I had two weeks following the success of the Holdenby Duathlon to prepare for the Rockingham Duathlon, where I was taking part in the standard distance – 10k run, 38k bike, and a 5k run to conclude. The week following was a mostly easy affair recovering from the duathlon which had certainly taken it out of me. It was the first time since early September where I tried to resume running relatively normally. The left Achilles continues to be a source of some pain and frustration. I was testing out my new Hoka Hoka One Clifton 2 trainers, which were certainly packed with cushioning and pretty light with it. Both Wednesday and Thursday’s run were noticeable for the high heart rate for the pace, a legacy of the racing and the lack of running miles in recent weeks. Thursday’s run saw the Achilles ache a fair amount. I was most enthused by Saturday’s run though. Out of the door later than usual thanks to late night working on Mexican time, I was back in my Brooks and I managed 13.4 miles around town with barely a whiff of Achilles aching and coming in just under seven minute per mile average.
Sunday saw a rare excursion with the Witham Wheelers on a 55 mile or so ride which was mostly gentle in pace. Still feeling fresh once home I headed out for a brick run which turned into a ten km effort. With the first mile an easy 6:27 and the second a still comfortable 6:10 I was enjoying this run loads, even if the left Achilles was grumbling away. I kept the effort up, putting on a near flat out effort on the Auf Widersehen Pet Strava segment to regain my KOM which I’d lost a couple of days earlier. This effort proved a useful fartlek style effort as I returned from sub five minute mile pace to run the final mile and a half at 5:40 pace. Sub 38 minutes for any training 10k is pleasing, more so off the back of a bike ride and with a crazy fast effort two thirds of the way into a run.
The week before the Duathlon saw less running – a rare intervals session on Tuesday with the Harlaxton Harriers was run at 80% effort as I was feeling tired after a long weekend of work and exercise. I put in two easy effort two hour efforts on the elliptical trainer, an easy turbo trainer session and a GRC town run where I was hopeful of experiencing no Achilles pain, but came away disappointed to see it the worst it has been for some time. That aching meant I reluctantly opted not to take part in the first anniversary of Belton House parkrun, putting the time to good effect with an extensive stretching routine on the left calf especially, hoping (believing) that the source of the Achilles discomfort is coming mostly from the calf muscles.
After a particularly mild and dry October, weather forecasts for race day were looking fairly appalling, with strong winds direct from the Arctic feeding heavy rain showers over Rockingham Motor Speedway from 9am through to early afternoon. Thankfully when I awoke on race day morning, although it was dark I could see that the skies above Grantham were clear – an indication that the weather forecast was maybe not quite 100% accurate. What was apparent though was that it was cold – temperatures only three or so degrees above freezing. What with the cold weather and the onset of a cold brewing (I was full of cold by late afternoon) I opted to eschew some aero performance and wear a long sleeved thermal base layer below my tri suit, tights over the top of the shorts, with long socks and half overshoes for the bike leg – hastily purchased midweek when forecasts predicted the cold snap. I even went with the buff worn around the neck to offer some extra warmth on the bike leg in particular. I did though opt to not wear my thick cycling gloves and made do with the same thin running gloves underneath the cycling mitts used at Holdenby. It was a bit of a gamble but I had big problems at Rutland Water in March trying to fasten the helmet with big gloves on, so I was prepared to risk a bit of frostbite for a swift transition.
Rockingham Motor Speedway may be something of a white elephant when it comes to motor sport – the number of races actually held on the oval are probably in single figures – but it makes for a pretty good sporting venue when cycling and running is concerned. As with most motor racing circuits, facilities are better than most races with ample parking spaces, plenty of places to warm up and ample permanent toilet facilities. I arrived 80 minutes before the start with my family in tow. Registration was painless and I was pretty relaxed before the start, making sure the bike was okay, my transition area was prepared, and my warm up done with the minimum of fuss, even if there was a little aching in the Achilles. I had the chance to meet some club mates from Belvoir Tri Club and my good friend and work colleague Russell, who is making his first steps in the world of duathlon and had an impressive fourth place finish on his debut a few weeks previous.
I headed to the start ten minutes from the off for a pre-race briefing. All seemed fairly straight forward, and I was pretty relaxed as we were called to the start line at the pit lane exit at 9:30am. With a countdown from ten we were off.
I made a bit of a tardy start but soon found myself third behind the two runners leading above who quickly established a gap on the rest of the field. I put in a bit of an effort in the opening couple of minutes of the race to catch them then, as we made a U-turn off the oval and onto the infield circuit and into the stiff headwind, tucked myself nicely behind the two of them, trying to seek as much shelter as possible. We were soon faced with something I wasn’t expecting – a small incline which saw the runner in the grey top drop back. I kept with the blue-shirted runner as we passed through the first mile in 5:41. I kept on this guys heels for around half a mile further as we endured the worst of the wind, but I sensed the pace was dropping so I pulled alongside and passed him, pulling clear fairly comfortably as I clocked 5:46 for the second mile.
