Do you remember last year, when I tried really, really hard, forgot to take on fuel, had a tough time, then threw up at the end? Well this year was going to be different. When you have such a very long time to work towards a goal, it’s motivating, but also seems so far away that you only really address any big issues as it gets nearer. I had all summer to train, but ‘all summer’ includes the school holidays, where training gets a little less intense due to lack of time. I felt fit and strong in the run up to this race, but was struck by a particularly nasty cold about a week and a half ago. This meant my last full week of training was cut short and taper week was spent drinking lemon and honey tea and blowing my nose. Somehow I managed to keep the cold away from my chest and rather nervously gathered together my stuff and re-read Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography to give me a little psychological boost (it’s very good).
So, when Sunday morning came round, I did the quietly-trying-to-get-dressed-and-have-breakfast-without-waking-anyone thing and swept out of the house while it was still dark. Last year my two-strong support crew did a splendid job of cheering me around the course but, due to an earlier start time, they decided to do junior parkrun and swimming instead 😦 By the time I got to Waterloo Station, there were a few slightly tired and nervous-looking people with bikes. I got chatting to a chap called Andrew who was taking on the Ultra distance. Respect. It was turning into a beautiful morning, with blue skies and pink-tinged vapour trails and, when we arrived at Richmond Park, things were really getting going.
Once I’d faffed about a little, racked my bike, said hello to a fellow Kent AC runner, David and pinned my number to my top, it was time to leg it to the loo before starting the 10k run. It was at this point that I really wished I’d gone sooner, there definitely need to be more loos next year, people were hopping about anxiously, though the entertainment was quite good, watching men wrestling with tri-suits as they entered/exited the urinal area (yes, I was trying to distract myself here). When I eventually left the portaloos I had to run over to the start which, by now, consisted of a rather long line of people waiting to be ushered through the staggered start area. This is all organised really well, minimising the chances of crowds of runners filling the road which, in places is shared with cyclists. I would like to have positioned myself a bit further forward though, to avoid waiting around, getting nervous!
A countdown of beeps sounded and off we went. I could feel from the start that this was going to be difficult – the couple of runs I had done in the week, to test my cold-stricken body were very laboured and wheezy, so I took it steady, feeling the need to warm up fully in the first couple of miles. I quickly found myself in a to and fro with another runner of a similar pace, she would overtake me, I would overtake back and so on, pulling each other along. She did apologise further into the run for using me as a pacer, no need to apologise, I was doing exactly the same! The temperature was rising and I reminded myself of my fuel plan to avoid a repeat of last year. In the last kilometre, the other runner pulled away as I slurped messily on an overly sweet gel (they really are quite disgusting). T1 involved a quick drink, shoe change, grab bike and helmet and go.
I loved the bike course, I always look so much happier in the bike photos than the run! The stretch of road out of transition is quite narrow, with runners coming in the opposite direction and faster cyclists overtaking with an ‘on your right!’. The course was familiar and I knew what to expect as we rounded a corner and started to ease upwards. This hill is tough-going, especially on the fourth lap! There was a timer van at this point and the little speed-bump type mats felt rather big! It was always a joy though, to hear the cheers from the little crowds that had positioned themselves here, really encouraging people on, even running alongside someone who was pushing her bike. Once up and over, there are some great downhill stretches where I really let myself fly, well by my standards anyway, I was still being overtaken by braver folk. Some very tight corners, complete with straw bales and onto the flat for a bit. It was here that I had one of my loveliest moments, when a magnificent stag stood feet away with his family, lifted his head, opened his mouth wide and sort of mooed/roared at me! Not something you see in many races!
I knew from my watch and from how my legs felt (cramp had set in as soon as I got on my bike) that I was coming up to transition time, but couldn’t find a chance to take on another gel. I had stuck to my plan and had plenty to drink on the bike, so had the second gel as I changed my shoes again. This is where things get really hard. Running from the bike is always difficult, but somehow more so in a duathlon where you have already completed a run. I kept it steady and worked my way through the nasty cramp that had hold of my quads. A little walk. A little jog and so on. I overtook a man I had talked to briefly at the start, he told me I was doing well. I kept going. Another gel. I passed the spot where I had stretched then crumpled slightly last year. Another walk. I grabbed some water from a volunteer and we both did a double-take – a fellow club runner! I was now doing the ‘I’ll walk to that cone, then jog’ thing. For the last two kilometres though I really wanted to run, I didn’t want to take any longer than last year, so kept it steady and encouraged other runners that I passed along the way – you see many people stopping with cramp in this run, it’s really hard work. The finish was in sight and I pushed on through, grabbing my medal, t-shirt, water and a banana. I had done it! I had hoped to get under three hours (last year was 3 hours 4 minutes), but I had no idea at this point if I had achieved that goal (I doubted it), but now my only goal was to refuel quickly without being sick. I managed half a banana and a Goodness Shake before I felt a bit bleurgh, so sat down and took the obligatory selfie 🙂
Duathletes continued to trickle through and lots of people stood around stretching and refuelling, it’s always a rather slow journey home! Feeling ok, I gathered up my stuff and headed to the station on my bike, a nice gentle ride to loosen my already stiff legs. I hadn’t hit my time goal, finishing in 3 hours 10 minutes 31 seconds – the time was lost by running a slower 10k and taking a bit longer on the bike. Having a stinking cold is not the best preparation, but I’m glad I managed to finish and not suffer too much! Once I’d got home, had big hugs from the boys, drank tea, bathed and had a little lie down, it was time to enjoy some good roast dinner to really refuel, I definitely got to eat the last roast potato this time!
Thank you to London Duathlon for giving me the place. If you want to enter next year’s race, register your interest here and check out the distances – you can take a shorter challenge, or even a longer one if you’re feeling epic! I’d love to race at the London Duathlon again, it’s an excellent course and really well supported and organised…and I really want to go under three hours!! For now I will rest and recover, massaging my aching muscles and fuelling my body for Sunday’s triathlon – eek!