ITU Long Distance World Championships 2016 – Oklahoma City Meltdown

World Championships are the pinnacle of any sport, where athletes test their mettle and fitness against the best in the world, and I was proud to be chosen for the 2016 Canadian World Championship team to race in Oklahoma City on September 24th. I knew the race would be hot, and the field would be strong. It had already been a long season, with more races than I’ve done in previous years, but I wanted to challenge myself and see how well I could do if I threw a few additional races into the mix. 5 weeks prior to Oklahoma I raced at the Canadian National Long Course Championships in Penticton, having a decent race and finishing 4th. After some really great run workouts in the weeks leading up to Oklahoma, I felt that I had improved my run fitness and would be able to have a great race, hopefully finishing in the top 10. Unfortunately my body had other plans for me.

I travelled down to OKC a few days before the race, with my good friend Rachel McBride. What struck me the most was the heat when we got off the plane. I had been doing a lot of sauna training and indoor trainer riding to prepare for it, but it felt a lot hotter than I thought it would. With a high humidity, it felt like it was in the mid to high 30’s Celsius.

img_9040
The QR PRsix sitting in transition, ready to race!

Preparation for the race went well in the few days leading up to the race, but I had a bit of a stomach issue the two days pre-race (had some ‘dehydration issues’) which didn’t really help a lot in the heat. Race morning came, and I felt pretty great during my run warmup. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a warmup swim in, so we had to go at the 4k, non-wetsuit swim with cold muscles. I had my Nineteeen Wetsuits Rogue swim skin, which was my only saving grace. As our names were called out (which is pretty cool,) we ran out to the start line at waist deep water.

SWIM

The gun went off, and it was a struggle immediately. The course was a two-loop swim, with a ‘tailwind’ on the way out and a ‘headwind’ on the way back. I lost the pack by halfway to the turnaround, really struggling with arms that seemed heavy and dead. The swim back was insane, with massive chop and the inability to see the marker buoys. I was alone by this point, and by the time I FINALLY made it to the end of the first loop, I couldn’t believe we had to swim ANOTHER loop! It seemed to take forever! Into the second loop I went, and continued to struggle.

img_9046
“Don’t worry, everyone had a bad swim!”                                                                                         Photo Credit: Tenille Hoogland

Coming out the water up the ramp, Michael Brown (Challenge Penticton Race Director) was standing there and yelled out

“Don’t worry Nate, EVERYONE had a bad swim!”

A sure sign I was off to a bad start. 

BIKE 

On to my trusty Quintana Roo steed, I got to work. The first hour on the bike I spent chasing and slowly catching athletes ahead, but by the one hour mark the legs were starting to get heavy, and from the two hour mark the legs weren’t cooperating at all, and I was struggling to push any power. I kept on it, doing my best to spin and keep my head low and aero. It was a grind with a 30km straight section back to T2, with solid headwinds the whole way. I didn’t feel too hot, but I think my perception versus reality was a little skewed, and I think perhaps the existing dehydration from the previous days combined with the heat on the bike took a lot out of my legs. I finally made it back to T2 at what felt like a crawl, and felt that the run was going to be my chance to make up a bunch of the time I lost in the swim and on the bike. As I bent over in T2 to put my run shoes on, I could hear the AMAZING Team Canada team manager Tenille Hoogland yelling at me, saying

“Okay Killam, I know it’s a tough day out there, but get out on the run course!”

As easy as it would have been to just stop right then and there, I couldn’t let the team down, and out onto the run course I went.

RUN

img_9045
Heading out on the run, started out alright but deteriorated quickly.                           Photo Credit: Jenn Soost

My legs had the usual tightness that exists when coming off the bike, especially a tough bike. The opening km’s felt okay, but I just couldn’t seem to get into a good rhythm. By the 4-5km mark, I knew things weren’t good already. My pace was slowing down, and even though I was pushing harder and harder, my paced consistently slowed. By the second of 3 loops I was already suffering badly, doing what I can only loosely describe as ‘glorified walking’. Hitting the end of the 2nd loop, having slowed to a grueling pace, the easy out was to just pack it in, because I was having (easily) the worst race of my career. But as I came through the turnaround point, I decided that quitting wasn’t an option today. It was a World Championships, I was representing my country, and I knew there were a lot of my friends and family following the live updates as I raced. I was proud to be racing for Canada, and if I had to walk to the finish line I was going to get there somehow. I never stopped, I just kept moving forward, with my mind thinking about the finish line. My friend Rachel McBride passed me in the early part of the 3rd loop, and I tried to stay with her but only lasted a few hundred meters before I slowed once again. She went on to place 3rd, another podium at the ITU LD World Championships for Rachel, and I am SO proud of her. As I came into the finish chute and crossed the line, I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to be done a race.

The Oklahoma ITU World Championships was easily my worst race to date. But it was also an incredibly humbling experience, one that I think is important in the development of a successful athlete. If I could have chosen to not have a terrible race, I obviously would have, but I’m taking away an experience that will help me grow mentally as an athlete, one that will give me even more drive and motivation to perform next season. I also take it as a learning experience, that I need to work on performing in the heat. Even though sometimes the heat doesn’t make you feel hot, the body is much more affected than you realize, and obviously I was affected by the heat. I’m hoping to make the 2017 ITU LD World Championship team again next year, and have another crack at this race. Big thanks to Gavin and Claire Robinson, who were so kind to host myself and Rachel in Oklahoma City.

I would say it’s been a rather successful season for me, with improvements on every course I raced at last year, and many top 5 finishes. I’m looking forward to continuing this upward performance trend in 2017, but am looking forward to a little mental break and having some fun this fall racing cyclocross.

Thanks so much to all my awesome support team this year, everyone who has believed in me and has always had positive words of encouragement. My wife has been a never ending source of motivation and support, even when I leave for weeks at a time. My coach Björn Ossenbrink has helped guide me to a new level this season. Huge thanks to all my amazing sponsors, they’re the real-deal and really make all the training and racing possible. Quintana Roo makes some seriously fast bikes. Pair that with super-slick Easton wheels and Rotor cranks, and I’m lucky to be riding a monster of a rig. Thanks to Compressport Canada for ‘supporting’ me wherever I train and race. Big thanks to Champion System Canada for the amazing kit they supply me with every year. Thanks to the team at Velofix for all the bike work and hooking me up with extra gear when I need it. Nineteen wetsuits has kept me ‘afloat’ with their awesome lineup of wetsuits and swim skins, a proudly Canadian company that I’m stoked to work with. Thanks Dave at Distance Runwear for keeping my feet happy with Hoka shoes and all the other little run bits I need. HUGE thanks to my coworker and sponsor Jason Wood, for keeping me healthy all year long with Usana vitamins. I couldn’t do what I do without all these amazing people, so thanks to all of you! Everyone I interact with creates an impact on my life, whether big or small, so thank YOU! One of the parts of this sport I love is meeting so many new and awesome people all the time, and I’m truly lucky that triathlon has brought all these people into my life.

I hope everyone has had a stellar season so far, and for those of you in the offseason, enjoy some well deserved rest and recovery with your family and friends. It’s cyclocross season for me now, the next stop is Kona, Hawai’I to watch the Ironman World Championships and see if the legs will cooperate in the Kona Beer Mile, put on by TRS Racing!

Thanks for stopping by!

Nathan

2 thoughts on “ITU Long Distance World Championships 2016 – Oklahoma City Meltdown”

Leave a Reply