Stuart Caunt, GBR
Position in AG 35-39: 9 // Finish time: 1:13:43
Swim: 13:54 // T1: 2:08 // Bike: 36:34 // T2: 1:28 // Run: 19:41
Coach’s remarks: A great report here from Captain Clipboard, Stuey to the newbies or associated bike captain. Thanks Stuart, was a pleasure assisting you here for this dream, you did not let down Team GB or TeamT2A mate.
Sorry to take so long to write this, you know I like to take my time over it… I can’t guarantee the same emotion as our phone call from Beijing, but that’s largely because I’m in Kuwait and therefore have consumed far fewer beverages than before that conversation…
As you will all remember, I qualified for the GB team to do the World Sprint Champs at a freezing cold race in Newcastle in June. I never thought I would be capable of qualifying and this fact actually made training for the next month or so quite difficult. I’d achieved my goal, I didn’t think I was capable of a high finish in Beijing so I was really struggling to motivate myself to get back into the high intensity training. There were also a number of things around which distracted me
1. The need to get back some brownie points from my lovely but long-suffering wife after becoming completely obsessed in the run up to the qualifier
2. A party injury sustained while trying to secure said brownie points
3. A holiday in Ireland including some fabulous food and drink (and of course Tommy and Niamh’s wedding where I took great pride in being the last non-Paddy standing as dawn broke – although for some reason this did not gain me any brownie points – not sure why, I’m not the one who got ‘car sick’ the following day)
4. Manflu in the run up to Hyde Park
5. The Tour De France on TV in English
7. Summer heat
8. A pulled hip flexor
Despite all of these my mojo had started to return, especially after a mail from Jason where he reminded me of the importance of respecting the GB kit I had worked so hard to obtain. Jason had me training with Ben and Didge which was fantastic for motivation as we had great banter together (or more accurately, Ben and I spent hours teasing Didge – I’m surprised she hasn’t hit either of us yet) and really got stuck into each session, but not so good for ego as I watched both of them disappear into the distance on far too many time trials… I then got a great opportunity to train with Roy and Jane in the swanky new altitude chamber in the Madinat during Ramadan. I’d always wanted to try altitude training and if nothing else it gave me somewhere to train during Ramadan where it was okay to drink during daylight. However – this is where the injury stepped in – I pulled a muscle in my hip doing a fast treadmill set and spent the next 3 weeks getting ultrasound, missing runs and hoping it would improve – without much of an indication that it was doing so. My swim and bike seemed to be okay, but when I got taped up the night before we flew I really had no idea if I would be able to run 5k at all, much less run it quickly. I had discussed my options with Liezel and we agreed it would not hurt me to go and race as long as we could teach Vic how to tape me up. If it was painful I just needed to slow down until it wasn’t sore so I could still enjoy the experience
All 7 of us flew out to Beijing on the Wednesday. Either Vic’s gold card or Roy’s Emirates connections got us an upgrade and we even managed to get Team Casey into Business class for a while. Will, Kevin and Vic did their best to make up for the fact that Roy, Jane and Didge weren’t drinking and I even forced myself to have a couple to make sure I could sleep when we got there at about 10 in the evening. As it happened I needn’t have worried. By the time our bikes had turned up and we got through customs, got on the transport which had been organized and then went to every other hotel near the venue before finally getting to ours and then waiting for an hour to get room keys it was 3am and I was shattered. Thursday involved bike building, registration and a ride round the course. The bike course was great once we found it but the steep hill just outside transition was going to be a great opportunity to explode the quads early in the bike leg. The weather was beautiful but much colder than I expected. Thursday evening was another load of waiting around. We headed in to the opening ceremony. Buses were laid on by the organizers, but this being Communist China they all had to go in convoy so we had to wait until everyone was on and the extra bus we needed had arrived. The parade of nations was bizarre – only the flags actually got paraded, not sure if that was how it was meant to be or not. After that there was an opportunity to sample some pasta (from pizza hut) or things we could not identify and then it was back onto the coaches. Inevitably, some athletes had sorted out their own taxis and gone home so the buses then had to wait while the organizers worked out how they had lost people before we were finally taken back to the hotel. Friday was another lovely day. I had a swim of the course and then a lap of the bike with the guys and a good look round the transition area including a check on the toilet facilities we would need to use. Let’s just say that was an interesting experience and leave it at that, but it did leave me a little worried about how it would cope with the number of athletes on race day. Bikes got racked and we put bin liners over them in case of rain. The weather had been great but the weather forecast had been showing possibilities of rain on race day. Saturday was going to be an early start with only one bus at 4:30 to the venue (which was 10 minutes away) for my 6:45 start so Vic taped me up and I got off to sleep.
