“Behold, you will become a new man.” And then she spake once more in a brittle voice, “And you will live a new measured life of enhanced precision.” This was very different than my last up-close-and-personal with the Almighty which was simply all about unredeemed punishment.
Today’s conversations took place in the course of the 3Sports duathlon, a race organized by Setup that takes place in a business park just outside Richmond. It represented the feeble residue of my grand plans to do several early-season duathons this year, and my even more ambitious plans to establish a small Team Z presence at some of these events. But in order to race it kinda helps to train, and in order to organize yourself let alone others it also helps to have an iota of motivation. Which iota has been noticeably absent of late.
I’ve done this race twice before, once in 2005 and once in 2008; at least this time the weather cooperated. In the previous two races the weather was hot and steamy (and the last time things degenerated into thunderstorms); I guess I’ve just been lucky that way. Today, however, it was overcast, temperature hovering around 50, perfect weather for racing. This may be a sprint du, but it is not a course where you want it to be hot; constantly rolling, it packs in a surprising amount of up and down on both the bike and run courses. (I’m not sure the race has been run in the last two years; this year they also added a 5K which seemed to add to the overall popularity).
The race didn’t start until 9am so even though I was driving down from DC I didn’t have to get up too early. I made it with plenty of time to pick up my race packet and take my time with getting set up and then going for a warmup run. My primary goal was to have fun; last time I did this event I placed third in my age group but since then I’ve aged up, and my current age group (45-49) is the sweet spot where disposable income meets mid-life crisis, so it is a huge group in duathlon especially; for this event that one age group accounted for over a quarter of the male racers. So even had I been in much better shape placing was unlikely.
As I finished stretching and took a last look around the transition area which was about to close, I felt that everything had been pretty relaxed and hassle free. That was until a race official walked up to me and said, “Number 85? What’s your name?” It seemed a pretty obvious question, so I told her. “No, your full name.” I told her that, too. “Huh. Well, looking at your bib, at the moment you are John Nelson.” Oh. Great. I guess there’s not much point having you bring two forms of ID if the volunteer can’t read. The official promised to go and sort it out with the time-keeper, but I told her to try and find out if John Nelson was faster than me first. But whatever the computer said, I was now a different person and it was a slightly strange feeling.
The run distances for this race have always been a little odd. In order to keep the run safely within the business park both runs have never been a full 5K, but rather 2.85 miles. This year, in order to accommodate the 5K they added a circuit around the parking lot for the second run to make up the distance. By the way, when I say business park, put more emphasis on the “park” than the “business.” It is actually quite a tranquil spot, with lots of trees, man-made lakes and, most important, relatively smooth pavement! In fact, I’ve never been exactly sure what kind of “business” goes on there. There are an awful lot of vaguely named places like the “Farm Bureau” or cluster’s of acronyms, or places like the Capital One Campus. . .all of which seem to have a lot of fences and security cameras. Admittedly, it is the weekend, but there always seems to be a complete dearth of people. I always assumed the guard dogs ate the ones that the rooftop snipers didn’t get.
It has been a while since my last du, and I’d forgotten how fast that first mile can be. With most triathlons, the swim start is at least relatively sedate mentally, even if physically it soon degenerates into a mosh pit. But take a mass run start, throw in a little downhill to begin with, and long flat stretch where you can see your competitors spooling away ahead of you in a long line, and it makes for a hard pace. I looked at my watch and saw I’d done the first mile in 7:20 (my zone 4 pace at the moment is hovering in the low 8s). I pulled it back as we hit the rollers and just tried to relax into the run. We were on the return leg when a fox dashed across the road not more than 20 feet in front of us. Myself and the two or three guys I was running with were all seriously impressed.
22:29 (7:46) , 13/24 age group, 48/80 men
Made a bit of a dog’s breakfast of transition; I was rusty and realized I hadn’t done a race (Ironman isn’t a race for most of us!) with exactly this equipment configuration. I hadn’t unbuckled my helmet straps, I had difficulty transferring my Garmin from wrist to bike because it was hard to get around my drink bottle. . .I’d normally want to be out of transition for a race this small in under a minute but the time was 1:09. Overly fussy whining? More on that later. . .
I rocketed out of transition, absorbing the slight bump as I hit the lip of the pavement. I was vaguely conscious of a kind of plasticky, shattery sound, but it wasn’t until I was about half a mile down the road that I realized I’d ejected my Garmin which obviously hadn’t been clipped in. So, no bike computer. But this is one of the reasons our team has started doing time trials is so that you are familiar with what a hard effort feels like. So I concentrated on riding by feel, keeping my form and trying to shift as smartly as possible on the rolling course.
The course was 4 loops of a 4.5 mile circuit, so it was a little more like a crit. A lot of people hate looped courses but when they are that short I really enjoy it. Like many multisport events the bike leg unfolds in slow motion. You see people ahead and you inch toward them. But on a looped course you have a chance to study them: are they good on hills? Do they mash on the flats? There were a couple of people I saw that slowed dramatically when the terrain pitched up and I used that info to pass them on the next loop on an uphill. I might have taken it out a little fast on the first loop, but I felt overall that I rode a strong leg and passed a lot of people including, as it turned out, almost all the women (As fast as I was going on the first run, and as short as it was, it felt like I was being passed by everyone, so that left me a lot of work on the bike).
