Monday, May 24, 2010

Duathlon: Twice As Nice!

First a runner, then a marathoner. Now a duathlete.

Even though I've lived every single moment, step and pedal-push of those descriptions, it still seems weird to think of myself as any of those. It must be someone else, right? I mean, people who do those kind of things are athletic, trained and focused.

I'm just me.

But now this ever-changing version me includes the title of duathlete (if there is such a word), successfully completing a run-bike-run challenge as part of the Black Bear Duathlon in Waterville Valley on Sunday.

To say that I was nervous about this challenge would be an understatement. I barely feel like a runner sometimes. I most certainly don't feel like I have what it takes to take on a cycling event - not to mention adding those two sports together into one race.

I was nearly terrified of the transitions, especially since I never practiced them or even thought about what to do to pull them off successfully. I was daunted by Mountain Road and just crossed my fingers that I'd make it to the top. I was even more worried about the downhill.

And the second 5K? I didn't even want to think about it.

But, now that I've crossed the finish line -- three times, sorta, if you count the two 5K's and the 30K cycling portion -- I can confidently say that I enjoyed this race just as much, if not more, than any running event I've ever done.

As a bonus, it wasn't just a fun and enjoyable event, I actually performed quite well. (Quite well when compared to the very small field of competitors on Sunday, at least.) In fact, amazingly, I somehow happened to bring in the top finishing time for my age group. (Yes, really!)

Let's see if I can recap - and I apologize for the

lengthy description in advance.


The weekend started with a bit of a reconnaissance mission (with p
acket pick-up mixed in) the day before as TC and I made our way to Waterville Valley.

We'd be
en there before for the Duathlon Dry Run - and thankfully it wasn't nearly as hot as the test drive we took on the course a few weeks earlier.

We surveyed the transition area, finding the entrances and exits we'd be taking at the various stages of the race. This duathlon would have us run a 5K, starting on th
e road and ending through a chute that brought us to the transition area.

The transition area, a fenced in space in a grassy field, held all of the racks where are bikes and riding equipment (helmets, shoes, gloves, etc.) would be waiting for us. Once we made the switch from runner to cyclists, we'd have to run (or carry) our bikes out a separate chute, mount the bike at the designated spot and head out for a 30K ride, or 18.6 miles.

The route would loop back, sending us through the same chute, w
here we'd dismount and run our bikes back to our assigned spot, remove the cycling gear and make a quick change back into running shoes before heading out another specified chute for the second 5K.

Thankfully, everything was well marked and it was a small race - taking some of the pressure I'd been mentally putting on myself. I had had visions of me wandering around the transition area looking for my bike - or even leaving for the second 5K while still wearing my bike helmet. It could happen!


The 5K went off without a hitch, despite the fact that I almost never run 5Ks. I was focused on holding myself back a bit, reminding myself that I had a 30K bike ride and another 5K still ahead of me. And no rest til the finish line.

I ended up chatting with a couple of women who were running my pace (about an 8:50, which I was very pleased with, especially considering I didn't feel like I was exerting myself much).

We lost each other as we entered the transition area. One woman, a pers
onal trainer from a nearby city, flew threw the transition - literally picking up and carrying her bike to the designated exit as I was still changing my shoes.

I jumped on my bike just as TC was rounding the first bike loop. I was glad to see him healthy and smiling because I had a bit of worry about some nagging paid he'd been having in his knee. He called out some encouraging words and off we went in our separate ways. (I was still several minutes behind him at this point - and I knew the gap would only widen once we got to the bike portion. He would blow me away. Easily.)

I really had no idea what to expect from the bike portion. TC is the other person I've ever ridden with - and he's miles ahead (sometimes literally) of me in cycling ability. I admit that I've sometimes been discouraged that I couldn't keep up or tackle hills like he does. That, coupled with the fact that I'm still a newbie, put plenty of doubts in my ability for the cycle portion of Sunday's race.

Within the first mile (or less), I found myself passing four other cyclists. Yes, really? I realized, as I clicked along at 17 mph or so, that I was going to catch them - and it suddenly dawned on me that I'd never caught any cyclist on the road and I'd never had to pass anyone. I wasn't even sure how to pass another cyclist.

Not to worry, though, I've gotten passed by some on the road, so I just did what they did - and pulled along the left side of them long enough to overtake, then quickly returned to the race lane.

I was feeling great - a wave of confidence came over me. Hey, I'm not struggling out here. I don't look out of place. And I'm actually passing people!

I made the turn onto Tripoli Road, which would carry us to Mountain Road. I was scared of Mountain Road, despite the fact that I'd done it once before. It was not easy. At all. It was called Mountain Road for a reason.

The trek up the mountain was a struggle, but not as hard as I remembered. (I think riding Vermont hills helped my training - at least mentally if not physically!) I quickly passed another cyclist. Up ahead, I spotted two female cyclists, one in pink and another in blue. As I chugged steadily along, they were getting closer. Or, more accurately, I was getting closer.

