Avilés, Spain

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Duathlon Age Groups World Championships

November 4-8, 2021

Proud to wear Team USA jackets on the plane

For several years now, Josh and I have been training regularly for various cycling, running, triathlon (swim, bike run), and duathlon (run, bike, run) events. In 2019, USA Triathlon hosted Duathlon Age Group National Competitions in Greenville, SC and we thought – hey, why not? Normally, they move these qualifying events around the country and we’d known some friends who competed but never had the desire to travel far for it ourselves. When the events came to SC it seemed like a no-brainer. I qualified in 2018 and raced in Pontevedra, Spain in 2019. In 2019, we both qualified in the Greenville Nationals events with plans to race in Almere, Netherlands in 2020. Of course this was canceled, postponed to 2021, and then our specific events (Standard Duathlon and Draft Legal Sprint Duathlon) were canceled, then rescheduled in another city (Avilés, Spain) at a different time. To be honest, with the Covid situation in constant flux around the world, we kept expecting this re-rescheduled event to be canceled as well.

As you can imagine, training for these events has been challenging recently considering how much we’ve been traveling and how long it took us to get our road bikes that we’d shipped to NL before leaving Charleston. We were also in Italy for a full week just prior to this race with no workouts and eating ALLLL the food. Thank goodness for Anne Moore keeping our heads in the game when she could and helping us still feel like we could compete. To be fair, we have continued our training all year, with the exception of about a month when we first moved to the Netherlands where we just got in whatever we could. We did join the nice gym that is two seconds from our house, and she’s been giving us some pretty hard workouts since mid August.

We made the decision to take the kids out of school for a few days to travel with us. Mostly because we aren’t sure if we’ll end up on Team USA again and we wanted them to see us compete on this international stage. One of the best things to happen in the weeks leading up was Meli decided to come along as well! She wanted to see the races and also wanted to help us out with the kids, which ended up being a HUGE help. She was a great sport and shared a room with the kids while Josh and I had a room to ourselves and our (rented) race bikes. 

Us and our rented bikes in the hotel elevator

We left town Thursday morning with a driver taking us the 1.5 hours to Brussels airport, then flew to Madrid, and on to Oviedo airport (north west Spain, on the coast), then a 20 minute drive to Avilés, an old, cute town on the water, with a really large event space super close by. We stayed in Palacio de Avilés, which was the Team USA hotel, located in the historic city center, and a perfect place to stay. The rooms were spacious  and comfortable (the room Melissa shared with the boys was massive!) and it was so close to everything.

Our travels were fairly easy, but all in all it was a bout a 10 hour travel day, which left us all a bit tired. I was also fighting a cold that I think I got from the boys, so probably not my best self that day. We unpacked, Josh and I picked up our race packets, we rested a bit, and then headed down to the hotel “bistro” for dinner. It was raining  and we were hungry so walking around with the kids to find something sounded too hard and just chose the hotel. Spain, similar to some of the other places we’ve visited, but possibly even more so, has a much later dining culture. Some restaurants do not even open for dinner until 8:00 pm (which is practically bedtime in my book!). This was also the case with the bar/bistro. Some local restaurants, though, did open early on Friday-Sunday because of all the athletes in town, so that was really nice. 

Avilés is a really old coastal city. It has cobblestone streets, a big plaza in the center of town that is primarily pedestrian, tons of small seemingly family owned restaurants flanking the side streets, and church bells that still ring every hour. There’s a huge park where the boys played and where I was able to go run. The area is also known for cider and there were several siderías located throughout. One place, we liked so much, we ended up going back again (we even tried a third time but they couldn’t seat us). 

Friday morning was Josh’s birthday! We slept in, had breakfast with Melissa and the boys (and many members of Team USA) and then tried to make a couple of race meetings with Team USA. We had wanted to try to do a course recon ride with them but our bike rentals could not get there in time so we had to do the test ride on our own. Once we did pick up our bikes, we took advantage of the break in the rain and went for a short ride to see part of the course, including the super big hill I would have to climb in my race. I only went up part of it that day. It was enough to know it would be seriously hard. Doable. But hard. We got in a quick run after that in the beautiful large park by our hotel (where earlier Melissa had the boys doing obstacle courses, pull ups, and crazy exercises to burn off energy).

The very beginning of a really, really hard hill. There were more turns and inclines after this point that you can’t see in the photo.

We found lunch nearby and then headed back to the expo area to see what sort of stuff was going on there. It was where the race would start/finish, and where transition was located. There were a few booths, but as far as expos go, it was pretty underwhelming, likely due to the pandemic, fewer athletes in attendance, and fewer companies able to be there. 

Around 5, Josh and I had another Team USA meeting followed by a team photo. I was also able to get all the athletes to sing Happy Birthday to Josh 😉  We found an Italian place that opened early for us and Josh got his pre-race carb load on before we called it a night.

