Race Report – Dambuster Duathlon – Rutland Water – Saturday 5th March 2016.

My first, and until last Saturday, only Duathlon was in November 2007 when I took part in the Ballbuster at the legendary Box Hill. That was a unique experience – 8 mile run, 24 mile ride, 8 mile run up one of the most scenic but overrated hills in England. It was a tentative first foray into multi-sports, I’d taken part in my first ever sportive a week earlier suffering from a heavy cold and hadn’t really recovered a week later. While I quite enjoyed the experience cycling took a back seat a few months later when the first child was born and I concentrated on running.

Last June I took part in my first sprint triathlon and the Dambuster Duathlon at Rutland Water was to be my first real attempt at giving a Duathlon my full attention. I had entered last year’s Clumber Park Duathlon but was unable to take part due to injury. This year I was more or less fit to go, despite suffering from the calf tightness that has burdened me on and off for the past six months.

Not only was I concerned by the calf in the days before the Duathlon, the weather was looking decidedly iffy for race day, with predictions of ice and snow at worse, cold and windy at best. With snow falling in much of the country the day before, it was touch and go. Thankfully the snow didn’t reach the East Midlands and when I woke at 5am, it was raining, it was cold, but it was above freezing and looking ice free – so the race would be on.

It was going to be a family affair heading down to Rutland Water. Most of the packing had been done the night before so the early morning start wasn’t too traumatic and we arrived 90 minutes before the 8:15 start. My pre-race routine for running races is very well established now, but I am still a total novice at ‘athlons, so spent much of the 90 minutes pfaffing around. I had trouble getting my front wheel back on the bike thanks to it being so cold I could barely feel my fingers.

Once the bike was safely stored in transition and I decided I wasn’t going to risk trying to mount my bike with the shoes on the pedals, I fretted over what to wear right until the last minute. Eventually I opted to be as warm (and slipstreamed) as possible on the bike ride, even if that meant being a little overdressed for the run. This meant I wore the following: thin tights with triathlon shorts underneath; compression socks, a thermal vest, Witham Wheelers short sleeved cycling jersey, arm warmers, thin running gloves with thick winter gloves ready on the tri-bars for the bike leg. At the last minute I went with running sunglasses as the sun began to unexpectedly peer from behind the thick clouds. I also ditched the beany hat and the ear warmers and the second long sleeved thermal top.

I managed an underwhelming warm up of just under a mile, which offered encouragement in the fact the right calf just ached a touch rather than downright ached. I headed to the start area for the pre-race briefing. One final pit-stop and I found myself running frantically to the start line, the organisers opting to start the race a couple of minutes early.

With a starting horn we were underway and quite quickly onto a patch of grass that, for the moment was firm underfoot. The pace was frenetic, this being a World Age Qualifying race meant the quality was high. I made a solid but not over exuberant start, keeping in view the familiar site of fellow Belvoir Tri Club runner Adam Madge. With the first mile covered in 5:39 and with a heart rate of just under my half marathon figures, I felt fairly comfortable and truly in my comfort zone in the familiar surroundings of a road race.

We had a small patch on grass, which was slippy but not too bad before heading out for another mile or so before turning back for the return 5k. I passed Adam in the second mile as I ran a 5:35 and began picking off runners as I settled into a good rhythm aided a touch with a nice tailwind. The third mile was 5:38, when we turned and began to face a cold headwind. I had been overheating a touch with all the clothes I was wearing, now I felt comfortable.

Then it began to rain, a brief but fairly heavy shower. It didn’t really slow me too much with a 5:39 but during the fifth mile my right calf began to tighten and ache. Previous experience of the issue meant I knew I could carry on running through the discomfort, but it was enough to make me mentally want to ease up the effort. Add to that the short off-road section had now begun to get churned up and muddy plus the icy cold wind had become a head wind, the fifth mile slowed to 5:58. The final full mile was a rolling affair, still picking off runners I was motivated to put in a final surge, running 5:48 for the final mile and completing the 10k in a respectable 35:20.

I was 23rd overall and 6th in my age category at the end of the first run. Not bad, an indicator that the quality of field was high. My transition was a disaster. I struggled to fasten the helmet, I then opted to run barefoot to the exit of transition before putting my bike shoes on. This meant my feet were soaked before I started the bike ride. My official transition time of one minute is respectable. However I believe I spent the best part of another minute trying to put my bike shoes on, in a panic I’d not realised I hadn’t loosened the velcro fastenings, making them impossible to put on!

