The Dirtiest Duathlon

The forecast for the weekend’s duathlon was…not great – Hail, thunderstorms and rain.

I’d half expected it to be cancelled, or renamed a triathlon with some swimming thrown in. Either way, I tapered my training a couple of days prior to Sunday.

That’s actually a lie. I’m awful at tapering.

Friday involved doing an upper body strength session to the extent that I struggled to lift my arms at all on Saturday, and Saturday involved a two hour mini hike in between the torrential rain.

I’m awful at tapering.

I’d also been attacked (there’s no other word) by knee pain that I suspected was patellofemoral pain syndrome. Thanks Dr Google (but also I’ve had it before). It was causing a severe (ahem, attacking…) pain behind my left knee cap on uphill climbs on my bike, and when I rose from a squat or couching position (which is surprisingly more often that you’d think). Both meant I was stuck in said position until the pain subsided.

Anyhow, in preparation for Sunday, I willed it to go away, and pretended it didn’t exist.

I’ve recently been experimenting with fasting and low FODMAP eating (easier to google than explain), both of which have helped with being allergic to Melbourne (in very basic terms…fasting essentially allows the body to repair itself better, and low FODMAP eliminates foods I’m more prone to being sensitive too)….and both seem to help with energy levels as a result.

And I can still drink wine.

Anyway, Saturday night was spent falling asleep to the sound of torrential rain. Yikes.

6.00am. Awake, coffee. Bleary eyes even though I’d slept right through.

Mobility, rolling, more rolling. I wondered how my knees would handle today in the mud. Then I remembered I was ignoring them, and the wonder passed.

I had breakfast. Something else I’m experimenting with – training in a fasted state then competing in a fed state, so I have more glycogen in my body. To help me go a little bit faster? Or at least soak up the wine probably still in my blood….

I was nervous. A combination of a long race and the wind / rain and mud – I honestly didn’t know how today would go.

I loaded Bert up onto Betsy (my car), and patted them both, then put Tina Turner on and drove out to You Yangs – via Coles Express for my beloved $1.50 coffee.

I arrived, busyness, a crazy buzz around the You Yangs.

Intermittent rain and sunshine, expensive bikes and flashy gadgets, people warming up.

The ground was wet and puddled, maybe an advantage to having a 29 inch wheel bike instead of the usual 27? I had faith in Bert.

I chose my more aggressive Adidas trail shoes that had the more grip, both to stop slipping when running, but to give me grip on the pedals when riding too. Genius.

I packed two gels and my prescription glasses into my race vest – even though I’d put contact lenses in for the first time in case it rained too much, and I wasn’t able to see through my shades.

I registered and put Bert into the transition section – she had her own number and spot, and I was so proud of her amongst the shiny bikes, she was a beast.

I headed up to the start line with my coconut water coffee.

“Two minutes”

I chose that exact moment to loiter at the back of the pack and think about whether I needed to tighten my shoe laces. After 90 seconds of debating, I decided I should.

Just as I undid one the horn went. They were off.

They, not me.

I squealed, badly did up my lace and sprinted off to catch them.

Good work Jess.

My legs sprang into action, slipping a few times but I got up a good pace, just behind the lead pack.

I passed two women, one of which looked like she was running with high knees, excitable happy feet, the other was wearing a tri suit and looked serious. Competition.

The run was 8km – consisting of three out and backs, not just one, but three. Relatively flat, and I found a comfortable pace around 4km/h, wary of happy feet and tri suit behind me.

I was sure I was pulling away from them.

I saw the lead male fly past in the opposite direction, he’d already got to the out and back. Then a woman sped past, literally sprinting, like, faster than I could run 100m.

No more women. I was in second. I kept up the pace, trying to avoid the puddles and any bambi style slips / face planting.

Ironically, I discovered that wearing contact lenses and prescription glasses does not result in stronger vision as I’d thought, it actually made my vision blurry, so the shades came off.

We hit the second out and back, then the third, all flat, my legs felt good. Really good. No sign of happy feet or Tri suit. And all the Skrillex I needed to keep me going.

