My week up to the London Duathlon looked like this:
5% soreen banana loaf
13% praying my bike wouldn’t fall apart
50% new cycling jersey power
31% checking weather websites obsessively
You are right in understanding that equals more than 100%, which was a good thing because completing the Duathlon classic challenge took way more than 100% of my normal effort. I love the idea of challenging myself and that’s basically why I run so many races and have this blog in the first place. I’m a big fan of Cake of Good Hope’s mantra, “every step forward gets you closer to the finish line.” and even the infamous Just Do It is as simple as advice gets in my head. Just do it and then it will be done. No need to mess around – just keep going and you will complete your challenge.
As Sunday rolled around I was ready for the challenge but scared out of my mind thinking about the 4 or so hours it would take to complete it. My past month has been heavy on the races (2 half marathons and a speedy 10k) and light on the BRICK training as I prioritized rest and recovery over training. I’m not one to go into an event under trained or injured and agree with Laura that there’s no honour in not respecting the race distance. I was ready to take on the Duathlon to the best of my capabilities.
After organising all my gear and putting a hundred stickers on my bike, helmet, and body I made my through the empty streets London and caught the train to Barnes for a quick cycle to Richmond Park. On arrival I could tell the set up for the event was top notch. A well laid out course, a bridge over the road for spectators to enter/exit the race area and not disrupt the course (big plus) and a big transition area with space to spread out without some d-bag smushing your banana loaf with his aero helmet.
I set up my transition area and chatted with the lovely man beside me who was “dropping down” to the Classic distance after doing the Ultra last year. He said 7 laps on the bike was too crazy, and even 4 is tough (gulp). He gave me some fuelling tips that I ended up using in the race, and took a photo of me with my bike, “just in case you’re covered in snot at the end” (his exact words). After that it was a quick hello to some of my friends also there doing the other Duathlon distances, and then time to get in the start area for my wave.
The earlier you start the earlier you’re done is my rule for long runs, so I went in as close to the first wave of starters as possible. Me and a few hundred men in trisuits got nice and cozy as every 45 seconds 20 people were off to start their Duathlon. The volunteers at the start were great and gave us a great summary of the rules and a final reminder of directions and then sent us off with a quick high five.
The first lap was a 10k run around the park. I need to run more in Richmond Park because it was so so so nice. I was conscious of the rest of the event ahead, but wanted to focus on being present in the moment. I tried to run slow and conserve some energy, but after the first big hill the route was mostly downhill and I couldn’t help but chick most of the guys trotting along at a 6:00 min/km pace. At one point a nice man beside me pointed out the really cool St. Paul’s sight line through Richmond Park, there were loads of deer to watch and most of the marshalls were really nice and encouraging. I really enjoyed the first run and came into the transition slightly less terrified about the upcoming bike laps.
The bike laps have been the source of my Duathlon fear since April. Richmond Park is not flat, and no matter how easy 44k cycling sounds, it’s not. Emma and I did a few training rides in the park and found that although we had varying degrees of bronchitis and hangovers, they were really tough training laps. Then there is Broomfield Hill. For any normal person out for a cycle, this is a tough technical hill. It’s preceded by a kilometre of windy false flat that takes a lot out of you and gives you no momentum to start the climb. It’s steep, really steep, and long(ish). It’s definitely not a blink and get through it pain, it’s a few minutes of very heavy breathing with burning thigh pain. All of this x4. All I kept thinking as I approached the hill on my first lap was I had to get up that hill 4 times to complete the cycle portion of the Duathlon. As I was fixated on the hill I forgot about my gears, and I ended up in a medium gear at the base of the hill, but still riding my 10k high I powered through it and treated it like one of the Cyclebeat hill sprints we did earlier in the week. I stood up and made it to the top of the hill lungs burning, but still with forward momentum. Phewf. The rest of the undulating hills on the lap weren’t so bad and before I knew it I was on the long descent back to Roehampton gate ready to take it all on again. On the second lap I made it up THE HILL while in the lowest gear my bike can go and surprisingly did not have to walk, I didn’t want to have to walk any of the route but was guardedly ready to do so if need be.
After 2 laps I was still in a good mood (especially when the lovely Polly zoomed passed me and said HI!) and realized that the Sprint distance would have been a lovely Duathlon to do and I could have finished it with a smile on my face. Still facing 2 more bike laps and a 5k run though – I was not happy. I knew that now that I had started the Classic distance I should finish it, but also understood it was going to be a huge mental challenge to keep going. On the 3rd lap I yelled to Alex as I cycled past, “1 more lap hope I don’t dieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” which tells you a lot about my race strategy at this point. On this lap I also spilled orange baby food all down my leg in an attempt to be a cool cyclist and eat while still moving (leave it to the aero helmeted professionals next time Laura). On the fourth lap I made it up THE HILL one last time on purely the vision of never having to cycle up it again, ever. The last lap was uneventfully spent in the lowest gear with few stomach craps that made me wish I had some plain water on my bike instead of 2 waterbottles of nuun.
