the race I bought a bike, bought a wetsuit and convinced myself I'd be able to survive an open water swim even though I had no previous experience. Well, I survived and I loved it! Fast forward to 2015 when the ITU World Championship was held in Chicago. I signed up for a few volunteer shifts so that I could be a part of the magic. Early in the week I helped at packet pickup (mostly translating for athletes who spoke Spanish). I was set up at the station for Aquathlon and remember thinking "ohhh it's swim and then run? That's lovely, I'd definitely do that" (this is because I've never been much of a cyclist and much prefer the swim and run). Later in the week as the races were underway I volunteered at the swim start and the excitement was palpable. I said to myself "one day I want to qualify for Team USA and race with my name on my butt". At the time this seemed like a far off feat that I may never reach, but nonetheless I put it out into the universe. One day.

In 2016 I started to give it some serious thought and even looked up the National Championship for Aquathlon. Unfortunately, the race was in California and with the logistics I just couldn't make it happen. Dissapointing for sure, but it wasn't my time. Yet. Last year I saw that the qualifier would be in Austin and wouldn't ya know, it actually fit with my schedule! I started making some preliminary plans, still not quite sure if I'd be able to make it. I quietly registered for the race and asked a friend in Austin if I could stay with her for the race. The flight gods smiled upon me and I was able to get a super cheap roundtrip. This was happening. I was going to the National Championship for Aquathlon.

Because life has a need to keep things interesting, in the midst of all this planning and excitement, I got laid off. I debated whether or not I should even go to Austin because surely without a job I couldn't afford to go to Worlds if I qualified. Considering pretty much the whole trip was paid for and I also really wanted to visit Jester King brewery I decided to just go and enjoy myself. I'm so glad I did because I met a bunch of amazing women and *spoiler alert* I QUALIFIED!!! 

Now came the tough part...figuring out how to budget and pay for all the things while unemployed. I had to space out when I purchased the parade kit, tri suit, registration, etc. First deadline was the race registration so I took care of that first. Next up was the parade kit before the price increase, by the time I placed my order the larger sizes were out of stock so I ordered the men's kit and prayed they would fit. Finally it was time to order my trisuit and unfortunately the larger sizes were again sold out so I went with the open back style which I wasn't crazy about but at least they had my size. I got it customized with my name as well. When it finally arrived I teared up seeing my name above the USA. This was real, it was happening. But then, I tried it on. Seriously, who designs these things? After a 20 minute struggle I finally had the damn thing on but man was it uncomfortable. Legs were too long, opening in the back was too big, etc. Called my mom and she said she thought she could make some adjustments to help with the fit issues so I packed it up and sent it to her. She made all the necessary alterations and then shipped it back to me. This is where things start to get ugly. I stayed home the whole day it was scheduled to be delivered and nothing. It never showed up. Tracking said it had been delivered but I've been through this before when USPS has incorrect tracking info so I tried not to worry and decided I'd call the next day. Spoke to someone at my local post office and they said they'd start an investigation and get back to me. By the next day I still hadn't heard anything so I called again, this time they told me it would be out for delivery that day. It never came. Called again the next day, still no updates. Now it's Friday and I'm starting to freak out. Spoke to a supervisor and they told me they'd investigate and get back to me. Apparently there was a substitute carrier working that day and allegedly he threw the package over the gate and onto my porch. I think maybe he got the wrong house so I decide to walk through my neighborhood looking at every porch to see if my package is there. Nothing. Nowhere to be found. I tried to file an insurance claim but USPS won't let you until 15 days after the "delivery" date. Some more waiting, more phone calls, no news. Finally submit my claim and wait for the check to arrive. Get a letter in the mail and *think* it's going to be my check. Nope. They've denied my claim. I'm now in full panic mode. I did NOT budget for paying for more than one trisuit. With no other options I decide to buy another one but without my name on it so it can still be returned if the original shows up. I go to the post office and have a full on ugly cry meltdown trying desperately to see if they can somehow perform a miracle and find my lost package. Nothing. The new kit arrives and I contact a local company Kiwami to see if I can get a last minute name added to my trisuit but even at the time of typing this (weeks later) they have not replied to my email. Thanks, guess I won't be shopping with you guys ever. 

Now with only a few days left before my trip I've finally accepted that I won't have my name on my kit but at least I get to race so I'm focusing on the positive. I file an appeal with the post office to see if maybe there's still a chance I can get my money back. I pack up everything I need for Denmark in one backpack and head for the airport. Originally I considered traveling without my wetsuit because I prefer to swim without it, but I decided it would be better to have it and not need it than the other way around. Flight from Chicago to Iceland was uneventful, I slept the whole way. Had a very short layover in Iceland, basically just enough time for a potty break and then boarded the flight to Copenhagen. Got in around 5pm and then went straight to Josefine's apartment to drop my things off. Sidebar - Josefine is a friend from my running club (Mikkeller Running Club) who graciously allowed me to stay with her for my few nights in Copenhagen. That night I had a quiet dinner by myself at a nearby Italian restaurant and then went to sleep. 

