Following the unexpected success at the Stilton Stumble I had just seven days to recover and prepare for the Holdenby Duathlon, a race I’d been targeting for some time, but only entered a day or two before the Stumble. The left Achilles was pretty stiff and sore following the race so I opted to spend as little time running as possible to give it a chance to recover.
Monday saw an hour on the elliptical trainer then a spin session in the evening operating at half gas. Considering the efforts of the day before that felt pretty good. Tuesday saw an hour on the elliptical trainer and an hour on the turbo following an easy program on TrainerRoad. These felt somewhat harder than Monday’s efforts.
Wednesday I headed out on the bike using the summer road bike I had planned to use with the addition of tri bars. This ride was something of an alarm call – the quads had absolutely nothing to give as soon as I went into the TT position. The HR was really low, but not in a good way low, more a something is not quite right low. It was a two hour ride that felt longer and harder.
Thursday saw two hours on the elliptical trainer, which wasn’t too arduous but felt as if I was fighting a cold trying to erupt. By Friday I had changed my mind over what bike to ride for the duathlon. A tip off by Hywel Davies on Strava who had recced the course on Wednesday, he suggested that a TT bike was definitely the way to go, even if the first half of the course was a little lumpy, and the second half had road surfaces of dubious quality.
This change of mind meant I needed to head out on the TT bike which I hadn’t ridden outside since the end of July. Riding the Witham Wheelers TT course the bike felt fine, save the Garmin mount which was somewhat broken, but the legs, if anything, felt worse than they did on Wednesday. I had little choice but to ride easy, rest up and hope for the best. That I kind of did, straight after a one mile brick run – a test of the Achilles and a test of the Hoka Hoka Clifton 2 trainers I’d bought a couple of months earlier and hadn’t got around to trying. They felt pretty good and the legs felt more lively running than when cycling.
Rest should mean rest but I read somewhere over lunch that Achilles problems can be caused by issues in the hip / glute area. This part of the body has been giving me a few issues recently, probably because the weekly core strength and conditioning programme has, let’s say, slipped over the past few months to not really doing anything at all save for some planks.
Friday I did twenty minutes and felt no ill effects. Saturday came and I was still feeling the effects of the ‘Stumble and by now suffering the consequences of being on Austin, Texas time covering the F1 by night and being on British Summer Time by day (i.e. being awake most of the time). Nonetheless I was keen to put in another S&T session, focusing on the glute medius muscle. All was going well until a set off crossover crunches saw my right hamstring tighten alarmingly near the glutes. The session was quickly abandoned for half an hour intense massage and stretching before needing to start work. By the evening and still walking with a little limp I considering not bothering to take part – the lure of a lie in was strong. Only the fact I had parted with a sum of hard cash persuaded me to set the alarm for 6am as I headed to bed shortly before 2am on Sunday morning.
Knowing that I would be pretty much comatose while staggering around the house Sunday morning, I had prepared as best I could to ensure an easy departure. This was achieved, leaving just a few minutes later than planned, but then 10 minutes into the journey I had a panic that I’d not remembered my trainers! I fretted all the way to my doorstep before remembering they were safely packed in my rucksack! Annoyed I went in anyway and picked up my rain jacket – a token gesture to suggest the return wasn’t entirely wasted – it was after all raining quite heavily in Grantham. Thankfully I was able to make up a little time en route to Holdenby and the rain was a distant memory when I pulled into the field to park. While the right hamstring was happily almost pain free I did manage to complicate matters by finding a tender spot in the right quad while poking around bored on the A1. This caused quite a deep long lasting pain which forced some frantic quad stretching on my arrival.
It was immediately apparent this was no World Championship event, this was a fairly low key relaxed race, albeit still with proper transition areas, chip timing and the like. I had just over an hour to get prepared. This is not as straightforward a task as when running – there is a bike to set-up and check, things to put in boxes, things to keep and not keep in transition. I must have fretted away 30 minutes before I made my final trip into transition shortly before the start and was satisfied I was ready.
The warm up was a token mile jogging slowly back and forth. Thankfully there was just a subtle ache in the Achilles, the right hamstring was fine, the right quad felt a little fuzzy, but bearable. I joined the rest of the field for an organised warm up session. I normally baulk at such an undertaking, but after a minute or so I realised that they were doing pretty much all the same exercises I was doing, so joined in – and felt better for it.
The final instructions were more important than normal to listen to. There was to be a foot down rule at a junction we had been warned about. There was also some temporary roadworks on the bike route covered by traffic lights. This was clearly not an ideal state of affairs. The thought of being unjustly held up by a costly red light already had me seeing red before the race had begun. Still there was nothing that could be done and there was always the chance this random luck / bad luck generator could play into my favour.
The warm up over we were greeted with a loud buzzing noise and the somewhat off putting sight of a drone hovering somewhat unsteadily just above us. We were encouraged to wave; I felt more inclined to duck for cover. Thankfully we were promptly given the countdown from five to begin and once off we were soon we were clear of the flying camera which, I presume, wasn’t seen again. I felt a little conspicuous to be taking part in my Team GB tri-suit. This wasn’t bragging, more the reality of only having one tri-suit. Hopefully soon I can get hold of a less conspicuous one.
As with the Stumble I instantly found myself at the head of the field from the off, but this time there was two or three who were quickly keen to take the pace, passed me and pulled out a small gap chasing the lead vehicle which would accompany us for most of the first lap only. I wasn’t overly concerned, but was a little bemused when after around three minutes of running we came down a short sharp descent and was swamped by five or six minutes hurtling down as if the finish was at the bottom of the hill! Admittedly I was taking it fairly gingerly here – I didn’t want to stress the quads, already showing signs of fragility and which have form for cramping up early in races on a descent.
Thankfully the quads and all the other aching bits survived and, lo and behold, it wasn’t too many yards later where I began to pretty much all of the runners who flew past me a minute earlier and were now already beginning to show signs of paying the consequences. The first mile was swift – 5:41 but it was mostly downhill, so a 6:05 according to Strava GAP. The run was off road but the kind of off-road I’m agreeable with – firm underfoot and, for the most, part fairly even and not rutted.
The second mile was where i established my position in the race. I found myself moving up to third as we tackled the big steep hill on the climb. The lead two were around 20 seconds ahead but as looked at them I began to wonder whether they were actually competitors. I remembered that as well as the standard distance Duathlon with its 10km opening run leg, there was a sprint Duathlon with a 5k opening run leg, and also a 10km standalone running race. This explained why one of the lead two was wearing a baggy vest and shorts, which would be awfully casual attire for the lycra obsessed multi-sport world.
As I struggled with a section of hills and hollows coming in to complete the first lap the lycra clad runner peeled off to collect his bike in transition. I was now at worst second and likely to be leading the Standard distanced race. I very nearly ended up throwing it all away at the start of the second lap when I was confused by a poorly posted direction sign (It pointed left when it should have been straight ahead) and a gate that had become partially closed suggesting we should indeed turn left. This I did, but after a few seconds guessed that we hadn’t run through a farmyard on the first lap and had probably taken a wrong turn. I lost around 10-15 seconds but no one had passed me.
The run was proving to be hard but sustainable in terms of effort – mile 2 was 6:14 (5:50 GAP), mile 3 6:26, mile 4 6:13 and mile 5 6:02. There was no problem with low heart rate today, if anything it was a struggle to keep it down – the weeks of running inactivity beginning to show. The penultimate climb of the big hill was a struggle but I was pulling well clear of those behind me. Mile six was the slowest of the full mile of the run at 6:32 and there was a another 3/5s of a mile tackling before the the pesky hollows approaching transition to complete. It was here I received confirmation via the PA system that the runner ahead was indeed a runner and not planning on taking to a bicycle.
My transition to bike went really well and was commented on by a couple of spectators watching intently. As we were on wet grass and with the start of the bike leg tricky, I saw no point in attempting to run barefoot with bike shoes attached to bike. I calmly put helmet on first, took off trainers, put on bike shoes, unracked the bike and headed off to the mount point.
The bike leg was largely uneventful and played somewhat to my strengths. A two lap course, the first half of the lap was mostly uphill with two long descents. It meant that although I was on my TT bike there was little benefit of spending too much time in the TT position and I could put power through my quads in a more upright position. Also to save the quads I pedaled at a fairly high average cadence. I got myself in the TT position on the few flat sections of the course and on the gentle descents where the poor road conditions allowed. It transpired the road that had traffic lights had some of the most appalling road quality I’ve encountered – so rough that my bike mount broke and I had to hold onto the Garmin for dear life to avoid losing it altogether.
It was tricky to know how I was fairing on the bike as I was soon passing riders taking part in the sprint event. What I did know was that no-one passed me and no-one was in sight for the entire ride. I was fortunate in that on the two laps I was only held up for a few seconds at the traffic lights, and then again for 20 seconds or so coming into the village near Holdenby where parked cars were wreaking havoc.
An hour and nine minutes or so and the bike leg was over. I opted again to leave the bike shoes on when dismounting rather than get the socks wet. There was a little drama when the left calf wanted to cramp when taking the shoe off (Just as at Aviles) but again I was able to quickly stretch the calf and the pain passed. It wasn’t the quickest transition of the day but by now I was relaxed, confident that as long as the legs wanted to play ball on the run I was going to win.
Thankfully despite a little hip discomfort from the bike ride, the legs were soon up to speed, even if they didn’t feel like they were. The first mile was a 6:06 and half a mile later I was able to take a look back where I could see for nearly half a mile and I could no-one behind me. I relaxed as I settled to 6:16 for the second mile and almost allowed myself the luxury of walking up the last hill as mile three was a pedestrian 6:48 (6:15 Strava GAP). The last 0.3 mile was a little tortuous on the hollows but I was receiving congratulations from the Sprint athletes as they came to the finish too.
As I crossed the line there was a small celebration but little in the way of elation. I’m not sure why I wasn’t happier, I think it was sheer relief that I managed to get around largely in one piece. There was also the matter of not being able to hang around too much as there was work at home to be done. I quickly changed and packed the bike in the car before a short podium presentation, minus the trophy I am still waiting for, which apparently hadn’t arrived and will be posted.
And that was that. My second win in as many weeks! They will be days I look back on with affection, for these victories are unlikely to happen very often. In the end I won by over three minutes – fastest on both the run legs and, pleasingly second fastest on the bike leg. The field may not have been the biggest or strongest, but, as they say, a win is a win is a win!
Summer 2016 is fast becoming a fading memory as the nights draw in, vests and t-shirts are slowly shifting towards the back of the drawers as the long sleeve tops look more likely in the coming days, weeks and months.
For the record I probably had the best summer holiday I ever had. Long a dream of mine, my family and I spent three weeks touring with a caravan up and down the British Isles – three nights each in seven different caravan sites. With the Robin Hood Half Marathon the target race at the end of September, I didn’t want to neglect the training (not that I ever really do), so I packed a couple of pairs of trainers with the intention of trying to run as near as possible every day while away. I had no hard and fast training plan, other than a rough idea to try and run around 10 miles each day, occasionally putting in some effort, but really just trying to bank plenty of miles.
Some years ago (2011, I think) when I was traveling on the F1 circus and trying to run as much as possible, when technology allowed me to carry a portable waterproof camera, for one year I attempted to take photographs during each run to capture some of the interesting things you see every day when running. I had grand intentions to make something of them but it never really materialised, partly because I had no real medium to show off the pictures.
Fast forward to 2016 and thanks to the wonders of smart phones having cameras that can, in some situations, rival SLR cameras for clarity, and a Flipbelt to easily carry the phone, I planned to try to capture my holiday through three photos uploaded with each run that appeared on Strava. Not always very good nor interesting, nonetheless I really enjoyed capturing the different things I saw over the three weeks and thought that, some weeks later, I should really put it in my blog, for posterity, if nothing else.
We had arrived at the caravan site much later than planned on the Tuesday (AA called before we even left, nearly didn’t make it at all!) so Wednesday morning was the first opportunity to run. The two Norfolk Broads morning runs were the only two which took place ‘mid-morning’. After this run it was up at 7am and out running by half past the hour, whenever possible.
Having never experienced the Broads before, I was struck by the beauty of the area – even if it soon dawned on me that the canals / rivers were not easily navigable by foot.
I still didn’t have much of a clue where I was running on our final day in the Norfolk Broads. The site of a pleasure steamer was a bit of a surprise! I took a picture of Bewilderwood! to show the kids, as it one of their favourite days out and I wanted to show them how relatively close we were to it. This run saw the first of some Stravalek efforts on roads where I thought there may be Strava segments to have a go on or, later in the holiday when I realised how few existed in some parts of the country, where I could create some of my own.
Friday saw us travel up from Norfolk to Sutton-on-Sea, which is a stone’s throw from the better known (and much busier in the summer) Mablethorpe. Having unhitched the caravan and left the wife to try and work out how to erect the awning (This may sound harsh, but I had her blessing and I would definitely have just got in the way) I went on a late afternoon run along the promenade that runs for around 8 miles up to Mablethorpe.
I’ve had the good fortune to run beside beaches on a number of promenades all over the world. I think this was as quintessentially British as you could get and very pleasurable too, if it weren’t for a pair of quite badly blistered Achilles, which would cause me no end of grief over the coming weeks (and months, it seems).
‘Halfway’ etched into the sand? That was Whattsapped to my wife to tell her where I was. Couldn’t do that a few years ago….
A necessity to be back at the caravan early and some very bloody looking Achilles meant Run #4 was the lowest mileage day of the holiday. Turning right at the promenade rather than left took me to a beach car park at Huttoft Beach, having passed some brightly painted beach huts – of which there are hundreds on the promenade. The fisherman shot could have been wonderful with the right camera and lens, as it is it serves as a reminder that mobile phone cameras still have their limitations (It would not have been picked if it weren’t for a need to get three photos…)
Typical for the area is the reality that roads were relatively few and far between, so the promenade was used for a third run in a succession, albeit I opted to stick to the main road for the opening half of the run. This meant interesting photo opportunities were limited, but I was pleased to discover Mablethorpe’s homage to the Rio Olympics, which had begun that weekend and saw the TV bought out to try and watch as much as possible, while still enjoying the holiday (And getting sleep!)
