Castle Combe Summer Duathlon

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I took part in the final Sprint Duathlon of the summer series at Castle Combe this week. After the frustration of getting a stitch during Run 2 of my previous duathlon, I was hoping to have a trouble-free race. I suppose it ought to be obvious, but duathlons always seem to present far more challenges than racing a bike. The simplicity of riding a bike falls to pieces when you try and bookend it with a couple of runs at full tilt. During most duathlons I spend the first run looking forward to being on my bike, and the second run questioning why I put myself through such pain.

I was held up by traffic en route to the race so didn’t have much time for a warm up. I’d been hoping to do a couple of laps on the bike as well as practicing mounting and dismounting, but in the end I had to make do with sprinting from my car to the toilet blocks. I was grateful that I hadn’t ended up adding ‘DNF due to traffic’ to my list of duathlon disasters.

Once again, my tactics were to keep calm and run a conservatively paced race. Despite the name of the event, anything lasting upwards of 45 minutes is definitely not a “sprint” and should be treated as an endurance race.

The first run went smoothly. I ran on feel, only taking a couple of glances at my watch in the final kilometre to see my pace and heart rate, more out of interest than for pace setting. I worked out that I was in 10th place coming into the first transition. I’d received quite a lot of triathlon kit after my work for 220 Triathlon magazine so I decided to test some of it during this race. I know the advice is not to do something new during a race, but I don’t tend to go out for training rides in full aero kit and practice jumping on and off my bike. Maybe I should. Anyway, I thought a low-key, local race was a good place to try out the kit.

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The Catlike Triathlon Helmet was the first helmet I’ve worn with a tail. From the photos it looks like it could have been a bit higher on my head to tuck more snugly into my back. Or possibly my head could have been lower. Mine came second-hand, without a visor so I did Run 1 wearing sunglasses, hoping to slip the helmet over the top. During T1 the sunglasses sprung off my face and across the tarmac! Suddenly that advice seemed sensible. The other issue with a tailed helmet is that they don’t perform well aerodynamically if you look down. For the first lap of the bike my neck felt a bit stiff but I forced myself to keep my face up. Luckily the pain subsided, or more likely moved somewhere else like my legs or lungs. It’s a bit like poking yourself in the eye to stop yourself thinking about a stomach ache. It kind of works.

The Huub Tri Suit was a medium size but it rode up on my legs and resulted in a bit of inside-thigh chafing. The padding was also very thin so wasn’t particularly comfortable. There wasn’t a rear pocket which stressed me out a little bit when getting ready, but then I found a clever little key pocket in one of the arms to keep my car key safe.

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I came into T2 in 5th place, and afterwards saw that I was 3rd fastest on the bike during the race. The first few hundred metres of the run were awful. I thought I had paced things well, but I had an overwhelming desire to turn around and give up. Everything hurt. I slowed the pace a touch and forced myself to keep going. Luckily the pain released its grip on me and I found a steady rhythm. I was overtaken by a few competitors to finish the evening in 9th place and set a PB by 35 seconds. I was reasonably happy about the time and position, but mostly just pleased with my resolve to keep going when every part of my body wanted to stop. Will power.

The duathlon love-hate relationship goes on…

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Don’t give up your day job

I managed to pick up some fairly random work recently, doing a photo shoot with 220Triathlon mag. I’m only really a triathlete in the sense that I seem to have tried a lot of different careers over the last few years. At least 3 serious ones anyway. But this latest career-path tangent was never on the agenda. It was good fun, cycling around Bristol on some pretty flashy bikes and I ended up with some new kit as a thank you for my time too. But from a financial point of view, if I want to keep up cycling as a hobby I’d be wise to stick to engineering! The article is in September’s issue of the magazine.

The duathlon learning curve

I raced the DB Max sprint duathlon at Castle Combe this week. My goal was to be conservative and try to pace it sensibly – easier said than done once you’ve pinned on a number and are surrounded by competitors. As the adrenaline starts pumping it’s difficult to avoid going out too hard and paying for it later. There are no prizes given for the person who suffers the most.

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I set myself a target pace of 3:50/km for the first 3km run, but still found myself running on ‘feel’ rather than pace. This is a risky tactic –  what can feel ok for 5 minutes, probably isn’t for 45 minutes. I eased off for the second and third kilometres, not losing any places. I came into the T1 in about 10th place, 30 seconds up on target pace but still feeling good.

My transition was tidy without being particularly quick. I hadn’t practiced transitions since my last race so just did it all calmly and without rushing. Similarly to the run, on the bike I had a target but ended up going slightly harder based on feel. I averaged 285 watts, but with progressively quicker lap times.

