Race Report – Stathern Duathlon – Sunday 23rd September 2018

After the Two Counties Half Marathon success I didn’t do a whole load of running – I picked up a few niggles and opted mostly for the safer world of cycling on Zwift, which served a twin purpose as I was set to take part in my first and only Duathlon of the year at Stathern on September 23rd. This was originally scheduled for March but was postponed when Beast from the East II struck the area and made it impossible to run, let alone cycle on most of the local roads.

I went into the race reckoning I had a chance of doing fairly well but knowing that I was a little lacking of Duathlon specific training i.e. I’d done nowhere near as many post ride brick runs as I have done in the past few years. I was looking to rely on my running strength as I reckoned my cycling was a bit down on my best, particularly as I’d not done a whole lot of cycling since the end of July.

(L to R): me with Adam Madge before the start of the race.
Picture c/o race organisers.

The hours before the race were fairly low key and thankfully stress free – my mind wandered back to the Rockingham Duathlon the previous year and the dramas with the punctured wheel shortly before the off. I was one of the first to arrive and rack the bike, I went on a two mile warm up which served to get an idea of the run leg. We then had the pre event brief, a final chance to visit the toilet and before we knew it it was ten am and time to race.

Me and Adam Madge on the start line before the start.
Picture c/o race organisers.

I didn’t know many of the field at Stathern – Adam Madge was a familiar face and at his best someone who could beat me, but his running is not at it’s best this year due to injury, although he is flying on his bike. I recognised a few cyclists trying their luck at Duathlon, mostly finding that running is harder than it looks!

The start (L to R): Tom Marshall; Adam Madge; Me; and third placed Richard Marshall.
Picture c/o race organisers.

From the off for the opening 5K run leg and it was swift, mostly because it was ever so slightly downhill. I sat in fifth before slowly moving to the front of the field to take the lead at around 2/3s mile.

Leading the race just over a mile in on the opening run leg. Race winner tom Marshall chases in second.
Picture c/o race organisers.

I felt good going through the first mile in 5:29, working hard on the quiet country lane to the turn around point, where I would get to gauge the competition. I kept the effort fairly high, running at around 10K HR, the second mile 5:40 and the third mile 5:46 as I began to prepare myself for the run and slowed a touch as we went slightly uphill.

Leading the race just under two miles in on the opening run leg. Race winner tom Marshall chases in second.
Picture c/o race organisers.

My ‘5K’ split was 17:05, but we ran only three miles so it was more like 17:30 – good but not amazing. Transition went fairly smoothly. Mindful of the trouble I had at Rockngham trying to get my feet into the shoes once on the bike, I opted to put shoes on at transition and run in them. This may have cost me a couple of seconds (At 53 seconds it was actually one of the quicker transitions) but 1. it kept my feet dry on the wet grass and 2. It took the stress out of a tricky manoeuvre made doubly so by the tight corner out of transition.

I reckoned I had a 30 second lead as I left transition. I had begun to get a little warm wearing a tri suit with thermal top, temperatures only around 10C, but this soon became feeling very comfortable as the bike ride commenced. The bike leg was just under 11.5 miles, the hardest bit coming right at the start with the ascent of Stathern Hill, which was easier on the road bike with clip on tri bars (I was one of the very few riders to use a disc wheel) that I was forced into using now that my TT bike has been written off. My legs felt fine up the hill, my bigger concern was the Garmin bike unit resolutely refusing to recognise any of my Ant+ devices, meaning the only data I had was GPS speed, distance, and average speed. Having got used to riding to power and always relying on my HR to gauge effort, this came as something of a major distraction and didn’t help my cause. At least my GPS watch was recording the data for me to look at after, although during the ride the information was not available.

Leading the bike leg race at Belvoir Castle with traffic to contend.
Picture c/o race organisers.

Once up the hill it was a gently rolling affair to Belvoir Castle before heading downhill to Long Lane and the long ride along a dead straight road back to Stathern. Being in the lead I gauged my effort as best as possible, waiting really for stronger cyclists to come and catch me. This one of them did as we approached Belvoir Castle, his cause helped by me being stuck behind some slow moving traffic trying to get into a new shopping complex that had opened since the Duathlon course was created. I didn’t know him at the time but the guy who passed me was Tom Marshall – more of whom later.

Leading the bike leg race at Belvoir Castle with traffic to contend. Race winner tom Marshall closes in!
Picture c/o race organisers.

Drafting wasn’t allowed at this race so I gave him the allowable distance and tried my best to hold onto his wheel as we went down Long Lane. We were fortunate this year as this has often been the scene of some very strong headwinds. Today there was virtually no wind and any there was was a side wind and had negligible effect.

By the time we turned left back into Stathern I had been passed by two more riders to sit fourth, but the gap to me and Tom in the lead was only around 30 seconds. I misjudged my effort slightly on the bike, thinking we had further to ride than we did, so could have put a bit more effort into it. The data after the event revealed a 21 mph average @ 246W which is not bad for me off the back of a run (albeit 5K was the shortest I had done in a leg one run at a Duathlon). Perhaps more tellingly at 33:00 I was only four seconds slower than Adam Madge, who was almost a minute quicker than me over 10 miles at the summer Witham Wheelers time trials, and less than three minutes slower than the quickest cyclist (who luckily for me wasn’t the strongest runner).

