Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Race Report - Bowood House Duathlon

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With final preparations for the ITU Age Group World champs in Auckland well underway, my coach and I agreed a last little race before I leave would be a good idea. And with Bowood House just a 30-minute drive away, the sprint duathlon fitted the bill nicely.

Ideally, we would have gone for a triathlon, but the season is pretty much over in the UK and we're back into duathlon territory.  So, the 5km / 21km / 5km format was enough to give me a good fitness test without putting too much strain on the body (in theory!).

Bowood House is very pretty, with well manicured grounds, a lake and more.  The transition area had been set up near the 3km service road loop which was to serve as the bike course (7 laps), with the run course across the grass, diving down to the lake and the back up the hill, creating a 2.5km route.

The event had a nice relaxed feel to it, with very friendly and helpful organisers and marshals.  The starts were split into waves, with three waves for the 5/21/5 race (there was a shorter 2.5/12/2.5 option as well).  In my wave, we had the 35-49 age groupers, about 25-30 of us I would guess.

As we started the pace seemed okay and I found myself at the front of the pack for the first kilometre or so.  Then there was a steep downhill plunge on the grass, down to the lake, and about five or six guys came blasting past me! I clearly have more work to do to learn/build confidence on running downhill fast (I've had a real issue with downhill running since knee surgery a few years back).  Down at the bottom and the terrain changed from grass to hard-packed mud and gravel.  Around the little folly/temple at the lake side and then there was a long slog back up to transition to complete the first of the two running laps.  Two guys had forged ahead while the rest of us were reasonably closely-packed.  Another lap and we came into T1, I think I was fifth, not far behind third and fourth.

I jumped the guy in fourth in transition and headed up with the bike to the mount line.  This was the first race for the new Specialized S-Works Trivent shoes I am currently testing.  Their innovative 'drawbrdidge' heel made entry super-quick and easy and then it was just a case of a few twists of the Boa dial to close up both the heel and the top strap (one small gripe was the number of twists required to get a secure fit).  Regardless, the system worked well and jumped the third place guy within 200m of the bike start.

The bike course was essentially a 3km service road in a big loop with a sharpish left turn every 800m or so - hardly ideal for a full-on TT effort (the speed bumps didn't help either, but to be fair the organisers had done a good job of building ramps over these)! The road was narrow and already busy with competitors from previous waves, but to be honest I quite enjoyed this.  It was fun having targets ahead and it kept me alert picking lines around the slower competitors (I apologise if anyone thought I was overly-firm with my 'KEEP LEFT!' barked orders!).

I was initially worried about keeping track of the full seven laps, but in the end it was easier to just track the overall distance on my Garmin bike computer.  Knowing that my bike is stronger than my run, I thought I had a chance to catch the two front-runners on the bike, but unfortunately I never saw them!  On lap five or six, I did get overtaken by one of the guys I had jumped in T1 (he ended up with the fastest bike split of the day), but kept him well in sight through to the end of the bike leg.

Coming into T2 and the Specialized shoes again worked well, the collapsed heel making it very easy to get my feet out ready for a flying dismount.

Out of T2 onto the second run and I was close behind the third-placed guy, which remained constant till that sharp downhill again when he extended his lead on me.  I clawed back some time on the uphill that followed, but was always a good 8-10 seconds back.  I confess I checked behind me a couple of times and could see my fourth place was reasonably secure, which may have led me to relax and not put in 100% to catch the guy ahead.

By the end of the second 2.5km loop I was spent - the sharp hills (both up and down) had really taken it out of me and it felt like I was practically walking the last big hill.  I managed to get a bit of momentum back into my legs for the finish, but I didn't really have any more to give.

A finishing time of 1:20:17 was just outside my target time, but good enough for 3rd in Age Group (the #1 and #2 in my AG were also the #1 and #2 overall on the day) and 6th overall.  As it turned out, I had the second-fastest bike split of the day (taking a minute out of the #1 and #2 guys), but as usual my runs just weren't good enough to build on the bike time.

That said, I went into the race on the back of a hard 12-hour training week, with no rest or taper. So there's no doubt I was racing tired. The run course definitely did not play to my strengths, but by the same token it's clear that I need to work on my hill running (both uphill and downhill!).

Thanks to the folks at Events Logic UK for a well-organised event and thanks also to the marshals who were really vocal in their encouragement.  I hear that there is a plan to hold a full triathlon at Bowood next year (the lake looks big and clean enough) - it could certainly be worth a look (especially if you love massive hill climbs into T1, a la Swash' and Beaver!).

For some reason, I've had some real stomach issues since the race - hopefully they will pass quickly so that I can get my last week of hard training in before I board that flight to NZ next weekend.  Then it's all about 110% effort on the day before sitting back and having a well-earned REST!

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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs