Our second day in the United Kingdom was Tuesday and we planned on spending the morning in Salisbury before taking the train back to the city. We walked by the giant cathedral which is the tallest in all of England. We of course had to get coffee from multiple locations as well. Although their coffee’s don’t compare in size to those in the States, they definitely have more kick for the quantity. Before heading back to London we passed by a bank where I thought I could exchange some money. The teller said they don’t do it their but just down the street at the H&M they do it upstairs. We headed into H&M which was a clothing store and sure enough tucked back in the corner upstairs within the lingerie and undergarments there was a money exchange. I found it quite odd of the location but I guess it is what it is.
We arrived back at the Kensington Thistle Garden around 2pm and much of Team USA Paratriathlon had just arrived and were also checking in. There were many familiar voices but were also many that I did not recognize. The team has grown so large over the last few years that its amazing. I believe the US Paratriathlon team alone was fifty people large. A team run was scheduled for 3pm and it was just what Colin and I needed to loosen up our legs from all of the sitting we had done. We did a short 30 minute jaunt in Hyde Park and begin checking out some of the course. Luckily, I had been in London three years before for a demo paratriathlon event which had much of the same course with some differences on the bike. This was important as we wouldn’t be able to get on the bike or run course before the actual race do to all of the other races going on in the area.
Upon return from the run, we quickly began taking the Matrix Tandem (#paintrain) out of the box and assembling it. We had removed the derailleur when packing it to avoid any damage on transport. I don’t normally do this and had a bad feeling about this when it was not screwing in smoothly when we attempted to place it back on. My gut feeling turned out to become reality as the next morning we went out for our first ride in Hyde Park. They are very strict on where you can ride in Hyde Park but I am not sure what they expected when you have over 10,000 athletes from all over the world coming over and trying to find a safe place to ride and the roads are filled with crazy motorcyclists that weave all over the road and streets that are opposite to the rest of the world. We needed to get to an entrance into the park which was only about 200m away and decided to take the sidewalk as it seemed safer. This was not well taken by an older local woman who shouted, “no cycling on the pavement.” I thought to myself for a second, “I’m pretty sure both the sidewalk and the road are pavement.” We knew what she meant but found it interesting on how passionate she was about enforcing local rules.
We eventually made it into the park after many twists and turns attempting to get onto the correct side of the road. We found a nice stretch of road within the park and began doing some build ups when all of a sudden “snap,” something broke and it immediately smelled like burnt rubber. We managed to safely stay on the bike but looked down at the remains of the rear wheel and derailleur. Five spokes on the back wheel had snapped as the rear derailleur had ripped off the bike and was dislodged into the back wheel. All I had to say to Colin was, “I hate bikes.” To give you an idea of how bad it was, pieces of the derailleur shot all over the road and another nearby biker helped us pick up the pieces and then said, “Good luck with that,” as he continued on his ride. The back wheel wouldn’t even turn an inch and we were forced to carry the bike over a mile and a half back to our hotel. James the team bike mechanic took a look and said we would need a Shimano Long Cage Rear Derailleur and five 258mm spokes. This was just as foreign as the country we were in if you asked me but we began another wild goose hunt to look for a bike shop that would have these items. We had no good way to call these shops and had less of an idea on how to get to them. We found a few addresses to some shops and I ran up some good international data usage with the GPS on getting to these places. Our first stop was a place named Even’s Cycles and the guys were very friendly but didn’t end up helping us too much other than helping us find another shop that actually had the derailleur we would need. We did buy some spokes from Evan’s but of course with our luck we came to find out these were the incorrect length. My question, and this is one that I have been asking for a long long time is, “Why the heck don’t they standardize parts on bikes so its not a needle in the haystack search every time you need a part?” I am still waiting for some genius to come through with this idea. We continued on our hunt and after a few transfers on The Tube came across Condor Cycles which thankfully had our derailleur. We brought the goods back to James and left them for him to do his work. I breathed a sigh of relief as I believed the disaster was over. We wanted to get a swim in on Wednesday so we took the quick dip in the chilly Serpentine Lake and did simulated race pace bouts before we went to our 3:00pm Anti-Doping meeting with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) which is always quite amusing. These meetings aren’t intended to scare you but every time I leave one I think to myself, “Maybe the only way to ensure being clean is by just not eating at all.” This thought only lasts a second or two and then I am back to eating pizza and ice cream :p
Upon returning to the Thistle we headed into the bike room thinking that the Matrix Tandem would be all fired up and ready to go. Instead, it was on the stand and the rear wheel was off along with the tubular and the spoke were still broken. The new derailleur was attached but because James was nowhere to be found we didn’t know exactly what was wrong. Later we found out the spokes we got were the wrong length and now we were against the clock to find a replacement wheel or the correct spokes. I thought we may be golden when I found out that Matrix Cycles had a booth in the expo but after doing a short jaunt the next morning (Wed) we found out they had none to loan us.