Me coming into transition at the end of the bike leg, feet out of shoes.
Picture c/o race organisers.

My second transition wasn’t the best, despite having successfully gotten my feet out of the cycle shoes before dismounting. I lost a few more seconds to those around me, especially leader Tom Marshall. Sitting fourth I soon got into my running, another 5K along the same route as the opening run leg. I quickly passed the third and second placed runners, giving me over just over two miles to try and catch Tom. Normally I’m one of the strongest runners on the second run leg of a Duathlon, but no matter how hard I pushed Tom just wouldn’t get any closer.

Coming out of transition on the second run leg in fourth position.
Picture c/o race organisers.

The first mile 5:38, having turned around at halfway it was 5:46. Despite encouragement from those I was passing in the opposite direction there was little more I could do and at two and a half miles I more or less admitted defeat, moaning to myself how the sun had come out on what was meant to be a cloudy day and I hadn’t worn my sunglasses.

Race winner Tom Marshall celebrates at the end of the race.
Picture c/o race organisers.
Me coming home at the end of the race in second position.
Picture c/o race organisers.

With a final 5K split of 17:43 I finished in 1:09:35. This would have won me the previous two Stathern Duathlons (albeit they were held in March in worse conditions) but Tom Marshall was 34 frustrating seconds quicker. We were quick to congratulate each other and analyse our performances. It turned out that Tom was fresh out of Ironman training and racing which what he lacked in outright run speed he made up in great endurance – his second run split was just a second slower than his opening. It also turned out he was a pretty decent runner – he was fourth in the Sleaford Half Marathon where I was second.

Me celebrating with race winner Tom Marshall.
Picture c/o race organisers.

I was nearly two minutes clear of the third placed finisher – Richard Marshall, meaning I was surrounded at the finish by Marshalls! – with my nearest Belvoir Tri Club competition Adam coming home fifth. This meant I was finally the BTC Duathlon Champion! It also meant the beginning and end of my 2018 Duathlon Season – having turned down the opportunity to take part in the European Championships this sport became little more than a footnote, which was a shame because I quite enjoyed my one and only foray in 2018, a little disappointed to have not won it but pleased to be second to an athlete who was simply better on the day.

The top three at the end of the race (L to R): Richard Marshall, third; Tom Marshall, race winner; Matthew Kingston-Lee, third.
Picture c/o race organisers.


Race Report – Sleaford Tri3 Birthday Duathlon, Heckington, Saturday 21st October 2017

I’ve only raced one Duathlon this year, since then I have really prioritised running and had some fun with time trialling. I’d not yet committed to returning to Rockingham for their Duathlon, but with that in mind, the opportunity to take part in a local, low key race was too tempting to ignore.

Sleaford Tri3 club are celebrating their their fourth birthday and to celebrate they were hosting a Duathlon, with the promise of free food and cake to follow. Sounded good. I held off entry to the very last minute; Storm Brian was coming across the country bringing with it the promise of some very strong winds. The prospect of being battered by winds on the Lincolnshire fens didn’t appeal; it was only when the forecast shifted somewhat, so that the strongest winds would arrive in the afternoon, did I commit to entering.

Joining me at the race was my time trialling nemesis Stpehen Hobday. We time trialled together at the opening Witham Wheelers 2-Up, where he carried me the entire way. I’ve got better over the course of the year since then, but he is at least two minutes quicker than me over a 25 mile course. His running continues to improve, but I had the comfort of knowing that over 5K I was at least 90 seconds quicker than him at our bests. Given that the Duathlon comprised a 5K run, a 40K bike and a 2.5K run to conclude, the prospect of an equally matched race was the stuff of much pre-race conjecture.

Not getting enough sleep thanks to an early morning finish working on the US GP at Austin, I arrived at Heckington a little later than planned with Stephen. Badly prepared, I was lucky that Stephen had a spare number belt for me and that the organisers did not insist on showing our race licences, as neither of us had ours on us. By the time I’d racked the bike, got changed and as ready as I could be, listened to the briefing and visited the loo, there was less than five minutes to the start. Normally I like at the very least a mile of running warm up – I got just two minutes.

Knowing that I was planning to race the Thoresby 10 mile race the next day, I knew that my game plan had to change somewhat, with compromises needing to be made. Rather than go flat out hard on the opening 5K, I would have to easy myself in as best I could. With around 40 taking part over the sprint and standard distances, we set off at 9:30am, the stiff wind blowing us along the opening half of the 5K run. I briefly sat in second place before taking the lead, with Stephen and another runner on my tail. I was running well within myself, clocking the first mile in 5:45, not that quick considering the tailwind and it being slightly downhill for the opening half mile.

Over the remainder of the run I was able to eek out a gap over Stephen and the other runner, but I knew it was nowhere near as much as it needed to be. The second mile was 5:56 and the third 6:01 as I battled with the headwind and the effects of not warming up properly. I ran the opening 5K in a relatively pedestrian 18:54. Transition was trouble free; I didn’t have time to elastic band the cycle shoes to the pedals so lost a few seconds putting them on, but I was soon into my cycling.

Perhaps thanks to the strengthening wind blowing me along, perhaps the new bargain Huub tri suit that I was wearing for the first time, but the cycle legs felt good from the off. Staying on the bike was proving much harder though with a  gusting rear side crosswind making it extremely difficult to stay on the road. For the opening section I had to ignore the TT bars and hold on to the handlebars for dear life. Stephen came steaming past benefiting from being able to be in a TT position, and revelling in his rear disc wheel excelling in the winds (I hadn’t time in the morning to fit mine).

