Two weekends ago, I did my first duathlon. For those who may not know, a duathlon is a run/bike/run event, similar to a triathlon but with an extra run added in place of the swim portion. This was perfect for me because the water in Michigan is still way too cold for a wimpy girl like me.
This particular duathlon was held in conjunction with a local 5k, which is fairly unusual (they are usually held in conjunction with triathlons). However, the race director, J.D. Pepper, is an avid and accomplished duathlete, as well as being the coach for the cross country team at Dansville High School. His wife, Chere, who is also an accomplished runner and duathlete (and musician), is on my Playmakers' Masters Women's Racing Team. They had decided to add a duathlon onto the 5k to see if they could promote interest in the sport. I had been dying to try one, and this seemed like a great one to test the waters. It turned out to be even better than I had hoped.
First the details: The race itself was a short one (called a “sprint”), with a 5k run (in conjunction with the regular 5k), a 12 mile bike ride (later shortened to 10.5 because of traffic concerns) and a final 5k run over the same course. The 5k course was an out and back and fairly flat. The bike course was on country roads with wide shoulders. The course was also fairly flat, but with some rollers. The course was not closed to traffic, but the combination of the wide shoulders and the sparse traffic on Sunday morning meant that the course was safe and traffic really wasn’t a worry. J.D. had designed the course with mostly right turns and had police directing traffic at the only left turn and intersection crossing. The course was also well marked.
The race was a great opportunity for first timers. Despite the fact that the race was small, it was extremely well run. The transition area was well thought out and set up. There were plenty of volunteers to watch over the bikes and direct traffic.
Because of my nerves, I wanted to get there early. I went a little overboard in this area. I got up bright and early, got dressed, Jerry loaded my bike on the car, and we drove out to Dansville. I was mentally rehearsing and preparing for the race the whole way. We pulled into the parking lot right on time. The parking lot was empty…. What?? Chere said the race would be small, but there was literally nobody there. A quick check of the entry form solved the mystery. There in black and white, bold print, it said “Sunday, June 9th.” Unfortunately a quick look at my cell phone revealed that it was Saturday, June 8th! What a duffer I am!! Seriously, in all my years of racing, I have never made this mistake!! So, back home we went.
When Sunday morning rolled around, we did act two – this time minus the nerves. I was over it by that time. I took my previous mistake as a sign from the running gods to lighten up and roll with the punches, so that is what I was going to do. Oh, I still got to the race way earlier than I needed to (some habits are too hard to break), but this time I was not a nervous wreck when I got there.
Packet pick-up went smoothly. I took a quick look at the course map and then went over to rack my bike. Since the race was small, there were no assigned spots for the bikes, and it was first come first serve. I vaguely remembered from my triathlon days that I wanted to be at one end or the other of the transition area, but I could not remember if it mattered which one. I picked one and set up my gear. I still had plenty of time before I needed to warm up, so I chatted with my friend Melissa and got a few pictures to commemorate the occasion.
|Melissa and friend -- Happy Finishers!!|
Next I went out for a quick mile warm-up and headed for the start. As I stood at the starting line, I looked around and saw a woman who appeared to be very fit and also who appeared to be possibly in my age group. I heard snippets of her conversation with the woman next to her: “coming back… stress fracture… lots of time on bike…” Yikes! I was going to need to keep an eye on her.
Sure enough, the race started and within just a few seconds she was ahead of me. I looked down at my watch. We were at a pretty brisk pace in the low 7s. My goal had been to be about 7:40 pace for the first 5k. (I had read that for a duathlon like this I should aim to run somewhere around my 10k to 15k pace for the two 5ks if I wanted to keep them even.) I dialed it back a notch and started counting. There were only about 5 or 6 females ahead of me, including “Fit Woman.” The first two or three were young, and with the way they were out, I was pretty sure they were just running the 5k (the 5k and the duathlon started together). I was satisfied with where I was. I figured I was either 2nd or 3rd in the duathlon, and I had settled into my pace for the 5k.
I figured I would know in another half mile or so whether “Fit Woman” was out too fast and going to fade or whether she was the real deal. At the turnaround for the 5k, I got my answer. She was still holding that pace and looked incredibly fresh (As she passed, and I said “Good job!” My always snarky inner voice could not help but chiming in with “I hate women who look incredibly fresh when they are running fast! Grrrr!!!”)
As we approached the first transition, I was anxiously looking to see how many of the women had stayed in the duathlon and who had finished the 5k. As I came into the transition, Fit Woman was coming out on the bike. I was also dismayed to see that the blond girl directly ahead of me was also in the du. I glanced at the clock and was super happy with my time, 23:15 for the first 5k. I pulled off my running shoes, slipped on my bike shoes, helmet, and sunglasses, and headed out. Chere and Jerry were there at the transition to give me helpful advice and cheer me on. I thought the transition went pretty smoothly, with very little wasted time.