From Sutton-on-Sea we headed north to Barnard Castle. The first six runs had been all but pancake flat – How Hill, which I ran to on the opening run in hope of a hill fix, was a huge disappointment. Having driven in to the caravan site on some very undulating roads, I was dead keen to get out and find some hills. I wasn’t disappointed as within half a mile of setting off, I was climbing a short ramp of around 20% to witness Barnard Castle itself. Another shorter run (seven miles), I was pleased to make a loop out of it rather than an out and back thanks to Google Maps. Again, something I couldn’t have done a few years ago….
The caravan site was yards from the Teesdale Way path, which I knew nothing about but figured it may be well signposted and a good opportunity to do some off-road running. For the first three miles or so it was and quite good fun until I met those Angry Cows! I was sure I was going to be chased and / or crushed by them! I counted my blessings when I escaped them, any plans of doing an out and back were thrown out of the window. Thankfully the first road I arrived at happened to be the one that took me back to the caravan site, a few miles less than the ten I had planned.
This run was notable on two accounts. Firstly it was the shortest run, albeit highly technical off-road, with plenty of obstacles made it a harder effort than the 3.7 miles suggested. Secondly, the picture of High Force wasn’t taken on the run, but a couple of hours earlier on our trip out. This cheat was partly because I didn’t have three decent photos, but also because I was particularly impressed with High Force and felt the need to show it off in all its glory!
Having secured two pleasing photos, I was rapidly running out of opportunities to take a third photo of note on my mostly flat 10 mile out and back run. As chance would have it as the fifth mile clicked over I found myself hurtling down a steep hill, complete with alpine style switchback, and at the bottom a rare site of a wooden slatted (Whorlton) suspension bridge – which I ran across and then swiftly back as I commenced a Strava segment busting five miles of continuous tempo.
It was the shortest drive from Barnard Castle to Ingram, near Alnwick, but high winds, steep hills and some lofty elevation made the journey with caravan in tow the hairiest of the holiday. Whether this was the cause for some severe calf pains during the run I will never know, but it cut short what I’d planned to be a ten mile run, and I feared that my running adventures for the holiday may be over.
Photographically this run promised more than it delivered, I wasn’t really happy with any that I took. That is a shame because the three days spent at the River Breamish Caravan Site was a real delight. We had only really gone to see Alnwick Castle (Harry Potter) and found it to be extremely scenic, yet not that busy. The run though I was happy with. Having had the first day off running on the Friday, some massage and stretching had more or less fixed the dodgy calf by Saturday.
The middle Sunday of our holiday and of the Olympics, it had been a pleasingly easy journey from Alnwick to Killn. This was inadvertently the longest run of the holiday. It had meant to be around 10 miles like many of the others, but running alongside the stunning Loch Tay my tummy began to feel a little dodgy and I reckoned that if I ran a few miles to the Hotel that was being signposted I may be able to use their facilities. So many thanks to Hotel Ardeonaig, you saved me! This was the first time I ran on National Cycle Route 7. It turned out to not be the last.
This was possibly my favourite run on a holiday full of enjoyable runs. Almost the entire route was devoid of traffic noise, or any other human interaction. The scenery was stunning, amplified by the mist hovering in the valley as I ran up a big hill then came back down it. It made me want to go back and ride National Cycle Route 7 in its entirety.
I had been, and was, really lucky with the weather. Most days it was sunny, and even when it had been cloudy, it had often enhanced the photo. This was the first day when the cloud and mist made photo opportunities difficult, but there was still a couple of unexpected sights on a run down a very long no through road (I never got close to reaching the end of it!)
We drove from Killin to Ayr on the Wednesday. The caravan site is next to the University in a residential area and it came as something of a culture shock having enjoyed the tranquility of the previous destinations. The opening miles of this run were perhaps the most frustrating of the holiday as I dithered over where to head and was frequently let down by poor footpath signage. Once I headed back from my ‘out point’ the run was saved by some of the quickest miles of the holiday.
For this run I explored Ayr some more, and after seeing the racecourse headed to the sea where I found an unexpected esplanade. The Lang Scots Mile was a brilliant idea and a good opportunity to put my foot down and see how quick I could run. National Cycle Route 7 did itself proud once again.
My first proper parkrun tourist event (not that I mentioned the fact that I was at the time) happened by chance as I had been looking at Alnwick as a possible parkrun event, and only found Ayr had an event when I was looking at Strava segments. Having had the Friday off, I was fairly fresh for the run. I used Google Maps and earphones to direct me to the start. I soon took the lead and ended up finishing first, although would have preferred company as the course had plenty of opportunities to take the wrong turn!
It was fortuitous that I took part in parkrun. At all the other travel days I ran at the destination rather than run before we departed. As soon as I got back to the caravan in Ayr the heavens opened, the wind picked up, and it rained relentlessly for hours and hours and hours…
The Wild Rose Caravan Park was our final stay on our three week holiday, a place I had stayed at as a child some 29 years previous. The place was unrecognisable but Appleby remained much as I remembered it. The reward for 24 hours of heavy rain was seeing Rutter Falls in all their glory early on in the run. I’d only ventured down the quiet road because I could hear a roar of noise from the main road and was curious!
Save for a couple of minutes at the end of the parkrun run in Ayr, I had enjoyed 18 rain free runs. The running gods saved all the precipitation for my final run of the holiday! Heavy rain from beginning to end, I had considered not taking any photos, but settled on taking the barest minimum while trying to protect my phone from the water. A pity, but at least the final photo showed one of my favourite stretches of running on the holiday – the long hill into and out of Asby, which I think was made all the more enjoyable for the bad weather, the sense of solitude, and the sense of purpose that this training in adverse conditions may help when it came to racing a month or so later.
If you don’t want to read all the background and preparation, you can jump straight to the race report by Clicking Here
How I Qualified For The World Duathlon Championships:
Back in early March I took part in the Dambuster Duathlon, which counted as a qualifying event for the Age Group World Duathlon Championships in Aviles, Spain. Being a total novice at the sport I didn’t hold out any hope of qualifying but, as something of a passing thought, I paid the £10 fee to allow myself to be considered for qualification.
The Dambuster is reported on elsewhere, it was by no means the best race I have ever taken part in – too many rookie errors, suffering in the cold, and struggling with sciatica. I finished ninth in my age group. I understood that only the top three qualified by right then, if you also finished within 115% of the winner’s time in your age group, you may be considered for selection on a roll down policy. I had finished around 112.9% of the winner, so satisfied that criteria, but reckoned I had finished far too lowly to ever be considered.
And so I went about running half marathons, training for the London Marathon and carrying on with the cycling, readying myself for the time trial season. Disillusioned by the way in which I was passed so effortlessly by guys on fancy time trial bikes at Rutland Water, I opted to buy a fancy time trial bike when the opportunity arose in March to purchase a local one second hand at a very good price. By no means cheap (More than double the value of my car…) but far less than to buy the equivalent new.
It sat, unridden, until at least the middle of April, the intention being to begin riding it once the London Marathon was over and done. I’d heard nothing about qualification for the World Duathlon Championships, so just over a week before the London Marathon as April came to a close, I booked my family a caravan holiday for the May / June school half term holidays.
The very next day I received an email stating something along the lines of “Congratulations Matthew, you have been selected to represent Great Britain for the 2016 Age Group World Duathlon Championships, to be held in Aviles, Spain, on Sunday June 5th!” My first thought was bugger, what about the holiday?! I then looked at the cost of flights and accommodation, which, assuming my wife was to join me, was looking at being in excess of £1500. I quickly dismissed the idea as madness.
I then mentioned it to my wife who seemed genuinely thrilled that I had been selected to represent my country at a World Championship event. She was the voice of reason – I may not have the opportunity to do this sort of thing again, and how many people get to represent their country at a major championship event? She was, of course, right. The issue was: how were we to be able to afford this?
We had just over a week to sort out the entry for the race and, ideally book flights and accommodation. Fortunately I was able to cancel the caravan holiday without financial penalty. Fortuitously too I was unable to stay at the official Team GB accommodation nor use the official flights so I was forced to think outside the box and attempt to minimise costs, but not make the trip unbearably complicated.
Using the wonder of the internet and with an afternoon to sort everything out, I firstly booked the flights. Rather than fly locally to Asturias I opted to fly, using Easyjet, from Stanstead to Bilbao. A three hour drive away from Aviles, but 1. flights were available and 2. flights were cheaper than those to Aviles. With my wife’s parents very kindly offering to look after the kids while we were away, I opted to fly out on the Wednesday morning and return on the Monday evening. Flying out a little early would allow some decent acclimatisation and also the opportunity to enjoy a little holiday with my wife for the first time since the kids came along. Return flights £180 for the two of us.
Accommodation: As we would require a hire car I saw little need to stay on the doorstop of the event. When taking part in events in the UK I am often happy to drive for nearly two hours if necessary on the morning of a race. If I could find somewhere within half an hour then this was absolutely fine. After a little searching the choice was one of two – a hotel with stunning views or some rural apartments that were twenty minutes from Aviles along the Autovia A-8. I went for the apartments – they looked great, got super reviews on Trip Advisor and, most importantly, had a kitchen where I could cook my own food – most useful before a race. £190 for 5 nights seemed very reasonable too.
Although I wasn’t using the official flight and accommodation there was the option of having my bike shipped to and from the event using Shipmytribike. £170 for the privilege seemed a lot of money, but then I did some calculations: to ship the bike using Easyjet would be £140. I would need to hire a bike box (my soft one not being appropriate for a bike costing twice the price of my road car) that would cost around £100 (And I’d need to take the bike apart, shipmybike stated that only the front wheel would need to be removed). Moreover I’d need to hire an estate car or at least a large car, which was coming in at £70-100 more than hiring a small one. Also I’d be able to put a bag of additional luggage with the bike free of charge.
The choice was therefore straightforward – have the bike shipped. Finally the hire car was booked. All the hire car companies were fairly similarly priced. I disregarded Holiday Autos as they weren’t based at the airport and went with Budget. £70 for a small car for 5 days. Bargain!
Add to that the cost of entry £180, and £80 for the compulsory Team GB tri suit, and I was £700 poorer for the potential of representing my country. But this was well under half the price it would have been had I done things officially, so there was a slight contentedness as I went about not running very well at the London Marathon, knowing that after that effort, there would be just six weeks to prepare for Aviles.
Preparation And Training
London didn’t go to plan, but there was little opportunity to dwell on my misfortune as I had to focus on Duathlon training. I don’t have a coach to turn to so had to ask a few people some questions before concluding that, much as I’d done in preparing for the Dambuster, the most important thing is to practice running straight after being on the bike. I decided to go a little further based on how I felt at Rutland and try to practice running, then cycling, then running – as the ride following a hard run I felt was almost as hard as running straight after the bike (Which is what most people find really tough). Hardly ground breaking stuff (I’ll struggle to publish a book based on my revolutionary training methods), but it works, so why complicate matters?
Moreover, I’d had the chance to ride one or two time trials on my new steed. While there was definitely potential for good speed, I was really struggling to hold the TT tuck position for more than a minute or so – my arms and shoulders killing me. A little tip from the guy I bought the bike from was to do lots of plank exercises. So I downloaded a free plank app and went about a daily ritual of doing five different plank sets.
It normally takes me around a month to get over the effects of a marathon, so I reckoned that minimising hard run efforts would be a good idea. This was easy enough in the week following the marathon as I’d come down with a stinking cold. Sundays would remain a cycling day – when there wasn’t a Grand Prix to be spent working I would ride long with Witham Wheelers; when there was a GP, I’d get out and ride around 40 miles in TT position – either on my road bike with clip on bars or my TT bike itself.
In every plan there is a session or two that not everyone would recommend. That came 11 days after London when Ben Smith, who is aiming to run an unbelievable 401 marathons in as many consecutive days, came to Grantham. I’d committed many months earlier to take part in the run and, despite the possible folly of running 26.2 miles (nearer 27 as it turned out) I wouldn’t have missed it for the world as a group of 50 or more at times visited 19 schools to unbelievable amounts of support. It was a run I will never forget and one I’d never regret doing, even if it did leave me with a sore shin for a few days – the legacy of running a little slower than I usually do.
A few days later I was going to take part in the Grantham Sprint Triathlon, mainly as a practice in transition, but missed the entry deadline by a few hours. Instead I rode 80 miles with Witham Wheelers to Woodhall Spa in glorious sunshine and temperatures in the mid twenties. I then went on a brick 5k run, very satisfying indeed to cover it without any stress at 6:05 per mile pace.
The remainder of the month was a mix of elliptical trainer; time trials and brick runs; running to the gym, spinning, and running home again; a couple of parkruns (one with a rather stiff hangover); a couple of semi-quick runs; a long bike ride; and, aside from the Ben Smith run, not a long run in sight.
Ten days out from Aviles I was working hard on the Monaco Grand Prix and didn’t get out to run until too late to run with the club. I went on a solo off-road run which was great until I took a wrong turn on a footpath and found myself being stung to bits by nettles, long grass, and anything else that was growing in the ground. My legs didn’t take well to this, especially when trying to sleep. For the next few nights I found myself tossing and turning to around 2am, then sleeping fitfully. Not ideal preparation. I also came down with a chest infection, perhaps caused by hay fever, which meant that on Saturday I just plodded six miles rather than the planned long run and by Sunday I had to hand in my sick note and do nothing at all (except work for 15 hours without break on the Grand Prix).
Monday was a bank holiday, I’d hoped to put in a long run in the afternoon. I headed out at 3pm. Half a mile into the run I was hit by the dreaded weird cramp in my right thigh that has afflicted me sporadically for the past 18 months or so. After two miles it had spread to the left leg and I was hobbling pitifully. Luckily I was outside the Meres Leisure Centre, so I was able to sit for 40 minutes on their elliptical trainer before they closed, in an attempt to will away the lacitc. It kind of worked, I had to stop a couple of times, but was able to limp four miles home before the legs cramped up again as I approached home.
On the Tuesday – the day before flying to Spain, somewhat despondent, I bloody-mindedly attempted. at the fourth time of asking, to complete my long run. Things went swimmingly until around nine miles when the right thigh began to cramp. Given that I was six miles from home I had little choice but to ignore the discomfort and run home as well as possible – which I, thankfully, was able to do. Other than the cramp, the cough, and the lousy weather, the pace was pleasing enough for the 15 mile run.
May’s training had been, until, the final few days pretty pleasing. The final ten mile time trial saw me take nearly forty seconds off my previous best time (and be able to assume the TT position for the entirety of the ride) and there was signs in the final 5k run that there was some pace in the running legs. Still though the main doubts were whether the cramps that were becoming more common would strike again and whether the by now pretty heavy cough, would clear in time for the race.
Aviles – Pre-Race Build Up
My wife and I left for Aviles on Tuesday evening, staying close to Stanstead airport with her sister before taking off shortly after 7am for Bilbao. The flight was uneventful, the baggage arrived in its entirety, and when we collected the hire car was rather pleased to see that it was a rather snazzy red Audi A1 1.6 diesel.
The drive from Bilbao to our apartments in Ovinana was, once the satnav had clocked that we were in Spain, rather delightful. Blue skies, no kids in the back, and the entire journey on the recently built A-8 Autovia which, for the most part, was about as busy as the M45 on a quiet day. We stopped at just after half way to tempt my wife with the delights of Tortilla de Patatas, a dish that, in my opinion, is crying out for tomato ketchup. At the airport on the way back she would get to try the mind blowing potato and egg brick in a baguette, which is €5 of tastelessness almost unparalleled.
We arrived at the apartments at 3pm to locked gates and no sign of life. Not a good start. I called the number on the reservation and was told someone would be there at 4pm. Then I remembered that 2-4pm or thereabouts is siesta time in Spain. So we wandered about for a while before we were allowed into our apartment.
And what a great apartment it was. Immaculate. Well laid out, kitchen fully equipped, and we were greeted with a gift of a sparkling bottle of, not champagne, nor cava, but of the local speciality – cidre, or cider. I’m a big fan of cider so this was about as good an opening impression a host could ever make.
I thought about getting a little late siesta but failed, so went outside to be mesmerised by the Auto-Mower and then remembering they had free bikes. So, much to my amazement, my wife and I went on a short bike ride to the coast and back. I’ve never seen my wife ride a bike in the 22 years we’ve known each other, so this alone made my holiday. Despite initial reservations, she confessed to enjoying it ‘more than she should have’. My dream cycling holiday in the Alps may yet happen one day…
I then went for a four mile leg loosener. This involved running down a steep track to the beach, which resulted in the familiar cramp in both thighs, one though which I could run through. I had excuses this time – long journey, tiredness etc.. But three cramps in as many runs did not inspire confidence.
It was my intention to not get too stressed by the prospect of the World Championships and to enjoy the time away as much as possible. Where we were staying Duathlon fever had not quite hit the village so we were able to pretty much forget about the upcoming race that evening and subsequent evenings for that matter until the night before the race. Forgetting about the race entailed basically drinking a fair amount of the local cidre, the local red wine, and the local white wine!
Come Thursday morning however and there was no escaping the need to head to the Team GB hotel and begin preparations for Sunday’s race. The drive there was happily very straightforward, less than half an hour away and no traffic. The first port of call was reuniting myself with the bike that had been shipped separately. Kudos to Shipmytribike, the thing was there ready and waiting, all exactly as I had left it.
I was at the hotel to take part in a Team GB recce of the bike course. There were around 40 of us. It felt a little odd cruising along at no great speed in a group on a TT bike complete with pointy hat, but I at least wasn’t the only one in the same position. The conclusion having looked at the course was that it was fairly flat with a couple of climbs that weren’t particularly taxing, one or two technical turns and, barring a couple of tight hairpins, a pretty quick course in the making.
The quads felt distinctly tired during the ride and I took up the opportunity of seeing one of the team physios for a 20 minute massage. Within moments of assessing my cramp afflicted build up she seemed pretty shocked at how tight my quads in particular were. The prescribed medicine was plenty of massage and loads of stretching before Sunday.
It was then time to head back into central Aviles, firstly for some lunch, then a wander around the historic and rather picturesque town center before heading to the registration area, which opened at four after the obligatory siesta.
The whole procedure was a relaxed affair – I received a wrist band that wasn’t to be removed until after the race, and then in inquiring over the cost of a t-shirt, found myself bestowed with freebies! Most impressive was the official rucksack which will become my race bag of choice – festooned with pockets galore and ample storage space. Inside the rucksack was more cider and, somewhat bizarrely, what turned out to be a liter of chicken broth. This turned out to be an inspired free gift, for while many of my team mates took to dumping their broth at the hotel, I used it to make a rather delicious risotto that evening!
Having spent far too much of Thursday with Duathlon related affairs, I was keen to make Friday a day devoid of any contact with the event. I’d spent though a good part of Thursday evening stretching and massaging, so was keen to test the legs on the Friday morning.
In another of my not from the traditional taper text book exercises, I headed to the hills that surrounded us on the other side of the motorway. I had originally planned to just run 10k or so, but was enjoying so much a continuous 7km climb on an immaculately kept, but totally empty road, which bizarrely led to a single path gravel track, by the time I’d got back to the apartment, I’d run ten and a half miles and climbed over 1000 ft. Happily though there wasn’t a sniff of the dreaded cramp in the legs. This confidence booster I reckoned was worth far more than any possible physical tiredness resulting from the run.
The rest of the day was relaxed – a short trip to a couple of beaches and then to the very pretty fishing town Cudillero. More exciting than all the fish themed restaurants was the small pizzeria that ensured I could have my traditional pre-race meal. Friday night was spent still enjoying the local beverages, still stretching and more massaging. There was the option of heading back to Aviles to take part in the opening ceremony but I declined the offer – the thought of potentially spending several hours late into the evening on my feet didn’t seem a sensible prospect.
Come Saturday morning the legs felt really good, the chesty cough was still there but getting better by the hour. We had to head back to the Team GB hotel for a day of duathlon themed events. First off was the Team GB briefing, which was impressive by the sheer volume of Brits taking part in the sprint and standard distance events (Enough to fill a moderately sized hall). The event had some useful information, some less useful questions, including one from yours truly ‘What language do the officials speak?’ (To be fair this was a dare between me and my wife to try and ask the silliest question) and some motivational speeches by competing athletes, including one by Lee Piercy, who explained he was a former Age Group duathlete who turned pro at one point and was a multiple World Champion.
