So, no pressure then

I did some more work with 220 Triathlon magazine in September. They asked if I would spend the day running and cycling in various locations around Bristol for a feature on duathlon. I assumed it would be a review of the kit, but a couple of weeks before my big European-qualifying duathlon race, the mag dropped through the door with this headline:

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1 way to tempt fate

I would have been more suited to a feature on ways to f**k up a duathlon. Doing extra laps on the bike leg, turning up late for races, incurring time penalties, not practicing transitions, eating right before the start, going too hard on the first run, going too hard on the bike … I reckon I could come up with at least 36 mistakes I’ve made this season!

Obviously I’ve come in for a bit of justified mickey-taking from friends and club mates for all of this posing in lycra for photographers. But I now had the added a pressure to ‘smash’ my attempt at Age Group GB qualification.

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The first part of the shoot was carried out on the Clifton Downs. And before you ask, yes it definitely is a nice enough area to go for a run and leave your thousand-pound bike unattended by a park bench.

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I had several different outfits to wear for the shoot. I got changed in a wooded area in the middle of the park. Item 37 in a feature on duathlon / triathlon should be “lose any inhibitions about getting your bum out in public”. Fortunately, unlike at my recent hill climb, nobody called the police this day.

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The second part of the feature was in Leigh Woods. It was starting to get a little bit tiring by this point. I’d been running and cycling short distances, before turning around and doing it again and again for several hours. We finished off with some trail riding on a mountain bike.

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My “MTB-bro’s” all laughed at me for this picture. I don’t think the shaved legs and lycra shorts are very cool in their world! Apparently I look like a complete ‘newb’. They could well be right – the last time I did a mountain bike triathlon I misjudged a jump and hit a tree stump, sending me over the handlebars! I prefer to keep the rubber to the tarmac.

Anyway, I somehow managed to learn from most of my previous 36 ways to mess up a duathlon and qualified for the European Championships next season. Let’s hope I can smash that…

GB Qual

Bedford Autodrome Sprint Duathlon 2018

I took part in a sprint duathlon race this weekend – a qualifier for the Age Group Great Britain team, with the opportunity to compete in Europe next season. This actually only became a personal target earlier this year after placing well in duathlons and wondering whether Age Group GB might be attainable. There are 3 qualifying races each year with the top 4 finishers in each age group qualifying. By the time I’d decided to try and qualify, the first race had already passed. I entered the second race in May and was in quite a good position before shooting myself in the foot and accidentally doing an extra lap on the bike. So all hope of qualifying for the 2019 team would be on this final race.

Racing in the rain

The race was held at Bedford Autodrome on Sunday. I’m not sure whether its proximity to London and the South East made this a more popular event than the previous ones, or possibly because it was the last chance for people to try and qualify. But there were hundreds of people taking part and 25 people in my age group so a top 4 finish seemed like a big challenge.

The weather on race day was horrendous. I arrived two hours before the start but was in danger of wasting all of this time sitting in my car and watching the rain hammering down on the windscreen. I normally warm up by doing a few laps on the bike. It’s less fatiguing on the legs than running and means you can familiarise yourself with the course. But in torrential conditions this seemed more likely to lead to hypothermia than serve as a warm up. I racked my bike in transition and tried to leave my shoes and helmet in such a way that would prevent them filling up with rain. There are lots of little kit decisions to make in multi-sport events, and having never raced in heavy rain before I had to just apply my experience of training in the rain. I ditched the visor from my helmet as it would steam up and reduce visibility. But it wasn’t until I was on the start line that I realised I’d forgotten to leave my cycling shoes unfastened … a few costly extra seconds during transition. The bad weather was very distracting to my pre-race prep.

Sub-optimal conditions

I went for a 10 minute jog on the track in full winter clothing and then just milled around with everyone else waiting to start. I spoke to a couple of other competitors who both seemed far more nervous than me. One could hardly construct a coherent sentence! It’s a bit schadenfreude, but his nervousness actually made me feel more confident and settled. I was preparing myself for war so compartmentalised any feelings of guilt! With 10 minutes to go we were called out to the start line. I stripped off and made my way out, but immediately turned back once I felt the cold and the rain and realised I was going to freeze if I stood around for 10 minutes. I forced myself to wait until 5 minutes before the start time.

Technically a duathlon but involved a fair bit of swimming

By the time I joined the starting group it was a heaving mass of bodies. There were two different length races starting at the same time and several hundred people in total. I tried edging my way forward but people were grumpy about making space so I decided to just leave the group, walk around the outside and then run off up the track to warm up. When I turned around and jogged back to the start line, the people on the front line obviously opened up to let me through and out of their way. Once the horn sounded there was a lot of jostling and I was pushed around the first corner. Not in an aggressive way, probably just by an experienced runner who knew how to protect his personal space in a tight pack. It was pretty exciting.

Settling in to the run

My pace for the first kilometre was 3:25 and quite a lot quicker than my target of 3:45/km so I eased off. My goals for the race were to pace it sensibly and avoid any big mistakes. Not to engage in warfare with other competitors, so I didn’t worry too much about how my pace affected my position. There was a long race ahead.

