This was my fourth duathlon and first international distance race (10k run – 40k bike – 5k run) of the 2016 season. I was very active in duathlons from 2008 through 2013, including competing in three national and two world age-group championships. In the time since then, I have been dealing with injuries (a concussion and plantar fasciitis in both feet) as well as life upheaval and menopause. When I returned to training, I had lingering symptoms and was carrying an extra 20 lbs which is very detrimental to racing speed, especially running.
My main goal for 2016 has been qualifying for the 2017 world championships. The qualifying race would be held on August 24th, at the international distance. This distance has typically taken me 2hrs30 to 2hrs45, depending on the course. I knew I would feel more confident going into my goal race, if I completed one prior. The Bracebridge race was only 17 days before August 24th, but I decided to do it and treat it as training. I also did a full week of training leading up to the race and did not allow myself a taper. This was going to be a test of endurance, not of speed. I’ve used this strategy before and it takes a good deal of humility, especially when you know your less-than-stellar results are going to be posted online for everyone to see.
This was my first time doing the Bracebridge course. I have done the hilly Multisport Canada (MSC) Gravenhurst and Huronia (Midland) races in the past, and was told that the run course would be flatter than those, but the bike course would be harder due to longer hills. I debated changing the gearing on my bike but in discussion with others, opted to stay with my existing gears.
I drove up to Bracebridge the night before and was able to get to the race site with plenty of time in the morning. I stick primarily to the MSC series as their races are very consistent in their organization. I quickly had my bike racked and transition area set up, including a second pair of running shoes. With my plantar fasciitis still bothering me a bit, I opted to do Run 1 in my cushioned training shoes and Run 2 in my racing flats.
For my warm-up, I did about 5 minutes of easy jogging, in contrast to the normal 20+ minutes I would have done in the past. I knew I was going to do Run 1 at an easy pace, so I didn’t need a long warm-up. As well, I didn’t feel that I had any endurance to spare! My legs felt good with no hamstring or calf tightness. My nutrition was good, my stomach was settled and all the bathroom stuff got taken care of in time. I have had some stomach upset (runner ischemia) in the past so I have now started taking two Imodium after my final bathroom visit at races, and this is working well.
Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 6:09/km) – We started out on grass and headed up a small hill. Within the first 10 metres, I was in last place of all 24 participants. At first, I was very disheartened about this, but then I realized that it took all the pressure off of me as there would be no one for me to try to stay ahead of.
I always view the first 10km of an international distance duathlon as a mental challenge. I try not to think about the fact that I am only in the first 10km of a total of 55km that I need to cover. I need to go hard, but not so hard that I am exhausted for the bike. When I am fit, I usually aim for 1-2 minutes slower in total than a stand-alone 10km race. That would put me at about a 6:00/km pace at my current level of fitness. The run was an out and back on a Muskoka road with cottages on one side and a river on the other. It was partially shaded, which helped as the day was already quite warm at 8:30am. My feet were tingly within the first couple of kms, due to lingering plantar fasciitis symptoms, but I knew this would improve as I carried on. By about the 3.5km mark, I started to see the fast men coming back towards me, followed by the women around the 4km mark. Lots of encouraging words back and forth, as many of us in the duathlon world know each other. There was a young woman volunteer on a mountain bike playing “sweep” who was following me as I was in last place…. That’s a first for me, but she was also encouraging. I plodded on, keeping my pace just below 6:00/km, but I faded in the last 3km and finished up a bit over that.
Bike (goal 24km/h, actual 24.8km/h) – a fairly quick transition, then out on the bike course. It started out fairly flat but at km4, there was a very big uphill. I had to go into my easiest gear, and stand up, but I got up it fine. After that, there were quite a few more ups and downs, but none as big as that one. In retrospect, staying with my existing gearing was the right decision. Mentally, this one-loop bike course went on forever. I had done a number of solo 50-60km rides in training, but my total bike mileage year-to-date is very low and I had not done any 40km time trials as I had in past years. I just kept telling myself to ignore my speed and get through it. The second half of the course had more of a tailwind than the first half, which was motivating. Finally it was over and I was back into transition.
Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:30/km) – Ideally, I try to keep my second run to within 15-20 seconds per km of my first run. Any closer than that means I haven’t worked hard enough in my first run. Any slower than that means I have gone way too hard on the bike portion. I headed out of transition feeling my normal amount of quad pain after a 40km bike ride, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs were ok after the first km. I got into a good running rhythm and started to feel very happy, knowing that I was going to finish the full distance in a solid manner.
I headed in towards the finish area and became quite emotional, realizing that I had met my goal of getting back up to the level of fitness where I could finish this race distance. I was thinking of all the life stuff that I had dealt with since the last time I did a full duathlon, especially the sudden cancer death of my dear friend Shirley last summer. I was very down for many months and for a while I thought that I would never compete again, let alone at this distance. Shirley’s cancer was completely unexpected and it threatened my previous assumption of my own health. The feeling of relief and gratitude when I crossed the finish line, was suddenly overwhelming.
It was pretty easy to collate my results….. 2nd of 2 in my age group, 8th of 8 women, 24th of 24 overall, and 3hrs18 total time, my slowest for this distance by about 25 minutes. Last in every way and a personal worst time, but it just didn’t matter. What a relief to know that I had met my race goal of finishing this distance.
Here are some random pics with my pal Shirley. Yes, she did 50 half marathons by the time she turned 50! She is very deeply missed.