Sunday I explored ALL the things. Palaces, museums, etc. Walked around 15 miles and went to bed fully exhausted. I only had 2 full days in Copenhagen so I wanted to make the most of them. Monday morning I was up early and out exploring. Did some more touristy things and then eventually started bar hopping in the hopes of making it to as many Mikkeller bars as possible. I'm sure eventually I'll write up a post on all the things but that's certainly another post for another time. This will just be focused on race stuff. 

Tuesday morning I packed my things back up and made a few stops before making my way to the train station. I got there early so I could enjoy one of John's Hotdog Deli famous hot dogs and then got on my train. It was about a 90 minute trip to Odense and when I got there my friends Allison and Stacey were waiting for me at the station. We stopped by packet pickup so I could grab my things and then headed to our Airbnb. We got all checked in and it was a beautiful home. The sisters did a wonderful job with booking our accommodations. We looked into food options and decided on a nearby foodhall. Luckily there was also a Mikkeller bar a couple blocks over so they agreed to join me for a quick stop there before heading back to the Airbnb.

Wednesday morning we got up early to grab breakfast and then head to the shuttle for the practice swim out in Middelfart. I don't know who came up with these logistics but they were terrible. It was about an hour shuttle which left at 11am. Our Team USA photo was scheduled for 1pm so we basically just sat around in the sun waiting for that. 

After the picture we had about an hour to do a practice swim so I got my wetsuit on and walked down to the water. Nope. Nopity NOPE Nope nope. I could already see jellyfish at the edge of the water as I walked in. A nearby gentleman explained they were friendly and pet one to show me they weren't anything to be worried about. I was still worried. I should also mention here that up until this point I have never swam in salt water. I mean, sure, I've been in salt water but never actually tried to swim distance in it. So here I am, trying to muster up the courage to swim with jellyfish in salt water. I made it about 100m out and decided that was enough then turned about. The jellyfish were really freaking me out. They felt like breast implants. I was swimming in a sea of titties. I doggy paddled back to shore saying "nope, not for me...I wanna go back to Chicago". People kept trying to calm my nerves but I was NOT having it. Someone tried to tell me the sting isn't that bad, it feels like nettles. I DON'T KNOW WHAT NETTLES ARE EITHER...WE DON'T HAVE THINGS THAT WILL BITE, STING, OR EAT YOU IN THE LAKE!!! I guess sure the water might be cold and there's a chance you might find a dead body, but swimming in Lake Michigan is relatively benign. I didn't want to hear anything people were trying to tell me. I did not want to race. 

We walked over to the course briefing, which let me mention that from where the shuttle bus dropped us off to the marina for the swim was about a mile walk and it was about 3/4mile from there to the course talk... probably a little more because we got lost. During the course talk they told us that allegedly 2 days prior there were no jellyfish in the water. From this point I don't believe a single word they say. This is a bold face lie. There is NO way...I mean no way at all that these thousands of jellyfish just arrived overnight. I'm not going. Y'all aren't fooling me. We finish the course talk and trek back to the shuttle bus to get back to Odense. We arrive so exhausted that we decide not to walk in the parade of nations but just take some photos and videos from the sidelines. The pasta party was much too late and we were starving so we also made our own dinner plans. 

Thursday morning we have a similar schedule. 11am shuttle to Middelfart to sit around and wait. My wave didn't start until 2:40pm. I'm still not sure how I'm going to do this. Everything inside me is screaming NO, don't do it! I have to have a serious come to Jesus moment with myself. Did I really come all this way to not race? How am I supposed to swim through all these jellyfish? What if I get stung? My friends had sent lots of well wishes through Facebook and encouraging words so finally I say "fuck those bitch ass jellyfish, this is MY race and I'm gonna finish!!! Si Se Puede!". 

