Who can say no to a free race? Certainly not me! Which is why I ended up at Stratford on a freezing Tuesday evening to take part in the 50th Lee Valley VeloPark duathlon organised by Capital Tri. Joining me was my other half, Sye, who begrudgingly agreed to give the event a go. There were two race options available: a sprint distance of 2 laps (1 mile per lap) run, 10 laps cycle, 2 laps run, or the super-sprint we chose, which was half that.
The one problem with free races is that it can be really tempting to drop out, which I did consider several times. But despite the option of staying home in the warmth we did manage to turn up on time and with all the requisite helmets & bits!
I’d never raced a duathlon before, so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Having done no cycling training since last August, I assumed that the bike would be pretty awful & I would likely get overtaken a lot. My only hope therefore was to go all-out on the runs and try and get a head-start as much as possible.
The race was very chill – no bibs, no chip timing, just a few organisers with a stop-watch and hand-drawn numbers. And with the super-sprint and sprint all heading off at once, you didn’t know who you were in competition with until the end of the first lap.
We set off on the run and I was able to stick to the front pack for a good half-kilometre or so until it started splitting up into smaller groups. After last week I had made the excellent decision to race in gloves and a jumper, so for once I was actually warm! I had, though, put my watch on under the jumper so had no clue how fast I was going – all I could do was keep running and get to my bike.
The VeloPark loop is one mile long, which I have decided is a great distance. It has a number of hills in it, but each up slopes down again almost immediately afterwards, so you are rewarded for your incline efforts with a speedy downhill. Chasing the leaders around the course the first lap was over and done with, and before I knew it I was grabbing my bike to head out on the 5-lap ride.
I’ve never got around to buying cleats for my bike (it’s on my to-do list!), which means that transition goes very quickly! I yelled out my number as I crossed the start/finish line, jumped on the bike and I was off.
I’m very proud of that bike ride, it went way better than I could have expected. Despite the hills and some issues with my gears which meant I stayed in a safe middle gear for most of the ride, I felt like I was zooming around the course, even overtaking a few people! Sure, many more overtook me, but I yelled out ‘well done’ to every rider that came past and then kept pushing. Most surprisingly was the fact that I had not yet seen Sye, who I expected would have caught up with me by now, given that he’s a much better cyclist than I am. (He ended up winning that leg by just 10 seconds)
Five laps complete, hop off bike and back into transition. OW LEGS! They were so tight, but running through transition to dump the bike and helmet did a little to flush out the ride, so that some 200m past the start-line most of the tightness had gone.
Now I just needed to finish one more lap all by myself. The cycle had spread the group out dramatically so there was no-one to chase down, just me and the road. Sometimes that can be demoralising but not tonight – I had energy and was loving striding up the hills and then falling down the other side.
As I came into the final stretch I heard a ‘Go Julia!’ as Sye came through the halfway cross-over point. I sprinted to the finish line with a smile on my face, before jogging back to run the same stretch as he finished a few minutes later.
I’m so glad we did that race, especially after the XC horror from the weekend. I had lots of fun, did well (3rd female in the super-sprint), and Sye was happy because he got a cookie reward! (and enjoyed himself too, he says).
Run + T1: 7:02
Cycle + T2: 18:09