Does a black pig crossing your path mean bad luck?

Virginia Duathlon

Scenic Surry County. Virginia

Virginia Duathlon, April 1 2012
Chippokes Plantation State Park
3 mile run–23 mile bike–3 mile run

Getting Back on the Horse
Less than twenty words expended and already two animal references.  Entirely appropriate for an event that takes place in rural Surry County on the banks of the James River.  For the last four years the Virginia Duathlon (now in its 11th year) has been located at Chippokes, in large part because it is one of the best locations for a race in our region.  What makes it so good?  Closed course runs entirely within the park, a flat bike course on good, low traffic roads, excellent logistics for the transition area, etc., freshly barbecued pulled pork for the after-race grub. . .

My team-mates have all been racing up a storm recently; traditionally Team Z does winter marathons and half marathons and watching them compete has made me feel not a little envious.  But I made a strategic decision not to race a winter marathon this year.  When I trained for my first Ironman I did do a winter marathon and it seemed to take me forever to fully recover from it, mainly because the spring training and racing ramped up almost immediately.  The training was starting for real and I was already tired most of the time.

So this time I’m trying a different strategy, doing a series of shorter races.  Early season races are important because they help you gauge your fitness and, more importantly, get your head in the game.  For me, this was the most important aspect, because I haven’t raced anything at all since–oh my God–Kinetic, in May last year.  There was supposed to be Musselman.  But, well. . .there wasn’t.  Prior to this race I had been thinking that I needed something to put a little bit of fear in me, to jump start my training.  But in fact, as I mentioned in the last post, I have been training.  Not spectacularly well but (with the exception of the swim) reasonably consistently.  It wasn’t until after the event that I realized that I really needed this event for reassurance: to prove that I still had some basic multisport racing skills.  Multisport racing works the same way as sex: if you don’t do it for a long time you regain your virginity (it is true, I swear) and in neither case is that a good thing.

If you aren’t familiar with racing duathlons, I’m not going to bore you with the reasons why they are so much fun.  If you are interested, you can read my article, “Ten Reasons to Try a Duathlon“.  Hint: most of them revolve around the fact that no swimming is involved.  I was racing Dus long before I ever attempted a triathlon and they are still my first multisport love.  But I was feeling more than a little concerned as this particular race approached.  There were the niggling aches and pains I mentioned in my last post.  I hadn’t been on the tri bike for a while and while a flat bike course was attractive, I wasn’t feeling all that confident since my last bike time trial had been pretty disappointing.  The run was a completely unknown quantity since I hadn’t had any time to get any brick training in.

Oh, and there was the tiny, almost insignificant really, fact that the last time I did this race, four years ago, in this location it was both one of the most miserable experiences of my racing life and an epic challenge that still remains one of my greatest accomplishments as an athlete.

Staying Focused
Signs that my head wasn’t really in the game abounded.

The race was on Sunday, but I thought I’d go down on the Friday and maybe spend Saturday looking around the park, participating in a course ride that the organizers had e-mailed us about, and just taking it easy.

Friday came and I got a later start than I wanted to, but was soon zooming down the 395 with Flogging Molly at earsplitting volume.

Ten minutes later I was taking an offramp and then getting back on the freeway heading home, because I’d forgotten my USAT card, the campground reservation, and a couple of key food ingredients.  This was not a good start.

After a flying and profanity-filled visit to the house it was back onto the freeway, picking up where we left off with the Flogging Molly.

Two hours later and I realized that I might have forgotten my sleeping bag.  Fortunately, a quick check of the debris strewn rear of the wagon revealed that I hadn’t forgotten the sleeping bag.  Unfortunately it also revealed that I had forgotten my sleeping pad.  Still, I thought we’d probably be OK because we usually keep a blanket in the car for emergencies and I could repurpose that.

Come to find out that we’d pulled the blanket out of the car so the dogs could lounge around the house on it.

While it seemed that at this rate there was a very good chance that I would find myself in North Dakota I somehow made it to the Chippokes Plantation State Park.

The Call of Nature
I’ve always been a big fan of camping at or near race sites, if it is available.  My biggest lurking worry (for no good reason, it is just my thing) on race day is always making it to the race site with plenty of time to get myself organized.  I hate being rushed.  If there is a campground where I can simply roll out of bed and amble down to the start line, that is ideal.

Plus, campgrounds give you a chance to contemplate the wonderful variety of human nature lured by the great outdoors, the majority of whom would clearly be much happier nestled in a barcalounger in front of the boob tube.

There was the very nice couple in the motor home (both runners, who lamented that they had been closed out of the Shamrock 8K this year) who persisted in playing bad 70s music.  Yes my friends, there is good 70s music and bad 70s music.  Steely Dan is bad 70s music.  It is what people listened to in an attempt to ignore all the really interesting things happening in the 70s.

Then there was the tragically inept camping family whose mom insisted on yelling at her completely out-of-control stripling to keep his voice down.

I also entertained myself by placing bets on how long it would take before the woman camping with the three guys across the way would tire of repeated requests such as “Babe, can you get me X from the tent?” and tell them to get their own fucking X.  And how long it would take her to tire of being called “Babe.”  Neither happened.  And it is true, that the guy who seemed to be her boyfriend had some prodigious belching skills and we know how women love that sort of thing.

Then there was the family with the screaming infant.  Who screamed.  And screamed some more.  For the better part of two hours (no kidding).

Astonishingly, however, in the midst of all the screaming and yelling and belching and the mindless burble of Steely Dan I managed to get a great night’s sleep (after cobbling together a makeshift sleeping pad).

I spent most of the next day dodging rain showers, picking up my race packet and driving the course. . .since I found that the organized course ride was actually last weekend (yes, I was really on top of things this week).

