I entered this race as part of my 2014 Try New Things challenge. Having bought my road bike in August for the Grantown Try Tri, I was keen to race Big White (my bike’s name) more than once this year. The St Andrews University Sprint Duathlon was the perfect event to do this. And yes, THE St Andrews, the birthplace of golf, and THE St Andrews University, where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton) met.
Pat had helped me prepare for the race the night before by pumping up the tires on my bike only to damage the inner tube of my front wheel. He then had to replace the tube with a new one, and put our bike rack on my car. I like that I have my own bike mechanic at home. Did I mention it was incredibly windy this past Saturday and Sunday? And has been all last week? It was a pleasure listening to the wind smack our house as I was getting ready for the race Sunday morning.
My pre-race breakfast was a paleo pancake with tahini instead of peanut butter, topped with a tiny bit of honey; half of a two-egg omelette made with broccoli, mushrooms, and leftover potatoes; my usual bulletproof espresso; and some coconut cream with fresh blueberries, kiwi and a crumbled Nutter Bomb.
Some of my Laurencekirk running friends entered the race as well, and we all met bright and early at 7:30 am in town to drive together down the dual carriageway, through Dundee, over the Tay Road Bridge and into Fife to St Andrews. Unfortunately, Pat was a bit rough in his repair job and ended puncturing the new tube too! I only discovered this when in Laurencekirk, and luckily, my friends had a few tubes to spare.
We arrived in St Andrews and immediately headed up to register, then back to our cars to get our gear into the transition area. The field of competitors was about 100 people, and consisted mainly of students from the university and secondary school clubs in the surrounding area, as well as adult triathlon club members. It seemed there were very few non-club people, like myself and my friends, taking part. In transition, I set up my cycling shoes, jacket (to protect from the wind) with a pack of Honey Stinger Pink Lemonade Energy chews and a pack of Honey Stinger Lemon Waffle inside, my helmet, gloves and buff to protect my ears from the wind. My friends also helped replace my inner tube.
It seems we were the last to set up our transition because the race briefing was held immediately after we set up, and then the race began! The wind continued but it had warmed up and the sun was out, making for some quite pleasant temperatures actually.
While a duathlon is only two disciplines (running and cycling) compared to a triathlon, the race itself consists of two transitions and three stages of activity altogether.
First Run: 5km (3.1 miles)
The run was around the St Andrews University Playing Fields. The first run consisted of two 2.5km laps, following a solid blue line painted on the periphery of these fields.
The crowd of competitors dispersed quickly at the start and you could see people off way ahead. To give you an idea of the field of competitors, I was running between 8:15 – 8:30 mile pace, and I was in the bottom five! The run was mainly on grass, and depending on which direction you faced, you’d either be running with a tail wind and really fast, or really slow with a head wind. Just over half way through the first lap, there was a hair pin turn and we changed from the first grassy field to a track. We ran almost a lap around the track, then left it for a second grassy field. We cut through the trees onto a third grassy field, only to run around that entire field. Leaving the third field, we passed the transition area and started lap two.
I was running neck and neck with a guy for a while, but managed to pull ahead in lap two, though still with most of the competitors far ahead, and a about three far behind me. I made sure to keep an eye on my Garmin as we were running through the third field for the second time, as 3.1 miles was approaching and I was courting a new 5km personal best. Although I never mentioned it in my River Ness 10km race recap, I actually set two 5km PB’s that race too: 27:00 for the first half of the race, 26:51 for the second half. Once my watch beeped 3 miles, I pushed hard until I saw 3.1 and sure enough, another 5km PB was mine: 26:41. And on grass no less. The run was over 5km as I left the third field, ran towards transition and to my bike.
Gear: 2XU compression tights with K-Swiss tri-shorts over top, a technical tshirt, my Helly Hensen thermal top, Feetures running socks with Merino, and Nike running shoes.
I stuffed my two Honey Stinger fuels into the legs of my tri-shorts to eat on the bike, having decided against wearing my windproof jacket, then ran out of the transition area and mounted my bike.
Bike: 21 km (13.1 miles)
The bike route can be described as a loop of hell then heaven. The first half of the route, taking us out of St Andrews along beautiful, undulating country roads, was with a nasty headwind or crosswind. I got passed early into the bike by an older man with tri bars, cycling in aero. The wind was so strong that it affected my steering, and at times, it felt as though it was turning my front wheel. I’m fairly certain I let out an expletive or two during the first half of the bike. The only saving grace was that the wind was an obstacle for all competitors, not just me.
Forty-five minutes into the race, I ate my pack of Honey Stinger pink lemonade energy bites, and with the wind, almost dropped them! I lost track of distance, and thinking that because I had pressed my lap button on my Garmin coming into transition then leaving transition, that the displayed distance of 9 miles was just the bike. I began to think that, despite the wind ‘blowing a hoolie’ as they say in Scotland, the bike was flying by! I also wondered when we were going to turn around and start back into St Andrews if we were 9 miles out and only had 4 remaining… then I realised the distance was cumulative – it was my 3+ mile run AND 6 miles on the bike. I was barely half way through.
The course then turned into a large downhill section, where I was passed by the guy I had been running with during the first run. I saw a girl in a tri-suit up ahead, and although I’m not a strong cyclist, the runner in me made it my mission to catch her. There was a very steep but short uphill climb – where a third girl actually got off her bike and walked it up the hill – and I passed her and tri-suit girl just as the hill levelled out. I cycled in my lowest gear, getting up off the saddle at times, but it worked.
Then, heaven began as the course turned left and headed back towards St Andrews, the wind at my back! I passed another girl with no effort at all, and then started what felt like a 3 mile stretch of slightly downhill, straight road. I was flying down it!!!!! I was going so fast that in order to maintain a decent cadence, rather than just spinning out and coasting, I went into top gear! It was at this point that I had been racing for 90 minutes, when I was going to eat my Honey Stinger Lemon Waffle, but waited until this straight stretch finished, just to have more stability to cycle with one hand. I wolfed down the tasty waffle in two mouthfuls, and before I knew it, I was back in St Andrews, back at the sports field. I cycled in to the park, dismounted and ran to transition, surrounded by people who had already completed the entire race.
Gear: everything I wore on the run + my Ronhill running gloves and the buff from the Bennachie Hill race around my ears.
I took off my helmet and cycling shoes, donned my running shoes, then left transition for my final lap around the sports fields.
Second Run: 2.5 km
This followed the exact same route as the first run, but was only one lap of the fields this time. My legs initially felt heavy coming off the bike, but I was still able to run around 8:30 min/mile pace. Far ahead, I saw one of the men that passed me on the bike, and made it my mission to catch up to him. I also was aware that one of the girls I had passed was close enough behind me, so I tried to run at a fast pace I could sustain to not only maintain the space between, but also increase our distance.
I managed to close the gap significantly between the man ahead and myself, but sadly not enough to overpass him; if I’d had another half mile it could’ve been done. I sprinted to the finish with my friends cheering me on, and once the two volunteers at the finish looked away from their phones to see me standing, waiting for my race treats, I was able to collect a tshirt, banana and bottle of water.
I had run-bike-run 30.88 km (19.3 miles – according to my Garmin) in 1:54:24. Wind and all.
As we were sick of being in the wind, despite the still warm temperatures, my friends and I quickly packed things up and headed to our cars, eager for shelter, warmth and a bite to eat on the way home. I also downed my Osmo Acute Recovery for Women drink in honey spice flavour.
Yes, the wind was killer Sunday, and it made for a gruelling first half of the race, but overall I’m quite happy with my result. The only downfall is this awkward race top, a size too big. Can’t win them all I guess!
Next race: The Dundee Templeton 10 (mile) next Sunday (tomorrow). My computer is being temperamental, so posts, like this one, may not be so timely until the problem is sorted…
What are the worst race conditions you’ve faced?
What’s your preferred mid-race fuel?
Have you ever competed in a duathlon?