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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The duathlon learning curve

I raced the DB Max sprint duathlon at Castle Combe this week. My goal was to be conservative and try to pace it sensibly – easier said than done once you’ve pinned on a number and are surrounded by competitors. As the adrenaline starts pumping it’s difficult to avoid going out too hard and paying for it later. There are no prizes given for the person who suffers the most.

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I set myself a target pace of 3:50/km for the first 3km run, but still found myself running on ‘feel’ rather than pace. This is a risky tactic –  what can feel ok for 5 minutes, probably isn’t for 45 minutes. I eased off for the second and third kilometres, not losing any places. I came into the T1 in about 10th place, 30 seconds up on target pace but still feeling good.

My transition was tidy without being particularly quick. I hadn’t practiced transitions since my last race so just did it all calmly and without rushing. Similarly to the run, on the bike I had a target but ended up going slightly harder based on feel. I averaged 285 watts, but with progressively quicker lap times.

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The ride is 5 laps and 15km. The final few laps were quite busy on the track once all of the 100+ riders were out there. But nothing could really detract from the enjoyment of whooshing around on traffic-free, smooth tarmac. I could tell I’d gained a few places and hadn’t been overtaken so arrived into T2 feeling like things were going well. As I exited transition I looked down at my watch and saw that I was well on for a PB.

Unfortunately, I had a stitch about halfway into the final run. I felt the burn in my side so slowed down and tried to push on, but the pain kept on increasing. Before I had consciously made the decision to stop, I was horrified to feel myself come to a halt. It was a strange, involuntary feeling. I stretched it out and was overtaken by a couple of runners. I started running again and made it 100 metres before being forced to stop again. I thought about quitting but was on the wrong side of the circuit at least a kilometre to the finish line so ‘quitting’ would still basically mean carrying on and finishing. I stretched a bit more. Was overtaken again, this time at least appreciating the camaraderie of someone asking if I was ok. After what felt like 10 minutes, but was probably more like 30 seconds I started running again. The pain had mostly gone so I took it steady.

In the end I finished 10th, set a PB and learned a good lesson in pacing. Whether the stitch was from eating a bit too close to the start or from pushing it too hard on the final lap of the bike, I’m not sure. I’ll just try to pay better attention to both in the next race – fortunately there’s a final Castle Combe duathlon of the season in a few weeks time where hopefully things will go smoother.