2019 ITU Age Group World Championships – Standard Distance

2019 ITU Age Group World Championships – Standard Distance

This was my first World Championship experience, but I hope it’s not my last! The ITU Age Group World Championships was part of the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Lausanne and included age group races in the sprint and standard distances, U23, Juniors, Para-triathlon, and Elite races. I qualified to represent Team USA by finishing 21st in my age group at the USAT Age Group Nationals in Cleveland on August 10, 2018.

With my race scheduled for September 1, 2019, I booked our flights so that’d we’d arrive in Lausanne, Switzerland on the Tuesday before the race, giving me and my husband 5 days to find our bearings and settle into a routine. Our flights went well – we didn’t experience any delays and our bikes arrived with us safely using our Scicon bike bags. Our flight arrived in Zurich on Monday, August 26th at 10:30pm so once we arrived at the airport hotel, we went straight to bed. This allowed us to get on to Swiss time faster, and I felt very little effects of jet lag on the way over.

We got the train from Zurich airport to Lausanne on Tuesday morning, and were at our AirBnb by 3pm that afternoon. We built our bikes, then went to the grocery store to pick up essentials. I had planned an easy spin for us that afternoon using what resources I could find – Google maps, Strava, and the Switzerland Mobility app. I thought I had found a bike path that we could use that would take us north of the city, but it turned out not to be a bike path – just a bike route, sometimes marked and with a bike lane, and sometimes not. This led to a lot of confusion with lots of stopping to pull up Google Maps to see where we were. Even though we got lost, we stumbled upon the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne, which was beautiful. We eventually made it back to the AirBnb having covered only 6.11 miles in 40 minutes with 850ft of elevation gain. What we learned – Lausanne is basically a mountain, and it’s very hard to find street signs! But we survived.

Our Lady of Notre Dame of Lausanne

Lausanne Cathedral

The next morning, we slept later than expected waking up around 9:30am. I told my husband to take it easy while I went for a 45 minute shake out run. No maps today – my plan was to run down to the race venue at Ouchy/Lake Geneva then run back up to our AirBnb. It was 500ft down to the lakeshore, and then I ran 250ft back up before walking the rest of the way back. Wowzers. That afternoon, I walked back down to the race venue with my husband so that I could swim at the 50m outdoor pool. I managed 20 minutes of swimming before bailing because my lane was taken over by the Mexican Junior team. Talk about fast swimmers! I finished up my workout in Lake Geneva, which was beautiful, cool and clear. The weather was sunny and in the 80s so cooling off at the lake hit the spot. We eventually walked back up to our AirBnb, made dinner, and tried to get some sleep for the night. Our AirBnb did not have air conditioning so it was tough to get a good night’s sleep the entire time we were there.

Bellerive pool

Bellerive pool full of Mexican athletes

On Thursday morning, it was time for packet pickup but instead of walking the 3km to the race venue, I checked out the metro instead. The metro was very easy to use. The closest stop was a 5 minute walk from our AirBnb, and it dropped me off right at the race finish and only a 5 minute walk from transition and the race expo. This was a lifesaver as my husband and I were getting sore shins and feet from walking up and down Lausanne’s hills. With packet pickup complete, I made my way back to our AirBnb for lunch and got ready for our afternoon plan – a bike course recon. Lance had figured out how to ride our bikes down to transition, and from there, we’d try our best to follow the street-by-street directions I’d written out. Well, of course we got lost trying to get down to transition. Even though I knew how to walk it, some of the streets we walked were cobbled, extremely steep, and pedestrianized. I didn’t feel safe riding our bikes down those. So we tried the roads and got lost. After finally making it down to Ouchy, we started the bike course. Guess what – we got lost again! We managed most of the course, except for the out and back section way out on the highway. I was happy we got the three hill sections in – Avenue d’Ouchy, Avenue de Denantou, and Vallée de la Jeunesse. That gave me a better idea of what to expect on race day. After that semi-disastrous race recon, we showered up and got ready for the Parade of Nations and Opening Ceremonies. The Parade of Nations was a fun experience. We were planning to eat at the Opening Ceremonies but access to food was not well organized and we ended up just having a beer and some French fries. We were hoping to grab something more substantial on the way home, but everything was closed on our walk back! This was definitely a low point on our trip.

By Friday I was sick of all of the running around and really just wanted to get my feet up, relax, and lower the stress level. There was a Team USA social at the Olympic Museum that morning that I attended, but I scrapped my workout plans and I told myself to slow down and take it easy. After the social, I got the metro back to our part of town, dropped into a bike shop that I had passed to buy CO2 cartridges, and then put my feet up for a good few hours. The only other necessary thing we had to do was go to the Team USA Standard Distance briefing at the Alpha Palmiers Hotel at 3pm. Lance and I got the metro there, and I made the race briefing. More exciting, though, was seeing Cassandre Beaugrand and Vincent Luis in the hotel lobby! I was too scared to approach and ask for a photo. After the briefing, I was feeling better so Lance and I went down to Lake Geneva and I got a 30 minute open water swim in, then headed back to our AirBnb for a chill night before a hectic day on Saturday.

