ITU Long Distance World Championship – Henderson Duathlon Race Report

Bags packed, breakfast eaten, kit on – ready to go. Then my phone rang. It was Aurelie, the GB Team masseuse, letting me know the swim had been cancelled. It was unconfirmed and seemed unlikely; the weather was colder, but we’d been in Lake Mead without a wetsuit two days before. Tension broken, our schedule slowed once the rumour was confirmed. We headed to Lake Las Vegas with mixed feelings – there was somethign exciting about a last minute change, but the race felt incomplete without a swim.

Transition was chaotic. More than normal. ITU officials confirmed the cancellation, but we were given no more information. It would be a bike-run starting sometime later that morning, nobody had a clear picture how the race would proceed. The morning was cold, it felt like winter outside the heated transition tent. Athletes crowded together waiting for some form of instructions.

I’d entered a triathlon, but would be racing a duathlon. It wasn’t what I’d expected, but not being swim fit I wasn’t too disappointed to lose the swim. I didn’t feel short changed. Whatever the reason for cancelling all any of us could do was race the course put in front of us.

At 7:45 we were called to our bikes and told to get ready for the start. Arranged in numeric order we queued behind the mount line, set off at five second intervals. It didn’t take long to reach the front and be on my way. Age groups were grouped by nation, all the 35-39 year old Brits set off in a block; five seconds after me was one of my housemates, Dave Francis, he came flying past in the first kilometer. I settled in, tried to control my heart rate and get into a rhythm, but the loop around the resort was a lumpy start.

The sun added a little warmth, but I needed the jersey and arm warmers I’d thrown over the top of my GB kit. There was a decent westerly blowing, nothing excessive, but enough to occassional twitch the front wheel. It ensured Lakeshore road was fast. I exchanged places with a few in my age group, falling back on the climbs and coming past on the flats. The 54 chainring was a bonus, but the 42 felt a bit much on some of the bumps. It felt hard, harder than in the week, negative thoughts filled my mind. I pondered retiring from racing (again!), wondered whether I’d been doing too much in the lead in (I had) and considered what it would take to abandon.

For fifty kilometres I was uncertain – I didn’t feel good and wasn’t happy with my race. I knew it was normal, I go through this most races, I just had to hold out. Sure enough as I turned onto Northshore Road I started moving through the field and my mood lifted. I kept in control, my plan was to push from the turn around and work the return leg into the headwind. Even so the slight gradients and the big gearing let me cruise through the athletes ahead. I turned and picked it up.

I knew there was the climb out of the National Park ahead of me and after a week of riding locally I knew how tough it was in a westerly; once I hit the base of the climb I dropped the gears and spun my way up. By now everyone was suffering, I continued to gain places. After a small reprieve we hit the Three Sisters – a trio of short, sharp climbs. Bottom gear again and out of the saddle, I hauled myself up and round stalling competitors. Then it was the grind, a gradual ascent that sapped tired legs. But I still had more to give.

I wanted the bike time so I pushed. I kept moving through the field, chasing athletes ahead well aware it was costing my legs. I have no run fitness, pushing the bike would make little difference to how I’d suffer later. I arrived in transition, sat in a chair and pondered the 30km ahead of me – I wasn’t looking forward to it. I hoped that like Challenge Henley my legs would work reasonably.

The run started with a downhill, lulling me into a false sense of security. It was short lived. After the turn at the bottom of the hill I slowed, hamstring and achillies tightened under the load and I struggled to the top. Again my mind became preoccupied with how I could abandon – I was torn between the fact I have never DNFed and the discomfort. I decided it would take a real injury and as the tightness in my legs had eased off that didn’t seem likely.

I counted down each painful kilometre of that run. The ones where I had stomach cramps and a stitch, and the ones when my knees ached from the continual pounding. I struggled through; walking aid stations and trying to keep the rest of the run controlled. A few words of encouragement from another GB teammate got me to pick up my effort 3km from the end and push the last stretch home. Driven by the desire to finish I found the energy to open up the pace.

Indifference best decribes my feelings to the day. I never felt at my best and whilst I know preparation was far from perfect I’m disappointed to yet again be racing poorly. Next year needs to be different – a return to form. No more racing until I’m run fit.