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The ride is 5 laps and 15km. The final few laps were quite busy on the track once all of the 100+ riders were out there. But nothing could really detract from the enjoyment of whooshing around on traffic-free, smooth tarmac. I could tell I’d gained a few places and hadn’t been overtaken so arrived into T2 feeling like things were going well. As I exited transition I looked down at my watch and saw that I was well on for a PB.

Unfortunately, I had a stitch about halfway into the final run. I felt the burn in my side so slowed down and tried to push on, but the pain kept on increasing. Before I had consciously made the decision to stop, I was horrified to feel myself come to a halt. It was a strange, involuntary feeling. I stretched it out and was overtaken by a couple of runners. I started running again and made it 100 metres before being forced to stop again. I thought about quitting but was on the wrong side of the circuit at least a kilometre to the finish line so ‘quitting’ would still basically mean carrying on and finishing. I stretched a bit more. Was overtaken again, this time at least appreciating the camaraderie of someone asking if I was ok. After what felt like 10 minutes, but was probably more like 30 seconds I started running again. The pain had mostly gone so I took it steady.

In the end I finished 10th, set a PB and learned a good lesson in pacing. Whether the stitch was from eating a bit too close to the start or from pushing it too hard on the final lap of the bike, I’m not sure. I’ll just try to pay better attention to both in the next race – fortunately there’s a final Castle Combe duathlon of the season in a few weeks time where hopefully things will go smoother.

First podium

I scored my first time-trial podium finish last week. Although the use of ‘podium’ makes it sound a bit more glamorous than it actually was – more like having a quick scan of times on a clipboard and heading home thinking you’ve done ok. Then looking at the results on the club website the next afternoon and realising you’d somehow ended up in 2nd place. I actually started reading the results from the bottom up (old habits die hard). By the time I’d got to the top 5 I thought my time was missing!

One of my goals for this season – my second year of racing TT’s on a proper TT bike was to try and get around Bristol South’s Chew Lake course in under 20 minutes. Over the rolling course of 8.3 miles this requires an average speed of 25mph / 40km/h. My PB from last year was 20:40 so I’d hoped it would be achievable. I trained quite hard through the winter, trying to use the TT bike on the turbo trainer at least once a week to get used to riding in a more aerodynamic position. It got to the point that I was sick of threshold riding on a TT bike before the season had actually begun. My first race around the lake in April resulted in a personal best of 20:14, tantalisingly close. I got a bit held up behind traffic too, so was convinced that the sub-20 was just around the corner. My next race in May resulted in 20:18, despite putting out a bit more power (325 watts vs 320 watts) and feeling like I’d ridden harder too. Going hard doesn’t seem to equal going fast.

Last week was the annual 25 mile TT around the lake – 3 laps rather than 1. I’d never raced a 25 before so had no idea how it would go. All of my duathlon races are of a one-hour duration and I’ve run quite a few 10K’s too at around 40 minutes, so felt confident about managing my effort for the distance. I decided to aim for around 290 watts but mostly just ride on feel. I’d also read some 10K running advice which was to run the first two-thirds with your head and the final third with your heart. I decided to apply this logic to a 3 lap cycling race.

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Last few moments of shade before heading out to race

Despite the 7pm start, the conditions were baking hot. There didn’t feel like much of a need to warm up, more of a need to keep hydrated and out of the sun. My concessions to the conditions were to replace the visor on my helmet with sunglasses for better ventilation, and to ride with a bottle on the bike. I was the 9th rider off and immediately tried to rein it in, asking myself the same question that I would repeat for the next hour: “Can I maintain this for another x minutes?”

It wasn’t really until halfway through the second lap that the first proper challenge presented itself. Everything was going well, I felt comfortable and was going quicker than expected when I caught my minute man. I’d overtaken a few other riders but I’d expected my minute man to be faster than me so wasn’t expecting to catch him. About a mile after overtaking I glanced behind and saw he was close behind. Not close enough to be gaining any kind of slipstream advantage, just close enough to rattle me and make me think I’d slowed down. It got to me and I tried to increase my effort. I can’t be the only person who suffers from this – despite it being a race against the clock, and a race against yourself it’s very difficult to not be influenced by overtaking or being overtaken. My heart rate began to rise and I started to feel the effort. I started to feel differently about the “can I continue this” question. I eased off and told myself not to look back.

A few miles later I looked over my shoulder as I came out around a parked car and saw empty roads behind. I felt relief.

I felt fine coming through to complete the second lap, like I could have kept riding all night. It was a great feeling. It’s a rolling course with a couple of rises that take about a minute to crest. I stayed in the saddle on these but came out of the aero position and onto the handlebars for on each lap so that I could stretch my back and neck, but more importantly to take a big glug of water.

Halfway through the final lap I was starting to suffer from pins and needles in my left hand and arm, but more painful was a tightness in my neck on the left side. It became a real mental challenge to keep going hard and I tried to just focus on my legs and relax the rest of my body. Knowing that I only had 10 more minutes made it manageable and I pushed on.

