I first did the London Duathlon last year (in 2015). At the time I was very much struggling with a gluteal injury. Being my first Duathlon, not having much cycling experience and the injury made this a somewhat disappointing event. I paced it wrong, cramped-up and fell below my expectations. I wanted to return this year, with the intention of besting my time from 2015. With my injury pretty much quiescent and having more cycling experience, I felt more mentally prepared this year. Things have been unsteady with my colitis currently flared-up, so I felt glad that I still had the mental drive, and physically made it down to the event.
I arrived at Richmond Park with my dad and Sania. We parked at the Sheen Gate entrance and made the short walk to the race village, where we met Sania’s sister Shelly. I went to rack my bike and set-up in transition, whilst Sania picked up my race belt from the information tent. Apart from the odd jog and random stretch, my warm-up was limited. But I had a race-plan. As I went out too hard last year, I felt that this may have accumulated in some degree of lactic-acid build-up right at the start, which contributed to me struggling later in the race. My plan today was to take the first 5k easy, do the bike ride at an average speed of 30km/hr (so 2 minutes per kilometre), and see what I had left in the tank for the final 5k.
I queued-up pretty early on in the starting pen. This is one of the biggest negative points of the London Duathlon, where start waves are not based on estimated finish times. But in all fairness, I did not experience any issues with overtaking slower participants, as things are quite spread out and with everyone doing different events at different start times. But I digress. One thing that was slightly annoying was the priority start given to participants wearing the official Descente cycling jersey that that the event provided. I picked one up last week from the Descente Carnaby Street store, but did not wish to wear it for the event (running in a cycling jersey wouldn’t work for me…).
Anyway, I was happy enough to finally get underway in the third wave. I tried to start out conservatively, but still saw that I was running at a sub-4 minutes/km pace! I immediately slowed down, which felt almost like a jog. At the start of events I am full of adrenaline, and had to use great self-control to stop myself from speeding-up. Almost feeling like an easy jog, I made my way around the first 5k run in 23:34. I entered transition, strapped my helmet on, put my cycling shoes and gloves on, etc. before grabbing my bike off the rack. This first transition took me 3 minutes and 4 seconds before I was finally on my bike and cycling for the second leg.
The bike ride felt very comfortable. I immediately got into the ‘cycling zone’ and was cruising along. I was pleasantly surprised with how many riders I was overtaking, but in all fairness, it was difficult to tell who was doing what event. There was a mix of half, ultra and standard distances. I recall a 200m climb from last year, which I struggled with. This year, I was blasting up it, and even compared my Strava segments from last year. There was no doubt that I was a much more proficient cyclist now. I made my away around the cycling leg of 22km in an official chip time of 43:52. My moving time according to Garmin was 43:20, but there is a brief mount and dismount stretch before and after the timing matts in transition, so a few seconds are lost there. Overall, I was very happy with my average speed of 30km/hr. Richmond Park is not flat!
The second transition took me 2 minutes and 4 seconds as I racked my bike, took my helmet off and briefly had a quick sip of water before heading out for the final 5k run. I knew I cramped-up last year, where the final 5k took my a miserably slow 27 minutes! I felt fine today, and ran fairly conservatively. I looked down at the total time for the event, and recall seeing 1:17 for the total elapsed time. I knew I would totally smash my time from last year (1:47) at this point, regardless of anything going wrong now. As I approached the 2km mark, I decided to slightly increase the pace. Feeling strong, I then began to run slightly harder in the final mile. With the end nearly in sight, I picked-up the pace and headed toward the finish where I landed a sprint finish, crossing the finish line strong in 1:33:24 as my official time.
I was elated and very pleased that I managed to shave 14 minutes off my time from last year. It was even more reassuring to feel like I had so much left in the tank. I know I could have done the runs faster, and arguably be more quicker in transition. But I stuck to my plan, and was happy with the final result. I now have a free place for 2017, as the organisers give a free place if you get a PB. I would have liked to do the standard distance duathlon, but as I have a free place, will do my best to get an even better time for the half, before embarking on either the standard or ultra distance in 2018. The medal was a little smaller than I thought it would be and no goody bag was a bit underwhelming. We did get a cycling jersey, though. So I am not complaining!
We all sat down and had a nice picnic lunch in Richmond Park before heading home. It was a long day, but a great experience. Conclusively, I am very excited about my future plans with the Duathlon. I love both running and cycling, and combining the two events together makes for a very special experience. Onwards and upwards from here!