Race Report – Clumber Park Duathlon (Standard Distance) – Saturday 18th March 2017

With the London Marathon again taking early year priority, my participation in the Clumber Park Duathlon has been very much considered a side project. I’ve continued to do my post Sunday morning bike ride brick runs and have cycled over the winter to a similar, perhaps slightly higher volume than in 2016, but there has been no specific peaking for the event, nor any taper to speak of.

I was though meant to have some shiny new aero wheels for the event. My bargain buy a week or so before the event, alas, turned out to end in something of a disaster as the front wheel turned out to be faulty and the entire wheel set needed to be returned. With my training wheels fitted with an 11-32 rear cassette in anticipation of the forthcoming Fred Whitton sportive, I was looking at not even using my TT bike for the event – not wanting to risk derailleur failure with an ill-advised gear change on to a big-big combination.

Fortunately a brief encounter with a friend post spinning session a few days earlier led to an offer of his HED tri spoke aero wheels. It was 10 speed, which meant some iffy gear changes, but I was grateful for the opportunity to be able to ride my TT bike on the day – after all it was why I spent so much money on the thing for events like these. I fitted them to the bike a couple of days before and had all of 10 minutes to give them a quick spin – they worked!

Originally I had no plans of using the race as an opportunity to enter an ITU Championships event, knowing that I was unwilling and unable to take part in the 2017 Worlds taking place in Canada. However with a day or two to spare I succumbed to the temptation and paid the £10 fee that meant I’d stated my intention to qualify for the 2018 European Standard Distance Duathlon Championships, on a date and at a venue that is yet to be determined. The race now had a purpose, at least.

I woke at 5:30am on the Saturday morning and began the military style operation to get myself and the entire family out of the door by 6:30am. We finally departed at 6:40am, which wasn’t too much of a disaster – we arrived at Clumber Park just the two hours before my planned start time. That said I pretty much needed all of those two hours to get ready – there is so much more to organise in a multi-sport event than in a running race: assemble the bike; pump the tyres; check the bike over; collect your entry; fix all the required stickers in the right places; take bike to transition and set up; listen to the briefing; warm up etc…

Despite all that I was ready with around 20 minutes to spare, the start was delayed by ten minutes so I had the chance to watch with my family the sprint competitors start their race. I even got chance to have a pre-race family photo, which sees me looking far fresher than a post race one!

With the kids before the start of the race.

I lined up in my wave a few minutes before the off. I felt fairly pumped for the race, more than at the recent Newton’s Fraction. I did though not feel particularly healthy, coming down with a cold the youngest had suffered with for much of the week. Setting off in a wave containing pretty much just runners in my age group, I eyed up the competition. There was one familiar face – someone who beat me at the World’s in 2016. It was no surprise when we started that he surged to the front of the field and edged slowly, but inexorably, away from me. He was briefly followed by one other runner, but he had started a little too exuberantly and I was soon able to catch and past him on the first of a few little climbs on the opening 10K run.

The run course was an out and back 5K loop – constantly rolling with a couple of mild hills to tackle. We started just a couple of minutes behind the women’s wave and so it wasn’t long before we began to catch and pass a fairly steady stream of runners. I quite enjoyed this – it’s more interesting targeting the next runner to catch rather than stare into empty space. Being an out and back too I could regularly see how far the leader was in front of me, and how those behind me were doing. My pace was solid, if unspectacular, averaging around 5:50 a mile. I could definitely feel the effects of the cold in my legs, they were suspiciously heavy and lacking any zip. That said I couldn’t complain too much as I came into transition second in my age group and only passed by a couple of young whipper snappers who had started their race a couple of minutes after I did.

Transition was solid and a million miles away from twelve months earlier at Rutland Water where I completely screwed up my transitions, posting some of the slowest times of the race – down with those who literally like to change their clothes, have a snack, and some drink, perhaps even a little sit down before setting off. In and out in just over a minute, sixth fastest in my age group, losing just six seconds to the fastest. I had chance to share a few words with my family – who helpfully had parked themselves pretty close to where my bike was – mindful that at Rutland Water I couldn’t find it! I’d opted for the shoes attached to pedals option (Another pre-race chore to set up). I didn’t quite manage the flying mount but I was soon up to something close to full speed.