Once on the bike I felt pretty good. Biking used to be the weakest link for me when I did triathlons, and I would often drop several places in the standings because of that. I was hoping that the biking I had been doing recently would pay off this time.
I passed a few men in the first mile, and could see my blonde girl target directly ahead. I checked my speed. It was really good… too good … it was up over 20 mph. I thought “Either I am having an exceptionally amazing day, or there is a tailwind…” This worried me some, as that meant the second half of the course would have a headwind, but I decided to “make hay while the sun was shining.” I passed blonde girl. I was in 2nd place!!! I could see “Fit Woman” up in the distance but could not tell if I was making headway or not. A few more minutes of riding answered that question, as she seemed to be pulling away just a bit. Dang!! Well I was doing all I could, so all I could hope for was for her to slow down.
We made the first of the big turns in the bike (the main part of the course was a big rectangle), and I felt the crosswind. “Yikes, there was a wind. Okay, well this is not too bad. I can do this!” This was one of the short sides of the rectangle, so in a mile or two we were turning again to go back the other way. Bam!! Yes, there was a wind, and now it was a headwind. A sucky headwind. With hills. Grrrr. By this time I was riding in a “hole.” I could not see anyone ahead of me or anyone behind me (which was good). I just got down on the drops, tucked myself in as best I could, and kept pedaling. I had slowed down. Considerably. I was struggling to stay a consistent 14 going in this direction. I was thankful for those 20s in the bank from the earlier miles. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we made the last turn. Again there was a crosswind, but it was so much better. As I made the turn, I caught a glimpse of another rider out of the corner of my eye. Dang!!! As we finished the last two miles of the bike, a guy passed me. I was happy he was a guy, but I was still pissed at being passed! As I entered the driveway at the school, heading toward the transition area, I saw Fit Woman heading out on the run. It would take a miracle at this point to catch her.
Transition number two was a bit of a train wreck. I had not practiced transitions, but I decided I was going to try to be cute and slip out of my tri shoes so that I would not have to run through the transition area on my cleats. Step 1, undo the Velcro – check. Step 2, slip foot out -- check. Step 3, almost fly over the handlebars as the shoe swings around and wedges between the pedal and the ground… Wait, that wasn’t on the checklist. Ever helpful J.D. who was announcing at the transition area says “Ewww that is hard on the shoes!!” No kidding. Grrrr. I am glad there were no pictures of the transition because I am sure I was bright red from embarrassment.
I slipped into my running shoes, remembered to remove my helmet, and headed out. There was the usual half mile of shear torture as the blood switched over to the appropriate muscles, but I was somewhat diverted from my focus on that by the fact that I was gaining on the guy who passed me on the bike J. Yes, it did make me smile. As I passed him, I paused long enough to tell him that it was a pretty rotten thing for him to do to just blow past me like that – then I blew past him. (Okay, my inner brat may not have been completely under control that day. Or maybe I was just feeling spunky because I was actually having fun.)
As we hit the turnaround for the second 5k, two things became apparent. There was no way I was catching Fit Woman, and there was no way 3rd place was catching me. I could relax. It was a great feeling to just be able to finish up, feeling good. I am not sure if I actually crossed the finish line smiling (what is on my face when I run often has no relationship to what is going on in my head), but I was smiling inside. I was having fun!!
After my congratulations hug from Jerry and grabbing a bottle of water, I stalked Fit Woman into the transition area. I had to know if she was in my age group. Well, of course, she was. My next question was her name. “Connie Benedict” – hey, I know that name. I knew the name because I had seen it so many times as the master’s, grandmaster’s, or age group winner in almost every race she entered. She was actually one of my teammates from the Playmakers' Masters Women's Team. I had not met her yet because she had been out with a stress fractures. If I had to take 2nd, I couldn’t think of anyone better to take second to.
The way the awards shook out worked out great for the Playmakers Masters Women. Connie took 1st Overall, I got 1st Masters, and Jenny Transue, another teammate took 1st Grandmasters. We all got gift certificates for a Jacuzzi suite at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, which is totally awesome.
As a whole, despite the false start, it was a great day. I LOVE duathlons. They are right up there with trail running for putting a smile on my face. In fact, I loved it so much that I canceled my fall marathon plans to allow more time for biking and am reworking my schedule to fit a few more duathlons in, including an Olympic distance, in the future. What about you? Do you du? (I highly recommend you pencilling this race in on your calendar for next year!!)