Once I’d mastered the art of putting on a pair of shoes, I set off on the bike leg. However it took another minute or so before I could begin cycling in anger. I put on my thick winter cycling gloves while riding okay, but then when trying to tighten my helmet using the wheel on top of the wheel, found it was impossible to do so with the gloves on. I couldn’t ride with the helmet so loose so I had to remove a glove, tighten the helmet and put the glove back on again, all done at fairly low speed.

Finally once onto the main road I was able to begin riding. The legs felt quite tired after the ride but I was able to get them going after a couple of minutes. The feet began to chill in the cold wind, the gaffer tape I’d put on as a potential fix on the ventilation holes failing badly. However, the gamble of wearing extra gloves paid off to some extent, as except in the final miles when the rain fell and we faced the full brunt of the arctic induced headwind, I was not dangerously cold, just cold enough to not be able to put a satisfyingly full effort in.

What was soon apparent on the bike ride, not that I needed any confirming, was that to cut it with the big boys at this level, an entry level road bike simply won’t suffice with the all singing carbon fiber TT bikes the vast majority of those who came flying past me were riding. I was thoroughly demoralised on the first downhill stretch at the start of the Rutland Ripple where I was going full gas trying to keep up speed when a guy on a fast TT bike flew past me freewheeling! I watched him all the way to the bottom of the hill when not a single pedal revolution occurred, yet he must have put 150-200 meters on me. I managed to catch most of it back on the subsequent ascent, before he swiftly disappeared when the road plunged back down again.

That became the pattern of the remainder of the ride. I could hold my own on any hills the ride had, but on the flat stuff and the descents I was horribly exposed and not best enjoying it. All the while my calf grumbled and I wondered how it would fare on the final run leg. I entered the final transition point having taken 1:19:02 on the bike leg. Far too long when the fastest bike leg was a staggering 59:52. I will never be that quick but I am hopeful that with some decent equipment under me and more practice at time trialing I could knock many minutes off this time. As it was I dropped overall from 24th to 65th and from 5th at the end of the opening transition to 12th by the time I re-entered it.

The second transition was almost as calamitous as the first. I got off the bike okay, opting not to take off the shoes and instead try to run in cleated bike shoes, which is not easy. Not paying attention I ran into some barriers with the bike, fortunately without damage, but with some seconds lost. I then couldn’t find my place in the bike racks, running down the wrong channel. It was only the screams from my wife and kids that pointed me in the right direction. At least I was able to remove the helmet without difficulty, my hands still warm. Apparently there were a number of competitors who required assistance as their hands were too numb to feel what they were doing.

Despite the woes, somehow apparently I climbed two places during transition. I set off on the final 5k leg just a few moments after the leading competitor had finished. I hadn’t time to dwell on the enormity of his achievements, instead I had to try and get my legs working again for the run leg. The first patch of grass was now churned and muddy, my shoes slipping helplessly. I then struggled as best I could for the first mile, the calf aching, the quads not best pleased. It felt slow, but the first mile was covered in 6:05. I then struggled loads on the longer grass section which was slippery in and muddy.

At the turnaround I spotted fellow Belvoir Tri Club member Adam just a few seconds behind me. Keen to be the first Belvoir home, I picked up the pace a touch once the grass section had been muddled through, ignoring the increasing ache in the right calf. The second mile was a 6:03 and the final mile was run at 5:48 pace, which was good enough to keep Adam at bay and to complete the final 5k leg in 17:25. My wife and children were there to greet me, which pleased me enormously but there was a real sense of disappointment at the finish. I was frustrated that the transitions were so bad, disappointed with my effort in the bike section, grateful that the bad calf made it to the finish but frustrated that it hindered my performance a touch.

During the race I had no idea where i had finished. I found out on Facebook that I was eighth in my age group (57th overall), which was better than I had thought I had managed. For a first real effort at Duathlon I should be happy, but there is knowledge that I could have done better that has tempered the joy. The weather too made it a mostly miserable affair plus too many novice mistakes put me out of the comfort zone I enjoy when taking part in running races. Hopefully at my next Duathlon I should have a TT bike in my possession which means I will be able to compete on a more level playing field.

