Kate Strong Reports On ITU Long-Distance World Championships


by Kate Strong

 

There’s a special buzz in the air when competing in a World Championships. I adore mixing with the international competitors, flying to a new country and also, of course, competing in a triathlon!

There is a down-side which is the displacement from my home adds extra pressure in packing & transporting my bike, having limited equipment with me and also the pressure of correct nutrition.

I follow a whole-food plant-based diet, which comprises eating less processed foods, such as pasta, breads, gels and pre-packed bars and more fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds. It is always a challenge finding a supermarket that offers a complete range of produce that I require to eat a balanced diet.

I was surprised to find that Sweden offered a limited range of whole-foods and due to this, I was obliged to compromise my diet leading up to the race and eat more pasta and bread than I would normally do.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 1a

 

Also, for the race, I prepare my nutrition at home, choosing tasty natural ingredients (such as dates, chia, apricots, lemon and almond meal) to create my fuel. Again, some of these ingredients were hard to source and I couldn’t carry enough ingredients with my on the plane due to weight restrictions.

So…. This meant that I ate some processed sweets and sugary lollies to keep my energy-levels up.

This might not mean a lot to most people, as the Western diet is very high in sugar, yet for the past ten months, I have been consciously reducing my refined sugar intake with the intention to break my addiction to this white poison.

It’s been a test of will-power! I was shocked at how much I crave it and caved into the hunger for it.

So, leading up to a World-Championship race, it was less than ideal that my diet started to lean towards high sugar and processed foods.

My training these past few months has been sporadic: peppered with injuries that prevented me from running to personal tasks pulling me away from the pool and my bike, and also relocating to a different country and finding new training routes. With this in mind, I knew that my result from the race would be impacted, so I chose to see the race, not as a means of achieving a position, but as a day to celebrate the journey of what I’ve completed to date.

To compete for my country yet again is an honor I cherish. The morning of the race, I put on my “green and gold” Australian triathlon suit.

Even in summer, Sweden is quite cold and the water temperature was 14oC: 5oC than my usual outdoor water training temperature.

Conscious that I feel the cold and would be in the water for around 30 minutes, I wore a second triathlon suit over the first for an extra layer of warmth!

 

Kate Strong: PIC 2

 

Arriving at the race, there was a hive of activity: other athletes were carrying out their race preparations and I did the same. I checked my bike brakes and wheels and realized I had a flat tire! I still had one hour before the race started, so I stopped myself from panicking and took my wheel to the on-site mechanic to help change the inner tube.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 3

 

Fifteen minutes later, my bike was as good as new. I had two bags for the transition area: BLUE for swim-bike transition, and RED for bike-run transition.

I double-checked I had all I needed in them and hung them next to my number in the transition area.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 4

 

With only fifteen minutes before the start of the race, I found a quiet corner, changed into my wet suit, wet suit hat (new purchase for this cold-water race) and relaxed.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 5

 

Lining up with the other competitors, I delayed entering the cold water for as long as possible not wanting to cool down more than necessary and as soon as I did swim to the start, I treaded water and held my hands out of the water to stop them from becoming too cold.

One minute to go and people are getting excited! There are about 500 other competitors around me and everyone is squeezing together – I realize that there’s not much space to swim and for the 1,500m swim, I am going to be fighting for a space.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 6

 

The gun starts the race and I take my first stroke. Kicking hard – to not only move forward but promote blood flow to my legs to keep them warm, I am more pushing people out of the way than actually swimming.

The lake is crammed with bodies. In theory, we are all swimming in the same direction, but every person swims in a slightly different course resulting in spaces disappearing and me being forced to swim over & under bodies.

A few times, an arm grabs my shoulder and I’m pulled backwards, I hope by accident, but then some people do take competitions “seriously” so I’m not sure if this is the case.
For the swim, I struggle to find a rhythm: the crammed group of swimmers adds turbulence to the water and the cold temperature takes my breath away.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 7

 

The swim is usually 4km and I am very grateful that it was shortened to 1,500m by the officials because of the low water temperature.

I exit the water and am surprised to realize that the cold affected me so much: my hands are not working! I try to push buttons on my watch to stop the time, and struggle. I try to remove my swim cap and I can’t!

I run to transition, grab my BLUE bag and slowly remove my wetsuit and put on my bike helmet and socks.

