It’s the one they’ve all been talking about lately in the press. I’ve had a reporter staked outside my flat for the past couple of months, trying to glean an insight into how my training has been going. There’s no doubt that the Diss race is the premier event on the Norfolk Duathlon calendar (by default, being the only event) and so the eyes of the world will surely be trained on this sleepy East Anglian market town.
In all seriousness though, we love going to stay with my Nan and Grandad. Not only do they provide superb company, but they also make sure we’re extremely well fed and we come home with a tray of (I’m not joking) 50 eggs from their next-door neighbours chickens. Usually, we’re staying for the Norwich triathlon (also organised by Tri-Anglia), but with this falling just the week before Ironman UK, I’m going to have to give that one a miss this year.
A spot of parkrun tourism was on the cards en route, stopping off at Roding Valley parkrun to tick another new venue off the list. Being one of the smaller events on the circuit, the atmosphere was incredibly friendly and I had a great chat with some of the locals before lining up and getting ready for the off.
If I’m doing a shorter distance race on the Sunday that I haven’t specifically targeted, I like to wake the legs up and remind them they’ve got some work to do the following day, so I planned to run a solid ‘tempo’ effort. After 1 mile I found myself leading the pack, and steadily increased the effort to secure a first placed finish (18:42). The route is mainly off-road, so trail shoes are recommended if you’re heading over there in the winter months.
We arrived in East Anglia during the early afternoon, and after quickly ensuring the bike was in working order and giving it a bit of TLC, we sprang the surprise on Nan that we’d be going on our annual pre-race bike ride. It was the first time she’d been on a bike this year, but dealt with it fearlessly as I shamelessly let her set the pace whilst I sat in and caught a draft when we were going into the wind.
After visiting the resident village Llama (Clarence – no joke), we were fed a fantastic meal which sent me to bed absolutely stuffed. No normal human being can say no to a desert that’s been made by their Nan; it’s always going to be spectacular. With a rather leisurely 9.30am start and being just a 15 minute drive away, the alarm was set for just before 7; a bonus lie-in.
Porridge dispatched, it was a short drive over to race HQ based at Diss High School. After Saturdays sunshine and warm temperatures, naturally the rain was falling and it was a pretty miserable day. Registration was super efficient; in and out in less than a minute. Once I’d racked the bike and set up my gear in transition, there was ample time to relax in the school hall and warm up a bit.
Duathlon’s always vary in length, with today’s being a 5 km run, followed by a 30 km bike, and then a second 5 km run. The run ended up being closer to 5.5km in length, but I wasn’t too fussed about that; everyone has to do the same course.
Something that was slightly frustrating was that the start would be split into 3 waves, each starting at 5 minute intervals. I’d be in with all the guys in my age-group, but others would either be starting 5 minutes before me, or 5 minutes after, which would make it really difficult to know how I was doing in the overall context of the race.
Again, this was something that was completely out of my control, and there was a simple enough solution; just go as hard as possible and hope for the best. With that in mind I zipped up the tri-suit and lined up ready to hit the first run fairly hard, but not at suicide pace. Pacing was going to be a learning process, as this was only my second ever duathlon.
We set off at a stupid pace, before agreeing we were being ridiculous and slowing to settle into a rhythm. The ‘we’ was myself and a lad called James Kershaw, who I’d previously raced against in the Norwich triathlon, also in my age-group. Through the opening mile we were clear of the rest of the field and took turns keeping the pace honest at the front.
The run route is mostly out on country lanes, with some small undulations and a couple of tight turns. Coming back towards the school and transition I was greeted by the cheers from my loyal support team. As well as the grandparents being present, Mum ‘The Foghorn’, Dave ‘The OAP’ Lion and my sister Meg had all made the drive up to make a day of it. It always great having them along for the ride, even if they usually seem to pick the races with the worst weather conditions!
Run 1 – 19:20 – 5:47mm (4th/110) – Strava activity
I came in to transition side my side with James, but he beat me out by a handful of seconds. I’ve still not learned to jump on the bike with my shoes already attached to the pedals, and this cost me a few seconds. It was an absolute joy not to be coming into the first transition well done the field. Maybe I’ll have to do more races that don’t involve swimming!
T1 – 00:42 (9th/110)
After a minute or so settling in, I went past James and into the wave lead (with no idea what was going on in front/behind me). From here, I got my head down and tried to put down some decent power. The bike course was 3 laps of the surrounding countryside. I hadn’t been on the roads beforehand, so had no idea of how hard to ride into certain corners.
The road surface was pretty crappy, with the rain having washed lots of stone and wet mud onto the tarmac. Within the first 10 minutes I’d seen two other guys stranded on the side of the road with punctures; I didn’t have a spare so if the same happened to me then that would be game over (or so I thought).
I spent most of the ride tucked into an aero position, as I gradually caught and passed a few of the guys in the wave ahead of me. I did break position briefly when I pulled alongside 3 guys who were riding tightly in a line, blatantly drafting. I looked the one at the back in the eye and shouted ‘Stop. Cheating’, to which he looked at me nonplussed, before carrying on. I left them to it.
Coming on to the last lap, I was pretty stoked as I was having a solid ride and appeared to have paced it pretty well. However, disaster struck with just over a mile to go, as all the lumps and bumps in the road surface started to feel a little bit more significant. Sure enough, I looked down to see a rapidly deflating front tyre.
Surprisingly, I remained remarkably calm, and assessed the situation. No spare tubes, so no option to stop and change. Let’s see how far I can get before it get’s to a stage where I’m worried about doing some permanent damage to the wheel. So I crawled along, losing a couple of places that I’d taken a few minutes earlier. I nearly fell off completely trying to negotiate the bike around a couple of 90 degree bends, before seeing transition up ahead in the distance. I’d just about made it, but leaked some time in the process.
Having a look at the GPS data, I reckon I lost about a minute or so; not ideal, but could’ve happened to anyone.
Bike – 50:25 (6th/110) – Strava activity
In the resulting puncture panic, I’d forgotten to take my feet out of my shoes before the dismount line, so I had to settle for leaving them on until I racked my bike. Surprisingly, I managed to get my run shoes on fairly quickly and left transition just as I saw James coming in the other way.
T2 – 00:47 (15th/110)
Out on to the run, I had a wave of relief after just getting away with the mechanical. Any earlier, and it would’ve been curtains and a DNF. I was now in the odd situation of not knowing how I was doing against those in other waves. It was just a case of pushing as hard as possible and hoping for the best.
I spent the majority of the second run alone, trying to imagine rivals up ahead in the distance, but it was pretty difficult to keep the foot to the floor. All the marshals on both the bike and run course were excellent, offering heaps of support on the way through.
Coming into the final mile, I had the below grimace etched onto my ugly mug, knowing that the end result could come down to seconds either way. Turning into the school I saw the family for the final time (who might I add, were all amazing, as always), summoning a final sprint to the line.
Run 2 – 19:42 (2nd/110) – Strava activity
I then faced a wait to see where I’d finished in comparison to the wave behind. After a few minutes had passed, it turned out I’d finished second overall, beating the guy in 3rd by just 7 seconds. A shame really, as it would’ve been great to be able to race him to the line; he could’ve definitely argued that the outcome would’ve been different had he known I was catching him.
Overall – 1:30:57 (2nd/110)
We hung around at the end for the awards presentation before all enjoying a cracking carvery lunch at one of my favourite pubs. All in all, a pretty decent weekend, with great company, food and racing. Tri Anglia really do put on some brilliant events, and I look forward to doing some more of them in the future.