Knowing he’d past so soon meant that realistically the race was over. All I could do was try and hold onto him as best as possible, knowing that drafting was illegal, and perhaps hope that he’d pushed too hard on the run or that his new TT position that he was racing with for the first time, would prove to be too painful to hold. This though proved to be wishful thinking as he slowly but inexorably pulled away. We both enjoyed the run to North Kyme, the precursor to Storm Brian pushing us along at 32mph with barely any effort. We were both held up briefly by some inopportune roadwork traffic lights, but we were soon back into our own riding.

The two lap course meant that we would be faced with some headwind for part of the course. I was pleased that in my TT position I was able to maintain a relatively good pace. The second lap saw me once again nearly blown off my bike approaching a junction where the gusts were being whipped and funnelled into differing directions, making it really hard to hold onto the bike. By now I’d decided that survival was the best course of action with a healthy gap behind me and an insurmountable gap ahead. On the second lap I was held up for 70 seconds at the traffic lights, but even then I could see no one behind me. Knowing that this delay would be factored into our times, I relaxed and headed back towards the finish, happy that my NP watts of just under 240 was pretty much spot on what I had hoped to be riding. The average speed of 21.9 mph was also one of my best for a Duathlon bike leg.

There was a brief moment of pain when I tried to loosen my bike shoes before the second transition, the left hip briefly going into spasm. Fortunately nothing came of it and another smooth transition saw me off and running, attempting to close on Stephen. That we crossed paths on the out and back course well before I turned around confirmed that, although he was running fairly slowly, he wasn’t going to be caught. I pushed relatively hard, mainly as preparation for Rockingham, clocking 5:42 for the first mile and averaging 5:50 for the slight uphill drag to the finish.

I came home second. Stephen was a deserving winner. I was around 45 seconds quicker on the second run. I finished 1 minute 50 seconds behind him. It was probable that even if I’d run my quickest on the opening 5K run, he would have just had the better of me. At the time I was relieved to have survived the bike leg intact and with legs that felt like they hadn’t been overly taxed.

After a warm down and some cake and presentations, it was time to head home, back to work, and to prepare for Thoresby in less than 24 hours time.

Race Report – Keyworth Turkey Trot – Sunday 11th December 2016

Unless there is a dramatic change of heart, the Keyworth Turkey Trot half marathon will be my last race of 2016. This is a much hyped race, entries opened one morning in late September and all 1000+ places were filled by the same evening. I entered on a whim, confident I could sell my place if I didn’t fancy racing it after all.

As the weeks went by I felt more compelled to give it a go, and so trained semi-specifically for it. I ran three short interval sessions (pretty much the first of the year aside from one at the very beginning) and a couple of quick tempo training runs before committing myself to base training (i.e. nothing hard or particularly fast) in preparation for the London Marathon in April. I’d done a couple of long runs with a parkrun stuck in the middle, a long run on the hilly Newton’s Fraction half marathon course and three Tuesday evening runs containing the same killer hill at Great Gonerby. This was all done with the knowledge that the Turkey Trot is an undulating race with one stiff climb in particular – at around three miles.

Injury wise I was fairly clear of anything major – the left Achilles is still nagging away but continues to show every indication it is a calf issue. I’ve had a problem with a tendon aching on the top of the left foot – caused by overly tight laces on one run. It’s been tricky, but I’ve been able to continue running with some readjustment of laces and sticking with a couple of pairs of trainers that hurt less than the others. The cramp sensations I’ve been suffering at random periods for much of the past two years are much diminished – all but disappeared since I began having some regular physio to establish the cause of them. Early days yet but the suspicion is it is a significant lack of any mobility in the thoracic spine and other issues regarding flexibility in the hip and pelvis area. A daily dose of specific stretches and mobility exercises have appeared to work wonders. So it was I went into the race fairly confident I would last without cramping up or suffering with bad Achilles pain. I was though fighting the inevitable colds that are flying around town and being brought en masse by my youngest daughter. Come race day however I was pretty much bug free.

A pleasant feature of the Keyworth Turkey Trot is the relatively late start – 10:30am. I doubt this is to let runners enjoy a pre-Christmas lie-in. The reality is more likely to give any overnight ice and frost the chance to melt away. Thankfully after a day of heavy rain on the Saturday, Sunday awoke dry and with fairly pleasant temperatures for running – around 8C – albeit with a slightly annoying breeze. I awoke at the normal hour for a Sunday, had breakfast, the coffee, grabbed as much Match of the Day I could before setting off for the 40 minute journey to Keyworth.

I made it to one of three car parks (all with postcodes provided and walking distance to race HQ on the pre-race instructions – a great touch) with over 90 minutes to spare. This guaranteed a seat in the school hall used as Headquarters for the race. I went about preparing for the race, taking a risk with the Nike Frees as the last time I tried to wear them they were too painful on the foot tendon – but today they felt fine. I had the chance to chat with a few guys and gals from Belvoir Tri Club, who had appeared in huge numbers for this race, before bidding adieu and setting off on an uneventful warm up and a queue for the toilets, which was long, but well managed by race crew.

