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  • Tom Knight

Cotswold Duathlon 2020

Duathlon; an athletic contest consisting of running and cycling events. Why would you do that to yourself I hear you ask? Well that is something I often ask myself, but I strangely enjoy it. Mainly for the same reasons as I do cycling; there is something rewarding about pushing your body in multiple disciplines, one after the other, so for a pure cyclist it’s a different challenge I embrace a few times a year.


I’d had this event in the diary since the end of last year as something different to end the season on before I knuckle down into winter training. As it turns out, it would be only my fourth event this season, and my second post lockdown. Given the uncertainty surrounding events, I left it pretty late to prepare, putting on my running shoes on only 3 weeks prior following a 6 month running hiatus, which is something my feet and legs did not appreciate first time out!


I added in some running bricks around my bike training over the next weeks and my running form soon returned. Being able to run 19 minute 5ks quite comfortably, I knew I was in decent shape and headed into the event with some confidence.

The event would mainly take place within the grounds of Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, Cotswolds, with the bike leg taking us out of the grounds, 5.5 miles to Toddington and back. With the event opening at 6:30am and racing beginning at 8am, I got there as soon as the gates opened to maximise my preparation time. 1.5 hours was still quite tight to sign on, load up transition, change, eat and warm up. The race was on before it had begun!


I signed on, prepared the bike and then headed to transition. Alongside the essential equipment of bike, helmet and cycling shoes, I left a towel (for wiping away sweat or drying handle bars if it rained), some TORQ gels for pre and post bike leg, water bottle with TORQ Energy supplements in, gloves and light jacket. Not being an avid duathlete or triathlete, I didn’t have a number belt, so had to make the decision to wear my jacket for the bike leg before the start as I pinned the number on the back.


Once I was happy with my transition setup there were only 50 minutes left till race time, just enough time to eat something light, get changed and begin some form of warm up. Normally these events are mass start, but given the current situation of COVID-19, the organisers had decided to send us off in numerical order, individually at five second intervals. This would make for some interesting racing as you could not physically see your competition or have any idea of how you were performing against them. A real test of mental strength and desire.

Having completed my warm up, I was keen to get going so made sure I was one of the first in the queue for my start wave. With five people in front of me, 30 seconds later I was off - race time!


With 200 odd people already off in front of me, the run course was busy although plenty wide enough to weave my way through. The course would consist of two laps of a 2.5 Km circuit, two thirds tarmac and one third grass, with little elevation. I chose road running shoes to get benefit from the road sections as I was anticipating the grass section to be relatively dry - which it was for the most part, except the bog at the bottom which was like running on ice. Luckily, despite doing my best Bambi impression, I negotiated my way through both laps on two feet and headed to transition for the bike leg.


The transitions are usually timed and count towards your total race time, however due to the additional spacing required for COVID, the transition at this event wasn't timed which meant in theory, you could take as long as you wanted. I took advantage of this, taking my time to recover and prepare for the bike leg, eating, drinking and stretching, but was also conscious of keeping my body warm and not allowing it to switch off. The timing restarted as soon as you left transition and there was still a 50m run stretch before you could mount the bike. Again, not being a well-versed duathlete, I chose to wear my cycling shoes to avoid the embarrassment of falling off as I tried to put my shoes on attached to the pedals. For those of you who wear SPDs, you know running in them is hard and not at all gracious so I probably lost some time there.

As I headed onto the bike, I carried good speed through the narrow lanes from the castle and got a clean entry on the main road. From there I got off the drops and onto my stubby TT bars and settled into my target power zone. The road was actually more undulating and hilly than I expected, meaning my average speed was a bit lower that I anticipated for a given power, but I knew it would be the same for everyone. Things were going great as I turned round at the half was point and headed home, however shortly into the return leg I came up behind a queue of cars struggling to overtake another rider. This caused me to lose some momentum and valuable time. I tried to safely work my way past but it required some sprint efforts which I felt in my legs as I hit the next climb. However, I put that to the back of my mind and pressed on. As the road pointed mostly downhill back into Winchcombe I managed to recover and had enough left to put some efforts into the final few climbs back into the venue.


I encountered a few more traffic issues on the narrow lanes back into the venue as a van pulled out on me. Luckily it saw me at the last second, leaving me enough room to pass it. Arriving unscathed, it was now time for that stylish SPD run back into transition.


Again, with the transition un-timed I recovered, ate and stretched out my lower back as it was feeling stiff from being in the TT position. My lower back is an area I usually have problems with whilst running anyway so this was needed. I was super keen to get the final run underway though so didn’t hang around too long.


The second run was different to the first, I had worked my way to front through the previous legs and the course was very quiet. I only saw ten or so other runners so it was even harder to tell how I was getting on but I settled into a rhythm and focused on the job at hand. My body was hurting, particularly my legs, after the bike. My hamstrings had tightened up and were giving me some real grief whenever the course went up but luckily they would ease up on the flat and enable me to push on. I broke the run down into sections in my head and before I knew it, I’d completed the second lap and headed for the line.

This was a strange experience; there were no spectators and due to the format of the event I had no idea where I had finished. Regardless, I was super happy to with my performance and it felt great to cross the line knowing I performed well and to plan. Now the nervous part began, awaiting the results……


A few hours, one bacon sandwich and two cups of coffee later, they were online. The page loaded and there was my name in first place overall… YES! Stoked! It feels great to bag a win in 2020 and it gives me some extra motivation just before I head into the winter's training. I shall be hanging up my running shoes for a while as focus switches back to training and preparing for next year’s XC season, but they will come out again at some point next year.


Final notes to sign off. A big well done to everyone who competed at the event, it was great to see so many people out there giving it a go and smashing their own goals. Thanks to Tough Runner for stepping up in tough times to put on a great event and enabling us to release some competitive steam in a well organised and safe environment.


Cheers!

Tom


Photos: Ed Morris Photography (www.edmorris.com)

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