USAT Duathlon National Championships 2017. Bend, Take Two

One sign that my race didn’t go as planned—no pictures. Sorry.

2017 USAT Duathlon National Championships
Okay, I took a couple. The finish line – a welcome sight!

This past weekend, duathletes from all over the United States convened in beautiful Bend, Oregon for the USAT Duathlon National Championships.

For the second year in a row, the beer-loving mountain town gave us near-perfect temperatures, sunny skies, and little wind. It was the perfect setting for fast times on a hilly course…mine, however, was not one of them.

But I won’t complain about my race—yet. First, I’ll talk about what went right. Two friends I made in North Carolina during the long-course nationals—Albert Harrison and Tom Woods—both stood at the top of the podium. Albert all-out won the standard course race, finishing the hilly 10K-40K-5K course about two minutes ahead of elite athlete Alistair Eeckman. Tom finished second in his age group in the standard course. Later that afternoon, in his second of three races over the weekend, he won the masters title and the competitive 45-49 age group division in the non-draft sprint. Read USAT’s report here.

Many of my Bay Area friends had great days. Wolf Hillesheim, Jim Girand, and Rick and Suzanne Cordes all finished second in their age group in their respective races. Jacqueline Sasaki, whom I met at a local race the week prior, won the 40-44 AG title for the standard distance. Cassie O’Brien, my transition neighbor at several big races and buddy from the Wolf Pack Events duathlons, finished third in our 45-49 AG for the standard. (Full results here.)

With the exception of the turnaround on the bike course and a slight change to the run course, the routes were identical to last year. You can read the specs in last year’s race report.

2017 USAT Duathlon National Championships
Reviewing the run course during the rules briefing.

The weather was slightly cooler, the wind about equally mild (but no mini twister). My performance: terrible. And I have no one or no thing to blame but myself. My transitions were almost 30 seconds slower. Why? I didn’t practice them. Not once in the past year. Granted, I did get a wave of nausea for a few seconds in T1, and I had trouble getting my cycling shoes on, and I was positioned near the back of the transition area, farthest from Bike Out, but really it’s because I didn’t practice. Why didn’t I practice? How many excuses do you want to hear?

My bike split was about two minutes slower than last year. Why? I didn’t train enough. Sure, we had nearly constant rain in the beginning of the year, and I sold my trainer, so my indoor option is a spin bike at the gym. Adequate? Eh, it’s better than no bike, but not ideal! When the weather cleared, there were many weeks where I’d be too tired from a long or hard run to eek out a quality bike workout later in the week. Or I’d get about half way through, see the pitiful power numbers and give up. Oh, and I switched to a shorter crank a few weeks ago, which I’m still getting used to. But none of that really matters. I didn’t train properly.

My run splits – no complaints there! I improved from last year on both the first and second runs. Why? I’ve been training! I’ve stayed healthy all year, put in consistent track workouts and competed in a variety of road races. No big breakout performances or PRs (at this stage, those are hard to come by), but consistently solid performances. Why? I was committed.

So I’ve finished two national championships this year in duathlon and am two months away from a world championship race. Yet, I have not had the motivation to train for this sport all year. Unless I want to beat myself up again in Penticton, after another crappy race, I’d better find some motivation real quick!

On the second out-and-back of the bike leg, struggling up what looked like nothing but felt like a mountain, my inner voice yelled at me. A lot. It’s typical to get the occasional thought during a race: “This is too hard.” “I should just forget it.” “Why am I out here?” Usually I can push those thoughts aside with a mantra or by telling myself to cut it out. In Bend, my “dark side” had the rest of me convinced this was my last duathlon ever. “F— it. I’m not having fun. I’m last. Oh Jesus Christ. There’s a car behind me. The sweeper car? Figures. I have no business going to Penticton. I can cancel my hotel. Maybe I can get credit with Air Canada. What would I do with it? Oh who cares. This sucks. I should just quit this duathlon business now.” And on and on and on it went. Meanwhile, the women I was with during the first run were long gone.

I wasn’t last. I managed sixth in my age group. That’s three places higher than last year even though I was slower. I had two pretty good runs before and after a sucky bike. My attitude toward duathlon is shifting back toward the positive. I haven’t canceled my flight. Time to get my rear in gear!

How do you recover mentally from a bad race? Talk about it in the comments below.

Race Report: Cary Du Classic – USAT Long Course National Championship

Race Report: Cary Du Classic – USAT Long Course National Championship

For the second year, Cary, North Carolina hosted the USAT Long Course National Championship on April 29. This was my first visit to Cary, located just outside of Raleigh, and my first long course national duathlon. That I won my age group had as much to do with luck as skill. Had I competed in this event last year, I would have finished eighth! But it’s not last year. It’s 2017, and I earned my first age group win in a national championship du. Woo Hoo!

