Jaz Hedgeland

Chasing a World Title

Jaz Hedgeland
Chasing a World Title

Lead Up

I'm a firm believer that everyone is equal when they stand on the start line for a race. I don't like excuses but I know everyone has a story and everyone has their own obstacles that they've overcome to get to the start line. There's been a few obstacles I've had to deal with and sometimes it seems as soon as one is solved another arises, but then again that's life. However as the saying goes, it's ok if you get knocked down 7 times, so long as you stand back up 8 times. I'm not sure exactly how many times I've been knocked down and I don't want these to be viewed as excuses but simply me sharing what has happened. So here's my story. 

I’ve been chasing a world title for 4 years now. My mission began in 2013 when I competed in my first World Championship race as a Junior in London. My aim was to win and I came away with fourth place, 5 seconds behind third and 30 seconds behind first. The following year the Junior World Championships were in Canada and after having the drive from the disappointment of the year before, I was the fittest I’d been and once again aiming to take out the title of Junior World Champion. One week before I was due to fly out, a kid on a mountain bike was on the wrong side of the road who I collided with whilst I was riding and I broke my wrist. So I didn’t even make it on the plane in 2014. The following year my training and racing was going really well over the Australian domestic season and I was now competing as an Under 23. As I neared the selection races for the World Championships I had difficulties with my achilles. I had two cortisone injections whilst trying to continue training, but I ended up needing surgery on my achilles and was unable to compete for a spot on the team. So winning a world title in 2015 was out as well. The World Championships for this year were in Mexico. I’d made it onto the Under 23 team and onto the plane. Prior to making it onto the plane though, 2016 still had some obstacles for me.

I competed in three Asian races in the middle of the year and came back with about 7 weeks on the Gold Coast until flying out for the world championships. Within the first few weeks of being back I’d have off training sessions more than usual but just dismissed it as having a bad day. A really good day though, was when Dan informed me that I’d been selected to race in my first World Triathlon Series race in Edmonton, two weeks before the World Championships. To say I was extremely excited and grateful is an understatement. I now had 5 weeks until I’d depart Australia to fly to Canada and then onto Mexico.

Two weeks later I was doing my run warm up, as I do each Tuesday afternoon on the same loop I do every week. However this week a new tree root seemed to have appeared and I rolled my ankle. It stopped me in my tracks for a few minutes, but I walked it off and finished my run session. The following day I saw the physio just for some treatment because it did look quite swollen but I finished the run session yesterday so it can’t be that bad. The physio advised that I have an MRI just to check I hadn’t sprained it and especially with races coming up soon. So I booked an MRI for the following week. 

The week between seeing physio and my MRI, my ankle was noticeably worse and affecting my training. I couldn’t kick or push off the wall when swimming and I had pain each step I took running. It came to two weeks before I was due to fly out to Canada and whether I could run outside or not by the end of the week would determine if I was still flying out then. But the next day I was having my MRI which would give us some answers. 

Nope. The MRI didn’t give enough answers so the next day I had to have a CT scan and then see a doctor and physio. Each hour waiting for results was agony. And initially finding out that I’d bruised the bone and torn two ligaments in my foot didn’t end the agony. But after the doctor said that I can’t actually make this injury worse by training on it and I’d just have a bit of extra pain to deal with, the agony then disappeared. I’d have regular physio and rehab exercises, have it strapped and just have to put up with the extra pain. So I was still getting on that plane. 

Towards the end of that week I started having some stomach problems which was also affecting my trips to the toilet, to put it nicely. So the following week I went and saw the doctor who sent me for some tests. The next day I got out of class at uni and had 2 missed calls from the doctor, 1 missed call from Triathlon Australia’s nutritionist, and a missed call and text from Dan telling me to call him ASAP… God what is wrong with me?!

The answer was a parasite. Turns out whilst in Asia I’d managed to pick up this very rare parasite, going unnoticed until my immune system was down when I had a cold just before I rolled my ankle, and now it was showing itself via stomach aches and diarrhoea. And now we had a cause for my off training sessions. I was ordered to go to the chemist that night to pick up a 10 day course of antibiotics to eliminate this unwanted friend. So my sprained ankle, parasite and I boarded the plane and departed Australia. 

The following week I raced Edmonton which was uncomfortably freezing. The next day I flew to uncomfortably hot and humid Mexico, with 11 days until the World Champs. During the first few days in Mexico my parasite symptoms seemed to be getting worse. A few training sessions were missed in replace for trips to the hospital. I was put on a gastro diet, given some more antibiotics and once they were taken sent for more tests. The results came back that the parasite had now gone, but that I’d had a viral infection. 

