Subtitle: We’re not in Kansas (or Ontario) Anymore Toto

9.3k / 33.8k / 5.5k – 2:06:51 – 178/287 OA, 26/29 AG

Warning: This is going to be a long one, so pour yourself a coffee, grab some peanuts, and come along for the ride!

Lead-Up

So a bit of background is in order as to how I ended up at Duathlon Worlds. Triathlon is still my thing, and the long-term goal is still the Triathlon Age Group World Championships. However, after a cancelled swim in Goderich led to my best placing overall in a race, I decided last year to try a world qualifier at the standard distance duathlon. Subsequently, in the race from hell (see full report here) I punched my ticket for Denmark in 2018.

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There were a number of choices I had to make going into the race as it was taking place in Odense, Denmark. Do I bring my own bike? How early do I arrive? What kind of training do I do? Will I be at race weight? The first thing I did was look up the results from the last couple years to give me self a sense of what would be realistic in terms of placing in my age group. It was clear this was going to be an exponential leap in going from small town Ontario races to the World Championships, and at a glance I knew I would be out-classed by most on the run. My (somewhat) realistic target was 20 out of 30 in my age group. This helped with some of my planning decisions as I knew I wasn’t going there to win:

  1. Renting a bike in Denmark would be easier and cheaper. Slower than my TT bike but much less hassle.
  2. Denmark is pricey, so no need to arrive super early to get accustomed to the 6 hour time change at significant expense. Suck it up and trust race adrenaline to get me through the 9am start (3am EST). What I did do is start getting up earlier and earlier the week before to gain an hour or two.
  3. I basically stuck to my regular training other than dropping swimming the last couple of weeks and running a bit more.
  4. I talked a bit in the last post about my struggle this year with race weight. I did panic-lose 5 pounds but could still have come in leaner.

Race Prep

I used a lousy sleep on a red-eye flight there to help me shift my clock and go to sleep on Denmark time, which worked out reasonably well. The day before the race I picked up my rental bike and had a chance to fiddle with the position and pre-ride the route. I walked part of the run course, then ran a bit of it on race morning as warm up. Transition was in a parking garage and looked quite complicated on a map, so at bike check-in I spent a lot of time walking and jogging around transition to make sure I knew which way was in and out between each leg. It wasn’t so bad to navigate once I was there but certainly was going to be a long run, especially after the bike when we had to run the bike in and over a couple of speed bumps.

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One challenge I encountered in setting up my transition was no pockets for gels. I always take 1-2 gels at the start of the bike ride and rely on that energy to really kick in going into the 2nd run. Without pockets I decided a would just stuff a couple down the front of my race suit but then I started worrying about what to do with the garbage. It was clear that the marshals were going to be very strict enforcing rules, so I didn’t want to pick up a littering penalty, nor did I want to stuff a sticky, oozing open gel back into my race suit. At a bit of a loss I decided for just skip the gels as the bike course was shorter than average anyways. Would I ever come to regret that…

The Course

Odense is as ancient a city as the rest of Europe, so the downtown is a beautiful network of small, twisty streets with open cafes, cobblestones, and parks. The run took is right through this. However, that meant we were looking at 26 turns per 5k lap (yes, I counted them). On paper, the course looked twisty enough to be very slow. However, once we got going it really wasn’t that bad. There were a couple corners with sand and one that was blind at more than 90 degrees, but overall didn’t feel too slow. It was more than compensated by being absolutely gorgeous and significantly shaded.

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The bike course also looked a bit tricky on paper. A number of turns to get out of town, then a 180 turn-around on the highway section to be done twice. However, the turns again didn’t come significantly into play, particularly for me as the drop-bars on the rental road bike allowed me to pedal through all the corners except for two. The road surface, false flats, and wind played much more of factors on the bike portion than the course design itself. Again, a beautiful course overall with a variety of city, industrial, and highway sections.

Race Day

A fairly early but not unreasonable wake-up at 6:45am (or 10:45pm EST) and a light breakfast. In fact, without my usual stock of bananas at hand, I went for a lighter than usual breakfast (spoiler: oops) of half a protein bar. The run is when I cramp if I have too much food on board so duathlon is trickier than triathlon that way as starting with the run limits what I feel safe eating. If I’m doing just a straight running race early in the day I don’t even eat anything in advance.

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A short walk down to the race site and I was there just as they opened transition to setup, so tons of time to get ready. It was shaping up to be a lovely day with the sun coming out and quickly burning off the early morning chill. While initially worried about being cold on the bike, as we warmed up and awaited our start, I was already seeking shade and now thinking about being hot on the run.

Our original wave start time was for 9:45. However, by 8:45 we learned that all starts were delayed by 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes. We were finally given an official start time of 10:30am. Guess I could have eaten a bigger breakfast (and shouldn’t have turned down the banana that Erin offered me while we waited). Finally into the holding pen, some high-fives all around and:

“On your marks..”

Run 1 – 9.3k – 36:59, 3:58 pace

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I started near the back knowing I would be out-run by most in my wave, so run traffic wasn’t too bad. I also tried very hard to pace things right, aiming for an even 4:00 pace instead of chasing everyone and cracking. Pacing was fairly easy as the course was mostly flat with just one rise on the back half as you went back into town from the park, but not enough to really matter. It was mostly about staying calm, staying to the plan, and being sure to hit the hydration stations as needed. While in an all-out 5k run I’ll skip the water, I knew I only had one bottle on the bike so needed to get some in on the run as well.