The trip didn’t start well. I arrived ridiculously late—it was 1:30 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning by the time I arrived to my hotel, and around 2:30 a.m. when I flopped into bed. I slept fitfully for about five hours. As someone who deals with occasional insomnia, I value sleep! I don’t function well when I’m deprived of it. But I pressed on…

The first order of business (after coffee) on Friday morning was a short, easy run; ideally on the course, if I could figure it out. I happened to show up just as a guy on a fancy aero bike rode into the parking lot. “Do you know the run course?” I asked. He kinda did, but his friend Bert knew it better. They were planning to run it also as soon as Bert finished his ride. I asked to tag along and they politely agreed.

Little did I know I was running with the overall male winner, Albert “Bert” Harrison, and the masters men’s winner, Tom Woods. What luck! When I wasn’t falling behind, I learned they were from Idaho and Nebraska, respectively, and none of us had any recent experience with heat and humidity.

Cary Du
Bert (left) won a growler (empty, sadly) for his efforts.

Post run, I headed to race sponsor Inside Out Sports in hopes they could fix my bike, which I thought got damaged en route. A cable came unplugged, which I learned was an easy fix. The mechanic went above and beyond: he fixed the cable, checked the derailleur hanger, assessed the shifting, and adjusted an aero bar that got knocked off kilter. The Magic Bullet was ready to go!

Race morning gave us more warm, sticky weather. It was 73 degrees and humid when I arrived at 5:40 a.m. I finished my two-mile warm up drenched. I put some ice in my sports bra (yowza!) and waited.

Cary Du
Me and the bike are ready as can be.
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Hot bike alert! Very patriotic
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Another pretty bike
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It was a sea of pretty bikes

The race started in three waves: under-40 men, 40-plus men, and all women. The run course started on a bike path, wound around and through the Team USA Baseball Complex, through a parking lot, back on a bike path, out-and-back on Green Level Church Road, and back on the bike path to the start. The long course did this 2.5-mile sorta-out-and-back twice.

The course was relatively flat, with some gentle rises/false flats and one tiny hill of about, oh, five meters. Typically for this type of course, for this distance, I should have been able to click off 6:50 to seven-minute miles no problem. On race day, it was a problem. The heat? I finished the first run averaging about 7:20s.

I curse when I’m riding. Sometimes. Under my breath when cars do stupid things. My first four-letter word came at the bike mount, which was on a little hill. I was about to take off when suddenly a swarm of people came around from behind, tried to mount their bikes, and proceeded to weave and fall all over the ground. One woman fell right in front of me. That’s when swear word Number One came out. People, please! If you’re going to race your bike, learn how to ride your bike! And that includes learning how to clip in on a hill!

The bike course was relatively flat and fast, with about 1,100 feet of elevation gain over 31-ish miles. Athletes from flatter regions called it hilly. For someone used to the East Bay hills and Mt. Diablo, it was about as flat as you could get!

After the short course duathletes turned off around mile seven, the rest of us had lots of room to spread out. There were long stretches where I had no one behind me, and only one person visible in front of me—a spec of blue jersey far ahead. We rode by Jordan Lake, which is much bigger than I imagined, and along lots of quiet shaded roads. At one point I saw a turtle on the road. Bad sign? A symbol of my speed, for sure. When you ignore bike intervals for eight months and then do them only sporadically before your first big race, you don’t get the best results.

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Jordan Lake. Photo courtesy of Flickr

The second run repeated the first-run course, but this time, we had miles of fatigue in our legs and more heat—about 80 degrees. I saw lots of people walking. My pace, which was slower than the first run but still persistent, felt like a slog. I dumped water on my head and sipped what I could at the water stops. That little bitty hill became a beast! I told myself when I got around the final turn, I would pick it up to the finish. Okay, when I got to the first/last water stop I’d pick it up. Oh, well, just finish like you mean it. That I did.

A few days before the race, I saw there were very few women in my age group. I thought maybe, if I had a good day, I’d have a shot at the podium. I didn’t expect to finish first. Now I have a pretty medal, a cool national champion jersey, and had a $20 gift certificate to Inside Out Sports (spent that later in the afternoon).

Cary Du
Me and the second place woman, Alisha Woodroof
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Big shiny medal. The blue national champion jersey is pretty cool too.

All in all, I give Cary and FS Series a big thumbs up. The volunteers and staff were all super-friendly and supportive. The event had a local race feel (because it was), but with a big USA Triathlon arch and finish line chute to make it official.

There were a few glitches, such as one water stop running out of water, but glitches happen in just about every race. We had an abundance of finish line food—sandwiches, fruit, bagels, gummy bears, and Mountain Dew (Yep, I had one. Probably my first Mountain Dew in about 15 years!)—and lots of nice people. I met athletes from Nebraska, Idaho, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and, of course North Carolina.

I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of them in Bend, Oregon in June for the standard course nationals and in Penticton, BC, in August for the ITU World Championships. In the meantime, quality time on the bike!