Saturday afternoon was going to be busy with a Team USA photo, bike check in, my brother’s arrival, and the elite races on the schedule, so Saturday morning was all about keeping the feet up again, and I prepped our dinner for that night so I didn’t have to stress about that. Around 2pm, Lance and I headed down to Ouchy with my bike, via the metro this time (no getting lost). The elite men’s race started at 2:21pm. We didn’t watch the swim start, but I could see the action on the big screen near the finish line, and the bike and run course went by us, too. Team USA photo at 2:45pm. My brother and his wife arrived at Ouchy around 3:15pm and they found us at our spot near the finish line. I was able to check my bike in starting at 3:30pm so I walked my bike the 10 minutes down to Bellerive to do that. I saw the elite men zipping by on the bike course on my way down. Bike check in went without a hitch. I took the time to walk through transition from swim finish to my rack to the bike exit, then bike finish to my rack and run exit. I do this before every race so that I know what rack I’m on and take a mental note of landmarks for finding my bike quicker. On the walk back from Bellerive to Ouchy, I saw the elite men run by with Mola, Luis, Gomez, and Blummenfelt in the lead pack. I made it back to the finish line and got to watch the elite men finish, and the awards ceremony. So cool! The elite women’s race started shortly after the men were wrapped up, and I was so excited to see Katie Zaferes race and go for the world title. We kept our spot at the cafe near the finish, which allowed us to stay in the shade as much as possible, get drinks and a bit of food, and watch the bike and run portions of the race. Katie and the ladies didn’t disappoint, and watching these athletes in action was such an inspiration for my race the next day. Since my race was starting in less than 12 hours, Lance and I said quick goodbyes to my brother and his wife, and headed home to heat up dinner and go straight to bed.

Race Morning

My alarm went off at 4:45am, which is a normal race morning alarm for me. My body knows what to do so I managed breakfast, coffee, and a bathroom stop before grabbing my transition bag and heading out the door at 5:30am. I took the metro down to Ouchy, along with many other age group athletes, then walked calmly down to Bellerive to enter transition. Transition didn’t take long to set up, and I got chatting to some of my rack mates, especially Joanna Hall, another Team USA member in my age group. Even though our wave didn’t start until 8:20am, we had to be out of transition by 7:15am, and we had to have our swim warm up completed by 7:50am in order to make it to our corrals. Like a lot of race mornings, it was “hurry up and wait”. I sipped on water, ate a banana, did a little run warm up in transition, and a short swim warm up in the lake. The water was 22C so it was not wetsuit legal. The air temperature was in the low 60s F so I didn’t want to do the swim warm up too early and then be cold on the shore afterwards. We got in our corrals, and I lined up next to Joanna. There was a 20 minute gap between our wave and the wave before us so again a lot of standing around. Eventually, they put us in the water and within 90 seconds, they blew the air horn to signal our start.

The Swim

The swim start was its usual madness with kicking and splashing. I lined myself up maybe 2 rows back of the front ladies. I know I’m not an elite swimmer and I didn’t feel like getting swum over today. I didn’t get kicked as much as normal, but the swell in Lake Geneva was very strong. Other days, the lake had been flat, but the waves came out to play on race morning, and I think the safety boats in the water contributed to the chop as well. The swells were so bad that it was affecting my rhythm and breathing. Maybe the choppy swim in Cleveland had prepared me for this. I didn’t have any issues with sighting, but I did feel like I swallowed half of the lake. At one point, I was exhaling and burping at the same time – nice! I sat up once to get my bearings and calm myself so I didn’t panic, and finally settled into a rhythm. In the end, it took me 31 minutes and 15 seconds to complete the swim. That’s about the same time it took me to do the 1500m swim in Cleveland last year WITH a wetsuit so I’ll take that as a bit of improvement since I matched it without a wetsuit at Worlds. I came out of the water with my new friend Joanna Hall, and we commented to each other how tough that swim was. My brother, sister-in-law, and husband also saw me come out of the water and gave me a big cheer as I ran into transition.

Fiona Martin swim exit ITU Worlds

Exiting the water with Joanna Hall

The Bike

Fiona Martin ITU Worlds bikeT1 was uneventful. I got all my necessary gear on and ran my bike out to the mount line. Joanna was just a bit quicker getting out there and on the bike than me, but I passed her on the bike within the first few miles. The first hill at Avenue d’Ouchy came up really quickly after transition so there wasn’t much of a warm up or easing into this bike. I gave it my all going up that hill with a standing climb, and passed quite a few people. I then barrelled down Avenue d’Elysee, and did a steady climb up Avenue de Denantou. It was then a steep (12% grade) and fast descent down Avenue des Baines with a 90 degree right hand turn, which our team coach warned us about but I went through without an issue. Not soon after, we were making the right hand turn onto the third climb, the long-ish Vallée de la Jeunesse. This one was tough, and more annoyingly, I was falling into pace with a male Mexican athlete on a road bike, who passed me twice on my right side in this segment. Some time amongst all of this, Joanna had passed me back, and I never saw her again. After the Vallée de la Jeunesse it was the long, mostly flat out-and-back on the highway. I fell into step with another American female in my age group, Katie Elliot. I would pass her on the inclines, but she was very strong on the descents and flats and would pass me back. We did this for the rest of the bike leg.

