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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m writing this three months since the race took place, so the detail may be a little lacking! Following Worksop where I felt like I ran really well despite some niggles, the week leading up to Rockingham was a case of trying to recover as best as possible while managing injuries that weren’t showing any signs of disappearing soon. The day after saw a recovery 5k on the treadmill before an easy effort at the spin session. Wanting to protect the hip especially which was aching I went on Trainer Road for three days, enjoying looking at a graph for the final few weeks before I got a new laptop and was able to immerge myself in the virtual cycling utopia that is Zwift.
I ran on Thursday evening with the club, enjoying a cider mile post run which has become a welcome staple of Thursday night runs in recent months. The left hip was feeling a lot like a bout of sciatica, but it was more bothersome than burdensome at this point. Saturday morning saw the second anniversary of Belton House parkrun and a round of the Grantham Running Club GP Series. I hoped to put in a fast time somewhere around 17 minutes to boost my chances of winning the series. Alas that sort of time wasn’t on the table, a lonely run at the front and some soft conditions underfoot meant that it was first place and just 17:56. Worse was that I’d managed to tweak my left calf muscle during the run and had to limp home. I was convinced it was related to the hip and the sciatica like issues. The only good fortune I enjoyed that morning was that I’d managed to drop my phone on the opening lap of the parkrun. I was aware not long after I’d dropped it and as I was leading at the time I was convinced it had trampled on and smashed into a thousand pieces. Very luckily a boy in a skeleton costume who was just behind me saw the phone bounce around, risked life and limb to pick it up and hand it to a marshal. A little muddy but otherwise fine, I was one relieved runner when I retrieved it after I finished!
That day I imagine I spent many hours working on my calf and hip. I remember the following morning when driving down to Rockingham I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to manage much more than a few hundred meters. My rather depressed mood wasn’t helped when I was guided into the wrong car park and wasted twenty minutes or so trying to get to the correct car park. Wore was to come. In a rushed warm up I jumped on my TT bike and rode up and down the paddock car park. I was told by a marshal to not use a particular bit of the car park and in turning to heed that advice managed to get my rear disc wheel stuck in a small drainage concrete gap. I still don’t know quite what happened (I haven’t yet been able to bring myself around to survey the damage) but all I know is I heard a loud bang and the escape of significant amounts of air. Being a tubular tyre it should have been game over. But, for the first time ever I’d bought a spare rear wheel – not thinking about a puncture, but because of the wind and fearing a disc may be too hard to handle.
To my credit I believe I remained rather calm while changing the wheel, which also meant adjusting the brakes; things that can take me the best part of hours and plenty of cursing. This time I effected all the repairs with plenty of cursing in just five minutes. I rushed the bike through to the transition zone, racked it, gave a cursory look around to work out where I was in relation to the pit lane markings and went out to attempt a running warm up. The warm up was just over a mile of jogging up and down the car park. The hip and calf felt bearable, to be honest I was running on so much adrenaline given the dramas with the bike and running late that I think I could have had a shattered hip and still feel nothing.
I lined up just in time to miss most of the pre-race briefing, but having been here a year before I knew the score: two laps of running the infield circuit to make 10K, 16 laps of cycling the oval to make around 40K, and 1 running lap of 5K to finish. I knew the hardest thing would be to count the right number of laps around the 1.25 mile oval bike leg – last year I memorably miscounted, rode a lap too many and lost the race win as a result. The prime objective of returning was to at least complete the race having done the correct number of laps. Anything else was a bonus!
Not quite as cold as 12 months earlier, but still fairly bracing, I was lined up in fairly full winter attire. Thankfully I was not in conspicuous but rubbish Team GB kit, the tri suit debuted at Sleaford a couple of weeks earlier was back having been a big success. Without much fanfare we were sent on our way and immediately I was finding myself somewhere near the front. To my relief there was little discomfort in the calf especially and I pushed to the front of a pack of five, clocking a 5:31 first mile.
As we turned and faced a fairly prominent headwind, sensing the opposition was of a similar running ability, I played tactics and tucked in at the back of the group making it quite clear that I was unwilling to take the pace. With others willing to push on the second mile was 5:35, but I was feeling really good, perhaps the best I’d felt racing in 2017! The third mile became a tactical affair as we ran on the oval apron into a wind and it slowed to a 5:48 as the lead runner began playing tactics of his own and the pack dwindled down to just three of us.
