ITU World Championships 2019
On each leg I contemplated how I would feel if I didn't make it....and I pushed harder. The victory was in getting to the finish line.
Travel To Spain
As usual I spent the last week before travel in a packing frenzy! Cleaning organizing laundry...I had to make sure I had everything I need to race plus enough so I didn't end up going to dinner in spandex every night. I also figured it would be cold in the mornings. I tried packing my pool coat but it was TOO bulky. I decided to wear it and look ridiculous. The choice to not care paid off several times on the trip. You KNOW I had ample snacks. The last thing I packed was my bike. I struggled with which bike to bring and I finally decided on my road bike. The climbing showed as almost 7000 on my Kickr. It always makes courses a TAD harder but I knew I was in early season shape and felt like the lighter bike would serve me better. Plus, I felt like I would enjoy the tight roads and switchbacks a lot more with the agility a fourteen (14) pound bike gives.
I got the kids packed and on the way to the airport realized I FORGOT my wallet and passport!!! I back tracked quickly and still made it to the gate in plenty of time even with the long security wait.....and inspection of my large number of zip lock bags with powder. F2C Nutrition would not be the on-course nutrition so I was careful to map out my nutrition for each day.
The flight to Madrid was uneventful but beware! If you get a Halaal (Muslim) meal, it will ALWAYS be curry LOL!! I think I will just select vegetarian from now on.
Now the airport in Madrid? That was a little more exciting. I immediately noticed that many words were different in Spain versus Cuba. It was like American versus British English for me. I got the gist but...yeah. There was also an interesting altercation at one of the gates at my SIX (6) hour layover. The important thing was I arrived safely. My backpack and roller-board in tow and my bike made it with me unscathed.
Depak Patel had arranged for my transport to the hotel. They were there with a sign with my name on it and I was off. I immediately realized that this was going to be a challenging but BEAUTIFUL race; clear blue water and mountains and hills everywhere. We passed small farms and vineyards. It was the Europe I saw on TV....and I WAS THERE.
Living and Training in Pontevedra Spain
When I arrived at my home away from home. I was greeted by Janice and Shana. Janice and I have raced all over the World together, LITERALLY! Dubai, Denmark, South Africa and now Spain. They always seem to have it together and this time was no different. They new all the great places to eat and already knew how to navigate to the key places, Expo, Massage Therapist and Team USA Information room.
The days in Spain were always FULL! I swam biked and ran every day proceeding the race. Wednesday was key because I biked one (1) loop of the course but made sure to go as easy as possible. I loved the course. I knew it would be slow but I felt like I would enjoy it.....well at least the first two (2) times. It was TOUGH. The climbing was....yeah. The views....I was glad I road it just to appreciate how beautiful it was without worrying about trying to go faster. My concern became the swim. Each swim I couldn't tolerate more than 15 minutes in the water, which was in the mid 50's. The current was also VERY strong. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to manage 3000 meters in that water.
The thing I loved the most about Pontevedra was the FOOD. I went to the fruit stands everyday! The fruit was fresh, organic and very inexpensive. While everyone was putting down wine I was putting down clementines, bananas and pears. The seafood was amazing. I ate well on BOTH fronts. It was all healthy and tasted great!
Thursday my roommate Kathy Bohlman arrived! We roomed in Denmark and I was really looking forward to her arrival. I was SUPER happy until I realized she was in Spain but her bike was in Dublin!?!? I prayed two (2) days straight and she called, called and called. Her bike never arrived. Kathy decided to swim and go to transition knowing she would not have a bike waiting.
We all found out the night before that the swim MAY be shortened to 1500 meters. I heard from an inside source that the decision had already been made and Elite athletes would be briefed that night on the later start times.
That morning I arrived at transition early and prepped my bike, checked my transition bags that had been neatly hung the day before then went to lay down in the Athlete Recovery area. I was a little "blah" but felt great after a 30 minute nap. Rest room stop and then off to the swim start!! It was almost GAME TIME.
As the hills got seemingly steeper and my quads noticeably weaker I kept talking to myself....sometimes out-loud. “Khadijah you can't quit! Would you ever quit on your kids?This is for them. Come on baby! Come on!”
My wave came QUICKLY as usual. I eased into the water! It seemed COLDER than the practice swims but tried to stay focused. I stupidly messed with my watch and tuned it off!! I tried getting it reset and as I was fiddling.....the horns sounds!!! For the SECOND year I was NOT on the start line when the race went off. I decided to worry about the watch in transition. I started swimming as fast as I could, desperate to get on some feet and draft. I was cold but moving OK....until I got to the bridge. The water suddenly GOT even colder even though I was moving. I had no idea how long I had been swimming because I had no alerts from my watch but after sighting two(2) times I really hadn't moved much. I usually try to expend as little energy as possible on the swim but I told myself if you don't go as HARD as you can you will NEVER make the cut off. At that point, a later wave caught me and I was getting bounced around but I had FEET and I swam as if I was doing intervals!! I made it to the turn around FINALLY and pushed in. I had no idea how long I had been swimming but I new cruising in was NOT a good idea. I have no idea how close I was to the cut off but I stumbled up the stairs to the blue carpet, nobody stopped me so I took off running to T1! I looked down at my hands. They were BLUE.