My hands are still cold and I waste time putting my timing watch on, clumsily grasping the strap, but eventually I complete all I need to run to my bike and exit transition and start the 3-loop bicycle leg.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 8

 

The 120km cycle is absolutely stunning. It passes through forests, past red farmhouses and around fields of hay and grass. The Swedish countryside takes my breath away. I have a fondness for clouds and skylines and have been known to sit in an open field for hours taking pictures of clouds and silhouettes of trees and structures against the skyline. It takes an enormous effort to focus on cycling and remove my attention from the picture-perfect sky and surrounding scenery.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 9

 

The road is undulating with some very fast sections downhill. There is also a strong breeze that, when behind you pushes you along, though there is one stretch of the road where you are greeted with a wind similar to cycling into a wall!

I cycle to just past a comfortable level of pushing and maintain this for four hours.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 10

 

During the cycle, I also have to ensure I eat. Over 80% of all nutrition for the race is consumed during the cycle and I have reminders when to eat and also drink.

I make my own fuel from almond meal, dates, chia seeds, sesame seeds and maca powder. I also drink ‘natural’ comprising lemon juice and coconut sugar.

For endurance racing, my body needs glucose as a fuel source and I balance the ‘sweetness’ with the bitter lemon making it more palatable and also easier to absorb into my body.

The last 10km always feels like one hour, and I focus on the moment, shutting out ideas of what’s to come: the run.

Cycling into transition, I wave at the remaining supporters, jump off my bike and run back into transition this time in search of my RED bag.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 11

 

Pulling off my extra clothing, helmet and glasses, I put on my trainers and exit transition. It’s time to run!

 

PIC 12

 

Running along the lake’s shore through a forest distracts me from my nerves surrounding the 30km run. I come from a running background and usually enjoy this last third of a triathlon.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 13

 

But, having just recovered from an injury sustained three months ago meant I hadn’t run much let alone trained for this discipline.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 14

 

The first two laps passed well and I was pleasantly surprised with my pace. The last 10km was a different story unfortunately: I hit the pain barrier.
The upper part of my legs, my quadriceps started to hurt and pull. Then my hip flexors, the muscle where your legs fold at your hip, made its presence known. I was in pain.

I pushed through and even though I was running much slower, I refused to stop.
Seeing the sign for the last kilometer was a glorious blessing, it was down-hill all the way to the finish-line.

 

My Mum :-)

My Mum

 

The crowds built up as I approached the end and I started clapping them, thanking them for all their support throughout the day.

Kate Strong: PIC 17

 

Regardless of the country you were competing for every person cheered you on. It had been a long seven hours for me and I wanted to acknowledge the crowd as it had also been a long seven hours for them. We all had something to be thankful for and celebrate!

As I crossed the line, I was in the present moment: I had no thoughts about my physical pain, my start-up business put on hold for me to attend this competition, my friends missing me, my home I am building in France. I was void of all ‘what if’ thoughts and relished the success of finishing my second World Championships.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 18

 

Coming into this race, I was carrying a lot of pressure: last year I won this competition in China so was defending my title. My (now ex) coach had projected a very intense and aggressive training plan to ensure I was in peak physical condition to do my best at finishing with a good place, maybe back again on the podium.

 

Kate Strong: PIC 18

 

Yet, I realized that during the many long hours of training (I was averaging 30-35 hours a week), I was missing out on life. I started to see swimming, cycling and running as a chore: a job I had to do and this did not sit well with me.

I appreciate that short-term pain during training sessions does permit your muscles to rebuild stronger, but I am against sacrificing the joy of the journey in the hope of a one-off destination.

By putting all our focus on one moment in time, I risk the potential to not only wish ‘life away’ whilst building up to that event, but also find the day I’ve been looking forward to a disappointment and leave feeling deflated and let-down.

I chose to focus these last few months on balancing my life: I relocated from Australia to the French Alps; I sold my business and am creating a new one more in alignment with my values; I chose to see family and friends over sleeping and recovering from long training sessions and I decided to focus on the journey, not the reward.

I don’t know my placing in the world for 2015. I know I am no longer World Number One for my age, and I am OK with this. I have rekindled a love for sport and am able to enjoy this with friends, family and with myself.

Sometimes, it’s better to enjoy every day and not get a medal, than amass titles and awards and forget why we started this journey in the first place.

Kate Strong

 

Kate Strong, aka Strong Kate, is a Welsh-born international traveller. Kate has spread her wings far and wide not only geographically but in every aspect of her life. Having graduated with a double Masters in Mechanical Engineering from French and English universities, Kate has had a diverse career path from working with fashion companies such as Gucci, Diesel and Benetton in Italy, at an environmental protection agency in Russia, to working as a Dive-Master in Mexico! Kate is a 2014 World Champion, Women’s Long-distance Triathlete.

Kate is currently based in Sydney, Australia with the intention to move to the shores of Lake Geneva mid 2015 to develop a conscious-living business promoting health and fitness products and services. Contact Kate with your thoughts and suggestions and follow Kate as she trains for upcoming events.

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