A little over a year ago, I signed up for a standard-distance duathlon in Cobourg on a whim. The timing fit with my racing schedule and I had never raced a duathlon before, so I figured why not try it out? It turned out to be the wonderful beginning to a journey that culminated in racing for Team Canada in the Duathlon World Championships.
I had no illusions that this would be an easy race, either from a competitive or personal perspective. As I’ve gotten faster, I’ve realized that racing short(ish) distances becomes more and more difficult – the endurance comes not from the muscles, but rather from mental fortitude saying I can do this – because I finished blazing interval sessions, tempo rides with a headwind and neverending long runs. Just keep going. Faster. Faster.
I have never raced in Ottawa before, but after this experience I would highly recommend it. The bike and run courses followed a winding parkway along the river, with gliding turns and shallow grades but no major hills to speak of. The first run was two laps of a 5km course, the bike was two laps of 20km and the final run returned to the 5k course for one lap.
This is the most important race I’ve ever done, and of course I had time goals – both realistic and “secret” ones – and process goals. Some of these were based on my experiences in other races, some based on my training leading up to the race. Besides finishing and having fun (which are goals for every race), I wanted to:
- Maintain an even pace throughout. This meant evaluating my pace to make sure I was pushing hard enough but leaving some energy for the finish – particularly since I have a habit of going out too hard in the beginning, slacking in the middle and finishing hard to make up for it.
- Push hard on the bike. I admit, I’m a wimp on the bike – I once had someone tell me I don’t know how to suffer, and I see this when I finish a race knowing I could have gone faster. No mercy in this race.
- Run the first 10k in 46 to 47 minutes (average pace 4:36 to 4:42). I wanted to have a solid first run without going out too fast, and aimed for 0:30 to 1:30 off my 10k running personal best. But if we’re being honest? I really wanted to see if I could run a sub-45 10k.
- Average above 30km/hr on the bike, which means finishing 40km in under 1:20. I’ve never broken the 30km/hr barrier, and averaging exactly 29.3k/hr in two previous races was frustratingly close!
- Run the second 5k in under 25 minutes (average pace under 5:00). Beating a 5:00 pace off the bike would be a first for me, especially after a hard ride, but my secret unrealistic goal was 22:30. Don’t tell anyone.
- Finish under 2:30 overall. Somewhere between unrealistic and achievable, if everything came together perfectly.
- Not last place. Please.
I had already picked up my race kit, attended the race briefing and dropped off my bike in transition the night before so race morning was pretty straightforward, but I never really relax until I’ve gotten my transition area set up. My 7:25 wave start meant I was up at 5am, out the door with a blueberry bagel in my tummy by 5:45, and on the race site with my coffee shortly after 6am. I went through my ritual of setting up my transition (realizing that I forgot the purple transition towel I’ve used in every race for the past 5 years), pumping my tires up to 118psi, dropping off my extras at bag check and doing a little jog and some strides to wake up my legs. I wasn’t nervous at all (which was pretty weird), and feeling strong and ready.
The First Run – 10km
All 171 women started in the second wave, with a brisk cool headwind as we headed west along the parkway. I focused on maintaining a consistent pace as I watched the majority of the field pull away from me – although it was disappointing to see everyone pulling ahead, this is my race and I knew if I raced others now then I would burn out. Save the kick to the end – more people ahead means more passing opportunities later!
My kilometer splits were all between 4:32 and 4:45, with the exception of the last climb up a slight grade towards transition. My chip time was 47:59; however my Garmin recorded a distance of 10.26km and time of 47:53, putting my pace at 4:39 and (in my opinion) achieving my time goal for the first run!
The Bike – 40km
I had a blazing fast T1 (in true Kim fashion), and in 45 seconds I was hopping on my bike and slipping my feet into the shoes waiting on my pedals. I looked down to check my speed and – damn! – realized that my bike computer decided this was the perfect time to stop working. Speed and cadence were transmitting but registering as zero, so something was up with the sensors. I started my Garmin belatedly since I wasn’t planning on using it on the bike, and started doing the math (yay!) to convert km pace splits into km/hr (in case you’re wondering, 2:00 pace is 30km/hr).
The majority of the course was fairly straight and flat with a slight headwind on the way out, but honestly I didn’t even notice a difference with the wind. After about 3km we turned off the parkway to my favourite part: an extra loop with 9 turns within about a kilometer, meaning I could fly fearlessly around corners and overtake people without even trying!
I finished the 40km bike in 1:18:11, beating my goal time by almost two minutes and averaging 30.7km/hr! I was very happy with my effort, and I knew that I couldn’t have gone any faster – my heart rate averaged 165bpm which is a pretty solid sustained effort for me. One last tri-berry GU through T2 (0:58) and I was ready to run!
The Second Run – 5km
So apparently when you actually work hard on the bike, it makes the transition to running more difficult. Who would have guessed, right? Well my legs felt awful heading out into the run, and the best I could manage was a jog. Yup, 5k to go in the world championships and I’m freaking jogging.
Past experience has taught me that the first kilometer always sucks, so the best strategy is to suck it up and run fast anyways so I did my best, most efficient post-bike jog and managed a 5:04 split on my first kilometer (apparently I’m pretty good at jogging). My legs evened up after about 3km, so I turned up the dial and passed a few people, one of whom was a fellow Canadian in my age group, Mesiti. Nearing the finish, I glanced behind me again and saw Mesiti gaining on me from about 100m back – this girl was determined. No problem, but I figured I’d turn it up a little anyways and at least look like I wasn’t tired (and yes, I did pass the guy in front of me). Good call, Kim.
Anyways, don’t you just hate when people in your age group sprint past you 50m before the finish line? Me too, so it’s handy to have a little finishing kick so you can pass them back and win by 2 seconds. I don’t think Mesiti was very happy about how things turned out, but I managed to snag a 2:33:17.9 finish and 20/25 placing! My run was 25:25, and again my Garmin read 5.26km, making my actual pace closer to 4:50.
Recap and Lessons Learned
I consider all my race goals acheived, with the exception of a sub-2:30 finish – but honestly, I’m not too concerned about that because I broke my personal records in all three individual events and beat my previous personal best by over 13 minutes! Everything came together and I was absolutely ecstatic about my race performance.
That being said, there are a few things I learned for future races:
- Despite all my training, I have lots of room for improvement in both running and biking (the best description came from a fellow competitor the day before the race: “it’s a humbling experience”). The fastest women in my age group finished the 10k in under 40 minutes and the bike portion in under 1:12!
- I need more practice running off the bike. When comparing my time in the run portions I realized that many women running 47-48 minute 10ks (similar to mine) were running 23 minute 5ks off the bike, more than 2 minutes ahead of me.
- My pre-race and race nutrition wasn’t optimal – I didn’t have any specific issues with nutrition, either before or during the race, but I felt that it could have been better. I took one gel about 5 minutes before the fun started and four more during the race, along with about 400mL of gatorade and 300mL of water on the bike (plus some water from aid stations). My future training will involve some experimentation to figure out what and how much to eat and drink to improve my performance.
So what’s next?
I’ve already registered for the olympic duathlon National Championships at the Esprit Triathlon de Montreal on September 7th, where a top-10 finish means I qualify for the 2014 World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain!