Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Lure Of The Dark Side

After five years of running, mostly on roads (plus one mountain race), I decided to dip my toe … no, not into the water, because that would be the wrong picture as there’s no water involved in a duathlon. But it was my first ever competitive outing that required some strange mechanical contraption with wheels between myself and the road.

After taking it easy after the long midweek training runs I felt pretty much ready for anything. I measured my resting heart rate in the morning, for the first time in quite a while, which came up with 38, a figure I only get when I’m pretty much in top shape. But there was no denying that I was rather nervous.

Niamh took all the kids to Tralee, and shortly afterwards I hopped onto the bike for the short trip into Killorglin, where the race was staged. I got there almost an hour before the start and the place was buzzing and the bicycle racks were almost full already – a very different scene to what a running race would have looked like so far ahead of the start. After my usual warm-up we got a briefing from the race referee, and everything was rather serious. Even though I was mostly concerned with having fun, it was clear that many others were taking this very seriously indeed. There were some seriously mean looking bikes at display, and I felt a bit intimidated with my road bike, but when I took a second look I noticed that most bikes were much closer to mine in race worthiness than the mean machines.

The first leg was a 5K run, though it was a bit shorter than that in reality. I expected to be fairly close to the front, to be honest, then to fall back on the bike, and then see what would happen on the second run leg. I was therefore rather surprised by the sheer number of runners who sped off at the front at great speed. Since I would be out there for well over an hour, I was not going to tire myself out at 5K race pace and settled into a slower pace that felt closer to jogging. Or so I thought, because when I glanced at the Garmin after a couple of minutes it showed I was doing about 5:50 pace. That didn’t really matter as we were soon climbing the big hill, but to be fair it was the only real hill we had to battle today. I kept my place on the climb and gained half a dozen on the subsequent descent. Then we turned left onto the old road and took a long sweeping curve around the hill we had just climbed, back into Killorglin. While some of that road is not part of my usual training routes, I am familiar with all of it. There was not much to say about the first run, and I was back at the race HQ after just over 17 minutes of running, 6:21 pace.

Despite reading about the necessity of it, I had never practised a transition. I managed to put on my helmet before taking my bike of the rack, which was the major thing that had been hammered into us at the briefing. I changed my shoes, which went well, but had troubles switching my Garmin to running mode, which took about 3 tries. It only cost a couple of seconds, but I really wanted it on the bike setting so that it would display may cadence, the only bit of information I was really interested in.

I had no idea what to expect on this leg. I have not done any cycling training at all, but have been using the bike for my commute, about 5 miles each way. This today was to be twice as long and at much faster pace, and I was a bit worried about being shown up badly. Things started off pretty well when I immediately overtook another competitor, which was an unexpected bonus. For almost 4 miles we cycled along the main road in the direction of Glenbeigh. I lost two places on this stretch; the race referee had warned us about the drafting rules, but those guys were going past me at quite some pace and there was never any danger of me violating that rule, even if I had wanted to. But apart from these 2 minor setbacks, things went very smoothly and I felt like flying. But even at that stage I was aware that the main reason for this was the blustery wind at our backs, and obviously we would have to pay for that later on. One thing I noticed was that I held a much higher cadence than the other riders. I did check my Garmin on several occasions and I was usually a little over 90, while others were clearly doing less than that. But I felt more comfortable at spinning the crank faster and didn’t feel like I had the power in the quads to switch to a different gear.

Eventually we reached the school road towards Cromane, again a road that I’m rather familiar with, but usually I’m running it, and in the opposite direction. Anyway, I was still holding my own, and still spinning the wheels. In fact, I managed to keep the other rider in front at roughly the same distance. Almost 6 miles into the cycle leg we took a sharp right turn onto the Cromane road and headed back towards Killorglin. This is where the wind really became a factor. A time trial bike would have given a real advantage here, but me, and in fact all the riders close to me, had to battle the elements on more ordinary bikes. I lost one more place (a net loss of 2 on the cycle leg so far), and then the road became really, really bumpy. We had been told about this, and it didn’t catch me entirely by surprise, but it was a lot worse than I had thought. Between the wind and the very uneven road surface, the fun factor started dropping like a lead balloon, but all I could do was to keep going as fast as I could. Since I seemed to be the only rider in running shorts (I simply don’t have the cycle equipment and no inclination of spending my money on it either), it is entirely feasible that I was the only one whose bum was getting numb from being bounced on the saddle like that, but I doubt it. Eventually, after what seemed like a very long ride on the road to hell, we emerged back on the main road and things became smooth again. The roads were not closed to traffic, by the way, but it never became an issue. I had to cross the roads several times, both on the bike and on foot, and each time the stewards cleared the road for me. A big thank you should go to the flawless organisation of the event as well as the understanding drivers in Kerry (who aren’t always as accommodating).