The plan had been for a pre-race Grantham Running Club group photo but this never quite materialised due to people queuing for baggage, toilets, warming up etc. I’m never a big fan of the pre-race photo, I’d rather be concentrating on the race, so ten minutes before the off and with a last minute trip to the loo required, I declared the pre-race photo postponed until after the race. I joined the front of the race with five minutes to spare, the race looked like it was going to go off early until someone on a walkie-talkie reigned in the enthusiasm of the starter and insisted it go off on time.

The start of the Keyworth Turkey Trot, held on Sunday December 11th 2016.
Lining up for the start. I’m behind runner 1112. Photo c/o John Oldfield.

So at the prescribed time of 10:30 we were off. A key feature of the Keyworth Turkey Trot is the lightening fast start. The opening of the race is downhill and regularly sees runners hurtling off way faster than any pace they can maintain. A sting follows almost immediately with a drag uphill of around the same length before the race calms down on a section of flat before another downhill stretch as the local church is passed and Keyworth is departed. Much of the first three miles is downhill, albeit fairly gently. It is usually time to bank some seconds but at the same time being careful to not get too over exuberant and run faster than the descent allows for.

The start of the race.
The start of the race. Photo c/o John Oldfield.

I had a fairly mediocre start to the race. My legs took a few minutes to come to life and a mile or so before the left Achilles stopped aching. The field soon became quite spread out with a rapid bunch of runners quickly disappearing into the distance. I went through the opening mile in 5:38, which I knew was eight seconds down on 2013, when I ran the race for the first and only time. The second mile saw me employ some tactics. We were heading west, into the not stiff, but noticeable breeze. I had two runners behind me who were clearly taking shelter behind me, so I slowed until they were forced to take the pace. I tucked in behind them. This wasn’t particularly comfortable as I was chopping my stride a bit but I reckoned the protection could help later in the race energy wise. I went through the second mile in 5:45 compared to 5:40 in 2013. Back then I was setting off at PB speed, this year I knew I was already a bit off PB shape, but looking forward to another solid race.

At the two mile point we turned left and the headwind was a crosswind negated by tree cover. Instinctively I pulled out from the two in front of me and put in a little surge. One was able to follow, the other began to drift. I knew from experience in 2013 that there would be a pair of hills just before and just after three miles which would further shape the outcome of the race. Not caring about drafting I pushed on and focused on catching the couple of runners ahead of me.

The first hill came at just before the end of the third mile, I felt strong and clocked 5:57, comparing favourably to the 6:09 I set in 2013. Back then at this point I’d began to feel decidedly dodgy and suffered badly on the second hill – which felt as though it was one of the toughest I’d ever encountered. This time around the hill was a challenge but felt relatively easy, certainly easier than the local Grantham favourites Casthorpe and Woolsthorpe. It seems that the three and a bit years of Granthams’ hills have weathered the legs well in coping with elevation. I passed the two runners ahead of me – but was a little perturbed that another runner passed me as we neared the top of the climb.

Chasing the runner who was quicker than me on the main hill.
Chasing the runner who was quicker than me on the main hill. Photo c/o Neil Rabbitts.

The hill came and ended early on during the fourth mile. The pace for that mile averaged around 6:55, so I knew that I’d have to forget about recovery and put in some effort to get that average down. Thankfully that was made easier by chasing down the guy who’d passed me on the hill. Once I caught him we actually worked together for a bit taking the pace. He appeared to be working hard so I reckoned eventually he would tire, but for now he was useful company. The fourth mile was the slowest of the race – 6:03, but that was ten seconds quicker than in 2013.

The next few miles were fairly unremarkable. We passed through a couple of pleasant villages where there was great support, and a few other places with small pockets of spectators, otherwise there wasn’t much to entertain other than the aim of getting to the finish as quickly as possible. The fifth mile was a quick 5:35 (5:45 in 2013), the sixth was slower at 5:55 (6:00 in 2013), but the constant elevation changes made consistent pacing tricky. The seventh mile was 5:51 (5:52 in 2013) and it was here my mind got a little confused as the rolling hills I’d remembered as being at around 10 miles were evidently three miles earlier than the brain had processed them as being. It may have temporarily forgotten two miles or so, but the memory of a very pleasant gently descending stretch of road came flooding back.

Pulling clear of my hill nemesis. Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.
Pulling clear of my hill nemesis. Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.

By now I had pulled slightly clear of the runner who’d passed me on the hill and I was chasing two runners in front of me. Mile 8 was 5:45 (5:51 in 2013) and mile 9 was 5:40 (a swift 5:32 in 2013). As we came to a small village where Keyworth Rugby Club were playing, I feared the sight of a whacking great hill. Fortunately we turned right and along a stretch of flat road I knew would lead to a left hand turn and the final hills of the race. As we did I caught one of the two runners in front of me, just as we were cheered on by his (heavily pregnant) wife sporting a helium balloon for the husband who was celebrating his birthday with a rather swift half marathon. Sadly for him I was offering no gifts and I passed him as we turned left, faced the headwind, once again, and began climbing.

The tenth mile was 5:48 (5:45 in 2013). I now began pushing to try and put a gap on the birthday boy who was proving stronger than his slight fade a few moments earlier had suggested. This last hill was a real pain – not particularly steep and with a brief descent in the middle, but seemingly going on forever. Still mile 11 was 5:57 (6:04 in 2013), and I knew that most of the way to the finish was downhill. I pushed on hard, fearful that I would be caught, but now my left hip and groin were giving a few aches, so I was tempered a touch. The 12th mile was another 5:57 (6:02 in 2013). The first half of the last mile was all downhill and quite steep in places. This though was almost a hindrance as it caused a little cramping in the left quad. Thankfully the descent ended and the cramp desisted and I pushed on, still thinking I had a runner right behind me.

