By Jess

About two weeks ago, I found out about the AG duathlon world champs qualifier at Ashridge and decided I might as well have a crack at it. Criteria is straightforwards, give intent to qualify, enter the qualifying race, finish top 4 in your AG and come within 115% of the winner’s time. After careful studying of previous times, I decided it was doable. I just missed out of qualification last time at Bedford and I feel like I had unfinished business with duathlons.

Normally I would go for standard distance but given that I hadn’t been doing much bike training in the past month I decided to opt for the sprint distance (5k run/22k bike/2.5k run). I knew that this meant that I’d be pitched against faster “sprint-type” athletes but I’d rather have a short brutal race than do a race that I might be better at but ill-prepared for.

Ashridge is near Dunstable/Milton Keynes and meant an overnight stay in a Holiday Inn but a pleasant 8.30 start. It was pretty serious with about 300 competitors turning up to race – many of them experienced athletes racing in GB suits. I was actually quite excited at the idea of racing again! It has been a while since my last race (3 months) and I just really wanted to give it my all.

The problem was, of course, the weather. It was about 2-3 degrees and sleeting/snowing and when we were driving up to the Ashridge grounds in the dark bleary-eyed at 7am it dawned on me that I might be having to race again in the rain (and this time with snow too). Bedford was really really REALLY miserable last time and I really didn’t want to have the same experience… But thankfully about 10 minutes before the start time the snow stopped! Don’t get me wrong, it was still freezing but at least it wasn’t snowing!

About 20 minutes before the race, the organisers decided the transition area was too muddy and slippery and that it would be safer for all athletes not to rush transition. They announced that everyone would have a 5-min “dead zone” in which we could take our time and put on layers during transitions, for up to five minutes. I took full advantage of this to rehydrate and rest each time. No drafting was allowed during the race so I decided that it wouldn’t make any difference to my time whether or not I was with the “fast pack” on the bike leg. I think this “dead zone” thing has really worked in my favour – I’ve always been relatively slow at transitions so to have the transition times removed from the overall time was a god-send! Sometimes with racing, it isn’t all about your ability, you need a certain degree of luck… and this was definitely my luck!

First run (5km)

The race consisted of 2×2.5k loops around the grounds which was very pretty and over a variety of terrains (grass, tarmac and stone). On the website the run was advertised as mixed trail but really it was a mud bath. I was so glad I brought trail shoes because otherwise I would have been slipping all over the place. My run time was just over 20 minutes – which I was really pleased with given the cold, the wind and the mud!

After the race…

Bike (22.5km)

The bike route consisted of 2 laps of an 11km loop on some sketchy undulating country roads. It was a little bumpy for the first 3km of each lap (large speed humps, potholes and lots of narrow lanes). It was tricky to pace as the first 4km were all downhill. The bottom section of the loop was mostly flat, before about 5km of mostly uphill riding back towards the Ashridge House, where it was hard to keep a decent average pace.

The second lap was pretty windy and there were some hairy moments when I was forced into the puddles and the bumpy left side of the road when faster riders rode past me going “RIGHT! RIGHT!” which scared the living hell out of me. The wind didn’t help and my bike handling skills on 180 degree turns aren’t great…so yeah. It was pretty tough!

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with bike the time as I could normally do about 5km/hr faster at the Velopark and I’d been cranking out some really good sessions on Zwift too (!) but I guess much of racing is dependant on the race course and sometimes it’s not just about the time.

Second run (2.5km)

My second run was hard. I hadn’t done any brick runs in my preparation to this race so the legs just felt like dead weight. I was also so cold I genuinely couldn’t feel my toes. But I managed to finish strong and overtook about 5 people on the run! In qualifying races every second counts, and looking back now I can see that those 30 or so seconds were crucial…it was just enough to bump me up from 4th place to 3rd place in my age group!

After we finished, I rewarded myself with a toffee popcorn muffin at Starbucks as we mulled over the results. At this point, neither Tom, Clinton nor I knew how we did because the organisers somehow added all our transition times to our bike and run times (rather than removing them altogether as “dead zone” time). It was only later that we found out that Clinton and I both came third in our age group (in Clinton’s case he was joint third with somebody else!) It looks like I’m within 115% of the winner’s time – so hopefully that was enough to qualify for the 2020 World Duathlon Championships in the Netherlands! (I know, I know, it’s ages away but hey it’s still exciting!)

On reflection I’m super chuffed with my performance given the strong field. I haven’t really been doing much outdoor cycling due to my focus on swimming and running (and I hadn’t tapered at all for this race…) so I really didn’t expect much. In fact, my plan for the race was just to get back in one piece so I’d done a lot better than I’d hoped for! I’m glad that Clinton managed to run a 18:30 5k at the start of the race (despite NOT having trail shoes) and happy for Tom who did a cracking bike leg (…flying over speed bumps like a ski jumper!) even though he had only just registered two days before the race. It was definitely a great day for the Tritons!!!

-Jess

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