ITU World Sprint Triathlon Grand Final 2014 (Race Report)/Alison Nieto

On August 29, 2014, I competed in the ITU World Sprint Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada. It was by far the most competitive and prestigious race in which I had ever competed. I knew that I had worked hard over the past year to prepare for this race, but I was still extremely nervous in the weeks leading up to my trip. I kept wondering if I had done everything possible in my workouts, if I had competed in the correct races over the summer to prepare me, and if working through two sprained ankles during the prior year had hurt my training at all. During the final few days leading up to the race, I relied on my coach Kevin Reen for strategic tips and pep talks and he assured me that I was ready to compete against some of the best triathletes in the world! I was hoping he was right.

I left the Wednesday before the race (I raced on Friday) to fly out to Edmonton (with a stopover in Toronto). I figured that we would have a full day of travel, followed by a day of preparing myself for the race and participating in the opening events with Team USA. My husband, Miguel, and my parents also traveled with me, which was tremendous support and helped to calm my nerves a bit. My bike had already been shipped out a few weeks before through Raceday Transport and while I was confident that it would be at the race site on time (as I had used them to ship my bike to Nationals the year before), I was a bit worried about how training on my road bike for the past few weeks may affect my race. There wasn’t much I could do about that though, as Air Canada was not allowing athletes to check bikes on the plane heading to Edmonton and so most athletes had to find other options for getting their bikes out to the race site.

We had a smooth trip out to Edmonton, checked into our hotels (Miguel and I were staying at the host hotel, while my parents were staying a block away), and after a quick dinner we called it a night. I knew that the next day was going to be hectic and full of activities.

On Thursday morning we headed out early to City Hall, where I had to pick up my race packet between 8 and 9:30am. After getting my race numbers (and taking a few quick pictures in the awesome athlete cardboard cut-outs!), it was time to head to the race site. The race was to take place in Hawrelak Park, which was a few miles outside of downtown Edmonton and therefore we had to drive our rental car there. There was no parking at the race site, but the city had free shuttle buses that went from the local University and dropped us off right at the entrance of the park. While I thought that this was going to be a hassle with the huge number of athletes and their families, it was very organized and actually worked out well.

We finally arrived at the race site, where I quickly located the Raceday Transport tent and collected my bike. I went for a short ride inside the park (it felt so great to be on my tri bike again!), followed by a quick run to get the legs moving. Next, it was time to check my bike into transition. I had never been to a race in which the bike check-in was so strict! I had to bring my official Team USA uniform and show the officials that it had the appropriate logos, plus I had to wear my helmet and show that the chin strap was tight enough. I found my rack in the huge transition area and dropped off my bike. I was placed exactly in the middle of my rack and knew that I would have to be very careful in the race to remember where my gear was located. I walked around to check out the entrances/exits for each race leg and felt a bit overwhelmed by how long the transition was going to be. I realized that there was not time to worry and had to head back to the city in time for a mandatory Team USA meeting.

All of the sprint and Olympic-distance athletes were required to attend the meeting to go over the race day schedules and important facts and tips about the race venue. I actually think that the meeting made me a bit more nervous because I felt like there were so many things that I had to remember for the race. I just hoped that everything stuck in my head! We then had a team picture taken in which we all were asked to wear our white long-sleeved jerseys that we received with our uniforms. It was kind of difficult to get so many of us organized (and all looking in the right direction), but we finally accomplished that task.

Next, we all headed over to a nearby square in which all of the athletes gathered for the Parade of Nations. It reminded me of the Opening Games of the Olympics, in which the athletes from each country wore their uniforms and were introduced as a team before a crowd of spectators. I couldn’t believe how many athletes there were from all around the world, including Australia, Germany, Japan, and Great Britain. It was so cool to see such a diverse group of individuals who had come to Edmonton to represent their countries in the great sport of triathlon. All of the athletes paraded together to the city plaza a few blocks away, in which city officials announced each representing country and a huge audience cheered. Once all of the athletes reached the plaza, the ceremony opened with the Canadian National Anthem and a flyover by fighter jets. What a cool experience to hype up everyone for their races! I will never forget the pride that I felt in walking with my teammates and representing the USA.

After the parade and a protein-packed dinner, I was in bed early to prepare for race day. I felt tired and a little sore from all the walking that day, but tried to put it out of my mind, as I focused on getting rest and making sure that I had all of my gear organized and ready.

Race morning came quickly and I felt ready to go! Back to Hawrelak Park we went, except this time it was to actually race. Yikes! The nerves were really starting to set in! When we arrived at the park, I found my bike in transition and started to set up. My bike was wet from being outside all night and I was annoyed with myself for not leaving plastic bags on my handlebars and seat. Instead, I wiped down my bike with my towel and set up my transition area. We weren’t allowed to keep towels in transition, so I lined up everything on the wet grass and headed out for a quick warm-up run. My legs felt a bit tired, but there was not time to dwell on it and I had to get ready for my swim wave, which was going off at 10am.