The end of the Turkey Trot was a killer in 2013, an ill-timed hill right near the finish put pay to a chance of a PB. This year I felt stronger and knowing there would be a hill, better prepared. I didn’t know it at the time but I climbed that hill only a few seconds slower than the winner which is fairly satisfying. I logged a 5:37 for the final mile (5:41 in 2013), and with a glance at the watch knew I was going to beat 1:17.

On the finishing straight. Picture c/o John Oldfield.
On the finishing straight. Picture c/o John Oldfield.

I crossed the line in 1:16:45, unaware of my finishing position (It was eighth), but made immediately aware that I had won the prize as first veteran finisher! I knew what was coming! First I received my multi-tool medal from Santa himself. I quickly got changed and got out just in time to photo most of the GRC runners coming to the finish line. Star of the day was SJ who knocked an impressive four minutes off her PB. I had little doubt she’d do well having struggled to chase her down on the way to Belton House parkrun a few weeks earlier!

SJ heading to the finish.
SJ heading to the finish.

With all the GRC runners in there was finally chance for the obligatory group photo:

The GRC Group Photo.
The GRC Group Photo.

Then there was a bit of hanging around for the prize ceremony. Kudos to my team mates for hanging around, even if one had to disappear for what appeared an inordinately long time sorting out their dodgy guts! As has been pointed out I’ve received my share of odd prizes recently. This may not quite have topped the slap of stilton, but the frozen turkey is certainly a prize that would be mostly wholly inappropriate at any other time of year – but at this time was most warmly received – Christmas dinner is sorted!

First the glass presented... Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.
First the glass presented… Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.
Me and the turkey! Picture c/o SJ Willis.
Me and the turkey! Picture c/o SJ Willis.

With that the day was done and home we headed. All in all a good day’s work. Very pleased to have broken 77 minutes for the half, especially as the average HR was 3-5 beats lower than it usually was. I didn’t push full gas, that’s for sure, yet managed a respectable time. With Christmas fast approaching it’s back to base training preparing for the London Marathon. Next race (Hopefully) the Folksworth 15.

Race Report – Rockingham Duathlon – Sunday 6th November 2016

I had two weeks following the success of the Holdenby Duathlon to prepare for the Rockingham Duathlon, where I was taking part in the standard distance – 10k run, 38k bike, and a 5k run to conclude. The week following was a mostly easy affair recovering from the duathlon which had certainly taken it out of me. It was the first time since early September where I tried to resume running relatively normally. The left Achilles continues to be a source of some pain and frustration. I was testing out my new Hoka Hoka One Clifton 2 trainers, which were certainly packed with cushioning and pretty light with it. Both Wednesday and Thursday’s run were noticeable for the high heart rate for the pace, a legacy of the racing and the lack of running miles in recent weeks. Thursday’s run saw the Achilles ache a fair amount. I was most enthused by Saturday’s run though. Out of the door later than usual thanks to late night working on Mexican time, I was back in my Brooks and I managed 13.4 miles around town with barely a whiff of Achilles aching and coming in just under seven minute per mile average.

Sunday saw a rare excursion with the Witham Wheelers on a 55 mile or so ride which was mostly gentle in pace. Still feeling fresh once home I headed out for a brick run which turned into a ten km effort. With the first mile an easy 6:27 and the second a still comfortable 6:10 I was enjoying this run loads, even if the left Achilles was grumbling away. I kept the effort up, putting on a near flat out effort on the Auf Widersehen Pet Strava segment to regain my KOM which I’d lost a couple of days earlier. This effort proved a useful fartlek style effort as I returned from sub five minute mile pace to run the final mile and a half at 5:40 pace. Sub 38 minutes for any training 10k is pleasing, more so off the back of a bike ride and with a crazy fast effort two thirds of the way into a run.

The week before the Duathlon saw less running – a rare intervals session on Tuesday with the Harlaxton Harriers was run at 80% effort as I was feeling tired after a long weekend of work and exercise. I put in two easy effort two hour efforts on the elliptical trainer, an easy turbo trainer session and a GRC town run where I was hopeful of experiencing no Achilles pain, but came away disappointed to see it the worst it has been for some time. That aching meant I reluctantly opted not to take part in the first anniversary of Belton House parkrun, putting the time to good effect with an extensive stretching routine on the left calf especially, hoping (believing) that the source of the Achilles discomfort is coming mostly from the calf muscles.

After a particularly mild and dry October, weather forecasts for race day were looking fairly appalling, with strong winds direct from the Arctic feeding heavy rain showers over Rockingham Motor Speedway from 9am through to early afternoon. Thankfully when I awoke on race day morning, although it was dark I could see that the skies above Grantham were clear – an indication that the weather forecast was maybe not quite 100% accurate. What was apparent though was that it was cold – temperatures only three or so degrees above freezing. What with the cold weather and the onset of a cold brewing (I was full of cold by late afternoon) I opted to eschew some aero performance and wear a long sleeved thermal base layer below my tri suit, tights over the top of the shorts, with long socks and half overshoes for the bike leg – hastily purchased midweek when forecasts predicted the cold snap. I even went with the buff worn around the neck to offer some extra warmth on the bike leg in particular. I did though opt to not wear my thick cycling gloves and made do with the same thin running gloves underneath the cycling mitts used at Holdenby. It was a bit of a gamble but I had big problems at Rutland Water in March trying to fasten the helmet with big gloves on, so I was prepared to risk a bit of frostbite for a swift transition.

