I remember myself losing balance, falling down and landing with my butt first, meanwhile thinking: “Noooo! Sh*t…! I’m falling..” While I was trying to put the skis, that were still on my feet, in one direction so that I could stand up, I was slightly gasping for air recovering from the unpleasant, shocky feeling. At that moment I started to have nasty thoughts: “Fu*k, I want to quit! I don’t want to experience this painful drama for two more laps..!” That is still my brightest memory from ITU Winter Triathlon World Championship.
It was a short conversation at the beginning of December 2017, that brought me to ITU Winter Triathlon World Championship, taking place in Romania mountains just 4 days after my birthday.
– Do you know how to do cross-country skiing?
– Well, I have been skiing at school, a lot.. But in last ~15 years only periodically and the last time I was on skis, was at the end of February 2015…
– Would you like to participate in winter triathlon? Just to check how it goes for you and what are your capabilities. Equipment would be arranged..
– I could try… That could be fun!
And in the next day or two, I already had my flight tickets.
When January begun, I slowly started to realize what I have signed up for, because, differently from the traditional triathlon, winter triathlon consists of running, biking and cross-country skiing. When I started to put all pros and cons in my head, the list was quite long. I was very slowly recovering after a nasty cold I got just before New Year’s. I haven’t been running in the snow for some time, especially that we actually didn’t have snow in Riga at all. In addition, I haven’t been riding a bike in the snow – ever! Because winters are dark before and after work, and I hate cold as my fingers are freezing in a mater of minutes, despite the warm gloves I am wearing. And on top of that, skiing was my main reason of uncertainty, especially when I saw the hilly course in the mountains. Last time I was on cross-country skis, it was exactly 3 years ago… Well… yes, I have been skiing till the age of 15, but that was so long ago! And since then I have skied maybe like maximum 5 times… Till the very start I had no chance to try the skis, that were lent from another athlete, and skiing boots, that I have been renting (thanks to those guys who helped me with this part of preparation).
We arrived to Cheile Gradistei resort on 26th of January. My start was on 28th, so I had some time to get familiar with the course (from the distance mainly), adapt to the mountain air, enjoy the sun and drink a lot of tea as it was cold.
Competition was very well organized and was held in the biathlon arena of Cheile Gradistei resort. All the disciplines were organized in laps and I really enjoyed how the transition area was set and managed. Originally, elite and age group athletes were supposed to do 5 laps of each discipline totaling to 7.5km running, 13.5km biking and 10km skiing. But, after the elite’s start on 27th, the course for age group athletes were shortened to 3 laps in each discipline: 4km running, 7.95km biking and 6km skiing. After the finish I now may say: “Thank Good, they did so!”
We, as age groupers, had mass start – men and women together. There were more than 100 athletes and the feeling, when the start signal was given, was really cool and scary at the same time. Adventurous and dangerous. I had to face all those previously mentioned uncertainties… and also physical difficulties, in each discipline.
I would say that running was the most easiest part, as it was the discipline I was the most comfortable with. Nevertheless, I had some issues. First of all, slippery boots. Now I know that attachable spikes on boots or at least trail shoes would be nice to have the next time. Secondly, lumpy snow that seems like mashed potatoes and had holes in the hardest parts. Well, imagine what happens with the snow after 100+ athletes have run through the nicely made skiing path, for example. Maybe, more suitable boots could be the solution. Third thing was a long, steep hill going up, after which there was an even steeper way down. It was important to keep good balance and to watch where I am putting my feet, because the hill combined also the 1st and 2nd condition. Yeah… this snowy running actually takes quite a lot of effort.
I admit that I have never been riding in snow, especially in a lumpy-mashed potatoe-like snow. Therefore, keeping in mind that the bike is not mine, it was another challenge for me. From what I have seen and heard in previous days, I have been morally preparing for a really tough mountain climb with a long serpentine that is even more harsh than the one we have in Sigulda. Yes, the ride was slow, steadily sucking out my strength, but it was not THAT scary. For me the toughest parts were: first – pushing through that lumpy, porridge-like snow where I had to get off the bike, especially when we were several participants at once. Second – snowy turns after going down the hill. And third – going downhill where track had an uneven coverage – partly muddy, snowy and even icy. Sure that, in parallel to road biking, more preparation should be done also in trails. Not mentioning the trainings in snow, that sometimes might be a rarity in Latvia.
Well, skiing was the hardest discipline, both psychologically and physically. Getting out from the transition area was my first trial on the skis after some time. After attaching the skis and making first steps forward and down the first hill, I was like: “Phew! I’m still ok with this!” But then I started to have problems – the first half of the track was mainly going uphill. Lack of technique, practice and strength in my legs, ‘skiing’ the first half of the lap was pain in the a**. The second part of the lap was mainly downhill. Finally reaching the top I was so exhausted and wasn’t prepared for such an immediate downhill. It was quite steep and, just after the delve, skiing track continued with a hill upwards.
Next I remember is that I lost balance, fell on my butt, crushed the snow with my body, continuing to move forward due to inertia and meanwhile thinking: “Noooo! Sh*t…! I just failed to comply with the task – no falling…” When I stopped, I was on that next hill. Skis were still on my feet, I just had to put them in one direction to get myself up. The landing was rather unpleasant and shocky, and I had to recover from that ‘surprise’. At that moment I started to have thoughts of quitting the race… I really didn’t want to experience that terrible sliding on the snow again two more times. But my thoughts changed in 10 seconds when I saw a man fallen down on the flat. “Oh, I am not that bad!” I thought passing him. “Of course I will manage till the finish line! I want that nice finisher medal with a wolf! And more than that – there are just 2 more laps left! I can’t let the people, who are supporting me, down just 2 laps before the finish line!” Of course, I didn’t want to fall like that again, so I quickly thought through and analyzed what I did wrong and what should I do differently in the next lap on the top of that hill. In the following two laps I was more careful in all the curving slopes. I even stopped on the top of THE hill to get myself morally prepared before going down again. I managed till the end successfully and was so relieved crossing the finish line. In my opinion, the course itself was very good, especially if I were a skier or biathlonist, or at least have trained before.
I was so happy to hear cheering up in every lap passing through the transition area. I know that I saw only snow, but I did hear people calling my name and that support really helped! After first days being there, I have been preparing for more extreme hills and curves, but everything was doable. Overall, taking into account the level of readiness for this kind of triathlon, I think that my start was good. I really admire those elite athletes who did all 5 laps (in each discipline) – I wish I could do that too!