I had a feeling the London Duathlon might be tough, but I hadn’t realised quite how tough. As always, I found the journey to the start almost as challenging as the event itself – I get so nervous about being there on time and, with the transporting of a bike added into the mix, I stress about everything that little bit more. As it turned out, it was an easy two train rides and a pleasant walk from Barnes station to the park.
There was a real buzz as we approached the park, but it was difficult at times to work out who was a duathlete and who was just out for a Sunday ride (I get the feeling there might have been some disgruntled cyclists who turned up to find their route closed). The event village was busy, with some of the ultra, sprint and super sprint competitors already out on the course. I could tell from my event pack that this was a very well organised affair, with wrist bands for transition, a number belt and a rather humongous timing chip strap to wrap around your ankle (we looked like we were on day release).
The transition area was closely monitored by marshals, who checked your wrist band and made sure everything else corresponded, and you were only allowed in once you had your helmet firmly fastened. The different distances had allocated areas, but you could rack your bike anywhere within this, so I chose sort of middle, since the run in and bike out were on opposite sides (I would say the signs for this need to be higher up, they were big, but were not really visible once the transition area filled up with bikes and people). Once I had racked up, I wandered through the event village to the loo (that nervous-going-to-the-loo-when-you-don’t-need-to thing) and noticed all the handy stalls around – you could even ask advice and get your bike checked over while you were there (I opted for a bit of extra air in my tyres, again, nerves).
Before I knew it I was herding into a start pen with the other Classic distance athletes and getting a little wave from Edward and Hector before we were set off in waves of about thirty people – this was excellent and so well done, with a little safety advice and pep-talk before the buzzer set you off. The first stretch was on bumpy grass, peppered with deer poo, but we were soon on a lovely smooth road, with cyclists coming at us in the opposite direction. At this point I felt good, I had been so eager to start and it was reassuring to know that everything was working properly. Not having undertaken a duathlon before, I wasn’t entirely sure how to pace myself, but I knew I couldn’t run a 10k PB with a 44k cycle and an additional 5k still to come, so aimed to keep to a 5 minute per km pace. The course was lovely, with lots of twists and turns – though one loop in particular felt like a loop too far – and I even had a magnificent stag strolling alongside me at one point. I kept to my pace and ran into transition after 50 minutes. I had started to feel a stitch in my side, but thought I would lose that on the ride. A quick change into cycle helmet, gloves, shoes and a gulp of my drink, and off I went.
It felt hard, my legs felt heavy and my breathing was laboured, but it was so good to be on the bike! My only previous experience of riding in a race situation was at the Crystal Palace Triathlon back in May and, as I knew so many other people there, this was a friendly affair with lots of ‘hello’s along the way. This felt different, with some really fast riders shouting ‘Right!’ as they overtook at speed, and a need to keep your wits about you if you planned to overtake yourself. I liked this :) It felt serious, speedy, and I found myself pushing harder as my legs got used to the new range of movement. The bike course was pretty hard really, with a quite steep climb, some fast descents and some really tight corners (I was rubbish here and simply had to slow to an almost stop and pump hard to get going again!). On the more exposed sections it was windy and I gripped tight to attempt to stay on course. This was my chance to take on some liquid and fuel, and I now know I should have been getting something inside me at regular intervals, but instead I had my head down, enjoying the ride. One of the best moments for me was going into the second lap. I spotted Edward and Hector sitting in the grass at the side of the road, holding up a colourful sign saying ‘Go Adele!’, with lots of cheers and waves, it really does give you a boost when you feel some support :)
The last lap of the ride went by in a flash, and I could feel some cramping in my calf muscles and a stitch-type ache in my side…keep going, keep going. There’s such a lovely sense of excitement as you turn off towards transition (all of the transitions were made really straightforward by clear signs and friendly direction from marshals), the sense of starting the next leg, getting going again on another adventure. This felt hard though. I jumped off my bike and hobbled in cycle shoes across the rough grass, my legs heavy and full of spin. Hanging my bike back up, I took a long drink, put on my running shoes and stumbled out to the run course, feeling slightly dazed.
*a little cheer from Hector, with Edward at his side, looking at the tracker on his phone*
I could see that I might make my goal of three hours if I ran a good time for this 5k, somewhere a little slower than I have been running recently, so not a problem. My legs were not hearing this though and before long I felt the cramp creeping up around my quads and decided to move over and stretch it out. Straight away my hamstrings seized up and I wished I hadn’t stopped…go, go, go! I hobbled on a bit further. Ahead of me I could see a drinks station and I thought maybe a few gulps of a sports drink might help, it did. Now, for the first time in a very long time, I found myself walking (‘To the next tree’), and slowly plodding along as best I could. I broke down the rest of the run, thinking ‘Just another fifteen minutes’, and saw people standing aside, also struck by cramp, doubled over and walking as if their knees were locked. Now, with just two kms to go, I tried to run again but my legs just couldn’t do it. A fellow runner asked if I needed a shoulder, saying he was hobbling too and another kind chap handed me an energy gel. I’m not entirely sure they work that quickly, but something did the trick and I ran those last two kms, with the finish in sight and the thought of a long drink to push me on.
Crossing the finish line (in 3 hours 4 minutes and 44 seconds) I took my medal and flopped down to have a little cry as Hector handed me a lovely medal he had made with ‘1st’ in silver sparkly stuff. The relief at finishing was overwhelming, it was so tough dealing with cramp and I quickly drank anything I could get my hands on and forced down two bananas before collecting my bike. Once again the organisation was excellent as my wrist band was cut off once they had checked I had the right bike, and off I went to enjoy a berry smoothie.
This was where I started to feel quite unwell. Not having taken on fuel at regular intervals, and then downing as much as I could stomach in a short space of time, I felt dreadful. Numerous trips to the portaloo, a lie down on the ground, and I felt able to start walking towards the station. We decided a stop at the park cafe might help and I watched the boys disappear into the distance as I bent over and publicly ‘shared’ my smoothie. Still, people were kind and a few asked if I needed help. On I went. It was decided that I should cycle to the station and the boys would catch me up, cycling seemed easier than walking at this point. At the station I bumped into my friend Roni, who had also been taking part in the Classic challenge, we exchanged stories of grit and determination and the colour started to gradually move back into my cheeks. In an attempt to get me back up and running and get some nutrients in my body, Edward suggested a big pub lunch…which really did the trick :)
You might think that someone who found themselves stopped by cramp, doubled over with stomach pain and vomiting into the grass would give such an event a wide berth, but I can’t wait until next year, I really want to do it again. This time I will work out a fuelling strategy (I have a year and other events to work this out – and any advice would be great) and I want to be able to give it my all right up to the finish line. And of course, my position of 12th woman in my age group needs to be beaten, top ten next time!
Entries are now open for next year, with early bird prices if you’re quick!