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Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Vitoria - Gasteiz, Spain. The ITU Long Course World Championship

Racing in an ITU world championship race really is a fantastic experience. The team feeling pervades everything you do. If you’re nervous, if you need something, if you are looking for company to go to dinner, whatever, we were all there for each other. We also made friends with athletes from other countries. We learned that we could put our bikes together from the box; we learned that we could survive not always having our food, our language and our customs.

Race morning
The sun broke long before we arrived at T1 to check our bikes and pump up our tires. Thank goodness for the organizer’s foresight: the bikes had been covered with plastic so were dry to begin the day. However, four portalets for 1,100 athletes who all had to leave their accommodation at least 90 minutes before the start was just not enough.
The swim was tough 4 km of rough chop. The buoys were marked in light blue in the dark blue water – who does that? The ride was fantastic – some good long up hills which were rewarded by equally long down hills. Sunflowers were facing the sun, the wheat was in the fields and the crowds in the villages made us feel like we were in the Tour de France. The headwind on the back half of each loop was a challenge, but the volunteers and the spectators wouldn’t let you rest. “Animo Canada, animo,” they would call, “Animo chicka.”
T2 was in the centre of town – miles from where we started. There to cheer us in were friends and family of other Canadian athletes. After a time of 4:01:50, over 120km, I was excited to hand off the bike, whip off the cycling shoes and run 300 meters to T2 to get ready for the four 7.5 km run loops. While there were too many surfaces (old stone streets and pathways, mixed with pavement of varying smoothness), it was easy to forget because, once again, the crowds were unbelievable. The first loop felt the longest because I hadn’t seen the course. I saw many other teammates (most on their second or third loop, while I was on my first). As my coach Greg Pace and I discussed, I just ran from water station to water station. The best part was the watermelon – local, cold, sweet and delicious.
I finally made the last loop into the finish area. As they called out my name, my grin was so wide it hurt my face. The icing on the cake was when I found out that I had come second in my age group. (The realists will note that there were only four of us, but what the heck.) We still climbed the podium in the town square and received our medals in front of a crowd of over 3,000 people. I was still grinning from ear to ear.

The experience proved to me that triathlon is more than a sport. It’s a lifestyle that affords us the chance to travel, to meet new people, experience new things and push ourselves to the limit.

National team member Gail Burgess lives in Burlington, On.

Challenge Vitoria
In 1986 Vitoria-Gasteiz was the first city, along with Santander and San Sebastian, to organize a triathlon in Spain. The event ran until 1995. In 2007 the city hosted a long-distance race (double the Olympic distance) that served as a Spanish Cup event and included 339 athletes. The event continues and, last year, hosted the long distance world championship.
In 2013 the event becomes part of the Challenge Series and will take place on July, 28. For more information, go to www.challenge-vitoria,com.