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Posted: November 19, 2002:

Triathlon: Canadian Sharon Donnelly's World Triathlon Championships Report

Canadian triathlete Sharon Donnelly has returned from Cancun, Mexico where she competed in the ITU World Championships.
This is her race report:

World Championship Race Report - Part 1: The Preparation Phase:

Cancun, Mexico was a perfect place to cap off my great year and I did it with my best ever finish at a World Champs - 8th place! I was top Canadian, male or female, and most important was that I qualified for Sport Canada 'A' Carding! (triathlon only qualifies for A carding for which the criteria is a top 8 finish at World Champs or Olympics. Any lower placing or any other race gets nothing. I knew going into the race that I needed a top eight finish, ninth was not good enough. I was aiming for top eight, and would give everything I had for that. If I fell short, then I would have to be satisfied, since I knew that I had done everything I could have done to prepare for it. That preparation started at the beginning of the year when I planned out to focus on three races: Commonwealth Games Selection race (also Canadian Champs.), Commonwealth Games and World Champs.

My previous reports cover the first two races (see my website This one will cover my final race and the preparation for it. My last report covered my races in Japan which were meant to get me back into some racing after a break from Commonwealth Games and a big build period. After returning from Japan, I had one week at home and then I headed to Clermont, Florida for two weeks of heat acclimatization training. I chose to leave my computer at home and I only called my family during my trip. I wanted to get away and focus on Worlds preparation. I organized and paid for the whole trip myself and was very appreciative of the support that the USA Triathlon Center gave to me. It is an incredible training center with a gorgeous outdoor 50m pool, brand new track (they just finished it while we were there). Florida was perfect preparation weather, with the temperatures in the 90's. So I made sure to be doing some of my runs at 9:30am when I knew I would be racing. I remember one day - I nearly died it was so hot and humid. But I knew it would pay off later in Cancun! The best part about Clermont was the training I did with Leanda Cave (GBR). We did most of our training sessions together and I suggested a few workouts that I think were key to our successful races (she won World Champs!!). I really enjoyed training and hanging out with her and so I was extremely happy when she won the race in Cancun.

I was the only Canadian there (with the exception of a few dedicated age groupers!) but practically every other country was there with their full elite and junior teams and a full roster of support staff. The Germans even brought a cook while the British team had a doctor and staff regularly checking their blood and urine! The British team was very helpful to me as well in that their doctor helped me out when I had some foot problems (stemming from my Commonwealth Games injury), and getting the occasional ride in their rental van! Their incredible support system was visible in Florida - and it was also clearly evident in Cancun with winning 3 of 6 medals!!

Ten days before my race in Cancun, I was done the hard part and my taper began. I was pretty sore and tired, but looking forward to the rest and the race! I flew to Cancun on Wed Nov 6th, four days before the race. It was good that I did that, since I arrived to find that I had been bumped from my hotel to another one due to overbooking. I had to spend a few hours arranging the details, moving my stuff and waiting in lines at the other hotel. They gave me a room with which I was not comfortable which was extremely noisy and smoky and I had a very poor sleep that first night. I knew there were better rooms - but how would I get one? I figured I would spend some energy on Thurs to ensure I get better sleep through the next three nights. I kept asking front desk to put me in a room further down the hall - but never seeming to get anywhere with them. Finally about noon on Thursday, my mind woke up! Hey I am in Mexico, money talks!!! So I slipped the front desk manager US$10 and suddenly I had a great non-smoking room 6 floors higher - near the end of the hall! So I spent Thurs moving rooms again, CBC interviews at the other hotel, and drug testing. It was another exhausting day! But I chalked it up to another day of no training; giving my muscles a little more of a break. That meant I would change my pre-race routine of taking Friday off and instead doing some light training. Be flexible I told myself. I had to resist the urge to squeeze in my schedule sessions that day - but it would make me tired, which I didn't need.

