ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships, Den Haag, Netherlands, July 13, 2013
(Many thanks coach Daniel Duryea with Venture Fit and swim coach Tom Radam for whipping me into shape).
Part of Team USA
With a noon start time, I had a more relaxed morning than typical on race day. So relaxed, in fact, I cut it a little too close for the start. We were staying in the host hotel right on the beach, so I stayed in the hotel room until 20 minutes to start. In my estimation this would allow me plenty of time to put on my full-length wetsuit at the last minute while keeping my body temperature down and out of the hot sun. However, I forgot about the 1,000-meter walk to the starting line down the beach (which was based on the race day conditions and current). Time had grown short. I went in the racer’s lounge (a huge white tent) and tried to put on my wetsuit in a hurry. Fortunately, I did not tear a hole in it like my teammate did in his haste, and I was off, jogging down the beach for the start. The run was my warm-up, because by the time I arrived, all the women and the older men age groupers were already lined up for the start. I took a last swig of water, and immediately got offers of up to $20 euros per drink from my bottle. It went for free to the first two men that asked for some. Scott handed me my wristwatch that I had removed to put on my wetsuit.
The running beach start
The horn blew and we were off, running for the surf. The man running next to me on the right tripped and fell, taking out another gentleman behind. I heard the two hit the sand and could only see them from my peripheral vision, and was glad that they didn’t take me down as well. I entered the surf and immediately began to dolphin through the waves, diving under each one until I could get far enough out to start swimming. I hoped it would be rough (to make it harder on everyone), but it was actually one of the calmest days of the entire week, so it seemed like we all got to the first turn buoy together. If you entered the ocean on the far left of the start line, it looked shorter from the beach, but the current took those swimmers down current and left of the buoy that we swam around the right side of. Those that had missed, began to claw and grope at the rest of us, and I was pulled under water several times. I just relaxed, did a few breaststrokes, and waited for traffic to clear, and began swimming again. The North Sea was a dark color, and I couldn’t see a thing underwater, other than a random pair of feet that kicked in front of me.
As I rounded the last buoy of the swim, there were two girls to my left (I could see their pink swim caps). The safety kayakers were trying to force them toward me, so I just swam straight to shore, instead of trying to follow their line. The kayakers continued to push all of us squarely on a path to shore that exited the water through a pile of dangerous rocks. I know this was not their intention, and just assumed the current had taken over again. I never got caught up in the rocks, but some did. Running to transition, I began to strip off my wetsuit and think about the sand on my feet. I noticed they were yelling at us to drop our swim caps in a bucket, so I did. I guess they would recycle them?
So many things ran through my head in transition. I had everything laid out in a pattern I thought was quickest to get my gear on. We had been told (because of the sandy conditions) that a small container of water would be a great way to remove the sand from our feet before putting on the bike shoes. I forgot to bring one, so Scott made me one out of a cardboard box lid and plastic bag liner. I put both feet in the water at once. I placed my helmet on my head, my gloves on my hands, then my thoughts turned to my feet. They were still in the makeshift bucket of water. I decided to sit on my towel being careful not to spill the water or to let any of my gear stray from my 20” wide zone around my bike (I didn’t want a penalty). As I was sitting, I noticed I still had both feet in the box lid. What was I waiting on? A pedicure? I pulled out one foot, I put on my sock, then my shoe, and then finally, my other sock and shoe. 2 minutes and 26 seconds later, I was out of transition. Wow, really? I should have baked a cake as well.
Leaving for the Bike Leg
I ran across the sand in my stiff bike shoes until I felt the familiar surface of hard pavement beneath them. I mounted my bike, rode up the ramp to the boardwalk where the folks were cheering and faced a set of stairs leading back down to the sandy beach. Easy enough, as this set of stairs was about 3 flights and had a built in ramp (similar to a handicap ramp). Still, as is often the case in cross triathlon, there were faster swimmers in front of me that were slower, less skilled riders. I told myself to be patient on the stairs, and rather than blasting around them, I waited until we were safely on the beach to pass them.