Rockingham Motor Speedway may be something of a white elephant when it comes to motor sport – the number of races actually held on the oval are probably in single figures – but it makes for a pretty good sporting venue when cycling and running is concerned. As with most motor racing circuits, facilities are better than most races with ample parking spaces, plenty of places to warm up and ample permanent toilet facilities. I arrived 80 minutes before the start with my family in tow. Registration was painless and I was pretty relaxed before the start, making sure the bike was okay, my transition area was prepared, and my warm up done with the minimum of fuss, even if there was a little aching in the Achilles. I had the chance to meet some club mates from Belvoir Tri Club and my good friend and work colleague Russell, who is making his first steps in the world of duathlon and had an impressive fourth place finish on his debut a few weeks previous.

The pre-race briefing. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
The pre-race briefing. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
The pre-race briefing. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
The pre-race briefing. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

I headed to the start ten minutes from the off for a pre-race briefing. All seemed fairly straight forward, and I was pretty relaxed as we were called to the start line at the pit lane exit at 9:30am. With a countdown from ten we were off.

The start of the race. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
The start of the race. Team GB tri suit on again…. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

I made a bit of a tardy start but soon found myself third behind the two runners leading above who quickly established a gap on the rest of the field. I put in a bit of an effort in the opening couple of minutes of the race to catch them then, as we made a U-turn off the oval and onto the infield circuit and into the stiff headwind, tucked myself nicely behind the two of them, trying to seek as much shelter as possible. We were soon faced with something I wasn’t expecting – a small incline which saw the runner in the grey top drop back. I kept with the blue-shirted runner as we passed through the first mile in 5:41. I kept on this guys heels for around half a mile further as we endured the worst of the wind, but I sensed the pace was dropping so I pulled alongside and passed him, pulling clear fairly comfortably as I clocked 5:46 for the second mile.

At this point I had a runner in the sprint event come haring up to us and past us just after he inquired which way we should be going. I laughed inside at his inability to follow the course, I wasn’t laughing so much a few minutes later as we headed back to the pit lane to complete the first lap. I wasn’t sure whether I should follow him on the inner pit lane entry or bear right and take the later exit or even stay on the oval itself by passing the pits. I went for the later exit and very nearly headed down the main straight before a marshal guided me the right way.

Approaching transition and with 5:58 clocked for mile three, another marshal assumed I was second in the sprint event and tried to send me into the transition zone. It was only at the very last minute another marshal realised I was in the longer event and sent me down the correct pit lane path. It was stress I could have done without and sent the adrenaline pumping. Looking back to see that no-one was behind me, I made a conscious effort to ease the effort. That said the fourth mile was still fairly fast at 5:43, although this was all within my half marathon HR parameters, so I felt comfortable.

Completing the first lap, taking the correct route... Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Completing the first lap, taking the correct route… Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

While trying not to exert too much energy I knew I couldn’t relax too much on the run for I was likely not to be the quickest on the bike. Mile 4 was 5:43, mile 5 a 5:56 and mile 6 slowing a touch to 6:01 as I battled with the headwind and the slight incline.

Easing out the lead on the second lap of the 10k leg. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Easing out the lead on the second lap of the 10k leg. Some spit expertly captured by the photographer! Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Easing out the lead on the second lap of the 10k leg. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Staying relaxed on the second lap of the 10k leg. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

As I approached transition I tried to relax, remembering that my bike was racked by garage 22. I clocked the 10k in 36:05, which was the fastest by one minute fifty four seconds. It also transpired that this was just six seconds slower than the winning time in the supporting 10k road race held after the Duathlon.

Despite rehearsing the run into my pit box a couple of times, I still managed to run a few yards past my bike, but, thankfully, only lost a few seconds and managed to not panic following this slight error. Attempting the elastic bands securing the bike shoes to the pedals trick for the first time in a race, all that needed doing was trainers taking off and helmet putting on. I spent a couple of extra seconds making sure the trainers were neatly placed for the second run, but other than that transition went well. It turned to be the third fastest of the race. Given that some efforts in other races have seen me near the bottom three this was pleasing. I didn’t quite manage the flying mount, preferring to stop and get one foot in a shoe before heading off, but it wasn’t long before I all in and racing along.

Heading along the main straight. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Heading along the main straight. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

I enjoyed around 30 seconds of tailwind riding before turning into the headwind. The easy 30 mph quickly became a battle to break 15 mph as there wasn’t just a stiff cold wind to contend with but an imperceptible ascent to climb too. With 16 laps of this I settled into a rather dull, repetitive ride of a minute or so of easy fast riding and three minutes of headwind hell. Although I’m feeling far more comfortable in the TT tuck position of late I opted to sit up on the tailwind sections, partly to try and catch the wind and also to stress different parts of the quads which I feared could suffer if I maintained the same position for over an hour of riding which afforded absolutely no opportunity to stop pedaling.