2016 London Marathon Training – Week One (4-10 January)

The annual Christmas and New Year tradition of eating way too much and drinking even more left my body feeling a veritable mess come the first day proper of marathon training. I felt like I’d put on a stone or more; I can’t tell you how much exactly I did put on – I was too scared to weigh myself…

Feeling like I was five foot ten and a hundred tons, Monday came and even if I hadn’t quite got the full urge back to put my heart and soul into another marathon campaign, I was utterly determined to lose the weight I’d put on over Christmas. Thankfully the sore throat and general malaise I’d suffered over New Year was somewhat cleared and I could start training relatively refreshed.

If I had pretenses of being a coach in the waiting or some kind of running guru, I could pretend I spent hours and hours devising an in-depth training plan for the forthcoming weeks. The reality is somewhat different. Following on from the successful summer 2015 training campaign for Chester (four personal bests from 5k up to marathon) I have opted for the same very simple plan. Aim for around two hours of cardiovascular activity each day, plenty of easy paced runs with marathon heart rate runs thrown in, the odd interval session, spin sessions on the bike and, as it is the start of the year, an attempt to take part in as many Witham Wheelers’ Reliability Rides as possible. I’ll prefer to operate on a train as you feel basis, hopefully avoiding some of the injury issues that have plagued training plans where I’ve religiously tried to stick to a plan ambitiously mapped out when feeling fresh and injury free.

For the first week (and probably the remainder of January) the theme was very much about building base mileage – plenty of easy paced, relatively long, runs. I liked the idea of running ten miles a day on those base building days purely on its simplicity, so that is pretty much what I did.

Feeling like I needed to start the week with a bit of a blast to help start shifting the flab I set out on my favourite ten mile loop of Grantham and soon found myself running at a steady pace just a few beats lower than my prescribed marathon heart rate. In many ways it was a good session to begin with as it gave me a good indicator of current form. The conclusion was that I was in reasonable shape, certainly better running wise than twelve months earlier, averaging 6:21 per mile and concluding the run with a 6:00 mile.

I was still suffering the effects of the cold, so I kept it at one session for the day. Come Tuesday, feeling much better and with the eldest kid back at school – I began the twice a day regime. First up the easy paced ten miles in the morning which felt surprisingly easy; later in the day a comfortable hour on the elliptical trainer, which I remembered after a few moments on it had all but fallen apart just before Christmas. Two days of research later and a new one was on order.

Wednesday was more of the same, albeit with the hour on the elliptical trainer first, and the ten mile run a little later in the morning. Thursday I rocked it like I did on the Tuesday – ten in the morning  (a little harder going than in previous days) and an hour on the elliptical trainer in the afternoon.

Friday was logistically a difficult day to exercise so it was just an hour on the elliptical trainer, which was probably no bad thing after 40 miles covered in four days. That evening saw a rare night on the tiles. Mixing cider and cocktails was never going to be a good idea and Saturday’s long run / parkrun combo idea was quietly put to bed as I overslept and woke with a slightly sore head.

Dehydrated and head still pounding, I headed out at around 11 am for long run #1 of the training campaign. I opted for an out and back 15 mile effort to a relatively unused (for running) lump in the earth called Hough-on-the-Hill. Despite my best attempts to handicap myself the run was surprisingly good – a healthy tailwind on the outward leg meant I was running comfortably under 6:40 per mile; the return was tough at times into the wind but it was not too hard to maintain miles at around 6:40 – finally averaging 6:39.

Feeling really thirsty I thought it was a good time to weigh myself, so as to potentially lessen the depressing scenario. The rather surprising news was that I was half a pound less than a week before Christmas, which was certainly a good morale booster, even if it was probably a false dawn caused by serious dehydration.

Sunday and it was time to test the liver once again by heading to Lakeside, Frimley Green, to watch the final of the World Darts Championship. It was a fairly early start but I managed to get out for another ten mile run on what is now a very familiar route. I was really happy with the run – low heart rate and a 6:45 average. The darts was brilliant; the benefit of it being a one-sided affair meant I didn’t get to drink my body weight in cider, although I had tried pretty hard in the three hours we were there.