Any wild fantasies of securing gold in my Age Group were scuppered when we gathered for the customary group photos, where I found myself standing alongside my fellow 40-44 year olds by the aforementioned Mr Piercy. He still looked every inch the pro he once was, the gold medal looked almost to be hanging already around his neck.
Once the photos were taken there was some time to kill before we could take our bikes to transition to be racked for the race. Rather than sit around in the hotel we headed back to Carrefour for some more food shopping and to buy some gifts for the kids. Then it was a short cycle ride to transition before some very British patient queuing as bikes and helmets were checked before we were allowed to rack up.
Unlike a triathlon there isn’t really a lot of gear left at transition – a bike, a helmet, a second pair of trainers if you are really keen (I’m not), bike shoes, possibly some bike gloves, and that should really be about it. Ultimately due to the threat of rain I left just the bike there, assured that we would be allowed into transition the following morning despite what one or two officials were saying. I then pfaffed around with the rest of the competitors, taking pictures to ascertain exactly where the bike was among all the other bikes. This caught me out badly at Rutland where I was left running around in circles trying to find my bike. I was determined not to make that mistake again. I decided to use the markings of a boat moored as a reference point as many others were doing. We joked how funny it would be if that boat wasn’t there in the morning…
With the bike on the rack there was no more that could be done. We headed back to the hotel on the Team GB coach and headed back to our apartment. We were soon off again for my pre-race pizza, which wasn’t the best I’ve ever had but certainly did the job. We took a slow walk back along the harbour front before heading back and slowly to bed, missing the cidre, the white wine, and the red wine, but thankful I was able to get to sleep relatively quickly.
I woke at 7 am, showered, changed into my tri-suit (Which I confess to not having worn while training, simply trying it on to see if it, more or less, fitted), had coffee, and then went about consuming four of the five cereal bars that is now my traditional pre-race breakfast. I made a final check of the bag I was taking to the race and we left at shortly at around 8:15. We were at the team hotel at 8:40 and straight onto a waiting shuttle bus, which took us to the start. I headed straight to transition and found that the boat we had all used as a visual reference point was gone! I was half expecting it, I reckoned that as the numbers on the racks were pretty large and in a fairly predictable descending order, I should be able to find my spot, as long as I didn’t panic nor rush in too quick.
I also decided on the morning, despite having practiced the art (once) I would not be attaching my bike shoes to the pedals for a flying mount out of transition. I took this decision after talking with several other competitors. Basically I was less than 30 meters from the transition line, which I could cover fairly easily wearing my bike shoes. Chances were any time made up going barefoot out of transition would be lost attempting to fasten my shoes when cycling. I did though decide that I would remove my feet from the shoes before entering transition, as it was around 200 meters of running to get back to my racking station.
All in order in transition I left to prepare for the start. There was over two hours to kill so I spent a little while watching the sprint races, paying particular attention to how they entered and exited transition. I then found myself sitting at the venue cafe passively smoking plenty of fumes before nervous energy meant I killed time by visiting the toilets, checking my timing chip and number, slowly getting changed and, finally, an hour before the start, I began to warm up.
There wasn’t an awful lot of room to warm up so it was little shuttles up and down around the back of the cafe. The legs felt… okay. Not amazing, a tiny twinge in the right quad, which I was sure was in my mind. What was noticeable was that the promised cloud cover was missing. The sun was out, the skies were blue, and temperatures felt like they were beginning to sky rocket. I’d already drunk the bottle of water I’d brought with me and, to my surprise, there wasn’t anywhere obvious where competitors could get hold of some. Eventually, in desperation, I managed to down a few swigs of a bottle I was fairly sure had been discarded.
There was little else to be done except put my bag in storage, make several visits to the toilets and attempt to keep nerves to a minimum. Five minutes before the planned off at 11:25 I made my way to the start. This was it! My debut in a GB vest was about to happen!
The Age Group World Championships has competitors starting in waves based on age – youngest first. I was in the third wave covering the 40-44 and 45-49 age groups. Things were running a few minutes late but at around 11:35 we were finally called to the start line. Although I suspected I could be one of the quicker runners I placed myself nearer the back as I’d heard plenty of chatter from English speaking competitors that going off too hard and fast was a common occurrence in Duathlons.
After a long minute countdown we were called to our marks and were off. The opening km was a frantic affair as we ran around the event headquarters, past the start line and off towards the footpath along the river that would form the bulk of the opening 10km run. There was at least one faller in the opening few minutes and I was mindful to allow myself plenty of space to avoid mishap.
Once onto the footpath, although quite narrow I was able to begin passing those who had, as predicted, gone off a little too quickly. My first mile was a solid 5:30, a couple of seconds slower than my 10k PB (34:10) average. I paid half an eye on the heart rate, it had risen to half marathon levels which I had hoped it would. It was warm (around 22C, rising to a maximum of 25C) but I just focused on picking off runners and tried to ignore the warmth.
The second mile saw us head out to a bridge we crossed then headed back on the other side, albeit with a little extra loop which was extremely narrow. The second mile was slightly slower (5:35) but I was still passing runners and was by two and half miles the first runner who wasn’t in a main pack of around 10 runners. The third mile was a 5:33 and, although there were no distance markers 5k was covered in around 17:16. By now we were back at the event headquarters, running past the finish line and beginning the second lap to vociferous support from a large crowd, including many, many Brits.
I could see from my watch that the course was going to be a fair bit over 10 km so just prepared myself mentally for some extra distance. The second lap was very different from the opening lap in that we were passing numerous runners – some younger runners from earlier start pens who were running slower, some older male runners who had just begun their race and likewise some young female runners who had been sent on their way. This made it particularly tricky on some pretty narrow paths navigating my way through the field and impossible to determine what position I was in the race.
Despite the travails the mile splits rattled off with satisfying monotony, albeit a touch slower than the opening 5k: 5:38, 5:39, and 5:37 for miles four to six. A post race check shows that I went through 10k in 34:51, which, considering the heat and the twisty nature of the course I would have been most satisfied with in a standalone 10k, let alone the first leg of a Duathlon. Post race analysis indicates the official spilit was 36:04. Lee Piercy, the ex-professional was leading with a 34:44 split. I was lying fifth after the run. At the time I had no idea I was placed so highly, actually assuming I was way outside the top ten. The only indicator I had I was doing reasonably well was I had all but caught fellow Belvoir Tri Club member Adam Madge, who had started in the wave before me.
Still, there was little sign of the transition approaching. Finally, around 350 meters after we should have entered it and with the tummy giving the first pangs of distress, we were in transition. I continued to run full gas as we ran down the middle of all the racked bikes before turning sharp right at the end and entering the lane where my bike was somewhere near the other end. I deliberately slowed to a jog, not only to better spot my bike, but to ensure the heart rate had dropped a little to minimise the risk of transition panic.