In spying upon gauging the opposition before the race, I’d noted that the standout athlete based on previous events was a member of Loughborough University. As the backside of the leader’s tri-suit had Loughborough Tri Club emblazoned upon it, I assumed that this was the guy I needed to be tracking. I was therefore caught a little napping when, as we ran down the pit lane to end the first lap, the Loughborough Uni athlete and his similarly youthful opponent peeled off into the transition zone. They, it transpired, were sprint distance athletes who were running just 5K for the opening run leg. I looked around a little nervously and realised I was running alone, with a sizeable gap to the runners behind me.
Wondering if I should ease up or push on I went for the latter, reckoning that maximising any gap during the run would help mitigate the inevitable losses during the bike leg. Mile 4 was a 5:27 and felt easy (The nice tailwind undoubtedly helped). A 5:38 fifth mile and a 5:46 sixth mile meant that I ran a 35:12 opening 10K leg. This was over a minute quicker than last year and gave me around half a minute over the second placed runner as I went into transition and found my bike.
The helmet on went okay, as did unracking the bike and taking it to the transition exit. That’s when the race began to unravel. I’d opted to attach the bike shoes to the pedals with the tried and tested elastic band trick. As I mounted the bike and slowly got up to speed I was able to get the left foot in the shoe and snap the elastic band. The right foot though would not go into the shoe. Firstly I went slowly trying to get the foot in the shoe. Then realising that I was losing loads of time I decided to get up to speed and then try and perform the operation at 25mph. This quickly proved to be impossible and impossibly dangerous as I was coming up behind slower riders taking part in the sprint race and being passed by quick riders also in the sprint race.
By the time I reached the exit of turn three and began the gentle uphill drag to the pits, I knew the only thing to do would be to stop and get the shoe on. I pulled over to the outside of the track, propped the bike against the wall, removed the shoe from the pedal (Not a totally straightforward procedure under pressure) and fixed the issue with the shoe – which was caused by the velcro fastening getting wedged inside the shoe when I’d tried to force my foot in.
Shoe on foot and back on bike and riding I lost probably only around 20 seconds but all momentum and first position had been lost. I spent the next hour or so riding not particularly well. The conditions were not as windy as last year, but the wind was just strong enough on the uphill run back to the pits to be quite demoralising. I found myself simply unable to push myself as hard as I’d done the year before. It may have been because I’d gone off too hard in the run, I think it was also a case of just not being willing on the day to put in a do or die effort, and being disappointed in not having my disc wheel available to me, which in the conditions would have been a big benefit.
I was pretty sure I’d lost the lead, but had no idea of who or where the leader was, nor who was also possibly behind or ahead of me, given the unique multiple lap configuration of the Rockingham Oval race. I made sure I counted the right number of laps by not trying to count the number of laps and instead going by distance, knowing that when the Garmin clocked 23 miles it was time to come into the pits. This did work; I know that for others, once again, they under counted or over counted the number of laps they rode. I think if I am going to do this event again, they need a system in place to help people know when they’ve ridden enough.
After a fairly disappointing hour and eight minutes, which was a net three minutes slower than twelve months earlier, I was at last off the bike and heading to the run leg. I avoided cramping up for perhaps the first time ever in a Duathlon and was on my way. There was no-one behind me and for a while no-one ahead of me either. I went off steadily and controlled, resigned to finishing in whatever position I was currently in. The first mile was 5:43 – I could have gone quicker. It was then I spotted a runner ahead of me who looked quick enough to not be a straggler in the sprint race and so, I deduced, was ahead of me in the standard distance. With nothing else to maintain interest in the race, I kept an eye on him, keeping the pace honest, if not entirely flat out. He was at least a minute ahead when I first spotted him, but slowly and inexorably I began to reel him in. The second mile all but matched the first at 5:44, the final mile back to the pits was harder than in the 10K leg as the wind had by now picked up. And by now I was definitely catching the runner up in front quite quickly.
Entering the pits to finish the race I’d clocked a 5:53 and now put the hammer down approaching 5 minute mile pace as I sprinted towards the finish. In the end it was too little too late as I came home around 15 seconds behind the runner in front, but I was pleased at least with how I closed the race and that the 18:27 5K to end the race was a minute or so quicker than in 2016.
I congratulated the runner in front on beating me, wherever he had finished and headed to the machine that punched out the final results. It was the receipt printed that told me I was third! I immediately cursed my misfortune on by bike mechanical for had I not had those I would have almost certainly have finished second. Somehow (and I cannot remember how) I was able to see the official results, and the winner was nearly ten minutes clear. Immediately my suspicion was that the winner had ridden a lap or two too few on the bike leg. But when I caught up with him later that morning and realised it was the Loughborough Athlete I’d reckoned would be the biggest competition I was not too concerned. When I dug into his Strava profile later that day it turned out he was simply bloody quick on the bike, clocking 58 minutes for the leg. This made me feel more at easy over the shoe incident and the wheel puncture – he was and is simply a better Duathlete than me, and unless I found eight minutes on a 23 mile bike leg, I was never going to beat him.
