On the World Stage: Race Report from the World Age Group Duathlon Championships, Aviles, Spain

The experience of competing in the 2016 World Age Group World Championships was truly the trip of a lifetime. I'm still riding the high of the competition and the journey, from end to end. Rather than map out a more traditional race report that focuses on each leg of the race, I'm revisiting a format that focuses on the emotions -- and allows me to throw in a few pictures for good measure. Apologies about the length, but hey, this is Worlds we're talking about.

Gratitude - Mere days before I was to leave, I received word from my sports doc that a persistent and nagging injury - which had been bothering me intermittently and impacting my training since February - could be a stress fracture. The day before I departed, I received results of a rush MRI that my injury was a stress reaction (my old nemesis had returned, just in a different location) in my upper femur, which meant that I could race, just not at full tilt. I had pushed through an emotional whirlwind, which left me feeling so incredibly appreciative and grateful that, regardless of the race outcome, I would simply be able to toe the start line.

Speechless - The day I received the discouraging test results, I also received news of a different sort: my condo building had a massive flood in the lobby, which knocked all four elevators our of service... We live on the 29th floor. Rob and I got to know the stairwell intimately as we trudged up and down to get to my MRI, run errands, and carry my suitcase and bike case down to the lobby. I did my best to look at it as a final surprise blast of strength training.

Disorientation but relief - Over 20 hours of travels (alongside duathlon buddies Karri Beck and Dave

Farrow) across four airports, three planes and a shuttle, left me disoriented but happily, everything arrived safely and on-time. The Tri All 3 Sports bike case I borrowed from Coach Roger protected my bike and attracted some positive attention ("What is that?" "You're a cyclist? Cool!") in airports, as well as negative ("Is that a coffin?!?"). Likewise, I breathed a satisfying sigh of relief when my hotel in Madrid (Iberostar Gran Via) safety stored my bike while Rob and I zipped over to Barcelona for several days.

At Pearson International Airport, nice and early. Too early to check in, actually.

Where am I? What time is it?

Elation - It felt like the entire town of Aviles descended upon the route for the Parade of Nations, held two days before the race, really making us feel welcome. Without exaggerating, people packed many of the sidewalks and were literally hanging out of windows waving flags, as we walked for blocks and blocks, to cheers in many languages. The Spanish people came out in droves to support this event and its athletes.

Camaraderie - There's something about putting a bunch of motivated athletes into a new situation, shaking us up and seeing the results... We're here, we've got a schedule, we're trying to figure this all out together, we're a little nervous and really excited ("Can you believe we're really doing this?"). Camaraderie bloomed as many of us finally put real life faces to the Facebook chats we'd been having for months. For others, after having met on Ontario's racing scene in prior years, our friendships were solidified by the experience of travelling around the world and racing in Canada's colours. I won't attempt to mention everyone by name, but many of their faces are present in the pictures in this post.

Supported - Team Canada was blessed to have such strong support, under the leadership of Tenille, Shauna and Christian. Imagine the volume of questions that 76 Type A athletes can muster, especially when we're in another country where few of us speak the language. Tenille and her team responded with grace and patience. I also watched Tenille in action on several occasions pressing the local organizing committee and officials to make sure issues were resolved. But beyond that, this trio are true ambassadors for the sport and reminded us to savour the experience - and honour - to represent Canada.

Respect - Those Spaniards and other Europeans can RUN. On the first kilometre of my first run, the pack went out at about 3:00 minutes/km. Seven of the top ten in my age group ran their first 10 km (which was closer to 10.3 km) in about 35 minutes - or less. And many of them can bike, too. #Zoom. I planned to aim for a 4:00/km pace and if my hip didn't hurt, to push harder. I ended up running slightly faster from the start, finishing that first run in 40:13.

Exhilarated - The bike course, which during training rides had been a little confusing and fully nerve-wracking as industrial trucks rumbled past, turned out to be so much fun. Mentally, I'm coming into my own on the bike, growing the confidence to trust in my training and push hard. But it was the sound of hundreds of people cheering as we rode past the race site that really pumped me up.

Proud - Team Canada made its mark in Aviles. We flew our nation's flag from the podium, we rocked some pretty stylish uniforms and we weren't shy at the after party celebrations.

Acceptance - The blue carpeted transition zone stretched longer than any I've seen before. Dave Farrow used his GPS watch to map it out at about 179 metres, which meant it added over 600 metres of running to the race. (I happily found my assigned spot at the end of one row, which at least made it easy to locate in the "cardio fog" of transition.) The bike course officially measured 41.38. In a situation like, you just go with the flow.

Our lengthy transition zone... complete with industrial backdrop!

Cynical - Okay, perhaps that's too strong a word choice. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention what Canadians coined the "industrial chic" backdrop for our race route, especially the bike course. Is that a coal plant, we asked one another? Do you think they'll turn off the smoke stacks on race day? (No, they didn't.) The "piece de la resistance" was the Olympic flame AKA some sort of pipe that regularly belched flames into the air.

Forgetful. Or Not - No race report would be complete without the stats:

First Run (10ish km) - 40:13
T1 - 1:56
Bike (41.38 km) - 1:08
T2 - 2:06
Run 2 - 22:33
Total - 2:15:32

That time placed me 31st in my age category (of 55), fourth overall Canadian and 139 overall out of 556 athletes. I'm proud of that accomplishment and hope that I will be able to qualify for Worlds 2017 in Penticton. Then, with diligent training - and injury prevention - over the next 12 months, I aim to improve upon that result.

But that being said, I wouldn't have got to Spain without my partner Rob's support over the years of training and racing that led up to this event. He knows it is a passion for me but it takes patience and kindness to deal with 6+ days of training each week, almost year round. Many thanks also to Coach Roger Hospedales of Ignition Fitness, who wrote, then re-wrote, then re-wrote again my workouts, answered my many questions and emails, and has guided me along in this wonderful sport.

While nearly three months have passed since Worlds, a deep sense of gratitude, achievement and fellowship remain. When 76 Canadian athletes first gathered in Aviles, Spain, we hardly knew one another. But soon, we were united, wearing the maple leaf and each facing a challenge of strength and endurance.

Photo credits to Noel McDonald, Jasmin Aggarwal, Karri Beck and several others from Team Canada and family!


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