Rookie year in Elite racing

Cathia Schar representing Switzerland

In February of last year, I launched this blog with the dual goals of chronicling my journey as a triathlete aspiring to reach the professional ranks, and of sharing the experiences of fellow athletes.

Shortly thereafter, I introduced my first series, “Race Diaries,” where I dissect and summarize my racing experiences. This series kicked off in March with the SLT Arena Games in Montreal, where I secured a 5th place finish. This marked the beginning of my quest for Olympic qualification, a journey that led me to garner crucial points at World Cups in New Zealand and Mexico.

Throughout 2023, I also published interviews with notable athletes such as Manoel Messias, Margaret Vrablova, and Cathia Schar. Their unique stories, training methodologies, and perspectives on triathlon offer enlightening and engaging reads.

Highs of 2023

Aquathlon World Champs

In the midst of a packed schedule, my brother and I both achieved the incredible feat of becoming Aquathlon World Champions. This year, the World Championships were hosted on the picturesque island of Ibiza, Spain. For me, this was my second World title, following my victory at the Junior World Champs in 2022.

I had a strong swim, leading from start to finish in the water. This effort was exhaustive, as there was no bike segment to recover from the demanding swim. Adrenaline probably played its part, as I managed to maintain the lead for the first 2km of the run. However, the intensity of the swim eventually caught up with me. I finished 5th overall and 1st in the U23 category. This race was a learning experience for me, as I allowed pre-race nerves and emotions to affect my strategy and performance. For a full account, you can visit my blog post dedicated to this event.

Me at the podium as a World Champ

The European Games

The European Games followed closely, just 10 days after the Huatulco World Cup. This event was the most prestigious of my career to that point. The European Games are akin to the Olympics but are exclusive to European countries – a kind of mini-Olympics. However, the scale was anything but ‘mini’. The athlete village was immense, hosting a variety of sports, including triathlon. The race was set against the backdrop of a beautiful lake and surrounding roads near Krakow.

Unfortunately, the individual race was marred by heavy rain, but surprisingly, this didn’t hinder me. I had a solid swim, managing to break away from the pack early and stabilize my position. After 1500 meters in the water, I emerged 5th, ready for the 40km bike leg, which felt longer than usual. Our lead held until the penultimate lap when we were caught, a disheartening blow to our earlier efforts. I conserved energy in the final laps, focusing on staying with the pack.

In the run, I tried something new by putting on socks in T2 – the story behind this decision is detailed in World Triathlon Podcast ep. 86. This strategy paid off, allowing me to continually find competitors to challenge and ultimately set a personal best in the 10k. I finished 15th, a performance I regard as my best in the Olympic distance to date.

The relay event occurred just four days later. Typically, Hungary isn’t seen as a front-runner in relays, but we rewrote that narrative in 2023. With a combination of excitement, luck, and strong personal performances, we secured a bronze medal, a team effort that felt almost miraculous. We fought hard and didn’t fully grasp our position until the very end. For a detailed account, check out my blog.

Bronze at the European Games

Relays of Hamburg

The relay season progressed with my selection for the Elite Mixed Relay World Championships in Hamburg. Due to a teammate’s injury, I was unexpectedly called upon to participate in the U23 relay, receiving notice just 3 hours before the start.

In the U23 relay, as the second leg, I aimed to reverse our fortunes. My performance was the best of my career in a relay. Despite achieving the fastest time among all females across all legs, we fell short of the podium. Nevertheless, it served as an excellent warm-up for the Elite Mixed Relay World Championships.

In the Elite relay, I was the fourth and final leg. I feel a sense of responsibility in this position, driven to honor my teammates’ efforts. Csongor started strongly, despite competing three times that weekend. Zsanett and Márk followed, each excelling in their segments. When it was my turn, I swam well and biked with all my might.

Our collective effort was rewarded with a remarkable 5th place among elite teams, significantly boosting our Olympic Ranking. Post-race, we found ourselves in a qualifying position for the Olympics.

On the roads of the marvelous Hamburg

Paris Olympic Test Event

Paris holds a unique charm with its vibrant culture and architecture – an ideal Olympic venue from an athlete’s perspective. The stakes were high, especially after two successful mixed relay races, making this the most significant event of the year for me.

Unexpectedly, the triathlon was modified to a duathlon due to pollution in the Seine, eliminating the swim segment. Though mentally prepared for a change, I was deeply disappointed. There had been discussions about whether the event would proceed as a triathlon following the cancellation of the Open Water Test Event a few weeks earlier.

Our relay team’s strength lies in our swimming and biking skills, so the absence of the swim was a significant setback. Nevertheless, we adapted and finished 8th, only two seconds behind 6th place.

My feelings were mixed. An 8th place finish at the Olympic Test Event is extraordinary, but I believe we had the potential for more. Perhaps this year in Paris will be different. For more on this race, read my blog post.

Running with those who I only seen on TV before

World Cup Weihai

As I’ve often mentioned, I have a preference for the Olympic distance over the sprint, and it was finally time to return to it. The stage in Weihai seemed perfectly set for an outstanding performance, with all the elements aligned for me to collect as many points as possible. I felt strong both mentally and physically, and the start list wasn’t as crowded as it had been in Yeongdo.

