On Saturday, May 13th I participated in my first duathlon. I’ve been training hard for triathlon season but have to wait until June before many local races pop up. The lakes in Michigan are much too cold before then. I swore I’d avoid doing triathlons with pool swims after doing one that was a congested mess. In the meantime, I’ve been anxious to test my training and get back into the multi-sport race environment.
When I came across a listing for the Women Who Du Duathlon, I was intrigued but unsure about the idea of a women-only race. I had a lot of the same feelings expressed in an article by Kathleen McAuliffe that was posted on Runnersworld.com recently – “I Thought Women-Only Races Were Sexist. Then I Ran One.” Women Who Du’s website talked about celebrating women, how it was about more than the competition, and it didn’t even have official timing. It didn’t have any super girly themes like some of the “goddess” races I’ve seen, which haven’t really appealed to me. I figured why not at least give it a try? It sounded like a perfect environment for easing back into a multi-sport event, which I haven’t done since 2015.
The race was in Battle Creek, Michigan, which is a little over two hours away. We have family there so I thought it would be perfect to integrate the race into a weekend of visiting. I found out recently that they’d actually be out of town, but I’d gotten excited enough about the race that I still wanted to do it and was willing to make the trip. I’m used to waking up super early most mornings anyway, so I was okay with leaving the house at 5:30 on the morning of the race.
Few people were on the road that early on a Saturday, so it was a peaceful and enjoyable drive. I listened to music and loved seeing the fog floating above fields along the road as the sun rose. When I drove past the race site and saw one porta-potty, I decided to continue a mile up the road to use a real bathroom at Meijer since I had plenty of time to spare. Race parking was available at a church that was right next to Woodland Park & Nature Preserve – the site of the race.
I got there around 8:00 and the race started at 9:00. It was a really small race with somewhere around 30 participants. I waited until the last minute to sign up for the race and only had the option to pick an XL shirt at that point. The woman at check-in had some extra mediums, so she gave me one of those. I figured I was lucky to get a shirt at all since I had signed up so late. The medium was still a bit too big, and the really wide scoop neck looks ridiculous on me. It’s too bad because I like the logo!
I realized that I didn’t need much prep time for a duathlon. I racked my bike in the transition area, left my helmet and a hat, then there was nothing left to do! Triathlons definitely involve more gear and organization of “stuff.” I did a quick jog to warm up, then lingered around the start to wait for the announcements. We really lucked out with beautiful weather. I worried that it could be a little cool for the bike, but 55 degrees at the start was actually perfect. I was comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts the whole time.
This race had a first run of 1.2 miles, roughly 8.5 miles on the bike, and a second run of 3.1 miles. Both runs were on trails in the park. We had to follow red arrows that were spray painted on the ground the first time and white arrows the second time. I’m not great at following the routes when running trails, so staying on the right course was one of my biggest concerns.
Luckily I went the correct way for the first run. The trail was a little congested as we started, but I was able to get where I wanted to be after a couple minutes. The trails were a mix of dirt, grass, and woodchips. The grass was damp, so I was glad I opted to wear my Gore-Tex shoes. I haven’t been running on trails like these at all lately, so the rolling hills were a good challenge. I finished the first run with 1.3 miles and averaged an 8:30 pace.
I did this race for the sake of getting some practice, and it was clear that I needed it when I got to the first transition. I biked in my running shoes, so all I had to do was put my helmet on and go. I managed to snag one of the straps up in my helmet when I put it on the first time, so I had to fix that and try again. Several times I got my pedal stuck on the bike rack. So, what should have been a few seconds turned into a 36-second transition. I need to work on becoming less awkward!