From the off the cycle leg felt like a real struggle. I’m used to the quads aching for the opening few miles as they transition from running to cycling, but they just ached relentless for the entire ride. I also struggled hugely to maintain a TT tuck position, by far the worse I have ever been. It wasn’t helped by the wind. It wasn’t as strong as first feared and we were well sheltered in the forest of Clumber Park, but out on the road we were subject to a stiff breeze which, when it was a cross wind, had a habit of trying to blow me across the road.

It wasn’t long before I was passed by the first cyclist – looking far stronger and more settled on the bike than I. Then another passed, and another. Indeed a steady stream of cyclists passed me for the entire ride. It was somewhat demoralising, if not entirely unexpected – I’ve still not cracked the ride leg on a Duathlon and if ever there was a course that wouldn’t suit me this was it – constant small rollers that the big guys can power up while I struggle. Watts wise it wasn’t even that bad a ride – 234 of them was the average, which isn’t far off what I averaged a few days earlier on a 40 minute spin session – and here I was riding for over an hour. The main issue was definitely not being able to hold a tuck position. Post ride I’m thinking it may be something to do with saddle position – I’m going to spend the next few weeks and months tinkering with that to see if I can find a sweet spot.

Finally, after an hour and six minutes the bike ride came to an end. I came into transition, once again cheered on by my family, who told me I was doing really well. I wasn’t convinced, having been passed by far too many riders – twenty two were quicker than me in my age group alone, over one hundred across all the age groups. At least there was no calf cramp in transition – a regular foe and at dead on one minute transition was again pleasingly swift, eleven seconds slower than the quickest in my age group – fourteenth best on the day. I did though have to stop briefly after transition – the tongue on my left trainer was not sitting right and not wishing to risk injury through irritation, decided to stop and adjust to taste.

I left transition with two or three other runners. I had fears this was going to be a hellish 5k, but as I swiftly passed them and set about closing down others in front of me, I knew that this was going to be a bearable conclusion to the race. I didn’t feel like I was trying that hard or going that fast, but did notice that my mile splits were getting faster: 6:00, 5:50, and then 5:46 as we approached the finish. My legs were actually getting better all the time and I cruised in passed the finish line at 5:24, feeling that, had I needed to, I could have run that leg much faster.

There were some technical issues on the day – there were no results published until the Sunday. I had no idea where I finished other than my wife letting me know I was around the 24th to cross the finish line. When I got the email receiving the final results it transpired I was 40th overall, and third in my age group – setting the fastest time in the final run leg by 48 seconds in the age group and the thirteenth fastest overall. With the first four finishers in their age group kind of guaranteed a place in their chosen ITU Championships, the odds are favourable that I have done enough to qualify. There is a clause in the regulations that could see some 39 year olds take my place, but I have no way of knowing if that is going to happen. Given that at Rutland I failed to finish in the top 10 in my age group and wound up qualifying for the Worlds’, I am hopeful.

Post race was pretty understated – with no medals and not fancying the alcohol free beer handed out to finishers, I collected my bike and headed back to the car. We had planned a post race picnic by the lake, but just as the picnic basket was pulled out of the boot, the rain began to fall and we abandoned those plans for lunch back at home in the conservatory.

Reflections on the race are a mixed bag. I don’t feel as though I performed to my full potential. The cold I came down with certainly didn’t help. My form is also yo-yoing a lot at the moment – a lackluster Newton’s Fraction was followed six days later by a very comfortable 2:51 marathon in training. The ride – in particular the failure to hold a TT position, was disappointing and something I really need to work on. But when I compare the effort to the shambles of Rutland Water in March 2016 it is clear I’ve made a lot of progress since then and given the strength of the field at Clumber Park this year, I’m not doing that badly in the grand scheme of things.

Unless there is a dramatic change of plan, that is now the racing done, bar a a couple of Club Time Trials, until the London Marathon. Some important weeks of training lie ahead – it’s where it all fell apart this time last year, I’m keen to avoid a repeat this time!