I did lose contact to the riders ahead of me on the last stretch, but not by too much. As I was nearing the race HQ again, a steward reminded me to dismount the bike, which I would have forgotten otherwise in all the excitement. However, unaccustomed as I am to these things, I lost my balance as the cleats on my shoes came into contact with the tarmac of the road and I fell over, acquiring a bloody knee in the process. Full of endorphins as I was I didn’t feel any pain at all, just shouted “I’m ok, I’m ok” to whoever wanted to come to my aid, grabbed my bike and ran into the second transition. A tad over 9.5 miles had taken me almost exactly 31 minutes (~18.4 mph, avg. cadence 92).

The bike rack was pleasingly empty, and I found my place without problems. However, frantic as I was I had real troubles getting my shoes off my feet. I should have been easy enough, just press the red button and get out, but nothing moved. Eventually I told myself to calm down and take a few breaths, and when I tried it again it all worked as it should. Then I had troubles again tying the laces of my running shoes. That’s the one problem I’m ready to throw money at for the next time, triathlon lock laces would have saved me half a minute in there. When I finally emerged from the second transition area I saw three guys ahead of me that didn’t look at all like the guys I had been close to during the cycle leg. Sh*t, just how much time had I just spent in that transition?

I was so glad to be back to a real sport again and spun my legs for fun. There were three guys just ahead of me, who must have overtaken me while I was fighting my shoes, and three more guys in the far distance who presumably were the ones I had been close to during the cycle leg. I almost immediately went past the first guy, and even before the hill I was past the second one and close to the third one. The legs felt really weird. I have heard often enough that the main thing in triathlon running is how your legs feel after the bike, and I think I now know what they are talking about. My calves and hamstrings kept sending unfamiliar messages, nothing I had ever felt before, but it didn’t stop me from running pretty much all out. I followed the next guy up the hill, and by the time we had reached the top the cycle leg had been forgotten and I had my running legs back. I left the guy behind on the descent and started working on the massive gap to the guys in front.

I was making surprisingly good progress. Halfway into the run I was very close to the next guy, but as soon as I got within a couple of steps he took off and opened another gap. Ok, let’s try this again. Working as hard as I could I closed the gap again, and once more he took off. Bastard! On the plus side, we both went past another guy who had clearly slowed down. And we were chasing another runner, clad in orange. Gaps kept shrinking, but I was running out of road. I was still a good bit behind both of them when we turned onto the main road for the last time and saw the finish right in front of us. Had this been a true 5K I might have caught both of them, but I ran out of road and finished about 4 and 2 seconds behind them respectively. Ah well, gaining 4 places on the second running leg was good work, and the pace on that stretch had been 6:25, which isn’t bad, an hour into a race.

Anyway, before the race I had expected about 20 minutes for each running leg, 35 minutes for the bike and something for the transitions, which would have given me a time of 1:15 – 1:17, but in fact it only took about 1:08 (I haven’t seen any results at the time of writing) and I was quite pleased. There is definitely plenty of room for improvement, especially on the bike (where the HR was dropping all the way through) and in the transition, but for a first outing I was happy enough with the result. The runner I had chased over the last 2 miles came up to me and basically thanked me for pushing him along, and I managed to avoid telling him who much I would have loved to beat him. I kept hanging around for a while socialising, avoiding the chocolate bars (but pinching some for the kids), and eventually swung back on my bike and headed home. On a gorgeous day like today, this was great. But there’s no doubt about it, I’m still a runner.

All the best to Grellan in Barcelona. I really, really, really hope you can break 3 hours, mate.
4 Mar
50 minutes swimming
5 Mar
6.1 miles, 49:47, 8:10 pace, HR 134
6 Mar
11+ miles running, 9.5 miles cycling, including:
Puck Warriors Duathlon Killorglin, ~1:08


  1. Well done Thomas.

    Great race and your normal excellent write up.


  2. Good race / report (sounds like good fun) and consistent run splits... Only loosing 4 secs per mile between the runs. Thomas and not a bad idea to test out the tri without the swim.... No point in drowning in your first mixed event race!!!!! :)

  3. Keep working on those shorter posts Thomas - you'll get there ;)

    The run legs of duathlons (and tris) have a habit of being short - esp if the event is organised by a swimmer or cyclist!

  4. You trip to the dark side seems to have went very well. You can certainly hold you own on the bike. You'll find you are passing more on the run during the triathlon - may duathlons attract faster runners.

    Ewen's spot on - tri runs apprear to come up short at times.