This week I was a guest at the Royal Navy Duathlon Championships which took place at Merryfield Airfield in Somerset. The race consisted of a 2.5 mile run, 10 mile cycle and then a slightly shorter 1.5 mile run. After all the recent cold weather, the temperature of 8°C felt tropical as I set up in the sunshine. However, the sun briefly disappeared and it started to hail and I found myself questioning the wisdom of entering so many early season races. Fortunately the sun soon returned along with my positivity, to the extent that I decided it was a prime moment to expose my milky-white legs to their first dose of Vitamin D for the year.
At the start I took my place at the front, mostly due to the width of the track allowing the field to spread right out. But also partly as a show of intent to my Dad who’d travelled to watch the race. He told me he hadn’t travelled all this way to watch me plodding along at the back. I think he was joking!
With a field of around 100 people I was hoping for a top 20 finish, but had no real idea of the caliber of the competition. Certainly the quantity of military and triathlete national team kits were enough to indicate the seriousness of some competitors. After the first 100 metres I was in 6th position as the field began to string out. A group of four elite-looking runners were disappearing in front of me, pursued by a solo runner, then a gap and then me with a fair bit of heavy breathing and foot stomping for company. I dared not look back.
It was a windy day and as we came around the first bend and into a headwind, I considered dropping back a couple of places to benefit from some wind protection. But then decided that the feeling of being overtaken might have a net negative effect on my pace. The first test of heart vs head in the race – heart won this time. I held my position without letting the gaps in front grow too large. Within the last few hundred metres, two runners came past me but I was able to stick to their pace and we entered the transition as a threesome. It was feeling good to be in an actual race rather than just a personal time trial.
My transition was methodical rather than quick, but definitely better than my last race. My first lap of the three was again my slowest, whether this was due to my pacing or from being above my cycling limit after the run is hard to say. But after being overtaken by a couple of riders on the first lap I managed to hold my position for the rest of the ride.
Duathlons are peculiar races in that they have 2 false finish lines where I naively hope that the pain will lessen once that leg ends, only to find that it actually increases.
My final transition was representative of someone who just hasn’t practiced the discipline. I came to a complete stop to dismount, too afraid of crashing spectacularly. I marvelled at someone else as they came gliding past with one foot on the pedal before effortlessly breaking into a run with their bike. Note to self – practice this fundamental part of the race.
I exited transition alongside a competitor doing my perfect pace so I decided to sit on his shoulder rather than hurt myself trying to overtake. We overtook one person. I considered passing him but just the thought of increasing my pace hurt my chest and lungs. With the finish line in sight I decided it would be ungentlemanly to overtake him, having benefitted from his pacing. In the end this proved inconsequential as he stretched away in a sprint for the line. I could hear heavy breathing behind me, and with my Dad at the finish line counting places I decided to cement my position and also charge for the line. I held on for 12th place.
I was really pleased with this race and result. Not only am I beginning to feel like I may be at my highest ever fitness level, it was a great experience to have been in a proper race – one where I was mostly aware of my placing throughout. I’m looking forward to pushing on and increasing my fitness further.
However, if I want to continue with duathlons (or enter a triathlon) then the race results confirm that an area in need of work is my transitions. I was 9th fastest in the runs, 10th in the cycle but ended up finishing 12th overall.