I participated in the April edition of the Hagerstown Duathlon as my first multisport event of the year. The original sign-up for that was a bit of an accident but after signing up for more than one event the same day moving my registration to an the duathlon seemed better than losing my entry free altogether.
As it turns out, I had a lot of fun at a really well run event so decided to close out my multisport season with the fall version of the same race. It is the exact same event, and the exact same course but in October. I hoped to improve my performance a bit given a summer of Ironman training. Granted, I wasn’t unhappy with my April time of 1:03:19 for the 15 mile course, but felt like I could pick both the bike and the last run up a bit.
Accommodations for the event would be easy. We had camped at Greenbrier State Park in Boonesboro Maryland in April and would stay there again. It is a beautiful State Park and a real gem for the State of Maryland. We travelled South and West from Reading, PA on October 17th one day prior to the race. The trip was uneventful. Unlike my last planned race, I was pretty excited about this one. I had been on the podium in the spring and felt like I had the goods to win at least my age group this time around. I also secretly hoped to have a sub-20 5K for the 3rd leg of the race. I went to bed that night anticipating the race.
The predicted weather for race day was sunny and nice, in the high 60s. Therefore it must have been my imagination that I was hearing rain on the roof of our RV early Saturday morning. It turned out not to be my imagination but it also didn’t last long. However, sunny and 60s would be hard to come by. Weather throughout the day was a mixed bag of clouds, sun, and a plentiful supply of strong winds.
The pre-race e-mails from Ken Racine of Racine Multisport urged participants to arrive at Marty Snook Park early to ensure parking and timely check-in. In the spring, my friend Karen Faber and I both arrived early and stood needlessly around for quite a while. I wouldn’t make that mistake again, and arrived at the race site no earlier than 7:30 or so. Still a full 2 hours before the gun. I had ample time to check in, pick a sweet “T” spot and then find a park bench for a bit.
In addition to the duathlon, Ken holds a youth duathlon, and a 5K at the same venue prior to the start of the duathlon. It is fun to watch the kids dig in to their event and it is easy to pick out the future stars of the multisport world.
Once the 5K started at 9:00am, I took a short warm-up jog to loosen up my legs and begin to get my heart rate up. The duathlon features a 1.9 mile run, 10 mile bike, and then a 5K for a total of 15 miles. To be competitive, that first 1.9 mile run would need to be pretty quick with a fast start. With that in mind, I handed Janice my sweatshirt, got one last kiss and headed to the front of the starting pack.
Ken gave us the countdown and at 9:30 sharp we were off. Eventual race winner Andy Watson took off like an over-caffeinated jack rabbit and we were all in pursuit. Well, except for the ½ dozen or more folks that started in front of me and who were trotting along like it was a long run on a summer day. I couldn’t help but think “If you aren’t planning on 6 minute miles or better, get off the front”. I dodged and weaved my way through the slow pokes and back to the tail end of the lead pack. Not that I was going to catch Andy but that took more time and energy then I would have liked.
The run course follows the park path out to the road, back to the park entrance where it turns around and goes back the way it came. For the 1.9 mile first run, it makes a hard right shortly after the turnaround, and run back to the start/finish area and T1. I hit T1 in 5th or 6th place with a run split of 11:29. A full 32 seconds faster than the spring race. So far so good.
Transition is always funny in a duathlon. You think there should be more to do. But I had learned from the spring race, skipped wearing a hat, and just wore my race belt and number for the entire event. I had a jacket in T1 in consideration of the cold, blustery conditions earlier but the sun was out and I was warm from the hard 1.9 miles so slipped off my run shoes, pulled on my bike shoes grabbed Black Betty and flew out of transition in 45 seconds.
It is very seldom that I leave the transition area near the front of the race. At one point after taking a turn I couldn’t see another bike ahead of me. There were only 3 or 4 people up there but they were fast riders. For a brief moment, I wondered if I took a wrong turn. I looked behind to see more riders behind me and wondered “Do they know where they are going or are they just following me the wrong way”? But the course was well marked and in short order I saw markings and signs indicating I was indeed headed the right way.
