Race report – SA Duathlon Championships 2017 (All about my first duathlon, and how I got there!)

Hang on, this can’t be right, can it? Duathlon. That’s running AND cycling. I’m a runner, not a cyclist!

Well, you read it correctly. This past weekend I stepped well outside of my comfort zone and competed in my first duathlon.

It all started a while ago – around 2 years ago I think, when I was doing a Heysen 105 training run with a bunch of guys from Victor Harbor – noted runner Simon, and two accomplished triathletes, Jono and Shane (Simon’s brother). They were also all parkrun Run Directors (Simon and Shane were also the Event Directors and the people you have to thank for bringing parkrun to Victor!) so we had plenty to chat about. I remember asking Shane if he was going to run the Heysen 105 but being so close to a fairly important triathlon event (Murray Man), that was not going to happen. Not that year, anyway!

A little further down the road my friend and regular running buddy Nat offered to give me a few lessons on the bike. I didn’t have a bike at that stage, and I had NEVER ridden a road bike, or with cleats! (Like most kids, I had had a bike, but since being an adult, my cycling experience was pretty limited. I had done an easy cycling tour in Berlin, a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, a ride through Stanley Park in Vancouver, and most recently rode around Inis Mor off the coast of Ireland (near Galway).

Inis Mor, 2014

The bike I was ‘learning’ on was her son’s bike, he was 13 at the time and still growing, so Nat said that when he grew out of it, she might be wanting to sell it. I said I’d definitely be interested in buying it – it was a great bike, a Bianchi (if that means anything to you!)

This was during the summer of 2015-2016.

One of my goals for 2016 was to complete a triathlon. I didn’t specify a distance, I just wanted to be able to tick one off. I did do an aquathlon in late 2015 (swim/run – I went for the short course which was just one swim and one run!) but had yet to incorporate cycling into the equation! My lack of a bike was a small disadvantage here…

Sometime during 2016 there was some banter between Shane and me regarding him doing the Heysen 105 and me doing a triathlon. I guess theoretically you could say I had the easier part of the deal – a mini triathlon is still a triathlon, but he still had to run 105km! I kept using the fact that I didn’t have a bike as an excuse, he would send me invites to all these triathlon events but somehow I always managed to have a running event on (or some other excuse!). Plus, 2016 (at least the first part of it) was consumed with my trying to qualify for Boston!

Then, in October 2016, it happened. Shane became an ultramarathoner by completing the Heysen 105. (Hey, if you’re going to do one ultra in your life, it might as well be a 100k!) I thought to myself, I guess I’m really going to have to keep up my end of the deal now!

Then things went relatively quiet. 2016 came to an end, then my Boston training began, and any thoughts of doing one of the summer triathlons went out the window.

And then, in early July, I got the message from Nat that I’d been kind of hanging out for. I WAS planning to buy a bike, but I always had in the back of my mind that the Bianchi might become available any time, and it was going to be vastly superior than any other bike (new or secondhand) that I could afford to buy. Her son was about to turn 15 and he was getting a new bike for his birthday. Did I want to buy the Bianchi? You bet, I said (or words to that effect).

So then, for about 6 weeks, it sat in my bedroom, bemusing my cats, and generally gathering dust. In my defence, the winter weather was pretty crappy for riding and I didn’t really want to start riding in adverse conditions.

Isn’t she pretty?

Around 3 weeks ago I went to yet another parkrun launch down at Aldinga, Simon and Shane were also there along with a few other members of their family! Shane mentioned a duathlon coming up at Victoria Park in a few weeks, he was entering his son in the ‘Enticer’ distance and he was doing the long course (also the State Championship race). I thought, yeah, I can probably do that! I SHOULD do that! It’s not a triathlon but it’s a start!

A week later, I was all set to go for my first ride on Saturday afternoon when I realised the seat was too high and I didn’t have an Allen key to adjust it! Luckily I have one at work so on Monday I brought it home, lowered the seat, and went out for a quick spin before the light started to fade. I didn’t even get out of my work clothes – just threw the helmet and the Garmin on, and was out the door! (I decided to leave the cleats for another day!)

My first ride was up and down a newly resurfaced back street near where I live. The U-turns were a bit tight, but I wasn’t quite ready to tackle proper roads (plus I still haven’t mastered the art of signalling!) I managed 5k quite comfortably and decided to enter the duathlon. It was a 2.5km run/9km ride/1.25km run, all on bitumen, and dead flat. I could definitely do that!

