Early on Sunday morning, I drove through grey fog, following the vagueries of the sat nav, getting stuck by ‘road closed’ signs for the event I was desperate to get to, I arrived, in Stockton, rather frazzled, for my first duathlon or run, bike, run.
With three events taking place on much the same course, I’d wanted to get there early to support my friends tackling the novice version, including Sue taking part in her first multi-sport event and the reason I was there at all. So it was a huge relief to see her, Tove and Jules as I wheeled by bike along to register.
I could have wished for kinder weather than the grey clouds and chill over the Tees, but spirits were high and I was able to wish them luck before the start and give a few encouraging shouts as they passed on the bike and the run.
Soon it was my turn. I set up in transition for the sprint distance and a little warm up run settled any remaining nerves as well as convincing me that I would be okay with my choice of long sleeve top and tri-suit.
Just before the start, all the competitors were called to transition to check that bikes had been properly racked. The marshals were very efficient controlling security of bikes in and out of the area, but perhaps a few more would have been useful to give advice on racking. With all abilities represented, there were bound to be some rookie errors.
I had joked that I’d feel strange not getting onto the bike sopping wet. There was still a chance of that as grey clouds loomed. But the first run was like any other mass run start. A gaggle of shivers and just wanting to get off, then a surge forward and I was on my way.
The route for the first 5k took in much of the riverside and took us over a couple of bridges. Much of it was familiar to me from the Tees Barrage 10k, but with lots of twists and turns, I really was doing nothing more than following the ribbon of runners and pushing hard, not thinking too much of the ride ahead. It’s just a Sunday run and ride I told myself and a chance to blast out a decent 5k.
Run completed and into transition. I see my bike, but not my helmet, which has been knocked off from where I’d balanced it on the brake cables. I pick it off the ground – no obvious damage, so on it goes, along with my bike shoes and I’m off to the mount line before I can think any more about it.
The surge of adrenaline carries me off and away, pedalling fast on the bike, up a bit of an incline and spinning the legs in an easy gear until I start to settle and pick it up onto the big ring.
It’s a closed course of three laps, which is great for me as there are always cyclists around, unlike at many events where I’m passed by the fast groups and left out on my own on empty roads. It’s twisty and turny and you have to keep your wits about you.
The super-fast road warriors first lap me as I’m negotiating the trickiest part of the course – a series of tight bends over the potentially slippery paving in front of the council buildings. There’s a loud, clear shout as they take the inside line and slower riders clear out of their way.
It’s the first chance I have to catch my breath and bring my heart rate down to a more reasonable level after the surge of the start. But I do my best to keep the cadence fast and chase down riders who I think may be on the same lap as me. As I gain in confidence, I make use of the bends and turns to gain advantage and I hope a place or two. Overtaking is a new experience for me on the bike.
Three laps down and I remember to drop through the gears and spin a little before the dismount line, then ignore my legs as I judder into transition.
There’s a bike in my slot. I check my number, thinking I’ve misremembered, but no, that’s my slot and there’s a bike there. I cannot rack my bike. I shout that I cannot rack and think about shoving it further along, but I know that I could get into trouble if I do. A marshal comes over and moves it, but I’ve wasted some time, and in the anxiety my left quad has cramped up. I limp out of transition and battle on.
‘Ignore it and your legs will come back to you,’ I say to myself. I take small steps, just keeping moving forward, willing my muscles into this new action. Back out along the riverside and over the bridge again. This time, the route is shorter – around 2.3k.
I start to target runners, picking them off one by one. Guy in black T-shirt… guy in white and orange… girl in pink…We loop round and a cheery marshal directs us round to the left and up some steps. Steps! That’s just mean. Around the corner, a young lad gives a big grin, clear directions and a ‘doing well’. Top marshalling young man.
My legs start to regain some feeling and I push on, looking for the pace of my first run. The last bridge is in sight. A quick up and over and I let myself go down the ramp on the other side, picking up places as I go.
At the final corner is Alister from Elvet Striders, with a big shout and just 200m to go. I’ve turned onto the final straight with another girl beside me. She pushes on, picking up the pace. I stay with her, shoulder to shoulder and push on. But I have a sprint, and this sustained hard pace proves just a bit too much for me, so I let her go, hoping, hoping I’ll be able to pull out a last gasp of power.
Less than 100m to go and I pick up my feet, rev through the gears and close her down. Another surge and another. I catch her as the route is narrowed by a couple walking beside the river. If she’s got a sprint in her, she’ll still beat me. I put my final surge down just metres from the line and accidentally bump her shoulder as I go through to finish.
She takes it in good form as I apologise, understanding it wasn’t an intentionally aggressive move and we chat as we recover our breath and pick up our water and chocolate bar.
I felt really unprepared for this race, but was pleased in the end to give it a really good shot. It’s really well organised, marshalled and inclusive. It’s definitely one I’ll think about returning to next year.
Total time 1:37:04
Run 1: 27:29
Run 2: 13:53