Off to the Rockingham Race Circuit in Corby for this year’s Elite Duathlon Championships to defend my title. The course was the same as last year, but the conditions weren’t, with warm weather and sunshine replaced by heavy rain and strong winds, forecast to intensify through the course of the day.
The race format was a 5km run, followed by a 20km bike, over five laps, and a 2.5km run to finish. The race circuit course was pretty flat, but with plenty of twists and turns including four hairpins. There were around a dozen athletes in the PT4 class, most of whom I had raced before, but with a few new faces. I figured that the strongest guy in the field would be Joe Allen, a former GB 1500m runner, who had won the race in 2013. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with him over the first 5km I calculated that I needed to catch him before the end of the third lap on the bike and to build enough of a lead that I could hold him off on the final run.
The race began much as anticipated. Joe surged off in front, while I picked a pace that I could sustain and would hopefully leave me a little in the tank for the way home. The run was uneventful (if very wet) and I was content to get into T1 in second place, only 1:40 down on the race leader. Getting out on the bike it was clear that the gusting wind was making the course very challenging. Roaring down a straight with the wind behind you is one thing, but then making a sharp hairpin turn into a strong headwind was another and the unpredictability of the gusts was making bike handling difficult. Nonetheless, I reeled Joe in over the first couple of laps and managed to pass him near the beginning of the third.
My focus now was on building a cushion that would give me enough time to stay in front on the final run, and I was confident that I had the time to do this. However, the wind was becoming increasingly and indeed dangerously fierce, with some areas of the course that really were a battle just to stay on. Heading into the first major hairpin on the final lap I turned in and a massive gust of wind just took the bike out from beneath me. I landed fairly heavily on my hip and skidded across the track, while the bike flipped up in the air and landed on its nose, cracking both of the bar end gear shifters. I wasn’t really thinking of much at this stage, other than remaining in contention and getting to the end of the bike leg, but I spent a couple of minutes unjamming the gears until I eventually managed to force it into the top of the big ring and limped back to transition pushing the hardest gear.
By the time that I arrived the transition area looked a bit like a disaster zone. A gantry had blown down, as had a lot of fencing, and I arrived at my transition point to find that my run shoes had blown away. I found one under a collapsed railing and the other under someone’s bike helmet. I had been passed by several of the guys in my class, but wasn’t sure how many. I knew that I couldn’t catch Joe on the run, but it was possible that I could still get a podium finish so I set off and soon identified a couple of guys in the distance to try and catch. With only 2.5km to go it was a big ask, but I was gaining all the way to the finish line, eventually crossing in 4th, just 7 seconds off 3rd. Another 200m would have been enough!
So, a couple of lessons to be learned from that one. Firstly, when you have a good lead don’t blow it by riding to the limit in dangerous conditions. However, in truth I’m not sure that I would have stayed upright at half the speed and I wasn’t the only one blown over at that corner. The elite races were after us, but they closed the bike course for them as it was, by that stage, deemed too dangerous. They ran the elite duathlon as a 10km road race. Secondly, if you’re not injured it’s always worth getting back on. But for a pair of lost shoes in T2 I would probably have still made the podium. On the plus side, apart from the crash, the race showed that winter training went well and that I should be in the mix for the coming season, particularly if all of the work that I’ve been doing on the swim pays off with some faster times. Next race, 7Oaks Triathlon.