I got to chat to a few BTC and GRC folk who had either completed (Or who had disqualified themselves from) the Duathlon or who were taking part in the 5K, 10K and 10 mile races later that day. I was then presented with my trophy for finishing third in the Duathlon and the day was done. I had originally planned to hang around and watch the race but right then I’d had enough of Rockingham and so left for home.
And that was it for racing in 2017. A few days later the hip issue turned into full on can’t run pain, which lasted right until the start of 2018. I managed a couple of parkruns in December but couldn’t run for days thereafter. Thankfully some physio early in 2018 appears, touch wood, to have solved the issues, and hopefully I can enjoy as good a 2018 as I did 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.
With the London Marathon again taking early year priority, my participation in the Clumber Park Duathlon has been very much considered a side project. I’ve continued to do my post Sunday morning bike ride brick runs and have cycled over the winter to a similar, perhaps slightly higher volume than in 2016, but there has been no specific peaking for the event, nor any taper to speak of.
I was though meant to have some shiny new aero wheels for the event. My bargain buy a week or so before the event, alas, turned out to end in something of a disaster as the front wheel turned out to be faulty and the entire wheel set needed to be returned. With my training wheels fitted with an 11-32 rear cassette in anticipation of the forthcoming Fred Whitton sportive, I was looking at not even using my TT bike for the event – not wanting to risk derailleur failure with an ill-advised gear change on to a big-big combination.
Fortunately a brief encounter with a friend post spinning session a few days earlier led to an offer of his HED tri spoke aero wheels. It was 10 speed, which meant some iffy gear changes, but I was grateful for the opportunity to be able to ride my TT bike on the day – after all it was why I spent so much money on the thing for events like these. I fitted them to the bike a couple of days before and had all of 10 minutes to give them a quick spin – they worked!
Originally I had no plans of using the race as an opportunity to enter an ITU Championships event, knowing that I was unwilling and unable to take part in the 2017 Worlds taking place in Canada. However with a day or two to spare I succumbed to the temptation and paid the £10 fee that meant I’d stated my intention to qualify for the 2018 European Standard Distance Duathlon Championships, on a date and at a venue that is yet to be determined. The race now had a purpose, at least.
I woke at 5:30am on the Saturday morning and began the military style operation to get myself and the entire family out of the door by 6:30am. We finally departed at 6:40am, which wasn’t too much of a disaster – we arrived at Clumber Park just the two hours before my planned start time. That said I pretty much needed all of those two hours to get ready – there is so much more to organise in a multi-sport event than in a running race: assemble the bike; pump the tyres; check the bike over; collect your entry; fix all the required stickers in the right places; take bike to transition and set up; listen to the briefing; warm up etc…
Despite all that I was ready with around 20 minutes to spare, the start was delayed by ten minutes so I had the chance to watch with my family the sprint competitors start their race. I even got chance to have a pre-race family photo, which sees me looking far fresher than a post race one!
I lined up in my wave a few minutes before the off. I felt fairly pumped for the race, more than at the recent Newton’s Fraction. I did though not feel particularly healthy, coming down with a cold the youngest had suffered with for much of the week. Setting off in a wave containing pretty much just runners in my age group, I eyed up the competition. There was one familiar face – someone who beat me at the World’s in 2016. It was no surprise when we started that he surged to the front of the field and edged slowly, but inexorably, away from me. He was briefly followed by one other runner, but he had started a little too exuberantly and I was soon able to catch and past him on the first of a few little climbs on the opening 10K run.
The run course was an out and back 5K loop – constantly rolling with a couple of mild hills to tackle. We started just a couple of minutes behind the women’s wave and so it wasn’t long before we began to catch and pass a fairly steady stream of runners. I quite enjoyed this – it’s more interesting targeting the next runner to catch rather than stare into empty space. Being an out and back too I could regularly see how far the leader was in front of me, and how those behind me were doing. My pace was solid, if unspectacular, averaging around 5:50 a mile. I could definitely feel the effects of the cold in my legs, they were suspiciously heavy and lacking any zip. That said I couldn’t complain too much as I came into transition second in my age group and only passed by a couple of young whipper snappers who had started their race a couple of minutes after I did.