Friday before the race we had a great Team Canada lunch and it was great to see so many familiar faces! I only wish I could watch them race, but I would be staying in my hotel, out of the heat. Although, the past few days were surprisingly cooler than in Florida - the forecast for the weekend called for higher temps. I was happy - I had prepared for that! Dave arrived at noon - this will be the only race he will see me at the whole year! Friday night was the Elite Briefing and Start Pontoon Draw. Definitely, the most nerve wracking part of the whole race! I was happy to not be ranked in the top ten, since they pick blind - IE: no one can see where the other has picked on the pontoon. After #10 has picked, all of the occupied spots are shown on the screen with the empty spots showing (the occupied spots do not have names showing). I could easily see where I would prefer to start and had spoken with Jill Savege prior to the pick where she would choose. I chose beside her and was very happy. We were just right of center on the start line. I didn't even stay to see where everyone else chose; I left immediately. Looking back, that is the first time I have started a race, not knowing where everyone was on the line - I only knew who was on the left of me. It gave me less to worry about!

Friday, I also began hearing reports of large numbers of athletes getting the "tourista" otherwise known as Montezuma's Revenge. Many age groupers would suffer from the combined effects of it and the heat and not finish or barely finish their races the next day! I had prepared for this by bringing an electric hot plate, my camping pots, and a stash of food! I made sure not to drink anything except bottled water and I even threw out a huge 5l jug I had purchased that didn't have the screw cap security on properly (places have been known to take the jugs and fill them with tap water and then sell them). I was taking no chances!

Saturday, I did my pre-race training and occasionally went out to look at the steady stream of age group athletes on the swim and bike courses. I noted that the temperature was around 40degrees Celsius! I felt for them and prepared myself for the same!

World Championship Race Report - Part 2: Race Day, Sun Nov 10th:

I woke up at 5am after a great 7.5hr sleep. Had my favorite pre-race meal in my room (Oatmeal (not instant!), rice cakes with blueberry jam and an EnduroxR4 drink).

Then headed to the race start (only 500m from my hotel!).

I was pretty relaxed at race start. They called my name and I waved and smiled at everyone who cheered for me (lots of people!). I started beside Jill Savege but can't remember who was on my right. I got off to good dive and moved onto Jill's feet. By the first buoy I felt the pace was too slow and I was concerned that the leaders were getting away. I saw no one beside me on the inside, so decided to move to the inside for shortest line around the buoy. After rounding the second turn buoy I could see ahead and I had been correct, there was a gap. I sprinted to bridge it and when I exited the water to turn around the halfway buoy I could see the lead 4 women about 10 steps ahead of me. All I could think was that I had to be with them; at no time did I have negative thoughts that I couldn't catch them! I was maxed out running back into the water; I focused on getting recovered as quickly as possible and getting into a rhythm. I thought that they might surge and swim away from me - but the distance remained the same - so I decided to put in another effort and saw Laura Reback was behind them and I aimed for her. Very soon I saw bubbles and I knew that I could do it. I kept pushing until I caught them. I tried not touching her feet - which would give her notice that I had caught them. But unfortunately, a wave pushed me into her. By the big turn buoy I had settled in and began to think that the pace was too slow and that others would catch us! They picked up the pace again after the last buoy (about 300m to the finish) and I was swimming as hard as I could to hang on. I went off course a bit with someone just in front of me, but she changed quickly and I reacted immediately to follow. Exiting the water, I was about 5m behind the last of the 5 (Barb, Nici, Sheila, Loretta & Laura). Thanks to the race simulation workouts in Florida, I didn't give in and gave it all I had to sprint to catch up to them. I waited to take my goggles and cap off until I got to the pavement so that I could use my arms to pump through the sand. I had caught them by the time I reached the grass section leading into the transition (I had one of the fastest transitions, beating most of the men! 1:29).