I completed the first 5km run in 18:03 (average pace of 3:39/km or 5:50/mile). My transition went fine considering the conditions and I headed out onto the wet track. The 20km bike leg was four laps with 9 corners each lap. With the need to slow down significantly on the slippery track it ended up being a series of short sprints rather than the usual consistent speed of a timetrial. And once the track had filled up with everyone it felt more like a chaotic road race than a timetrial. It was quite good fun, although there were a couple of hairy moments when I felt like I’d approached a corner a bit too quickly. Luckily I made it round without any incidents but I saw a few people overshooting corners and heard that unfortunately there’d been some crashes. I average 276 watts which felt good considering the amount of coasting through corners.

Grim

The final run of a Sprint Duathlon is only 2.5km and the time to empty the tank. My body hurt and my feet were completely soaked and frozen. It felt like having two slabs of meat attached to the bottom of my legs. They were not a part of my living body. In comparison to my competitors I am generally faster on the bike. Whilst this makes the bike leg quite enjoyable, it has the consequence of being overtaken on the final run. I just have to accept that the people overtaking me probably had a significant gap over me following the first run and I caught them on the bike. I lost about 3 or 4 places, but was pushing myself as fast as I could go. My average speed was 3:49/km or 6:09/mile which is quicker than I normally manage for the final run. Once I reached the home straight I took my first look over the shoulder and saw a healthy gap to the person behind. I also saw the clock was 59 minutes something so had the added satisfaction of beating the hour.

Sub-hour

I congratulated a couple of competitors who I’d been racing against and printed out my results ticket. I said a quick prayer to the Duathlon gods and looked. 4th place in my Age Group! It was a great feeling to have hit my goal, and I immediately headed off to get some dry clothing on. My whole body was shaking, probably from a mix of adrenaline and the cold. I drove the whole 3 hours back to Bristol wearing a hat and coat with the heaters on full blast! And stopped twice for the best-tasting, worst-food! Never before has a Burger King tasted so amazing!

I have to wait for official confirmation from British Triathlon that I’ve qualified for the team and then hopefully there will be instructions on what happens next. Team GB kit with my name on it and a big race in Romania next summer beckons. What a great way to end the season.

Castle Combe Summer Duathlon

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I took part in the final Sprint Duathlon of the summer series at Castle Combe this week. After the frustration of getting a stitch during Run 2 of my previous duathlon, I was hoping to have a trouble-free race. I suppose it ought to be obvious, but duathlons always seem to present far more challenges than racing a bike. The simplicity of riding a bike falls to pieces when you try and bookend it with a couple of runs at full tilt. During most duathlons I spend the first run looking forward to being on my bike, and the second run questioning why I put myself through such pain.

I was held up by traffic en route to the race so didn’t have much time for a warm up. I’d been hoping to do a couple of laps on the bike as well as practicing mounting and dismounting, but in the end I had to make do with sprinting from my car to the toilet blocks. I was grateful that I hadn’t ended up adding ‘DNF due to traffic’ to my list of duathlon disasters.

Once again, my tactics were to keep calm and run a conservatively paced race. Despite the name of the event, anything lasting upwards of 45 minutes is definitely not a “sprint” and should be treated as an endurance race.

The first run went smoothly. I ran on feel, only taking a couple of glances at my watch in the final kilometre to see my pace and heart rate, more out of interest than for pace setting. I worked out that I was in 10th place coming into the first transition. I’d received quite a lot of triathlon kit after my work for 220 Triathlon magazine so I decided to test some of it during this race. I know the advice is not to do something new during a race, but I don’t tend to go out for training rides in full aero kit and practice jumping on and off my bike. Maybe I should. Anyway, I thought a low-key, local race was a good place to try out the kit.

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The Catlike Triathlon Helmet was the first helmet I’ve worn with a tail. From the photos it looks like it could have been a bit higher on my head to tuck more snugly into my back. Or possibly my head could have been lower. Mine came second-hand, without a visor so I did Run 1 wearing sunglasses, hoping to slip the helmet over the top. During T1 the sunglasses sprung off my face and across the tarmac! Suddenly that advice seemed sensible. The other issue with a tailed helmet is that they don’t perform well aerodynamically if you look down. For the first lap of the bike my neck felt a bit stiff but I forced myself to keep my face up. Luckily the pain subsided, or more likely moved somewhere else like my legs or lungs. It’s a bit like poking yourself in the eye to stop yourself thinking about a stomach ache. It kind of works.

The Huub Tri Suit was a medium size but it rode up on my legs and resulted in a bit of inside-thigh chafing. The padding was also very thin so wasn’t particularly comfortable. There wasn’t a rear pocket which stressed me out a little bit when getting ready, but then I found a clever little key pocket in one of the arms to keep my car key safe.

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I came into T2 in 5th place, and afterwards saw that I was 3rd fastest on the bike during the race. The first few hundred metres of the run were awful. I thought I had paced things well, but I had an overwhelming desire to turn around and give up. Everything hurt. I slowed the pace a touch and forced myself to keep going. Luckily the pain released its grip on me and I found a steady rhythm. I was overtaken by a few competitors to finish the evening in 9th place and set a PB by 35 seconds. I was reasonably happy about the time and position, but mostly just pleased with my resolve to keep going when every part of my body wanted to stop. Will power.

The duathlon love-hate relationship goes on…

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