By Peter Persico
It seems I may be developing a tendency to ramble, but hopefully, anyone reading this will make it to the end. Anyway… having first done this duathlon in 2013 along with Peter Leach and enjoying the experience, there wasn’t really any doubt about me taking part again this year. The duathlon takes place at Oulton Park, which is a motor racing track near Chester.
The standard distance duathlon was set to begin at 1300, and so gave plenty of time for me to get to the track since Chester was also hosting a full marathon and a metric marathon. Chester, it appeared had opted to host a few events on the same day yet again, since last year there was the duathlon, a full marathon, and a tough mudder event all on the same day. Anyway, on arrival, I went to register in the Chequers restaurant and collected my race pack. Transition was located in the pit lane. The marshals controlling entry to transition got a bit vocal about a few of us trying to get in without having our helmets fastened on our heads [a lot of us had them on our heads but unfastened]. So, after fastening them we were allowed access to transition, where we promptly racked our bikes and took off our helmets! The race briefing described the nature of the course and the rules. The first point made was about safety for runners and cyclists on the course, telling runners not to go from the inside of the track where the cyclists would be, and telling cyclists to avoid runners. Then came the talk on drafting. The official stated that this was a “no drafting” event and that it would be keenly enforced and penalties issued for violations. He said that, as well as having BTF ‘draft busters patrolling the track, since this was a race track, they had CCTV to monitor the whole course and would be watching! He then said that they would not accept any excuses, such as, “I got caught up in a peloton and couldn’t break away”. This got a laugh. Whilst he was talking about the ankle timing chip, I suddenly realised that I’d forgotten to put the one given to me on my ankle. I sneaked out of the race briefing to run the short distance to my car to get the chip before returning to the briefing. Luckily, I made it back before the finish, so none of the marshals at the briefing appeared to notice my absence. Of late, I’ve been trying to calm and relax myself before starting rather than psyching myself up. This rather rapidly increased my heart rate, and not in the best way.
I thought a brief description of the course would be useful at this point, which can be described as undulating. We would have to complete a total of 12 laps each of 2.69 miles or 4.31km. The first run leg consisted of 2 laps of the track making it 5.4 miles, the cycle leg consisted of 9 laps of the track making a total of 24.3 miles, and the final run leg was 1 lap of the track. I’ve put a little map of the track above to help illustrate the course.
After setting off on the flat starting grid, the course takes you round old hall corner and onto the downhill section called the avenue before a sweeping left turn at dentons [at least it is sweeping on the bike]. This leads onto a steady incline up to shell oils corner, which is a 180 degree bend. Next is a short flat section and here you carry straight on rather than round the chicane and then up another short, but sharp, incline [hilltop]. There is then a further flat section followed by a downhill section leading round knickerbrook and onto another incline called clay hill. This one is more of a sting because it is steeper than the previous inclines. After this hill, the course flattens out to go round druids corner and then, at lodge corner, there is a brief downhill section before the incline leading back to the starting grid. Transition was slightly beyond this hill in the pit lane. To finish, you had to head towards transition but turn right and run under the finishing banner. With the course being on a race track, the ground is very smooth, except for the odd pieces of rubber and small stones. Being a motorbike race track, the sweeping descents, sharp inclines, and tight corners appear to be standard issue.
We all congregated on the starting grid but, unlike motorbikes, we were all huddled together. Then, the starting horn sounded and off we set. As usual, I set off a bit quicker than I would be running. I always joke that this is so that I can get into some ‘clean air’ to use some motor racing jargon, but in general it is because I still find getting the correct pace at the start a challenge. However, I soon managed to settle into what I hoped to be a decent and sustainable pace. The sun was shining and I exchanged a few social words with another runner before embarking on the second rise in the track. The first run was generally not that eventful, except for me having vague flashbacks when getting to the hills, but I knew that I was going to put in a quicker time than last year. When I came into transition after the second lap, I managed to find my bike with little difficulty. I quickly changed into my cycling shoes, again having chosen to use the mountain bike clips and shoes like I had in the triathlon 2 weeks ago so that I could run with my bike. I’ve yet to try and have them already clipped to my pedals like some do in these events. I then made my way out of transition in a decent time, and again quicker than the previous year; all was going well!
Overall, the cycle leg was not quite as glorious as I had hoped. Having told a certain someone that the cycle leg was 9 laps, this person described it as “soul destroying”. We were responsible for counting our own laps and the race booklet suggested we adopt a strategy for counting laps [but didn’t suggest any actual strategies]. Despite knowing this from last year, the only strategy I had was to keep repeating the lap number I was on until I crossed the line for the next lap. Nearing completion of one particular lap, there was a marshal at lodge corner just before the brief downhill and then uphill to the starting grid. The marshal was shouting for cyclists to be careful because there had been an accident at the bottom. As I carried on, I saw a female cyclist holding something to the side of her face whilst being seen by health personnel. The fan of motor racing part of me wished that the marshal had been waving a yellow flag as well. Unfortunately, whilst thinking about this, I lost track of my lap number. I found concentrating on my lap number and arithmetic challenging whilst also trying to focus on the track, so I ended up slowing down until I had it figured out. This did not last, and after a few more laps, I began wondering if I’d got it right. My watch showed total distance so far, so I had to subtract the first run leg, and then try and calculate how many laps the remaining distance indicated. Engaging in more complicated arithmetic, I again slowed down. In the end, these incidents as well as my neglect of cycling more recently, affected my total bike time, which annoyingly wasn’t a significant improvement on the previous year. There’s always something! There were also a few occasions when I unintentionally ended up as part of a peloton or pack of cyclists. This only happened at the top of certain hills when slower cyclists in front were caught by quicker cyclists coming up from behind, with both groups briefly slowing at the top of the hills. These moments did have me worriedly looking around wondering if we’d be penalised. Happily, I managed to complete the required number of laps, and did not get any penalties. All that remained was the final run.
I remember struggling last year on the final run leg, especially on all of the hills. This time, I was determined to make a better effort. I also saw a few people in front of me, some a fair distance away, and decided that I would aim to catch them. Through all the other training I do, I’ve found that transitioning doesn’t have the impact it once did on my legs. As a result, I was confident I could achieve this modest aim. Happily, I began gaining on those in front of me, and in the end, managed to overtake a few people, some of whom had stopped to stretch various leg muscles. My final run leg time was nearly 3 minutes quicker than the previous year. One of the photos below show the final hill, and the look on my face in the other photo below shows me at the top of that hill before the final run to the finish.
Many people put their hands up in the air on finishing any type of event, and some even smile. It’s similar to the Daley Thompson method where he finished a decathlon having beaten his opponents, but made it seem like he had done so without even breaking a sweat. I haven’t managed to get to the stage where I can follow this first part of his method yet it appears, as the photo below of me coming up to the finish line seems to indicate. Still, at least I didn’t look like I was going to collapse, so it still makes a good finishing photo. I did follow the other part of his method, which was to walk away nonchalantly whilst enjoying a few Jaffa Cakes, some water, and then some non-alcoholic Erdinger [there were a few joking complaints about it being non-alcoholic]!
The atmosphere at the end of these multi-sport events is still great. I ended up speaking with a few other people, commenting on various aspects of the course and the experience. Always a friendly atmosphere!