Monday, September 22, 2014

London Ultra Duathlon - Because I am Your Kind of Crazy

After 8 and a half months of training my race day had finally come. If you are mostly here to find out about my final results, I will spoil the ending now, since this piece is more about the experience that the end result.

London Ultra Distance: 20km run (12.4 mi) / 77km cycle (47.8 mi) / 10km run (6.2 mi)

Total Time: 6:55:55

Overall Place (Female Finishers): 7th

Age Category Place (25-29): 1st

When I first heard of the London Duathlon, I knew I wanted to do it. Also, I knew I wanted to run it for charity. Then there the issue of the length. The London Duathlon ran 4 different lengths (run km/ cycle km / run km):
Super Sprint - 5k/11k/5k
Spring - 10k/22k/5k
Classic - 10k/44k/5k
Ultra - 20k/77k/10k
I knew I wanted a challenge. I remember thinking at the time that the bike length for the Ultra was the only bike ride that seemed a reasonable. (I prefer long rides.) For some reason all the extra running was  not exactly registering at the time I was signing up. I was a little disappointed that running for a charity meant that I could not wear my beloved Sheclismo tri top, but I would still ride with the Sheclismo spirit.

The race was pretty incredible. My event started at 8:45 in the morning and I needed to be at Richmond Park at 7:30am. I looked up the train times and I knew there was no way that I could get there on time using public transportation and I was not going to cycle 14 miles will all my gear the morning of such a long event. Thankfully I have a wonderful co-worker, Jochem, who lives near the park who offered to have myself and Piper stay at his place the night before.

Waiting for the race to begin and rocking my Eyeskull socks. (I always try to carry a little Nebraska with me when I race.)
After a breakfast of granola with almond milk, a banana and some Coke, I cycled over to the park Sunday morning with my husband and Jochem. As usual before any big sporting event, I was nervous. I had been quite ill the past weekend and I spent all week resting and drinking water in hopes of being ready for the race. I really hoped my training had been sufficient. I hoped that I would be able to finish before the cut off time. The race event village had few racers wandering around. These were mostly Ultra participants with a few Sprinters. (The race order is as following, 8:45am - Ultra, 9:00am - Sprint, 10:30-11:30 - Classic, and 1:30pm - Super Sprint). I put on my race numbers and then made way to the transition zone. I had never done a multi-sport race before so I was not entirely sure of how to set up transition. I racked my bike, put my helmet on the seat, and laid out some gels, Snikers, sports drink, and a camelpak filled with elite spiked water. I had already installed a water bottle on my bike filled with water and 3 Sis gels. I left the zone and began my usual pre race ritual. This involves deep breathing, nervous conversation, and visiting the port-a-potties multiple times. I was really glad to have Piper and another friend there for support. I watched on the big board as the time counted down to the Ultra.

30 minutes before the race
At a little less than 10 minutes before we were called over to the starting carrels. We would be starting in packs of about 20. I was in second carrel next to another woman who was also doing the Ultra. We chatted about the lack of women in the event compared to the number of men. (There were around 100 individuals doing the Ultra and less than 10 were women.) I told her that this meant we were guaranteed to place in our age category. All we had to do was finish. The feeling in the start zone was electric. Everyone was excited and in a good mood. I was around so many incredible athletes. There was more than one person around me who bore the emblem of being an Ironman. It was surreal to think I would be running a race with people like that. They counted down the first carrel and we watched them take off. Next, those of us in the second start group made our way over. We listed to the count down and then we were off.

I was in a really good mood at the beginning of the race. (Little did I know what the day would hold.)

Like all endurance events, the start is never really that fast. I remember that I could not stop smiling. I was so happy that my day to run was finally here. The 20k run consisted of doing two 10k loops. I am not a particularly fast runner, especially compared to people that normally take on this type of distance. I am happy if I can run between 10:30 and 10:50 mile on long runs. I was well on pace during this race, however it not long before I was trailing at the rear of the Ultra pack. This did not bother me much. I am happy to run my own pace and I was pleased with how well it was going. The only issue I was having was little stomach pain, which is not unusual for me when running. The first loop seemed to fly by. I did see one sad event. The woman I had started next to had collapsed about 8km into the race and had gone into shock. It is always a little heartbreaking to see someone have to pull out so soon into a race.

Getting Ready to high five Jochem (I was really in a good mood on this first lap)
I was still in a good mood when I started the second lap. I was surrounded by a crowd of Sprinters as I reached event village. I watched as they ran towards transition and I kept running and fueled with a Gu. I was running alone for most of this lap. I passed another guy running the Ultra and we ran together for a short while before I pulled ahead. About 7km into the second lap, my bad knees started to act up. I was in pretty fair amount of pain, but I was determined not quit. I feel tears coming to my eyes. I sipped a little water and little sports drink and kept on running.

Entering Transition

I enter the transition zone about 2 hours and 13 minutes into there race, (the fastest I have ever run a 20k in an event.) I was relieved to be done with running for a little while. My bike was one of the few remaining in the Ultra section so it was very easy to find. My transition is an example of everything not to do. I made a frantic grab for my helmet and gloves. I fussed with my camel pack and sunglasses. I pulled off my running shoes, (I love those elastic tri laces), and jammed my feet into my cycling shoes. I took another Gu and thought about eating something else, but my stomach revolted at the idea. I took my bike off the rack, and somehow made it out of there in 2 min 30 sec. I walked my bike to mount line and climbed on top.

