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!
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!