The bike course is a fun, 10 mile loop. Ken does an amazing job here. There were enthusiastic volunteers at every turn not just showing the way but enthusiastically cheering and ringing cowbells. I had hoped to maintain 22-23 mph for the bike. I am not the strongest biker and don’t pretend to be. On a calm day, 22-23 mph would have been a reasonable goal. But there was enough head and cross wind throughout the course that it just wasn’t happening for this event. As expected, I probably got passed by a ½ dozen or so faster riders during the course of the 10 miles. I knew I would see some of those folks again on the second run.
I hit T2 with a bike split of 29:48. Only a minute faster than the spring. But with the wind, realistically the effort was probably 2-3 minutes faster. Still an overall improvement. Like T1, T2 was a simple affair, rack the bike, flip off the shoes, slip on the run shoes, grab the Garmin off the bike (almost left without it) and GO! 45 seconds again. Only 3.1 miles left.
My goal was to win my age group. I also knew they had an award for overall Masters (male & female) and I was thinking, “Yeah, I could win that”. I knew the overall podium was not in the cards. That would take a much faster bike leg and the ability to run faster than someone 20 years younger. I also had the secondary goal of a sub-20 5K in a duathlon in the back of my mind. I quickly established a fast cadence and put the apparent sluggishness of the bike-to-run feeling out of my mind knowing that the feeling would change quickly to that of normal running.
Almost immediately I began picking off those that passed me on the bike including a fellow Ironman finisher with 47 written on his right calf. I was thinking of the other competitors that passed me on the bike and could recall no other 40 or older ages. I felt I was looking pretty good for overall Masters. I still wanted the fast 5K.
The run course takes the same route as the shorter run except it is a true out and back to make the full 5k. Just before the 1 mile mark the park path meets the road and takes a 170 degree turn back downhill toward the park entrance. There is an aid station here. One of the younger folks I had been following and gaining on slowed to grab a cup of water. I would drink after the race was over and flew by him. There was a small group of 3 “kids” up ahead. Perhaps 2-3 age groups younger than me. They were struggling with the pace and had clearly hung their hat on the hard bike ride. There was a bit of satisfaction as I passed them back. Andy was headed the other way at this point well out in front and pulling away. The competitors were pretty spaced out and I would only catch one more person on the way home. Navigating the park path back required some care. I wanted to run the tangents but had to watch for slower runners headed the other way. None of us would have benefitted from a head-on collision.
There is always a moment in any race where a bad voice from inside tells you to give up. It would be so easy to give in and slow down. In an all-out 5K effort, the bad voice gets really loud sometime after the 2 mile mark. This is when it helps to know the course. It is easy to be disappointed when you think the finish is around the next bend, but the next bend only reveals more road and no finish line. The bad voice asks “Why do you do this to yourself? It hurts!” But when you know the course, you can visualize the landmarks and the good voice, the voice that wants the podium spot, starts to talk. “Just run hard to the end of the baseball field. Okay, now maybe just to where the trees start again. We are doing well. Just keep going to the playground, and we can see the finish from there. Good. The finish is right there. The clock is running. Lay it all out there now and pick it up just a little more. It’s downhill to the bend. Look at the clock! Go! Go! Go!”
I had followed “Batman” (Lawrence Soto) for the last mile of the 5K. If it had been a 5.5K I might have caught him. Or I may have floundered entirely. As it was I finished just a few seconds behind him and heard Ken call out my name. 99 times out of 100 I completely forget about my Garmin at the finish. On this occasion I looked down and shut it off as I crossed the matt. Naturally, because at this race they had a really good race photographer with free race pictures. Go figure.
Anyway, I crossed the line in 19:53 for the 5K and a total time of 1:02:38. This was easily good enough to win 1st Male Master. Not bad for an old guy.