I'll admit when Debi suggested this race I was a little taken aback. Nationals? Me? Duathlon? Granted, there's no qualification standard and anyone can race, but I was prepared for my ego to get a little bruised by the competition.
Sure enough, the atmosphere in the transition area as I set up was pretty hard-core. I don't think I've ever seen so many aero helmets in one place, not to mention lots of wiry looking guys wearing "Team USA" outfits. Not like the usual local sprint tri, that's for sure. It was pretty clear that if I wanted to make this a profitable day, I'd best concentrate on my race, and not worry about the rest of the guys out there.
Men aged 40 and over were in the last of three waves, so after we watched the young guys and then the women go, it was our turn. I seeded myself conservatively in the pack, determined not to get caught up in the moment, and settled into a comfortable pace as we took off. The course was a two-loop 5K, crossing the James River on a footbridge suspended beneath a highway bridge, and then looping around Belle's Island on gravel and dirt paths. Pretty flat for the most part, but running onto and off the foot bridge required going up a series of ramps with several 180 degree turns. When I hit ground on Belle's Island I started to catch some of the slower women runners and a few of the men. My rhythm felt good, so I stayed focused on how I felt. Oddly enough, there weren't any mile markers on the course, so I didn't have a clear idea of my pace.
By the time I'd started back across the James, the leaders were recrossing, and there was two-way traffic in many spots. It got interesting as we rounded corners, particularly on the bridge ramps. As I turned for the second loop, I glanced at my watch -- around 24 minutes and change -- not bad. Knowing the course for the second loop made it easier to judge my effort and I held pace well. By know, a light drizzle had started. As I finished the second loop and went into T1, I was at 49 minutes. Most importantly, I felt good, and was looking forward to the bike. (49:04 - 7:54 pace, 22/32 AG).
The bike course was a four-loop affair. I'll take a moment to describe it. Leaving transition there was a steep, two-switchback climb up a hill. Then we looped around some office buildings, went downhill past transition, and then climbed an entrance ramp onto a highway bridge over the James. Once over the river, we went down the ramp and onto Riverside Drive, a mainly residential street with a series of climbs, turns, and descents. The course then turned from Riverside drive, climbed into a residential neighborhood, and made several sharp turns in a park, before retracing our path back to Riverside Drive and back over the bridge. From there, back up the switchbacks and repeat.
The course was technical, but a lot of fun -- no time to zone out or you'd pay for it. And, as a matter of fact, I saw several riders down along the way, owing to the slick conditions, and a lot of riders with flat tires, probably the result of debris on the highway bridge. The lowlight of the ride was the bridge. To avoid going over the expansion joints, you had to stay on the shoulder, which had it's fair share of obstacles. After a few laps I knew what to watch out for, but a lot of riders weren't so lucky and had to pull over for flats and mechanicals. Coming back across the bridge went directly into a steady headwind. I didn't choose to fight it, and geared down to keep my RPMs up.
As I started the bike I paid strict attention to my heartrate and settled into a good riding rhythm. The first loop was a feeling-out process, as I got familiar with the circuit. By the second time around, I knew where to go, gear wise, and was feeling in control. Finishing the second loop, I checked my average speed (17.5) and started to go a little harder. So far I'd judged the race well, and had plenty left in the tank. It's difficult to keep track of the race on a multiple loop course. You're being passed by the faster riders, while catching up the slower ones. Pretty soon you're wondering who you've seen before.
As I started the 4th loop, the early waves and faster riders were starting to hit the transition area, and there was more room on the course to go hard. I picked up my pace to a 17.9 average on my computer over the last two laps and felt good about the effort. As I hopped off into T2 I was confident about the upcoming 5K run. A quick transition and back out onto the course. The race finished with the same 5K loop we'd run at the start -- a real advantage, mentally, knowing what to expect. (Bike - 1:24:49, 22/32 AG).
I got into a good rhythm right away, and started to pick off slower runners. Over the bridge and back onto the wooded paths of Belle Island and I found myself alone. No one in front, no one running with me. Time to concentrate, now. Think about form, turnover, keep going strong. Suddenly a mountain bike blew past, with a quick shout to stay to the right, and the runners from the elite race blew past (they'd started while I was on the course). Speedy.
Back on the bridge I zeroed in on some runners ahead of me and tracked them down -- nothing like fresh prey to give you incentive. Finally, I hit the line. 2:39:37. (5K run -- 24:06, 7:46 pace, 16/32 AG).
All in all, I was pleased with the effort. I executed well, and finished with a pretty strong effort on the 5K. The level of competition was an eye-opener, but not really a factor in what I did. When you race, you try to execute your best race at the moment, and I thought I did that pretty well. Getting faster is about executing over the long term, so it's nose to the grindstone and keep it at until next time. A fun race, and a nice challenge.