London Duathlon 2013

I have been working through my road riding history fairly chronologically but I feel I need to write about this while it’s all lovely and fresh in my mind.  I was very proud of myself on Sunday, although not as proud as my partner and my parents.  And my partner’s parents.  And a lot of my friends.  All in all I’m feeling very supported and it’s lovely, especially considering an awful lot of these people would have left me standing if they’d been alongside me yesterday.

This was my first cycling event or, more accurately, event involving cycling.  I entered the sprint distance duathlon which consists of 10km running, 22km cycling, 5km running.  Earlier this year I did my first ever 10km run (Croydon Race for Life) and, having come in at under an hour (the race clock registered 59:59 as I dashed under it, desperate to get the sub one hour time but, in reality, it must have had a few minutes on it when I passed the start line, being in with the joggers), I used this time to calculate my expectations:

  • 10km run – say 1 hour as, though I’m fitter, I don’t want to burn out too soon
  • 22km bike ride – say 1 hour as I will use this to recover from the run
  • 5km run – say 30 mins as I will be tired by that point

Total estimated time: 2:30 plus transitions (I had not the faintest idea how long the transitions would take me as I had never done one before, even in practice)

The first run:  I wanted to keep enough in the tank for the rest of the event so I started out very steadily.  We were let out of the gate in waves of 75 and my wave must have been pretty much in the middle, 6th or 7th out.  I started at the back of the wave and only dropped further back.  It wasn’t long before runners from the next wave were overtaking me.  I know I’m not a fast runner and that I was deliberately taking it easy but it’s still disheartening to be overtaken by so many people.  In the whole 10km I overtook five people but was overtaken countless times.  From my perspective, the run was long and it was hard but no longer or harder than I had anticipated.  Estimated time: 1:00:00.  Actual time: 1:03:36.  Speed: 9.43 km/h

Transition 1:  I had no idea what to expect here, having never before done anything like this.  There were some simple rules in place; do not touch your bike unless your helmet is on and fastened; no mobile phones; no nudity.  Easy, you may think, but I was convinced I would do it all wrong.  As it was there was nothing to worry about.  Into transition; helmet on (pressure off); change shoes; gloves on; grab bike and away.  Estimated time: n/a.  Actual time: 2:22

The bike ride:  As with Transition, there were rules with the bike ride.  A large section of the handbook was given over to Drafting.  In summary, if you’re not an Elite Athlete, don’t do it.  Of course, for total beginners and for relative novices like me, they had to explain what constituted drafting (see below for my scientific understanding of the practice).  There is an imaginary area around each rider, 3m wide and extending back 7m from the front of the bike.  Another rider is only allowed to ride in this area for a maximum of 20 seconds while overtaking.  I believe I only came a cropper of this once, while going up a steep ascent behind a chap on a mountain bike.  I was aware that I was getting very close to him and was just in the act of slowing down when he appeared to suffer a mechanical, stopped suddenly and dismounted.  I had to do the same immediately or go into the back of him.  My legs were still good though so I got back on and started up again.  Any other time I found myself too close to someone I just pushed down and overtook.

Otherwise, the bike ride was a good opportunity to shake out my legs, let the parts responsible for running recover a little while I cruised past so many of the people who’d overtaken me on foot.  It was my first time riding on closed roads without the need to check for traffic (apart from other riders overtaking), stop at junctions or indicate (although I did if I was pulling out to overtake someone and there were people behind I wanted to inform).  A combination of stiff, clip-in road bike shoes (Triathlon specific so super-quick to pull on and take off – I’d got them at a bargain price); carbon-light road bike; steadily increasing fitness; a year of commuting by bike and, frankly, a love of the sport soon had a smile on my face as I marveled at how expending energy like this could be helping me recover.  Although I don’t think the energy drink I had in my water bottle was hindering the process.  Estimated time: 1:00:00.  Actual time: 53:11.  Speed: 24.82 km/h

Transition 2:  I had been warned about “jelly legs”.  This was when you leap off your bike and, instead of the tried and tested running action, your legs think they can keep you going by pedaling.  I’m not sure what it was, if it was that jelly legs was forefront in my mind as I got off my bike or if the cycling stint just wasn’t long enough or I wasn’t cycling hard enough, but my legs were good and did just what I told them to.  Transition 2 was slower than Transition 1.  My shiny new Triathlon shoes were delightfully easy to strap on with big loops at the heel to pull them on with and a large velcro strap to pull across, job done.  My running shoes needed to be loosened, put on carefully, tensioned, tied and double knotted.  From experience, anything less would rub intolerably.  I reversed the process of Transition 1 then decided I could do with a bit of extra energy for the run so I grabbed my bottle from my bike and drank the rest of the energy drink, then I took a gel from the bag mounted on my crossbar.  At this point I remembered the rule about not touching your bike unless your helmet was on and fastened.  How strict were they about that?  I ate (?) the gel on my way out of Transition.  Estimated time: n/a.  Actual time: 3:36

The final run:  This run was just 5km so, compared to my training, shouldn’t have been too hard.  I had trained fairly well (apart from a few weeks off when I had hurt my ankle, but that belongs in a running blog) but a couple of facts remained: I had never before run straight after cycling; this would be the most exercise I had ever done in one day.  I was a little worn but still buzzing from the atmosphere of the day.  I still took it easy, now not just because I needed to conserve energy (although I was telling myself I could always sprint when I got nearer to the finish line) but also because I didn’t have the energy to spend going fast.  I kept going.  At one point I was delighted to realise I had a stone in my shoe!  I stopped, took off the shoe, emptied out the stone and went through the ritual of putting the shoe on again.  I confess when I started up again I was walking, but only for a hundred yards.  I hate slowing down to a walk when I’m running because the first time I do it is never the last time.  I slowed down to walk twice more but was fairly strict with myself about when to start running again.  I did speed up at the end but not until there was only a hundred yards or so to go.  I had thought I had run much more slowly this time than I did in the first run but I was wrong.  Estimated time: 0:30:00.  Actual time: 0:31:54.  Speed: 9.4 km/h

Total actual time: 2:34:39

After crossing the line I received a banana, a small bottle of water, a bag with a chocolate bar, an energy drink, a strange piece of cloth which is possibly for keeping my neck or head warm, a medal, a hand made poster with “well done Mummy” written across the middle and a handmade gold medal with a number one stuck to it.  I ate the banana.  The medals have joined my Race for Life medal on my medal hook by the coffee cups.  I ate the chocolate the next day.  I am seriously considering framing the poster, if I can work out where the boys put it.   I am now a Duathlete.  I have entered next year’s race.  Twice actually, but I’m hoping a couple of emails will deal with that.

Drafting:  When riding, the power put in to turning the pedals is split between overcoming friction; fighting gravity; and pushing through the air ahead.  The higher the speed, the greater the proportion of effort required to make a hole in the air.  Drafting is when a rider makes his/her job easier by riding directly behind someone else, in the same hole in the air the rider ahead has made, thus reducing the amount of power needed to ride at the same speed as the rider ahead.  Conversely, though to a lesser extent, having someone rides behind you reduces the tugging effect caused by the hole in the air closing behind you.**

**Please note this is just my understanding of Drafting and may be inaccurate.  I welcome any corrections or insights from my readers.

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