It was after the first Met League XC when I was in the pub with Rich Phillips and he mentioned to me that he'd entered the Ballbuster duathlon. I'd never actually done a duathlon before and the prospect of 16 miles running and 24 miles cycling was pushing the sort of endurance required for a marathon; certainly not the focus of my current training. Having been convinced the course favoured runners and followed the same stunning route that the Olympic Road Race took around Box Hill, my name was down for it. I then convinced my Winchester club-mate, Alan Murchison, who has been trying to get me to race a duathlon all year, to sign up as well; he too was equally apprehensive about the 16 mile run. The previous week Rich and I had gone to recce the bike course. It was a filthy wet Sunday, the road was covered in leaves and, if it was like this the following week, coming off the bike could be quite likely. It was good to get an understanding of the course, where you could push it on the bike, where you needed to hold back and the magnitude of Box Hill. Roll on a week and we were fortunate to have a stunning November morning. Temperatures were only just above freezing, but it was clear, dry and the organisers had done a good job of clearing the debris from the road. With the race starting at 8am, my alarm had gone off at 4:30am to give sufficient time to arrive on the start line fairly relaxed.
Having to prepare for both 16 miles running and 24 miles cycling meant getting the right clothing was key: too many layers and you'd overheat on the run, too few and the wind chill on the bike could bring your core temperature down and consequently impact performance. I went for a long sleeve t-shirt, arm warmers and a tri-suit. We set off towards Headley Common on the first of the five 8-mile laps. This was a race that was going to last well over 2.5 hours, so I held back on the fast pace set by the early leaders and sat in at 6-minute miling. After a couple of miles, the pace at the front slowed and Rich and I pushed through and started to put some distance between us and the rest of the field. It was important to capitalise on our running strength given that there are invariably always competitors who are very strong cyclists, and they can easily take minutes out of you whilst on the bike discipline. I was also a little concerned that Rich is both stronger than me on the bike and normally (although not necessarily on this occasion) very efficient in transition, so feeling good, I pushed on the pace going up Box Hill and started to form a reasonable lead.
Transition was fine and I was out on the bike keeping a steady 20mph and working hard to make sure I stayed warm. The bike discipline has always been my weakest when it comes to triathlon and, with my only cycling miles since September having been done commuting the 6 miles to/from work on a 30 year old racer, preparation for the Ballbuster had been limited. The upside of this is that when I switch to my 'proper' racing bike it feels like it weighs nothing. I thought that as long as no one over took me within the first 1.5 laps of the 3 lap bike course, I'd be able to catch them on the second run. It came as a bit of a blow when Hugh MacKensie overtook me half way up the Box Hill climb on the first lap. This didn't deter me from holding back and I wanted to make sure I lost as little ground as possible on the new leader. The added complexity on the second and third laps was the other cyclists on their first and second laps respectively, and having to yell out that a faster rider was coming through on the right. After 3 laps, I ditched the bike and got out on the second run. Someone yelled out to me that I was 2 minutes behind the leader; not an unreasonable gap to catch up, but one that would require a big effort. As a novice duathlete, running off the bike is not something I've practiced and it took a couple of miles before my body had adjusted itself between the two disciplines. I couldn't see the leader, nor could I see who was behind me in 3rd, so dug in and simply aimed for a decent second run-split. Some 4 miles into the second run, someone yelled out that I was only 90 seconds behind, so I was catching but not quick enough. However only a few minutes later I took the lead, passing a tired leader. I felt good and was actually looking forward to the final ascent up Box Hill.
I took first place in 2:37.59, with Rich clocking 2:41.15 for 2nd and Alan 4th in 2:44.30. I still have quite a bit to learn when it comes to duathlon: transition, bike technique, running off the bike and nutrition are some things to work on, but I definitely plan to take part in a couple of events in 2013.