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By Erin Dolan | Aug. 17, 2015, 8:50 a.m. (ET)

I had heard a lot about the prelim/finals format that ITU Tiszaujvaros offered but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Aug. 2-9 is considered their triathlon week, which means Tiszaujvaros, Hungary, hosts a huge triathlon festival for the entire week. Every night they had concerts, games, European fair food (much better than American fair food) and the streets were lively with triathlon vendors and people excited about the sport. Hundreds of people came from all over to the downtown to enjoy the atmosphere. With our hotel right on the race course, every night was loud. Music blared until around 10:30 p.m., making it hard to fall asleep before the town went to bed.

Saturday seemed to come pretty quickly. It was a boiling 97 degrees by the 3:30 p.m. start time. Everyone was a little nervous with how the heat would affect the outcome of the race. We focused a lot on making sure we were constantly taking in plenty of water, electrolytes, sodium and salt prior to the race. Earlier in the season I struggled in the heat, so I had been experimenting with salt tablets in training and wanted to prove that I was an athlete capable of performing no matter what the temperature was.

The race format was interesting. On the women’s side, there were two semifinals each consisting of around 33 athletes with the top 14 in each heat qualifying for the finals. The two top overall times after that would fill the last two spots in the final heat. My heat seemed quite a bit more stacked than the other. The challenge was on!

The swim course was in a small lake and consisted of three laps of 250 meters, which meant the first turn buoy was only 100 meters from the pontoon. This meant one thing — blood bath. My wave consisted of several strong swimmers. I knew I had to be fast if I wanted a chance at getting around that first buoy without getting creamed. Thankfully all the speed work in practice the past couple of months proved to pay off and I turned the buoy in fourth position. A pack of six of us got out of the water and through transition with a 20-second gap on the chase pack. We worked hard for 9 miles, but with a 15-person chase pack behind us, we were caught before heading into T2. T2 was a zoo as we all entered together. Somehow I managed to put my shoe on the wrong foot which cost me a couple seconds. Panic took over as I found myself the last one out on the run.

The first mile I picked off enough people to feel comfortable but I still knew I had to keep the pressure on; nothing about prelims would be easy. My coach Ian had told me if I found myself in a comfortable spot to save it for finals, but with many strong runners tailing me I literally gave it all I had to sprint into the finishing shoot. My stomach began to ache from the heat; my body was on fire; nonetheless, I crossed the finish line with a solid fifth place finish. I was safe to move to the finals on Sunday!

Recovery from prelims wasn’t as easy as I hoped. The heat made me sick and left me feeling weak, but I forced myself up early on Sunday to go for an easy shakeout run and to review the new course we would be racing on.

I felt more relaxed in the ready area this time knowing I had rightfully earned my spot on the pontoon. The temperature
©Janos M. Schmidt/ITU Media
seemed a bit cooler and only hit 95 degrees by the start. I found myself in a better position and more relaxed in the swim by finding some good feet early on. A small pack of us exited transition again with quite a gap, but no matter how hard we worked, a huge chase pack was gaining on us. It was going to be a runner’s race once again.

T2 was much smoother and I was able to run in a solid ninth until the last half mile when a Hungarian sneaked past me. However, I couldn’t be more pleased to finish the day with a career high performance at the World Cup level. To be honest, I was most excited about how much my progress on the bike really showed during this race. I felt stronger and more confident than I ever have. The course was technical and my bike handling skills definitely showed improvement. The bike has been where I have really struggled in the past. Even though our small front packs couldn’t hold onto our lead, I was confident in my ability to do my share of the work required each lap.

After a crazy couple weeks traveling I am anxious to have a couple weeks spent at home and get in another good training block as I prepare for Cozumel.