Podium finishes are always worth a write up, so here goes. On Sunday 29th March, I joined a select field of other brave souls to do battle with the elements at Bedford Autodrome in a standard distance (10K / 40K / 5K) duathlon event. It all turned out rather well.
The race was always going to be a major challenge, given the conditions and the fact that my preparation hadn’t been the best. I’d had a busy week out in the US, with a couple of full-on days presenting to customers and of course the transatlantic travel. Plus the clock change overnight and an early start had eaten into my pre-race sleep. On top of that I’d been fighting to make my weekly training targets so had added a pretty aggressive bike session the day before. I was definitely planning on ‘training through’ this one.
On arrival it was already blowing a gale and as the event was being held on an airfield in Bedfordshire there was absolutely no shelter from the wind. After picking up my race packet I did an immediate about turn in transition to return to the car – today was not a day for an 808 and disc wheel combination, so on went the 404s. Driving over to the race, I had been trying to decide whether to wear one or two base layers, but when the time came to get changed I discovered I’d failed to bring either. Decision made – a single short-sleeved base and trisuit would have to do. Then it started rain. The sort of rain that seems, thanks to the wind, to fall upwards and sideways as well as down.
Never-mind, the conditions would hamper everyone and I have a saying for when the weather is poor – “that’s half the opposition already beaten”.
I ate a banana, drank my ProStart shot and warmed up by running for about 30 seconds to the start line. The first run course featured 4 loops of a section of the race track – half of each loop directly into the wind, with a tailwind on the return leg. The field fractured immediately, but with some athletes doing a shorter sprint distance it was difficult to gauge position. I identified two or three other long coursers and settled in with them. Two others set out alone up front – one of whom I would later discover was the eventual winner of my distance (at this point I had wrongly assumed they were both in the sprint distance event). My first run was very sensible – for the first three laps I sheltered as best as I could at the back of this small pack and ran an even pace, well within myself. Only on the fourth loop when the group began to splinter did I carefully jump between racers onto the shoulder of the what I wrongly assumed was the lead runner. He had a few second lead over me as we entered transition at almost bang on 37 minutes for the opening 10k.
My first transition was perfect, another highlight of the day. I was in and out in 30 seconds – some way ahead of the runner I’d entered with. During that time I heard the announcer say “Here’s our second placed athlete” without mentioning a name or number. I figured he was probably talking about me, alerting me to the presence of someone else out in front, but I wasn’t sure. Anyway, I figured it didn’t much matter I’d just give it my best shot on the bike. To be honest, staying upright was going to be the first priority.
The bike course consisted of 8 laps of the motor-racing circuit, including various chicanes and hairpins. This would have been amazing to ride in the dry, but today the twisty route coupled with a combination of standing water, driving rain and howling wind was just plain treacherous. I tried to ride smoothly, putting the power down whenever we were heading into the wind figuring this would be my best opportunity to squeeze out any advantage over the opposition. Despite the weather it was still great fun and my new bike behaved impeccably. As it transpired my ride was the second fastest on the day and I had closed the gap on the mystery runner in front to only 30 seconds.
The current race standings became clear to me as I entered T2 and saw the athlete ahead of me exiting and heard another less ambiguous announcement. I struggled a little to get my running shoes as a result of my cold hands and dropped 15 or so seconds – yet I still turned in another decent 45 second transition. The first section of the 2nd run was downwind. At this point I could see my opponent further out across the course and the wild idea of chasing him down flashed into my mind. Then I turned 180 degrees back out on the circuit and realised that I’d be happy just to maintain forward momentum. I knew I had a good distance on third place so just settled into survival mode – working hard into the wind and letting myself get blown back into the transition area. The two laps ticked by and we were done. I crossed the line in a shade over 2 hours, satisfied with a good morning’s work. A minute down on first place but almost two up on third.
On talking to the victor it transpired he was from the Shetland Islands - certainly an unfair advantage given the conditions! Anyway, that's three second place duathlon finishes now... will I ever get the big 'W'?
Thanks for reading