Saturday 14th September. Location Richmond Park, South West London. My old stomping ground, having grown up just shy of 300m from the park gate entrance. It was a natural and fitting setting (as far as I am concerned) for my first attempt at a Duathlon.
Having spent the last 3 years cycling, and cycling lots, I decided that 2014 would be the year I challenged myself with something altogether new. Sure, cycling was involved, but with this Duathlon I was introducing running. Something I hadn’t done for well over 25 years. So I have spent the last 9 months running, or trying to run, and in many ways I have enjoyed it. Not sure why as I used to hate running, but I suppose there is that intimate isolation that you also get with cycling, and the ability to just lose yourself in your thoughts.
I suppose the biggest challenge with the training has been injury. Because cycling is very much low impact sport I haven’t suffered nearly as much over the last 3 years as I have in the last 9 months with the running. Most depressingly, every time I felt my calf was strong again, it would go, and I would need to rest it for another week, and then go round in that circle again. Sure, I guess I could have rested it for 2 or 3 weeks, but I am not convinced that it wouldn’t go again. So I invested in compression socks, and despite their apparent look, they did help enormously and help me complete the challenge.
The day itself was pretty ideal. Slightly overcast with bits of sunshine, no rain, a welcoming crowd and a well organised event. I arrived in plenty of time with Louise and the kids, which was a good thing as I forgot my timing chip in the car and had to dash back and get it. Nothing like a nice warm up!
It was also nice that there was an apparent mix of abilities, ages and competitiveness, but what was apparent was that EVERYONE was focused and up for the challenge.
The had entered the Classic race which was by far the most popular event of the day. 10k run, followed by 44k on the bike, and then 5k run. When you break it down it all seems quite manageable, but when you take into account you are doing one after the other, at your fastest pace possible, and with the undulations of Richmond park, well it certainly felt like a challenge.
The first 10k was actually lovely. I really enjoyed that part of the race. I was slightly fearful of the climb up to Richmond Hill but actually that passed without much pain and I soon (in my mind) found my way back to the finishing straight of the 1st leg after about 52 minutes. Not a PB but a 2nd best time for 10k which considering I was pacing myself seemed like a good effort. At about 9.8k the calf went. Not badly but I definitely felt it. I thought at the time that an hour and a half or so on the bike might give it time to recover a little so that at least I could get round the 5k.
The bike laps (11k each lap) was a definite decline. The first lap was fine and seeing my mother as I came out of the transition from the run, and then Louise and the kids on the other side of the road cheering me on, really fired me up and I probably went off a little too fast.
Second lap a bit slower but bearable. Seeing Louise and the kids again boosted me on the 3rd lap but Sawers Hill (the climb up to Isabella Plantation) went from being a touch short sharp shock to being a mental category HC climb to get over.
I was SO thankful the 4th time I got over it that I wouldn’t be climbing that again. I was carrying energy powered water but I had forgotten my energy bars. At the time I didn’t think too much about it but as I started the 5k run I realised how much I needed more liquid and some energy.
As I came through the transition area from the bike to start the final 5K leg I saw Louise. I think I muttered something about hell, but little was I to know that the pain had hardly started. I certainly found this transition the hardest and just couldn’t get my rhythm for the running, but was pleased to see some water stations very soon after starting, so took on as much energy drink and water as I could without over-doing it. However, the liquid doesn’t act immediately and as we climbed the hill towards the ballet school my right leg started to cramp. Not in 1 place. not in 2, but 3 places. That in conjunction with my calf muscle which was straining away, led to an extremely unpleasant leg (excuse the pun) as I climbed up towards the top of the hill. My face says it all.
As we got over the top of the hill we started the descent to the final half of the 5k and at this point it seemed that the liquid intake had started to work it’s magic and I started to feel stronger again. There were a few other strugglers at this point and we did our best to keep each other going.
I found my 5th wind for the final 2k and positively stormed home to a rapturous cheer from the crowd. (OK certainly hallucinating now).
My time was 3 Hours 13 Minutes and 22 Seconds. I was aiming for between 3 and 3 1/2 hours. This feels about right for my first attempt.
And so it was. I went from being a challenger to being a Duathlete. I got a very warm welcome from Louise and the kids and after taking on a banana and some other energy and liquid, I went to retrieve my bike and start my way home.
At this point I should probably say thank you and congratulations to the organisers for a brilliantly run event, the stewards (some of whom kept their energy levels up all through the event and were hilarious, The photographers who have taken some really good shots, and last, but not least all the other competitors. There was a great vibe to the whole event which really helped settle nerves and I am sure did a lot to help me through the day.
Also, personally thanks to my parent for their hospitality and support, and especially Louise, Molly and Harry for their unwavering support and patience through the event and the whole day. You all really spurred me on.
I hadn’t anticipated that the event would be so tough. To many an extent I completely underestimated it, but in another way I get a sense of pride for putting myself through it, and a warped sense of enjoyment. Would I do another one? You know I quite possibly would… I certainly don’t want to give up the running so we’ll have to see how I feel in a week or 2 about what kind of challenge I could face next. I haven’t swum much over the last 30 years…