A report by Matthew Thorpe
At 06:45 on Tuesday 13th Sept 2016 I left home on my journey to the World Triathlon Age Group Championship Finals in Cozumel, Mexico. I had left Leigh 5 days prior to my race so that I could adjust to the time and temperature differences to that of home. At 18:00, local time, I finally made it to my hotel after a 10 hour long flight and a four hour transfer by taxi and ferry. It was the equivalent of midnight for me and I was that tired and all I could do was to get something to eat then go straight to bed.
The following morning I had my first session; it was a practice swim in the sea. What an experience! The water temperature was around 28 degrees and was so clear that I kept getting distracted by the fish and coral. When I finished the swim it was around the time I had estimated that I would be starting the run on race day so I thought that I would have a see as to what that would be like. I set out at my usual race pace to see if I could cope with the heat of around 30 degrees and the 60-70% humidity, my GOD after just two miles, I “Bonked” and was reduced to a walk. I found some shade to recover for the journey back to the hotel.
The second day was a repeat of the first apart from me reducing my pace by a minute for the first 2 miles of the run and then increasing it for the return journey. This time the swim was more of a training swim as I had already seen the delights of the sea within the swim area designated by the hotel.
On the Friday they had organised a group ride to recce the bike course. This followed the coastline and it was an out and back course on totally flat roads that had only one pot hole. Themajority of the course was covered by overhanging trees which kept the soaring heat of the sun off us. We covered most of the bike course making sure we didn’t hit any turtles or wild pigs on our way and our thoughts were that it was going to be a fast bike leg for the race.
Saturday came and the day was packed with race briefings, team photo, the racking of the bike and then I found time to watch the elite women’s race. The race brief was done by the Team manager and the CEO of British Triathlon. We were given some additional advice as to how to cope with the conditions. It was then time to rack the bike in transition. On my way into transition I was surprised when I was taken to one side by ITU officials so they could scan my bike for motors (safe to say there was none). I was lucky to have a good spot within the transition area which was next to the swim in and run out and not too far away from the run in and bike out point. After that I had a walk from the swim exit to transition to formalise myself with the route, this was around 900m and included a foot bridge. After that it was now time to watch the elite women’s race.
After getting my breakfast at the hotel – no porridge only the American equivalent, a very watery oatmeal which I declined and had some bagels. I then picked up my race gear and got a taxi to T1 where my first job was to pump up the tyres on my bike – we had been told to let all the air out when we racked them so that they didn’t explode due to the heat. Then it was the usual visit to the portaloo: as you know in the UK they are not pleasant, my god these were even worse; you don’t flush its’ just a hole. Then it’s off to the holding area.
Its here they announce that the swim was to be shortened to 1250m due to a very strong current. This was an understatement as you could see the start pontoon moving around quite vigourishly in the sea and the buoys needing to be held into position by support divers. The water temp was 28.5 degrees and at 06:50 it was time to enter the water. “WOW!!” you could feel the current; it was hard just to keep the one hand onto the pontoon. Then the one minute warning and then the hootersounded and we were off.
Not a great start to the race, my goggles where knocked off, luckily I had put my swim cap over the top of the strap so I did not lose them altogether and after resetting them it was time to play catch up. At the second turn buoy I’m now heading against the current and I’m slowly making my way through the pack.It’s a tough swim the current is strong, I get to the 3rd turn buoy and it has now become a struggle with the current. The divers are still trying to control the buoys and we were all over the place. I get to the 4th turn buoy and I get trapped on the line to the buoy - wow that hurt, a nice cut along the neck. Around the turn and now I am swimming with the current, here I caught up with some athletes from the previous wave and I eventually arrive at swim exit with a time of 22mins 58 seconds.
Now onto transition, I’ve not much to say about this apart from,“Who puts a bridge with such steep gradient’s right in themiddle of a 900m run from water exit to T1”! Time for T1 was 2mins 58 seconds.
Onto the bike course, this is the time to make up the ground I lost in the swim, the first 600m was on uneven paving stone then onto flat smooth roads. It was fast and I caught up to and overtook a few of my fellow age groupers keeping a good pace and making sure I drank enough fluid as the air temp was now 28 degrees with a humidity of 58%, this would continuallyincrease throughout the morning. What I couldn’t believe was the amount of drafting that was going on in the race a group, there were four Mexicans who looked like they were taking part in a tour de France team time trial. Ten miles into the bike course was completed in around 24 mins. I’ve started to make some ground, I make the turnaround point at 20km, just another 20 to go. The last 5km were open to the elements and you couldfeel the heat. I’ve drunk most of the fluid I took on the bike by then so it was time to take a salt tab and put my inhaler in the back pocket of my tri-suit ready for the run, taking my feet out for my bike shoes before the cobble type paving stones and finally off the bike. I had completed the bike leg in a time of59mins 53 seconds with an average speed of 24.7 mph.
T2 now and again not much to say time, 1min 10secs.
Final part, the run, this was the toughest run I have ever done.Straight out of T2 you are faced with the first water station, I take two cups and pour them both over my head to cool myself down. It’s starting to get hot, around 29-30 degrees, you can feel the heat from the sun as well as it radiating off the cobbled floor. I settle to the pace I planned to go at feeling comfortable. I made my way to the next water station and this time it was one cup of water and ice being poured on to my head and one to drink. I’m now onto the longest part of the run before another water station, this ran along the main road, all open to the elements and nowhere to hide from the sun. By this point I am now starting to make some ground on some others in my age group. Some athletes have now been reduced to a walk, others sitting by the road side it’s not looking good. I needed to stay focused and run the race at my pace and slowly chase those ahead of me down. At the next water station its same routine as before, good news its only 400m to the next water station: you know that’s its hot when the ice you put under your hat has melted before you have run the 400m. Now at the turnaround point 5k done 5 more to go I’ve now chased down a few other athletes from my age group and am still feeling good, time to pick up the pace a bit. 8k complete, only 2k left, I’m nearly there, and I’m now feeling the pain. My feet are sore, I can feel the blisters on the bottom of my feet, the heat is taking its toll,I’m feeling dazed and all I can do I focus on the athlete in front of me hoping I can make it to the finish line. I pass an athlete being supported by another. At the finishing straight, oh what a feeling, the whole crowd are cheering you on and I can just about hear the commentator shout, “And for Great Britain it’s Thorpe”. I’ve done it in a time of 46mins 57 seconds.
Total time 2hr 13mins 58 and i am now enjoying an ice bath and a drink from a coconut shell.
What an experience one that I would like to do again, now to work towards Rotterdam in 2017.
None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the help from others, especially the following who I would like to thank, my colleges at work, all those from Newton-Le-Willows Sea Cadets, all my family and friends whose donations have helped to pay for some of the considerable cost of being there.
Also, those at Astley and Tyldesley Road Runners for all their support, training and racing advice since I joined nearly two years ago especially Chris and Linda Whittaker for letting me have the use their bike box.
Most importantly, my Mum and Dad, if it wasn’t for them none of this would have ever have been possible.
Thank you all so much.