I saw the transition stage where Bert was, number 73. I ran in, helmet on, changed my gloves to biking gloves and half downed a caffeine gel – quite badly. I wanted to keep the pace.

We were off, some resistance from my thighs having to use different muscles, and keep going.

Golly I love the You Yangs trails, single track and winding, and beautiful ups and downs. On a sunny day, I could spend all day here, happy and free.

But there were huge puddles, and it was like we were biking through mud….because we were biking through mud.

Now, I’m very aware that during a duathlon, biking is currently my weakest section.
I know I’m slow, like slow motion, compared to some of the riders – no matter how hard my legs seem to bike. I don’t think it’s Bert bless her, I think it’s me, so I knew I’d lose pace and my placing – especially in rainy conditions.

It was about 5km into the bike ride that I remembered why I don’t wear contact lenses….mud from the trail flicked up and rested itself onto one my lens’ and blinded my right eye. Jazz hands, a silly nervousness as I rubbed my eye and tried to clear the mud.

Then the rain came, torrential, and hail? It felt hard enough to be. But it cleared the mud from my lens. Result, kind of.

But, I was soaked. My feet were soaked, my fingers were freezing. And Bert was flicking mud into my mouth like she thought I hadn’t eaten that day. Mud is low FODMAP right?

12km. “Passing on your right”

It was tri suit. She’d caught me – and we were only just over a third of the way through the bike section. I shook my head.

Then I mentally slapped myself, this was my race, it didn’t matter. I was in the middle of beautifulness. Granted I was soaked and freezing and could only taste and see mud. I was still grateful to be here.

And so I rode, and tried not to hit trees, and tried to will my legs to push through the mud. Bloody good fun actually.

We had two laps to complete and I honestly thought I was going to be biking all day – which I really didn’t mind, but I was wary that I had a 6km run to go and third place to lose / second place to try and win back.

A guy I knew passed me and I watched his biking style, he was crouched, streamline. Oh. Attack position? I did the same, and my speed seemed to creep up.

Attack was on.

I saw the transition stage, parked Bert in her spot, and jumped off.

I couldn’t feel my feet. Or my hands.

I tried to swap gloves, tried to stop my watch, tried to take off my helmet. All with limp fingers and little success. Oh dear.

I took a breath. Had a word with myself and slowed down.

Then I saw them, the happy feet, dance through the transition zone ready to run. She’d caught me, and her feet were dancing like an energiser bunny.

I downed my gel and threw my gloves down, then I ran.

I passed her, and ran, on ice blocks. Willing my feet to feel again.

Tried to find pace – the 6km was another out and back.

I pulled away but imagined she was quite close behind me, those tap dancing feet.

Then it happened, I saw tri suit ahead of me. Game on.

I picked up the pace, and passed her. Second. Mine to lose.

I found my pace, 4km/hr again. My legs felt….good? Not like the last duathlon, my lungs felt good. The gel was kicking in, and the feeling was returning to my feet.

I got to the half way mark and turned, tri suit and happy feet were a couple of hundred metres behind me. So I picked my pace up. 3km to go.

I ran, no more rain, no more mud on my contact lenses. Granted I could still taste mud but it was now a familiar taste.

I saw the finish line, checked behind me, no one. No happy feet, no tri suit.

I semi sprinted and attempted a jump on the finish line. I think most people thought I was falling over.

2 hours, 41 minutes and 55 seconds. Of nonstop. Of mud, and rain.





I shook some hands and clapped a few runners in. Then asked one of the guys how to improve my bike speed.

“You just have to practice. And get clip-ins.” (Clip-ins attach your shoes to your pedals so you’re pulling the pedals up as well as pushing them down. Actually. It’s a real thing people do.)

Jess + clip ins = face planting / disaster / injury. Practice it was then.

I went to get Bert, covered in as much mud as me. Everything was. I patted her, and thanked her.

I took a while to appreciate the scenery – from my car, with the heating on full. Defrosting my mud soaked body.

Regardless, trail running and biking are some of my favourite ways to spend any morning.

Which is lucky really, because it’s Wonderland next – 20km over the Grampians.




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