Now, none of you reading this are likely to know that I like to dabble in the odd multi-discipline event. But I do. So I like to do a bit of triathlon once in a while, I can handle it. Can’t I? Yesterday, I took part in the London Duathlon 2015. I did it last year with my good friend Dominic Wint and based on the fact that it was such a well-run event and a good atmosphere, we signed up for this year’s the very next day despite not being able to descend stairs safely because of the pain in our legs (NB: I very much speak for myself here, Winty’s legs may well have been fine, mine were like shit!).
Part of that may be down to the fact that (because of some TFL wisdom/lack of car) we tagged on an extra five bike miles in each direction getting to and from the event. FUN! This year, my good friend Dave Burns (tenuous link to blog, Dave’s from San Francisco and a big Niners fan) decided he’d like a piece of the action so he signed up. We were all set.
Last Friday, Winty pulled out having gone down with flu (why didn’t I think of that?) so it was just me and Dave, but also, thankfully, my car. It was a 9am kickoff so, powered by his takeaway coffee cup, he rocked up at my house at 7am. I say “my house”. I got a text saying “Here” so opened the door. Nothing. Stepped out into the street to see him knocking on the door 10 houses down. No doubt they’d have loved a Sunday early morning call, but I called him off anyway.
Bikes loaded, we powered in the C3 to Richmond Park, so early we could park in the street next to the gate. As we walked through the dewy park (about as amazing a venue for a day’s exercise you could get. Alright, apart from say the Grand Canyon. Or Ayers Rock. Or the Amazonian rain forest) into the Race Village (sounds like an initiative Nigel Farage might have spawned) it didn’t look like the stated world’s biggest duathlon. It would later.
With an empty stomach, I popped to the coffee stand and had a bit of carrot cake and a cappuccino. Interestingly, the coffee stand had some TV evangelist station on a big screen hanging off to the side – Dave and I couldn’t decide if it was just that there was nothing on Sky Sports at the time or whether the baristas were particularly religious. We concluded that you don’t put that stuff on by accident and went on our merry way. Albeit with the urge to send money to the Church of the Dodgy Dude That Wants A New Car all of a sudden.
I eyed the Fine Burger Co’s breakfast offerings but was guided away from them by my American friend. Something for which, with hindsight, even 24 hours removed, I am grateful for! It wouldn’t be the last time I was grateful for him being there. Fuelled up, we stuck our numerous stickers on, strapped on the wristband and set off for Transition.
In a triathlon, it feels like there are a million things to line up and think about when you’re setting up. In a duathlon, it’s brilliant – helmet, bike shoes, glasses, done. To the point where you go out on the bike thinking you’ve forgotten at least three things.
A quick pre-race selfie and we were lining up along with the rest of nos 1,000 to 1,999 ready to run 10km, ride 45km then run another 5km (seems excessive). Another run, this time through the rules (litterers will be disqualified – this is a Royal Park for goodness’ sake) and a quick pep-talk then you’re off.
Dave went off at something of a pace. Very promptly it became clear to me that Dave’s pace is not mine. And also that not having done a jot of training since the London Olympic Triathlon a month ago was a BIG mistake. By 2km I was already struggling. Dave, however, was having fun – shouting “Go Giants!” to the (bizarrely high number of) people in San Fran baseball caps, running backwards to wait for me as I fell back, mock chasing people when they overtook us etc.
But he was awesome. He kept me in it. Basically dragging me round the 10k and keeping me amused with plenty of chat (most of it unreturned). By 7k I felt a bit better and we got back to the bikes (I stripped off the two layers I’d foolishly kept on for the run) and set off.
Duathlons and triathlons are funny. Having already run 8k, you start to crave the bike “for a rest” and then on the last lap of the bike ride your crampy legs and dead buns want nothing more than to bear weight again, then as you limp around the last leg of the event, all you want is to get the (insert swear word of choice) thing over with and visit Fine Burger Co for a Crazy Larry or The Guv’nor.
On the bike, you also slip into a trance-like state. Helped in Richmond by the scenery – deer (deer, not “elk”, Dave) roaming around, views of London and glorious sunshine – you forget that you’re in a race. The fellas with pointy hats on the rumbly-wheeled tri bikes wake you from that feeling as they whizz by at 90mph.
