This race report is from the beautiful city of Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain where I competed for the 3rd time at the ITU World Duathlon Championships, finishing in 25th place in my age group in a time of 2:08:23. I had a great time with the Irish team throughout our stay, where the locals made a special effort to make these championships so memorable.
We arrived Thursday into Santiago de Compostela on an Aer Lingus flight full of grey haired walkers and a bunch of duathletes. Both groups were here for strenuous activity, some with hiking gear and boots for the camino, the rest with bike boxes and compression socks. It was great to see some familiar faces from previous duathlon trips to Gijon 2011 and Nancy 2012 – including Dave Fagan who I was staying with, but also people from all over Ireland and many living abroad in the USA, Scotland and England.
Pontevedra is a nice small city in the north western province of Spain called Galicia. It’s the home base of triathlon world champion Javier Gomez Noya, and previously hosted the European Triathlon Championships in 2011, so they do like their sport. We were staying about 20mins outside in a sleepy fishing village called Raxo. This meant our build up was a bit quieter with less of a buzz – we weren’t bumping into the multi-coloured tracksuits of competitors with flags from over 38 countries.
The races were spread over two days, with the elites (pros and U23s) racing Saturday and over 1,400 age groupers racing on Sunday in Sprint (5k run, 20k bike, 2.5.k run) and Standard (10k run, 40k bike, 5k run) distances. The start lines are dominated by Americans (300+), British (300+) and Spanish (300+), leaving us “other nations” to squeeze our way through the Union Jack bums and Star Spangled Banner tri-suits.
t find my name on the list, then thought I was Spanish and also thought I was an elite athlete. We also got to reccy the bike course. The run was through the narrow, twisty streets of the old town (Casco Viejo), with the bike a straight out and back on a road up a hill. The hill had a few decent ramps, with one from 2-3km and another steeper one from 5-7km, resulting in over 200m of climbing. Steep enough that the road had a fast and slow lane for cars making the ascent. Great thing was when we made the turn-around, the descent was fast as hell! We hit over 70kmph without even pushing too hard.
After a nice opening ceremony, where we heard from the mayor, all sorts of triathlon officials, as well as Javier Gomez Noya on video, we got some traditional Galician music and dance. We then had a nice team meal with half the Irish team. We’d a bit of drama on the way home, when our car had disappeared from the street we left it on. Luckily (or unluckily) it was the “grua” or towing company who had taken it, since the streets were being cleared for the race. It turned out to be an expensive dinner!
Things got worse the next day, when I lost my race number. I searched everywhere but couldn’t find it, so my nerves were getting at me, but thanks to our TI team manager Blanca I got a new number sorted quickly enough. I even got a few new supporters as two young volunteers asked for a photo.
I enjoyed it so much, even though it was hard, but yet such an honour and a privilege. I finished 25th out of 56 competitors in my age group, 30-34 year olds, in a time of 2:08:23.
Race morning started calmly with a scrambled egg breakfast in our local panederia, followed by a spin into town where we checked bikes in transition, after leaving them overnight in the stadium. The day was heating up, with blue skies and 25C degrees forecast. The thermometers, my face, the track and the support were heating up!
My plan was to use my strength on the run sections to make up time and the push as hard as I could on the bike, knowing that I’d lose some time to the TT bikers. My target was under 36min for the run (3:36 pace) but I was also wary of not going too hard too early and blowing up, so tried maintain heart rate close to threshold of 168. In the end, I ran well and felt strong and was pushed on by being shoulder to shoulder with another Irish team mate, Neill Weir, for the 4 x 2.5k loops of the narrow city streets.
Quickly through transition, I was out on the road, heading out of town. The support was great, from locals and visitors. I got a big cheer every time from Franky, Seán and Mick – tops off, skin sizzling pink in the sun, green shirts around their wastes and lots of “Come on the Deise! Come on Power!”
The first climb was fine and I felt comfortable while continuing to push. The descent was invigorating – never had I raced so fast on a bike. We turned around over the bridges onto lap two. My left calf was threatening to cramp a little on the climb, but it held together and I was back into transition in 1h11m.
My legs didn’t turn to jelly of the bike, so I felt immediately very strong on the run and planned to run under 3:25 pace to hopefully close the gap to Peter and Neill. I ran like Pacman – gobbling up GBR runners by the dozen. It felt great to be passing person after person. I told myself it’s only 5km, 2 laps, so it’ll be over real soon, so push as hard as you can.
I was hoping to catch sight of a green Irish kit up ahead, as then the chase would be on to catch Peter or Neill. The crowds were lining the whole route on the narrow twisty streets of Pontevedra – this cauldron of noise was a great support too. I was loving every step – yes it was hard and yes I was tired, but on the other hand it was such a pleasure to be running around a beautiful city, with so many people cheering you and taking part in such a friendly event.
I pushed and pushed along the river, entered the stadium and had 200m of the track to run. Franky and the boys were still shouting wildly – I was smiling as I entered the blue finishing shoot and ran down past the stand to finish line. YES!! I’d done it – not won the race or medalled, but done my best, had a ball doing it and felt great to be alive.
Everyone was on a high – we’d won two medals, Cillian Heery 3rd and Lan O’Connor 2nd in the sprint races. We mingled together afterwards, everyone smiling and happy. Such a good buzz – wish I could bottle it. We met an unassuming girl on the grandstand, who’d coolly mentioned that she’d won the race. We said which age group, she said “oh, the whole thing.” Aby Bagshaw was her name – such an unassuming girl, quietly enjoying her success. Her secret? Her painted nails – Union Jacks on each one – she said every time she looked down at the handlebars on the bike, her nails reminded her why she was doing this. Maybe I should try that next time?
That night, the closing ceremony was held in a huge outdoor arena, where they presented medals to hundreds of winners in all age groups (up to 85 year olds) and then we were treated to an amazing show by Orquesta Panorama. These guys were a tour de force – kind of like a Spanish Cirque du Soleil with a bit of X Factor thrown in. They could sing everything from Pink to Celia Cruz, dance like Beyoncé and do acrobatics like a circus. What a way to finish – the city organisers did a great job, by opening the event to the public, so over 5,000 people were there to celebrate with the athletes.
- 5 Overall – super venue, supporters, weather and after party
- 5 Run course – run through old streets was memorable and a great test
- 4 Bike course – good closed roads, hill sorts out good climbers/descenders, not technical
- 4 Organisation (registration, after party, goodies) – easy registration, great closing party, no finishers medals but nice base layer top
- 5 Spectators – run was perfect for crowds to watch, bike also good, finish in stadium was nice.
- 5 Holiday/Travel – easy to fly there; hotels, food & car hire cheap
- 5 Value – Galicia is cheaper than other major tourist areas. Right time of year as more expensive in July/August.
- What could be improved: finishers medals for everyone; exact course measurements of 10k and 40k