Race Report – Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon – Sunday 5th March 2017

Returning to the scene of my best ever race (I finished second in 2016), the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon was an eagerly anticipated affair. Looking at the entry list beforehand I knew the chances of going one better or even equaling my performance were slim as the 2016 winner Adam Holland was back to defend his title, as was 2015 victor Ian Bailey. Still, on occasion, I allowed myself to dream what if they didn’t turn up? what if they had a bad race? Could I possibly win?!

Pre race training was a mixed bag. Beset by a succession of colds and a lingering chest infection that may or may not have been caused or aggravated or prolonged by possible over training, there was a nagging knowing that I went into the race just a touch below 100%. The long runs had been really good, many interspersed with a mid run parkrun, the longest being 24 miles. The marathon paced runs had been reasonable, but they and many of the bike rides I went on felt as though there wasn’t much more to give beyond the Zone 3 HR limits these efforts entailed. Running up hills and cycling up them at any great effort felt particularly arduous.

At least I wasn’t going into the race injured, even if I did try my best slipping on an icy bridge while on an early morning run earlier in the week. The right hip was a bit bruised and sore but didn’t appear to affect my running. I enjoyed something of an easy week, resting up completely the day before the race.

Race day dawned cloudy but the fear was that the weather would take a turn for the worse some time around the planned start time of 10:30am. I enjoyed the luxury of living within a warm up from the race HQ, warming up at home and jogging the two miles to the start. That jog felt easy enough but the heart rate was really high – nerves perhaps. I took that as a positive, proof that I was up for this race. Still dry, if breezy, it felt fairly warm. I opted to jettison the tights, going for shorts, long socks, long sleeved top and gloves combo.

Then, around 45 minutes before the start, the rain began to fall. Icy cold rain. Buckets of it. Relentlessly, driven in by a cold stiff wind. People did their best to seek shelter. It all got quite crowded, so I popped over to the leisure center where I could finish getting changed in the comfort of not that many people being around. I made a last minute decision to add a hat to the apparel. Unfortunately I chose not to put on the tights, a decision I think I came to regret.

Grandstand makes for refuge shelter. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Ten minutes before the start and there was no eagerness from anyone to head to the start line, the same with five minutes to go. I opted to run around the track and seek shelter in the grandstand, an option that soon became quite popular. The start time came and went, no sign of the starter, runners making their way in dribs and drabs to the grandstand. As I stood shivering with the rain showing no sign of abating, any pre-race nerves were replaced with apathy, a distinct lack of desire to subject myself to a freezing cold soaking. The only solace was that it appeared that no-one else seemed that determined to race, as no-one volunteered themselves to head to the start line until they were ushered to do so by the race starter.

No enthusiasm to join the start line as heavy rain falls. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Despite lack of enthusiasm I was one of the first onto the race track for the start, lining up on the inside of lane one. The pre-race formalities was mercifully brief save for a countdown that the starter insisted on being from ten to zero, much to the mirth of the drowning rats in lycra.

The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Gordon Geach
The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Graeme Jones

Finally off,  I made a brisk start and, thanks to being on the inside of the bend, briefly led as we exited the stadium, thankful that the rain that had been lashing into our faces on the start line, was now pushing us along as a tail wind.

The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

That brief moment of euphoria leading the race, as I did in 2016 was even briefer than 12 months earlier and ended in farce. Exiting the stadium we were confronted by two young boys wandering across our paths. In a split second decision, I and a few others chose to veer to the right, while the majority veered to the left. Those who veered left thankfully told those who veered right were heading in the wrong direction! I only lost four or five seconds but it cost me precious momentum and several places.

I didn’t have time to rue the lack of marshaling to prevent such an occurrence, I put my head down and tried to make up the places I had lost. The first mile heading to Barrowby was 5:39 which was pretty much bang on what I was hoping for, but already the first two – Adam and Ian, were well out of sight. A quick count up the road saw that I was sixth. On the second mile heading down the Drift towards the canal I passed the fifth place runner. Into the headwind he latched onto my heels and stuck to them. Into the headwind I was a bit perturbed by this but as we headed to the canal path and enjoyed a tail wind and a lessening of the rain, I was not upset that he didn’t want to help with the pace. The canal path was probably the wettest it has ever been when I’ve run along it, more puddles than solid ground it seemed, and I was grateful to have clear line of sight as I attempted to keep the fourth placed runner in check.