I crossed the line in a time of 1.01.26 with lap splits of 20:15, 20:32 & 20:39, the consistent pacing giving me great satisfaction. The time of the first lap also gave me lots of confidence that a sub-20 really should be achievable having got within 15 seconds on the first lap. Either that or I only have one race pace and I should just stick to 25’s!

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Finish line wreck 

I felt completely trashed at the finish line. After hanging around and receiving some much appreciated praise, I felt my body beginning to seize up so I clambered awkwardly onto my bike for the short 5 mile ride home. It required a huge effort and I contemplated phoning my wife to come and pick me up, unsure if I was going to make it. It was fairly pathetic and probably harder than the race itself!

Results (top 5):

Pos: Name: Club: Lap 1: Lap 2: Lap 3: Actual Time:
1 Nick Livermore Bristol South C.C. 0.18.35 0.18.59 0.19.43 0.57.17
2 Mark Jerzak Chew Valley C.C. 0.20.15 0.20.32 0.20.39 1.01.26
3 Daniel Burbridge Bristol South C.C. 0.19.45 0.20.19 0.21.24 1.01.28
4 Nicholas Creed Somer Valley C.C. 0.20.54 0.21.04 0.21.25 1.03.23
5 Dan Hopes Rapha CC 0.21.41 0.21.58 0.22.01 1.05.40

I’ll be back this week for the one lap version and another crack at sub-20. Surely it’s within grasp …

Burnham-on-Sea Parkrun

I decided I needed some 5K race practice to develop my running at the distance and to benchmark my current race pace. So I headed to Burnham-on-Sea for their weekly Parkrun – a free 5km timed run. There was a huge turnout – probably a combination of the fine weather and a flat course.

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I was aiming to try and beat 18:30 – 6 minutes per mile pace (3:42 per km). I took my place on the front line for the start, expecting to be running near the pointy-end of the field but was immediately surprised by the pace from the gun. The first rule of Parkrun is to sprint the first 100 metres! It was do-or-die in order to keep ahead on the narrow footpath.

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100 metre dash … 

My pace for the first km was 3:36 which felt too quick so I eased off a touch. For the next 3km I settled into a manageable pace of 3:43/km. I’d worked my way up to 5th place by this point.

The final km was tough. I began to feel like I was overheating, from a combination of the sun and my thumping heart. I took a few glances over my shoulder and saw 6th place close behind so dug deep and kept going. Crossing the line was a huge relief, combined with the immense satisfaction of clocking 18:28 (5:57 per mile / 3:42 per km). And keeping my position – nothing stings like being beaten on the line.

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Finish line pain face

After the disappointment of last weekend’s duathlon I decided that when things go well, I need to enjoy the satisfaction of a success. The failures hurt, so the successes need to be celebrated.

Big thank you to all the organisers of the event, if I do a few more then I will make sure to volunteer one week. Parkrun only happens as a result of people volunteering.

Darley Moor Sprint Duathlon 2018

Failure is apparently the seed of growth and success. It’s also bloody frustrating … especially when it’s caused by your own mistakes. I committed the mother of all cock ups at this weekend’s Darley Moor Sprint Duathlon and accidentally went around for an extra lap on the bike leg. I’d been in quite a good position in the race, but immediately lost a lot of places. I dug deep and carried on to finish the race, but it ended up being a hugely disappointing result.

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I’ve been doing a lot of racing this year. A mixture of cycling time trials, running races and Sprint Duathlons. They are all relatively similar, sustained threshold events. The difference with the duathlon is that there’s a lot more to think about than just running or riding as hard as you can.

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I wasn’t quite able to hang onto the front group for the first 5K run. It was a windy day so  it would have been useful to hang in the pack, but my brain started sending some pretty negative messages so I dropped the pace and let them go. With cycling, when I’m pushing harder than I can sustain, I tend to feel the lactic burn in my legs or a shortness of breath. But with running, my brain just starts yelling at me to stop. I’ve read stuff by other people saying that the key to success is pushing harder than you thought possible. But surely this is all relative? How do they know how hard I’m already pushing? Maybe I’m already pushing my body harden then they could ever achieve. Personally I think it’s more about pacing yourself for the length of the event and not pushing yourself into the red. And trying not to think too hard about all of this mid-race!

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Most of my training is done solo. And most of my cycling races are also solo – with time trials, each rider sets off at 1 minute intervals and rides alone. So I found it a mental challenge to block out the panting, gasping and heavy-footed crunching behind me as I led the second group around the gravelly 5K running route.

