Last Sunday was my first duathlon (run-bike-run).
I love running. I love cycling. I hate swimming. The duathlon seemed like a dream discipline to me. Except I failed to train in shoe-lace tying. Of the top 40 women who finished the race, only three of us took more than 2 minutes — 2:02 in my case — to make the transition between the bike ride and the second run. Of the top 10 (I finished 9th), I was the slowest in both transition periods. The fastest competitor in both transitions was the overall winner of the duathlon.
Is there a message here?
I’m a long-distance runner. My favorite bike ride is climbing a pass in my native Alps mountains. The duathlon, which was part of Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon, consisted of a short run (2 miles, or 3.2 km), a flat bike ride (17-mile, or 27.4k) and another short run (3.1 miles, or 5k). I was clearly looking for trouble.
About 200 women lined up at the start of the duathlon at 8 a.m. My number was 73, which happens to be the year I was born and the number of my “departement” in France (similar to U.S. counties, with a number attached). The sky was sunny, the temperature was 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) and the crowd of supporters was disproportionately composed of men with strollers, children and dogs. My friend H. and the 700 other participants in the triathlon — the real thing — were getting ready to plunge into a 77.5 degree F water. I admired H. for her courage to swim upstream the Schuylkill river and felt like a sissy for skipping the wet part of the race. But I was glad to stay dry.
Not for long. The first mile was painful. In half-marathons and marathons, I have time to ramp up my speed to reach a cruising pace. In a 2-miler race, there’s no ramping up. By the time I found some form of stabilization — a pace that wasn’t killing my legs and allowed me to breathe — I was almost done, running through the transition zone to my bike’s rack. I was dizzy and sweating as I struggled to put on my biking shoes and helmet. I got the bike off the rack and ran to the road where I could mount it. That, I thought, will give my legs a break.
Not really. The first mile on the bike was painful. In fact, the first 8.5 mile loop felt like a sprint. My muscles were not responding the way I ordered. My thighs were burning. I kept motivated by remembering running the 2007 Philadelphia half-marathon on the same course. I also spent most of the ride racing with another duathlete. We passed each other again and again. About two-thirds into the ride, we were passed by a triathlete. She was wearing a swimming suit and was so fast she might as well have been riding a motorbike. Her speed and power were sensational. Another followed. Same style. Same speed. When a group of women passed at a relatively slower pace (one of them was 50: our age was written with markers on the back of our calves), I tried to stick with them. When I dismounted my bike, I felt like I had no legs. They were gone.
The first mile of the second run was the most painful. My legs felt as stiff as two wooden sticks. At mile 1, I took from the race staff what I thought was a paper cup of water. It was a drink that reminded me of Red Bull, which I hate, and strawberry chewing-gum. It didn’t help. I finished the 3.1-mile run in 21:53, at a pace of 7:04. That’s just 31 seconds a mile less than my pace in the 2008 Boston marathon. I’ve always had a lot of respect for triathletes. Now I worship them.
My first duathlon statistics:
9th overall, out of 206.
2nd in my age category.
2-mile run: 13:15 at a pace of 6:38 (15.1 km/h)
17-mile bike ride: 51:47 at 19.7 miles/h
Transition 2: 2:02
3.1-mile run: 21:53 at a pace of 7:04 (13.7 km/h)