At this point I had a runner in the sprint event come haring up to us and past us just after he inquired which way we should be going. I laughed inside at his inability to follow the course, I wasn’t laughing so much a few minutes later as we headed back to the pit lane to complete the first lap. I wasn’t sure whether I should follow him on the inner pit lane entry or bear right and take the later exit or even stay on the oval itself by passing the pits. I went for the later exit and very nearly headed down the main straight before a marshal guided me the right way.
Approaching transition and with 5:58 clocked for mile three, another marshal assumed I was second in the sprint event and tried to send me into the transition zone. It was only at the very last minute another marshal realised I was in the longer event and sent me down the correct pit lane path. It was stress I could have done without and sent the adrenaline pumping. Looking back to see that no-one was behind me, I made a conscious effort to ease the effort. That said the fourth mile was still fairly fast at 5:43, although this was all within my half marathon HR parameters, so I felt comfortable.
While trying not to exert too much energy I knew I couldn’t relax too much on the run for I was likely not to be the quickest on the bike. Mile 4 was 5:43, mile 5 a 5:56 and mile 6 slowing a touch to 6:01 as I battled with the headwind and the slight incline.
As I approached transition I tried to relax, remembering that my bike was racked by garage 22. I clocked the 10k in 36:05, which was the fastest by one minute fifty four seconds. It also transpired that this was just six seconds slower than the winning time in the supporting 10k road race held after the Duathlon.
Despite rehearsing the run into my pit box a couple of times, I still managed to run a few yards past my bike, but, thankfully, only lost a few seconds and managed to not panic following this slight error. Attempting the elastic bands securing the bike shoes to the pedals trick for the first time in a race, all that needed doing was trainers taking off and helmet putting on. I spent a couple of extra seconds making sure the trainers were neatly placed for the second run, but other than that transition went well. It turned to be the third fastest of the race. Given that some efforts in other races have seen me near the bottom three this was pleasing. I didn’t quite manage the flying mount, preferring to stop and get one foot in a shoe before heading off, but it wasn’t long before I all in and racing along.
I enjoyed around 30 seconds of tailwind riding before turning into the headwind. The easy 30 mph quickly became a battle to break 15 mph as there wasn’t just a stiff cold wind to contend with but an imperceptible ascent to climb too. With 16 laps of this I settled into a rather dull, repetitive ride of a minute or so of easy fast riding and three minutes of headwind hell. Although I’m feeling far more comfortable in the TT tuck position of late I opted to sit up on the tailwind sections, partly to try and catch the wind and also to stress different parts of the quads which I feared could suffer if I maintained the same position for over an hour of riding which afforded absolutely no opportunity to stop pedaling.
The ride was pretty monotonous – riding around in fairly small circles, completing each lap in a shade over four minutes. What kept things mildly interesting was the volume of traffic to negotiate with over a hundred sprint and standard distance cyclists on the circuit at one point. The speed differential between slowest and fastest was significant, thankfully the oval circuit is very wide and it wasn’t difficult to sweep around the outside of riders.
I didn’t think I was having the best of rides – I felt unable to give it absolute full gas. That said the lack of people passing me was relatively reassuring. I was passed by one other rider at around halfway who soon pulled clear. I wasn’t totally convinced though he was actually ahead of me in the race, reckoning he may have unlapped himself, so to speak. One other rider approached me and sat on my wheel for a little while before being warned by the race referee for drafting. I didn’t see him again. Another rider pulled up to me, passed me, then didn’t move ahead as I rode fairly close behind him for 2/3s of a lap, pulling out wide on the banking to make it clear to anyone watching that I wasn’t drafting. I was then able to pass him on the main straight and he quite quickly dropped back, presumably having made a big effort to catch and gone too fat into the red doing so.
It was at around this point, after around 12 laps, when I began to to get very concerned over how many laps I had completed and how many I had left to ride. I had used the auto lap feature on the Garmin to lap every 1.48 miles, this being the official length of the oval. However this was proving to be none too reliable thanks, in part, to forgetting to attach the speed and cadence sensor to my bike and so relying on GPS. Lap one was clocked at the start of turn one, by lap 12 it was nearing the approach to turn 2, pretty much halfway around the lap. That wasn’t helping. In the heat of the racing I also couldn’t decide whether I needed to complete 16 full laps or come in at the end of the fifteenth lap. With perhaps one or two laps to go, my support crew (the wife) didn’t seem too sure either when I began gesticulating with a couple of laps to go – they suggested I needed two and I decided to err on the side of caution and complete sixteen full laps.
