Welsh Duathlon Championship 2008 (Isca Duathlon, Caerleon)

After my last race at Draycote, I woke up feeling a bit viral, but thought it might be imaginary so I went ahead and rode 40 miles including the climb up to Storey Arms. Rather than burn the symptoms off, it brought them on more intensely and I went down with the mother of all colds for two whole weeks! Disappointing after getting progressively fitter and stronger for several months in a row - o well.

The Aspiring duathlete?

Still, Isca came around and I was feeling much better, though still not firing on all cylinders. Warming up on a dull, chilly morning at the Uni campus at Caerleon I was expecting just to get round and do it for the experience, learning the art of transition and all that. Still, once I lined up with my "wave" of ten duathletes (I was seeded just in the top half of the draw - everyone goes off in waves of ten, all of whom are expected to be of roughly similar standard) I felt much better. We all wished each other well at the start and had a briefing from referee "Little Tom", who made it clear that rules on drafting & numbers would be strictly enforced, then we were off into the misty morning for the first 4k run.

I stayed back for the downhill start, but then started to feel good as we turned out of the campus and up the hill into the streets behind the Uni. I slotted myself into third place (in my "wave") and hung on to the guys in front. The climbs were a bit challenging for a road course but I was feeling good and the whole thing seemed to pass without too much agony. I knew I had good base fitness, but no race miles in my legs apart from a 5 miler and some 2 milers - much shorter than the 1 hour 15 or so I had predicted for this event. Finding the route was easy though - well marshalled and reasonably signed - that was a relief after reading the race pack which seemed to imply it would be self-navigated! Having said that, the guy in front of me went wrong once but we noticed and called him back - he only lost a couple of seconds.

Coming in second to the end of the run I was ready for my first proper transition - changing shoes and everything - scary. It went kind of ok - I was slow getting the shoes on despite the stretch laces, as my fingers just didn't work properly after running hard for 4k - I was a bit uncoordinated. The shoes finally on, I got the helmet on easy enough and the bike out of the rack (though it seemed twice it's normal weight and hard to lift off the bar!) then it was time to run in my cycling shoes (awkward and slow - must get some tri-bike shoes) to the easily found mount/dismount line. Here instead of leaping onto the bike and clipping in to the pedals in a seamless display of dexterity and athletic prowess, I fumbled a bit, came almost to a standstill while I climbed on, and only got properly clipped in some 20 yards down the road. Luckily it was a downhill start, so at least I was rolling in the right direction, but I'll have to rehearse those transitions a lot more at proper race intensity so I learn to do it "knackered".

Now, the bike leg. Undulating? Yeah, right. Lots of rolling climbs saw me use just about every gear. After rolling downhill for a few hundred metres, marshalls were holding back the traffic and waving me on to the junction in Caerleon where we took a sharp turn and got on the road for Llangybi. Then it was the aforementioned rolling hills - I got on the tri bars when I could but much of my time was spent on the hoods, both for climbing and just for keeping my balance on the downhill bends. The 3rd placed guy whizzed past me, and that gave me something to aim at, so I gave chase while making sure not to draft. This proved easy, as he was well away from me within a minute, but I did see others cycling two or three abreast - isn't that drafting? Who cares, I was able to overtake without hanging on any wheels and keep myself in clear space.

The turnaround came after an eternity that was probably only eighteen minutes, then I began to plough back down the same route, seeing all the riders streaming towards me on their outbound leg. The wave start meant that faster riders were coming through fast, overtaking the stragglers from earlier waves, but there were only 90 odd in the race and it didn't ever look congested.

Toward the end of the bike leg my right calf cramped up - haven't had cramp in a race for years - must have been the ill-advised policy of racing hard after training only once in three weeks! Still, I was able to stretch while freewheeling downhill then pedal hard on the ups, just managing to stave off the cramp until I was going down again. I lost some time, obviously, and one cyclist shot past me like a whisper jet on a carbon disk wheel making me feel even slower. Poor chap pulled up shortly afterwards with a bust pedal - imaging having enough muscles in your legs to bust your pedals? Still, I offered a word or two of comiseration as I laboured past. At this point I was pretty much blowing up - it was 50 minutes or so and I was starting to crumble. I took a hi-5 gel, most of which ended up on my hands, and my stomach protested a bit, but I got to the end of the bike leg ok. Here the downhill start was obviously reversed to an uphill dismount, which again saw me grind almost to a halt, then I gathered myself enough to get running with the bike into transition. The ref called out "Tony will be looking down on you!", recognising my Sri Chinmoy vest. Turns out Little Tom was a good friend of Ongkar Tony Smith, founder of Run and Become and much-loved member of the Sri Chinmoy AC. Remembering my late friend Ongkar gave me a boost, as did the fact that the Sri Chinmoy top had been recognised and struck a chord with someone, and this helped lift my energy levels as I again fumbled my way through a shoe change.

I had to ask for directions as I started the run - I had lost my bearings completely! Still, spaced out and leaden-legged or not, I got a second wind and managed to overtake and not be overtaken on the tortuous final run. Running hills after cycling is - well - challenging. My final time of 1:12 and position of 30th overall were pretty satisfying. I think I can do this multisport thing! Bring on the triathlon :) And perhaps Ongkar really is looking down, in which case I hope he likes what he sees.


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