Review your 2016 season to prepare for an even better 2017

For most of us, the duathlon season comes to a close by late September. (Unless you’re in California, like me, when you can race year-round.)

As your duathlon race season wraps up, take a look back at your results. Did you accomplish your goals for the year? Did you earn that podium spot? Nail that PR? Did you set any goals at all?

As you look back, you may find you accomplished way more than you thought. I had a great 2015. I won a handful of local duathlons, placed fifth in the USA Triathlon Duathlon Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota, raced a full season of cross-country, and squeezed into the top ten in the USA Track & Field/Pacific Region road racing series (short course). I also tacked another USAT All-American certificate on my wall and applied for and received a USATF Phidippides Award for running a whole bunch of races that year. Had I not looked back at my goals and what I accomplished, I wouldn’t have stopped to appreciate it. I had accomplished my goals and then some.

This year, my duathlon season ended in August. Injury kept me from achieving my original goals, but I did achieve my revised goal: finish respectably in the duathlon nationals in Bend, Oregon. Now, I’m healthy, I’ve regained my pre-injury fitness, and am in the thick of cross country season with my team, Pamakid Runners. But I’m already imagining my 2017 goals.

What’s a good goal-setting strategy? Set goals that get you excited; push you but aren’t ridiculously out of reach; and specific. Pick a few, not too many.

To elaborate, I’ll turn it over to someone far more experienced than me in achieving big goals: Olympic medalist, Boston and New York Marathon winner, and inspirational person Meb Keflezighi. In this article for Runner’s World, taken from his book, Meb for Mortals, Meb tells you how to set yearly running goals. Apply this to your duathlon season for breakthrough success.

Need more inspiration?  Canadian duathlete Darren Cooney assesses his 2016 season in his latest blog post. His article shows that even when we don’t achieve everything on our list, we still have lots to appreciate.

Did you nail your goals this year? Tell us about it in the comments below.

More on the USAT Duathlon Nationals

I’m back home from the Duathlon National Championships and have a full day of work behind me. My head is no longer pounding, but I’m still a little stiff-legged after Saturday’s race and Sunday’s 8-plus hour drive from Bend, Oregon to Oakland, California.

All in all, USAT put on a fantastic event for us duathletes. During the rules briefing the day before the race, many athletes (especially the sprint competitors) were concerned about potentially crowded conditions at the beginning of the run and on the bike. The first run started in a narrow chute (kinda like cattle), and took two immediate hard rights onto a narrow bike path.The bike course went out and back (times two for the standard distance) on a road that was mostly moderately uphill on the way out, downhill on the way back. We only had one side of the road to do all of this, which made those screaming descents seem pretty sketchy.

I can only speak for the standard distance, but neither of these course curiosities presented a serious issue in my race (Women 17-49). It was crowded through the bike path, but nothing worse than any other large race. It forced me to not go out too fast, which is easy to do in these events.

The bike course was fine. The fields broke up pretty fast thanks to the long climb, and there was enough room for people to fly down the hill at 40+ mph while others stayed to the right and either hammered the downhill or clung for dear life, depending on his or her comfort level.

Both the bike and run course had hills to contend with, but nothing compared to what I’m used to in the East Bay hills! The 40K bike course had a little under 1600 feet of climbing; the 10K run, about 430 feet; the 5K run, about 210. We felt every inch of hill on that second run, that’s for sure! At the crest of one of the climbs, on the second run, I saw the photographer snapping away. “How mean!” I said, smiling. A little joke took my mind off the pain. He laughed…after he took God knows about many shots of me and the other athletes when they look like death warmed over.

The transitions were short (no running 400 meters with the bike, no mud, no grass) and straightforward. The volunteer support was excellent. The course marshall at the bike turnaround had a booming voice that she used very well to tell us to either turn around or head left to transition. I heard that a few others missed the turnaround altogether and kept right on going! But they didn’t get far.

Crowd support was pretty good too. I saw a couple friends cheering us on, which was much appreciated, and Elvis gave words of encouragement at multiple spots on the course.

USAT Duathlon Bend
The sea of bikes.

My race was not my best, but I met my very revised goal: finish without embarrassing myself. I also managed a miracle. Because of an injury this spring that derailed my running, I told myself if I finished in the top ten of my age group it would be a miracle. I finished 8th. Viola! Friends of mine had great days, podium days, while others had worse experiences than mine — a dropped chain, cramps, nausea.

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The awards ceremony. Sorry I was too lazy (or tired) to take podium pictures.

Bend made a great host for the Du Nats this year. And lucky us, we get to go back in 2017!

PS, if you decide to compete in next year’s nationals, consider staying at Shilo Inn. The rooms are large (I had a kitchen!), reasonably priced (before all the prices go up in advance of the race), and the staff is super nice. They serve a pretty good free breakfast too…I discovered…the morning I drove home.

Did you race in Bend this past weekend? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!