Despite those occasional disturbances, you do enter a Zen-like state and become blissfully unaware of the pain in your legs. On Lap 2, I was there, only to be rudely awoken by a blood-curdling cry behind me. I turned to see some clown with all the gear – flash bike, all-white kit, smart helmet – rubbing his calf. Oh you’ve got cramp, we’ve all got fucking cramp, suck it up we don’t want to hear about it.
I looked back in front of me to see that I was no longer on the road but was instead about to go down the drainage ditch, which I did. As I tried to twist my foot out of the SPD, ironically my calf re-cramped and I resignedly left my foot where it was and rolled onto the soaking wet grass in a heap. Ignoring the amused faces of a mum and her two kids, I remounted and set off rejoining the traffic. Half a lap later, as I powered through the bottom of a descent, I hit an ancient Royal speed bump, was jolted to alert, and heard the spine-chilling tell-tale clatter of equipment falling off my bike.
Oh, it’s OK, it was only my iPhone 6 Plus (it’s got my bike computer app on it, I’m not one of these twats taking calls as I go round the course). Before I could retrieve it, I heard the tell-tale clatter of a speeding bike hitting the equipment that had fallen off my bike. Fearing the worst, I rushed over to rescue it from further punishment. Miraculously (big shout out to Armor-X, makers of my protective case/bike mount) it was intact. Phew!
On the next lap, I passed the same woman about six times (and there is no way I was lapping anyone). I’m pretty sure that really happened and it wasn’t a coconut-water induced hallucination. Seriously, every 500 yards she was in front of me again and I never saw her overtake. Unless there was a set of octuplets taking part, I have no idea how this happened.
By now I was on Lap 4, calf cramp was a distant-but-ever-present memory and groin cramp decided to pay a visit. Well hi, thanks ever so much for coming, don’t know what I’d have done without you. Not pleasant and that’s when I started, twistedly, craving the 5k.
Fortunately most of Transition had cleared out and gone home by the time I was there to put my runners back on. Seeing me try to bend over to tie my laces would have been most amusing.
The big incentive for this year’s race was that if you beat last year’s time, you got next year’s entry free. And I was poor in last year’s race, I figured I couldn’t do any worse. All I had to do was run more of the 5k than I did last year and I’d be golden. Also playing into my psyche was that, just a month ago, I ran a 10k after a 45km bike (having also spent an hour in the Thames – but the less said about that particular experience the better), so what could go wrong.
A lot, as it turns out. An age old IT band issue reared its ugly, IT bandy head in my right knee as I exited Transition, forcing me into a limping walk. I periodically ran ploddingly until the pain got too much then I walked again.
At about halfway, with my right quad stiffening where it joins the knee, my left quad went into full-on cramp. This is not something I’ve experienced before (but I didn’t scream blood-curdlingly, Flashy Bike Boy) so I Frankensteinedly (yes, that is a word, I Googled it) continued. It wouldn’t go away and I had visions of finishing “in the dramatic spirit of Julie Moss”.
Several people slowed to check on me – thank you if you were one of them – and eventually it subsided enough to plod some more. Amusingly, I also ran past one of the still-cycling octuplets, who it became apparent were doing the Ultra duathlon for crazy people. Finally the finish scaffolding came into view in the distance and having engaged in a walk-for-one-cone-run-for-three-cones battle with another cramped up runner (tall guy, blue and black outfit, leggings), I tightened my bra straps, gritted my teeth and jog-hobbled (jobbled?) to the finish.
Dave was already at the finish straight (no, I hadn’t caught him up).
Medal, banana, T-shirt, water. Check.
“Have you been here long?”
“Yeah, about an hour.”
We shared war stories as we collected our bikes, before demolishing a Guv’nor each and heading for the car. While sitting in traffic as we tried to leave Richmond, Dave checked his time on the website. 3.13. Then he found mine.
Let’s just say, I’m paying for next year’s entry.
PS: Huge thanks to the organisers and all the marshalls – it’s a brilliant event made even more so by the help and support of the boys, girls, men and women in yellow T-shirts. And also thanks to the group of spectators on the nasty bike hill that cheered on “Beardy Man” three-quarters of the way up for three of the four laps.