I went down to the water early to do a warm up swim and didn't see as many jellyfish as the day before so I began to relax a little. Maybe it won't be that bad. I'm thankful I've brought my wetsuit because it at least provides a little more coverage in case of jellyfish attack (shout-out to Aquaman for the free suit I won at the Michigan Titanium last year!). I also put on some Sea Safe jellyfish repellent and think maybe, just maybe, I can get through this swim without getting stung. False. We swim out 100m to the swim start and within minutes of the gun going off BAM jellyfish bastards got me right in the face. It BURRRRNS. That fucker got me good. I am in pain and decide I hate ALL of the sea creatures. They are evil. Why do you even exist you ugly sacks of jelly terror!? Now I'm pissed off and in pain. I decide to doggy paddle to get my bearings. Eventually I calm down and catch my breath and try to start swimming again. 25m later I see more wasps of the sea coming my way and NOPE not this time. I pull my head up and doggy paddle until I've passed the swarm. This continues for most of the swim. By now I've fallen so far behind the pack I have a personal kayak escort. I think they probably thought I was going to quit but I was not gonna let those damn stinging titties beat me. This was MY race damnit. I get to the turn to enter the boat marina and it's like they heard me talking shit and have now multiplied. Not only am I afraid of being stung, but I'm concerned about eating one of the little bastards. Wouldn't that be something? Accidentally swallowing one and getting stung in the esophagus. Lawwwddd hammercy why did you give me such an active imagination? I am literally torturing myself with all of the possibilities of things that might happen. I try to muster up the courage to keep my head underwater and swim when I see the Shaq of jellyfish coming my way. It's tentacles were as long as my arm. I practically jump out of the water and scream HOLY SHIT!!! My kayaker laughs so hard they almost fall into the water with me. I start grumbling again about how I won't ever talk shit about Lake Michigan again. I ain't about this salt water life. Now I've got several kayakers cheering me on. I think they've realized I'm too stubborn to give up so they're trying to push me to get the damn swim over with. I finally see the swim exit and do my best to swim as fast as I can to get out. I fall trying to stand up out of the water but at least I'm done. One of the race officials comes over to me and asks if I'm ok to continue. I look him dead in the eye and say "I didn't come this far just to go for a swim, I'm finishing this race". I think I may have scared him a bit and he scurried away. At this point I just need to get through a 5k and I'll officially be able to say I've completed a world championship race. I get my run gear on and off I go. 

The Danish people are quite lovely. Most of the people in the area set up chairs in their front yard to spectate and cheer for us. In the distance I see two young girls with a boxer and I'm in need of a pick me up so I stop for some doggy kisses which helps ease the pain of my many jellyfish stings and then I continue on my way. It was hot and there was basically no shade so I'm just zombie running my way through the course. A bike official finds me and keeps me company for a good portion and we chat about how lovely the day is. I see a golden retriever and stop again for some more loving. Just ahead I see the line of flags signaling the finish chute and I start to get really emotional. I can't believe this is finally it. It's happening. I think about my parents and how wonderfully supportive they've been, they paid for my airfare so I could be here. I think about my Tri family and how encouraging they've been. I'm slowly melting into a mess of tears as I approach the finish line. I can't believe it. It's surreal. Me, chubby little meatball me, has conquered a World fucking Championship. I never really thought this would be real. 

I make it through the finish line and start to look for my friends because by now I'm sure they're worried about me. I've taken much longer than expected and they probably thought I died. Which, given how many times I was stung sort of felt like a long slow painful death. We all reunite and they tell me how concerned they were because another girl in my wave got stung in the face by a jellyfish and had to be pulled out of the water. In this moment I realize just how much I've accomplished and get a little overwhelmed again. Seriously. I got stung who knows how many times but I still kept going. 

On the shuttle back to Odense and I start to update friends and family that I'm alive and finished the race. Now the truth comes out. All those people who told me I had nothing to worry about tell me that if it was them, they wouldn't have done the race. They wanted to be supportive so they lied to me before the race. I don't mind but I do make a mental note that I can no longer trust anyone haha. 

Dinner was rather uneventful, I'm still irritated by all the stings and can't wait to get back and shower to hopefully alleviate some of the pain. I got to meet some of the athletes who would be competing in the aquabike and I try to reassure them that the jellyfish aren't so bad even though I realize I'm lying to them just like everyone lied to me. As we walk back to our Airbnb the reality starts to set in that I have to go home tomorrow. While I'm sad my adventure is coming to a close, I'm also a little happy to be going home to my own bed. My feet were definitely happy about the trip coming to an end considering I had walked well over 50 miles during my time in Denmark. It was an incredible experience, one that I'll definitely cherish forever. Now to decide whether or not I'd do it all over again...

Purchased a few things to go along with my race packet

On the shuttle bus, reppin Team USA

Jellyfish I saw from the edge of the water at the practice swim

Our race packet included a non-alcoholic beer

Snapping some pics before the team photo

Yes, I was this extra and went full 'Merica

Hanging with the sisters Allison & Stacey pre-race

I was not lying about the jellyfish, this was from the marina (the small fuzzy ones are the most aggressive)

Victory is mine!!!

Team USA rolled deeeeeeeeeeep to worlds

The pretty boats we swam through in the marina

Flags ready for the parade of nations