I’m a cyclist. I’m a runner. So, duathlon couldn’t be that bad. I could get into it. Or, that’s what everybody convinced me of when I decided to enter La Gileppe Trophy, a sprint duathlon in Belgium.
Even though it was a fun training race, I was nervous that morning. It didn’t help showing up at the venue to see disc wheels on full time trial bikes next to multisport equipment I had never even seen before. It also didn’t help that I was in Belgium and no one spoke English. Oh how I was wishing I paid attention in my high school French class.
After fumbling through registration and crumpling up the French directions, I eyed my fellow competitors to figure out what to do, copying where they pinned their numbers and stuck their ID stickers. Feeling like such a roadie without any TT bars or a number belt, I entered the transition area to rack my bike and lay out my equipment, still checking to see if others were doing the same.
Finally, it was time for the race to start. As the organizer went through the race brief en Francais, sounding to me like the teacher in Snoopy cartoons, I scoped out the field. It was quite small, which I figured was good for a first timer since the chance of congestion was minimal. Then, all of a sudden, we were running. Happy in my own little English-only world checking out the competition, I had missed the “allez” on the loud speaker but I was finally doing my first duathlon!
The first run was 5km with a surprisingly long uphill drag towards the end. I found a steady rhythm but all I was thinking about was my very first transition. I had a plan. Shoes. Shoes. Helmet. Bike. I must have repeated the plan in my head a thousand times so as I entered transition I knew exactly what to do. I breezed through under my goal time of 1 minute and before I knew it I was mounting my bike. Erring on the side of not falling, I selected the safe option of just stepping over my bike like normal and clipped in easy…ok, well easy-ish. I was nervous.
The cycling component was as comforting as a security blanket. The familiar suffering of a threshold session settled my nerves and I happily powered through the forest of La Gileppe and even some of the field. So far, duathlon wasn’t so bad. I could get in this, I thought. As we left the forest, just under the half way point, I started to really enjoy myself and I had even closed the gap to the leading woman to about 10 seconds. Then we took a right on to a long descent and she flew away from me on her TT bike. I didn’t give up, pushing my biggest gear, but she easily opened a gap and I lost sight of her in the winding last 10km….until we entered transition.
First, let me tell you running in cycling cleats sucks. Second, running downhill in cycling cleats sucks even more. I entered transition for the second time and my awkward stagger I was trying to pass off as a transition run had me saying out loud, “ahhhh awkward!” My English sentiments definitely fell on French ears but then I refocused on my transition plan. Bike. Shoes. The leading woman! Shoes. Helmet. As I started my transition, I couldn’t believe the leading woman was still in my sight. I quickly calculated that she had about 15 seconds on me and realized I was in a good position. It was then I thought to myself, duathlon isn’t so bad. I could get into this.
Then I started running. Or, what was supposed to be running. I had death legs. I also had “rookie tummy,” since I ate too much on the bike. Somehow I convinced my legs to keep moving and as I reached the turn around point, the gap between us was still 15 seconds. On a 2.5km run it sounds silly now, but inexperience and lack of confidence decided that I would wait until the last 1km to pick up the pace. Well, 1km came and went. My legs convinced my brain that 500m to go, the finishing straight, was the “go” point. As I turned to see the finish, I gave the last few hundreds my all and finished second overall. Rookie errors and all, standing on the podium the thought crept in again. Duathlon isn’t so bad. I could get into this.