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Zofingen 2014

It's hard to reflect on the Long Course Duathlon World Championships (at Powerman Zofingen) without looking back at what has gone before it - what a crazy year!

We started 2014 living in Durham, North Carolina. Thanks to a hard winter of running, mainly with members of the Bull City Track Club or on long solo forays on the American Tobacco Trail, I was starting to make some real improvements and had already secured early season PBs at 5km, 10km, and the half marathon.

I had a number of short and medium distance duathlons planned, both in the US and in the UK (we knew that we'd be moving back home at the end of May) so I adjusted my training to concentrate on various mixed high intensity running / cycling workouts and brick sessions. By late spring I could feel the bike form coming along too.

Sadly at the beginning of May my father died suddenly. Without wishing to dwell on this low, I had a lot to deal with both emotionally and practically. I was also determined to continue with my race plans (my dad had always taken a keen interest in my sporting endeavours and was fiercely competitive himself). I arrived back in the US the day after the funeral and the evening before the US National Long Course Duathlon Championship which was taking place in our US home town. A little jaded I came in 20th overall (5th on age group), qualifying comfortably for Team USA for the World Championships at Zofingen.Short of registering my interest to race for Team GB on the strength of this result I gave no further thought to the Powerman race.

On returning to Cambridgeshire, I set about testing my cycling form on the local TT circuit. Strong PBs at 10miles and 25miles told me that the North Carolinian heat and hills had been good for me! Then the email arrived - confirming that I had been accepted to race for Team GB in the age group event at Zofingen. With the generous support of my wife it didn't take long for me to commit.

Despite being in great condition I knew that Powerman would be very challenging. A lack of bike endurance seemed the most likely risk for potential failure, so I set about a regimen of two and three hours TT efforts and longer brick sessions - upping my training to more than eight hours per week (a perceptible increase on my normal five or six hours).

Fortuitously, around this time, my wife introduced me to a new sponsor. Nick and Claire at Profile Protein volunteered to sponsor my kit and more importantly agreed to supply me with their excellent product.

I am typical of many age group athletes in that I have to juggle my training around work and family. Also characteristically I know what I should be doing in terms of nutrition and recovery but haven't always managed to put the theory into practice. With the protein shots I was able to get into a healthy recovery routine and improve my body's ability to respond to the demands of the increased training load. It is also incredibly easy to use and tastes very good!

Final prep for the race came at the Newmarket duathlon with a convincing second place overall, despite sliding off on one of the first corners of a slippery bike course and losing a fair area of skin.

With everything in place we set out for Switzerland. It was to be a smash-and-grab trip, leaving on the Saturday morning arriving in time to register, put together my bike and fuel up before the race on Sunday. Our return flight was on the Sunday evening - nothing like a bit of pressure to get it over with quickly!

Race morning was pretty relaxed, until my bike Garmin decided it needed a hard reset (I think it had reached data capacity) and then reprogramming with my preferred data configuration. Nonetheless I was able to clear transition in time for a pre-race protein shot, a banana (I'd already had a simple breakfast of cereal a few hours earlier) and my usual light warm-up consisting of a handful of fast striders.

After the introduction of the elite athletes, we were off. The first run starts hard uphill - like immediately from the line for a mile and a half. I am usually quite comfortable on the hills so was able to get into a good rhythm. The second half of the loop returns you back to the arena before repeating the same all over again - including that, now more taxing, hill climb. All in all I kept the 9.2km run #1 right between the buoys; pretty much bang on my 6:20 target pace.

We'd found time to drive the 50km bike course (of which there would be three laps) on Saturday between registering and finding our hotel. I now knew that it contained some serious climbs (way steeper than I'd reasonably planned for), but also that the descents were fast and safe. It was going to be a real test of pacing. As it happens, I probably pushed myself a little too far into the red on the early climbs in lap one but made up good time on the latter half. In lap two I paid a little for the over exertion, having to work hard to replenish my energy reserves with a variety of gels and jellied sweets. Lap three was a touch slower still, but by now I was suffering with some muscle aching in my lower back and quads - the result of insufficient longer distance bike training, in particular on significantly steep climbs.

It was only when trotting into transition #2 that I realised exactly how much damage those mountains had done. Running off the bike was bearable but the moment the route went uphill, and it did so dramatically almost immediately, I found I had little more to give. As ever, I went into survival mode, ticking away metre by metre of the 17 mile course usually walking the uphill sections and running the down hills. Hopes of a high placed finish disappeared there and then, but I was still happy to get it done and chalk up a notable achievement in completing my first World Championship and the celebrated Powerman course.

Finish Time: 7:59:20 (#54 male, #10 AG35-39)

So what do I know now? Well Powerman is a real hardman's race - the ability to climb and run steep inclines is a necessity - something I would need to train more specifically for. I was happy with my energy levels and particularly nutrition, the only change I would make is to hit the hard candy earlier on in the bike leg to prepare sooner for the inevitable low. I do believe the protein shots proved invaluable in letting me get the most from a relatively short period of increased training without any suggestion of the type of injury I'd normally associate with a similar change in approach. Tellingly I was also able to get straight back into a series of hard sessions just a few days post-race.

What next? Well I still have other duathlon aspirations for the remainder of the season including the British Championships and a European Champonships qualifier in the coming weeks. I hope to be able to tune my speed to meet the endurance form picked up over the past couple of months and apply them over the standard 10km / 40km / 5km distance. I may also try to throw in one last run challenge before the year is out, but more on that later...

Thank you all for your support and interest!