I completed a relatively smooth transition and then set about overtaking people on the bike. The 20K ride was 8 laps of Darley Moor race track. Unfortunately my bike computer was playing up – I left it running on Auto-Pause when I dropped my bike into transition pre-race to avoid any mid-race button pushing. As a result it failed to pick up my heart-rate monitor and power meter, but most unusually it failed to record the full distance of the course. I should have relied on my ability to count to 8, but I got a bit confused and decided to go around for another lap as the distance on the bike computer was short. As soon as I saw a few bikes in transition I realised I had made a mistake but there was no turning back, so I continued on for another soul-destroying lap.

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After another clean transition I headed out for the run. I’d lost about 25 places and seriously thought about just stopping. But somehow a ‘DNF’ seemed worse than a poor position so I kept going. I overtook a few runners and finally caught up another as I approached the finish. However, his family were all there shouting encouragement for their Dad to finish. Rather than ruining somebody else’s day I decided to abstain from the battle for 31st place and showed mercy by allowing a distance of a few metres between us. It made me feel slightly better.

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The look of pure disappointment on the finish line

There were some real positives from the race. It was probably the biggest duathlon race I’ve been in and, until the mistake I was in the race. I was one of the fastest on the bike leg and my running is reaching a competitive level. My transitions were smooth and I felt like I paced it well. These are the things I need to take forward for the next block of training. On to the next one…

Bournemouth Bay 10K Run 2018

Running has been making a resurgence in my life lately. I tend to pick up the running during the Winter when the prospect of riding on cold, wet and slippery roads can seem less appealing. But this year I have experienced a renewed enjoyment of running as my fitness has improved.

Before I became an enlightened cyclist, I ran for exercise. Nothing too serious, just a series of 10K’s, half marathons and a marathon during my 20’s. My 10K PB was 40:12 – missing out on a sub-40 minute by 12 seconds had been hugely disappointing and always felt like unfinished business. However, a series of knee injuries and then the passing of time had made that goal seem out of reach to someone rapidly approaching 40. Until last year when I surprised myself by running 41 minutes on a hilly 10K. I decided to reignite the sub-40 10K goal.

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This weekend I ran the Bournemouth Bay 10K. It was a bit of a family running festival with a total of 6 of us taking part in either the 10K, 5K or Junior 1K, the latter being my four year old daughter’s first ever race. We were all told in no uncertain terms that “it’s not a race, it’s a fun run”, presumably unless she won. The competitive streak is strong with this one. She ended up sprinting the first 100 metres, trying to match the older children before stopping, crying, hobbling, hopping, having a meltdown, refusing to continue and eventually crossing the finish line on my wife’s shoulders. All fairly standard four year old behaviour.

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Real super-heros don’t wear capes – they carry toddlers

There was a field of 1000 people running the 10K. I arrived a bit late at the start line and ended up about 10 rows back so had a bit of a slow start as I weaved my way forward. I usually set off too fast in races so this probably prevented me from repeating my daughter’s race tactics. It was a flat 5K along the beach front, before climbing 35 metres up the “zig-zags” pathway to the cliff tops and then along the roads above the cliff before heading back down to the beach front for a 2km return to the start line. I settled in with a group of 3 at a pace that felt right. Due to my start position I had no idea how many people were ahead of me, and no particular interest either. I was focussed on keeping my pace below 4 minutes per km. I hit the 2km marker on 7:30 and despite feeling ok, decided to rein it in slightly – 3:45/km was faster than I needed to run and potentially risked blowing up. I let my group go and ran solo.

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Puffin on the beach

I reached the zig-zags and the 5km marker at a time of 19:15 (3:50/km pace). I’d caught a runner from a local club so decided to use their local knowledge and pace up the climb. It felt a little slow but I was unsure how long the climb would last so stayed cautious and stuck at the pace. Near the top I overtook. I came past another couple of runners along the cliff top road.  By this point I knew that I would easily beat 40 minutes and started thinking about beating 39. The downhill section was a gift – a long and easy descent on wide, closed roads. It felt like I was free-falling, my main concern was slipping on the wet tarmac or running too hard and hurting my knees. For the final 2km I raised the pace, hunting down the sub-39 time. This was the first and only time that I looked behind during the race and was relieved to see a long gap to the following runner, removing the unpleasant chance of being overtaken just before the line. With a hundred metres to go I heard the encouraging shouts of my family and saw the finish line clock which confirmed that I had the sub-39 in the bag.

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Finishing time – 38:53

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In another couple of years the veterans podium could be calling …

The final race of the day was the 5K, featuring my Dad and brothers. My Dad’s original idea was for all of us to do the 10K, but in the end he decided that the shorter distance would ensure that they’d beat my time. It seemed like a slightly unfair handicap, and despite my time being a bit quicker than they were all expecting, I had to concede this particular race to them!

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Victorious in their quest to beat 38:53 in the 5K