To my immense relief I found my bike. I calmly removed my shoes, placing my sunglasses in one of them as my TT helmet has a handy tinted visor attached. I put the helmet on before my bike shoes, so as not to risk touching the bike beforehand – which is an instant penalty. Thankfully I got the strap on without fuss and put the shoes on swiftly. I took the bike off the rack and made my way to transition exit. It was by no means the fastest transition – the whole process took 2:08, good enough for just 36th fastest. A fair few runners I had passed, re-passed me, but, compared to Rutland, it was a massive improvement, especially as once I had mounted onto my bike, I was straight into my cycling rather than fiddling with helmet straps, gloves and trying to fasten shoes.
Unlike at Rutland where the bike ride felt really uncomfortable on the legs from the off, here I felt much more at ease with the bike. I kept the cadence fairly low for the opening section which was flat and fast. I passed Adam. A few guys came flying past me but, as drafting is strictly not permitted, there was nothing I could do but ride my own bike leg. After a few miles of riding I allowed the cadence to increase, and as it did the heart rate came down to a level just below what I had been reaching on the ten mile time trials. I was comfortable with this as and made a point of attempting to ride as hard as possible without feeling as though I was pushing the legs too far into the red zone.
One thing I wasn’t comfortable with was the lack of ventilation on my helmet. Anticipating temperatures around 18C and cloudy to boot, I’d made the decision to keep on the plastic aeroshell which blocks the vents with the supposed benefit of making the helmet more aerodynamic. With temperatures nudging 25C and the sun beating down this was turning out to rapidly be the biggest mistake I made in the race. I had on board 750 ml of energy drink which I was rationing to some every ten minutes just as I do when on my elliptical trainer. This though was clearly not enough as I felt a rather nasty headache brewing – a clear sign of dehydration and overheating.
My only salvation came at a drinks station we passed twice on the far side of the circuit. They were handing out bottles of Powerade, which were a bugger to try and take of the volunteers at speed, and even harder to try and consume the contents of before the litter zone ended after around 30 seconds of cycling. On each occasion I managed to take on board around 80% of the contents – each time the tummy not thanking me for the rapid consumption of blue liquid.
Other than the helmet venting woes, the ride was fairly unspectacular. I passed plenty of cyclists, less passed me. Those who did in the latter stages drifted slowly ahead rather than blasted off into the distance. I tried my best to maintain the TT position, but used any excuse, such as a small rise or slight bend, to sit up and rest the arms and shoulders a little. I made full use of the two or three climbs on each lap to catch back up those who were a bit quicker than me on the flat, making sure though not to stress the legs too much.
The whole issue of how many mini laps of each circuit we did was frankly a little confusing. All I knew was that, when 25 miles or so ticked over on my bike computer, it was time to peel off towards transition when instructed rather than begin another lap. The 25 miles duly arrived and so it was that I was guided off down a little access road towards transition. There was a nice length of straight tarmac to reach down and loosen my cycle shoes and remove my feet from them. I felt my left hip flexor tighten a touch but otherwise no dramas. I stopped my cycle computer as I came to a halt and climbed, drama free from my bike. My official time was 1:09:38 which was the 25th fastest time. Lee Piercy was again fastest, clocking by far the fastest time of 1:01:45. Only one other rider in my age group went below 1:06:00, meaning that a three minute or so improvement on my part would see a dramatically improved position on the bike.
Running through transition with the bike was a little tricky but I was able to find my rack position fairly easily, which is more than can be said for one poor competitor ahead of me who was frantically running back and forth desperately trying to find where where was meant to be going. I got the bike on the rack without drama, the helmet came off easily, and the sunglasses were on in a flash. I put my right trainer on and in stretching down just sensed a mini cramp in my calf. I quickly pulled my toes back to stretch the calf which dissipated any further cramping. I took more care with the left shoe to make sure there was no repeat. Seemingly seconds after arriving in transition I was back on my way. The reality was it took 2:10 (a couple of seconds slower than T1) but being the twentieth fastest transition time it was, relatively speaking, a far more successful transition.
The second run leg in a standard distance Duathlon (And longer distances I imagine) is something that has to be experienced to be properly appreciated. It is a little like the run leg in a triathlon, after swimming and cycling, but arguably harder as the legs have been weakened already by a hard run session. The nearest equivalent is perhaps imagining you are jumping straight into a road race with legs feeling like they do at around 23 miles of a marathon – that is to say they don’t generally feel very good. I set off and I got the usual sensation of the legs not feeling like they are working. They were working better than an Argentinean competitor who I had last seen at the end of the first run leg, who managed around 300 meters of running before pulling up sharply in agony with what looked like hamstring cramp.
My wife, was there near the finish line that we passed to cheer me on. She took the photo below, clearly I was still enjoying the experience more than others. The head though was still suffering the effects of not enough ventilation. Thankfully on the 2 x ‘2.5 km’ run course there were two water stations we passed twice. On each occasion I would grab a bottle of water, take a small sip, then pour the contents over the top of my head. This did wonders to cool the body.
I sensed the final run could be quite good when I passed five or so runners within the first couple of minutes of running. Encouraged I continued to push as hard as I could while not wanting to risk a cramp in the calf or quads. When the mile split flashed up on my watch I was amazed: 5:35! That was quicker than my final mile in the opening 10k! It felt laboured and slow, but somehow it wasn’t.
Enthused I pushed on. I looked less at my watch and more on runners ahead, seeing how many I could pick off before the finish. I had no idea if those I was passing were in my Age Group, but it didn’t really matter. I was just loving the feeling of running well and receiving the encouragement of supporters, many of them commenting on how strong I looked.
The second mile was slower: 5:40 but others around me were slowing more. I pushed on more as we rounded the top bend on the second lap and headed down the long straight for home. I began to labour a touch with half a mile or so to go, but the gauntlet laid down by a spectator of Go on! you can catch them ahead of you! proved too tempting and I put on an extra effort to catch them down, and then a couple of others before the finish.
The third mile was 5:48, but there was still nearly another half mile to run, which I covered in an average of 5:35, despite numerous twists, turns, and some confusion about how to tackle the finish chute. I forgot to collect a flag at the finish, the runner in me instinctively sprinting to the line rather than lapping up the adulation of the crowd as many triathletes seem to do. I crossed the line with a little celebration, then took my customary 20 or so seconds before I felt fairly recovered. The same couldn’t be said for the Age Group winner Lee Piercy (Second overall) an unfortunate member of Team GB who was seemingly bringing back up the chocolate milkshake he had just consumed at the end of the race (Thanks to Lee for pointing out the case of mistaken identity!)
My final run split was 19:28 and it seems I tackled the 5k in 17:42. I was pleased with the run at the time. I was even happier when I got back to the apartment and was able to crunch the numbers. 19:28 was one second slower than Lee Piercy and the second fastest time in my Age Group! It was just 20 seconds slower than the clear overall winner and only one other runner in my age group broke 20 minutes (and by just one second). It seems I have a little hidden talent for being able to run after a bike ride.
