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Runner turned cyclist and a tale of two loves – what’s a gal to Du?

by Lynn McGrew

Typical recreational runner’s story - I started running casually on a treadmill for 20-30 mins back in high school, just to get some exercise and continued through college. The thought of running outside for enjoyment never occurred to me. That idea didn’t come until my late 20’s when I figured joining a running group would be a way of meeting people outside of work. Fast forward to today where I pretty much only run for the pure enjoyment of being outside and socializing with great friends. Alas, sometimes that love of running has not loved me back, or at least hasn’t loved my feet back, as I’ve been plagued by numerous injuries over the years. Ask most cyclists how they got into biking and the answer is usually “I got injured running and needed another means of exercise”. Hence, was my foray onto the seat of a road bike just 5 years ago (beach cruiser and ten-speed growing up notwithstanding). Partly due to the enthusiasm of my husband, Chris, and my stubbornness to remain active and stoke my competitive spirit, I found myself quickly becoming quite the “roadie” and soon knocked off several century (100 miles) rides and even won a few races! One would think my transformation into pure cyclist would be complete, but I get bored easily and crave cross-training. I could never give up running, either, despite the injury cycle. So, when I discovered there’s a sport that combines my two loves, what’s a “bikerious” gal to do? The answer: Do a (Du)athlon.

Duathlon seems at times the forgotten (or at least under-the-radar) multisport. It is not 2/3 of a triathlon, rather, it’s really a triathlon with a run replacing the swim. That’s right – in duathlon one runs twice in a single race. Typically, a sprint duathlon is about a 2-3 mile run, plus a 12-15 mile bike, and another 2-3 mile run. A long-course duathlon is even more varied – it can be a Standard (which isn’t very standard!) distance of 10K run/60K bike/10K run or something else slightly longer or shorter. Long course duathlon can even be as long as an Ironman distance. Most of the duathlons here in Texas are of the sprint variety and there are only about 2-3 of these events here in Houston every year. To me, duathlon seemed the perfect answer to wanting to both run and bike, but not have to add swimming to the mix in being a full-on triathlete.

I tried out a few sprint duathlons locally and found that I had success in those with being a reasonably fast cyclist, even though I am a very middle-of-pack average runner. I was looking for a new challenge and heard about an awesome opportunity a friend recently had going to the World Long Course Duathlon Championships in Switzerland this past year. She had competed in Long Course Duathlon Nationals (which is open to all, no qualification needed) and placed high enough in Age Group to qualify for Worlds, where she then placed 2nd AG. World Long Course Duathlon is a 10K run, 150K bike (90 miles) and 30K (18 mile) run, wow! With that, a new motivation and goal had seeded itself into my head (and my legs!).

At the start of 2017 I set my sights on Long Course Duathlon Nationals on April 29 in Cary, North Carolina. This particular race would be a 5 mile run, 32 mile bike, and another 5 mile run. As a cruel joke in the triathlon world, one competes in the age group at the age they turn in that calendar year, which for me means I “age up”. I don’t like having to wear an age on my calf that I officially will not be until the end of December, but so be it. Since my run is my weak-link, I focused my training on trying to knock some time off it, while still maintaining cycling strength. The months leading to April indeed saw me getting faster, though having any sort of real speed will forever elude me. I envy those for whom my stride (or sprint) speed is their marathon pace! But I really enjoyed the training process, and the experience of adding some “brick” workouts. The brick is how a multisport athlete gets a feel for “jelly legs” by doing a bike ride and then immediately changing into running shoes for a short run. Believe me, that run after getting off the bike does not feel good. I can’t tell the difference between 7:00 min/mi pace or 11:00 min/mi pace, as it just feels like legs slogging through peanut butter (Mmmmmm…peanut butter!) I even worked on the “4th sport” of du/tri-athlon – the Transition, or the time (that counts towards the total!) it takes to change gear from one sport to the next.

By the end of April, I was ready to see what I could do at Nationals. As if I had room for it, I accidentally packed Houston weather in my suitcase – race day ended up being unseasonably hot and humid in North Carolina. I had a really good first run and was slightly under my new (and now slightly faster) 10K pace. I thoroughly enjoyed the green and rolling hills bike course and had a big smile the whole way, just soaking in the breeze and scenery (and elation in passing many guys!) With 2 miles left to ride, just as I was starting to contemplate the hot run ahead, a casual cyclist decided to get on her bike and cross the road! This was not a closed course to traffic, either, which was picking up a bit in both directions. I was pedaling down a bit of a slope at the moment and gathering speed. I shouted out, but the cyclist didn’t hear or see me coming. I had nowhere to go but down…and down we went as I T-boned her front wheel. I skidded one direction and my bike skidded another. Incredibly, luckily, and gratefully, I quickly assessed that I was unbroken, the other cyclist was unbroken, and my bike was unbroken. About 3 or so minutes went by and I was back on the course.

I got my running shoes back on and slogged, and I mean SLOGGED through that second 5 mile run. Not only was it miserably hot and humid by this late morning, the road rash and bruises I suffered in the bike crash were starting to sink in. While it was not the race I’d trained for, nor the last run I’d hoped to have, I just kept pleading with myself “just finish, just finish!” That 5 mile run was longer than any 16 miler I’ve done on a Sunday morning, that’s for sure. I gave it one last oomph for the 100m or so to the finish and flashed a thumbs-up for the cameras.

Despite all that drama, I somehow managed to place 2nd age-group! Above that, however, I was proud of the training and the tenacious, positive mindset I kept throughout. Now to lick my wounds (ewww!), rest/recover, and gear up for a trip to Switzerland and World Duathlon in September 2018!
 

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