Transition was solid and a million miles away from twelve months earlier at Rutland Water where I completely screwed up my transitions, posting some of the slowest times of the race – down with those who literally like to change their clothes, have a snack, and some drink, perhaps even a little sit down before setting off. In and out in just over a minute, sixth fastest in my age group, losing just six seconds to the fastest. I had chance to share a few words with my family – who helpfully had parked themselves pretty close to where my bike was – mindful that at Rutland Water I couldn’t find it! I’d opted for the shoes attached to pedals option (Another pre-race chore to set up). I didn’t quite manage the flying mount but I was soon up to something close to full speed.
From the off the cycle leg felt like a real struggle. I’m used to the quads aching for the opening few miles as they transition from running to cycling, but they just ached relentless for the entire ride. I also struggled hugely to maintain a TT tuck position, by far the worse I have ever been. It wasn’t helped by the wind. It wasn’t as strong as first feared and we were well sheltered in the forest of Clumber Park, but out on the road we were subject to a stiff breeze which, when it was a cross wind, had a habit of trying to blow me across the road.
It wasn’t long before I was passed by the first cyclist – looking far stronger and more settled on the bike than I. Then another passed, and another. Indeed a steady stream of cyclists passed me for the entire ride. It was somewhat demoralising, if not entirely unexpected – I’ve still not cracked the ride leg on a Duathlon and if ever there was a course that wouldn’t suit me this was it – constant small rollers that the big guys can power up while I struggle. Watts wise it wasn’t even that bad a ride – 234 of them was the average, which isn’t far off what I averaged a few days earlier on a 40 minute spin session – and here I was riding for over an hour. The main issue was definitely not being able to hold a tuck position. Post ride I’m thinking it may be something to do with saddle position – I’m going to spend the next few weeks and months tinkering with that to see if I can find a sweet spot.
Finally, after an hour and six minutes the bike ride came to an end. I came into transition, once again cheered on by my family, who told me I was doing really well. I wasn’t convinced, having been passed by far too many riders – twenty two were quicker than me in my age group alone, over one hundred across all the age groups. At least there was no calf cramp in transition – a regular foe and at dead on one minute transition was again pleasingly swift, eleven seconds slower than the quickest in my age group – fourteenth best on the day. I did though have to stop briefly after transition – the tongue on my left trainer was not sitting right and not wishing to risk injury through irritation, decided to stop and adjust to taste.
I left transition with two or three other runners. I had fears this was going to be a hellish 5k, but as I swiftly passed them and set about closing down others in front of me, I knew that this was going to be a bearable conclusion to the race. I didn’t feel like I was trying that hard or going that fast, but did notice that my mile splits were getting faster: 6:00, 5:50, and then 5:46 as we approached the finish. My legs were actually getting better all the time and I cruised in passed the finish line at 5:24, feeling that, had I needed to, I could have run that leg much faster.
There were some technical issues on the day – there were no results published until the Sunday. I had no idea where I finished other than my wife letting me know I was around the 24th to cross the finish line. When I got the email receiving the final results it transpired I was 40th overall, and third in my age group – setting the fastest time in the final run leg by 48 seconds in the age group and the thirteenth fastest overall. With the first four finishers in their age group kind of guaranteed a place in their chosen ITU Championships, the odds are favourable that I have done enough to qualify. There is a clause in the regulations that could see some 39 year olds take my place, but I have no way of knowing if that is going to happen. Given that at Rutland I failed to finish in the top 10 in my age group and wound up qualifying for the Worlds’, I am hopeful.
Post race was pretty understated – with no medals and not fancying the alcohol free beer handed out to finishers, I collected my bike and headed back to the car. We had planned a post race picnic by the lake, but just as the picnic basket was pulled out of the boot, the rain began to fall and we abandoned those plans for lunch back at home in the conservatory.
Reflections on the race are a mixed bag. I don’t feel as though I performed to my full potential. The cold I came down with certainly didn’t help. My form is also yo-yoing a lot at the moment – a lackluster Newton’s Fraction was followed six days later by a very comfortable 2:51 marathon in training. The ride – in particular the failure to hold a TT position, was disappointing and something I really need to work on. But when I compare the effort to the shambles of Rutland Water in March 2016 it is clear I’ve made a lot of progress since then and given the strength of the field at Clumber Park this year, I’m not doing that badly in the grand scheme of things.
Unless there is a dramatic change of plan, that is now the racing done, bar a a couple of Club Time Trials, until the London Marathon. Some important weeks of training lie ahead – it’s where it all fell apart this time last year, I’m keen to avoid a repeat this time!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!