44kms of cycling done I was elated to turn into the transition area and forgot my crampy stomach and wind numb toes and gracefully dismounted my bike (not falling over onto a gate. No way). I tried to do the quick jog into transition with my bike (to look cool if nothing else) but my feet were not cooperating so I walked over to my area, racked my bike and took a deep breath. I decided at this point the most important thing to do in transition was to fix my hair. The plait I had done earlier was a right mess and in no way could I run 5k with it in my face. This was easier to fix than my legs and feet which were also not fit to run 5k, but there is no quick top-knot that could fix those.
I jogged out of transition on to the course with a lovely man named Allen who had what sounded like 100 people cheering for him. I asked him if I could borrow some of those cheers and he allowed me to bask in the glow of GO ALLEN GO! My legs felt like they were flying in all directions but straight and that I was running on peg legs rather than fully functioning human feet. I saw Alex in the first km of the route and had to ask him if my legs looked wonky as I couldn’t tell myself. Alex walked beside me for a bit (tells you how fast I was going) and then let me go on my way up the (hopefully last) hill of the race. I was so happy to be done the dreaded bike course that the pain shooting down my left leg and knife in my knee didn’t stop me from chicking some more guys up the hill to the Ballet School (take that aero helmet cyclists, I can still run faster than you). There was no way I should have been physically running at that point. Everything hurt, I was tired, and possibly doing real damage on my IT band/knee. Pretty much every excuse was there to stop but that wouldn’t get me anywhere. If I stopped I wasn’t going to finish any faster, the pain wasn’t going to be over any sooner, so why not keep going?
I’ll save you a description of the rest of the run (hobble hobble ow ow) but the last 500m of the route was crammed with spectators who were so lovely and cheering all of us on. Turning into the finish line to know it was all done and those 3 hours and 22 minutes of hard work was behind me felt amazing. As a half marathon runner, I didn’t know how I’d perform above 2 hours of “doing stuff” and was surprised at how hard it was but at the same time that I could do it. I definitely need more training to approach a long distance event like this again (*ahem* a marathon) but those post-race endorphins are still buzzing and telling me to do another one… soon.
The Duathlon medal is awesome and a great achievement, but I was slightly disappointed that all medals are the same for any Duathlon distance. Even just having the lanyard say what distance you completed would be a nice touch and something that other races do often. We were given a standard goodybag of flyers, lucozade, a mars bar and water. Included was a Duathlon snood/buff which some people have complained about, but to be honest I get so many race tshirts something different is appreciated and I’m sure I’ll use it come winter.
Limelight Sports took over organising the Duathlon this year and all in all did a great job in my opinion. I found it a perfect introduction to mutlisport events, and breezed through the race without any organisational issues (which means they clearly did a lot behind the scenes). I’d love to hear what some of the pro-aero-helmet-speedy competitors have to say, but I found it all very welcoming to a first timer and my spectator/cheerleader was able to track me accurately and get around the course very easily to see me cross the finish line.
It wasn’t all love and rainbows though and I noticed one mildly annoying thing: That they were really doing a heavy sell for 2014 entries. I’ve never ever heard of someone signing up on the day for next year’s event, but they were pushing it hard. As they do not offer any refunds, transfers, or deferrals of places I would recommend not signing up for next year so early. My friend and I originally signed up for the Duathlon in April and she ended up having to undergo surgery for broken bone in August. Not only would they not let her defer or transfer her place for the sold out Classic distance, but on the same day they put up a Facebook post releasing 20 more registration spots. It all gave me the impression of a money-grab instead of an event for people to challenge themselves. That said it was a slick event and if that takes high registration numbers to pull off, then that’s the reality of events!
I’m currently on the second day of my mandatory time out post race. I’m not going to use the i -word but my glutes, IT band, and hamstrings have been conspiring against my knee for the past month and although my left knee was a superstar in the previous 3 races, it finally caved to the constant stabbing-knife-like-pressure during the Duathlon. I’ve been put on mandatory time-outs before (no exercise whatsoever and watching as much Come Dine with Me with my leg elevated as possible) and it usually solves the problem so I’m hoping things clear up before October 6th when I’m running up a mountain or two in the Redbull Steeplechase.
I paid my own registration for the London Duathlon and all opinions are my own.
The lovely cycling jersey everyone seems to want is from Lululemon and at the time of writing was only available in North America.