So I entered, but I didn’t want to tell too many people. I didn’t want witnesses! In my favour was the fact that the duathlon clashed with the final Yurrebilla training run, and many of my running friends would be there, safely clear of Victoria Park! I told Shane of course – he would be there anyway, and it was pretty much his fault I was doing it anyway!

Fast forward to race weekend. I thought I’d better get out and do another ride so on Saturday afternoon I ventured a bit further afield (this time I was at least in ‘activewear’, having done a run earlier) and rode laps around the block, including 2 main roads (one with a bike lane, one without). I attempted left signals but I don’t think they were that great. At least at that time of day there was not a lot of traffic! I only did left turns! (Signalling was not going to be an issue in the race so I can work on that later!) I rode just under 9km which was the distance I’d have to ride on Sunday.

Gear-wise I didn’t have a trisuit but I did have some shorts which I think might be tri shorts versus normal bike shorts (I have a pair of bike shorts that are extremely padded, and these ones have padding but not quite so much. I got them from an op shop, still with the tags attached! Winning!) and I just went with a plain black tank on top. Thought I might keep it low key. Then I couldn’t help myself so I added rainbow arm warmers!

On Saturday night while I was getting my gear ready (and entering new territory in setting my watch to multisport mode!) I was chatting with Shane on Messenger and he sent me a few funny videos (mostly what NOT to do in transition) and also gave me one piece of advice which I took very seriously since it was all in caps!

Shane’s valuable advice!

How bad would it be if I forgot my helmet? Or my bike?

I had the helmet and the bike ready in the lounge the night before so I couldn’t forget either!

In the morning I got ready as usual and then went to put the bike in the car. Now bear in mind I’ve ridden it twice. I certainly haven’t taken any bits off it! Well the plan was to fold the back seats down and put it in in one piece. But one of the seats wouldn’t fold down so the only way I could get it in was to take off the front wheel. It was a bit of a tight squeeze but there was no way I was taking off the back wheel too!

I got to Victoria Park way early, and was just sitting in the car thinking I might listen to a few more tunes before getting out, when a car pulled up just near me, it was Shane, Simon and Shane’s son Finn who was doing the Enticer with me.

Luckily I had professionals to help me reattach my front wheel! It looked so easy! I didn’t have any pockets in what I was wearing, so I shoved my coffee money down one side of my shorts, my car keys in the other, and my energy drink down the front of my shorts as we rode around the track to the registration area.

First stop was the transition area to rack my bike. The guy there was very helpful, he even helped me adjust my helmet straps. He and Shane showed me how to get the bike off the rack and also how to put it back on when I’d finished the bike leg. The helmet was placed under the bike and I went to collect my bib and a few extra pins to pin my car key and my coffee money inside my shorts!

After keeping this event VERY quiet among people who might come down for a look, I ran into a few people I knew very early on – former colleague, runner and triathlete Sarah, well known trail and ultra runner Marlize, and marathoner and triathlete Belinda – all of course doing the long course! (There were only 7 people entered in the Enticer! I assumed they’d all be kids!)

We went for a little warmup ‘jog’ and then it was time for the race briefing. I must say I was probably more confused after the briefing than before!

The Enticer and the Sprint (long) distance both started at the same time. It would be up to us to count our own laps. We had a 2 lap run, a 4 lap ride and a 1 lap run. The Sprint distance was double that. I was glad that the highest number I had to count up to was 4!

We started with a run, I was pretty comfortable with that! I’d done 2 races here before – the Clipsal Hot Lap Fun Run which followed the Clipsal 500 (motor racing) track and the SARRC loop event, both last year. It’s a good, flat, fast course! Our run was only 2km so that was pretty much a walk in the park for me!

So far, so good!

I was possibly one of the first (well I was definitely one of the first 7!) to enter transition for the first time. Helmet ON. Helmet DONE UP. Bike unracked. Walked through transition to the section where we could mount the bike. Most people would run here. Not me! On my first lap, I didn’t have to contend with other riders coming back the other way, as all the Sprint competitors were still running. By my second lap, I’d be being overtaken left, right and centre (well maybe not so much centre!) by the fast cyclists!

While I was messing around with my helmet (I’d stupidly left it buckled up, so I had to unbuckle it first – definite rookie mistake – and then managed to pinch myself with the buckle on the first attempt) Finn came into transition, his bike being right next to mine. We got onto the bikes and we had pretty much the whole track to ourselves, well for a short time at least! Another one of the Enticer guys, who wasn’t there when I was in transition, flew past us. At least now I had someone to follow!

The bike course had a few tight turns in it. On my first proper turn, not one of the hairpin turns but more of an easy right turn, I couldn’t find my brakes! Luckily at the last second I found them and eased them on gently as I cornered. By the last lap I thought about not braking at all, as I got used to the feel of the bike and the course (I still braked, but not quite as much!)

Towards the end of the lap there was a U-turn which I totally missed – I ended up going a bit too far but still managed to turn safely without causing a pile-up (my biggest fear in the bike leg!) – then as I was going back the other way I saw Finn turning at the proper place. And I didn’t make that mistake again – after missing it the first time, I could see it was actually very well marked. It was just because I didn’t have anyone close in front of me at the time, and I tend to rely on following people – definitely not used to being at the front!

The U-turns (there were 2 on each of the 4 laps) got easier as I went along but I still slowed down almost to a stop. Each time I’d look behind me to make sure there wasn’t anyone coming. On one lap there were 2 riders flying up behind me so I did pretty much stop and let them past before I carefully went around myself! (Later on, after I’d finished and was watching the Sprint competitors on that very turn, I noticed that they all slowed down quite a lot. Maybe not quite as much as me, but they definitely slowed down!)

As I completed my final lap and went back into transition, I was in uncharted territory. A ‘run off the bike’ for the very first time! Fortunately my second run was only just over 1km but still, wow, my legs were heavy! (And that was only after riding 9km!)

Didn’t fall off. Didn’t cause any pileups. I’m calling that a win!

There was one of the Enticer guys just in front of me on the run but I was pretty confident I’d catch him, and I did, without too much trouble. I wasn’t sure who the other Enticer people were – as it turned out a few of them had probably already finished!

I got over the heavy legs pretty quickly and managed a decent pace for my last run. The guy who I’d passed wasn’t too far behind me, and Finn a few minutes back from him.

Legs like lead – but got it done! Thankfully just the one lap!

Although I was happy to keep it low key for my first event, it was nice to have some support from the crowd in the form of Ian and Julie, Simon and Shane’s parents who had made the trip up from Victor to watch their sons and grandson compete!

This was a bit after I’d actually finished, hence the reason why I’m standing still!
I stuffed up the Garmin a bit on the transitions, it seemed to think my last leg was on the bike (which would have been INCREDIBLY slow!) but thankfully I managed to correct it on Strava!

After finishing and getting the all-important post-run coffee, I watched the Sprint athletes finish off their ride. It must have been hard for them to count laps – Shane wasn’t sure what lap he was on as he passed us the last time, but he guessed by the distance on his Garmin that he had to be on his last lap!

Then one by one they finished the bike leg and went back through transition to the final run leg. At that stage Shane was ahead of Simon but not by a great distance, but Simon didn’t look like he was making up any ground. They had 2 laps, and by the back half of the second lap you could see that Simon was making his move! It was pretty exciting stuff – Julie even said at one point that it would be nice to see them cross the line hand in hand! (As if that was ever going to happen!)

In the end, Simon paced his run perfectly and passed Shane just before the finish, beating him home by 4 seconds!

After the Sprint event had nearly finished (with just a few runners on their last lap) the Junior draft legal race started (same distance as the Enticer, but drafting is legal unlike in the earlier events – I’m not going to pretend that I know what drafting is, but all I can say is those kids are scary fast!)

After that came the presentations and I was pleased to win my age group and get a shiny medal – I wasn’t expecting to come away with bling, an added bonus!

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A hotly contested age group win. Well, an age group win anyway. I’ll take it!

(OK I’ll come clean. Of the 7 entrants, 6 turned up, and 5 of those were male. So not only did I win my age group BUT I was also first female. The person who didn’t show up was also in my age group! But on the plus side, of the 6 people who did race, 5 of us were adults, Finn was the only kid!)

All in all it was a fantastic introduction to transitions, running off the bike and the other new experiences that come with the multisport world! I LOVED it! The weather was perfect, the other competitors were great (I managed not to get in anyone’s way, and the riders were all really good at calling out when they were about to pass me) and the volunteers as always were fantastic!

I’m definitely keen to do another duathlon soon – maybe I’ll go and play with the big kids next time!

Special thanks to Shane for talking me into it in the first place and for all the advice!

Oh and I know I haven’t quite held up my end of the deal yet but at least now I’m 2/3 of the way there!