The ride was pretty monotonous – riding around in fairly small circles, completing each lap in a shade over four minutes. What kept things mildly interesting was the volume of traffic to negotiate with over a hundred sprint and standard distance cyclists on the circuit at one point. The speed differential between slowest and fastest was significant, thankfully the oval circuit is very wide and it wasn’t difficult to sweep around the outside of riders.

Cyclists heading into turn 1. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Cyclists heading into turn 1. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

I didn’t think I was having the best of rides – I felt unable to give it absolute full gas. That said the lack of people passing me was relatively reassuring. I was passed by one other rider at around halfway who soon pulled clear. I wasn’t totally convinced though he was actually ahead of me in the race, reckoning he may have unlapped himself, so to speak. One other rider approached me and sat on my wheel for a little while before being warned by the race referee for drafting. I didn’t see him again. Another rider pulled up to me, passed me, then didn’t move ahead as I rode fairly close behind him for 2/3s of a lap, pulling out wide on the banking to make it clear to anyone watching that I wasn’t drafting. I was then able to pass him on the main straight and he quite quickly dropped back, presumably having made a big effort to catch and gone too fat into the red doing so.

Battling with the wind. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Battling with the wind. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

It was at around this point, after around 12 laps, when I began to to get very concerned over how many laps I had completed and how many I had left to ride. I had used the auto lap feature on the Garmin to lap every 1.48 miles, this being the official length of the oval. However this was proving to be none too reliable thanks, in part, to forgetting to attach the speed and cadence sensor to my bike and so relying on GPS. Lap one was clocked at the start of turn one, by lap 12 it was nearing the approach to turn 2, pretty much halfway around the lap. That wasn’t helping. In the heat of the racing I also couldn’t decide whether I needed to complete 16 full laps or come in at the end of the fifteenth lap. With perhaps one or two laps to go, my support crew (the wife) didn’t seem too sure either when I began gesticulating with a couple of laps to go – they suggested I needed two and I decided to err on the side of caution and complete sixteen full laps.

A bit of shelter from the grandstands. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
A bit of shelter from the grandstands. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

I headed into transition, successfully removing my feet from the shoes and dismounting before the line. I found my rack position and got the trainers on without cramping up the left calf – a first in my brief duathlon history. I had time to ask two spectators what position I was in. ‘Third or fourth’ came the reply. Bugger! Something was amiss. The scenarios quickly ran through my head as I left transition (in the third quickest time, I’m pleased to report retrospectively). Either I had done too many laps; two or three competitors had done too few; or the spectators had mistaken the standard distance competitors for straggling sprint competitors. Whatever the scenario I was pleased that I was quickly into my running; a quick look at the average pace suggested that comfortably sub six minute miles was attainable, should it be needed.

In reality the final 5k was uneventful. The nearest competitor behind was the one who had passed me on the bike leg, but he looked to be several minutes behind. Other than a couple of sprint event stragglers I passed, there was no-one within visual distance in front of me for the entirety of the run. The legs felt okay, but the right glute in particular felt a little numb, cold from the wind chill on the bike. I opted to keep a steady pace as I clocked the three miles in a 5k in 5:54; 6:00; and 6:09 – pretty much even paced when the hills and wind were taken into account.  The biggest issue I had was trying to keep my number visible and actually on the belt, the wind having ripped it clear from three of the four attaching pins.

Halfway around the 5k run to conclude. A lonely run. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.
Halfway around the 5k run to conclude. Race number holding on by a single pin. Picture c/o SBR Events / Wild Coy Photography.

As I came to the finish line it was strangely quiet. My wife and family cheered me home but there was no-one at the finish line. The PA, which I’d vaguely heard while on the bike, was quiet. I hadn’t celebrated as I crossed the finish line, I got the impression I hadn’t finished first. I turned the corner and headed into the race HQ building to be handed my medal and to be told I finished fourth. I was pretty upset, but managed to remain relatively calm. I explained that only one rider had passed me and he was still out running. If I had completed the correct number of laps I could not have legitimately lost the lead.

I was told to try and find the race officials, who I found near transition in a van huddled around the timing system. As it happened they were trying to work out the discrepancies in the bike leg times between the top five finishers. I was six minutes slower than the rider who had come in first. Either he and the top three had ridden one lap too few or I had ridden one lap too many. It was when I went to collect my bike and see that my bike computer logged 24.6 miles that I feared the worst. 38km is 23.75 miles, evidently I’d ridden a lap too many (Post race Strava analysis suggests those who rode the correct number of laps rode 23.1 miles – it also suggests around 10% of the field made the same mistake I did, including Russell, who would have finished well inside the top ten had he not committed the same faux pas I did).

When this unfortunate result was confirmed to me I was disappointed but far less upset than when I first thought I’d been robbed of victory by competitors who had ridden too few laps. I made a mistake, lesson learned, and it won’t be made again. I didn’t miscount the number of laps, no elastic band or tape system would have helped with that. I just got confused out on the circuit what 16 laps meant. In hindsight it was obvious, the 10k run required two laps which saw us head into transition at the end of the second lap. I should have swapped bike for trainers at the end of the fifteenth lap, rather than the end of the sixteenth. Something to do with how the brain treats large numbers differently to small numbers is what I blame – that and not fully prepping myself before the race. At least I wasn’t the only one!

Just the medal to take home the Duathlon
Just the medal to take home from the Duathlon.