I spent the first 3 laps of this bike leg passing quite a few women, and men. Many people cheered and chanted, “Go Hudson, go USA”. It took me a couple of laps to figure out how they knew my name… it was written on my team uniform. Even the people from the Netherlands cheered for Team USA. My rear tire was feeling spongy by lap 3, and as I looked down, I realized I had a slow leak and would not make the finish without adding more air. I stopped and used my air cartridge that Scott had duct taped to my seat tube losing only a few seconds. I had no pockets on my team uniform, so I stuffed the cartridge and adapter under the elastic of my leg band. I wondered if the cold of the CO2 would freeze my leg. I didn’t care at the moment.
Sandy Section in the dunes
During the bike, we had 4 laps of approximately 6-kilometers per lap to ride, crossing the deep sandy beach 5 times per lap (about 100 meters each time). With each crossing, we had to dismount, run while pushing the bike, and then remount and continue on. At one point, I had so much sand in my shoes I had to stop and dump them out. I had mastered the deep sand beach crossing by the third lap, and made it all the way across the sand to within 5 meters of the other side of the beach before coming off my bike and having to run. I was most excited about this (it was the small things that were beginning to make me happy). However, by the end of this lap, pushing the big gear through the deep sand had taken its toll on my muscles. My inner quads (I’m sure there is a better name for these muscles I don’t normally use) began to cramp.
I made the incorrect assumption that there would be water zones along the course. Race directors decided to only have water for the run, so I rationed the one water bottle I did have for the 4-lap, 1.5 hour bike ride. Also, by the 4th lap, another wave of racers (the rest of the men) had started their race. After their swim, they merged into our bike course. This new crowd made for plenty of crashes in the deep sand, especially from some of the less skilled men who hadn’t ridden a lap yet in those conditions. As they crashed in front of me, it became exciting just avoiding them, and with each time I had to brake and swing my leg off the bike to avoid one, my quads would cramp further. To make matters worse,
Riding along the ocean
I forgot drafting was legal in this race. Packs of riders would sail by me on the beach, tucked in behind each other conserving energy, while I was off in my own world, slugging it out with the sand and the sand castles, dodging kids and other random beach goers, one kilometer at a time.
As a nice break during each lap, the course took us up into the sand dunes, where we actually did some climbing and descending on a harder packed trail. The only technical part was a nasty set of eroded landscape timbered stairs that I had decided during the pre-race inspection to ride down the first half and then dismount and run the second half which was much steeper.
My line on the top half was easy
Some of the others attempting to ride the 2nd half
Some chose to ride the entire thing and made it; others crashed hard. Most ran as I did, carrying their bikes. There was seemingly no in between. Early in the first lap, not far after these stairs I saw my French competitor heading the opposite direction with a flat tire, walking her bike. I guess she had nothing to fix it, which took her out of contention for the race.
The bike portion of the race was now over.
The start of my pathetic run
I ran through the transition area and grabbed a fresh water bottle I had stored near my running shoes. Each step in the sand left me wanting to cry, because my quads and now calves were screaming with cramps. Internally, I was questioning if I could complete the race, and if I would actually have to crawl to the finish, like the girl did many years ago in the Ironman triathlon. I didn’t want to be dramatic, but I wanted to get on the podium. I yelled at Scott to ask how I was doing on the run, and he told me “good” because no women in front of me had “50+” marked on their calves, but you couldn’t be sure. Some of them were not properly marked & some had tall socks on so you had no idea how old they were, other than guessing. This aggravated me that I couldn’t get exact updates, but Scott reminded me to “Just Run”! I was, after all, in the World Championships.
I carried a full water bottle the entire run, drinking all I could and refilling on every lap with a drink called “AA” (it had some electrolytes in it). It was the 2nd run lap (we did 3 laps of 3k each) when I became lucid enough to realize I had a weird feeling in my right quad. I looked down and noticed I had been running an entire lap already with that air cartridge and adapter still in the legging of my uniform. It was starting to fall out.