This World Cup event in Weihai marked the beginning of Bianca Seregni’s extraordinary dominance. She eclipsed everyone in the swim, emerging with a 23-second lead. After the first leg, I was in 7th place, and my objective was crystal clear: I needed to fragment the group and catch up to Bianca as swiftly as possible.

We achieved this goal relatively quickly. By the end of the bike segment, the field had narrowed down to just 17 athletes. I executed a very efficient transition, placing me in the top 6 at the start of the run. I paced myself well throughout the 10k, constantly finding competitors to challenge. My running time was commendable, especially considering the heat and the hilly nature of the course.

Ultimately, I finished 10th, surpassing my previous best record. At the season’s start, I hadn’t imagined securing a top 10 finish in the World Cup circuit.

Appreciating the race

A few races to mention

World Triathlon Cup Yeongdo

Although the Korean World Cup was a sprint distance nestled between two crucial Mixed Relay Races, I arrived with lofty expectations. I was eager to capitalize on the intense training camps of the preceding weeks. My strategy was to dominate in the swim and power through the bike segment, aiming to offset my weaknesses in running.

For much of the season, my swimming performance hadn’t been at its peak. While it might have appeared satisfactory from an outsider’s perspective, it fell short of my true potential. This shortfall was largely due to my abbreviated off-season. The late ending of the 2022 season and the early onset of the 2023 season left little room for dedicated swim training. This experience taught me a tough lesson about the importance of off-season training.

Emerging from the water in 2nd place, I realized I hadn’t made the impact I had intended. Typically, my tactic involves pushing hard in the initial bike laps to create a gap from the chasing pack before they can regroup.

Despite efforts to collaborate, our group lacked cohesion, with only a few of us working. By the second lap, we had built a 16-second lead – a margin that might seem substantial, but in reality, can be quickly closed. This is precisely what transpired. The lack of collective commitment to extend our lead meant that by mid-race, I opted to conserve energy and settled into the middle of the pack, gearing up for the run.

Exiting T2 in 8th place, I now reflect that perhaps I overthought the running segment. I finished 16th, marking my best-ever position in a World Cup event. Clearly, my running has improved; however, my focus during the race was misdirected.

On the billboard of the Yeongdo World Cup

World Triathlon Cup Chengdu

Following the Weihai event, I had nearly two months to engage in intensive training in Sursee, Switzerland, before returning to China fully prepared.

Exiting the water in 6th place, our immediate task was to close the gap on the leaders, which we accomplished swiftly. The bike leg proceeded without much fanfare. Despite my attempts to break away, the group’s response was non-existent. We all seemed to be striving for a delicate balance between exerting effort and conserving energy.

What truly gratified me was my performance in the run. I paced myself well, running my own race – a strategy I had missed at the Yeongdo World Cup. After a swift transition (T2), I was in 2nd place, but was quickly overtaken, a development that took me by surprise. However, I reminded myself of the distance ahead – an Olympic distance race meant I had 9km to regain ground and set my own pace.

In the end, I crossed the finish line in 12th place, a testament to the hard work I’ve put into my running. It was satisfying to see that effort pay off.

After the race, my friends and I realized that Chengdu is home to a famous Panda Park. None of us had ever seen pandas in real life, so we visited the park and saw plenty, enough to last a lifetime.

Giving high fives on the finishline

Plans for 2024

At the start of 2023, I was ranked around 140th in the Individual Olympic Rankings, and now I find myself at 89th. The Olympic Simulation indicates that to qualify for the Games, one needs to be in the top 66. Thus, the pursuit continues, with only six months remaining in the qualification period.

However, the primary focus is on excelling in the Mixed Relay qualification races. There are two World Mixed Relay series races scheduled: one in Napier, New Zealand, in February, and another in Abu Dhabi in March. Both are crucial, as performing well in them could secure a top 9 finish, eliminating the need to compete in Huatulco, Mexico, for a last-ditch qualification attempt. The Huatulco race will be fiercely contested, so it’s prudent to qualify earlier if possible.

Of course, I am committed to further improving my running abilities. There’s still much to learn and develop, but I am seeing tangible results from my hard work.

For now, my sights are set squarely on the Olympics. What lies beyond that is uncertain. Perhaps I’ll venture into a 70.3 Ironman, or maybe not. Only time will tell. Currently, I’m in Monte Gordo, Portugal, for a month-long training camp before heading to New Zealand. I’m eager to see what 2024 has in store. 2023 was the best year of my career so far, and I hope to echo that sentiment after this year.

Additionally, I aim to expand this blog. I plan to interview many more individuals and chronicle everything that happens this year. But first, let’s look at some 2023 statistics:

The blog, launched in February 2023, has attracted 1400 unique visitors and garnered over 13,000 total views. This exceeds all my expectations. I never imagined so many would be interested in my writing. So, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has followed my journey!

Training in the gorgeous Monte Gordo, Portugal

Final thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to read this year-summary post. If you don’t want to miss anything fresh here, follow me on Instagram, where I will always share if a new article is up. If you found a mistake or have an idea for the future, please do not hesitate to reach out to me on the given platforms!

Cheers and Wishing you the best 2024! :)

Disclaimer: Few of the photos above were taken by World Triathlon and they are the respectful owners.