Last year, I got a bee in my bonnet to try duathlon. I’ve always loved the freedom of running, and cycling is a passion. Seemed like a good idea to combine the two sports in one focused race. I was intimidated to try, but signed up for the Maryland Women’s Sprint Duathlon which I’d heard was a friendly venue for newbies. This was about four weeks out from the race, so I modified my training to include running. The race was a fantastic experience of camaraderie, sportsmanship and sisterhood. I did well considering I was new and still got jelly-legs when trying to run after riding. I won my age group, but could have had a better time if I was faster in my transitions. Overall, I loved it and was hooked.
This year, I made duathlon a racing focus. For my second duathlon, the Cascade Lake Duathlon was a good fit. Not too long – 2 mile run, 15 mile bike, 2 mile run – and my schedule would allow enough time to train for it. It was on private property in nearby Hampstead, MD so I wouldn’t have to travel far and I know the area is scenic.
I tend to not over-analyze any course map as it ups my anxiety level but I could tell by my coach’s training plan that it would be a hilly course. The morning was cool but humid, hovering in the upper 60s/lower 70s. As I scoped out the course on the drive I could see both runs were out-and-back: the first mile downhill, a turn-around and the second mile uphill. My stomach was in my throat when I saw the rolling hills of the bike course with several steep pitches. Unfortunately the week leading up to the race I was in a lot of pain with a back injury, but I had worked so hard I decided to just do my best and see what I could do.
I set up my bike in the pit and kept it very minimalist – shoes, TT bike and helmet, emergency food, running shoes. To cut down on transition time I wore my bike gloves during the first run.
At the start line there were around 60 of us. At the gun the pace was a bit blistering (for me). As an athlete you don’t always know if it will be a good day or bad one, but I could tell when I kept pace with the lead group at under a 6:30 min/mile pace that I was having a good day. I had trained for a 7:30 pace…but I felt ok so I let my body dictate.
One woman passed me like I was standing still at the 1st mile marker. She was fast. I was starting to feel the aggressiveness of the run and had no more speed in me, so I had to let her go. But now I had my mark – #163. She made it into the first transition before me. We were changing for the run at the same time and she left quite a bit before me.
She was out of view by the time I hit the bike leg. At mile 4 though, I could see her. I found my pace and was averaging the right power numbers – recovering a bit on the downhills and pushing hard uphill. This moment became a critical juncture for me: Do I push myself and try to catch her or just respect my body’s pace? I was injured and didn’t want to hurt myself, but I didn’t want to not give it my all. I had worked so hard and competition is about pushing limits. I decided to see if I could push a bit harder and catch her, bargaining with myself that if it became too much I’d back off.
Mile 5 I pass her. We play cat-and-mouse till around mile 8. She passed me, I passed her.
At this point I grew weary and just wanted her to blow me away…till a crazy thought entered my head. Maybe I could try and blow her away. She was so strong and there were so many hills…but I was having a good day. I decided to see what I could do and as I crested a hill, got as aero as possible, dropped some gears pushed hard for a mile – never looking back. I thought if I could just get a large-enough gap, I could hold it. I kept spinning out on the downhills wishing I had a smaller cassette, conversely wishing I had a compact crank going uphills. I kept pushing till the end of the bike leg as though she were right on my tail, not having the courage to look back.
As I finish the bike leg and enter the second transition, I steal a glance behind me. She’s nowhere in sight, but my eyes were stinging from the sweat so I wasn’t sure. Everyone was cheering “you’re the first woman, you’re the first woman” and it took me a minute to understand they were talking to me. I knew I
didn’t have the time to rest – she was going to catch me on the run if I didn’t get going. I take off.
The first mile – a downhill – goes well and I’m able to recover a bit while holding about a 6:30 pace. At the turn-around, I can see her a bit in the distance and calculate I’m about a minute ahead, but I realize I have to hold my lead for another mile. An uphill mile. I was practically stumbling trying to hold my lead, nearly vomiting from my effort. But she has to run uphill too…maybe she’s also tired. We wave to one another as we pass each other.
I round a corner to the right and the finish is in sight. An uphill finish. The hills never seem to end.
It is a sadistic hill – the kind where you try to run, but you end up sort-of walking because you can’t lift your legs high enough. I’m almost to the chute…I know she is gaining…I pick up my pace as much as possible. I don’t have time to race as much as I’d like, so I tend to crush myself each time. This time it actually ended in a win! Holy cow I won!!
Afterward, I’m just sick and drop to my hands and knees to recover for a minute. The race promoter came up to me and asked if I needed a medic – that was a first – so I think it is safe to say I looked horrendous…but it didn’t matter to me. I was on a high.
Unfortunately I can’t remember her name but my mark – #163 – was such a gracious competitor. She finished only 20 seconds or so behind me.
Turns out I did injure myself in the race. But, it is temporary and my physical therapist is working wonders. For me, this effort so much able my mental prep and actually believing in my training. My coach for the past six years, Adam Coon told me I could do it, but it had been a long time since I was able to get my mental game right. All in all, I learned a lot about how hard I can push myself and even if I hadn’t won, I would have been proud of my effort. Getting the win made it a bit sweeter.
The Cascade Lake Duathlon is exceptionally well run. Thank you to the promoters and thank you Gripped teammates for the encouragement and support!