March 21 2009
This is the second race I’ve done as part of the series run by Finish Strong and I would now unhesitatingly recommend their events. Both of these courses have been challenging but fair (i.e. they don’t favor athletes who have particular strengths). If you’ve never contemplated doing an early season duathlon before I’d also heartily recommend doing so. They make excellent preparation for later season tris: you can gauge your fitness, take the opportunity to test out new equipment, and, especially if they are as challenging as these courses, they are excellent mental prep. But if you are a newer triathlete or just don’t want to train for the longer distances, our local area offers a number of excellent early season sprint duathlons. If you do want longer distances, however, North Carolina is the place to go. In addition to duathlons in Charlotte and Cary there is also an excellent one called the Carrboro Classic (in two weeks), which used to be a Powerman event and is still raced over that distance.
Best of all, there’s no swimming in a duathlon. . .
OK, proselytizing over. . .
Sometimes, you just feel as if you are owed a good day, weather-wise. Like many of you, I’ve had my share of Team Z group rides in the twenties (remember the one out of that park up in Gaithersburg?). I’ve trained in rain and mud (remember the one a couple of weekends ago? My poor bike looked as if I’d been trail riding and I had mud and grit on my balaclava *under my helmet*). And I’ve already done one race in apocalyptically shitty conditions.
So I was mightily relieved when the weather for the Cary Long Course Duathlon proved to be none of those things. In fact, it was pretty near perfect: started out in the high 30s, gradually worked its way up towards the 50s, with nary a cloud in the sky. It even started off calm, although the wind gradually picked up until it was blowing at a reasonably steady 10-15mph. But you can’t have everything, I guess. 138 people started the race which consisted of a 5 mile run, a 31 mile bike, and another 5 mile run.
After my race last month in Charlotte (some of you may have slogged your way through that report, and slogging pretty much sums up the race itself) I had a number of goals for this one:
1) Not to go firing water bottles all about the countryside;
2) To push it harder on the bike;
3) To take the first run a lot more conservatively (I haven’t run these kinds of distances in a Du for some time, since I raced sprints all last year). Part of this goal was also to try and keep my run times as close to one another as possible. In a duathlon you ideally should have your second run faster than your first, but no one ever does. Typically, most ordinary mortals’ second runs are anything from 3 to 5+ minutes slower.
4) To stay mentally positive in the second run (even though the conditions in Charlotte were draining, I still felt as if I let them get a little too much inside my head).
So, there I was, back in North Carolina, for what looked like another hard race. I’d driven the bike course and I knew it was going to be tougher than the Charlotte race. The first part of it trended downhill, with some long flat sections. There was a climbing section in the middle, and then the last 7 miles were all climbing. So the tough part about this was going to be maximizing the speed potential of the first half while still keeping enough in reserve to handle the last part of it. (When I was riding this it felt a lot harder than the one in Charlotte, however it turns out there was only half as much climbing, about 1500 feet). Still, I was feeling pretty good about it.
(I’m including a link here for to the course maps; the technical junkies among you might want to check out the terrain. But the maps themselves are pretty cool. They feature an interactive gradient chart: if you move your mouse along the gradient chart it shows you where on the route all the climbs are, the grade, etc.
I wish more events would offer this.)
And those positive fuzzy feelings lasted until I warmed up on the run course on race morning. For something that was only 2.5 miles long (two loops) they packed in a lot of hills. There were two pretty reasonable climbs on each loop: long and quite steep. And mysteriously, only one of them translated into a reasonable downhill when done the other way! And there was a bonus. For those of you who have done the Columbia tri and know about that nasty uphill turn immediately after transition. . .there was one of those. And if you think it is bad doing it uphill, try doing it downhill. . .
So I mentally added another goal. 5) Finish in under three hours. Which suddenly seemed like a bit of a stretch.
The start was a bit of a Charlie Foxtrot, a narrow path and some confusion as to where the actual timing start was. But we were soon on our way and before long into the first hill which was as bad as I had expected and gave me a good look at the long line of people ahead of me! I was really trying to hold back and trying to keep my HR in zone 4 which was a struggle. However by the second time up that hill I was already passing a couple of people who were visibly slowing.
Time: 39:04 (7:49 pace).
Overall Rank: 92/138
Age group: 9/14
(I should add here that the course seemed short to me; my Garmin read about 4.85 miles for both run legs, but that may be due to how the course was measured. Part of it wound through an unfinished residential development and there were opportunities to shave the corners if you were smart. Still, my watch was recording me running miles in a little over 8 minutes. But, it’s in the books so I’ll take it!).
Transition went well. After Charlotte I bought a wireless cadence sensor and a bike mount to enable me to use my Garmin 301 as a cyclometer as well. On the training rides it has worked well; having my speed, cadence and HR all there right under my nose (literally) has been great. And it came through that rainy mud-drenched group ride with flying colors. My other two cyclometers have all been prone to freaking out on longer rides as water gets forced into the contacts. So I had been practicing snapping the unit off my wrist and into the bike mount, and I had no problems with this in T1.
However, it took me about 30 seconds on the bike before I realized that no amount of race prep will make you immune from your own stupidity. One of the things that the older Forerunners have (unfortunately it was dropped from the recent one) is a great multisport capability. You can set it to record a multisport event, and then every time you hit the lap button it changes over all the data it records from run to bike and back to run (and includes transitions) and displays it all in appropriate units (and you can set up custom screens for each sport). I, however, had buggered something up right royally and as a result it was simply recording everything as if it were a long run. Which meant that on the bike I had no useful data: no bike-specific distance, no speed indicator and no cadence. I could have stopped the bike and reset the watch to bike specific functions but that would have wasted a lot of time. So I decided to ride by feel alone.
