European Middle Distance Age Group Duathlon Championships - May 2019
Time for another report? Well, this weekend saw my main target race of the year so far - the European Middle Distance Age Group Duathlon Championships in Viborg Denmark, representing the GB age group team over 10km - 60km - 10km of running, biking, and more running. I was in good shape and pretty optimistic that I'd be able to do myself justice.
I was a little apprehensive about the journey, flying with the bike is a nerve wracking business, and traveling with Ryanair hardly increases the confidence levels. That said, and credit where credit is due, both journeys were excellent and the bike appears to have been handled with care. It was an early flight out of Stansted on Friday morning, and then an hour drive to our AirBnB near Viborg. I was sharing accommodation with my coach (the GB Duathlon Elite Team Manager, Dave Newport) and a couple of his other athletes. Viborg seemed like a nice town, and Denmark is rumoured to be the happiest country in the world, so everyone was relaxed.
After unpacking and getting the bike in shape, I drove into town, had a quick scout around the transition area with Dave, and set out on a recce of the bike course. It was all pretty straightforward - there were a couple of draggy sections, and two sharper climbs, but really nothing of note. The main concern was a section of cycle path through newly cleared woodland that seemed to promise punctures and treacherous overtaking. The rest of the course seemed really quick with decent tarmac (apart from 500m of downhill cobbles in the centre of town), a tailwind when we needed it, and a fair bit of shelter on the headwind sections. I checked the air pressure (because I'm that sort of person), and found it to be insanely low (in the 990 hPa range) thanks in part to the recent rain... I crossed my fingers that this phenomenon would last until the following day.
The rest of the day was spent with various bits of admin: registration, hustling round for some food, attending (or not attending in my case) the race briefings and team meetings. Back at the ranch we sorted out our kit, and hit the hay. I didn't bother to recce the run course, I'd walked a little around the town and had seen enough - some narrow cobbled streets, with barely any flat. There was a brutal looking run up to the start / finish area that I correctly figured could get tiresome when repeated 8 times.
We woke on Saturday to a bright, but somewhat chilly day with blue skies and a brisk breeze. We were scheduled to start at 12:50, so we cracked on with breakfast, loaded the cars and headed into town around 10 am. It didn't take long to get things sorted in transition, and we were left killing time. I don't really like late race starts, as I find it very hard to judge how much / when to eat. I kept it pretty light, and tried to make sure I kept off my feet as much as possible.
After a short delay getting the elite and women's AG races off, we were called forward and sent on our way. My wave included all the male athletes from 18 to 54 (the older men went with the women) so there were plenty of bodies to run with. I had chosen to start a few rows off the front to avoid any foolishness in pace, but as a result I almost didn't make it round the first corner with a runner just in front almost taking a lie-down in the melee. It's great to be in a more varied wave, but that was the last time I knew for certain where I lay in the race standings, especially once we started to catch athletes in front.
We had four laps of the town circuit to complete. I chose some sensible heels to follow in team-mate Phil, and settled into a comfortable pace. Despite the cobbles, the twists and turns, and the ever changing gradient it didn't seem too bad. Lap 1 was soon out of the way, delightfully a little short. Buoyed, I began to apply a little more pressure. Happy to take shelter, but also not scared to push on when necessary. Phil and I exchanged a few grunts, and then turns. We joined a little train of other runners, and steadily ticked off the kms.
At the end of lap 4 I necked a caffeine gel just as we peeled off the course towards the transition area. 9.76km (according to the official course measurements, but a fair bit shorter by the time you'd run the tangents!) in 34:34 - a really strong start. Maybe too strong? Maybe just a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained?
Later interrogation of the results tells me I was now in #24 position in the men's AG race - #5 in my 40-44 category, but level pegging with all bar one. I don't really remember much of T1, which is probably a good sign - no drama. I even picked up an extra place and left transition in AG #4. We left the old town square via a rather unnerving steep cobbled street, then we were soon blasting out of town. It was a fair bit windier than the day before, and sadly the air pressure was back to a more normal level. I had already predicted that the back 9 was going to be tough. I had to get the pacing right.
