Barbara Rober on run at the ITU World Championship in Chicago

ITU Worlds Race Report – Barb Rober

Penticton ITU Multisport World Championships Long Course Race Report

Where to start? How about where it begins with the lead up to the “A” Race. The countless hours in the gym, in the pool, on the bike, running – inside, outside, pouring rain, wind, snow, pouring rain, and (finally) sunshine. The many “sacrifices” or choices that are made to get faster, stronger, and ready to be the best that you can be on race day, or any other day.

I, like so many others, put so much effort and preparation into this year with the goal of a great result at the “A” Race. I think this is why it is so disappointing when you don’t get the result you expect or worked so hard for. I had never felt so ready for a race. Physically I was fit (even with all the bad weather disrupting our training this winter), but more importantly I was mentally ready – I had learned my lessons from last year and was ready to test my limits. I knew I could cycle and run through cramping if it came down to it, but I was confident in the changes I made to my nutrition and race plan to at least delay the onset of cramping.

Instead, I got thrown another curve ball and had a front row seat on the emotional roller coaster!

Everything was going well race morning. I felt fairly relaxed and got a good position in the swim. I decided to stay on the feet in front of me despite being a bit slower paced than planned as it was a difficult course to sight and I felt I was conserving more energy this way. As we rounded the last buoy, I lost the feet so I picked up the pace on the home stretch, easily catching up to a couple others in my wave start and pushing it to the beach. Once in transition my first little obstacle was getting my wetsuit over my watch – which I haven’t had issues with before. Other than that T1 went pretty smoothly. I am still getting used to this whole long course thing with transition bags and change tents though.

Then it was onto the bike! I felt really good and just enjoyed the fast out and back while keeping to my planned heart rate and making sure I was draft legal despite the crowded sections. I was having so much fun. I have really grown to love that bike course and its many challenges. Roughly 30km into the bike was where I came crashing down. Literally. As I was turning a tight corner, I went down…hard. Don’t worry; I broke the bike’s fall so it is perfectly fine! It happened so fast. Instantly I was blaming myself for cornering wrong or going too fast but as I slowly got up, I saw the flat. At first I was relieved it wasn’t my mistake (YAY!) and then I realized that I had to change my flat (SHIT!) I took my time to get it right and was glad I had practiced the day before the race. The adrenaline was pumping and I knew I was pretty bruised on my hip, but otherwise seemed OK, just a bit of blood on my bruised elbow. I hopped back onto my bike and about 50m down the road realized I should probably check my bike was safe to ride. It seemed ok with only a little plastic piece broken off the right shifter (GREAT! I can still ride!)

If I went through all the thoughts and emotions that were running through my head all this time I could probably write a book. But the gist of it was: I know I’m not going to have the overall time or placing I was hoping for, but I can still do the ride in about 4hrs (pretty good considering the fall/flat change took about 15mins) and was preparing to have the run of my life – even more determined to make up some time.

Just before the Skaha lake loop, I went over a bump and out popped one of my water bottles…the elastic holding it in place must have snapped in the crash without me realizing it. It was too narrow and crowded for me to go back for it and I had an extra bottle in my Special Needs bag and a Ziploc of Infinit in my back pocket, so I was prepared – or so I thought.

Next I had to battle my way past the Aqua bike athletes that had all passed while I was changing the flat. This was particularly difficult as some were riding 3 wide up McLean Creek and I was motoring up those hills (thanks to the California and Penticton Camps this year!). Unfortunately my crash affected my descending speed. I was a bit more cautious and nervous heading downhill than I normally would be. I couldn’t wait to get through the first loop to my Special Needs bag and picked up the pace on the way back into town. I grabbed my water bottle (Awesome!) and went to get the extra bag of Infinit from my back pocket – nowhere to be found – it must have fallen out somewhere along the way (Crappy!).  Despite all that, I was feeling really good and was pretty determined to make up more time on the second loop while hydrating as much as possible and keeping to a reasonable heart rate.

I was back to enjoying the course. I took THE corner pretty cautiously the second time around and made sure to thank the volunteer there and tell him I was OK and making my way around the course again! I loved McLean Creek the second time – passing lots of long course and aqua bike athletes. I was happy to see a familiar face on the highway climb – Sandy was looking strong and I was so glad to see her on her own bike! I felt like my adrenaline was going to fade pretty quickly, so at the final aid station I decided to grab a gel. I was already preparing for the run. I knew I was behind on my nutrition and that I would have to drink my run bottle as quickly as possible. It would also be important to keep my core temperature down as it was getting really hot. The rest of my nutrition could be finished over the final 20k. I was also prepared to take a couple salt tablets and F2C to make up some lost nutrition to get me through – even though that wasn’t Plan A.  Coming into town I was getting really excited to get off my bike – I was starting to feel the effects of the horrible stitching from the Canada trisuit (I won’t go into details here, but I’m sure many can sympathize). Coming into transition I planned to take my feet out of my shoes but come to a complete stop before dismounting at the line as I didn’t know how my legs would be after the ride and the crash. I had a clean dismount, and then I stepped forward to run with my right leg.

The pain in my groin was instant and I cried out and stopped dead. The poor lady behind me almost ran up the back of me with her bike. I apologized as I tried to move more to the side and slowly walked my bike into transition. It felt like a VERY a long walk to the volunteers…(it wasn’t).

The volunteers were fantastic. One took my bike and another walked me all the way to the change tent asking me questions like where I was from and keeping me from bursting into tears – my emotions were all over my face. I asked if there was a medical person in the change tent that could check me over or give any indication as to whether I was OK to run. I was terrified that if I went to the actual medical tent I would not be allowed back into the race regardless of the extent of my injuries. So, I sat down, put my shoes and hat on, took 2 extra strength Tylenol, applied sunscreen, and walked out of the tent to start my “run”.

I could walk with very little pain to my groin, so I kept going. I could now feel the swelling and bruising on my hip and was definitely favouring my right leg, but I just kept walking. I didn’t think I was doing further damage and I was still hopeful that once the Tylenol kicked in I would be able to run. As I came up Main St for the first time, I saw my parents there patiently waiting and cheering for me (I had taken a very long time in T2). I burst into tears. I told them I had crashed due to a flat tire and was unable to run due to what seemed like a groin injury. I was actually concerned for them because it was going to be a much longer day spectating if I couldn’t run at all. I think I even told them to go get some lunch! I told them I might have to walk the whole thing and I wasn’t sure I could do it. Physically I knew I could do it as long as my groin didn’t get worse. Mentally it was a different story.

I decided to break it up into laps – walk the first 10k, see how I felt, and go from there. So I did that – and still no pain while walking. I put ice on my hip wherever I could. I tried to run multiple times over that first lap but always the same sharp pain in the groin after a couple steps. It was too painful and I decided it wasn’t worth damaging it further just to be able to run maybe 10k, maybe only 2k, maybe only 50m before damaging it to the point where I couldn’t walk. The risk outweighed the reward.

Everyone was so supportive, cheering me on, telling me I could do it, asking if I needed salt pills (me in my head saying that I WISH I just had cramps and needed salt pills right now – at least I could run through them), some of the team even giving me huge hugs as they passed by and letting me cry on their shoulders. Once I started the second loop, that was it, I was determined – as long as I could walk I was finishing that race. I drew some inspiration from a lady just ahead of me who was running / walking with a crutch. She was a Para triathlete and she has to deal with these difficulties on a day to day basis. I just had to suffer through for 4.5 hours. As long as I could walk, I was finishing that race. There were lots of tears of disappointment as I could not put my fitness to the test and reach my full potential. All I could do was watch and cheer people on as they ran by me. It was especially tough when I looked at my watch and saw that it was my expected goal time – that is when I took off my watch and put it in my back pocket. Time didn’t matter anymore; my only goal was getting to that finish line and trying to smile while I did it. I walked the blue carpet as they called my name at the finish line. I think I managed to smile through the tears.

It is hard to describe the emotions I went through. Walking the 30k was one of the hardest things I have endured. It may not make much sense, but walking was so much harder than running. I am extremely disappointed but also very grateful the damage wasn’t worse.

This has been a HUGE learning experience for me as I reflect back to write this report. I could go on and on, but this is already long enough! One key thing I have come to appreciate is this: I love the sport and the process. The result of this race is insignificant in the bigger scheme of things – there will be other races, more ups and downs. Success should be measured as the sum of all the little successes overcoming obstacles throughout the years and doing everything possible to get to each start line as fit and healthy as possible. You can’t control the result of the race, but you can control how you react to the obstacles you face and the choices you make.

I am extremely grateful to have my family, my HPR family, my friends, my health, and the many opportunities to compete in a sport that I love (representing my country) with people that I love. Many of these things we often take for granted.

One last thing: In the unlikely event that you ever see me walking in a race again (other than at aid stations or due to a legitimate injury) you have my permission to slap me!

Thanks for reading.
Barb Rober