Encouraged by my cycling performance in Majorca, and finding my Tuesday evenings were taken up running with Plucky and Sparky on the run route, I entered the Newlands Duathlon.
Run 1 was just over half an hours worth of fell/road/trail. Ideal for me. Run 2 was less fell and more road/trail. The bike was to go over Whinlatter and Honister passes, which, with all the rough twisty roads and lumpy hills between them was ideal for riding on a road bike, thus eliminating much of the advantage my competitors using aero bikes would have over me on my standard road bike.
The day came - so did the rain. The forecast said a greater then 95% chance of rain - it was very heavy rain too and the winds also incredibly strong. The event organisers opted to change the bike course and instead send us out over the Catbells road to Grange, then down the valley as far as Seatoller where we turned and retraced. This was a very sensible move - the winds even on these much lower roads were strong enough to blow riders right across the road and even off their bikes!
Run 1 went quite well for me. I settled into the pace alongside Plucky. Sparky was just ahead of us with another lad, and there was a lone leader. Unlike in the training runs, I wasnt able to pull away from Plucky on the uphills - annoyingly, he can always manage to find an extra gear for racing.
At the top of the climb (which is the low point of the saddle between Catbells and Maiden Moor (yes, I know, but these are mainly Triathlete types remember), our positions were unchanged but we were immediately overtaken by a lad going hell for leather down the track. He looked like he was only just managing to stay on his feet and sure enough he soon fell over and was sprawled on the floor in front of me. I asked if he was OK as I jumped over him. He was fine and immediately set about continuing his crazy descent. At a small narrowing of the path between rocks it is only possible to stay right - I knew this but he didn't and he went high and left. I left him behind then (and Plucky and one other lad who's been running very close to us), but Plucky reported he fell over twice more before the end of the run.
Once we were off the fell section and onto a track, the true power of the wind made itself known. It was pushing me so hard from behind that I was scared to run properly and was actually making the braking action as you might on a steep dangerous descent. Apparently Sparky was blown completely off his feet on this section! I glanced at my GPS at one point - I was running at over 13mph on only a gentle downhill gradient.
Plucky is excellent at running fast down the final third of a mile tarmac road to Stair village and he made up a lot of the ground I had gained on him on the earlier descent. I expected him to be quicker than me in transition and he was. I saw him running with his bike out of the field onto the road as I unhooked my bike from the rack to to the same. But then he was right in front of me - faltering and reaching down. His bike had been blown over in transition and his chain unshipped. He got sorted OK but now I was only 20 metres or so behind him as we climbed the first hill up to the Swinside Inn.
I wasnt catching him, but he was only pulling away from me very gradually and 3 miles later I could still see him ahead. I caught one rider so reckoned I was in 4th place. Once onto the main road the wind was still very strong but no longer dangerous to bike handling and I was able to glance behind. No riders in sight - brilliant news.
Through Rosthwaite I pedalled - I know this road so well - soon be at the Seathwaite road end - I wonder where exactly we will u-turn? Plucky rides past me in the opposite direction! He's in the lead now.
What seems like only 30 seconds later I see a marshal and realise the turn point is just ahead. Unfortunately I had been caught and passed by two riders around Rosthwaite, and 4 more had all passed me together more or less on the turn. So I was in about 10th place I reckoned.
The wind was now very much in our favour and I engaged the big chainwheel for the first time. Riding within sight of the final of those 4 riders I was flying now and really enjoying myself despite the cold wet conditions. Aware that 6 riders were not very far ahead of me I figured that any oncoming vehicles would already have slowed significantly, I was thus able to take a little more risk by pedalling around corners where I noted the lad ahead had freewheeled. Although it was a few miles back to Stair I was confident I would only lose seconds to these lads ahead, and I hoped that the climb out of Grange I might even gain back some ground.
Bang. Hiss. Bump
Dont know why. The road was smooth at that point, no potholes, no gravel.
My spare tube was in transition. I had neither secured it to my bike nor put it into my pocket after the run, I'd been to concerned about losing ground to Plucky and leaving it behind probably saved me 5 seconds. So my choices now were...
1) walk, pushing my bike
2) stop and hope a marshal might come along and be able to give me a lift
3) ride on the flat
Had my wheels been super duper carbon jobbies then I would never have considered riding on, but this is just my old training/winter bike with el cheapo everything on it. So I rode on, albeit a lot slower. The wind was so strong that I didnt need to pedal much. But this meant I started to get cold. Pedalling harder meant I would go too fast to safely ride what was a very wobbly bike. ( it was rear wheel flat - front would probably have seen me forced to walk). Climbing up from Grange was great - I got warm again and people passing me werent going an awful lot faster. From puncturing to being passed by the next rider must have been 5 minutes, and not very many more had passed me since, so I figured I may as well complete the bike course and then blast the final run, passing loads, as I surely would, to gain a respectable placing.
But once I was finished climbing and was again freewheeling and getting cold I changed my mind. So rather than turn right at the hairpin (the one close to the traditional start of the Catbells walk), I rode down the narrow lane direct to end of the fell track and through the gateway back down to Stair. Passing the marshal at the finish line she exclaimed "ooh where have you came from?" "Shortcut" I replied and rode slowly straight past the transition entry, through the village and up the hill where I had parked on the wide verge. (I don't believe in paying to park within Cumbria).
Once inside the van I took about 30 minutes to stop shaking with cold. I'd have gone straight home but still needed to go to transition to collect my running shoes and besides, I also wanted top see Plucky and Sparky to see how they fared......
Joint first place apparently. Reports say they skipped across the line hand in hand.
That was a long report on what was basically a non-race. Yes it was, but it was great fun which I enjoyed immensely even with the awful weather conditions. So does this mean I am going to get back in to cycling properly? No, definitely not. I know that if I decided to do that then I'd spend a ridiculous amount of money on a super duper bike, I'd end up chasing times, missing run training, and anyway, Scamp can't come cycling with me so he'd inevitably get less exercise.
The cycling I've done so far this year (still probably less than a dozen times I've ridden a bike in 2013), has been some of the most enjoyable since I started in the 1980's. So I'll keep on doing the same, riding my bike once a week or so, perhaps even enter some more local Duathlons.