I took off on my bike and the ride was pretty good for the first four or five miles. My legs felt fine transitioning from the run to the bike, and vice versa later. I started slowly then hit 16 mph for a couple miles and got near 18 mph for the fourth mile. I rarely seem to do much better than an average of 16-17 mph. The roads didn’t have any shoulders, so it’s a good thing the traffic was really light. There were some rolling hills that made me work at times, but nothing too crazy. After one turnaround, I got to see a bunch of women riding the opposite direction. People were super friendly and cheered each other on. I’ve experienced that in plenty of races, but it did seem like this race was extra supportive in that sense. At one point I was riding near another woman as we approached a police officer. I pointed to the right and asked if that’s where we went. I had looked at the course map and thought that’s where we were headed, but the officer stuck his thumb out and pointed to the left. So, that’s the way we went. Eventually we came to a main intersection that wasn’t marked at all. There were no arrows on the ground and no volunteers to tell us where to go. We both stopped and tried to figure it out, then headed one direction for a little bit. I stopped to check a map on my phone, but I can be directionally challenged so I didn’t really solve anything. We headed the opposite direction for a little bit but realized that wasn’t right either. We finally committed to one direction and eventually I knew that it had to be wrong. We came back to the race site from the south when we should have come from the north. Of course the people in charge of the race looked pretty shocked! At that point, what could we do? We racked our bikes and headed out for the run.
The other woman was a faster runner, so I was pretty much on my own. We were supposed to run a small loop a couple times then a big loop a couple times. One volunteer was stationed at a key spot to direct us for the loops. However, I got mixed up by the arrows on the trails. At one spot there was a white arrow pointing straight, so I followed that. I didn’t realize there was also an arrow pointing to the right and I should have followed that one the first time around. The straight arrow was intended for the final portion of the race. Instead, I ran back out to the start of the race, realized what I did, then headed back in. That added close to an extra quarter mile to my run. Oops! Luckily, that was my only screw-up for the run. The map below shows the second run.
The trails were pretty, but at times it caught up to me that I wasn’t in shape for trails. As I’ve eased back into running the last few months, I’ve kept a lot of my runs flat and easy to make sure my troublesome foot is okay. There were a couple of grass hills that especially got to me. When I made it to the biggest one on my second loop, I told myself, “I don’t want to do this hill again!” I had already screwed up the bike and had basically DQ’ed, no one else was around, and it really didn’t matter how I did. I was very tempted to walk, but I didn’t give in. I continued on and things were fine after the hill. I got to the end and had averaged 8:35 for 3.3 miles. I was happy enough with my running paces for the day. I haven’t been doing any kind of speedwork lately so I couldn’t have hoped for much better. As I crossed the finish line, I smiled and shook my head. I was glad I had done it, but knew my race wasn’t totally legit.
Here’s the breakdown from my Garmin. Aside from being short, my bike split was obviously affected by stopping several times to figure out what went wrong.
As I crossed the finish line, I received this Motivate Wrap.
There was a table full of fruit, so I got some strawberries, blueberries, and granola to start. At least I had something healthy to help offset the wonderful chocolate treats. Since there were so many more treats than participants, we were encouraged to take at least two. I had a brownie pop and a chocolate-covered marshmallow. Good stuff!
After the race, the other woman who went off the bike course and I talked with one of the guys in charge. We clarified what had happened and how we’d been misdirected. We had both placed in the top three technically, but obviously there was some hesitation in truly accepting that. Neither of us stuck around for the awards because we knew it wasn’t right. I explained to the guy that I was there to have fun and wasn’t there to be competitive anyway. I had fun, so it was all good.
I’ve read plenty of horror stories about people going off course during races. Most of the people I’ve read about actually had something riding on it – like potentially winning a race or getting a BQ. The stakes were obviously not so high for me, which is part of why I really wasn’t bothered by it. The lesson I’ve learned from reading those stories is that people are supposed to know the course. I usually figure that I won’t be a leader in a race so it won’t affect me. A small race without many people to follow is trouble for me. I’m good to go if I can follow someone mindlessly, but when I don’t have anyone to follow and I need to be aware of where I’m going, it’s bad news.
Ultimately, it’s on me. I need to know where I’m supposed to go. It stinks that the police officer sent us the wrong direction. However, the police are there to make sure we’re safe and I can’t just assume that they know the course. Maybe this experience should teach me to study race maps more thoroughly. Maybe it should teach me to defy authority, haha. I did look at the map ahead of time and kind of knew that I was supposed to go the other way, but figured the officer knew better. I should trust my instincts! I can’t change what happened, but I can learn from it and hope to avoid making the same mistake again in the future.
Since I was just a few miles away, I had to make a stop at Sweetwater’s Donuts before heading home. I did share some of these with Matt. :)
Overall, I had a fun day. The drive wasn’t so bad and I think it was worth the trip. Now I’m looking forward to June when I can add swimming to the mix and get back to doing triathlons.