I had a good transition and a great flying mount onto my bike. I was third onto the bike and fixed my shoes quickly while I was in good position. The group of us got organized quickly and we could see who was in it: Barb Lindquist, Sheila Taormina, Laura Reback, Loretta Harrop, Nici Hackett, Leanda Cave and I. On the first loop I took a drink of my bottle and I missed my bottle cage, hit the frame dropped the bottle! I tried not to panic. I was thankful that Dave had put drink mix in both bottles - because my remaining bottle would have been the one with just water! (I needed the drink mix!) Later in the bike portion of the race, I was out of drink and Sheila gave me the last of one of her bottles - I must remember to thank her. That was awesome of her!

Throughout the bike we all did our share of the work. After 2 of 8 loops, we received splits that the chase pack had gone from 40 to 38 sec! We became more organized and we began to put time on them again. (Later I learned that there was a crash with Jill Savege, Carla Moreno and Melissa Ashton)

It was great to have the huge crowds cheering and screaming at us. It felt great to be in that pack. But I was also in the moment and thinking only of what I was doing and not what the run would be like.

We came into the second transition with about 1:45 lead. I had a very slow transition because my glasses were caught up in my helmet straps and I figured I really needed them on this course in the sun. I grabbed water and sponges at every aid station. I went very controlled for first 1km. People told me later that they thought that that would be my speed, but I knew I would negative split. By the start of the second of four loops, I started to reel in Loretta and up ahead I could see Sheila. Ahead I could see Laura, but unsure if I could get her. I thrived on everyone cheering me on. I was surprised at the large number of people shouting at me "fast feet" (Dave told me later that he told any Canadian he could see, that it was my favorite cue and to yell it out to me). I recognized certain people cheering for me - it meant so much to me. After halfway, Michelle Dillon passed me. I still did not think about placing too much - I was just focused on running my race - focused on my form and quick tempo. At about 6km mark, I think I passed Sheila - but I don't remember passing her! I remember thinking of my pre-race plan to pick up the pace at 5km. I also heard Lance Watson telling me that I was the best second half runner. I didn't noticeably pick up the pace, but maintained it and didn't give in to my desire to slow my tempo. I also focused on my belly breathing (all cues that help me!). At one lap to go, I started to think of my placing. Only Michellie Jones, Michelle Dillon and Anja Dittmer had come up from the chase pack to pass me. I was in 8th spot. I knew that I had to give everything I had, and more, on the last lap to keep it. At the far turn, with just over 1.2km to go, I saw Sandra Solden just behind me and I knew Carol Montgomery was closing fast. Then I heard someone yell at me - "you have 20sec on Sandra." I did the math and figured if I put everything and more into the last km, Sandra could not make up 20 seconds. I had to increase my pace two-fold, to interval pace. I picked up my tempo and focused on the finish. I rounded the corner and had just enough to get over the rough final 20m. When I finished, I found it impossible to keep my knees under control and ended up being carried to the tent for an IV. I was so happy to have held them off and to have pushed myself more than I had thought I could before. I found a new level that has been hidden for a long time - injuries had kept me from pushing my physical limits. It felt great to be able to test those limits again.

I have finally receiving sport funding after being at the top of my sport in Canada and in the world for over 7 years. But it is only thanks to my family, friends, and all of my sponsors, who have made it possible for me to train and achieve these successes. They were all there when I really needed the support and I am so happy that they are continuing with me on journey to Athens 2004.

Women Race Results:
1.Leanda Cave (GBR)7. Laura Reback (USA)
2.Barb Lindquist (USA)8. Sharon Donnelly (CAN)
3.Michelle Dillon (GBR)9. Sandra Solden (BRA)
4. Michellie Jones (AUS)10. Carol Montgomery (CAN)
5. Nici Hackett (AUS) 11. Kathleen Smet (BEL)
6. Anjya Dittmer (GER) 12. Loretta Harrop (AUS)

The race will be televised on CBC Television, 1430-1600, on Saturday November 23rd.

Visit Sharon's website at:

For complete results and photos visit the ITU Website.

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