Sundried ambassador Simon Ward won his Age Group at the prestigious London Duathlon this year. He gives us a report of how he got on at the electric event.
The Biggest Duathlon In The World
As the sun rose on September 17th, I found myself making my way to Richmond Park, London for the start of the biggest Duathlon in the World, The London Duathlon. It has been a tough year and a long season. Qualifying for the World Championships in Canada was in March, in the snow! The Championships in August had delivered a slightly disappointing 34th place. Today felt different. I had been coached by Australian Michael Pratt, a coach to multiple World Champions, for the last month, and I found myself being delivered to the start line feeling confident and strong.
Although the last 4 weeks should not have a major effect on performance, I just felt like an athlete for the first time this year. I was to start in the first wave, which was a huge benefit to my race tactics - to attack from the gun. At the start, I settled into 2nd place on the initial run and sped out of the start arena and chased the leader who was a short distance ahead. Realising quickly that his run speed would inch him away, I established a rhythm and concentrated on my own race. That’s when I hit the first hill. A solid 3-minute climb spread the field out nicely before plunging downward to the half way point, and then a flat, fast finish for the first run.
I could see the leader 30 seconds ahead as I entered transition. Friends who were there supporting me screamed encouragement as I weaved amongst the bike racks finding shoes, bike and helmet in my pre-set positions. The rough ground that exited transition had dictated that my shoes were not attached to my pedals. Although this is quicker, my instinct proved right as I pushed my run first shoe off, fastened helmet and placed my first cycle shoe on in a fluid 5 second movement, quickly removing the second shoe and jumping into my cycle shoes and exiting the bike racks I found myself chasing the leader out of the transition area.
We mounted simultaneously, however he was struggling to get his feet into the pedal mounted shoes, as I immediately smashed through the gears following the rewarding snap of feet clipping into pedals and immediately delivering 400+ watt pedal strokes and firing me out of transition onto the cycle course and into the lead. I attacked the bike course with venom and determination I had not known for years, the first climb felt like a Tour-de-France stage, climbing endlessly into lactate threshold oblivion, watched by a bemused group of deer and several dozen spectators whose raucous support and loud cow bells would ring in my ears for the rest of the lap.
I estimated a 3-minute lead at the halfway point, then the disaster came. As I sped downhill to one of the roundabout turn points, my brakes smoking and screeching to a controlled speed, the downshift gearing struggled, then hesitated and then the chain came off the rear cogs and jammed. I leaped off the bike and immediately turned it upside down, within an agonising 40 seconds the chain was back on and the cogs turned freely. I was back on my way, 2-3 minutes lost and a swear box full to capacity. Apologies to anyone within earshot. It would be another few minutes before I would get back up to speed and rhythm. I no longer knew if I was still leading, the other races that day were now at various stages, meaning that around 3,000 people were on the bike course. The second lap completed without incident, and I had managed to push really hard towards the end, knowing I just had a 5k run to go.
The final run was a lesson in pain management. Cramp in both calves meant that I was going to find the hill a challenge to say the least. Every stride was agony, but I just couldn’t stop, I didn’t know where anyone else was in the race, I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 1k down, up the hill, drink station at 2.5k, photographer at 3k, turn at 4k and final straight were all a blur as my mental countdown to the finish pushed me onward. The music, cheers and commentators pulled me slowly towards the finish line as with huge relief I crossed the line. I had won, by around 2 minutes. The post-race data would show that it was the fastest I had raced all year, and the hardest I had pushed myself. The great Czech Emil Zatopek said of big race days- “Today, we die a little”. This was the day I died a lot. Cannot wait for the next time.