My finishing time was 2:09:30 as indicated on the engraving rapidly etched into my finishing medal. At the venue I had no idea where I had finished. At the Team GB hotel, the Aviles Duathlon phone app indicated I was tenth in my age group which I was thrilled by. Back at the apartment and looking on the website, it turned out I was seventh! I was elated! Lee Piercy had won with 1:59:26, well clear of Philip Cruise the second placed finisher. Iain Robertson was third with 2:05:37. Iain and I were well matched on the opening ten km, I was nearly two minutes faster than him on the final 5 km. It’s the three or so minutes I need to find on the bike before I can think about chasing medals. But I think that is a possibility, a dream that is attainable.
With some post race photos taken and some debriefing with fellow competitors, the World Championships came to a end. The rest of the afternoon was spent collecting the bike, heading back to the hotel (I managed to ride back, the legs feeling fairly fresh) dropping the bike with the Shipmybike guys, heading back to the apartment and drinking to my debut World Championships!
It was there I realised I had made another big mistake: I had applied factor 50 sunblock to everything except my back and shoulders. The shower was a painful experience! I later found out I wasn’t the only one to make the error. It won’t be one I’ll repeat!
It was quite an event, an amazing experience. Whether I’ll be able to attend next year’s championships in Canada is doubtful for many reasons. I’m very tempted to attempt a long distance Duathlon to see how I fair over longer runs and rides.
For now it is back to time trialing and running for the rest of the summer. The first post race run came the next morning, a delightful affair along the Spanish coastline. The first time trial the following day. Not a bad performance considering I didn’t arrive home until 3 am on the Tuesday morning. The body feels good, the mind enthused after the downer that was the London Marathon. Not many actual races planned but I look forward to what lays ahead.
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.
The week began waking in Camberley, tired, but thankfully without a hangover after a night out watching the World Darts final. As the world tried to cope with the news that David Bowie had died, I set out on a run revisiting old haunts. For the final year or so while at University I stayed with my Grandmother who lived in Sandhurst. It is just a couple of miles from Camberley to the famous army town, I set out on a run to try and reminisce on runs I must have done (but only vaguely remember). Sure enough some of the roads brought memories flooding back, the park was literally flooded and impossible to run in its entirety though. In conclusion I reckoned that my runs were very short (I seem to recall the longest run would be only around an hour or so) and that the most common run was one to Crowthorne, which I didn’t attempt.
A loop of Camberley town centre and it was another ten miles in the bag. I drove home later that morning, rested up in the afternoon before heading to the leisure center for the first spinning session of 2016. I warmed up for 20 minutes or so then operated at near full capacity for the session, pleased to average 258 watts, or 3.9 w/kg. A half hour warm down on the gym elliptical trainer and it was time for GRC’s committee meeting.
Tuesday was an emotional day of sorts as it was the last time the Kettler elliptical trainer was to be used. It had the usual hour session, alternating on 5 minute intervals between L5 and L7. The thing remained strong to the end despite being on the brink of falling apart. When it came to dismantling it the thing was far harder to break down than I had anticipated, the thing just didn’t want to go. It had to though, and as soon as the session was over I was helping the wife assemble the new one. My help consisted of taking the thing out of the box. The diagrams and instructions far beyond my comprehension. Thankfully she loves this sort of challenge and in a few hours the thing was up and ready to go. I had a quick spin – she was as steady as a rock and rode beautifully. She will be a great addition to the training family.
I was unsure what run to do in the evening. At the last moment I opted for the club intervals session as it was likely to be easier than running three miles at marathon pace, or so i figured. I wasn’t intending to push too hard. The initial 20 second sprints with 10 second recovery x 18 I treated as warm up strides. Next up was a relay hill session of sorts – around ten minutes of constant running up and down a shallow hill. I kept the effort at around marathon heart rate. To end the session was two one mile reps with three minutes recovery. The first was around 5:50, the last one 5:29 as I relaxed and pushed on a touch. Session over, I jogged home. Another ten miles in the bag.
Wednesday morning was an hour first on the new elliptical trainer, which was thankfully uneventful in the sense that everything felt sturdy and as it should with no dramas. Shortly after it was an easy ten mile run. I’d planned to stick the three miles at marathon pace in, but felt a little stiff after Tuesday’s intervals, so postponed those until Saturday. Otherwise everything felt good.
Thursday saw another hour on the elliptical trainer in the morning; then in the evening I was taking a new GRC evening session. To help prepare some of our runners for spring marathons I’m planning on taking a group on an eight mile town circuit, where a number of the miles are run at marathon pace, which I’ve set at 7:30 per mile. Runners are free to stick with it, or drift ahead or behind depending on feel. The first week we were to have three miles at marathon pace (MP), it will be increased by a mile each week until we are running eight miles at MP on a ten mile course, then after a brief cut back, working towards one or two sessions where there are ten miles at MP on a 12 mile circuit.
The first week saw an encouraging number turn up. After two miles of easy running we set off. Keeping pace wasn’t easy, especially as there was an icy cold wind blowing into our faces at times, then becoming a strong tail wind. Despite that and some hills to disrupt the pace, I managed to clock 7:30; 7:30 and 7:26. Mission accomplished. We jogged back to base then did some easy miles home with a runner who wanted to make it his long run for the week. I stuck at 12 miles.
Friday was again the rest day which had an hour on the elliptical trainer and some strength and conditioning beforehand. Saturday I had a long run of 16 miles planned which had Belton House parkrun bunged in somewhere in the middle. It was a crisp cold morning, well below freezing and with a fair amount of ice. That said, once warmed up, it was ideal for running, and I was able to put in 8 steady miles before the start of parkrun. I’d planned to do parkrun at marathon HR, when I found myself in the lead three minutes in with club mate Chris on my shoulder, that plan went a little out of the window, averaging instead something closer to half marathon HR.
We shared the lead for the first lap and a bit before Chris eased ahead and I let him pull away. 18:14 was just six seconds outside my course PB and I was pleased, although the left groin tightened a touch with the sub six minute miles. I jogged a few miles back into town with Chris before concluding with a quicker couple of miles. Sixteen and a half miles at 6:44 pace was pleasing.
Sunday did not go quite as well. I’d hoped to take part in the Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride, but that was cancelled first thing as snow had fallen overnight leaving some roads treacherous with ice. I opted to go instead for a run. After a stiff first mile things felt fine as I headed to the canal path. At around eight miles and out of the blue I felt my right calf tighten, in a manner almost identical to how it tightened in mid November last year at parkrun. Like that morning I was able to carry on with a moderate amount of discomfort, but shortly after finishing the 14 mile run the calf felt very sore and tight. Thankfully by the evening it had eased off somewhat, the next morning I was able to cross train fine, but the calf feels although running might be off the agenda for a short while. I left it two weeks last November, hopefully I will be able to come back a little sooner, but time will tell.
A disappointing conclusion to what had been a very good week of training, more so as I was sure the calf problem had been fixed and that it struck again without warning. Hopefully it will be easy to treat (Massage and stretching fixed it last time) and I won’t be gone too long.