It was an experience that Kristen Hetzel called "abolustely amazing."
It's understandable since she got to go to Nancy, France; represent the United States and finished in the top 20 at the ITU Duathlon World Championships last month.
"I was so honored to just be there to represent my country, family, friends and sponsors," Hetzel - a Class of 1998 Wheeling Central graduate - said. "The race itself went great, but what I realized when I got there was it's not just about the race itself, but also about the comraderie among athletes."
KRISTEN HETZEL, a 1998 Wheeling Central High School graduate, finished 19th in her age group and was the second American to finish at the World Duathlon Championships held last month in France.
Hetzel finished 18th in the 30-34 age group and she was the second American to finish. She posted a time of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 45 seconds.
"I had such a great time throughout the race," Hetzel said. "I did not for one second take for granted what I was a part of and what name was on the front and back of my uniform ... USA! I have done a lot of races over the years, but it was absolutely incredible to be racing against not just local or national women, but against women from Russia, China, Great Britian, etc."
Hetzel was a bit surprised shortly before she left for France when she learned that the race distances were going up. In qualifying, the race was a 5K run, 35K bike ride and another 5K run.
"I was told that the world championships would be the same distance, so I didn't check that information out further," Hetzel said.
The world championship race was a 10K run, 40K bike ride and a 5K run.
"My training all summer had been for the 5K distance," Hetzel said. "But, there was nothing I could do differently with such short notice, and I was committed to not letting it disrupt my focus and decided that I would do my very best no matter what."
Hetzel got off to a strong start, but she admittedly could feel the fatigue in her legs because she hadn't trained for the longer running. She put forth a strong cycling competition, finishing in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 40 seconds.
"I was in the top 12 at the end of the bike portion," Hetzel said. "My recent background is in professional cycling, so the technicality of the course suited me well and I was able to make up time on some of the other athletes."
The fatigue really took its toll on the final 3.1 mile run and Hetzell had "difficulty maintaining" her projected pace.
"I still had a good run and gave it my all," Hetzel said. "I did get passed by a few runners in the last 5K."
Hetzel arrived in France on the Wednesday before the race and her focus didn't deviate off that until she crossed the finish line. Her family, which still resides in Wheeling, made the trip across the pond to cheer her on and afterward spent time sightseeing around France and returned to the USA a week later.
"We caught a train to Paris for a couple of days and it was amazing," Hetzel said. "It's so beautiful with so many wonderful attractions that we got to see."
The world championships marked the end of Hetzel's season, but certainly not the end of her career. She's already got the 2013 Duathlon World Championship, which is slated for Ottawa, Canada, on her mind.
"I was very happy with how it all went and I am already excited for next year," Hetzel said. "I feel like I got into good running shape with four months of training. So, I think with another year of consistent running, and specific training, I feel that I can be even more competitive at the international level next year. I am definitely hoping to qualify for the world championship."
Kristen resides in Tuscon, Arizona.