Saturday morning dawned (okay, that’s artistic licence, it was pitch black when we all got up) and when we looked outside in the lights of the hotel we could see it was absolutely chucking it down. I’ve got to be honest and say I was far from upset about that. I’ve been riding bikes since I was 4 and the rain in Phuket last year had probably given me a finish of about 20 places higher than it would have been on a dry day. However, I did feel pretty guilty –I knew some of the other guys were hoping for a dry hot day and I’d been wishing for rain. On the downside, whilst I’d been hoping for rain I hadn’t actually packed anything waterproof so I was going to get soaked waiting for the start and would not have anything dry to put on after the race. We got down to transition pretty early just like everyone else and huddled in the numbering tent to stay dry. Watching the rain come down really seemed to sap energy from everyone and I think most of us were less than eager to go out of the tent, set up our bikes and leave our nice warm kit as we went down to the holding pens
Didge was going off 5 minutes before me and Jane 5 minutes after so I could see both of them trying not to turn blue as I waited to be called. I was freezing so I hated to think how cold they must be – I think even Venny would have felt less than warm. Stood in the holding pen I realized I’d been a complete idiot – there I was in just my race suit freezing when I’d just taken two perfectly serviceable bin liners off my bike in transition – your brain really does not function all that well before a race. Even in the holding pen, I still didn’t feel like I was in a big race – we had a relatively small wave and I just expected to see everyone disappear and then pootle round more or less on my own. I still had no real expectations – if I could get round without being caught by Jane that would be a bonus and it would be nice not to be last in my wave
It was a welcome relief to get in the water as it was about 10 degrees warmer than outside but almost immediately we were off. Start was from in the water next to the pontoon just like London and with less than 40 of us it was very civilized. An Aussie disappeared off like he had a propeller instead of legs and quickly I was in my usual position – in front of some but way off the back of the first pack with no feet to follow. The swim was in nice fresh water with no significant chop from the wind so the only thing we needed to watch for was people from waves in front who were doing breast stroke – that was certainly not something I was expecting to see in the Worlds. I felt like I had an okay swim so I’m hoping that it was a bit long as 13:54 for 750m would not feel like a great start.
Coming out of the water I had no idea where I was in the field but I felt I had swum okay, I knew for sure I wasn’t last but not much more than that. I overtook a couple in transition and then jumped onto the bike. The first 200m were downhill on rubberized carpet and with the rain I had been thinking that the bottom might resemble something from a favourite childhood program of mine – It’s a Knockout. I carefully descended (although not nearly as carefully as some of the people I saw who obviously were treating it like an ice rink) thinking of Stuart Hall’s laugh, then had to quickly regain all the height we had lost and then get going. The first lap there seemed to be quite a few athletes around from both my wave and also from waves in front who were on their second lap but with the roads all closed there was not much of a problem with drafting. There was that much spray coming off the wheels that drafting would have been pretty unpleasant and would have obstructed the view pretty considerably. I didn’t see any motorbikes but then I figured I was a fair way down the field and any draft marshalls would most likely be near the front of the wave. Lap 2 was much quieter but I found the consistent ups and downs difficult to deal with (it’s so different to what we train with where we can just get down into a steady effort on the aero bars) and my legs were starting to feel pretty heavy as I got to the top of the big hill again. I dug in with the thought that there was a good chance I could not run properly, so I just needed to finish the bike and then plod in, so I might as well ride myself to a standstill.
Off the bike and onto the run was another good transition and the slight downhill out of T2 allowed me to get the legs moving. Surprisingly, while I could feel my hip it wasn’t really hurting so I settled into a rhythm and started on the first of 3 and a half laps to make up the 5k. Lap 1 was fine but the next two were like running through treacle. I had hardly run for 3 weeks and my lack of run conditioning was starting to show. This is the nice thing about a sprint though because before I knew it I was on my last lap. I heard shouts of support at a couple of places from Will and Kevin plus a few more for team GB so I dug a bit deeper and put in a respectable final k. I was delighted after the race to find I had run under 20 minutes – realistically even without my injury in the lead up I would only have gone 15-20 seconds quicker and this would have put me in the same place. I saw Didge and Kevin straight after the line. Typical of Didge that I had to ask her how she had done – our first medal of the day, brilliant! Vic was having nightmares trying to negotiate the crowd unfriendly organization so I missed Jane and Roy finishing and nearly left the finish with my chip and without my finishers medal. We grouped back up to recover our wet but slightly warmer clothes and we started to get an idea of the results. Roy seemed to have a chip issue but thought he might be top 5, Jane was 5th despite having what she felt was not a good day having really suffered from the cold on the bike and I had got 11th, but coach was dubious of some of those ahead of me. We got our stuff as fast as we could and went back to the hotel to dry out and warm up. All thoughts of watching the pros were gone and I was more than happy to get into Beijing to watch the rugby and have a couple of jars in a classic Irish bar. The night was a bit of a blur, including an emotional call to coach and then it was off to bed ahead of our early start and plan of doing Beijing in a day.
Mid way through our whistle-stop tour of Tiananmen Square (square), Forbidden City (old), Great Wall of China (steps), Tea Ceremony (fragrant), Birds Nest Stadium (nesty) and water cube (glassy), I got a text to tell me I needed to look at the results again and I was now 9th! Top 10 in the world – I couldn’t believe it. The day ended with another upgrade, this time on the A380 so more great news and pretty much a full night’s sleep before I went back to work the following morning.
Overall, the worlds was a fantastic experience and one which I would recommend to anyone. It really is a very special moment when you pull on your country’s race suit and line up with the best from each country.
As always with a journey like this, there are people who need to be recognized for the part they played. Every person who has ever pulled on a T2A uniform inspires me in their own way – this group is bigger than any single event and I’m getting to the point that supporting people from the chat room is almost as good as being out there racing, I know I can’t wait for Kona. Of course a few deserve individual mentions. First is the team’s ubergeek Shaggy Walton, who as well as setting up the chat room has been acting as everyone’s favourite training partner over summer despite not having a big race coming up for months – I owe you Ben, I’ll help in any way I can as you get ready for Busso. Second is our world champ who helps me to just get my head down, stop moaning and get on with the hard training. 3rd is coach who has turned me into a believer and finally Vic who (when she is not fraping me) is putting up with the silly early mornings, the taper tantrums and the whistle stop trips to places that deserve more exploration – at least on our next trip we will have some time to have fun after the race.
Now it’s time to get back to some mileage and put in the hours to get ready for Challenge Wanaka Half Ironman in January. See you all out there fighting those Ghantoot headwinds…