Sunday, 6 March 2011

Spring Ballbuster 2011, Duathlon

In an effort to spice up training, Alan, some friends from work and I signed up for Human Race's Spring Ballbuster Duathlon in Box Hill, SW of London.  The race is run 8mi, bike 24mi, run 8mi mostly up or down hill, good training (map below, one lap = 8mi).

Up at 5am, I was feeling good, not tired.  I went to the car to load the bikes, absolutely freezing.  All of a sudden the race didn't seem such a good idea.  'Too late now?  Can we skip it and do a training session later in the day when it's warmer?  No, too late.'  Car packed and we're off.  Toasty warm in the car, great, feeling ready.  On arrival we got out to register and the frigid morning air hit me again.  'Why do we do this to ourselves?'

Then the pre-race events began: rack the bike, set up gear for transitions, check list of kit and nutrition, multiple trips to the bathroom, exchange strategies and stories with any racer within shouting distance and finally line-up and race briefing.  BANG, and we're off.

The beginning of these races is always a mental challenge.  You're brain is amped and body wants to use that energy to take off immediately.  Holding yourself back, preserving energy and sticking to the race plan is key from start to finish, especially for distance racing.  My goal was keep to zone 2 heart rate and learn how to regulate HR by changing cadence/ effort on the up and down hills.

Alan, Phil and I stuck together for the first 8mi run.  We chatted here and there, none of us working hard (my HR below 150).  Phil, an exceptionally fit athlete but complete rookie to distance/ multi-sport racing, mentioned how difficult it was to hold back, especially when old women and seemingly out-of-shape competitors go flying by.  I totally agree, but I also have enough experience to know that we'll pass most of them back later in the race and those that we don't, well, they're in that small percentage of the population that can perform as a top age-group athlete without looking like one.

Uphill on the first run lap.  Phil is in the orange jacket, I'm behind in
all black just off the shoulder of the red jersey, and if you really
focus you'll see Alan's head on my left, just peaking over the red jersey.

Off on the bike and without much surprise Alan started pulling away.  I couldn't believe my eyes when half-way around the first lap I passed him back.  'Wow, that's never happened.'  We hit the uphill and he was nowhere to be found.  We followed the same pattern on bike laps two and three with Alan confirming what I had been hoping, "You're bike's gotten a lot better," which came as I went by on the third and final uphill.  My HR averaged around 140, 130ish on downhill and flats and 150ish on the uphills.

Sunny, a friend from work.  We ran the
NYC marathon together in 2009.

Transition back to my running shoes and I was off, seemingly on my own.  I like to run hard off of the bike, I feel it gets my legs adjusted quicker, so I mixed the desire for low HR and running hard with an effort around 150.  My effort was definitely harder than the first lap (I secretly wanted to negative split), with HR between 150-155 which is still within zone 2.  Then it hit me, my stomach began to ache, the bathroom was calling.  I tried to ignore it, mentally fought stopping or not stopping, 'If you stop, Alan will blow right by, no chance to catch him.  But, I really have to go, is this stomach pain worth it, after all, you're taking this as a training session, not a race.'  Soon enough, I didn't have a choice, the next woody patch that provided enough cover, I went off-road and scrambled to get off the layers (I was wearing a one-piece on the bottom of all the layers, bad idea).  I did my business, grabbed my long sleeve shirt, racing top, race belt and hurried back to the road.  As soon as my feet touched the asphalt, I was off, first zipping up the one-piece tri-suit, then my racing top, click on the racing belt, and decided to run with the long-sleeve in my hand the rest of the way.  I couldn't believe it, Alan hadn't passed.  Shortly after, I hit the final uphill, twenty minutes and the finish line, 3:31:23.

First 8mi run - 59:22
Transition 1 - 1:52
Bike, 24mi - 1:28:01
Transition 2 - 1:52
Second 8mi run - 1:00:23 (a bit heart breaking, might have negative split without the bathroom break)

Post race is all about assessing, stretching and refueling (after all, Sunday is another training day).  Sports drink w/ extra salts and electrolytes to rehydrate, banana, apple, pear, oat based recovery bar, protein shake with extra amino acids, adaptogens (concoction of testosterone and immune boosting plants from the east, the boss of my nutritionist has a specialty in eastern medicines, MAN-UP fuel my nutritionist calls it, not tasty), 30min stretch to let my stomach settle and wash it all down with a beef and tomato sandwich and a coffee to warm up.

- 7:30 min miles at a steady zone 2HR on a hilly course
- bike was much improved (all this work is paying off!)

Takeaways/ Improvements
- Work with nutritionist to cut out unnecessary pit stops: I had to stop for the bathroom as has been the case in my last two marathons, not an efficient use of time
- Work on biking downhill: to be honest, I get scared of coming off the bike, so I typically tap the brakes down steep slopes, other competitors typically fly right past
- Get out on the road more to practice bike handling: I lose time and energy on technical aspects like cornering and grabbing drink bottles, just haven't spent enough time practicing at high speeds
- Better lacing of running shoes: I've been experimenting with looser lacing of the shoes, but I don't think this works for hilly runs, the tops of my feet took a beating on the downhills, more experiment

Great way to spend a Saturday morning.  As with most things worth doing, when you second guess why you're doing it (as I did with this race) remember you no longer have a choice, that was made when you originally signed up, just do it and you'll undoubtedly appreciate it later.

Was it worth?  Ten-fold yes.

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