The next few days, which were the days leading into Worlds, I started to feel better. My energy was picking up again and I completed a run session without stomach problems. I did my last pre race session on Thursday afternoon which was a solo ride, giving me some time to think. So my lead up to this World Championships had been far from planned. But to tell you the truth, on that ride I was feeling good and I still believed I could do it. Four years I’d been chasing a world title now and I wasn’t going to let missed training sessions, sickness, a sprained ankle and parasite stop me from believing that tomorrow I would be the 2016 Under 23 World Triathlon Champion. I’d faced and overcome all the obstacles over the last month and a half, and had everyone supporting me. If I went into tomorrow’s race thinking they’d impact the outcome, I would fail to win the title before I even started the race.

The Race

It was the earliest wake up I’d had in a while, when my alarm went off at 4.15am on race morning. Checking in at the athletes lounge was in darkness, but the sun had started to rise as I did my run warm up. I thought that it might possibly be cooler with an early start, but my run warm up needn’t be as long as usual as I was dripping in sweat once I’d finished. It was no secret this was going to be the hottest and most humid race I, and most of the competing athletes, had ever done. 

The big blue pontoon sat peacefully on top of the magnificently coloured Mexican ocean, as all the Under 23 women were lining up. As we chose our positions on the pontoon and the crowd silenced, it didn’t feel so peaceful anymore as I felt my heart beating out of my chest. But at the same time I was calm and relaxed. 

We hit the water and there was 250m to swim to the first buoy, I knew it would be fast. It was hard to tell where I was amongst the field as we turned the buoy, but I felt I was somewhere in the middle. As we swam along the back straight I didn’t notice the many fish I did during the swim familiarisation, but rather the splashes of feet in front of me as I tried to pass as many as possible. 

As I looked up I could see a large gap to a small pack ahead, making me aware I was towards the front of the second pack. I was swimming at a pace my coach likes to call a comfortable uncomfortable. I was hurting, but at a pace I felt I’d just be able to hold for the 1500m swim. I remained in my position and exited the water with the second pack.  

The conditions on the bike weren’t optimal. It wasn’t raining now, so it was damn hot and humid, but it had rained earlier, so the roads were damp. This made the technical section of corners and roundabouts across cobble stones a cause for many crashes. My stomach turns a little when I hear bikes and bodies colliding with the ground, especially when it’s the person just behind me. The only thing worse is when that noise is made from me and my bike colliding with ground. I took a lot of caution around those corners for the eight laps on the bike and was glad to stay upright. 

One thing I wasn’t glad about was when I went over a bump a few hundred metres after we’d started riding and my bottle with electrolytes popped out. If I ever wanted to know what would make me swear out aloud to myself mid ride in a race, loosing my electrolytes at the start of a 40km ride which is then followed by a 10km run in 30+ degree heat and 90+ humidity, yeah that’d do it. Now knowing I was down to just one gel instead of two and only water, I tried to convince myself it wasn’t hot. I’d like to say it worked, because I had to try and reassure myself what I had left was going to get my through. 

Half way through the ride our group had been working well together and we’d caught the front group. Now as one large group it was no surprise when the pace dropped slightly. We were altogether now, so it was going to come down to who had the best running legs. 

We dismounted the bike and I’ll be honest, I should have been further up when I did. I’d already given the girls at the front a 5+ second lead just by being that far behind them when entering transition. As I ran out with 10km standing between me and the finish line, I had to approach this run smart. I had to go out conservative and build. I’d practiced it over and over again in training and won previous races with the same process. 

I took on my gel a lot earlier on in the run than I’d planned as I had a lot less calories on the bike than I’d planned. I was taking on water at every water station, and even with 6 of them every lap for four laps it still didn’t feel like enough in this heat. I was feeling how I expected to over the first lap and the gap between myself and the lead girls remained the same. I was hurting but I felt as though I could build. I could see the group of four or so in the lead as the motorbike followed beside them, and that was my focus and target. 

I headed out onto the second lap and tried to begin my build and increase my pace. I caught some girls in front between myself and the lead group. My confidence began to build that my plan would play out. However, and this isn’t a however I wanted to be including, as I reached the halfway point I felt myself fatiguing. Knowing how I felt now, still with 5km to go, I immediately knew it wasn’t good. 

