How to keep a bit of fitness and satisfy a thirst for racing over the winter months? A few years ago, a couple of friends talked me in to the Glentress Duathlon series - a popular series of off road run/bike races on the swoopy all weather trails. I've yet to forgive them but seem to have fallen into a winter duathlon habit.
Nowadays the series has been taken over by local Paul McGreal and his team at Durty Events and moved down the road to the Duke of Buccleuch's holiday pad at Bowhill House. After a 2012/13 series affected by ice (skating on the first round) and slushy snow (much wheel spinning up snowy climbs on the second round) the 2013/14 series this year was an altogether different affair.
The first (short) round was set up in my preferred order of run then bike. I surprised myself by finishing the 20 minute run in a reasonable position, wasting too much time in transition as usual before picking up a couple of places early in the bike. A fast charging Martin Graham kept me honest for the whole bike section only for me to sit up just short of the line, not really contesting the sprint due to tiring legs. As we caught (and Martin pipped) the 2nd place rider on the line, I rolled in just behind for 4th. I'm still kicking myself for not putting the effort in to the last 100m. I'm sure everyone else's legs felt rubbish by that stage too. Lesson learned. Rookie mistake.
The "medium" round followed - an estimated 30min bike section followed by a 30min run. Having the bike section first meant I had to hold a bit in reserve for the later run. Despite that, I found myself leading up the first climb, steadily dropping other riders at a medium tempo. Martin Graham zipped off before the top as I wheelspun my way up the last section of muddy climb, and he then pulled out a bigger gap on the fire track descent - I cautiously crept down trying in vain to pick a smoother line but unable to see much at all between the horizontal rain and the relentless spray from my front tyre. A couple of missed turns later on (the signpost had fallen flat in the wind) saw me throw away a fair lead over third, and let a group of 3 or 4 riders pass me, before I picked them off again in to transition. Triathlete Kai Jackson proceeded to breeze past me on the run as I plodded round, pleased to hold everyone else off for 3rd.
The final "long" round dawned with similarly grim conditions - horizontal rain and howling winds. A similar story to the second round - I found myself leading up the climb, letting Martin disappear off soon after the top, and riding my own race from there on. Such was the spray from the wheels that I ditched the glasses in a vain attempt to see something of the trail in front of me, but couldn't honestly tell whether it was raining or not. It's the first race I've entered which appeared to be routed down a riverbed. "Grade 2 river biking" as it was later described. A few nicely cut loamy sections through the trees towards the end kept things entertaining before heading out on the run. Although the distance doesn't suit me, the "long" run route is definitely my favourite of the three - once off the fire track sections, an involving run through the woods alongside a water channel, over some logs and up the hill takes the mind off the tiring legs and wheezing chest. The final section in to the finish could be best described as a steady plod, but there was nobody in sight behind me, and as I never had any ambitions of keeping pace with Martin, 2nd was as good a result as I could have hoped for.
Job done, another solid three rounds of off road duathlon, and despite the relative lack of running this winter, a bit of fitness maintained between CX and XC seasons. Any fitness is easily undone in the post race coffee shop though - criminally good cake followed pulled pork rolls with good banter with other racers. I'd definitely commend the series as a good family day out. Long suffering Mrs W chooses her races carefully but came to two of these rounds, knowing that the warm coffee shop right by transition and easy going nature of the series makes it a good day even for non-racers.
So how did we do? 4th, 3rd and 2nd was enough for 2nd in the series for me (all three races need to be entered to qualify for the series prize) and Fraser W put in a solid stint on the medium race (looking particularly good on the bike) for 34th (9th Vet Male). Simon F is muttering something about re-wiring his house and failed to put in an appearance. I think he might be scared of the rain. I don't blame him.
I might be back next year, but I'll be checking if the forecast is for crisp frost or crunchy snow first. I think I've had enough of mud and rain for 2014 already. Great to start 2014 in my new VCM kit though, and scoring a few podiums to boot. Boom.