Monday, August 3, 2015

I Done Did a Du!

A selfie with the Flying Pig...isn't he cute?

What happens when you're on a quest for new (to me) events, but want to honor your Recovery Pledge? You do a du!

Being a huge advocate for all things cross-training, I have progressively been doing more biking. I have toyed with the notion of doing a duathlon, but hadn't found one nearby until I saw a link for the Flying Pigs Duathlon (Washington, IA). 

This event intrigued me because of the run/bike/run distances. A lot of duathlons have similar running distances (this had a 5K for the first run, then finished with a 1.5 run to the finish), but the biking segment was 20 miles (the majority of duathlons I researched had shorter bike segments, usually 10-miles). I have been keeping my running mileage to a minimum (since my ultra a couple weeks ago), so this was a perfect fit.

A long-time friend, Paula (who just happens to be an avid biker), joined me for the adventure. Paula is also a veteran duathlete, so she was the perfect mentor for me.
Paula and I have been friends for a long time, she's more of a cyclist who (occasionally) runs, while I'm a runner who is a cycling-newbie
Since I don't own a road bike (I have a mountain bike), Paula offered me her bike (and she used her husband's bike). The event location was about 75 miles away, and Paula lived closer than I did, so I drove to her place Friday night. Besides, I was a little apprehensive about using a borrowed bike, and I wanted/needed more than just a few minutes (in a parking lot prior to the race) to acclimate to the different pedals, gears, and "feel" of it.
After the test ride...not sure how I managed to get "dork marks" on my left leg, since the chain is on the RIGHT side of the bike
I was really nervous! Paula and I are about the same height, but I asked her to lower the seat a little so I could easily reach the ground for the "dismount" (my term). She showed me how to slide forward off the seat (while leaving one foot still on the pedal) in one easy (sort of) fluid motion....and (much to my surprise) I did so with ease (and I am not usually a graceful person). She congratulated me for "sticking the landing." We spent about an hour biking around her town, experimenting with the various gears for hills and starting/stopping techniques.
On the road.....
Race day arrived with a 5:15 wake-up and a 6:10 departure, we arrived in Washington around 7:00. We had plenty of time to get our packets, rack our bikes, and use the bathroom (real bathrooms!) inside the YMCA! 
Bike racked, campsite easily marked, eyes closed (in anticipation?)
I did have a little race day anxiety, though. The running segments would be minimal, but the biking was a whole new ball game for me. Even though 18 miles was the longest distance I'd ridden, I wasn't concerned about going 20 miles. I was worried, though, about what could potentially go wrong....flat tire, derailed chain, difficulty remembering the gears, panicking (and face-planting) . Although I didn't know how to manage a tire change, I knew it would probably not be worth attempting to do on my own anyways...and was pretty likely to not be an issue. I did put a few reminders on my hands to help me remember how the gears worked.
The (+) sign meant slide the shift for a higher tension, the (-) sign meant click down for an easier was the complete opposite on the other hand (you do what you gotta do)
We received a few instructions on the routes and transition procedures (the period between the legs of the race, when you're transitioning to the bike, or back to running), and the race started. Oh, was it hot! And humid! Thankfully, a lot of the 5K route was shaded. We were on city streets for most of the first mile, then we were on an asphalt trail before winding through a park, The final mile or so was on a brick-paved road, uphill. By then, I was feeling tired.....I wasn't necessarily running faster than normal, but the heat was pretty oppressive (and usually the heat doesn't bother me). I decided to walk for a few seconds to catch my breath before running the rest of the way to the transition area.

Then, it was time to go biking! I had been both anticipating and dreading this at the same time. I felt totally out of my element as I snapped on my helmet, grabbed my fuel belt and got the bike off the rack. I sort of ran the bike (like I had seen others do) towards the timing line, mounted, and took off.

Suddenly, within a few seconds, I could feel the wind. It felt pretty strong, but also a bit refreshing. In preparing for this event, I had been advised to have your water bottle ready to go on the bike. Also, to save time in transition, it was advised to wait until you were riding to take that first post-run drink. In my haste, I had forgotten to pop a piece of Plow-On Gum, so I reached around and grabbed it out of my belt. Twenty miles, on the open road, by myself....let's do this!

We rode about a half mile through town (in a special coned-off biking lane for us), before getting to the highway. Heading west on Old Highway 62, we'd be going straight for about 6 miles. Already, I saw a big hill looming up ahead. And, already, I was approaching a couple of bikers.....I called out, "on your left" and they let me by. Little did I know, that little move (me passing other cyclists) would not be happening very many times (quite the opposite, actually).

It wasn't long before Paula came whizzing by me. She told me I was doing great (ha! This was only the first mile or so), and I wished her good luck.  I knew I wouldn't see much of her until the finish line, but I did see her in the distance for quite awhile.

I am a born and raised Iowa girl. I have never lived on a farm, but I have been around them most of my life. But, Oh-My-Sensitive-Nose, the heavy humid air was SO nasty! I don't remember how many pig farms we passed, but there were plenty. I have a bionic sense of smell, so I could smell the "fresh Iowa air" for most of the entire route. It was kind of icky breathing heavy on the inclines and nearly gagging at the same time. But, alas, all of us had the same air to breathe, so the playing field certainly was leveled in that regard.

I made it to the turn, and headed north. Although the wind was somewhat at my back, it still was somewhat of a crosswind, so I didn't feel too much relief for having changed directions. It wasn't until I was a couple miles before the turnaround that I spotted the lead racer coming back. It was awhile before the other racers started appearing. I shouted and cheered to most of them, and several gave me the thumbs-up.

I was less than a mile to the turnaround when I spotted Paula. She was blazing!

My left calf had been feeling a little strange. I had not noticed anything while running, but it felt like it was cramping after I was about 5-6 miles into the ride. I hadn't realized I had even been using my calf muscles, so I was a little confused why it would hurt at all....and just the left calf (the right one felt fine). I made it to the turnaround, which was just a cone in the road. As I slowed down, I put my left foot down briefly because I had to make a real sharp turn...and suddenly the calf muscle seized up. It literally took my breath away, it was so painful. I dismounted briefly, and tried stretching it and massaging it. The guy at the aid station came over and asked me if I was alright....and I thanked him, but I told him I would be fine (hopefully). I was gong to try to flex and stretch it as I rode back on the return trip...maybe I could coast a little (?) and work out the kinks in those last 10 miles.

Well, heading back out, going due south into the wind...let's just say the "coasting strategy" would not be happening for awhile. Wow! That wind was brutal! It had felt pretty strong when I was going west, but heading almost straight into it was a game changer.

Though the wind was a challenge, it was manageable. I wasn't feeling defeated by any means, and I was careful to sip some of my Nuun water every couple miles. Adding to the calf strain and discomfort, I started to notice my helmet was feeling uncomfortable as well. It's a helmet I have had for several years, and have not used it much until recently (because I have not been much of a cyclist). I think I have some pressure points (for lack of a better diagnosis) near my hairline, because I usually notice headache-like pains after awhile when I am wearing the helmet. Sometimes wearing a headband helps to "cushion" the problem, sometimes not (today was a "not").

Eventually I made it back to the main highway (Old 62), and turned to head east back into town. Finally, the wind at my back! This would give me a chance to makeup some time from the previous 15-16 miles, and maybe catch up with some of the others who had passed me (not realizing, until after the race, that all the other racers would also have the wind at their backs as well...DUH!).

The final miles on the bike went well, despite my constant readjusting the helmet and periodic coasting with my left leg extended to point/flex the calf muscle. As I crossed the timing mat and pulled into the transition area, I heard them announce my name...telling the crowd that I was headed to the final leg of the race. That gave me a little boost of mojo as I racked the bike and pulled off the helmet and fuel belt.

