Sunday, July 3, 2011

Overdue Race Report: Westchester Medical Center Duathlon

Since this was my first duathlon, I'm making this a really long race report.  Since it's my blog, I'll do what I want!

On Friday June 24th, I was sitting in my apartment feeling really bored.  Thanks to my injury I did not fly to either Boston or Louisville to run marathons this past Spring.  Furthermore, I had not really taken all that much time off of work, or did much of anything this year besides my normal routine.  I had just turned down a friend for a week long hiking trip and realized just how uninteresting my year had been lately!

I was looking at my bike thinking, "Man, I really, really want to do a duathlon right now.  I don't want to wait until July 10th for my first."  So I pulled up a website that lists duatlons around the country and tried to find one I could get to on short notice.  That is when I discovered the Westchester Medical Center Duathlon in New York on Sunday the 26th.  Race day registration was available.  It was only about a 1 hour drive from my Parents' house on Long Island.  Of course, I would need to drive myself up to NY, and decide rather quickly.  As of Saturday morning, I was still unsure while running with some friends.  They did not say one way or the other whether I should do it, especially since there was nothing unique about this particular duathlon.  I knew I could handle the 2 mile run, 15 mile bike ride, and 2 mile run, so the only question was whether it was "worth it."

By 8AM I decided I was going to do it; I called my parents and they had no problem letting my crash in my former room and even driving me to and from the race.  So I loaded up my car and hit the road, getting to LI in reasonable time considering my late start.  On Sunday morning, my Dad and I left quite early, 5:15, to get there in time so I could register and set up my gear.  He also took a lot of pictures and insisted I add them to this post, so I'll certainly do that!
 Cycling is a lot more complicated than running since your machine needs to be in top shape.  The number 1 thing to do before a ride is to check tire pressure.  Under inflated tires lead to a higher chance of flats and more rolling resistance.  Over inflated tires lead to a harsher ride and poorer handling.

I'll give a short background on how duathlons work for anyone who is not a multisport athlete (I'm still a newb myself).  The official USAT (USA Triathlon) duathlon format is a running leg, followed by a cycling leg, followed by a running leg.  In my short experience, the cycling leg ends up being the majority of the race.  While you are out running, your bike sits in a fenced in transition area.  You get a specific spot to rack your bike and leave all the supplies you need to change into to use the bike.  There is a specific entrance and exit, making the transition part of the course, the race, and your overall time!

Here is a shot of me setting up in the transition area.  Each person gets a box and a little rack to put their rear tire in.  It keeps the bike upright and secure very well.  Even though this was a small race with less than 200 finishers, the transition area looks quite impressive filled with bikes of all different makes, models, and types.  The person as well as the bike gets a number, and the person has to wear a timing chip; yet another complication from the usual 1 bib format I'm used to!

Some people get really fancy with their transitions to save as much time as possible.  At the elite level, and in shorter races it really can make a difference.  Imagine loosing a race because you fumbled trying to get a running shoe on for the last running leg!  Since this was my first, I had nothing special planned.  I was going to run the first leg in one pair of running shoes, pull them off without untying them, switch into my cycling shoes, helmet and glasses in the transition area, run the bike out and clip in as I mounted.  After the cycling leg, my plan was to rack the bike, pull off the cycling gear, and use a second pair of running shoes that needed to be tied.  That way, at the very least, I only had to waste time tying shoes once.
As you can see, except for the shoes, I certainly do not look like a typical runner.  The shirt is a cycling jersey, specifically the same type that the Cannondale pro team wears (it looks cool).  It's tight fitting to cut down on wind resistance while riding, has pockets in the back to carry things while riding, and has a 3/4 zipper to unzip if it gets hot.  The shorts are tri-shorts.  They have less padding than cycling shorts allowing one to both run and cycle in the shorts.  More padding means more comfort on the bike, but true cycling shorts are hard to run with.

Not really knowing what to expect, I lined up near the front and went out at a conservative pace.  The field strung out rather quickly.  About 0.5 miles into the race, I picked it up a bit and passed some people.  The first mile, which may have been long was a 5:50.  I was in about 7th place at that point and decided to turn on the jets.  I didn't pass anyone else but noticed that I was running faster than everyone as the gap to the leaders was shrinking.  I made a mental note to use my strong running ability to my advantage in the future.  My first run was clocked at 10:50.

I was pretty happy at the end of run 1 as I ran into the TA.  The transition was rather smooth.  I put on my glasses and helmet, pulled off my running shoes and strapped on my cycling shoes.  For those that don't know a whole lot about cycling gear, cycling shoes with cleats are really hard to run in.  My bike has pedals that require shoes with specific cleats installed.  The idea is the cleats snap into the pedals, attaching my feet to them.  This allows for more efficiency as I can both push down and pull up on the pedals.  To unclip, one has to point their heel out.  Though they take getting used to, "clipless" pedals offer one of the biggest performance boosts out there.  My cleats stick out probably about an inch and are giant squares that sit under the ball of my foot, making it awkward to run in "reverse high heels" as I like to call them.  Here are a few pictures of the transition process...

