Cirencester Off-Road Duathlon Spring 2008

In which I try another new sport and do, err, pretty well considering...

Seeing as I'm training for my first Tri, a duathlon seemed like an obvious event to have a crack at, especially as this one involved some muddy running, which is right up my street. It involved some mountain biking too, which isn't, but it's always good to have a crack at new things.

This race took place on a really crisp, cold, sub-zereo morning in February, with brilliant sunshine and a thick frost. I was one of the first there (as usual), "there" being the estate of Lord Bathurst on the outskirts of Cirencester on the road towards Stroud. Years ago I remember driving this road and passing the long stone wall on the north side - the duathlon took place in the huge parkland on the other side of that wall.

As a first-timer, I arrived without a clue as to how to set up a transition. I had to wait and watch someone else rack their bike - obvious enough really, nose of the saddle over the long rail and helmet balanced on either the saddle or the handle bar end. As I'd opted for running shoes for the whole thing I didn't have to deal with a shoe change, though lots of others (the experienced cyclists I suppose) had proper cycling shoes for the bike leg and left these under their bike ready for transition.

Next I met up with Ed who had been delayed by an overheating engine - which is a pretty serious problem to have when it's minus two degrees. I had spent half an hour or so meditating in the car, in the stunningly clear and bright sunshine, then after showing Ed where to do the bike racking (his first multisport event too) I got half an hour's jog warm up under my belt before getting lined up for the start. There were about 150 in the long course event and a smaller number in the 1-5-1 event for youth/novices, who went off four minutes early, both waves of starters sharing the course for a number of laps.

I went off fastish (or so it felt) in the run, which was hilly and felt like a very long mile. I came through the first lap in about 7.06, well warmed up now, but stayed at that pace for the second so as not to burn out too soon. The loop ran on broad, undulating woodland trails, mostly firm underfoot, the kind you could drive around on if you had a four-wheel drive. There were a few sharp bends and it was well signed. After the second lap we ran through into the transition area, where it all went very smoothly - helmet on before moving the bike, as per the rules, then running with the bike to the exit where a marshall reminded everyone not to get on the bikes until we had run over the mount/dismount line.

The bike loop began with a short section across a soggy field, which went well with the skinnier tyres I had put on after struggling in the cyclocross before Christmas while riding on big balloon tyres. Next an awkward few yards of frozen, rutted mud at a gateway and we were on a road of sorts for a few minutes. So far so good. Then we took a sharp bend and headed downhill through a field - the ground was rutted and churned up by hooves, then it had frozen solid, and my with my front wheel (no suspension) judderring up and down on the dodgy ground it felt less like handling a bike, more like trying to operate a pneumatic drill. And so it went on along the straight section at the bottom of the hill, before a steady climb up a narrow path finished the loop back at transition.

There were four laps, each one with the first section feeling easy and the bumpy bit a struggle. Faster cyclists were passing me frequently, calling "on your left" or "right, right, right" as they came up on my shoulder so I would know which side to let them pass. I soon got the hang of it and passed a good few myself. With so many laps, it was hard to know if I was near the front or the back, but by the fourth lap I could see more riders off their bikes, recovering from falls or dealing with mechanical hassle, than were actually still in the saddle. I had a fall myself, when a rider wobbled a bit as he passed me and my reaction made me overbalance, but I was straight back on and juddering along through the rutted ground as the sun began to melt the frost and make it even more tricky. Cheery marshals encouraged everyone, especially at the top of the hill.

After lap 4 it was back into transition and then my first experience of the infamous du/tri phenomenon of "running off the bike". It was just like they warned me - leaden legs would hardly move, and even shortening my stride didn't seem to help much - I couldn't quicken up my cadence at all. I was doing about eight minute pace, but even that was enough to carry me past half a dozen or so on those two laps of what must have been the same course as before, but now seemed much hillier! I finished feeling spent but feeling great! 27th place. Quite chuffed with that. It was another chance to compete in the Sri Chinmoy CT kit, which felt really special. We may be few in numberr, but we're taking part in sport because of a great ideal that we all share. Who knows, we may be a bigger team one day (after all, the running side of our club, Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, is numbered in the thousands).

Ed has also written this race up at Sri Chinmoy Races.

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