Then, I headed to the streets for the final 1.5 mile run. Except my legs did not want to move very fast. What? Seriously? Is that what 20 miles of cycling will do to you? I ran for a couple blocks, VERY slowly, and passed a guy who was already walking. We were headed up a slight hill, and a short while later, I decided I needed to walk as well, just for a minute to (hopefully) loosen up the tightness in my legs. I saw a few of the other racers, coming back from the turnaround...and they all were running slow as well, looking as awkward as I felt.

I saw Paula and she gave me a cheer and said she'd see me at the finish line. I broke back into a slow run, and continued for awhile. I was able to run most of that 1.5 mile leg, though I did do a couple quick walk breaks. I was running so slow it felt like I could actually make better time by (attempting to) speed walk instead.

Finally, I made it to the finish line. Like so many other hard-fought races before, all the aches/pains/frustrations were instantly forgotten and replaced by the finish line endorphins. My goal had been to finish with a sub-2-hour time, and my watch said 1:58:28. Mission accomplished!
About to cross the finish line.....barely able to lift my feet off the ground!
Paula captured my pic, and was there to give me a high-5. It took a few minutes for it all to sink in.....that I had just finished a duathlon! I had endured 20 miles on a (borrowed) bike, going upwards of 25mph at times, and survived!
All done!  I finished!
We walked around for a bit, chatting with some of the other racers. My calf was feeling better, but still a little wonky. Paula said her left calf had been bothering her also. Coincidence?
Our campsite post-du....kind of a hot mess
They announced the top finishers, and Paula got 1st in our age group! She was surprised, but I wasn't....she's a strong biker chick!

Paula was a rockstar!

So, what do I think of doing a du? Bottom line, it was a great challenge!  It definitely got me out of my comfort zone, on so many levels. I went into this event not so much as a "racer" hoping for a fast finish, but as an eager "participant" testing the waters. Having no idea how I'd do on the bike, I estimated 90 minutes for the biking leg (20 miles with hills, humidity, heat and plenty of wind). I knew I could run the 5K anywhere between 25:00-26:30, and the final 1.5 mile approximately 15 me an estimated total finish time of 2:11ish, adding an extra miscellaneous minute or two for the (2) transitions would put me in around 2:13 (but I was hoping to finish under 2 hours if possible).
I LOVE the race shirts!

I have not yet seen the official results with our splits. According to my watch, I ran the 5K around 26:35, made it to the bike turnaround (at 10 miles) with 1:07 on the watch, back to the transition (from finishing the total 20 miles) in 1:44, then final finish time of 1:58:28. My observations...the 5K took a little longer than I'd liked (but I stopped and walked briefly), I was happy to see the negative split on the out & back of the bike leg (which includes that brief stop at the turnaround when my calf muscle screamed at me), the final 1.5 mile leg felt very SLOW (for myself, and it looked like it was for most of the others as well)...but running it in 14 minutes (and some change) was still under a 10-minute pace, actually a decent pace considering my legs felt like they were never gonna move again.

Strategies that helped:
**the cheat marks on my hands. Even though I knew the basics of shifting, being on an unfamiliar bike was a little nerve-wracking. Having the reminders of what gear went which way (depending on the tension I wanted) gave me some much needed piece of mind.
** all the research I did (and advice from friends) about race day tips pointed to transition being a key component. Granted, I was not "racing" in hopes of winning, but transition was the place that could make or break your finish time. I brought a bright orange towel to mark my spot (and help me identify the borrowed bike). I snapped on my helmet first thing and strapped on the fuel belt immediately afterwards. I had the water (with Nuun) pre-made and in the holster. I didn't even stop to catch my breath.
**Wearing my usual running shoes (and not dealing with bike shoes). I'm a biking newbie, and I am horribly klutzy. I do not own bike shoes (yet), and I knew this was not the time or place to experiment with them. Paula's bike pedals had clips, but also could be turned upside-down (like "normal" bike pedals). I saved some serious time by not changing out of shoes for either transition. I'm sure any experienced biker will tell you the advantage of bike shoes vs. regular shoes will make up for any lost time in changing out your shoes...but I am not an experienced biker and did not wish to invite trouble or additional stress.
**as frustrating as the wind was, I did try to enjoy the feel of it.
**I don't know if it's normal protocol in biking, but every time someone passed me (both while en route and the ones returning from the turnaround), I gave them a thumbs-up and said something ("Good job!" "Looking good!" "Woot woot! Girl power!"). I'd rather be the "average" racer who encourages her competitors than the "finish-line-focused" snob.