 The whole transition took 59 seconds, which was pretty decent.  My pedals have nearly the highest engagement force on the market (Speedplay Zero Pedals) which can make it difficult to clip in at times, but I had no trouble.  While stationary, I clipped in the left, then clipped the right in as I rode off.

The bike leg, a 15 miler, consisted of 2 loops followed by a return to the transition area.  There were some hills but overall, the course was not too challenging.  There are very specific rules that have to be followed while riding.  There is no drafting allowed in multisport events.  Therefore, all riders have to keep a minimum of 3-4 bike lengths between each other and ride as far to the right as possible to prevent blocking.  If one rider goes to pass another, he must do so within 15-20 seconds, and the rider being passed must drop back if he is overtaken.  It sounds a lot more complicated than it really is.  This was the first time I rode in the presence of so many other cyclists and did not have much trouble.

I got passed by close to 6 people during the cycling portion.  Part of it had to do with the fact that time trial bikes can go a bit faster than road bikes on downhills and flats, and part of it was just because I'm still weak on the bike.  During the second loop, I had to contend with slower people still on their first.  The difference in speed on bikes is substantial when compared to running.  Riding anywhere from 15-35mph (depending on terrain) is substantially different from going about 10-25 mph.  As we started to close in on the finish, the last cyclist to pass me would not stay there for long.  I kept him 3 bike lengths ahead after he passed me and waited for the biggest 2 hills on the course.  After a quick downhill instead of downshifting to hit the uphill, I pedaled substantially harder to keep my speed up and blew by him.  After the second hill I put that cyclist away for good.
As we got closer to the transition area, I caught up to another cyclist in a blue USPS Trek jersey.  He had passed me earlier in the race but was now in my sights.  I decided not to pass him on the bike and just wait for the run.  My bike leg was clocked at 43:02, the 14th fastest time on the day.  The course was roughly 14.25 miles according to my cycle computer, giving me an avg speed of 19.9mph, just a hair under 20.  Average speed is everything in cycling.  The people that finished around me were generally 4 or 5 minutes faster on the bike.  Here is transition 2:

Starting from the top left, you have to dismount before reaching a marked spot in front of the transition area, then you run your bike in, re-rack it, and switch to running.  In the bottom left picture, you can see me wasting all kinds of time tying my shoes.  The other runner in white was the person I passed on the uphills.  The dude in the Trek jersey is not in this shot, but by this point, he was already clear out of the transition area.  I witnessed first hand how important transition could be because rather than being right next to him at the start of the run, he had at least a 30 second lead.  My second transition was 1:14, good for 117th overall.  I have already done a few things to substantially improve that next time around.

Running out after the bike is tough.  Going from run to bike is not so bad because you get to sit down and your heart rate is generally lower (except on uphills).  However, on that second run, leg muscles do not want to cooperate!  It took me about half a mile before my running legs felt "right."  Before that, it felt a lot harder to run fast.  Despite the lead the Trek cyclist had built, I could tell right away that I was running significantly faster than he was.  I caught and passed him before the first mile and he had no answer for my move.  I went through the 1 mile split (or whatever it was) in 5:50, the same exact time as before.  I caught and blew away yet another runner at about mile 1.6.  Thanks to a slight out and back portion, I saw 3 other runners in a pack (all people who passed me on the bike).  Though it was clear I was running much faster than them, there simply was not enough time to catch up.  I ended up crossing the finish 10th overall, first in the 25-29 year old age group.  My second run split was 11:23, good for second fastest, and my overall time was 1:07:26.

Now let's see who is paying attention (and still reading).  What is different about me here as oppose to the beginning of the race.?  Hint: look down.

Overall, my first duathlon was rather successful.  The guy in the Trek jersey was in my age group, so I certainly had to earn my award.  I learned a lot about transitioning, and have a solid plan for next time.  I also learned that the running legs are my domain and that I need to hit them hard to try and give myself as much buffer as possible for the bike.  Obviously, at other events, I may not be the fastest runner out there but I think it's safe to assume that I will be one of the top few.  Therefore, I'll need to get everything out of the runs that I can to make up for my weaker bike legs.  Hopefully my continued dedication to riding 3-4 times a week for ~100 miles or more will help.

My next Du is July 10th in Westminster.  It is slightly shorter, with a 1.6mile run, 12 mile bike, and 1.6 mile run.  I'll have to red line the whole way, and the real short running legs will probably put me at a disadvantage.  However, with my new plan for transition 2, and my dedication to go all out on the running legs, I may give myself a chance at beating more people!

The next Du after that is Aug 5th in Howard county.  This one will be big, over 500 people.  It will be a 2 mile run, 26 mile ride, and 4 mile run.  I'm looking forward to that 4 miler afterward; that should give me ample time to gun people down.

I am clearly still a runner at heart, but this multi-sport thing is certainly keeping things challenging and interesting!


  1. Thanks for explaining the rules for the biking portion of multisport events. I knew there was a rule about "drafting" but had no idea what it was and how you handled passing.

    Way to kick some serious butt at your first multisport event!

  2. Glad I could help. If you are thinking about doing a Tri, certainly don't be intimidated by the rules! Preventing the formation of huge packs of amateur cyclists is probably safer anyway.

    We aren't pros who can hold a line surrounded by dozens of others!