Saturday was Josh’s race day. He had a 5K (3.1 miles) run, a 12 mile bike, and a 2.5 K (1.8 mile) run. In his race, the athletes were allowed to draft on the bike, which can be super fun if you’re able to get in with a fast group. Everyone (theoretically) takes turns being in the front and “pulling” the guys behind. And when you’re in the group behind someone pulling, you don’t have to work so hard to go so fast. At one point Josh was going almost 30mph on his bike! His 5K was really good for him, he had a great bike, and then finished strong on his final run. Neither of us came with expectations of a podium finish, we just wanted to race well. And he did just that. 

We celebrated at a pretty tasty restaurant (where we would eat again the next day because it had good atmosphere, a large menu, and everyone was happy!).  I have to say, I was jealous his race was over. We had both qualified for both events, but chose to race separate events so that we could see/support each other. It just so happened that Josh’s race was first and mine would be the next morning. 

After lunch we took the boys to the park for more of Auntie Meli physical challenges and general running around and then back to the hotel to chill for a bit. Dinner was Italian again (the Spanish place where we’d intended to go was not open when we went by) and we were all in bed at a reasonable hour. For once, I got plenty of sleep before my race. 

Sunday morning, Josh got up early with me to help get me out the door. I was lucky that he’d raced the day before so he’d given me all sorts of insights, like not getting to the race site super early because the process of getting in was really quick and there wasn’t much to do once you were there (plus, the weather was quite chilly).  I also had to stand in a corral for a while before my race started, so getting a warmup in was going to prove difficult. I felt like I’d get cold again just standing there so my warmup was mostly just jogging in circles in our corral. 

My race was 10K (6.2 miles) run, 40K (26 mile) bike, and a 5K (3.1 mile) run. The women lined up with me looked like pros and were aged 18-40. I felt a bit out of my league, but everyone was really friendly and I enjoyed chatting with fellow USA athletes. It was also a smaller group than I’d raced with two years ago. The cancellations, travel restrictions, and general toll that Covid has taken on the world certainly affected the number of countries represented and the number of athletes at the start line.

I started fast with the women around me, but knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain it so settled down into a slower planned pace and watched all the ladies charge ahead. The bike portion was as tough as I imagined, but the people along the hardest parts of the course were really wonderful. The big hill that I had to do twice was right through a small neighborhood and everyone came out to cheer. I just kept making jokes with them asking if I was winning because sometimes jokes make the suffering less painful. I was able to see Melissa, Josh and the boys several times on the run courses and when I went out for the last run, it gave me such a boost to see their faces when my legs so badly wanted to stop. The finish was glorious. I was given a small American flag as I approached the finish line, and, after crossing, made my way to the family. I was spent. I was also last in my age group. It doesn’t hurt too bad to be last when you know you gave what you had.

I was able to congratulate a few of the women I ran with. The only other American in my age group, Kristen Hetzel, made it to the podium and I was so happy for her. She was flying on that run for sure. Another athlete, Renee, I’d met 2 years ago in Pontevedra, came so close to the podium this time (less than 2 minutes from 3rd place!)

It is exciting and humbling to participate with these athletes. I’m not sure if we will be on the world stage again any time soon, but I’m very grateful for the experience and for all USA Triathlon did to make us feel like Olympian athletes.

We returned our rental bikes, showered, and got a late (3pm!) lunch at that fun cider place we’d been to the day before. This time we got to sit in these barrels that you can see from the street windows and that was so nice. The universe aligned and we had a great meal and celebratory wine. 

Have you ever eaten inside a barrel??

The rest of the day was just family time with Melissa chatting about life and plans and all the things you chat about over well earned wine after a hard race. I wouldn’t even mention dinner, which ended up being Italian (again!) at a place we’d been to the night before, but as we were sitting there waiting to order, a young American athlete asked to join us. His name was Will Cottrell and he had raced the same sprint race as Josh the day prior. He was traveling alone and we of course welcomed him to our family table. He was so nice, talking with the kids, telling us about his teaching career, asking the boys all kinds of engaging questions. We had a great time chatting and then – he bought our dinner! So kind! And we even saw him on our flight to Madrid the next morning. It was a lovely ending to a wonderful day and weekend. 

As I type this we are traveling home to Maastricht. My muscles are incredibly sore – a good reminder of how hard I worked. Josh is less so (probably only because his race was shorter). But the boys are complaining the most about their sore muscles. Apparently, Aunti Meli’s bootcamp in the park took a toll on their arms and quads – hah! They’ll be so strong by the time we get back to the US next year.

All in all a it was a wonderful weekend. Many thanks to Lindsay Welker of USA Triathlon who had to manage so many changes and mini-crises (like athletes who’d brought their bikes from the US, and the airline did not get the bikes to Spain on time – eek!).

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