Oklahoma City, September 22, 2016 - ITU Age Group Long Course Worlds
The amount of support I had for this race was so amazingly over-the-top that I (almost) don't know where to begin.
Last year, I competed in the Redman Triathlon in order to qualify for the ITU Long Course World Championships, largely because it was the ONE race my coach, Suzanne Atkinson, requested me to do. I race a lot, and have often asked her if there was a race she would like me to do - and this was her first and only request.
I was fortunate to race last year with two great friends and amazing athletes - Travis Newton and Chris Fetter. Despite starting at different times, the three of us crossed the finish line at practically the same time. This is one of my all time favorite race photos - I am so happy the moment was captured. It is one of the many things I love about the sport of triathlon - while in a lot of ways it is an 'individual' sport, in so many more it is about being part of a larger whole and supporting each other; about friendship, about daring to toe the line, test your limits, give your all, and congratulating each other when it is all said and done.
So - back to OKC. Have you ever done a race that was really tough, and by some chance of fate (or amnesia) you end up back to do that race again? It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the race course - memories came flooding back . . . windy bike, heat, heat, more heat, trying to coax my fading legs to just keep a steady pace on the run . . . yeah, acknowledge and then try to forget again. And this race, the World Championship, was even longer - a 4k swim, 120k bike, and a 30k run. However, I knew that I had done all I could to prepare, and would just have to take whatever the day gave me.
This year, I raced as part of the great Team USA. I was racing for them, for my coach, and for myself. I trained to the best of my ability and, just like everyone else, I had to make some decisions along the way about things I could and could not participate in. I would especially like to thank my family, my Tante Marylou Van Beek-winkler and Uncle Peter W.H. Winkler, and my dear friends River Byrd and Mark Duncan. I am lucky beyond words to have family and friends who understand when there are decisions I have to make, who stand behind me and support me and allow me to chase my dreams and follow my passion. I cannot thank you enough.
There is something that makes a race so much more fun when you know people out there competing. Travis was racing, I ran into a long-time friend of my dad’s, Jeff Skinner, and made some new friends - Joella Baker, and Jennifer Tullis. Plus racing with the Team USA as a whole, with Tim Yount, Lauren Rios, and Meg Weagely cheering us on - it was a pretty amazing group!!
Race morning. I like to get to the race site really early. So, I’m sitting in my car and it is literally rocking due to the wind gusts. Yep, it’s gonna be an interesting day. The swim course was 2 laps - and the water was ‘sporty’. I have done ocean swims that were calmer. Plus there were shallow areas where people were standing and walking. Well, I did not want to walk, so determined I would swim wide of that area, while staying on the buoy line. Great in theory, until I started swimming and lost sight of the buoys in the swells. Finally found one only to discover it was on the opposite side of the swim course. I corrected, but a kayaker spotted me and was concerned I was in distress. She kept checking on me while I kept assuring her I really wasn’t drowning - just off course. I had to find the situation slightly humorous. By the first turn around I realized it was just going to be a crazy swim. I relaxed (as much as possible) and went with the swells, rolled almost completely onto my back and looked at the sky to get a breath, and actually really enjoyed the swim. I certainly was not fast - but I got out of the water feeling great - and very ready to get on my bike.
The bike - was windy. True to form. However, the volunteers and aid stations were fantastic, and there were crowds cheering - can’t ask for much more than that. And then... the run. Three 10k loops, right by the finish each loop. First loop - started ok, but quickly started slowing. Came through the first turnaround and there was Tim Yount, “Happy thoughts, Kirsten” he says. Crowds were, again, fantastic. Seemed I was constantly seeing someone I knew racing coming from the opposite direction - all of us trying to encourage each other. Focused on run form. Saw people everywhere stopped with cramping or succumbing to the heat. Decided I didn’t care if I had to slow to 10minute miles I did not want to cramp or stop. Felt much better (although kept slowing) on the second loop. Water stops were crowded and a lot of times had to get my own water - seldom was it cold. Came through the 2nd turn around, and was feeling great. There was a rather interesting mishap with my water as I was coming through - but I will save that story for another time. Suzanne was cheering and had created a whole cheer section with her. Out for the last lap, was enjoying every minute despite the persistent slowing, and crossed the finish line in great spirits. What an amazingly difficult, ultimately challenging, utterly fantastic race!!!!!!