The National Sprint Duathlon Championships has been my "A" race for the spring. All my training efforts have been directed to doing well in this one event. So as the race approached, naturally I began keeping tabs on the weather—and the weather looked bleak. Thunderstorms all day on Sunday the 14th, with the worst of them at around 2 pm, just an hour after the race was scheduled to start.
But I knew that things could change, and it was still possible that a window would open up during which we could race, so I packed my bike up Saturday and drove down to Greenville, SC where the race was to be held. My main goal was just to improve on my performance from 2018, where I had finished 11th in my age group. To that end, I had resolved to lose 10 pounds so I'd be faster on the run, and work on transitions and starting the second run quickly off the bike.
Well, the 10 pounds never did come off, but my run training had gone well and I was feeling good about transitions and running faster after hard rides. So maybe I'd have a chance to improve on last year.
On Sunday morning the forecast for the afternoon was still looking grim. While many participants (including, hopefully, me) might be able to finish before the worst of the storms rolled in, my event included age-groupers as old as their late 80s, who might take more than three hours to finish. Soon we all learned that our already-short sprint was going to be made even shorter, effectively a supersprint, to ensure everyone could finish before the thunderstorms arrived. Instead of a 5k run, 11-mile ride, and 2-mile run, we'd be doing 2k, 4 miles, and 1.375k. A very short race indeed! Now transitions would take on an even greater importance in the event, so I decided to not even change into my biking shoes for the ride; I'd wear my racing flats throughout. This meant I wouldn't have to run on wet ground in stocking feet for over 50 yards from my bike rack to the mount point, and I wouldn't have to try to slide wet shoes onto my feet while I rode onto the course.
Before the race started, a squall whipped through the transition area, knocking several bikes (including mine) off the racks. All the athletes (including me) poured back into the transition area to re-load their bikes. In the end I managed to balance it on there, and fortunately there wasn't another squall before we got going.
I got some strides in before the start, and then everyone lined up to race. I was in wave 3 (men age 50+), behind the younger male and female athletes. There was only a light drizzle during the run, but we sloshed through puddles to get to the start, and had to run through a small drainage stream once we got started. I felt okay, but probably hadn't warmed up quite enough for the short run, and so was only able to manage a 6:29 pace for the run. I should be able to do better than that for such a short distance. I whipped through the transition zone, slid my helmet on, and ran to the bike mount line. I was on my bike in 1:01 -- a big improvement over my 1:35 transition from last year!
My strategy of staying in my running shoes began to pay off almost instantly, as I passed 4 or 5 riders who were trying to slide their feet into their shoes on our way out of the park. We turned onto a highway that had been closed off for the race and I picked up the pace, passing several riders as I went. There was a nasty headwind, but not too much rain. I could only manage 15 mph or so on the uphill sections, but picked it up to the mid-20s on downhills. So many hills in just 2.1 miles! I was passing quite a few riders in this section, and was only passed once. Finally we arrived at the turnaround, after which we'd have a tailwind all the way back. We'd been warned that our brakes wouldn't be very responsive, so to be extra careful on the turnaround. Result: I was probably too careful and had a hard time getting back up to speed. Also, I forgot to downshift and took a second to find the right gear. All these mistakes add up when you're only riding 4.2 miles!
Eventually I got back on track and was able to maintain a faster pace on the way back -- in the 30s on downhills and high teens on uphills. I was giving it an all-out effort, gasping for breath at every moment. Then we turned back into the park and once again I was able to pass several riders fiddling with their shoes. I averaged 21.3 mph for the ride, which was slower than the 21.7 average I had managed the previous year on a much longer ride. The rainy and windy conditions probably had something to do with this, but I also think it's due to the slower section inside the park, which constitutes a proportionately longer part of the ride on the shortened course. If you exclude that section, my speed for the ride jumps to 22.3 mph (compared to 22.2 mph last year in better conditions).
I executed a perfect flying dismount and headed for my bike rack. I threw down my helmet and took off, again saving time because I didn't need to put my running shoes on. T2 was 51 seconds, compared to 1:17 last year.
On the final run, I felt quite a bit stronger than I had last year, and was able to run pretty quickly right out of the gate. It wasn't quite as fast as Run 1, but I was doing a solid 6:40 pace. We climbed a tough hill to get out of the park, and a runner passed me. I looked down at his calf and saw a "53"—he was in my age group! I couldn't let him pull away! So I picked up the pace and hung right behind him, gasping for every breath. About 200 yards from the finish, he seemed to slow a bit, so I tried to pass him with authority. I turned into the park and ran as fast as I could down the hill. There was just one sharp right-hand corner and maybe 50 yards of chute left in the race. As I rounded the corner, "53" whipped past me on the inside. DAMMIT! I tried to keep pace with him but it was no use; he beat me across the line by one second!
I ended up in ninth place in my age group -- two placings better than last year. It's hard to compare the two performances, though, because the distances and conditions were so different. I had saved a full minute in transition -- there's no question of the improvement there -- but I was technically slower on the ride (even though I was faster on the "real" section on the open road). I was hoping for a better performance, but I'm still pretty happy with what I did.
Oh, and one more thing: Apparently my performance in this race means that I have qualified to be on Team USA in the world championships in the Netherlands in 2020. I'm seriously considering joining the team and trying my hand at an international championship. Stay tuned!
Details from yesterday's race are below: