Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
I’m not gonna beat around the bush – the 2015 London Duathlon turned out to be one of the highlights of the year for me. It was a beautiful day out and a tough-as-nails event that will live long in my memory.
I had seen this advertised back around March this year, and as it was taking place right on my doorstep in Richmond Park I had no hesitation in signing up. Of course, I had to go for the Ultra distance option – a 20km run/77km bike/10km run. Run/Bike/Run – I’m not really interested in getting into Triathlon, but if an event comes up that just has running and biking then that sounded like something I would be up for!
In the lead up, I didn’t really do much bike training, as I think general fitness from running (and skating!) can carry you a long way on the bike. Nonetheless, taking on 7 laps of the hills of Richmond Park was a pretty scary thought, especially the sharp climb up Broomfield Hill, which can be a real killer on tired legs. I did manage to venture out to Richmond a few days before the race and put in 4 laps to make sure that I knew I could at least do that much without dying.
Race day was an early start, and having managed to survive the previous evening’s Toga Boat Party with my sobriety if not my dignity fully intact, I arrived at the Event Village and found my way to the transition area to rack my bike and prepare for the run-to-bike and bike-to-run transitions. Hey, I’ve watched Ironman, I know what to do.. in theory. Apparently this is the largest Duathlon event in the world,with over 3,000 participants in total, but there’s only 3 rows of racks for the Ultras, and about 40 rows for everyone else… I can’t imagine why.
At this point time is precious, so I quickly prepare everything as best I know how, pin my race number on, and trot over to toe the start line with 100 other ultra madmen/women for the 8:45am start. Looking around, there is plenty of full-on lycra and tri suits on display – it’s a good guess that most of these guys are pretty serious about their running, biking (and swimming) and probably have a few IronMans under their (fuel) belts. It’s not conceivable that I’m the only one amongst this rabble who’s about to pop my multi-sport cherry, but I don’t really let myself think about it and am looking forward to the challenge. There’s the usual nervous banter as we wait to be released for what for most of us will be the best part of 5-6 hrs of racing. There’s no mass start – instead, we’re sensibly released in waves of 20 every couple of minutes, and everything is ranked on chip (not gross) times only. I am more than happy to start in the last wave. Beep, beep, beep…the pips count down, and we are GO!
The first leg consists of two laps of a 10km counter-clockwise circuit which sets out from Roehampton gate, climbs all the way up Sawyers, turns left at Richmond gate, left again onto the “inner loop”, up past the Ballet School (this is where I did all my hill training for LeMans earlier in the year) and back down to rejoin the outer loop back at Roehampton gate. The hills arguably make it slightly tougher than your average half-marathon course, but at this time in the morning it was still quite cool and I settled into steadily pace, clicking off 8:15 min/miles. On the 2nd lap around they were already releasing the Classic Distance competitors, so from then on until all the way through to the final half of the last run leg, the Ultra Distance competitors were sharing the course with the classic, half, and relay competitors, and everything was much busier.
I am running somewhere between full and half-marathon effort, keeping well below lactate threshold and mindful that there is a heck of a long way to go. As I reached T1 (see, I know all the lingo), a quick check on my watch said 1hr-45 something. Pretty pleased – I had ran a decent but controlled effort, and felt optimistic for the rest of the race. Helmet on (first thing!), I then quickly jumped out of my running shoes and into my cycling shoes. My dodgy toe from last week’s marathon was holding up admirably, and I have to say that after the hills of Farnham, the hills of Richmond were a doddle in comparison.
At this stage I had to decide whether to wear my skinsuit as an additional layer. It was getting warmer, but I wasn’t convinced that I could do with just 1 layer, so I opted to go with an extra layer. This took another another minute or so of faffing around to get into my skinsuit, but more importantly for me, in the process it also meant that I unclipped my water/fuel belt and forgot to reattach it, and so I left T1 with just the single water bottle mounted on my bike. Ultimately this was down to a lack of experience and planning on my part. I didn’t realise until the bike leg was well underway, but by that point it was a bit late to do anything. Bummer.
I have to say that the bike leg was both the most FUN and the most DIFFICULT part of the race. Technically, this was not a draft legal race, but with the sheer number of cyclists circulating and resembling a TdF peloton at times, it was impossible to enforce even if they wanted to, and invariably you would pick up a slight slipstream from the myriad of other cyclists around you. The bike course is the full outer loop of Richmond Park running clockwise, and overlaps parts of the run-course going the opposite direction.
Having come off a 20km run, there is no real need for any warmup, so I was pretty much hammering it from the get go as soon as my clipless shoes clicked into the pedals. I was pushing heart rates on the bike which I normally never come near to.. 150-160bpm on the flat, and 170bpm+ on the climbs.. and it felt easy. I was bent over onto the dropbars for most of the time – brakes be damned – and it was exhilarating to be passing so many other cyclists in a machsimo “wayhey! look at me!” fashion. I knew that I was almost certainly burning all my matches at this stage and was probably going to suffer for it later on, but what the hell, I was having so much fun!
If you know anything about cycling in Richmond Park, you will have heard of the “3 lap challenge” which is how fast can you do a 3 lap time-trial. I think I have tried it twice, and the best that I have ever done was 1hr8m. If you can get under 1hr then that’s worth some bragging rights, apparently. On this day I absolutely flew around the first 3 laps of this 7 lap leg.. I think my time over the first 3 laps was something like 1hr5m – I don’t know how I was going so fast – maybe it was down to the adrenalin, or the 20km run beforehand that had already revved up my body, or that I had actually bothered to pump some air into my (too worn) tyres… but this this was going much better than I had expected! Broomfield Hill felt like a breeze up until this point – this was piece of cake!
However there comes a point where you have to surrender to reality, and today was no exception. Although I was still making good progress through laps 4 & 5, I knew that my pace was inevitably dropping, especially when my fuel belt was sitting forlornly in Transition. On lap 6 it begun to get pretty ugly, and I was now just praying that the finish would come sooner rather than later. The field was thinning out, as most of the classic distance competitors were finishing their bike leg. Some of the leading Ultras had already managed to put a lap on me – they are seriously badass all-round athletes. I began to feel dizzy and nauseous on the bike, and was in serious trouble at I started the last lap. I was bonking. Big time. Although I had managed to pull myself up Broomfield Hill on the previous 6 laps relatively comfortably without getting off the bike, the deterioration is rapid when it comes, and there was absolutely NO CHANCE of me successfully making it 7, so I was forced to dismount and walked the last major climb. The rest of the lap I felt awful, but managed to keep my legs just spinning over, and eventually managed to make it around without passing out on the bike and crashing out altogether. The fact that I had completely neglected electrolytes probably didn’t help matters. D’uh!
Fat adapted or not, there is no amount of Bulletproof Coffee in the world that is going to make up for 4.5hrs of hard racing with zero fuel at that stage. It wasn’t just that my legs were trashed – I felt sick, dizzy, and my whole body was hurting everywhere! This is your body telling you in no uncertain terms that YOU NEED FUEL!
This shows that it’s still very possible to bonk, even if you are well fat-adapted – I don’t care who you are, if you’re hammering it hard in HR zone 4 for 4-5hrs then a lot of your energy is still going to be coming from glycogen. In reality, the bonk is probably not as severe for fat-adapted athletes as it is for sugar burners, but as I have pointed out, glycogen stores cannot be neglected no matter how good a fat burner you are.
Finally I rolled into T2 and was never happier to dismount the bike. I took my time and gingerly walked my bike back to my racking area. I obviously did not look too good, as the race assistants were asking if I was OK, and I could see a look of concern in their faces. I assured them I was – at least medically. The first thing I did was to chomp down a couple of energy bars that I should have eaten during the bike. Then, swapping the bike shoes back to my running flats, I slowly marched out of T2 for the final tortuous 10km run, with some gentle encouragement from the course assistants. All in all, I was in T2 for nearly 6 minutes, but it had allowed me to recover a bit, and I felt that I could do this thing, even if it I had to crawl my way around.
Or, at least it felt like victory. The final 10km run leg was, in truth, not as bad as I had feared after the end of the bike leg. I started very slowly, and mixed in some walking and jogging as I climbed Sawyers Hill for the last time. I was happy to be using my running muscles again, but had developed a bit of cramp in my right quad, so took some time to stretch it out halfway up the hill . I was still recovering from the bonk and low on energy, but felt like I was over the worst of it. Halfway around the lap I had to dash off to the side to take sneaky pee break and was passed by a couple of fellow ultra participants, but over the last few kms I was feeling better all the time, and managed to run them down and finish ahead.
I felt much better at the end of the final 10km than I did at the start, and finished the whole race strongly – delighted to finally cross the finish line in a time of 5h45m. Although I had no real goals or expectations going into the race, this was right around where I thought I would probably finish. I did a (lame) moonwalk across the finish line – it has always been a bucket-list dream of mine to do this at the end of a big race with everyone watching – before picking up my finisher’s medal and T-shirt and the obligatory banana. Only thing left was to head back to Transition to pick up my bike, stretch my legs, catch my breath, and promise “never again” to myself once again.
After the race, I cycled (slowly) home; I was completely shattered, and spent most of the rest of the day passed out in bed, but it had totally been worth it! The mental images of the bike leg and flying down Sawyers’ Hill at 60kpm+ were flashing through my mind and keeping me awake, even though my body was totally ready to switch off.
Duathlon is often seen as Triathlon’s poor cousin, but my impression from the London Duathlon is that it’s a lot friendlier and accessible than Triathlon, and it doesn’t need to consume your life… a good job, as I already have plenty of other obsessions. I wish more of my friends would try this – the Ultra Duathlon is definitely right up there amongst the toughest and therefore most rewarding things that I have done, but the classic and half also look like great challenges in their own right.
Despite my promises of “Never Again”, I will definitely do this event again! Although I enjoyed myself immensely, it was a bit of a mess in terms of fueling and race execution, so hopefully I could put in some focussed training (maybe even a few brick sessions) and race planning, and aim to shave 10-15 mins off in a year’s time.
Run 1: 01:45:35
Run 2: 01:02:16
+ Fantastic race-day atmosphere
+ Different levels to suit anyone who can run/cycle
+ Location – Richmond Park is a stunning location for this race
+ Great Organisation – very clear rules, lots of marshals, everyone very friendly & encouraging
+ Decent VFM – Although entry is about £100-120, this is pretty good for a multi-sport event, and much cheaper than, say, an Ironman 70.3.
+ It’s something “different”
3×9-bars – one during Run 1, 2 during T2
Water + UCAN (1 scoop)
Beet It x 2