Splashing along the canal path. Picture c/o organisers.
Splashing along the canal path. Picture c/o organisers.

What was obvious to me now was that my heart rate was some way short of where I’d expect it during a half marathon, seeming to settle at or ever so slightly above my marathon heart rate. I was struggling to keep warm – my quads especially cold, I was struggling to maintain enthusiasm for the race and, moreover, the signs in recent training that the colds and chest infection were affecting the top 1% of my fitness were being borne out. The splits was between 5:40 and 5:50, which was okay given the conditions, but a little slower than perhaps I would have liked and certainly much slower than in 2016, when I was edging towards 5:30 on the canal path.

After three miles of canal path we exited at the Dirty Duck pub in Woolsthorpe. This was a key moment as the guy who had stuck to my heels failed to negotiate the treacherously slippery muddy exit around the style. I had learnt my lesson from the icy bridge on Wednesday and took extreme care. He went into the corner a little more aggressively and paid the price – a loud groan and soft thud I heard as he went down – thankfully without damage and without too much time lost. I pressed on, knowing that the first of the course’s main challenges – Woolsthorpe Hill lay just ahead.

Knowing the hill and its profile well I adopted a steady pace and went about getting up it with as little energy expended as possible. As in 2016 I didn’t think I was particularly effective up the hill, but I was able to close down the 15 or so second gap on the fourth placed runner and passed him two thirds of the way up the hill. I also managed to aggravate my left hip flexor, which loosened off a touch on the resultant downhill but never felt great for the remainder of the race.

As in 2016, the normal prevailing wind which blows you most of the way from Woolsthorpe to home was blowing in a near opposite direction, which meant that the normally quick run down to Denton was made much tougher, especially as there was little prospect of sheltering behind another runner. The third placed man was someway up the road, All I had to do was consolidate my fourth place with some steady running, which I did with a set of sub 5:50 miles through to mile ten and the approach to the stiffest challenge on the course – Casthorpe Hill.

Not quite as comfortably fourth as I thought. Picture c/o race organisers.

Before the climb itself there was a large ford to navigate as the road had flooded. I managed to get through unscathed, but the feet once again got a good soaking. I had a quick look back at the base of the hill and realised that the gap from me to those behind was far less than I had expected. Given that the climb of the hill felt truly horrible and an effort to even remain running as I neared the top, I felt sure that I would be caught. As it turned out, however bad I felt, it wasn’t as bad as those behind me for I would end up with the fastest time of the day on the Strava segment for the entire hill (most of the top ten are on Strava).

As I topped the hill and knew it was pretty much downhill all the way from Barrowby back to the Meres Leisure Centre, it was simply a case of ignoring the headwind and keeping things steady to the finish. The climbing of the hill had doubled my gap to the fifth placed runner, there was no chance of him catching me barring disaster. Last year when I entered the stadium I was also fourth, but the closeness of the race meant a sprint finish saw me come home second just behind Adam the winner. This year Adam had long since finished victorious in a big new PB of 1:12, Ian Bailey second in almost exactly the same time I ran in 2016, and David Greenwood was third forty seconds clear of myself, who finished in 1:18:01, a sub 78 clocking missed perhaps courtesy of waving and smiling a bit too much at my family who I spotted at the finish.

Coming into the finish, not really trying too hard! Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Coming into the finish, not really trying too hard! Picture c/o Graeme Jones.

So it was not a podium finish, fourth and the solace of another V40 prize courtesy of the real first V40 finishing third. The race was something of a disappointment, it left some questions regarding my form which I hope are just a temporary blip caused by illness. The 2017 Fraction will not live as long in the memory as the 2016 edition, but, in reality third was probably the best I could have hoped for so it wasn’t a disaster by any means. I’m also feeling a lot fresher than I did after the 2016 race which I hope will see me in better shape come the London Marathon, which is the next target.