I knew as I ran to T1 I was in trouble. En-route I started shaking....a lot and my hands stayed blue. I could barely get my wetsuit off. I managed to get out of my swim gear and get my helmet on. I was so GLAD as a precaution I put my Team USA cycling jersey in T1! I was still stumbling. A volunteer asked me to wait to see a medic. They turned to attend to another athlete and I took off to my bike. With my cleats already attached I quick stepped to the mount line and was actually able to do my flying mount and I was OFF to the mountains.
I SERIOUSLY contemplated not running my quads hurt so bad. But as usual I am crazy enough to play head games with myself. "Just run one (1) lap Khadijah and see how you feel. If it sucks quit."
The first loop of the bike was HELL!! I shivered and shook. My neck was killing me because I was shaking so much. The shaded areas seemed to never end. The only good thing, I couldn't feel my legs AT ALL. I didn't bother looking at my watch even though I had finally turned it on in T1. I was moving slooowww and way behind but I just kept working. I KNEW I was bumping up on cut-offs and at Worlds they are shorter and STRICT!! I made it through the first loop with only 15 minutes to spare but I was warming up! As I circled through the city to head back to the mountains, I rode with no hands and took off my cycling jacket. I couldn't drop it and risk DQ, so I shoved it in my shirt. I looked crazy with the big lump in my shirt but it was out of the way. I felt decent now!! Time to catch up! I pushed the second lap but was afraid to push too hard. My nutrition was going PERFECT TO PLAN! I felt energetic and was able to grab plain water each lap to rinse my mouth out, rinse my face off and get a little extra fluid. The temps were still relatively cool on the second lap. By the end of the second loop, I was 40 minutes ahead of the cut-off but I think I pushed too hard on lap two because my quads were NOT excited about lap 3. I just tried to stay steady and break it into pieces. As the hills got seemingly steeper and my quads noticeably weaker I kept talking to myself....sometimes out-loud. “Khadijah you can't quit! Would you ever quit on your kids?This is for them. Come on baby! Come on!” As crested the last hill I new I would make it! I approached the end of the steep down hill section with only about 2 miles to T2, I saw the athletes being pulled. I was grateful to have had the strength to get through but felt compassion for those who had come so far but just couldn't make it. I kept thinking about Kathy on that ride. From the second I got in the water things just did NOT go well but like she did, I was going to make the most of my World Championship experience. I pushed on. I made it into T2 with 45 minutes to spare! I SERIOUSLY contemplated not running my quads hurt so bad. But as usual I am crazy enough to play head games with myself. "Just run one (1) lap Khadijah and see how you feel. If it sucks quit." I know once I run one step I am ALL in.
Leaving T2, I saw people desperately peddling the last bit of the bike course CHASING the cutoff!! The first section of the run was over a trail that I had used for all of my practice runs. I loved it and knew it well. I focused on form and was really enjoying it! My feet felt AMAZING and bouncy in my new HOKA One One Hupana EMs. My nutrition was perfect on the bike, I felt great and each mile was just like the last! I crossed the road to the unfamiliar section through downtown Pontevedra and the crowds were outrageous! I was ENJOYING the run. As I completed the first loop the Team USA coach yelled, "You look GREAT just enjoy this!!" And I did. The second lap was faster than the first. I was taking in my nutrition right on target and the volunteers at the aid station had ICE! It got a tad bit hot on the run. The second half of the third lap my legs started feeling the stone pavers. My feet still felt good though. I had bounce and cushion but super responsive. My quads were just toasted. When I started the lasted lap I still had a strong energy level and decided to just let it hurt. I remembered what Michel Gonzales told me. When it hurts, smile! I did. I waved to people. Thanked the volunteers and announced I was HEADED TO THE FINISHERS shoot.
Somewhere along the run my race bib was torn off. I put it in my pocket while I ran. As I turned to the finishers shoot I held it up and for some idiotic reason hollered my race number! I hurt EVERYWHERE so I just smiled. An what I LOVE about my pics as I cross the line, I see Janice and Kathy. Janice had already raced Standard Duathlon and supported me as if she came to Spain only to assist me. Kathy could have been bitter about her bike not arriving, but she swam and got all she could out of her World Championship experience and cheered for me ALL day!
Post Race and Back to Atlanta
There was NO TIME to rest. I had to leave for the airport at 6AM!!! I showered, went out for a great meal, packed my bike and lay down for a three (3) hour nap. I woke up in a mild state a Rigor Mortis LOL!! I met the other athletes headed home early. The shuttle was late so there was no time to think about my legs. It was a race to the ticket counter, a quick bike check in and a race to the gate. Everyone was already boarding. A short flight to Mardrid and I was able to catch my breath. From Madrid to Paris where I was once again off to the races! My passport was checked THREE (3) times and I ran through 2 terminals and took a bus to get to my next flight which as again boarding when I arrived. The flight home was relaxing until I realized upon arrival....my bike was STILL in Paris. It did arrive TWO (2) days later with LOTS of tags. I suspect my bike saw more of Europe than I did.
The next day was the first day of Ramadhan. I did laundry, reorganized and enjoyed the first day of my favorite month of the year.
Each year I think my race experiences can't be topped and each year Allah(swt) tells me something different. I TRULY learned how to fight and not give up in Spain! I had every reason: Cold, Shivering, Hills, Looming cut-off, PAIN....something in my heart wouldn't let me quit. I didn't care how far behind I was. I felt like I was in the 16:59:59 pace group in an IronMan. I was giving it all I had. People cheered as if I was in FIRST and gave me so much energy. I finished 17th....meh. Of course a podium is always the goal but sometimes the victory is in the finish. I feel powerful and determined right now...and I am surprisingly EXCITED about running again!