I might actually chase them down, I thought. I quickly rephrased. I will chase them down.

I then focused on pushing a little harder. The gap got smaller and smaller until finally, I passed one. Then the other. "Nice riding," one said as I passed. "You too," I replied. Inside, I was totally cheering. Another big wave of confidence came over me.

Without using the Granny Gear or even getting through all of the gears on my middle ring, I got to the last, extremely steep pitch before the top - passed one more rider - then clicked into my big gear for the ride down.

Whatever confidence I may have built up during the ride up the mountain, quickly turned to frustration as I realized just how bad I am at riding downhills - especially after my freak-out in Vermont when I actually walked my bike down a hill. (I still can't believe my confidence was shaken so much that I walked down a hill I'd managed to get up.)

On Mountain Road on race day, my hands were clenched on the brakes. I felt uneasy and scared. (I need to get over that and use downhills as a reward for the hard work to get to the top!) Even firmly on my brakes, I still clicked above 20 mph on the way down. I should mention that the lead riders were absolutely flying down the hill, seemingly fear-free and effortlessly.

Soon, one of the riders I passed on the way up flew by me on the down hill. And another. And another.

All the hard work and effort I'd put in to pass them on the climb up was unraveling before my eyes. I was determined that I was not going to finish behind these ladies just because I'm a scaredy cat on the downhills. I'd catch them at the bottom.

And I did. One by one. I easily overtook two of them at the road flattened out after the turn onto the main road. The last one hung on for a while, but with me averaging speeds in the low 20 mphs, I caught her soon enough.

Another wave of confidence. The three scariest parts - up the mountain, down the mountain and the transition - were behind me.

I ended the bike leg in 1 hours, 11 minutes. I felt great about that. TC predicted I'd complete it in about 1:15 if I was doing well. I mentally gave myself an hour and a half. I'd blown that out of the water.

Then on to the second run. I can sum it up in three words. Oh. My. God.

My legs felt weird and heavy. I felt uncoordinated. And slow.

I'd only practiced the bike-run transition once (twice, if you count a gym workout I did the day after I signed up for the duathlon) and quickly realized that I wish I'd had more practice. The encouraging thing was that everyone else seemed to be struggling too. I heard moans and groans as I passed a couple of runners. Yes, I actually passed people on this weird, wonky run.

According to my watch (and my math skills -- the "mile markers" were actually kilometers, which added a whole new level to running math), I'd be lucky to clock a 30-minute 5K. I rounded the corner with about a mile (maybe?) to go and saw TC standing in the road.

He was all smiles and cheers. He'd finished about 20 minutes or so before me (he rocks, doesn't he?!) and came out to run the final mile with me. (Although we agreed he'd turn off before the actual finish so I could cross the line solo.)

My final time was 2:12 - which left me more than pleased. I'd set a goal of 2:30, not really knowing what to expect on my first time out.

Let's just say that I was checking the web via my iPhone on the way home - about 15 minutes after we packed up the car to head home after Sunday's duathlon - to find upcoming duathlons in the area. So I'd say the chances are pretty good there's another duathlon in my future.

As I posted on Facebook on the ride home, I think duathlons might be my thing -- a great way to combine two things I love. Three, if you count TC.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seein' Orange

I've spruced up my bike a bit. Added some orange handlebar tape, orange tires and orange cages. Pretty sassy! Now if only my bike riding ability would catch up to the way my bike looks....


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Duathlon Dry Run

I made it to the top.

TC snapped this photo at the top of Mountain Road, just at the base of Mt. Tecumseh - probably the most challenging part of our upcoming duathlon. At the very least, it was the most daunting.

It probably goes without saying that a duathlon course that includes phrases like "challenging climb" and "Mountain Road" was surely going to put me to the test. The elevation profile made my stomach do flip-flops.

Of course, I decided to read the site more thoroughly and discovered all of this important information after we signed up. That's probably a good thing.

I'm not sure, had I done my research earlier, that I would have signed up. Maybe it would be too much of a challenge? Maybe I'm not ready for this? But with my registration fee paid and a number waiting for me at the starting line, there wasn't any backing out.

TC and I set aside today for the trip up to Waterville Valley - yes, folks, as in the ski area. Skiing equals mountains, right? (I don't know how that got past me when I sent the link to TC a couple of months ago and asked if he wanted to do the duathlon with me.)

We opted for the "short" course, which meant we'd do a 5K run, followed by a 30K ride (18.6 miles), followed by another 5K run. Yes, that's the short version.

New England weather is funny. Not ha-ha funny, just weird funny. It was literally snowing here four days ago. Today, temps skyrocketed in the 90s. A hot day for a run - especially one followed by a 18-mile bike ride up a mountain and a second 5K.

