Chrissie Straw allows us inside the mind of an athlete heading into the race of their lives under an injury cloud. Such an amazing and inspirational story unfolded in the weeks leading up to and including race day at the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“Having no idea of how my body would hold up on the day, ‘relaxed’ and ‘feeling prepared’ were not words I would have used to describe my state of mind in the days leading up to my World Championship race! Not to mention trying to live up to the expectation I had of myself having pre-qualified from the previous year’s World Champs, finishing 5th in my age-group and 1st for my country, I would be fibbing if I denied aspirations of a possible podium finish. However, the likelihood of that dream faded away as the injuries continued to cause me grief, and completing any sort of decent run session seemed nigh on impossible! It was slow progress and took 6 months to build up to 45 minutes, which I knew if I could keep up until race day, I’d be able to pull something out the bag.
Four weeks out from the race, my legs failed me again and I couldn’t run at all without feeling like I was going to do some serious damage. I also started impacted my cycling, so my thoughts really were, “s*#t!”. Panic set in, a desperate call to a Sports doctor pleading to see me, which resulted in MRI’s to get a diagnosis on whether I would be able to compete or not certainly put me through a range of emotions, but then also gave me some perspective. This trip was booked a long way in advance with family who were coming to spectate!! The thought of letting them down saddened me, but the reality was I’m not a professional athlete, and my health is more important, and to be honest, my family would just be pleased to see me (and be on holiday of course!).
The Doc gave the green light to compete along with various drugs to get me to the start line (I’ll just state here, everything I took was WAD approved and I was legal to race). Swimming being the only training I could do up to race day aside from a bike course recon, I really didn’t know if I would get through the race, or if my leg would fall off during the event. I think I was more scared of not knowing what to do if I couldn’t finish and feeling like I’d failed.
Race day came and I was surprisingly calm and collected – I had come to peace within my mind that I could only do what I am capable of and that is enough. The swim was harder than I thought it would be, it was pretty choppy for a lake swim and I remember thinking “why is it so choppy and why are there so many waves”, then getting annoyed at the boats that were making so much swell! Nonetheless, I felt happy with the swim, coming out the water 20th with a time of 26.21. I was nervous about T1, concerned that running would aggravate the injury and not wanting to be in discomfort on the bike leg, so my swim exit was less aggressive than usual.
The bike mount was surprisingly good having not practised much due to protecting the injury, and I was away on the bike and feeling good. The race official on the motorbike seemed to hover around me for a fair chunk of the first bike lap as there was a few of us who were constantly going past each other, which made me nervous, I really didn’t want to get a drafting penalty. The second lap I did my usual which is what I refer to as ‘come into the competition’ or ‘game on’. I’m not a fan of doing the whole ‘you take me, I’ll go past you’ malarkey, so I put my foot down and decided to let them chase me, “if you want it, come and get it”. I had nothing to lose, I felt good on the bike and I had no idea of how I’d go on the run, so I gave it what I had. Due to the hilly nature of the course, it’s hard to say, but I think it was a bike PB and I was stoked at having the 4th fastest bike split of 1:07:27, put me in 5th place.
Coming in off the bike – this is usually my forte, I am queen of dismounting as Beyoncé is to twerking, but somehow I had managed to slip off my pedal as I brought my leg over and did some kind of somersault still holding onto my bike which came with me, right on the dismount line – certainly the best place to stand if spectating! Luckily, I had landed on the ground before the line meaning I wasn’t disqualified! Managing to pull myself together and realising I can go on, I ran into transition, racked my bike, noticing there weren’t many other bikes there which is unusual for me, but wasn’t sure if I was just suffering from concussion, so got my shoes on and off I went.
The first 1-2 km of the run was good, felt OK and saw on my watch I was running 3:50’s and thought to myself, if I can keep this up, it’s on! But that was false hope as my feet really started to hurt. The realisation that I was accruing some horrific blisters and I was only 2 km in started to impact my performance. All the injuries and pain I’d had leading up to this event, the pain I was now experiencing was from bloody blisters! They hurt so much that at 4.5 km I stopped and took my shoe off to check them and attempted to move my insole to alleviate the pain. I continued on, telling myself ‘they’re just blisters, you’ll get over them’. So I plodded on, but the discomfort with the additional lack of run fitness particularly with the 20% incline hills started to take effect causing me to gradually get slower. I was done, I had about 3 km to go, and the mind had to take over, all I wanted to do was stop, I was spent, I felt like I was shuffling along. Three competitors had passed me, so I focused on trying not to give anyone else that opportunity. So many people were cheering me on and shouting “come on GB!” which is great for the spirit, but all I could do was smile whilst weighing up if all this is pain was really worth it. But what don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger. I amazingly somehow finished the run in 44:58 – a time I would have been disappointed with the day before, but after finishing, I was really pleased with and actually surprised because it was bloody hard and felt so much slower!
After finishing, I had no idea how well I’d performed, but the relief of having completed it, being able to race and enjoy the cheers and support from my family and friends – they’re aren’t enough words to describe that feeling of pride and satisfaction and most of all relief, relief of no more worry, I could relax. I think I’d experienced all emotions throughout this event, feelings of strength and self belief, followed by worry and self doubt. I finished 8th in the end, 1st for Great Britain, I couldn’t have asked for any more from myself really, I know I couldn’t give any more at the time! Pretty satisfied.
Triathletes really do push themselves with the intensive training regimes and micro-managing your nutrition, not to mention work full time, spend time with husbands, wives and families, try to fit in friends and socialising and then have these ridiculous expectations of ourselves, there’s no wonder our bodies occasionally give up on us! But, we keep doing it. Why? Because it makes us feel good, and we achieve so much in so many ways, in and out of triathlon, and when you have brilliant family around you, and fantastic friends, it makes it all so much easier! Thanks to my awesome husband James Straw; my biological family; and my Davey Black family.”