Week one’s training went far better than I could have envisaged and has given me great optimism for the weeks ahead. Spurred on by this wave of enthusiasm, I finally got around to joining Belvoir Triathlon Club and entered the Dambuster Duathlon in March. I had entered the Clumber Park Duathlon last year but a sacrum fracture put pay to that; hopefully I’ll make it to the start line this year.

I want to try and put in an honest effort so the training in the next few weeks will tailor itself a little to that – spin classes, bike rides, brick runs and, not forgetting my secret weapon, the elliptical trainer. On the way down to Lakeside I popped into Leekes in Coventry to pick up my new ride. Coming in at 69kg it certainly was a challenge to get into the car (Luckily I had some help). The proof will be in the using but at £400 after a hefty reduction and a double cashback I think I may have grabbed myself a bit of a bargain – if I can work out how to put it together…

89 Days to VLM – Week Two Training Summary

Week two of marathon training began with a longer than usual Monday run as it was with Grantham Running Club on their Monday Night session. This week there were only two others there. For the first four miles or so I went off more or less at my own pace, knocking off miles between seven and seven and a half minutes. For the second half I was to guide a relative newcomer to the club – Liam – around Grantham and back to the club and the pace slowed somewhat outside eight minutes per mile, which felt a great deal harder than when I was running at a comfortable pace.

Tuesday was my solo marathon paced run – the intention again to run it to a maximum heart rate. Mileage was up a touch on last week – from eight miles to eight and a quarter and the bulk of the run was in the opposite direction. Cold – temperatures hovering at around zero Celsius – and a touch icy in places, I progressed smoothly from a 7:20 first mile to 6:23 for the transitional second mile, then 6:28 for the third mile which included one of the three climbs en route. From there the run was comfortably hard – as it should be, knocking out mile splits of 6:19; 6:13; 6:23; 6:23; and 6:00. The HR though did drift a fair amount over the maximum of 165 bpm, showing that I am 1. not quite as fit as I want to be and 2. my body isn’t yet intuitively sticking to what it knows should be marathon HR. That said, I was happy to complete the 8.25 miles at 6:26 per mile average.

With the HR creep in mind, Wednesday’s run saw me trial the hitherto unused HR Max alert on my Garmin. I’ve not used them previously as I’ve found the constant beeping of previous (not necessarily Garmin models) annoying when you stray into a red zone. I wondered if this Garmin would be a little more intelligent. It was an easy paced run, taking me up a hill I’ve not run up before (And if you believe Strava, nor has any runner) and through Belton House’s grounds. I set the watch to alert me if it went over 150 bpm which it did ion the first hill. I was pleased to see that it did just one beep, a buzz vibration and a message warning on the watch, which it repeated every 15 seconds or so I was over my limit.

This was fine – I’d prefer it if I could press a button after the first instance of triggering an alert so that it wouldn’t beep again for the while you are over the prescribed limit. This for instance could be useful if you are climbing a big long hill and you want to temporarily abandon HR limits, or, as I practice in marathons, run the final section of the race at above the HR I’d set myself for the first section of the race. To the best of my knowledge the watch doesn’t have this function. Despite this slight annoyance I will set it up for the next few marathon HR training sessions to alert me if I creep over 165bpm, as I found myself on Tuesday’s run almost looking more at the watch then I was on the road in front.

More pressing on the run was an incident where I came very close to losing my MP3 player – a fence had to be climbed to retrieve it when it pinged free from my shorts after snagging the headphones cable…. Thankfully I was able to retrieve the player and the clip and the run continued – 7.25 miles at an average of 7:23 per mile.

Thursday saw me reacquaint myself with Grantham Running Club’s Thursday night group. I planned it to be a 13 mile or so run, so it would double up as my long run for the week. Jogging to the meeting place I felt comfortable. At the club were some familiar faces and a couple of new ones – one being a Latvian runner called Janis, who I’d heard great things of – a 2:33 marathon runner and with a half marathon best of 1:09.

