I took part in a sprint duathlon race this weekend – a qualifier for the Age Group Great Britain team, with the opportunity to compete in Europe next season. This actually only became a personal target earlier this year after placing well in duathlons and wondering whether Age Group GB might be attainable. There are 3 qualifying races each year with the top 4 finishers in each age group qualifying. By the time I’d decided to try and qualify, the first race had already passed. I entered the second race in May and was in quite a good position before shooting myself in the foot and accidentally doing an extra lap on the bike. So all hope of qualifying for the 2019 team would be on this final race.
The race was held at Bedford Autodrome on Sunday. I’m not sure whether its proximity to London and the South East made this a more popular event than the previous ones, or possibly because it was the last chance for people to try and qualify. But there were hundreds of people taking part and 25 people in my age group so a top 4 finish seemed like a big challenge.
The weather on race day was horrendous. I arrived two hours before the start but was in danger of wasting all of this time sitting in my car and watching the rain hammering down on the windscreen. I normally warm up by doing a few laps on the bike. It’s less fatiguing on the legs than running and means you can familiarise yourself with the course. But in torrential conditions this seemed more likely to lead to hypothermia than serve as a warm up. I racked my bike in transition and tried to leave my shoes and helmet in such a way that would prevent them filling up with rain. There are lots of little kit decisions to make in multi-sport events, and having never raced in heavy rain before I had to just apply my experience of training in the rain. I ditched the visor from my helmet as it would steam up and reduce visibility. But it wasn’t until I was on the start line that I realised I’d forgotten to leave my cycling shoes unfastened … a few costly extra seconds during transition. The bad weather was very distracting to my pre-race prep.
I went for a 10 minute jog on the track in full winter clothing and then just milled around with everyone else waiting to start. I spoke to a couple of other competitors who both seemed far more nervous than me. One could hardly construct a coherent sentence! It’s a bit schadenfreude, but his nervousness actually made me feel more confident and settled. I was preparing myself for war so compartmentalised any feelings of guilt! With 10 minutes to go we were called out to the start line. I stripped off and made my way out, but immediately turned back once I felt the cold and the rain and realised I was going to freeze if I stood around for 10 minutes. I forced myself to wait until 5 minutes before the start time.
By the time I joined the starting group it was a heaving mass of bodies. There were two different length races starting at the same time and several hundred people in total. I tried edging my way forward but people were grumpy about making space so I decided to just leave the group, walk around the outside and then run off up the track to warm up. When I turned around and jogged back to the start line, the people on the front line obviously opened up to let me through and out of their way. Once the horn sounded there was a lot of jostling and I was pushed around the first corner. Not in an aggressive way, probably just by an experienced runner who knew how to protect his personal space in a tight pack. It was pretty exciting.
My pace for the first kilometre was 3:25 and quite a lot quicker than my target of 3:45/km so I eased off. My goals for the race were to pace it sensibly and avoid any big mistakes. Not to engage in warfare with other competitors, so I didn’t worry too much about how my pace affected my position. There was a long race ahead.
I completed the first 5km run in 18:03 (average pace of 3:39/km or 5:50/mile). My transition went fine considering the conditions and I headed out onto the wet track. The 20km bike leg was four laps with 9 corners each lap. With the need to slow down significantly on the slippery track it ended up being a series of short sprints rather than the usual consistent speed of a timetrial. And once the track had filled up with everyone it felt more like a chaotic road race than a timetrial. It was quite good fun, although there were a couple of hairy moments when I felt like I’d approached a corner a bit too quickly. Luckily I made it round without any incidents but I saw a few people overshooting corners and heard that unfortunately there’d been some crashes. I average 276 watts which felt good considering the amount of coasting through corners.
The final run of a Sprint Duathlon is only 2.5km and the time to empty the tank. My body hurt and my feet were completely soaked and frozen. It felt like having two slabs of meat attached to the bottom of my legs. They were not a part of my living body. In comparison to my competitors I am generally faster on the bike. Whilst this makes the bike leg quite enjoyable, it has the consequence of being overtaken on the final run. I just have to accept that the people overtaking me probably had a significant gap over me following the first run and I caught them on the bike. I lost about 3 or 4 places, but was pushing myself as fast as I could go. My average speed was 3:49/km or 6:09/mile which is quicker than I normally manage for the final run. Once I reached the home straight I took my first look over the shoulder and saw a healthy gap to the person behind. I also saw the clock was 59 minutes something so had the added satisfaction of beating the hour.
I congratulated a couple of competitors who I’d been racing against and printed out my results ticket. I said a quick prayer to the Duathlon gods and looked. 4th place in my Age Group! It was a great feeling to have hit my goal, and I immediately headed off to get some dry clothing on. My whole body was shaking, probably from a mix of adrenaline and the cold. I drove the whole 3 hours back to Bristol wearing a hat and coat with the heaters on full blast! And stopped twice for the best-tasting, worst-food! Never before has a Burger King tasted so amazing!
I have to wait for official confirmation from British Triathlon that I’ve qualified for the team and then hopefully there will be instructions on what happens next. Team GB kit with my name on it and a big race in Romania next summer beckons. What a great way to end the season.