I’ve been to heaven and back.  I’m infinitely changed but also, just the same.  These past two weeks have been some of the best in my whole life, for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which was the amazing honor I had in representing my country at the Duathlon World Championship in Pontevedra, Spain.  Just typing that makes me want to cry.  I don’t think I fully realized what it meant, until I found myself running through the streets of Spain, the words “USA” emblazoned in lycra, on my stomach and ass.  I became the BULL.  But, I’m getting way ahead of myself.

VITAAdventures_PreGame

I hope you will all forgive me for taking this slow.  It’s not a speed I usually know anything about, but I warned you, I’ve been changed.  I want to pump the brakes a bit because perhaps, if I take my time, and write about each chapter as it unfolded, I can hold onto it a little longer and with better clarity.  I know I will never forget all that transpired over the past 11 days, but I want to take you though the journey so you can fully appreciate it as well – because it was one hell of a ride!

In the months leading up to what I referred to as “the biggest race of my life,” I wrote a Weekly Rundown of all the training I was doing with a healthy dose of snark, randomness and snippets of everyday life.  I’m going to treat this series the same way – with weekly posts each Monday (I know it’s not Monday but I just got home!), on a different stage of my trip to Spain and Portugal.

If you follow me at all in other social media outlets, you already know the outcome of the race – but I promise you – that is the very least of it!

And so, I’ll begin with what I’ll refer to as my “pre-game” or the insanity of the days leading up to the race:

Our last supper in Boston at Logan Airport.  Notice the hubs trying to get in every last second of work on his laptop.

Our last supper in Boston at Logan Airport. Notice the hubs trying to get in every last second of work on his laptop.

 

DAY ONE – BOSTON, MA TO VIGO, SPAIN

FLIGHTS:  They were just as I like them – completely uneventful.  The boys even somewhat behaved, everyone had their own TV (Mom – Oh my God they have Ben 10!), and we all even managed to get a little sleep.  We left at 5pm eastern time and arrived (after a stop in Madrid) at 9am Spain time.  Because that’s what it’s called, right?  Everyone was raring to go, even though it was now 3AM eastern time and we had officially begun our six hour deprivation.  Little did we know how much this would suck over the next three days or so.

Our luggage didn’t make it.

We practically had to run to our connection so it wasn’t that big of a surprise, but not a good sign for me.  Luckily I had absolutely everything I needed to race with either on my feet or in a pack on my back – water bottles and all.  Filing out the “lost luggage” claim was also the first time my dad speaking perfectly fluent Spanish would come in handy.  Almost no one in Vigo or Pontevedra speaks English.  It makes you feel like every American stereotype you’ve ever heard.  All of a sudden we were the epitome of the stupid, ego-centric Americans, and (days later) I was wearing a monstrosity of obnoxiousness in my TEAM USA jacket.  Asshole.

It's one thing to wear this on race day and another to don a jacket and hat around town that screams "USA!"

It’s one thing to wear this on race day and another to don a jacket and hat around town that screams “USA!”

FOOD:  Good luck.  As someone who eats basically non-stop, Spain was my little private hell.  You cannot get food whenever you want.  This was another American shocker.  You also can get nothing “to-go” or “take away” as they call it.  You know what you can get?  Coffee con leche (coffee with steamed milk) that tastes like heaven, and churros or any number of pastries.  Pastries!  Are you kidding me?

What makes it infinitely worse is that when you can eat (around 9pm for dinner) it’s the most delicious food you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.  Maybe, because it’s so amazing, they have to dole it out only at very specific times of the day.  It’s that freakin good.  Oh, and you can also get alcohol at any hour of the day or night – so there’s that.

My staples: bread, cheese, prosciutto and BEER!  I went to the right place for carbs.

My staples: bread, cheese, prosciutto and BEER! I went to the right place for carbs.

And please don’t tell me that in Spain they eat very little for breakfast, have a big lunch and a late dinner.  There is no big lunch!  I was looking for this “big lunch” the entire time I was there and the only times these people seem to eat is morning – which ends at 10am, and night – which begins at 9pm.