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First lap was nice and smooth, I was able to pace off a couple of guys. Second lap started to hurt a bit with the heat. However, I fed off the crowd, lots of people cheering for Canada as I went by, an excellent benefit of the team kits. A couple guys came around me in the last kilometre or so but I just kept running my own race.

Transition 1

This one is dead easy in the duathlon compared to the triathlon. In, shoes off, helmet on, and go. A bit of a run with the bike but they had put carpet down which helped. I knew the mount line was on a hill so had already decided to just step onto the shoes (which I pre-clip into my pedals) rather than doing a full flying mount. With cyclocross last fall my uphill flying mounts were still only about 50/50, so no point in risking it here for a couple of seconds gain. So no drama, and onto the bike.

Bike – 33.8k – 59:24, 34.1 kph

I noticed a couple of unfortunate things right away on my bike. Firstly, my seat was a bit too low and my calves were cramping up. I could compensate a bit by pushing myself further back on the seat, but mostly just rode out the cramps until they faded. Secondly, I was far more upright than usual. Normally in my TT position I’m actually looking over the top of my glasses. However, on the rental road bike with TT bars I was sat up high enough to look through my glasses. While this improved vision, I knew it was going to be a significant aero disadvantage, along with the cheap bike and wheels. So, my goal for the ride was to just try to pick a couple guys on TT bikes and keep them in sight. I knew I wasn’t going to get the fastest bike split, but didn’t want to lose a lot of time.

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Looking at my overall pace, it seems decidedly low. Like bordering on the pace at which I do solo rides on my road bike. However, I pulled the bike splits for my age group and they range from 29.3 to 40.3 kph with a mean of 35.7 kph and median of 35.9 kph. Recalling that these are the best on the world, it’s safe to say the course rode slow. There were a couple of factors, the biggest being the wind. While the highway section was treed and protecting in part from the 30-40kph forecasted wind, it was still gusty. There were also some sneaky false flats where you couldn’t put down full power without blowing up, and some rough road surfaces.

Apart from the calves cramping, I felt really good on the ride. With the waves ahead of us there were always people to pass, giving you a good sense of going forward. I was also able to pick a couple guys to gauge my own effort. This one guy from New Zealand would come around me in the open sections but then was a cautious cornerer. I would take the corners on a rail and accelerate past him, only to have him come by a minute later. At was a useful game of leapfrog. That said, there was also a decent stream of guys on rocketship bikes going by me through the ride. While I moved up overall positions on the bike, I’m sure I dropped age group positions. Obviously not ideal, but I knew it was coming so wasn’t fussed. I just kept pushing the pedals hard and staying within my own effort.

Unfortunately, towards the end of the bike being on the TT bars on a road bike seat started to take its toll. In the words of Linkin Park:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXYiU_JCYtU

I found myself having to stand up in the saddle regularly due to the discomfort of being bent over right onto my…well, sitting on my…um. So basically there’s a reason that time trial seats have a big gap down the middle. I had thought about bringing my own seat with me but again just sought to simplify things as the ride was going to be a short one. Chalk it up as another lesson learned. It did help me look forward to the last run though, as I was good and ready to get off the bike at the finish. The other thing I noticed was I was starting to get hungry, after all it was noon and all I’d had to eat was half a protein bar at 7am…

Transition 2

Nice smooth flying dismount and a long jog with the bike to get it racked up. The legs felt heavy but that’s normal after the ride and I just ignored it. Shoes went on smooth and it was out for the final run leg.

Run 2 – 5.5k – 26:05, 4:41 pace

So with transition being in a parking garage, the exit onto the run was up a ramp. As soon as I hit the ramp I though, “Uh oh, I’ve got nothing in the legs.” Sure enough, I tried to tick over the legs, at least keep a good turn-over, but couldn’t do it. I’d gone flat. Definitely part of it was run volume, as I just haven’t been doing as much with riding 6-7 times per week, but part of it was the hunger. In the words of Florence + The Machine:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GHXEGz3PJg

I was so hungry that if someone at a café at the side of the road cheering us on was eating a danish I was seriously considering grabbing it. But it was too late, really. I should already have had fuel on board through the bike and glucose in the blood stream. So with heavy legs and general exhaustion I set to plodding my way through the final run as I watched guys from the age groups who started behind me rolling by, as well as the final Canadian in my age group who I knew I was ahead of.

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So I ended up running the slowest 5k I’ve run in about 5 years. Not exactly ideal in one’s goal race, but of course your body does exactly what you have prepared it to do. You get what you deserve, you might say. Sure, if I had run more this spring, brought my own bike, fuelled properly, and came early to acclimatize I would have gone faster, maybe hit my 20 out of 30 goal and a 2:00 time, but I didn’t so I didn’t.

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Conclusion

You might think I would be disappointed, especially with the last run, but I’m really not as I came to this with no pressure on myself and really wanted to just enjoy the experience. And boy did we ever! We had an awesome time in Denmark, met some amazing people, saw some beautiful sights, and got a chance to be a part of Team Canada on the world stage! While the race was a bit less than I hoped for, the experience as a whole was more than I could have imagined.

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In terms of training, I’m actually not totally sure where to take things. The challenge is I want to be better at lots of things: crit racing, cyclocross, 5k runs, swimming in general, triathlon, etc. I do wonder if I should get more specific in my focus as my improved cycling seems to have come at the cost of my run, on the other hand its clear from the folks I raced with that it is possible to get good at it all. So, it’s probably just a matter of staying the course and being patient, because the fitness will continue to come.

Thanks to all the kind words, messages, texts, comments, etc, etc. I truly felt supported and that I had a whole community of people behind me! Apologies for the long report, but wanted to be thorough on this one!