Things to consider if I do another duathlon or (maybe someday) a triathlon:
***much, much more time in the saddle. Like running, I would guess the only way to become a better cyclist is to do more cycling. This event was a bit of a last-minute decision, so I really did not spend the summer training for it (shocker, I know). Going into it, I knew the cycling would be the biggest challenge for me.
***cycling gear. Plain and simple, having a road bike of my own would be ideal. I'm just not ready to make that kind of an investment in a sport I'm not totally committed to doing (yet). Padded shorts (eewww!!! ugh!!!!) and biking shoes (eek!!!) are also things to consider. And a new helmet!
***more brick workouts, involving longer rides. I'm not a stranger to bricks, but my "bricks" usually involve more running than cycling and that needs to change if I get a little more serious about this and/or do future events. Running that final 1.5 mile leg after having just biked for 20 miles was brutal!  Paula compared it to a death march, and I have to agree.

So, there you have it. Another bucket list item checked off.

Have you ever thought of doing a duathlon? Do you know much about biking, or are you a newbie, like me? Does the thought of wearing padded shorts creep you out, like it does me?



  1. Great blog! My favorite line was that you "don't own bike shoes (yet)". Come to the dark side, Kim with all our shoes and chamois'd shorts! Seriously though, congrats on competing in your first Du and letting me "du" it with you. You rocked it!

    1. Thanks! I, too, am glad we could DU this together :-) When's the next one ? :-)

  2. i am hoping to do a du next year. i started riding my bike more a couple weeks ago when i decided to take a short mental break from running. i had wanted to do a du a couple years ago, but then kinda stopped cycling. now that i've picked it back up, i want to get a better bike and make cycling once a week a regular thing and actually do an olympic distance du next july.

    1. You should go for it!! This was a huge (mental) challenge for me because I'm such a beginner biker.....but the biking actually went pretty smooth. It was that final run to the finish line that blind-sided me. I'm excited to DU another :-)

  3. That's a pretty impressive accomplishment, considering that it was your first time on the bike! Nice job! I'd love to do a du--there aren't very many around but maybe next summer we could "du" one together?

    BTW, I'm not a fan of my padded bike shorts, but they do make things a little more comfortable. I don't know if I could run in them tho. Something to consider.

  4. Congratulations, Kim! Great job and way to push through! I am all about "cheat marks" or other tools to get you through. These things all help. There's a reason why so many runners use pace bands, myself included. When you're in the thick of things, you don't want to have to be thinking about other technical details.

    So are you hooked now and planning to do more duathlons in the future!?!?!? ;-P

    1. I don't really know if "hooked" is the right word...but I definitely want to do more of these :-) It was an awesome challenge!

  5. Congrats on the race! That is so awesome! I have completed one duathlon before and my calves were very tight afterwards, which is interesting because I've never experienced that in a triathlon before. I love the cheat marks on your hands!

    1. Ha! The cheat marks were necessary! I had to slide one way for tension on the left, but click down on the right for the same thing on the other rim (???)....too confusing for this newbie. I definitely need more time on a bike to get better acclimated to everything, but am always willing to to keep learning new things :-)

  6. Very cool! I would love to do a Duathlon someday but I only have a mountain bike as well. And I would totally be intimidated by clip in shoes!! Amazing job!

    1. Thanks, Sue!! This was such a great challenge...but those clip-in shoes are definitely NOT happening anytime soon for me LOL