I lined up in the corral with the other women in my age group (30-34) as we prepared to head over to the swim start. A bagpiper led our group past a large group of spectators and over to the shore of the lake. Since the officials did not allow swim warm-ups prior to the race, this would be the first time that I would actually be in the water. The swim course looked relatively straight-forward and was a well-marked loop, so I wasn’t too worried as we got ready to line up. When the officials called us, we all walked over to a platform that had numbered spaces on which each athlete could stand. While many of the other women ran over the right side of the platform, I decided to stay to the left so that I would not be in the middle of the pack at the start, but still had a straight shot to the first buoy. I had watched the heats before us start and realized that we would have to take a step off of the platform and dive into the water for the start. This was a bit different than other races, in which there was usually an in-water start. I was just hoping that my goggles wouldn’t fill with water when I dove in.

The officials counted down to the start and my heat dove into the lake for the swim. The beginning of the swim was rough, as everyone was fighting to get ahead and I received quite a few kicks and punches. I tried to get away from the pack but remained in the middle of the group out to the first buoy. The group finally began to spread out and I was able to get into a groove and swim my race. I focused on keeping my stroke long and efficient with consistent breathing. I had no problems sighting each buoy and before I knew it I was heading to the swim exit.

The transition to the bike was long and wound around the entire perimeter of the transition area. It felt like it took forever to get to my bike, but I finally made it. I quickly changed into my bike shoes and ran out to the road to start the two-loop bike course. The first transition was long, but relatively uneventful.

After only about a half mile on the bike course, the road quickly ascended for a steep climb. I had heard that the climb would be challenging and had prepared myself to get ready to get out of the saddle. As the climb started, I found myself powering up the hill and passing a few of the women in my age group who appeared to be struggling a bit. I rose out of the saddle as I reached the top and quickly geared down for the next part of the course. The following miles were relatively flat and in some parts downhill, as we rode on the highway that the city had closed down for the race. As we headed back to the park to begin the second loop, there was a strong headwind, but I put my head down and kept pushing. After the turnaround, it was back to the steep climb for the second time. I approached it in the same way as I had before and was able to maintain my position within the group for the rest of the bike course.

As I headed back into the park at the end of the second loop, I immediately heard my husband and parents cheering and saw that they were holding up a huge poster with my pictures all over it! I was able to quickly wave as I headed back into transition to grab my running shoes. When I reached my area, I racked my bike and went to put on my socks (yes – I still wear running socks!), but noticed that one of my socks was missing. It looked like I would have to go sockless for this run!

The run started out on the nicely paved road that looped around the park and I felt strong for the first quarter mile. However, I noticed that the people in front of me were heading off of the pavement and realized that we were being led onto a trail. I kept pace with another female in my age group from Great Britain and was able to stay with her for most of the trail part of the race. As we finished the trail run and headed back out onto the paved road, I started to fade a bit fell back behind my competitor. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping good form, although I was starting to really get tired. I quickly grabbed water at the first water stop and kept pushing on. My legs started to get heavy and I had to stop to grab water at the second water stop, which I knew was slowly adding to my time. I stayed focus on just reaching the finish line and reminded myself that I had trained hard enough to complete this race.

As I approached the finish, the coaches from Team USA handed me a flag to carry through the finish line. I started my run down the carpet and was so glad that I was almost there! One person did pass me in the final sprint, but I felt that I still had a strong finish and was so excited to be done. What a great feeling! I felt that I had done exactly what I had trained to do and was happy with my race. I placed 32nd out of 62 women in my age group and realized that I had competed and finished among some of the best triathletes in the world!

I want to say thank you to Kevin and Breakthrough Performance Coaching for all of the support and preparation leading up to this race. It was truly an experience that I will never forget.


~Alison Nieto



About Jeffrey

Jeffrey currently holds coaching certifications from both USA Triathlon and USA Cycling has been an endurance athlete for the past 25 years. He began rowing for the University of Massachusetts and continued that passion training for a spot on the national team. Along the way he won numerous national championships and two gold medals at the 1995 Olympic Festival. After ending his rowing career he pursued racing bikes and running. This soon led him to the sport of triathlon. His first triathlon was Ironman Lake Placid in 2005, which he has since done every year since. He has qualified for the Ironman World Championships the past five years.  Jeffrey and his wife, Samantha, have three young girls, Eva, Elia, and Camilla. He knows the time constraints that the “real world” places upon an athlete and how to maximize your precious time.

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