Fortunately (!) I’ve had equipment failures (some of them even mechanical!) on training rides and races before which have necessitated me doing the same.
The first mile or so was really rough. It was supposed to have been repaved before the race but, you know, economic collapse of the nation and all that. . . Lots of broken pavement and huge potholes (which the race directors had helpfully circled with fluorescent paint). However I got down in the aerobars and punched it, trying to clear some of the early traffic. Goal 1 achieved: water bottle stayed put (I came up with a simple rubber-band arrangement which I tested out by lifting the bike up by the water bottle and shaking it. I only use my rear bottles to refill my aero one, so I just needed to detach the rubber band once. I’ll definitely be using this system for Mooseman. They say they’ve repaved that bike course, but I’ll believe it when I see it. . .).
The bike course was beautiful. Farms, pine plantations, and a huge, spectacular lake which we crossed three times (one time on a bridge that was over a mile long). Much of this early part was flat or gently rolling, so I concentrated on trying to maintain speed over the rises, glancing down at my shadow every now and then to make sure that my upper body was as still as possible.
I really pushed it, was passing a lot of people, but by mile 20 I was starting to hurt. In particular, a muscle on the inside of one leg near my groin was cramping intermittently. I’ve had this before and it has always been a sign that I am really pushing it. However it also has meant that I probably should be taking endurolytes as well. In my mind I associate endurolytes with warm weather riding only, but this was a useful reminder that higher intensity drains your salt levels pretty quickly (and I was a lot more salt encrusted after this event than is usually the case with me).
One thing I love about duathlons is that they are so friendly. Probably half the people I passed shouted words of encouragement (and least I think they were: maybe they were actually telling me I had an arse the size of Wisconsin or making familiar comments about me dear old mum), and I did the same to those who passed me. I spent much of the race having an ongoing duel with one guy in particular. We must have passed each other about 3 times each in the middle of the race. I would call it “Way to go, mate.” And he would call back something like, “No, you’re doing a great job, keep it up.”
I was doing a lot of climbing in my big chain ring, which felt good. After Damon’s recent e-mail about climbing I had his voice in my head. I typically shift up going over the top anyway, but because I was trying to push it I consciously shifted earlier. And after Ed’s spin classes I could hear him yelling to pull up on the pedals, use your hip flexors, and as a result I was powering past people on the climbs and feeling very studly. . .until I hit one 6% section and didn’t shift early enough and it hurt. Lesson learned, hubris and all that.
I don’t remember much about the last 7 miles except that it was an ongoing nightmare of climbing, false flats and more climbing. The wind was up by that time and were riding straight into it. The body was well into the “I’m not going to last through this” phase, and the muscle cramp was getting worse. Normally you have to prize me out of the saddle with a crowbar, but I was standing up on the pedals as the only way I found to relieve the cramp. I’d love to say, a la Phil Liggett that I was “dancing on the pedals” but that would be true only if you conceive of the dance as a vodka-impaired can-can (in other words, kinda like Steve Wozniak in the current iteration of “Dancing with the Stars.”) To cap things off, my bike nemesis passed me again. Damn these whippet-thin roadies!
With maybe two miles to go we hit an area that looked as if it was slated for a new suburb but only the roads had been completed. Suddenly the road surface became buttery smooth. My body was screaming but my tires were singing. About 30 metres ahead was my nemesis. I got deep into my aero tuck and put the hammer down. I blasted past him, and as we came to an uphill right and another uphill left I jumped out of the saddle and powered into the climbs. Dropped him. At last. Another section of trail riding masquerading as asphalt, and then it was back into transition.
Time: 1:37:26 (19.4 mph)
Age group: 5/14
The conditions were nowhere near as bad as Charlotte, but it was still not tropical and my feet were frozen. I had a quick transition, but the first mile was torture. Hitting the hill for the first time the negative thoughts were all welling up. So I mentally bitch-slapped myself. “You only have to do this hill one more time. You’ve trained for hills. You are strong on hills. Other people hate hills. You LOVE hills. . .” And lo and behold, it got better. Feeling returned to my feet, my pace and HR stabilized. I began to pass a few people (VERY rare for me on the second run). I managed to rest up a little on the final downhill and tried to pick up the pace a little at the end, but it was less of a final sprint than a slightly less ungainly shuffle!
Time: 40:09 (8:02)
Age group: 8/14
Final time: 2:58:16
Overall: 52/138 (47/106 Men)
Age group: 8/14
I really hurt after this race (and the day after, and the day after that). But I achieved all my goals. I had a great time hanging/staggering around afterward, talking with people (including my bike nemesis) with everyone talking about the upcoming duathlon nationals in Richmond.
One side note. I heard some people talking about how they had gotten lost on the bike course. And I’ve since read one race report where someone said they were mis-directed by an officer at an intersection. To be honest, I don’t have much patience with that kind of whining. Officers are at intersections to direct traffic, not to give you directions. Their job is to stop god-fearing people who treat driving as a license to kill cyclists (i.e. most of the population) from doing so. Every race I’ve been in has made it abundantly clear that it is the racer’s responsibility to know the course. This course was clearly marked with huge red arrows (multiple ones) at every turn. If people don’t take the time to scout the course in advance or are too inattentive during the race, then that is their lookout.
There was also something really strange going on in with the young’uns in this race. Half the 20-24 year old group didn’t finish, constituting the bulk of the DNFs. The kids today. No stamina. And I wish they’d stay off my lawn.