After lap one, it was time to do it all again. I attacked once again on Avenue d’Ouchy, and my family was there to cheer me on and witness my pain. I passed many athletes, but none looked to be in my age group. After the climb on Avenue de Denantou, there’s a bit of a descent into Avenue des Baines and an old lady on crutches thought this was a great time to cross the street. I’ve never yelled so loud in my life! Luckily, a crash disaster was avoided and I could carry on with the race. Overall, I felt strong on the climbs but suffered on the flatter bits. I put it all out there and finished up the 40km bike section in 1:14:14. I did a successful flying dismount into T2, swapped out my gear, and headed out on the run course.

The Run

Fiona Martin run course ITU Worlds

First look at that 17% hill

I felt pretty good going into the run. It started very flat running down the tree-lined street of Avenue de Rhodanie. The spectators were great and I got lots of cheers for “Go USA!”. This allowed me to get comfortable, and although my calves were a bit sore when I started, I settled into a good rhythm and found myself enjoying what I was doing. I ran past Avenue d’Ouchy and then over the blue carpet of the elite’s transition. Soon enough, I was approaching the left hand turn onto the killer, 17% grade hill up to the Olympic Museum. Of course, my family had positioned themselves there to see me in full pain mode. Their cheers did encourage me to run the entire hill, though. I wasn’t sure I’d manage that again on the second lap. I picked up speed on the winding descent on the other side and passed a few people. Then, a left turn again and on to the next hill with a 15% grade. I believe I walked a bit of this, but tried to imagine myself as a mountain goat getting up and over that hill. Again, picked up speed on the downhill and used that momentum to get me up the third hill of only 9% grade. Then we got to run along the lake shore towards the finish line to start the second lap. I got cheers from my family as I went by.

After running by the finish line, I told myself to enjoy the rest of the run because I’ll never get to experience this again. I had to walk more on all three of the hills the second time around, but once I hit the final mile, which was all flat, I was able to pick up my pace a bit and bring it home strong. Just before the finish line, I was handed a small American flag to run with. When I made the left turn onto the finisher’s chute, a male athlete came up on my left and I had to try a sprint finish with him. I think he technically beat me by a footstep, but I was really fun to give it my all on the blue carpet. My run time ended up being 49:42.

Fiona Martin ITU Worlds finish

Sprint finish!

Final Thoughts
My final time was 2:40:11, and I had no idea what place that put me in for the majority of the day. After the race, I caught up with Joanna again the athletes area and congratulated her for a strong race. I refueled with some gatorade and water and considered a massage, but the lines were too long. I took off my soaking wet running shoes and started my walk back to the expo area to pick up my bag with my phone so I could link up with my family. They eventually joined me at the expo, and as we waited for transition to open so I could get my bike, I got out of my wet clothes and we enjoyed a beer and more French fries. Finally, they let us in to get our stuff and my family and I made our way back to Ouchy to catch the metro back up to Riponne-Marcel Beijart. Lance took my bike up to our AirBnb, and then joined me, my brother, and sister-in-law at The Great Escape outdoor cafe.

While enjoying our al fresco relaxation, the results were finally posted and I came in 28th out of 74 in my age group. My feelings on that? After reflection, I’m pretty happy to eek it into the top 3rd of my age group. I had no idea where I’d stack up on the world stage, and I did the best I could on the day so I can’t beat myself up too much about that. Of course, I want to be faster in all three disciplines, but that’s going to take more hard work to get results. I hope to use these experiences to celebrate how far I’ve come, and motivate me to keep working hard and get better. I didn’t start triathlon as a natural talent. I remember when getting on an age group podium at a local race was hard for me. And then starting to race in the open division locally was a big leap of faith for me. Qualifying for Worlds at my first Age Group Nationals was a dream come true, but I didn’t qualify this year so I can’t sit on my laurels.

Looking ahead, I’ll be focusing more on long course racing as I enjoy the endurance aspect of triathlon over the speedy, heart-busting efforts of short course. I’d love to qualify for the 70.3 Worlds in the next couple of years. I also have my first full Ironman on the schedule for 2020. While Kona is not on my radar now, I’ll be interested to experience what it’s like to complete 140.6 miles in one day. I’m sure that will humble me, and take me places I’ve never been before mentally.


My next race is Augusta 70.3 on September 29th, then the local Dam Triathlon on October 12th. While this is the last triathlon of my 2019 season, I’ll be back on the bike for the Hincapie Gran Fondo on October 19th.