Yesterday started perfectly, as the children agreed to get dressed when asked and we were all in the car and singing along to the Rocky Soundtrack as we hit the M60 at 07:30 (Happy Mother’s Day Dearest!).
I was nicely rested up and fuelled up having grabbed a two hour afternoon nap the previous day to compensate for a late Friday night gig at the Ritz with the Manchester School of Samba. After grabbing some Ready Brek for breakfast and already hydrated with a pint of SIS PSP 22, I nibbled pain au chocolats with the rest of the family as we made rapid progress towards Cheshire.
The weather was mixed; sharp showers with the sun breaking through the clouds which meant we saw a fantastic rainbow as we passed Northwich. The only silver lining I could see to rain would be that a greasy track might limit the better cyclists and be a bit of a leveller. However, the prospect of my wife entertaining and (to a degree) controlling our excitable young offspring for over 2 hours whilst it was raining concerned me more than the race itself (Happy Mother’s Day Dearest!). As it turned out the rain held off until the last 2 laps on bike and then cleared during my second run.
The event was an ITU World Championship qualifier which meant that there were some serious competitors with serious equipment around me. I spotted a couple of Principia’s both of which lapped me and one of them finished 3rd so it seems I took a punt on a 2nd hand bike with some pedigree even if mine is at the entry level of their range. I chatted to one of the other owners after the race and was cheeky enough to ask how much his had cost. It was also bought 2nd hand and he had spent over twice the amount I had, but then again he had finished over 7 minutes ahead of me whilst being over 10 years my senior.
The start was delayed by 40 minutes due to queues at registration and it transpires that only around 400 of the expected 500 people competed. I had arrived before the rush and aside from the registration issue the event was very well organised and there was space for all abilities of runners and riders with simultaneous sprint and standard distance competitions and no fear of safety or performances being compromised.
I walked the pit lane transition area with Fiona who had parked her bike a couple away from mine. She seemed to know what she was doing and although this was her first duathlon she was an Ironwoman and she advise me to become familiar with the mounting and dismount areas and the timing mat to ensure nothing could go wrong. One brilliant tip was to look for a landmark close to the point where your bike was racked. Mine was half way along very close to the lights for the starting grid. This bit of preparation was settling me down.
After a briefing in the cafe and 3 trips to the toilet due to over hydration (all crystal clear!) I returned with all the competitors to the starting grid, and then without too much hanging about we were away. I had no Endomondo to pace me so had to trust myself to find the appropriate speed. Congestion swept me along rather than held me up for a while but I was aware of this. The track was far from flat but the clockwise direction meant we had gentle downhills and a just couple of noticeably sharp climbs. The first kilometre was down hill and I tried to relax and watch the form of those around me. I was mingling with athletes wearing GB colours with names on their vests although they were a good distance from the front. I tracked Kieran Montgomery for a while and actually finished the 2 lap run in front of him although he passed me in T1 never to be caught again. The first lap split was well ahead of my target 4min/k pace so I relaxed for the second lap and arrived in transition placed 62nd with a time of 34:26 minutes for 8.6k.
The cycling was great fun, too much fun in fact. The banked hairpin bend brought back the fun from my recent velodrome experience. I was picking off people to race against; sometimes winning, sometimes losing. Fighting back on the hills to un-lap myself and generally monstering the circuit to the best of my ability with no thought for the 3rd section of the competition. I had been warned that counting laps on a relatively short circuit was something to be mindful of. One suggestion was to have a letter for each lap so in the absense of any Rocky soundtrack, Delphic or 5150 I passed the time thinking of positive, powerful and inspiring words beginning with each letter of the alphabet on the appropriate lap: Attitude, Balls, Character, Drive, Endorphins, Fearless, Gutsy, Happy (I really couldn’t think of any other H), and finally (Mr) Incredible.
Around lap 7 I finally knocked the chain off the top cog in an effort to limit myself and preserve something in my legs but alas the damage was already done. I had recently ridden a similar distance on the bike but not with such intensity and speed. I had averaged over 20mph for 1 hour 11 minutes and 52 seconds so my legs were not going to be particularly happy or cooperative when I dismounted.
I almost fell over, my legs would not go up and down, the SPD cleats made me even more unstable but I hoped that within 30 seconds my legs would start to feel like my own. I could barely bend over to change my shoes and grabbed at the bike racking to stop me falling over. My running shoes felt more comfortable than the bike shoes but I still hobbled in a comedic manner and returned to the track in the 11th slowest time transition of the 224 standard distance finishers, shuffling along like Charlie Chaplin trying to speed-walk. My legs still didn’t feel like my own and I decided that survival without injury was the order of the day. It was frustrating because my fueling stratergy of a caffeine gel during the briefing, 2 regular gels at T1 and 500ml of SPS PSP 22 during the 9 laps had left me with the energy I needed to do more but the muscles were saying please back off (well maybe not in such a polite manner).
With less than 2k to go I visualised my morning 3k constitutional to help me through it. I was definately over Sandgate Road and the ‘right side’ of the M60 again, then turning into Cuckoo Lane, then past the school, but having played these mind tricks before I deliberately over-estimated what I had left to do so that the finish post came unexpectedly early. On that final lap I had only overtaken one other person (other passed me) but my pace had gently improved and I could see 2 runners in my sights, at least one of which was catchable. Spurred on by this I caught the first and burst past him so he wouldn’t be tempted to kick back and sure enough he didn’t (good choice). Then my momentum brought me into reach of a guy in a red and black Leeds and Bradford trisuit. We turned off the track with 100 metres to the finish line, I was right on his shoulder and he was kicking back. I let out a roar as I forced my way along side him and dived over the line ahead of him, almost falling into some railings and a group of supporters. I apologised immediately for my ridiculous behaviour and shook his hand. The dive was pointless as it was the chips mounted around our ankles that triggered the clocks. The official results give us the same time but have placed him ahead of me. Now there were 7 instances of people clocking identical times and in each and every case the person with the lower number is placed first. The chances of the lower numbered runner always being faster (assuming these are statistically independant events) is less than 1%. So I won okay? Probably? Not that it really matters (obviously it does) but the ridiculous finish pushed us both 3 seconds under the 2 hours 10 minute barrier which exceeded my expectations and hopefully helped him too.
Garmin data here, there was no Endomondo as mobile phones/MP3 were banned and I almost got my self disqualified when I was caught taking pictures on my phone (and therefore ‘using it’) in the pit lane whilst racking up my bike.
The family had enjoyed themselves, cheering me faithfully on every lap and Catriona had snapped bits of me in action around the track. The reward for their patience and tolerance was a trip to Peckforton Castle for a lovely leisurely lunch in their restaurant (Happy Mother’s Day Dearest!) with a chance to explore the castle and chase the peacocks. So a fine time was had by all.