Saturday’s National Duathlon Off-Road Championship race in Richmond turned into a sufferfest of survival thanks to 95 degree heat, the first day over 90 this spring.
Yes, I’ve raced in hotter weather, but typically my body has had more time to acclimate. Many people suffered Saturday in the heat, including a couple of the strongest athletes I know.
The race started at 10:30am, but it seemed as if the midday heat had already set in. I started the run at what I thought was a moderate pace, but slowed about a mile into it. On any other day, this might have been a pleasant run: Down the hill under the Lee Bridge, across the suspended pedestrian bridge, around Belle Isle, up onto the isle’s plateau and back. But we had to do it twice. About two miles in my mouth went dry and I almost choked trying to clear the cotton. At the water stop, I downed a Gatorade and pushed on. As I crossed the suspension bridge, the lead runners came back at me. This was going to be a long day.
I struggled through the second loop and was so happy to get to my bike. I rode across the Lee Bridge, getting my cycling legs under me and then hammered along the fire road with Tom Gillespie, making up ground on faster runners. Once we transitioned to the single track of the Buttermilk trail, I started to feel really good. I passed Tom on a climb leading into Forest Hill Park and chased down others. Soon I saw the East Coast jersey of Rob Dinterman, who’d won the FORD race two weeks ago, ahead of me. As I passed he said the heat killed him and he was going to DNF. I rolled on. Back on Buttermilk I tried to ride through a small rock garden at speed, but miscalculated and went right over the bars. Fortunately I landed well.
Back on the fire road again, I saw Mark Russell‘s IF jersey ahead of me. I caught him soon after we transitioned back to Buttermilk. Not long after going by Mark I felt my handling start to get shoddy. I was getting tired and I soon paid for my effort on the bike, clipping a rock with my handlebars and going down again. I got rolling again quickly, but rode a little more conservatively. When I got to Boulevard Bridge I was really gassed. I hit my last gel – this one borrowed from Scott Ramsey (thanks) – and kept pushing but I was really pedaling squares once I hit the North Trail. Tom G. caught and passed me at the ramp and big climb. I couldn’t follow.
I recovered a little – the gel kicking in – when the trail flattened out for the last mile or so back to transition. I pushed it, but was suffering. Back in transition, I took two more Endurolyte caplets and grabbed my spare bottle to run with. And started walking. Yes, walking. My legs wouldn’t give me anything else. At the water stop outside transition I downed two cups of Gatorade. I soon started shuffle running – down the hill, across the bridge. Back on Belle Isle, I started to cramp in my stomach (too much Gatorade?) and had to walk a bit along the riverside trail past the hordes of kids out playing and partying. I must have been a sight – a bare-chested, red-faced dazed man shuffling along in bike shorts. I walked (with purpose) up to the hilltop, then shuffled along the plateau as best I could. By this point I realized I shouldn’t have carried the water bottle; it was just dead weight and I couldn’t drink a sip with the cramp.
I plodded along, down the hill, around the back of the island and back over the bridge. I even caught and passed a couple of people with my shuffle. But I died again on the hill climb up to the finish. One of the guys I passed came back by me. As I crossed the finish line, I took a stagger step that had the people waiting for us lurching toward me, but I recovered my balance and was draped in a cold wash cloth. Ahhhhh.
I finished what was one of the hardest races for me ever. It was a real mental fight to keep going. And I was really impressed by some of the resilience I saw out there. A redhead from the VaTech Triathlon club came into transition as I was picking up my bike. She was completely disoriented and bleeding from a large gash on her knee. She spent about ten minutes pulling herself together and getting some medical attention and fluids. But she got up and insisted on finishing with two of her teammates following along at the urging of the EMT.
My time and placing are nothing to brag about. I finished 35th out of 90 or so starters, 33rd among the men and 9th in my obscenely deep age group. The first 10k run took me 58:38, which is the slowest I’d ever run over such a distance. The 26K mountain bike took me 1:27:48 for an average speed of 11mph – not bad, but not great. If I thought I was slow on the first run, the second was much worse. It took me 42:02 to shuffle the final 5K, twice as long as that distance usually takes me. With transitions, my final time was 3:13:02. Thanks to Jimmy and Karen, who won her age group in the sport race(!), for the encouraging words and just being there after the race.
I’ve decided duathlons are just plain hard and I’m glad I don’t have another running event coming up for a while. I’m still fried and my whole body is sore more than a day after the race ended.
I did get up early this AM to attend to Dan Hersh Memorial Ride for the bicyclist struck from behind and killed by a driver last Sunday on Shore Drive. (Story from the Pilot) Wes Cheney organized the placement of two ghost bikes, one for Hersh and another for a cyclist killed on North Witchduck last year. Hersh’s sons locked the bike to a telephone poll in an emotional moment that choked me up. What happened to Mr. Hersh could happen to any of us out on the road. Be safe out there.