I focused on holding as tight a position as possible, and letting the tailwind work it's magic. As we reached halfway and turned back towards the wind, I tried to measure my watts. It would have been so easy to focus on speed and quickly explode. I was aiming to hold a NP of around 260-5 watts, and allow my aerodynamic advantage to pay. I was moving through the field, and happy with my progress. Back through the town and out onto the second lap for more of the same. I caught Chris (who, unknown to me, was unfortunately fighting an injury), so I figured I was still in contention. In fact, I'd drifted up the standings to #12 overall.
With the wind once more, I maintained the desired output, but the crosswind section seemed more of a struggle second time around. Only after turning into the teeth of the wind did the first warning light start flashing on my mental dashboard. Up until now I'd been getting the energy drink (and a second gel) down without issue, but now it was starting to bounce. The legs were still in reasonable shape, but I was beginning to worry about the second run. Phil, on a flyer, caught me and rode by on his way to a fantastic 10th overall. I held him in sight for a while, but then on the long cycle path section back into town I started to ease off, dropping the NP down to nearer 235 for the last 6-7 miles. I didn't concede any more places, and arrived into T2 in #13 overall. 60.59km in 1:37:46. A bit disappointing on reflection.
My second transition wasn't clever. I botched getting my feet out of my shoes, and ended up doing a static dismount. I shuffled back to my spot and switched shoes pretty efficiently, but was called back as I hadn't put my cycling shoes in the kit box. Not much time wasted, but a bit amateur, and probably a sign that I was bonking a little. I'd knocked back my last caffeine gel on the road into town, but it clearly hadn't hit home yet! I tried to survey my area, and saw one bike in the 40-44 age group number range, another German rider arrived as I was tidying up my shoes. I correctly surmised I might be in AG #2 position, with a rival on my tail.
The first of four more run laps was surprisingly good at 6:35 pace. I'd love to be able to write that I kept this up to the end and came home with a silver medal... but alas I didn't.
On the second lap I began to falter. In retrospect, there was a short section of the course that was both into the wind and uphill - this nearly broke me. I felt empty. I thought I was going to be sick, but didn't have the energy to go through with it. It was only about two hundred metres, and then we had some respite in the form of a generous tailwind. I got going once more, albeit now at 7 min/mile pace, and started to feel a bit better. Maybe it was that last gel that saved me, maybe I just had to knock back the pace to survive. Unfortunately, several athletes came by, including the German in my AG. By now, I had no idea of my position - I figured I was probably out of the medals. Laps 3 & 4 were also tough, but I was ready for the bitch section and I pressed home. I toiled up the cobbled climb once last time, and ran the Cathedral loop to the red carpet and finish line. After an ugly 9.85km in 40:25, I crossed in 2:55:28 for #16 place, AG #3.
I'm happy with my result. I've no shame in being pleased to win an AG medal. I should have been able to make it silver, but I couldn't on the day. The Danish AG winner was streets ahead, finishing as 3rd placed age grouper overall. Both Karsten and Torsten (plus Stefan & Mogens in 4th / 5th place) are seasoned long course duathletes with significant palmares and it was a great pleasure to race against them for these honours. The whole AG field was a little light (Viborg is a new race this year, but I think it will cement its position on the calendar), nonetheless the competition at the head of the AG race was very strong and my splits were mostly satisfying. I need to work on my running form to maximise my efficiency, and I need to try and improve my nutrition over this distance. I would like to have been able to empty the tank properly on the bike course, but that's not how duathlon works!
All in all it was a great couple of days, good to catch up with some old friends, meet some new teammates and spend a bit of time with the coach. Naomi, Sam, and Si all had good first races at the distance, and of course our elite team played a blinder. The trip home was painless, and Billund has to be the easiest airport in the world to find a last minute souvenir for the kids!
Next up, try and translate the training into some TT form and chase some shorter run targets.
Thanks for reading!
You can read more about the event on Tri247