So rather than the winners’ trophy to take home, I was resigned to just taking the rather snazzy medal and first place in my Age Group (No prizes for that, alas). My final 5k run was timed at 18:57, which was 39 seconds faster than the next quickest (A guy who finished 11th) and 90 seconds quicker than the winner. It is estimated that had I completed the right number of laps I would have won by over a minute. The actual winner was genuinely around two minutes quicker than me on the bike, but I was three minutes quicker on the runs and around 30 seconds quicker through transitions.

A disappointing outcome but there were plenty of positives to take from the race. After a couple of miles the Achilles ache disappeared and I didn’t feel it again for the rest of the race. My transitions were light years better than they were back in March when I took part in my first proper duathlon. My runs were solid but with room for more, as was the case on the bike – a different helmet (the pointy bit was too high in the air a lot of the time), some proper wheels and wearing aero kit are all free improvements to be gained in the future (As well as improving the actual riding bit). Most pleasingly, I stayed mostly calm at the end of the race and didn’t make a total idiot of myself (A little one maybe….) At the end of the day we were just running and cycling around in circles. There are far more important things in life – such as seeing Russell’s new baby daughter for the first time at the end of the race. That, I am sure, was the moment I lost any anger from the outcome of the race. As long as I stay fit and healthy there will be other opportunities to race and hopefully do well. For now I have a tell to tell of the race I through away by not being able to count. I’ll see the funny side of it one day!



Race Report – ITU World Duathlon Championships, Aviles, Spain – Sunday 5th June 2016

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 Audi A1 hire car.
The Audi A1 hire car.

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.

Tortilla de Patatas - a lunch in need of ketchup!
Tortilla de Patatas – a lunch in need of ketchup!

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.

Our apartment in Ovinana
Our apartment in Ovinana
The church in Ovinana.

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.

As good a welcome you can offer me - Cider!
As good a welcome you can offer me – Cider!

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…

Emily on her bike!
Emily on her bike!

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.

The coastline in Ovinana. I should have stayed on my bike...
The coastline in Ovinana. I should have stayed on my bike…

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.

Getting some Duathlon fever in Aviles.
Getting some Duathlon fever in Aviles.

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.

Lunch in Aviles.
Lunch in Aviles.
Scenic Aviles.
Scenic Aviles.
Scenic Aviles.
Scenic Aviles.
Scenic Aviles.
Scenic Aviles.
Finish line fever.
Finish line fever – on a Thursday too.

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!

Stacked with Duathlon freebies!
Stacked with Duathlon freebies!

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.

Half of Britain seemed to be taking part...
Half of Britain seemed to be taking part…

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.

The 40-44 standard distance group photo. Spot the good one...
The 40-44 standard distance group photo. Spot the good one…

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…

Top tip: Never use a moving vessel as a static reference point!
Top tip: Never use a moving vessel as a static reference point!

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.

The obligatory pre-race pizza.
The obligatory pre-race pizza.

Race Day

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.

The pre-race 'just in case I didn't look too good at the finish' photo.
The pre-race ‘just in case I didn’t look too good at the finish’ photo.

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 Race

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.

Lee Piercy heads the lead pack at the start of the race. Picture c/o Pete Bracegirdle.
Lee Piercy heads the lead pack at the start of the race. Picture c/o Pete Bracegirdle.
On my own behind the lead group. Picture c/o Pete Bracegirdle.
On my own behind the lead group. Picture c/o Pete Bracegirdle.

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.

Running in my own little group on the opening leg.
Running in my own little group on the opening leg.

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.

Approaching the end of the run leg. Robertson would finish 3rd. The Argentinean met an uncomfortable demise at the start of the final run.
Approaching the end of the run leg. Robertson would finish 3rd. The Argentinean met an uncomfortable demise at the start of the final run.

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.

Assuming the 'stretch the arms and shoulders' position during the bike leg. Picture c/o  Pete Bracegirdle.
Assuming the ‘stretch the arms and shoulders’ position during the bike leg. Picture c/o Pete Bracegirdle.

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.

Still not in TT position. A fairly tight bend is my excuse this time... Picture c/o Assuming the 'stretch the arms and shoulders' position during the bike leg. Picture c/o  Pete Bracegirdle.
Still not in TT position. A fairly tight bend is my excuse this time… Picture c/o Pete Bracegirdle.

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.

Clearly I love running on legs that don't want to work more than others!
Clearly I love running on legs that don’t want to work more than others!

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.

Getting down to business on the second run leg. Picture c./o Still not in TT position. A fairly tight bend is my excuse this time... Picture c/o Assuming the 'stretch the arms and shoulders' position during the bike leg. Picture c/o  Pete Bracegirdle.
Getting down to business on the second run leg. Picture c/o Pete Bracegirdle.

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.

Passing another runner in the final stages of the race.
Passing another runner in the final stages of the race.

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.

Approaching the finish.
Approaching 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!)

Crossing the finish line, mistakenly assuming I had won.
Crossing the finish line, mistakenly assuming I had won.

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.

A fine example of prompt medal engraving.
A fine example of prompt medal engraving.

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.

Posing after the race with the flag.
Posing after the race with the flag.

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.

(L to R): Gerry Hyde, myself and Adam Madge, having completed the 2016 ITU World Duathlon Championships.
(L to R): Grantham’s Gerry Hyde, myself and Adam Madge, having completed the 2016 ITU World Duathlon Championships.