My knees practically sang with the relief of being stretched out with pedaling motion. I growled as I took off. I am more of cyclist than a runner. The bike route is 7 laps around the Richmond park, an 11km circuit. This terrain is mostly undulating and there is one climb, a 1km hill with 40 meters of climb and a 12% gradient at the steepest point. (That's right, I am going to do that 7 times.) I reached the hill about 3km into the first loop. In my training, I practiced doing standing climbs to give my legs a break. I took the hill standing up. I felt so thirsty and light headed and worse, my stomach was in full revolt and I felt like I was going to be sick. I pulled over at the top of the hill to settle my tummy. I knew I would have difficulty recovering psychologically if I vomited during the race. I got back on my bike and did another couple of kilometers, the more issues. My calfs began to cramp. I could barely pedal. I pulled over at the Ultra water station and tried to stretch them out. One of the volunteers came over and had me lay down so I could be stretched out. I told it was only my first lap and I had never cramped like that in training. It turns out my electrolytes were low and I had not properly hydrated during the run to be prepared for the bike ride. I started off again furiously sipping the electrolyte water in my camelpak.

Going around the park (I really was not that tired when this was taken)
I took the rest of the first lap to find my groove again. I told myself I had too far to go to let a little hiccup pull me down. My spirits started to lift and by the time I rounded the corner, of the first lap, I was really having fun. The next 5 laps were an awesome blur. I rode my bike with nearly every participate in the race. I saw Ultras and Sprinters in the beginning and then the Classics arrived. I think every biking ability was represented. There is nothing quite like cycling next to someone on bike that costs more than what you pay in a year for rent. I was pretty happy with pacing, especially considering the slow start. Also, it worked really well for me to fuel from a water bottle.

Climbing that stupid hill (This was climb number 6)
That hill, got worse every time I climbed. I hate that bloody hill. By the time I was approaching the 6th time to climb, I was starting to feel tired. Then I made the mistake of thinking about the 10k run. The last lap was difficult. The last climb was brutal. I also wanted charge the person cheering at the top of the hill who kept telling me the worst was over. (I never want to hear that in a race, especially when I have literally miles to go.) The fleet of cyclists was pretty thin of my last lap. The overall mood had also changed as people had started to get tired. I did see Thyla who was finishing her first running loop on the Super Sprint. I finished my bike with a few Super Sprinters on my tail.

The last run really hurt
I approached the dismount line and I practical threw myself off the bike. My legs were aching and I had to walk the full distance of the transition field to get to the Ultra station. I racked my bike and looked around at the Ultras who had already finished and were packing up. Maybe one day that could be me, but certainly not today. I put on my running shoes and took another Gu. This tradition took me over 4 minutes. It was worse than the first. I stumbled out of the zone and willed my legs to work. I started on a slow jog, but my old friend, knee pain, had returned with a vengeance. I began something akin to a run/walk/limp. I was running on pure determination. I was going to do this last 10k if it killed me. I waved to Thyla as she passed me on the bike. At about 2km in, I was able to run more than walk. My pace was slow and painful, but determined. All I could think about was finishing. I was alone on the track. I needed another walk break between the the 5k and 6k mark. After I passed the 6k mark, I decided I was going to run the rest, no matter what. As the remain km passed I entered mind set of pure crazy. I do not think there is another way to describe it. Everything in my body told me to quit, but I kept putting one foot in front of another. I passed a Classic runner who was walking and encouraged her to run with me and finish faster. She ran 1 km with me before she had to drop back to running. I reached the 9km mark and then there was only 1000 meters before I would be an Ultra Duathlete. About 500 meters from the finish line, I could hear footsteps behind me. There were two Ultra runners behind me. I had been ahead of them the entire last lap, (who knew?), and I was not going to let these guys beat me now. Somewhere out of the depths of my soul I pulled out what felt like a sprint and ran the last bit as fast as I could. I could hear my name being called as I passed the finish line. I promptly broke into tears.

Finishing was very emotional. This is not a pain expression.
Finishing was very emotional for me. I had put months into training. I had taken myself further than I had ever imagined. I once saw a video of people finishing their first Ironman. I could relate to the expressions I saw on that video in that moment. I would say that this was my Ironman, but I hope to do an actual Ironman someday. I have completed my first ultra sporting event. I am no longer an ordinary athlete and I love it. Piper was there at the finish line to tell me how proud he was of me. It was an unforgettable moment.

Thyla and I - Medals in hand

The Ultra Duathlon is by far my favorite race I have done. I feel like I have finally found an event that is perfect for me. It is so sufficiently challenging. I am planning on doing it next year and I am hoping to take 20-30 minutes off my time. I have already planned my training schedule and have included a few other events to compete in over the next year to help me prepare, including a sprint triathlon. I will be able to save a lot of time, but not needing to pull over from a cramp and I know my running is only going to get better. I need to thank everyone who encouraged me along the way.

Post Race Beer Never Tasted so Good
All pictures in this post are by the one and only Piper Williams.

This post is an abbreviated version of a post originally published on by the same author.


  1. Amazing effort, Emily. I absolutely cannot imagine that much running with a long ride sandwiched in the middle. Chapeau!

    1. Thanks! The trick is to not think about what lies ahead.

  2. Great job Emily. And great write up.

  3. Wonderful write-up, fantastic finish, and tremendous training effort. Did you follow a particular plan during your 8 months of preparation?

    1. Thank! For the running, I roughly followed the mileage build up on for the marathon training with a few modifications. For one of my weekly runs, I did hills, for another I did negative splits, and the third was a brick workout. Also for the long runs, I tried something new. I did timed runs that were never more than 2.5 hours. I think I will stick to this in the future as it kept my knee pain down and I was just as prepared for the running. For the cycling, I roughly followed your plan using the trainer, tripled my compute miles to include some hills, and did at least on long ride on the weekend. I tried to aim for between 150-200 miles a week. Also, I really listened to my body and I allowed myself to have off weeks when I felt I needed them.