I headed into transition, successfully removing my feet from the shoes and dismounting before the line. I found my rack position and got the trainers on without cramping up the left calf – a first in my brief duathlon history. I had time to ask two spectators what position I was in. ‘Third or fourth’ came the reply. Bugger! Something was amiss. The scenarios quickly ran through my head as I left transition (in the third quickest time, I’m pleased to report retrospectively). Either I had done too many laps; two or three competitors had done too few; or the spectators had mistaken the standard distance competitors for straggling sprint competitors. Whatever the scenario I was pleased that I was quickly into my running; a quick look at the average pace suggested that comfortably sub six minute miles was attainable, should it be needed.
In reality the final 5k was uneventful. The nearest competitor behind was the one who had passed me on the bike leg, but he looked to be several minutes behind. Other than a couple of sprint event stragglers I passed, there was no-one within visual distance in front of me for the entirety of the run. The legs felt okay, but the right glute in particular felt a little numb, cold from the wind chill on the bike. I opted to keep a steady pace as I clocked the three miles in a 5k in 5:54; 6:00; and 6:09 – pretty much even paced when the hills and wind were taken into account. The biggest issue I had was trying to keep my number visible and actually on the belt, the wind having ripped it clear from three of the four attaching pins.
As I came to the finish line it was strangely quiet. My wife and family cheered me home but there was no-one at the finish line. The PA, which I’d vaguely heard while on the bike, was quiet. I hadn’t celebrated as I crossed the finish line, I got the impression I hadn’t finished first. I turned the corner and headed into the race HQ building to be handed my medal and to be told I finished fourth. I was pretty upset, but managed to remain relatively calm. I explained that only one rider had passed me and he was still out running. If I had completed the correct number of laps I could not have legitimately lost the lead.
I was told to try and find the race officials, who I found near transition in a van huddled around the timing system. As it happened they were trying to work out the discrepancies in the bike leg times between the top five finishers. I was six minutes slower than the rider who had come in first. Either he and the top three had ridden one lap too few or I had ridden one lap too many. It was when I went to collect my bike and see that my bike computer logged 24.6 miles that I feared the worst. 38km is 23.75 miles, evidently I’d ridden a lap too many (Post race Strava analysis suggests those who rode the correct number of laps rode 23.1 miles – it also suggests around 10% of the field made the same mistake I did, including Russell, who would have finished well inside the top ten had he not committed the same faux pas I did).
When this unfortunate result was confirmed to me I was disappointed but far less upset than when I first thought I’d been robbed of victory by competitors who had ridden too few laps. I made a mistake, lesson learned, and it won’t be made again. I didn’t miscount the number of laps, no elastic band or tape system would have helped with that. I just got confused out on the circuit what 16 laps meant. In hindsight it was obvious, the 10k run required two laps which saw us head into transition at the end of the second lap. I should have swapped bike for trainers at the end of the fifteenth lap, rather than the end of the sixteenth. Something to do with how the brain treats large numbers differently to small numbers is what I blame – that and not fully prepping myself before the race. At least I wasn’t the only one!
So rather than the winners’ trophy to take home, I was resigned to just taking the rather snazzy medal and first place in my Age Group (No prizes for that, alas). My final 5k run was timed at 18:57, which was 39 seconds faster than the next quickest (A guy who finished 11th) and 90 seconds quicker than the winner. It is estimated that had I completed the right number of laps I would have won by over a minute. The actual winner was genuinely around two minutes quicker than me on the bike, but I was three minutes quicker on the runs and around 30 seconds quicker through transitions.
A disappointing outcome but there were plenty of positives to take from the race. After a couple of miles the Achilles ache disappeared and I didn’t feel it again for the rest of the race. My transitions were light years better than they were back in March when I took part in my first proper duathlon. My runs were solid but with room for more, as was the case on the bike – a different helmet (the pointy bit was too high in the air a lot of the time), some proper wheels and wearing aero kit are all free improvements to be gained in the future (As well as improving the actual riding bit). Most pleasingly, I stayed mostly calm at the end of the race and didn’t make a total idiot of myself (A little one maybe….) At the end of the day we were just running and cycling around in circles. There are far more important things in life – such as seeing Russell’s new baby daughter for the first time at the end of the race. That, I am sure, was the moment I lost any anger from the outcome of the race. As long as I stay fit and healthy there will be other opportunities to race and hopefully do well. For now I have a tell to tell of the race I through away by not being able to count. I’ll see the funny side of it one day!