The last thing you want to do while you’re trying to go your absolute hardest in a race is begin to doubt yourself and say ‘what if’. What if I hadn’t of lost my bottle on the bike? Would I feel better now? Would I be running faster? I knew I couldn’t think these thoughts because I couldn’t do anything about it now, but I’m not going to lie, it was so hard to block them out. 

Going onto the last lap with 2.5km to go people started passing me and I could feel my form going. My arms and legs weren’t flowing in a running motion anymore, rather I had to pull my legs through and force my arms to move back and fourth. There was hardly any shade on the course but I was choosing my line so I passed through every centimetre of shade there was.  

I can so vividly remember the absolute pain I was in as I ran down the finishing carpet in London at the Junior World Championships in 2013. The whole way along that carpet I thought I was going to trip over and knew I couldn’t possibly turn my legs over any quicker. It was pain I’d never experienced before. I was pushing myself through that pain to try and win the race. Four years later, competing in my next World Championship race, and I knew I’d have to put myself through that same pain to get the result I so badly wanted in this race. Running down the finishing shoot at Mexico in the Under 23 World Championships and I was pushing myself through that level of pain. But it was just to finish the race, just to make it to the finish line.

I finished ninth. I don’t like to say ‘considering the circumstances’ I was happy with the result, because it means things could have been better. However after a lot of thought time with a 16 hour flight coming home, my ‘considering the circumstances’ refer to circumstances that were out of my control. So I am happy with my result on the day, but I’m far from content as I didn’t achieve what I set out to. I’m still proud though, as I know I did everything I could with each obstacle I faced, to achieve the best outcome I could. 

With thanks

Before I wrap up this novel, of course there is many to thank. Thank you to Triathlon Australia and all the staff involved in the worlds campaign, especially to the team doctor, Stacey Compton who I kept extra busy, and Steven Moss for visiting the Cozumel Hospital a few times with me.  Furthermore to High Performance Director Bernard Savage, thank you for your support and all the best for your future endeavours. Also to Emma Moffet for all the work behind the scenes. Thanks to my personal sponsors of Instinct Sports Nutrition, Liv Cycling Australia, Parabellum International and Anvil Angus. I’m so grateful for your investment in me. A big thank you to the Western Australian Institute of Sport for making my Worlds trip possible. Also to Gold Coast Physio and Sports Health for always squeezing me in at short notice. And to the people closest to my heart, my coach Dan Atkins and my family. 

Thank you Dan for your unwavering belief in me and holding strong no matter how tough it gets. And to my parents, I’ll never be able to thank you enough for working as hard as you do in your parental ways to help me get to where I want to go.

Speaking of which, parents are wise people. I've spoken to mine every time I get knocked down and they always have the perfect words of reassurance that everything will be ok, no matter how long it takes. And they'll remind me that each obstacle faced and overcome will make me stronger and more perseverant. And when that victory comes after all that's been overcome, it'll be that much sweeter.

Unfortunately I’m still yet to taste that victory and still haven’t won a world title. However I’ve written this report and shared my story for two main reasons. Firstly for my sponsors and all those that have supported and backed me over the last few years. I want to reassure you that the best of what I have to offer is still yet to come. I believe more than a hundred percent that the training I am doing under my coach Dan Atkins and with the support I have around me, my racing results that I expect of myself, will come. The racing results that you all deserve as well, will come. Whilst I may have questioned myself as a triathlete post worlds, combining patience, the thought of how sweet that victory will taste when it happens, and thinking that surely I’ve used up all my bad luck for the next decade, I continue to get up each morning and chase every goal I have as a triathlete. 

The second reason is a bit of motivation for everyone who reads this. I know there are people far worse off than I am in this world. But from the small obstacles I’ve had to face, I want to reassure you that so long as you get up one more time than you’ve been knocked down, it will be ok. Maybe not right away but please don’t give up because whatever you’re chasing in life, you’re chasing for a reason. And once you get there, you’ll be forever thankful you never gave in. At least that’s what people tell me anyway. 

Up next for me is two World Cup races in Asia towards the end of next month. So I’m back into training on the Gold Coast, catching up on uni work I pretended didn’t exist whilst I was away and loving being reunited with my sisterly partner in crime. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I hope you all have a fabulous day.

 Ps. Our Aussie team won bronze in the Mixed Junior and Under 23 Relay World Champs! Finishing my worlds trip on a high

 Ps. Our Aussie team won bronze in the Mixed Junior and Under 23 Relay World Champs! Finishing my worlds trip on a high

Photos: Delly Carr