Some of the women and men I had passed on the bike were now passing me back on the run. I could only maintain with what I had left in the tank. I knew I was going to finish, but just didn’t know how well. Would it be enough to podium? The sand dunes took their toll on me. Some women now passed me like gazelles. I felt more like clumsy hippo trying to run through the sand to get to a watering hole.
As I rounded the last corner and ran onto the blue carpets leading up to the finish, I heard them say “Hudson, and it’s a Gold Medal”. I was so happy to hear those words as they held up the World Champion tape for me to run through.
My friend, Melanie Etherton, was sitting in the finish area recovering when I arrived. She had finished well in front of me, but even though placing 5th overall woman, her age group was so competitive that she just missed the podium by one spot. I suddenly felt undeserving of my own medal, because she had placed in front of me and here I sat with a Gold. The race organizers gave me a card to invite me to the medal ceremony. I told Mel and a fellow Team USA member sitting there that I just got lucky. The guy from Team USA looked at me, and said something like this ~ “Good luck happens to those that are the most prepared.”
From 14 years of age, I have competed at all levels of racing in various sports, from beginner to pro/elite at both national & world cup races. Along the way, I had a family, kids, college, a career, and now a grandbaby. I am racing in the 50-54 age group. To an outsider, it may seem like my age group is easy, when in reality, there is a reason there are fewer of us in each progressively older age group.
Male & Female 50-54 Age Group Podium
I sat at the awards ceremony and noted that after the age group of 55-59, there were no more women on the podium. There were men through the 70s in this sport, but no women on this particular weekend. Aside from the fact that most of us have lives, jobs, kids, and grandkids, it also becomes harder to remain healthy, injury free and consistent to be able to continue to perform at this level as we get older.
To get on the podium, it takes a lot of drive, a lot of determination, and a lot of support, not just from the racer, but also from our family and friends who put up with us and take care of us.
My husband, Scott, and #1 supporter
It took my husband always making sure my bike was in the best shape for training & racing, packing it and unpacking it countless times at races, and always having the right tool or the right attitude or words to fix anything that might happen. It took our local bike shops (Plano Cycling, Richardson Bike Mart, & Bicycles Plus) always being there to provide the parts we needed at the last minute. It often took sponsors helping out with equipment, logistics and financial support, but sometimes simply an understanding boss giving me the time off to race, and a lot of personal savings.
Welcome home gift from neighbors
It took friends to understand when I needed to ride hard on a given day, or when I needed an easy day and fun time training. It took kids who understood my need to train even on holidays, or explaining to their friends about their crazy mom who raced. It took mastering international airports, international food, international culture and jetlag. An on a lessor note, it took sharing a variety of wines with family and friends, teetering on a fine line of just the right amount to still enjoy life, but not so much as to affect racing, training and nutrition.
3 World Championship Medals
As I head home on my flight to the states, I am very proud of my finish. I have spent three years focused on cross-triathlon races, since its inception by the International Triathlon Union (ITU) into the World Championships in 2011 in Spain. I won the gold medal there (in Spain), a silver medal in 2012 in Alabama, and another Gold here in the Netherlands. I thought of another friend poking fun of me when I stated that I wanted 3 medals from this sport in 3 years for a nice framed collection box for our living room.
He said, “Yeah, I think I’ll put that on my bucket list too.”
I realized it was a lofty goal after hearing his response, and am proud to have accomplished it.
And when it was over, we enjoyed the Netherlands, the bicycle capital of the world (40% of all traffic movement is by bike) . The race promoters put on an awesome firework show on the beach for us, I traded my Team USA jacket with a fellow friend and competitor from Japan, and we visited the city of Amsterdam where we rented bikes and tried to be mobile citizens rather than tourists for the rest of our trip. We were successful!
The beach fireworks in the Hague
My Japanese friend and I traded our Team jackets
3 Story parking garage of nothing but bikes
I think I found our 2 bikes we locked up over night in this garage
We quickly learned how to be "Mobile Citizens" in Amsterdam