The highway sign warned “Gusty Wind Area Next 1 Mile”. Super. We were in our little motorhome and southbound on route 15 in Maryland en route to Hagerstown. There was a cold front coming through and the wind was already buffeting the coach and pushing us dangerously around. I held on tight and battled the gusting winds as they did their best to move us into the left lane. I was on my way to do my first duathlon as part of Racine Multisport’s Hagerstown Duathlon series. The wind was adding a new dimension to multisport racing. After a scary few minutes we exited route 15 and headed more directly into the wind and off to Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, MD to find our campsite. Maryland has a wonderful State Park system and Greenbrier was no exception with well-groomed, level sites, power, and campground hosts who greeted us after our arrival at our site.
I had not set out at the beginning of the season to do a duathlon. The idea didn’t interest me all that much. I had signed up for another Racine event, enthusiastically clicking my way through the payment and “no refunds” page. I got my confirmation, went to pencil the event on the calendar and . . . damn. I was already signed up for a race the same day. In fact I was signed up for my Lake Placid warm-up race that day. Oops. What to do? I re-read the previously-skimmed Racine refund page and discovered I could transfer to a different event. A quick check of the calendar revealed duathlon #1. What the heck. May as well give it a shot.
We rarely take the car with us when we use the RV but in this case, being unsure of parking arrangements at the race, we decided to tow it along. In these case, we unhook the car at the office of the campground and walk back to retrieve it later. I left Janice in camp to setup and walked up to get the car. While I was gone, the campground hosts had stopped by to welcome us. While there, they mentioned that the front gate of the campground gets locked at 10:00pm. Janice casually mentioned this to me later that evening. “Um, what time do they unlock it?” I asked. “Oh. I didn’t ask”. Panic. We had to leave at 6:30am and I was pretty confident the gate wouldn’t be open by then. I tracked down the campground hosts who were new to the park as well and after a brief radio call to the ranger it was learned that the gate is locked with a combination lock and the the combination was on our camp permit. Phew. Disaster averted. I was picturing finding a hotel room in Hagerstown for the night.
Early the next morning with the race director’s e-mail about parking concerns dancing in my head, we left early for Halfway Park in Hagerstown. (It’s really not called Halfway Park but the directions in the information packet for the race are spot-on). It turns out the RD may have been a tad over-worried about race parking. There was a softball event the same day but the ball players didn’t arrive until much, much later. Suffice it to say we were at the park, through packet pick-up and transition setup well before the 9:30 race start. The pleasant part of this is that my friend Karen Faber showed up shortly afterwards and we were able to spend a couple hours catching up before the race start. Weather-wise the day looked perfect. We needed our warm sweatshirts pre-race but there was no wind, and clear blue skies.
In addition to the duathlon there were two other races. A kids duathlon, and a 5K with both of those events starting before the duathlon. After a quick, pre-race photo Karen & I decided to head out for a warm-up. We trotted off together along the beginning of the race route which was an out-and-back course. We jogged along for a few hundred yards and had just decided to turn around when the bicycle “leader” of the 5K race came around a bend in the trail followed by the eventual 5K winner. We waited for him to pass before turning. He was alone. We watched down the trail for the chase pack. Nothing. We turned and followed the 5K leader. We looked over our shoulder expecting to see competitors close behind. Nothing but squirrels. Karen then said what we were both thinking. “Maybe we should have done the 5K”.
But we didn’t and we were soon back at the start and lining up for the duathlon. I’d never actually done a duathlon before so transition would be a bit different than what I am used to. This duathlon would be a 1.9 mile run, 10 mile bike, and then a 3.1 mile (5K) run. I really hadn’t planned exactly what paces I would go after but as the RD counted the seconds down to the start I decided to just go hard and see what was comfortable.
“Go”! Shouted the RD. I took off with the lead pack. We bounded along the paved park trail. I settled into a fast 6:20 min/mile pace. We wound out through the park, past the gathering softball crowd, out to the main road, made a u-turn and headed back from whence we came. The trick was to stay to the left of the finish to head for T1. I navigated this successfully and was feeling pretty smug about a snappy T1 right until I pulled my bike off the beautiful end-of-rack-position I had picked and snagged the pedal on the leg of the rack. Oh well. Moving on.
I jogged/ran with my bike to the mount mount area and hopped on. Can someone tell me how in the hell are the pros able to run by holding their bike seat and have the bike go where they want? It was a flat start and I dropped quickly to the aero position and into the big ring. I was near the front of the pack and as I passed a crowd of on-lookers I heard “Wow”! I either must have looked fast or inadvertently offended with my tight-fitting tri kit.
Coach Craig has had me working hard on the bike trainer over the winter and the results are definitely showing. The bike leg was fun and fast. I had hoped to maintain over 20 mph for the whole thing but a few rolling hills (nothing big) and a couple sharp turns must have slowed me down enough to drop me to 19.5. Most glances at the Garmin showed 20-22. Of course, I didn’t stop the Garmin until I had racked the bike . . . so perhaps I was there. It is easy to tell the flatland riders on this course. There were no big hills. I don’t think I ever got out of the aero bars. I did pass a few folks struggling up them though.
Suddenly I found myself back at T2. Hmmm. This short course racing is pretty fun! Again, T2 was fairly smooth and efficient. This was my first race in the Pearl Izumi EM tri shoes. I had previously used Zoot but they discontinued the model I liked and I couldn’t find a suitable replacement. I’m really liking the PIs and their from-the-factory elastic laces. There was a gentleman opposite from me in the rack lacing on traditional laces. He was on his second shoe and had obviously been much faster on the bike than me but I left him behind in T2 and never saw him again until he crossed the finish behind me.
Again, I didn’t have a real solid pace in mind for the second run not knowing how I’d feel so i figured to just go with it. I vaguely targeted 21 minutes or better for the 5K. It was a beautiful day to race and run with nearly perfect weather so the 5K pace did not seem laborious. I cruised along around 6:40 min/mile passing quite a few competitors. I did not get passed on this second run. The challenging part was navigating traffic on the congested main road. The softball tournament had really filled the park up and cars were everywhere. Drivers were considerate and made room for those of us racing so there were no slow downs caused by traffic. With a half-mile to go I pulled up along side a competitor in a much younger age group and thought about gearing down and putting some distance between us but then thought better of it. He was not in my age group and there was nobody else coming from behind. Race wisely. This is not an A race.
I crossed the line at 1:03:19 in 25th place overall and second in my age group. Not bad for an older guy. Karen smoked her age group by several minutes.
Considering I sort of accidentally signed up I had a fun day and am even thinking about returning for the same race in the fall. Racine Multisport did a good job making a well organized and fun event.