We had planned to spend the early afternoon on Wednesday touring around to see the sites of London. Colin had never been there before and when you travel all the way across the pond, its pretty much essential to at least see a few sites. These plans went out the door as we now had to put out a massive search for a rear wheel. With 10,000 people in town to race a triathlon one would think this would be an easy task but with limited transportation, limited phone usage and the fact that everyone else needed their bike to ride as well it was tougher than you would expect. I put out a mass Facebook and Twitter search and got many responses but then we had to figure out which options would be compatible with the tandem. Some tandem wheels have wider hubs and some wheels such as disc wheels are not recommended due to the increased durability required for a tandem. If it was the front wheel this issue would have been solved in minutes but with my bike luck it would never be that easy. I didn’t feel as bad about missing the site seeing when I saw that it was about 50 degrees outside and constantly on and off raining. The weather in London the week of the race was nothing near ideal and we found ourselves running through clothes at high rates. Each day we were there it was between 50-60 degrees and wet throughout the day. I would say that it was just like Seattle but then again Seattle weather over the past six months has been amazing.
In the evening on Wednesday, we walked past the many Rolls-Royce, Ferrari’s and Mercedes Benz cars parked outside the famous Herod’s department store. As we walked through the store we glanced at a few price tags and I immediately got as far from anything breakable as possible. Just to give you an idea, a large bowl was 19,000 pounds ($30,470) and the cheapest dinner plates were over 100 pounds (> $160) per dish.
For dinner on Wednesday we ate at an Irish Pub so that Amanda could eat some true fish and chips and Brittney could get some Bangers and Mash. I know you all are thinking what the heck am I doing eating at an Irish Pub two nights before the race but calm down because I had a chicken and potato dish with water. I was ridiculously hungry still when we returned so I did get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream and took down 3/4's of it. I would have taken it all down but I have Colin some because he looked like he needed some more calories as well.
Before we went to bed on Wednesday, Colin and I discussed our options for the bike. We decided we would use the rear wheel from Team USA Paratriathlon coach Mark Sortino who had graciously offered it to us when he knew we were in a crunch. It was a trainer wheel but this was a sprint race and the course was very technical so the advantage of race wheels was probably minimal. The relief of having a solution was more important at this point.
Thursday morning we woke up and ate breakfast with others of Team USA Paratriathlon. So great to see people like Melissa Stockwell (Also an ESPY finalist when I was in 2011), Sarah Reinertsen (CAF Poster child), fellow blind athlete Patricia Walsh and all the new faces. The hotel breakfast was yummy but we didn’t have any time to waste. We had to get out on our bike that team mechanic James did an amazing job getting it back in service. Colin and I had ridden the tandem multiple times now and I was so thankful that I had him out for three days prior to traveling to London so we had that practice. The Thursday ride was purely to ensure that the gears shifted well and to work on getting in and out of 180 degree turns quickly. It is very important when riding a tandem to coordinate leaning into turns together and communicating. It was of course wet and cold which was good because we would most likely have these conditions on Friday during the race.
Thursday afternoon we had our last Team USA meeting to fire us up and remind us that we weren’t just racing for ourselves but for our entire country. The mandatory race briefing was in the late afternoon and so I set Colin out to scope out the competition. I had heard that there was a young and up and coming British athlete that was a Paralympic swimmer and would be very good. I had looked at his results and knew that he may be right with us off the bike but I thought my run was much stronger and we could create a large gap before the finish. We met many of the other Tri 6 (blind/VI) athletes and they were all very nice. Many of them asked me if I was new into the sport which was kind of shocking to me but then again I hadn’t raced in ITU Worlds competition since 2009 due to my strong stand against the blackout glasses rule. This rule was gone and I was back in the mix.
The International Triathlon Union (ITU) did an amazing job on making some great rule changes in the last few weeks before the race and I was very happy about this. Any governing body is going to take a lot of criticism when trying to conform to International Paralympic Committee (IPC) demands but I commend ITU for including athlete feedback into their decisions. This will continue to help the sport grow in a positive manner.
At 6:00pm on Thursday, we were given the opportunity to swim the swim course which was key for me to know the shape and orientation of the course. Because I can’t see the buoys, it really helps to swim the course prior or at least have the shape and number of turns laid out for me. We swam the 750m course twice with a few race pace simulations at the start and finish. Colin did an amazing job of getting his stroke in rhythm with mine so that water didn’t go in my mouth when I breathed. The maximum length of the tether of one meter still puts you very close to your guide and splashes from their stroke can make breathing difficult if both athletes are not in sync. I felt very confident about the swim when we were done and it was time to get out and get some dinner.
For dinner, we met up with Brittney and some of the local friends that she knew from her stent of living in London. Daniel and Eva were awesome and we gave them each a CDifferentwithAaron shirt so they would be a part of CDWA Nation. We went to a nearby Italian restaurant and I got a pizza and ate it all. Their young daughter Ella entertained us throughout dinner and around 9:00pm it was time to head back to the Thistle to get our stuff ready and hit the sack.
The process of putting our stuff out for the race was very quick and I felt like I was missing stuff but then I just realized I felt this way because I didn’t have 20 plus fake tattoos to lay out. Under ITU rules, any logos on your body is considered “Ambush Marketing” and is not allowed during any part of the competition. This made me a little sad because I have so much fun covering my body with sponsor logos and CDWA eye tats. I told myself, “Aaron you just need to get over it and move on.” I was very tired and this made it easy to fall asleep despite being the night before the biggest race of my season. We curled up on our small twin size European style hard beds and dozed off until race day.