RACE PREP: There was no rest for my weary bones.  The same day we landed, I needed to be in Pontevedra, to claim, unpack and put my beloved bike back together.  RaceDay Transport, who shipped it there with a boatload of drama on my end, did an amazing job of letting us know where our precious cargo was every step of the way.  By the time I got to Spain, I knew my bike had already been there for three days.  I’m sure it missed me.

We were staying in Vigo because we needed to stay at Marriott hotels (read – reward points!) and the closest one they had to Pontevedra was Vigo.  It turned out to be a blessing.  The race was in Pontevedra, which was a 20 minute and 50 euro cab ride away.  My husband was thrilled at how many back and forth trips I had to make!

On that first day, I think we both fell asleep in the cab to Pontevedra.  I know because I woke myself up with my own snoring.  Super hot.

The Galicia Palace host hotel was buzzing when we arrived!  Team USA was sharing the hotel with Team Great Britain, and both countries flags were flying though the lobby.  There was also equally helpful and horrifying information on our team bulletin board:

Helpful: “This place serves dinner at 7:30pm and the owner speaks some English” – written under a business card of the restaurant that was stapled to the board

Horrifying:  My bike was inadvertently sent back to the US.  Unless I can borrow at bike for the sprint race, I won’t be able to compete.  I’m 6’ 5” and weigh 180 – help!

The Team USA side of the lobby.

The Team USA side of the lobby.

I set off in search of my bike and took the elevator down to – 2 (everything below ground level in Spain and Portugal is marked with a negative or minus sign, which makes total sense) and found this:

The bike dungeon.

The bike dungeon.

 

Luckily, my bike was perfectly packed (thanks Tolland bike!) and all my hubs and I had to do were take off the wrapping and cut some of the zip ties.

The hubs accidentally cut the wire to my bike computer.  It’s only what I rely on for my speed, distance and time when cycling but hey, we were so tired and it was a mistake, so I didn’t freak out.

Once again, CRS (coach rocket scientist) to my rescue!  When I told her the news, she instantly said she could probably fix it and not to worry about it.  She has this uncanny way of taking the worry out of everything!  And, as you shall see, this was the least of what she did for me so I could perform at my best, for my race of a lifetime.

PACKET PICK-UP: The best way I can describe Pontevedre, is the way in which CRS’ husband Tom did when he said “This place is like a rabbit warren!”  I think I would have understood the Obamacare web site better.  Even my husband, who is excellent with a map, got us lost.  On this particular escapade, I was walking with my newfound friend and teammate Mary Rine.  We met at the underground bike assembly, and while the hubs was trying to repair my computer, she asked if I wanted to go with her to pick up our packets.  When we were handed the map at the front desk and told, in broken English and Spanish, that it was a “short walk,” we should have known it was trouble.

It was also raining.

Good luck getting here!

Good luck getting here!

An hour and half later, and after having to stop for directions three times, we made it back to the hotel with bib numbers, hats and shirts and were soaked.  Mary reminded me, mid-way through the trip “It’s a good story!”  She has no idea.

DAYLIGHT:  Somehow, in all of my research leading up to competing in Spain, I failed to come across a small detail about the sun.  It’s endless.  It starts getting dark there at 10pm.  We had all now been awake and moving for almost 24 hours and it was still daylight!  The boys were beyond confused and we were all a little delirious those first couple of days.

WINE:  Because every good day should end with a little wine, we sat down to eat like proper Spaniards around 8pm, and had the most fantastic bottle of wine and paella ever.  The boys wolfed down bread like it was candy (a trend that would continue for 11 days!) and happily ate meatballs, too tired to raise and ruckus at dinner (sadly a trend that would not continue) and my poor father had to ask questions and order for all six of us every.single.day.  My stepmom also orders like “Sally” from When Harry Met Sally.  Luckily, everyone we encountered in Spain was lovely, tolerant and welcoming.

If you see this wine, buy a case of it.

If you see this wine, buy a case of it.

That night, when we walked back into our hotel, our luggage was lined up and waiting for us in the lobby like six little lost souls.  Amen!

And so concluded our first day in Spain.  Don’t worry – I’m not going to take this story at a snail’s pace and do each and every day.  It just so happens that this post is too long already, so I’ll save the next chapter (PRE-RACE AND RACE DAY!) for next week!

 

What have you all been doing while I was away?

Has an airline ever lost your luggage?

What’s the most confusing city you’ve ever traveled to?