Monday, March 21, 2016


Courtesy One Mulisport

The Desert Classic Duathlon in McDowell Mountain Park is a misbehaving, unwanted child. Race directors take it on, then decide they don’t want it anymore. Originally started by the Phoenix Triathlon Club, it was abandoned when no one wanted to take on the full time job of putting on the event. This year, it was on its fourth race organization, Haka Multisport. Hopefully, they will give it some love and keep it.

I also hoped that I would finally finish without some disaster. One year, I decided to get my bike tuned before the race and the bike shop managed to thoroughly screw it up. The chain kept slipping and grinding against the gears, making for a really unpleasant and difficult ride. Plus a horse rider showed up on the trail and I had to wait for it to pass.

In the middle of a race. I hated that horse.

The following year, it rained heavily and the next organizer didn’t want to deal with it and cancelled. Last year, the same person put on the event, but didn’t mark the course well, so I got lost and made up my own course out of desperation. I don’t think they really cared.

This year the fourth organization bravely took it on. I hoped that they would do a decent job running the event. Strangely, the race director had a West Lafayette, Indiana address. This was where I grew up, so maybe this was a good sign.

Run course

Race morning, the chilliness of the desert breeze surprised me. The sun lightened  the sky and Saguaros stood tall against the dark mountains. I warmed up after doing an easy run. This was necessary, because my old engine won’t tolerate the nonsense of starting cold. I took some photos during the run of the scenery. The usual pre-race performance anxiety nagged me. Could I have decent runs? Would my tire go flat? Would I get lost again? 

This first run starts cruelly uphill, but I felt okay. My preference is to start downhill with the illusion of speed. Everyone dashed ahead of me, of course. The race was long and hard anyway, so running too fast in the beginning makes a slower and more painful end. I might pass some of these rabbits on the second run.

It was marked better than last year. A large muscular dude guarded the turn off by blocking it off, so that we wouldn’t go in the wrong direction. He didn’t say much. At least a human pointer was better than the flimsy pink ribbons last year. They added a bit of color, like an ugly birthday decoration, but they were inadequate for route marking.

The trail was smooth and easier to run than Trail 100 that I had been training on–no danger of tripping on numerous rocks, which do their best to catch my feet. The trail undulated, but generally climbed for half of the route, then descended. I mostly ran alone. Total time was faster than last year. Maybe all the trail run/avoiding rocks training misery had paid off.

The first run of a duathlon was the “easy” part. Then the bike and the pain started. Legs don’t like running, then biking. 

The mountain bike course started out on the paved road and went mostly uphill for four miles. This was rather tedious with a headwind as well. I wished they used a trail alternative. At least I knew the route, no thanks to the race website map, which was indecipherable. By the time I got to the actual dirt trail, my legs were fried and wanted a nap. Why was it so much effort? The same trail was a lot a lot easier last weekend, when my legs weren’t trashed by a hard run. I questioned the wisdom of using a new thorn-resistant inner tube that was a lot heavier than the regular ones. It was probably not a good move, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I think it slowed me down.

Strangely, I was not the only one still on the bike course at this point. A guy came up behind me and passed. I didn’t care because I had resigned myself to my fate. But when I came to the ramada that marks where Pemberton turns south, he was sitting at a picnic table and he started riding behind me. I thought for a while that he was a sweeper for the last rider, but he turned out to be a 70+ years old competitor. He didn’t look that old and could have easily passed me. This was a little disturbing because no one could be as slow as I. Maybe he wanted company or was worried about me getting lost or injured. 

Thankfully, the trail then descended for the most part. This was the best part–flying down the path and not using a lot of effort. The terrain was rockier, which was annoying with all the bouncing, but I managed to stay upright.

I kept worrying about being dead last and having someone stop me from doing the last run. I tried to speed up on the downhills.  No one really cared, as it turned out. Being last is a bit embarrassing, even if I put in my best effort. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

I was afraid of missing the turn off, but made it correctly. It was marked with pink ribbons. I knew it from last year, but no one can use the service roads ahead of time, so it could easily be missed. Other people missed it and went the wrong way, so it needed to have a sign “turn here.”
After the turnoff, the service road seemed to go on forever. If I hit the paved road outside the park, I would have known that I had gone too far. The end of it had some evil steep upgrades, which I couldn’t make on tired legs. I didn’t remember them from last year. The seventy-year-old guy that had been following me finally passed by at some point, but I didn’t notice. The fatigue confused me and I missed the pink-ribboned turn in for transition. I went under the tape, because someone told me to. 

Total time for the nineteen mile bike was over two hours.    

The second run felt better than I thought it would. It wasn’t as fast as the first run, but at least I didn’t feel terrible. I was dehydrated and thirsty at this point. It was warm and they had no aid stations. Too bad if I ran out of water. I carried a bottle, but it was getting low and I was anxious about it. My time was faster than last year.

Total time was 3:33. I thought I would be dead last, but I was only almost dead last, even among the road people.

As for the unwanted child, it remains to be seen if it sticks around. The event was better organized than last year. I didn’t have to remind them that old people like me finished the race and should get the award for being first in their age group of one person. Food was still left when I finished, which was a good sign. Running out of race food is a cardinal sin and I will hate forever whomever commits this sin. The race staff was enthusiastic about being there. I can only hope that the kinks get worked out and the parent shows up next year. And maybe ditches the pink ribbons.