56:34 (19.1 mph), 11/24, 40/80
T2 was a lot more like it; I was out of there in 41 seconds, top in my AG and 7th overall, one of the fastest transitions I’ve ever done. Looking back on that I’m amazed, because as I came out of transition I seem to remember whimpering because the pain in my legs was so severe. I haven’t done any brick work at this stage of the season and I was experiencing shooting pain down the insides of both legs. The slight downhill out of transition worked in my favor because it gave me momentum; I knew that after about half a mile either my legs would seize completely or I would hit some kind of rhythm.
I’d finished the bike leg just behind a group of 3 or 4 and passed them all in transition. Now one of them, a young guy, passed me and began to pull away; I could hear other feet pounding behind me. A guy in red with a springy stride pulled up beside me, breathing heavily but regularly and he and I locked into a friendly duel. He was lighter and faster than me on the uphills; I used my weight advantage and slightly better technique to pass him again on the downhills. I thought we were going to be locked like that the whole way; based on his appearance (and the overwhelming AG odds, as I indicated above) this guy looked as if he was in my AG so we were racing for standings. Then, inexplicably, he stopped to take a drink at the turn-around aid station and walked. There was an immediate downhill so I poured it on. Ahead of me I could see the young guy who had passed me at the start; he seemed to be tiring and I was inching closer on the flats and uphills, surging closer on the downhills. I passed him with about half a mile to go, and then was passed by a young woman just as we re-entered the race site (it turned out that she was the winner of one of the spring chicken (25-29) age groups. I didn’t look back but as we entered the loop around the parking lot I knew that my competition was close behind me; I could hear his footsteps and hear the people cheering for him. I picked up the pace and tried to catch the woman in front of me, but just couldn’t quite do it before we crossed the line.
26:20 (8:29), 12/24, 47/80
So what was the overall result? I hurt. A lot. By this point I’ve done most duathlon and triathlon distances from short sprint all the way up to Ironman and I have to say that there is nothing that hurts me quite as badly as doing a sprint du. A few weeks back I ran the half marathon at an 8:46 pace, which was mid-zone 4 in terms of effort level for me. You can see from the times here that I was operating right on the limit at a much higher level of intensity for almost the same amount of time. Small wonder then that I was staggery when I finished; the pain on the inside of each leg was extraordinary, nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and became particularly intense whenever I tried to step up or down, thus rendering the entire exercise of climbing over a curb a slow motion comedy. As I write this, the bulk of the team are out on a long bike ride, one that I fully intended to go on. I packed up all my drinks last night, laid out my bike clothes, organized my equipment, left the bike in the car. This morning however, it was exceptionally difficult even to get out of bed let alone move with any degree of freedom. In addition, something I didn’t feel yesterday, I’m shockingly tired.
Final Result: 1:47:12, 9/24 AG, 36/80 Men
I have mixed feelings about the result. It is difficult to directly compare the overall result with 3 years ago because the second run was longer, so that probably added a couple of minutes at least. My first run was about a minute slower which is what I would have expected since I haven’t been doing any speed work. I am a little disappointed in the bike leg. I was about a minute and a half slower than last time, and I feel like I am a stronger cyclist now; it should have been possible for me to break 55 minutes. On the other hand, my run pace for the second run, even though it was longer, was almost exactly the same as three years ago. My overall endurance conditioning seems to be standing me in good stead. Compared with three years ago, I placed about the same relative to the size of the field.
If you look at the results you might notice something odd. In my age group for example, I placed 13th, 11th, and 12th across all the events (yep, that’s me, Mr. Consistency). How then did I end up in 9th? Transition. In sprint dus the transitions are absolutely crucial. How crucial? That guy I’d been dueling with on the second run? I ended up beating him by one second. In my age group, myself and the next three places were separated by only 30 seconds.
This is one of the reasons I really like duathlons. The smaller scale just makes them more intimate somehow. You feel as if you are racing, in a friendly way, real identifiable people rather than a vast undifferentiated mass. In this event there was the same level of encouragement that I’ve experienced before, with people complimenting you as you passed them.
Plus, I got to be someone else for a day! And God pretty clearly told me that she wants me to get a new Garmin. (As you might have predicted, mine was gone. I checked with the race staff, and no one turned one in, even though there were a lot of people around the area where I lost it. To be fair,given the speed I was traveling, while the thing is robust enough not to shatter on impact, the odds that it still works right are small). Is it time to upgrade? As always, God’s pronouncements on the subject of triathlon equipment are murky. 305s are pretty cheap to pick up and this would be my third. Maybe, however, there is a new promised land of Garmin-happiness opening up before me?
I got ready for the drive home, which involved changing into the Mormon underwear in the cramped confines of a portaloo in an awkward orgy of thumps, crashes and muffled curses that probably had the people outside convinced I wasn’t in there alone. Maybe they thought I was trying to join the poor man’s Mile High Club (with the recession, gas prices, etc., air travel is expensive!).
And what of the real John Nelson? Well, he didn’t turn out to be faster than me, but he did place third in his age group.