I raced the half ironman world championships in South Africa on 2nd September 2018. Exactly 2 weeks later was the Peebles duathlon – a 5k run, 20k bike and 5k run. I was in agony after the half ironman worlds. My legs were completely crippled. I injured my Achilles at the start of July and had done minimal running training for South Africa – probably less than 10 miles in 2 months, when in usual circumstances I might have done 200-300 miles of running in those 2 months.
So my legs were incredibly deconditioned. My fitness was good, as I had been smashing out sessions on the bike and in the pool, but my legs didn’t have the conditioning to deal with running at the level of fitness I had. Plus, my Achilles was injured. So after miraculously managing a fairly decent half marathon to finish the half ironman world championships, I genuinely couldn’t walk. My legs were trashed. Muscles shot to pieces. My feet had softened up and the shock of running a hard half marathon had caused massive callouses to form on my feet. These were complete agony to put weight on too. And this wasn’t just for a few days. It was for weeks.
So, even thinking about doing the Peebles duathlon wasn’t a good idea. It was even less of a good idea when the day before race day came and I was still in leg pain and foot pain, and I had done pretty much no training whatsoever in the two weeks since South Africa. You can’t count as training eating junk food, pizza, chips, buns, cakes, chocolate, beers, you name it and I devoured it.
Also, my racing bike needed a full service after South Africa – it had got soaked and caked in mud, grit and dust. I still hadn’t managed to fully put it back together and get it to the bike shop. It was still lying in pieces on my living room floor…
So I was in pain, unfit, overweight (yes, yes, in relative terms, but it didn’t take long to put on a few kilos after South Africa), I didn’t have my race bike available, and basically was in no state to be doing a duathlon.
But I had agreed to travel down with a couple of friends (runners, now dabbling on bikes and in multisport racing). Well, I could just go and spectate. Then I thought, well, I could just bring my road bike and maybe go for a spin and watch the race. Then I thought well, I could just bring my gear anyway and try a little jog to warm up and see how it feels.
So we drove down on a day that was threatening to rain. We got there and parked. Well, I could just register, there’s no harm in that, I’ve already paid for the entry fee, I don’t necessarily have to start the race… I even asked at registration what the protocol was for withdrawing from the race before the race actually started.
Registration done, body marking complete, timing chip strapped around my ankle… Well, I suppose I could just rack my bike and get everything set up and then try a warm-up jog…
Well the warm-up jog didn’t feel great (actually it felt horrific, I had to completely change my stride to avoid landing on the callouses, which meant I was running pretty much like a lame duck, probably after a few kilometres I’d be quacking in pain too) but, well, it’s only a 5k run, a lot of it is on grass and trail anyway, and then you’re on the bike and there’s no impact forces on the bike, and well, don’t worry about the final 5k run, you could just bail out after the bike or even if you don’t bail out, well, it’s just a final 5k…
Transition on the banks of the River Tweed
So, possibly foolishly, I started the race. I’ve started lots of races. Been there, done that, countless times. Everyone always starts too fast. Especially in duathlons. Let them go. You’ll catch them back. I was fourth or fifth after a mile. After 2 miles I was first. Cardiovascularly I was quite comfortable, but my legs and feet were in pain. Just get through it. One more mile then you’re on the bike. It was a tough enough run course, along the river, over a bridge, up and down steps, up and down slopes, on path, trail, grass, over another bridge. Difficult to get into a rhythm.
I was first onto the bike. My road bike is a lot more lively and responsive than the time trial bike and I quite enjoyed the ride on the undulating course along the river Tweed. It was damp, and I was working hard, and the visor on my new aero helmet was steaming up from the inside, and collecting water on the outside, so I kept having to wipe it. More learning – I’ll need to buy some anti-fogging spray for it.
I was surprised at my average output and surprised at how decent I felt on the bike. I had thought I’d do well to hold 260 watts, and that I’d feel terrible, but I was well over 280 watts and feeling reasonable. Could I maintain the power though? It was an out-and-back course. Heading back was tougher, into the wind, but I could see how much of a lead I had. I reckoned if I could be first off the bike, I could suffer 16-18 minutes for the final 5k and hopefully hang onto the lead. I could deal with the damage later, after the race. I’ve never won a duathlon before, and here was a chance.
So on the homeward stretch, I kept everything low and tight into the wind and powered back to transition, was first off the bike, and started the final 5k run. Wow, it was immediately painful. My feet felt like they were on fire. My legs were trashed. I had recovered a little from South Africa in the two weeks since, but the first 5k here had completely set that back. But I still felt like I had fitness, I wasn’t deep into the red zone. I felt, surprisingly, that I had the fitness for a decent final 5k, I just didn’t have the body to allow it.
In the end I won by something like three minutes. I hadn’t expected to have the fitness levels I had. I respected the race and I raced as hard as I could for the whole thing. Maybe I should have backed off a little and reduced the damage done to my feet and legs, but you’re in a race. You’re racing. Go hard or go home. Respect it. Respect everyone else's efforts. It was nice to get the win in what was my final multi-sport race of the season – it was something of an unlikely win, possibly undeserved given what was a dreadful 2-week build up.
I quite enjoyed watching the rest of the duathlon unfold – Iain came in twelfth I think, but surely a top-10 would have been possible had he not been wearing massive baggy red shorts – not quick on a bike… Amanda was third female, a great result in a close ladies’ race – two good runs either side of a bike that has a lot of potential to improve… Then it was off to a café to eat some more junk food… A decent day in Peebles, it’s a nice part of the world.
The Borders triathlon series was coming to a close the following week with the Peebles triathlon. I knew I wouldn’t make this as I’d be at a wedding in Ireland. I ended up second overall in the series with three second place finishes (two sprints and one standard) and two wins (one sprint and one duathlon) out of the seven events in total (I entered five races). The series winner was the 2017 European and World M30-34 sprint triathlon champion. It’ll be interesting to see how much I can improve for next year, given that this was only my first season doing shorter triathlons. I’m sure in later blog posts I will reflect in more detail on the season.
And that was it for my triathlon/duathlon/multisport season. I’ll have another few weeks of proper rest and recovery and “indiscipline” – i.e. eating whatever I want, drinking whatever I want, doing whatever I want, and not training much. I’ve got a wedding in Ireland (a 4-day thing…) and then I will have to start picking up the training, with more of a running focus, for the winter cross country season. The first cross-country race will be in mid-October and I’ll try to get to a level in December where I might be considered for Scotland East selection again for the Scottish and UK inter-district championships in early 2019. I’ll do a little bit of swimming and cycling over the winter to keep my hand(s) (and legs) in, and then look to ramp up for the multisport season again in early 2019.