The culmination of my ‘mini-season’: the Clumber Park Standard Duathlon. An event with several goals, after tentatively entering in the first days of 2016. It was ‘tentative’ because I’d had 3 months off of running due to a stress fracture in my femur. The femur had healed by this point, but I was so far from peak running fitness I was pretty much back at basecamp. (Which, granted, if we’re talking about Everest Basecamp, is actually not particularly low-lying. It just took me a while to realise I wasn’t starting from scratch with zero running fitness, but just slightly set back). As I gained confidence (AKA fitness) my race goals evolved; at first I just wanted to beat last year's bike split, but eventually, after a solid couple of months of training and some promising recent race results, I realised that beating last year’s overall time was something I should aim for. Another goal was then to ‘podium’ in my age category, and hence qualify for World/European age-group championships - however qualifying wasn’t an absolute goal, just a by-product (still, yes I did ‘register my interest’ - might as well). Last year at this event I was 2nd AG but am away for the champs. By the nature of this race being so marked on the British Triathlon calendar, a strong field was expected!
So, there’s the beginning, here’s the middle. With no support crew in tow (my siblings apparently have other important events that my parents need to attend), I arrived at Clumber Park bright eyed, at the ripe hour of 7am, a perk of living just down the road. After registration, racking, warming up and a few sniffs of a menthol-soaked tissue in a feeble attempt to curb the cold that had descended on me especially for this race, it was my wave’s turn to toe the start line. Off went the start horn, and a mass of eager-to-qualify ladies shot off for two undulating out-and-back laps on the beautiful roads of Clumber. The calibre of racing was evidently fairly high, and as always it was hard not to be swept along with an unsustainable pace. I settled into a rhythm that was just on the uncomfortable side of sustainable, but then remembered I needed to get on a bike fairly soon, so eased off a tad for the latter half of the 10km. I came into T1 in about 15th position, in 42:30, and over a minute faster than last year.
An uneventful transition and out onto the bike; the best part! I was excited to ride my shiny new Cervelo P2, having tested it on the course a week ago (another perk of living close by). I knew where on the rolling route I should be particularly careful, where I should be in certain gears (not ashamed of the little ring), and where I could afford to burn a match. This was all well and good, but with the new drafting rule of 10m clearance, harder to judge than the previous 7m, I was even more conscious about my proximity to the rider in front. This meant, at times, that I daren’t push as hard as I wanted to, in fear of not being able to overtake and staying within the drafting zone for too long. The course was pretty busy with sprint and standard riders, and I didn’t want to take any chances. In retrospect, this isn’t a huge set-back - it’s the same rule for everyone! A fair few competitors got penalties or even DQs for drafting though, so the extra 3m is something we’ll quickly have to get used to.
Another blip in what I’d hoped would be a very smooth bike leg, happened 5km in, with my inability to remove my bottle from it’s cage without it flying across the road to be crushed by oncoming traffic. Having not had a single sip this wasn’t ideal, but for the next 35km I diverted my attention to (legally) overtaking as many people as possible. Surprisingly, for someone riding a TT bike alongside others on road bikes, most of these overtakes took place on ascents; I think riding a 45cm frame with 650c wheels gives me more than just better aerodynamics - smaller bike = less weight, too!
Feeling only slightly parched, after an hour and 9 on the bike, I came into T2. I knew I’d made up a few places on the bike, but didn’t keep exact count and couldn’t quite work out how many were in my category. So I was excited to hear “3rd lady” as I set out onto the 5km run. Soon after this though, the muscles in my legs began to seize, a feeling I’ve had once before when I’ve been quite badly dehydrated. I’m not naive enough to think this was down to the lack of water consumption over the last hour, that was probably just coincidental. As Blair pointed out afterwards, nutrition and hydration is a 24/7 thing! But my cramping legs managed a disproportionate 22:20 (the only part that was slower than last year’s), whilst I watched 3 ladies pass me seemingly effortlessly and run into the distance, leaving me in 6th overall female.
Thankfully, the speedsters that passed were NOT in my age category. I managed a 1st F 20-24.
Thankfully, my improved 1st run and bike split were enough to better last years total time by 3 minutes, despite a disappointing 2nd run (especially after feeling so good in practice).
The end? A positive net result, with a few lesson-teaching dips along the way. I know that PRACTICE is key; practising with race equipment, even down to a new bottle… And the practice of adequate hydration! The rather large crate of Erdinger Alkoholfrei I won as a prize should help with that!
My mini-season is over, due to travelling Southeast Asia for a bit before getting back to it, hopefully for a second wind late-season. I’ll probably assess how much fitness I lose to Thailand before deciding whether the world champs in June are a good idea… The past few months of training have been a blast, now for an "(extremely) extended rest" and repeat!
bike photo: I haven’t yet redeemed my bike-fit prize from Rother Valley duathlon, as you can see from exhibit A
run photo: Hurting quite a lot
prize photo: Worth it for the Erdinger