We began the run steadily enough but on the first drag up out of town I found myself instinctively picking up the pace, seeing who was willing and able to go with me. Knowing what the answer would be, within half a mile it was just me and Janis running together. Into the dark, and, in places, icy, country lanes, we ran together, sharing the light from my head torch. It was the first time since I’d left Kenilworth Runners’ training nights that I’d been able to run a sustained threshold pace run with a training partner – and it felt great! On undulating terrain, we knocked out seven and a bit quality quality miles: 6:25; 5:51; 6:05; 6:15; 6:20; 5:52; and 6:11.

Realising that I was pushing my luck in terms of exceeding my current training abilities, I insisted, in pretty basic English, that we eased up for the final couple of miles back into town, concluding with a 6:50 and a 7:09. It was then we got to chat a little bit for the first time since the run had begun. Janis’ English is not great and my Latvian is non-existent, but it was obvious we both shared a passion for running, for athletics, and for sport. Back at base we chatted for a while longer waiting for the others to arrive. After ten minutes and just three of the seven returned, I had to call it a day for I was getting cold and stiff. I jogged the mile and a bit back home which made it jut slightly over half marathon distance – covered in a fairly sprightly 1:27 – all the more pleasing because I’d had a mightily painful massage in the morning which tends to leave the legs sub-par for a day or so.

Suddenly after Thursday night club runs being, for the most part, a slow long run, the arrival of Janis – who is keen to train for us to train together – means the dynamic of my training looks set to change. I imagine it will revert to something closer to how it was at Kenilworth, with Tuesday and Thursday nights being faster, harder runs. It may mean that the long weekend run will need to be run a little slower. It may be that I can cope with this increased demand and it will improve my running. Time will tell, but for now I am very happy to have someone comparable, someone quicker than me, who I can run intervals and tempo based sessions with.

Time constraints on the Friday meant that the recovery run was a rushed affair combined with dropping my daughter off at school. Stiff and feeling the cold air (minus five Celsius) I managed four and a bit miles at a fairly slow pace. Worryingly the left inner shin, which had ached on occasion for each of the past three runs, had moaned during the run and continued to ache whilst walking during the day. I’ve not had shin pain for many years, but the area around which it hurts has been a major cause of problems many moons ago – a place I definitely don’t want to visit again. For the meantime I remembered the long forgotten practice of writing the alphabet with your feet and some balance exercises to hopefully combat the discomfort.

For Saturday I’d originally intended to combine a long run with a parkrun. With the shin being a bit iffy and the weather outside looking decidedly icy, I decided to play it fairly safe and put myself on the elliptical trainer for an hour before testing the shin with an easy paced ten km. Thankfully, aside from a brief ache early in the run, the shin was pain free – as it was for the remainder of the day.

Sunday was Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride #4. 45 or so miles on an undulating course. I stuck myself in group 4 – 18 to 19 mph). The opening 25 miles was very comfortable. I sat in the pack, took a share of the pacing, and even pulled the pack back in when I lost some time trying to replace thick winter gloves for thinner ones.

On the only major climb of the day the group splintered. Having been strong on the hills a week earlier, I was disappointed not to stay with the quicker riders – feeling it a bit in the quads and also disrupted by one cyclist’s misfortune of having his chain fall off just in front of me and him then toppling off as he failed to unclip in time. I spent the remainder of the ride solo as I tried my best to stay within sight of the lead group – picking off three or four riders along the way. Although I never quite reeled them all back in – I was happy to only finish a minute or so behind them and that I’d ridden the last 16 miles or so at above 20mph average. I completed the ride at an average speed of 18.97 mph, which was pretty spot on for an 18-19 mph reliability ride.

I’d chatted a while back at the clubhouse, then cycled home and quickly changed into my running gear to run the same 3 1/2 mile loop I’ve done each Sunday since Christmas. Despite the extra miles and effort of the ride just gone and the legs subsequently feeling really tired, the run went very well, coming in with a 6:01 average and 5k passed in 18:46. It wasn’t lost on me that this was nearly a minute quicker than the previous Sunday and nine seconds quicker than the parkrun at Melton earlier in the year.

All in all it was a good week – 51 miles covered on the road and the bike and an hour on the elliptical trainer. I got three quality runs in and the pace generally is heading in the right direction. This week will hopefully be more of the same with a gradual increase of distance. The first day though began with a scheduled rest day, albeit with seven miles of brisk walking with a double school run. It should hopefully leave me well rested for a good marathon pace session tomorrow and a good remainder of the week.