The Main Event
One of the best things about this event is its civilized start time: 9am.  Got another good night’s sleep, and woke to a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal, nuts, cranberries and coffee.  Packed up my gear and rode the short mile and a half to the race site.  The road went through a part of the park where they have a site dedicated to exhibitions of farming techniques; coming round a corner in this area I braked to allow a guy with an enormous black pig by his side to cross the road.  Lucky?  Unlucky?  Given my overall level of organization this weekend I wasn’t really hopeful that the omen was a positive one.  I quickly glanced down to check that I had both wheels on my bike.

In memory of my last race here I had brought every item of race clothing that I owned.  And the funny thing was that several times that morning I passed groups of people and heard the equivalent of “Man, you should have been here 4 years ago, that was the worst race I’ve ever. . .”  But conditions today were ideal: partly sunny, mid-50s, and only a slight wind.

This is always a relatively small event (a bit under 200 people) so the transition area is tiny.  They also use wheel racks (which I personally like) rather than the “suspend everything awkwardly from a pole” approach so common at tris, so things were a little tight.  They racks were also on a first-come first-served basis which predictably pissed off that small minority of people who want to show up ten minutes before the race starts and get treated like royalty.

VaDu Transition Area

It helps if your bike is skinny

I made sure to get a good warm-up (combination of jogging and dynamic stretching) because duathlons always start way too fast.  Before I realized it we were at the start line and the starting bell sounded first for the young ‘uns wave (under 45 men), then for our wave (the old fart men).  Sure enough, the start was too fast.  I knocked out the first mile in 7:40, which I could maybe sustain in my heyday (assuming I had one) but not in my present condition.    Plus, this run course was different than the one I’d done four years ago in that it had two significant hills in it.  So I ratcheted it back a bit (8:10, and then 8:23; although I hadn’t intended to ease it back quite that much!).  For the last half mile I was running shoulder to shoulder with a guy, each of us easing forward then back.  We steamed into the transition area. . .and discovered we were racked right next to one another.  “What are the odds?” he said.  I never saw him again because even though the transition was slower than I would have liked (about a minute) I was out of there before he’d even got his helmet on.

VaDu Bike Start

Bike. Bike Fast.

Unlike a triathlon, where my wretched swimming typically puts me at the back of the pack, in a duathlon I’m usually in the bottom third (111/190 overall, 18/25 in my age group).  So I still have plenty of rabbits to chase and I hit the bike course hard.  The course is about as flat as you can get, and while the roads are a little juddery they are pretty good with virtually no traffic.  I passed at least 20 people in the 3 miles it took to get out of the park, and for the first 10 miles I was holding an average of a little over 20mph.  Because the women had started in the wave behind this did mean that I was being chicked quite regularly by women who left nothing but scorched pavement in their wake.  My pace fell away a bit in the second half because it got a little more twisty and much of it was into the wind.  There were also some work trenches across the road that had to be bunny hopped at speed.  The whole time I was, however, trying to ride that sweet spot where I was pushing really hard but not tipping over into exhaustion. The pacing did feel good, and as expected I began to pick up a lot of tired people toward the end of the loop.  23 miles in 1:07:45, an average of 19.5mph.  I’d picked up almost 50 places overall, but only 6 in my age group.

The big unknown was how my second run would hold up.  The bike had taken a lot out of me, and I knew as soon as I started moving that I’d definitely lost that lovin feelin.  I haven’t done any brick work so far this year so my real hope was just to get through this without serious injury.  First mile 8:28.  Hey, that’s not too bad!  That is only a little slower than my last mile for the first run.  Second mile: 8:15.  Huh?  Speeding up?  Watch must be broken.  And there is a big hill ahead.  Third mile: 8:10?  Holy Garmins Batman!

Not too shabby, all things considered
Relaxing after the race with freshly barbecued pulled pork sandwiches with all the trimmings while listening to the awards I reflected on a rather surprising day.    The last time I’d done this my time had been 2:04 and change.  Now, admittedly, that weather had been apocalyptically bad.  However that was counterbalanced by a run course that was dead flat (and the fact that I was running reliably under 8 minutes then, even when completely frozen).    So I had hoped to do that again.  My stretch goal had been to break 2 hours.  To my complete surprise, I’d missed by stretch goal by only 32 seconds.

Final time: 2:00:32.  74/190 overall, 64/133 men, 11/25 in my AG.

I’d hoped for a little better on the bike (maybe a couple of minutes faster), but I wasn’t too invested in it.  My last time trial with the team was pretty disappointing, and I hadn’t even bothered to change out my training tires for the race, so all things considered riding a 19.5 pace wasn’t too shabby. The thing I was most pleased about was my running which had held up better than expected.    My first run was 25:09, and my second one was 25:41; I’ve rarely achieved that kind of consistency in a race, especially after pushing hard on the bike.

I can’t help but look back in longing at my form when I first started doing the du.  I’m a much faster biker now, but a slower runner.  That’s only to be expected, training for Iron and half-Iron distances is a different kind of fitness.  The team as a whole doesn’t do any real speed work, for example, which I found invaluable when trying to get faster for short course duathlon.  I’m giving away about 3 minutes per run leg at least to the other guys in my AG, and while I would never be able to get all that back, I used to be able to run in the low-to mid-7 minute area.  But I was younger and–let’s be honest–lighter then!

Even so, the 40-50 age groups are the biggest and the most insanely competitive in duathlon.  I was more than 15 minutes off the podium in this event so running faster wouldn’t have helped much!  I think of these age groups as the spot where mid-life crisis meets the mid-career wallet so I would have to gear up substantially to have a shot.   Maybe one day.  Maybe I will be that guy with zero percent body fat and a bike rig that cost more than the GDP of Somalia.

But I have a mortgage to pay.  And I like French cheese too much.

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