Thursday, March 15, 2012

Desert Classic Duathlon Race Report

This race was originally created by the Phoenix Triathlon Club, of which I am a member. I knew a lot of the people racing, so I always have someone to commiserate with about the race. It’s a social event, like a lot of local triathlon races. The problem is that it also attracts some really talented people. Not only does the terrain make my run and bike times slow, the contrast to other people’s time makes me feel even more inadequate. I have gotten truly depressed in past races knowing I was sinking into suckdom of mediocrity during a bike portion. This event is not great for my ego. I accept this.

A duathlon is by nature a snarling beast of pain. It doesn’t let you go easily and is more likely to eat you alive. The Desert Classic Duathlon is in McDowell Mountain Park. It is a 3.65 mile trail run, a thirty mile road or nineteen mile mountain bike and another 3.75 mile trail run. This is my fifth year doing the race. The five times I have done it, only one race has gone well. I have learned to lower my expectations. Two last years in a row, the weather was horrible. I froze to death, got pounded with rain and ran through four inches of mud. This year I chose the option of mountain bike rather than a road bike. I suck at mountain biking, but the park is primo for mountain bike trails. The road bike course is just a sufferfest of hills. As long as I suffer, I might as well have fun.

My strategy for the first run was not to got out very hard and to conserve energy for the rest of the race. It started on the road going uphill, then wound through the lush desert terrain of Saguaros, Creosote and Cholla cactus. It was a lot of up and down and twisting and turning, but nothing drastically difficult. I did a 10:07-10:17 minute per mile pace. It was just enough to hurt my legs.

Mountain biking was next. I was nervous about this, not knowing what to expect. Mountain biking takes a lot of strength and finesse. Climbing a hill involves muscle power; trying to keep your pedals moving fast enough to kept your balance to avoid falling over. Sometimes going up a hill involves maneuvering around or over rocks that shift around. Turning a wheel too quickly in loose gravel or sand can result in the rider slamming into the ground. Still, it is engaging, because it involves thinking about what I am doing and where I am going. But an element of uneasiness sometimes plagues me.

I started to ride my bike and immediately noticed that the gearing was bad. The chain had been slipping shortly before the race, so I took it to a bike shop. It still wasn’t fixed. I was faced with riding the mountain bike nineteen miles with a slipping chain that was grinding on the gears. It was a distressing realization and the ride wasn’t fun anymore.

The trail started out going backwards on the Long Loop, which is an eight mile challenging route. The Long Loop was built to go the opposite way. It was wrong to go against the natural order of it. It had steep straight drop offs that were very difficult to ascend, especially now that my bike wasn’t working well and I had already done a trail run. I ended up walking at least three times. I hate walking on a mountain bike trail because it seems like a failure to give up to my weakness.

I got to the service road, which was boring, then to the Pemberton trail, which was a gradual ascent for another seven miles. I watched my heart rate climb higher than I wanted it. It didn’t bother me. I actually passed two people, otherwise, I was alone. I ate energy bars to keep up the effort, but I stopped entirely too many times. My chain kept slipping and grinding on the gears. Climb a hill, hear the chain skip and grind, curse. Repeat many times. The last part of ride went downhill, so that would hopefully save my legs for the run.

The back side of the trail was pretty. It was like a wilderness because the mountains on the horizon blocked the view of any homes. Lots of boulders and wild flowers lined the trail. The weather was cool and sunny, perfect for hurting myself. I finally started seeing other riders going the opposite way.

I saw some horse riders coming down the trail. F##k! Really? I had to stop and let them by. Horses and horse riders are unpredictable so they own the trail. I finally hit the paved road. This was boring especially when the road went uphill. Finally I went downhill again and my heart rate finally dropped. I ended up riding for almost two hours with sixteen minutes of stopping and/or walking. Too bad all the stopping and walking counts. I actually didn’t feel too tired for all the strenuous effort. Maybe I was fueled by irritation with the damn bike shop.

I got into transition and people were milling about since they were already done because they were faster than me. This made me cranky. Luckily for them, they didn’t get in my way or I might have knocked them over.

The second run of a duathlon is where the pain really starts and the legs beg for mercy. It was supposed to be 3.75 miles, but I measured it at 3.89. I felt okay until I hit the first aid station, when fatigue hit me. I ate part of my double latte gel, which helped. It tasted vile, but it has caffeine. This trail was much hillier than the first and the carnage was evident. It wasn’t going to stop me. I passed at least six people walking. I walked on the ascent of the steepest part of the trail. It was a vertical wall of dirt and rocks which was part of the Expert trail. I couldn’t see descending it on a mountain bike. I had thought about riding it before, but now I knew what it was like. It was dangerous. It was evil.

Finally, the trail got easier and I could do something actually resembling running to the finish line. My total run time was 43:19. Not a great time, but okay.

The process of training for this race was interesting in that I could actually see the results of struggling through the terrain on foot and by bike. I was surprised that I could make it up hills on the mountain bike that I never could before. My heart rate would soar, but it was tolerable. I got beat up and exhausted running trails, and I would fall and hurt myself, but the trails got easier to run. Speed didn’t matter as much as conquering the hills, sand, rocks and dirt. It was a fine line between fear of hurting myself, and the exhilaration of swooping over undulating earth.

This race at least, I held the beast at bay. I had energy most of the time. The pain of exertion was bearable. My legs didn’t scream at me. They didn’t cramp. My mind didn’t tell me how much I sucked, at least not too much. I didn’t trip or fall off of my bike, so no bodily injury. My mood was cranky, but it manageable. And I didn’t get eaten. I survived.