We drove the course first, taking mental notes of the turns and (more importantly) the hills. By mental note, I mean that my legs, lungs and brain were screaming things at me - things like, "What are you nuts?!" and "Look at that mountain road!" and, mostly from my legs, "You seriously think we can get you up there?!?"

To say that I was doubtful and apprehensive would be putting it mildly.

I started making back-up plans for the probable scenario that would bring me through all of my gears to a point that it would be difficult for me to remain upright. I thought about where I could safely unclip and, sigh, walk up the rest of the hill. It would be a long, long walk.

The first 5K was relatively uneventful, except for the blazing hot sun that pelted us. I was glad when the route took a turn onto a dirt path along a brook. (Actually, I felt like jumping in the brook at that point.) It was h-o-t.

We continued back to the car where our bikes were waiting for us. We downed some water and Gatorade, geared up with helmets, gloves and shoes and headed out.

Next stop, mountain top.

I glanced at the thermometer on my bike computer as we made the first turn. It read 97 degrees. Oh. My. God. I chalked it up to the fact that my bike had been sitting in the sun and enjoyed the refreshing breeze that being on a bike creates. (As a side note, the bike thermometer never dipped below 87 - just backing up what I already knew. It was hot.)

We started the slow climb up Tripoli Road, nothing overwhelming but certainly a good push for the legs and cardio. Then came Mountain Road - the steepest and most daunting part of the drive and elevation map.

I found my "groove" - a slow, but comfortable pace - and just started cranking. Conscious of the amount of road left and the incline ahead of me, I shifted cautiously and conservatively. Surprisingly, I continued to propel forward. I watched my speedometer remain steady. (Pegged at a single-digit number, but at least steady and moving me up the hill.)

I felt an inexplicable sense of relief and a wave of confidence come over me. I might actually make it up this thing without walking.

I saw a sign up ahead - a red circle with a "9" in the center. It had been my first back-up plan if I needed a break. And I breezed by it. (Okay, "breezed" might be a bit generous, but I trudged by it without needing it as a breaking point. That was a victory.)

Chugging along, I saw the sign for the final turn - the steepest part of the hill - that would bring me to the turn-around point. TC was waiting for me and I pushed forward to the top - never once backing down into my Granny Gear!

Whoo-hoo! Whoo-freaking-hoo!

I'd done it. Sure, I still had another 16-plus miles ahead and another 5K to run, but I'd made it through what was sure to be my most physical and mental challenge. (We stopped at the top to snap the photo - and despite the fact that it looks like TC's bike in the background is part of a tragic crash, he also arrived safely at the summit.)

The stop was brief - and we tackled the downhill. I must say, I was almost unprepared for how fast and scary the downhill would be. I found myself on my brakes for most of the first part of the descent. At times, I felt as if I had a death-grip on my handlebars, and if it's possible to hold on tighter with cycling shoes, on my pedals, too.

TC and I spent the next 7 miles riding together, sometimes side-by-side, sometimes practicing drafting and trading off the lead position. The heat was still there, but much more bearable on the bike. It probably helped, too, that the entire 7 miles was downhill. (I kept reminding myself that we'd take this same road back to the car, so we'd be tacking a long incline on the way back. A long, long incline.)

That incline ended up not being as bad as it seemed, another exercise in just finding a gear and speed and pushing the pedals. The last two bumps - a couple of rolling hills - were harder than I thought they'd be - probably because they came after 6 or so miles of riding uphill. And I had been almost out of water for a while.

I struggled through them - almost as much as I did going up Mountain Road - and made the turn to the car. I was exhausted and hot. And thirsty. Oh, and I had another 5K to run.

We did all the necessary transition stuff - switching shoes, etc. - and downed some more water. I couldn't keep up with my thirst. My face and arms already felt gritty and my skin felt really hot. The sun had been beating down on my winter-white arms for almost two hours by now.

The second 5K started off as expected - with legs feeling like bricks. But unexpectedly, I just didn't feel right. I stopped to walk. I mustered up enough to run a bit again, then walk. I questioned how I'd make it the rest of the way.

Truth is, I didn't make it the rest of the way. Reluctantly, I gave in to Mother Nature's scorching sunshine and asked TC if we could cut the run short. (More accurately, I told him I couldn't make it the whole way and had a tearful breakdown upon realizing that I wouldn't complete this challenge. We hugged in the middle of the road while I pulled myself together and we ran out the shortened course along a trail.)

Despite the shortened run, I still see today as a huge check mark in the "win" column. It was exactly the confidence builder I needed. I'd conquered my fear of Mountain Road and made it unscathed through the cycling portion - and done it all in extremely hot conditions.

Now, if Mother Nature can just find some middle ground between the snow and today's heat, I'll be good to go in a few weeks. Fingers crossed!