As much as I love my sport of running, there are times when it gets a little monotonous. This is especially true when you run marathons, where the cycle of “train long, race hard, recover, repeat” proceeds unabated through the seasons. I’ve long thought that variety is the key to keeping not only physically but also mentally fit to take on the challenges of long-distance racing; perhaps that’s why I cross-train so much and don’t hit anything close to the mileage numbers that the Pfitzingers and Higdons of the world recommend. It seems that when race day comes I am just as ready as those who follow such plans religiously. That’s not to criticize, just to say my approach is what works for me.
All of which has made me wonder from time to time, what if I actually tried racing in a manner similar to how I train? Until this year it was only a fleeting thought, but back in late February I had an inspiration of sorts, as I walked back to my car after a disappointing performance in a 10 mile race. Underneath my windshield was a postcard advertising an “Olympic Duathlon” for July. I glanced at the card for a few seconds and rendered no decision, other than to think about it some more. But a month later, as the weather warmed up and biking outdoors became more inviting, I noticed the fee was about to go up and that now would be a good time to jump in, if I was up to challenge. Of course, with the question framed in that manner, there was no way I wasn’t going to sign up.
In mid-May, once I had my spring races behind me, it was time to really focus on the duathlon. Whereas cycling before had really just been a means of supporting my running it was now something demanding equal if not greater time and attention. So I quickly went from 40-50 mile running weeks to 15-20 mile running weeks, with anywhere from 40-70 bike miles a week. As the weeks progressed my legs got used to the increased bike burden and to my surprise my running started to really take off as well after slogging through a lackluster spring season. In June I knocked out a 5k in 19:34 for my fastest one of the year so far. Clearly this training plan was working for me. The closer I got to race day, the sharper I could feel myself getting in both disciplines. When race day came I definitely felt ready.
This event was in rural Howard County, Maryland, not far from the scene of that flop of a 10 miler in February. It was only an hour or so away from my Virginia home, but with an early start and my newbie status in multisport racing, I decided to book a hotel room in Columbia the night before. It turned out to be a wise decision as I was able to relax, get a fairly decent night’s sleep and arrive at the site before the traffic with plenty of time to prepare my transition area and warm up. For a fairly big race, it was about the most stressless pre-race scenario I have had.
The format for the race was a 2-mile run, followed by a 26-mile ride, then capped off with a 4-mile run. Both of the runs took place in Western Regional Park over a loop course, while the bike ride did two times around on a 13-mile loop over hilly country roads. We started gathering in the corrals at 6:45 AM and at 7:00, after the anthem, the elites took off. My corral of 45-and-over men was next and off we went at precisely 7:05.
In preparing my race tactics beforehand it was obvious that the runs would be my strong suit and the ride was an area where I would be severely tested by more seasoned cyclists. So the temptation was strong to really fire off the line and be as close to the front as possible and “bank” some time or position. But in the final days leading up to the race, I reconsidered that idea and decided to conserve some energy in the hope of staying strong for the whole day. I watched others bolt out and down the first hill but largely bided my time at a tempo pace. I came through the 2 miles barely laboring – but still in good age group position. Time: 13:35.67 (#6 in age group). Transition 1 to bike: 2:02.07.
As I headed out on the bike course I started in a fairly low gear, and spent much of the first mile looking to get into a comfortable cadence while gradually adding more gears. Meanwhile we rocketed down some hills and whipped around some quick turns. Finally in about mile 4 the first big climbs came upon us. For the most part I had been getting passed by a lot of riders and was a bit disappointed by that, but I then noticed that many of them were not as strong on the hills as I was. So this commenced a jockeying of sorts that went on for the rest of this segment: me being passed on the descents or flats, then me catching the same riders on the climbs. The humidity really started to take hold on the second loop and temperature was also on the rise. I think I slowed down a little bit, but as we entered the park again to head back to transition I powered it up the final hill and passed a couple of those riders I had been battling for 26 miles. But I was also pretty hot by now; and I wondered how much I had left for the final run. Time: 1:26:30.77 (#13 in age group). Transition 2 to run: 2:03:53.
The second run did the same park loop as the first but in the opposite direction and twice. I jogged from the transition area to let my legs adjust back to running then tried to pick it up once I got onto the course. But my legs felt like jelly and it seemed I was barely shuffling along. However I was apparently doing much better than that, or others were suffering far worse than me. For the next four miles I passed one runner after another, including a few who had passed me on the bike and who I thought I would never see again. Throughout this segment I think only 2 runners passed me and they were both younger age-group runners. On the second loop it was not uncommon at all to see walkers but that just made me push harder. Just like in a marathon, I told myself “no stops!” As I got to the top of the final hill I knew I had my first multisport finisher’s medal all but in hand. As I finished I felt tired, soaked with sweat to the bone…and totally awesome. Time: 30:59.09 (#5 in age group). Finish time: 2:15:11.13 (#8 in 45-49 age group).
It was a great day, all told. While I had no formal time goal in mind, I did think 2:15 would be nice result if everything came together. So, I guess it all did come together nicely. 🙂 I’m glad I stepped up to this challenge and am also glad my wife Lynn was there to cheer me on and take some great photos for the blog. I also have put a shout out to the race organizers and volunteers, who were absolutely top-notch. As for the next multisport event, that will have to wait until 2013. Right now I have the Chicago Marathon to prepare for. But there will definitely be another such race, because this one was a blast!
And not to forget these details, which I see on just about every multisport report I have ever read:
Running shoes: Saucony Hattori
Bike: Litespeed Tuscany with Zipp wheels
Bike shoes: Specialized
Bike Helmet/gloves: Bell/Pearl Izumi
Apparel: Pearl Izumi sleeveless triathlon jersey, CW/X running tights, Point6 lightweight socks, Under Armour headband
Other equipment: yellow tinted shades, Timex Ironman 30-split watch