Wow that was one tough race. A stunning setting with challenging conditions.
My experience of the inaugural Windsor Duathlon, hosting the British Championships, left me with a battered set of legs, a memorable return to Windsor two years after moving away and a sprinkling of confusion over the results.
The executive summary would read: Queues to get into the car park caused the race to be delayed. The race delay led to The Queen’s plans to drive across the course to cause havoc with the race and this led to confusion over finish times that have left me considering querying the result. Oh, and the quagmire around transition added a whole new level of challenge to what was already a pretty tough mornings fun!
So, to my race report.
Race morning was bright and chilly. I only had a two mile ride down to the start so I didn’t have to endure the stress of many of the competitors who were stuck in traffic queues waiting to get into the race car park before 7:30am. Not a great start to their days, I can imagine and the queues just kept getting longer so ultimately the race organisers decided to delay the start of the racing by 30 mins. The heavy ground conditions were making it difficult to park cars safely.
Fun and games really began in transition which was sited in possibly the boggiest part of the Great Park and being a former local I can confirm that this area is always likely to flood with a bit of bad weather!
As athletes began coming in and out of transition to set up bikes etc the whole area was quickly churning up and turning into a mudbath. These unique conditions were playing havoc with mindsets as experienced athletes were changing their normal bike set up regimes as whispers went around about whether the mud would make it more difficult to put bare feet into cycle shoes after running through the quagmire to the mount line. For a minute or two I even found myself questioning my normal strategy, but then quickly came to my senses and reminded myself to stick to what I know. I prepared my bike as normal, with shoes clipped in ready for my feet to slip into at the mount line. This was definitely the right thing to do.
Race briefings are a mandatory part of every event and they are a bit like the safety briefing on an airline. Everyone is half listening and half focusing internally on what is about to happen. Right at the end of this briefing however my focus was brought fully back to the briefing as we were informed that the race was due to be held up at some point between 1030 and 1100 as the Queen and some Royal friends and family were going to drive across the course. Was I imagining this? Was it April 1st? No, it was real. The announcer went on to explain that a timing mat would be set up either side of the road that the Royal Party would pass through so that any athletes held up would have their timing chip stopped on one side of the road and restarted when they crossed the mat on the far side plus these affected athletes would be given a 20 second bonus for inconvenience! I can’t imagine a more bizarre set of circumstances for a race, but we were being given the treat of using The Queens back garden so I guess this was the price we were paying for getting access.
The race started at the foot of a stinging climb heading towards the “Copper Horse” with one mass wave of all male standard athletes jostling for a good position. The hill goes up in three steps and was a punishing way to begin. Once at the top we then had a fast flat section that led onto the beautiful polo fields. The first 6k was all on roads and then the terrain changed to footpaths and then a long downhill section on a sandy horse trail. This was the bit I was least looking forward to as it is normally loose sand but fortunately it had all been compacted and so was pretty good to run on. Once we emerged from this forested section it was then cross country across fields of mud before popping out onto the long walk for the final section back to transition. This was a tough first run and so I was pleased to have completed it in a solid time.
The mud was definitely getting thicker as we approached transition, so I gave myself one tiny reminder to do what I normally do and before I knew it I was heading out after a fairly smooth transition. In hindsight I should have carried my bike “cyclo-cross style” out of transition as the tyres picked up lots of mud which caused a few issues over the first mile on the road but once this cleared I forgot about the mud.
The bike leg was four laps of an undulating technical course which was made even more tricky with the sheer volume of riders on the narrow Park roads. The first half of each lap was twisting with lots of short punchy hills, so very difficult to get into a rhythm. A few close calls with other riders who made unexpected lateral movements in front of me didn’t help to settle me down and I found the first lap very hard mentally. My legs didn’t feel good, I couldn’t get into a relaxed position and then I realised that my saddle had dropped. My “chimp” was now getting into overdrive and I spent the rest of the 1st lap battling with myself to think positively. By the time I got onto lap two I was in a much better mental place. This definitely relaxed me physically and I then began to enjoy the challenge of the two distinct halves of the course. The 1st half brought the twists, the changes of gear on the climbs, a few little moments out of the saddle, the chance to hydrate and take on fuel, whilst the back half of each lap was about sitting in the best aero position I could find given the lower saddle and powering a big gear. I felt I was performing better as each lap went on and once the sprint athletes had completed their two laps it was much easier to navigate the thinned out traffic and push on with confidence.
Turning right at the end of the 4th lap for the final mile down the Long Walk with Windsor Castle in the background was truly spectacular. This for me was possibly the best moment during any race. There did not seem to be anyone else on the road at this precise moment and I had this awesome view to myself. Maybe I got distracted by this because before I knew it I was at the dismount zone and misjudged my dismount by perhaps a quarter of a wheel length. Unlike most events there was not a line across the road so (in my defence!) it was really hard to know exactly where the line was. I should have dismounted a few metres earlier as this mistake cost me time. The official called me back and made me stand for what seemed an eternity before releasing me back into the trenches of transition. Fresh shoes were waiting for me and off I went, gingerly picking my way towards the timing mat at the edge of transition.
I often describe the sensation of running off the bike as being a bit like running through treacle. The legs are heavy, the blood seems to be in all the wrong places and the brain hasn’t yet worked out that you are now trying to propel yourself on foot again. Well imagine this normal sensation combined with actually running through a treacle like muddy field for at least 400 meters to reach the stability of the “Long Walk” metalled road. I almost lost my shoes twice in the mud but managed to navigate my way to safety and was given a real boost as the race commentator recognized me, and flatteringly mentioned me in his announcements. The second run was a dead straight out and back loop of 2.5 km. The first lap was agony as my legs were struggling but then on the second lap I began to feel stronger and think I picked up the pace a bit, although the time for this 2nd run was poor, so maybe I was imagining it!
The beauty of these out and back runs is that you can usually eyeball your competitors but the problem yesterday was that there were no distinguishing features such as colour or letter coding to identify the different age groups. Given that this was the British Championships I think it was a shame that this hadn’t been done.
I finally crossed the line feeling totally spent. I’d given my all and was totally satisfied with how I’d performed. I’d made a couple of errors but overall I’d done a really good job and was delighted to hear on the tannoy that I was across the line in a medal position (unofficially).
Now I’ve never done well in the British Championships so the thought of a medal was massively exciting. For a couple of hours I was elated until I was shown a copy of the updated results that revised my finish position to 4th. Its still unclear to me what happened but I can only assume that the guys who were finally placed 2nd and 3rd were caught up in the Queens crossing incident. If so, they must have been behind me at this point in the race as my wife told me later that I went through the crossing point just before the Queen arrived and so I was blissfully unaware of any disruption this may have caused behind. My split times for each leg of the race appear to add up to a faster overall time than the guys placed 2nd and 3rd and so I am assuming that their “finish time” is their actual chip time whereas the splits represent the times at each point from the start. I hope that there is a clear explanation and the results can be adjusted to reflect the true reality of what happened. You can see below how the results are currently being shown.
I’ve spoken with BTF and they are going to get back to me.
Whatever happens it was a great day. We caught up with a number of friends that we haven’t seen for ages, I got cheered on by, hopefully, the next generation of duathletes and I got another strong race in my legs. But, where was the Erdinger Alkoholfrei as we crossed the finish line to recover with? I missed you!
So now its back to training to prepare for the next biggie, European Long Distance Championships in Copenhagen next month.