For my fifth race in as many weeks, today I raced in the Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon, repeating the second multi-sport event I did last year. As with the Lost Pines Tri, I improved significantly in the interim. Partly because I wanted a fair comparison to last year, and partly because I thought the best racers would do the slightly longer "T-Rex" distance, I again did the "Woolly Mammoth," which is approximately Olympic distance at roughly 5k/26mi/5k. According to my GPS, however, the distances were more like 3m/27m/2.6m. It seems the run turnaround was a little closer in than last year, and the bike course included Krueger Canyon. Those differences aside, I was pleased to improve from 2:31 to 2:08:46, and to seventh overall, and another age group win (my first being at Lost Pines).
This past Tuesday, I was doing some speed work on the treadmill and clearly pushed myself too far. In the process of running my two fastest mile intervals ever (roughly 6:10 and 6:15), I managed to strain my left Achilles tendon. It wasn't that bad at that point, but when I ran again Thursday morning with a running group I just joined, again doing mile intervals, I clearly exacerbated the condition. After the second mile that morning, my tendon hurt. I probably could have done another mile, but I was pretty certain that would be a terrible idea. It hurt all that day, but very little on Friday, and practically not at all on Saturday. This morning, I put some sports tape on my tendon (and some tape on my toes from where I banged them in a separate incident).
I didn't get nearly enough sleep last night. After going to bed around 10:30, I was awoken by a train horn at 2am. I couldn't get back to sleep, so at 3 I started getting ready for the race. Since I still don't have my car, I rented a small SUV that my friend arranged for about as cheap as possible. The bike fit quite easily in the back, so it was nice not to have it out in the wind for once. I left the house a little after 4, and got to the race site around 5. I got my packet and chip, and got marked and into transition. I took a spot near the center 'aisle' on one of the closest racks to the bike exit. This being a duathlon, there wasn't nearly as much stuff to get situated as in a triathlon. I clipped my bike shoes into the pedals, put my helmet on the handlebars, and the only thing on the ground was my backpack. I had my sunglasses in my pocket, and was already wearing my running shoes. I had a bunch of time to kill at that point, so I started stretching and went for a jog around the parking lot. Just before finally leaving transition at 6:20, I changed my bike from hanging by the nose of the saddle to sitting on the gear bag. The bike seemed more secure in the initial position, but the bar was low, and it wouldn't be as easy to get out that way. The pre-race meeting was at 6:30, and I had a final restroom break before heading down to the cave.
The start was the same as last year- time trial style from 135 feet underground, with the T-Rex participants first, then the Woolly Mammothers. The seeding worked fine for me- I wasn't really even that close to any other racers until just before the exit, when we were allowed to run again. There were two sections where they were enforcing a no-passing and -running zone, places where it would have been very easy to bash your head, and the switchbacks leading back to the surface. My heart was pumping pretty hard, even without running, by the time I finished the climb. I started the run proper slowly, still recovering from the ascent. The first half mile, maybe, was concrete sidewalk before it turned onto a gravel road. I don't do much off-pavement running, so I was a bit worried about twisting an ankle or something. Overall, I still managed roughly a 8 minute mile pace for the first run. The second mile had a pretty good uphill, so I went up a little slower, and down faster to average out.
I had a pretty quick T1: I put on my helmet, kicked off my running shoes, and ran out with my bike. The course started with a slight uphill out of the parking lot. I didn't put my feet into my shoes until the crest. I passed a woman on the way up, and was gaining on a guy until I started fumbling to get into my shoes. Once I was in pretty solid (my left shoe was a little loose, but not too bad), I passed that guy pretty quickly. There weren't that many bikes out, I didn't see any others until turning onto Schoenthal Road. I eventually passed two guys on that road, and didn't hardly see anyone else until I got down Krueger Canyon Road a ways. While the compressed elevation profile of the bike route showed it being almost completely downhill on the way out, super steep in the canyon, and uphill the way back, it didn't really feel that way to me. The first roads were up and down, and the canyon road only had one really steep section. It was kind of a long climb out, but it didn't feel as bad to me as some of the canyons I've ridden around Austin. Once I was close the the turnaround, I could see there were fewer than 10 bikes ahead of me. I saw one bike behind me who looked like he could pass me. Sure enough, he did not long after the U-turn. I don't know that I ever managed to pass any of the long-course riders, but nobody else passed me. The traffic didn't pick up that significantly once the "Cave Bear" (shorter course) racers merged in. I passed maybe a dozen bikes from that point back to the caverns. I might have been holding myself back a little, but not really that much, in the early going anticipating climbing back to the start, but once I passed 20 miles on the bike, I gave it pretty much everything I had left. There were two good uphills in the last few miles of the course (actually three, the cavern driveway starts out kind of steep). The one I really remembered from last year was at the turn back onto FM 3009, and it didn't disappoint this year, adding in a good headwind. Maybe it was my imagination, but two women I passed going up that hill seemed amazed with my climb, which was only 9 or 10 mph. In the final half mile, I was able to give my legs a quick stretch before getting my feet out of my shoes.
I threw my bike on the rack, plopped my helmet on the handlebars, pulled on my running shoes, and was away even quicker than T1, apparently (27.6 vs. 37.8 seconds). Other than the cave bit, and it possibly being a little short, the second run was about like the first. Probably a little fatigued, I nearly did twist my ankle at one point, but luckily managed to not injure myself. I think my pace was a little more even on the hill the second time, not quite as slow uphill and not quite as fast downhill. Or maybe I just wasn't as quick downhill, as my second mile time was 8:29.
I wasn't exactly ecstatic with my 2:08 time, but I don't think I could have gone much faster on this particular day. Maybe if it had been colder or less humid I could have run faster. It looks like I was about ninth overall on the long-course bike (including T-Rex), which isn't too bad in my book. I am slightly miffed that the official results show my average speed as 19.4 mph, based on a 26-mile course. My GPS data show the course was 27 miles, and I averaged 20.3 mph. It does, however, show my second run pace as 6:52 min/mile (based on it being 3.1 miles, when I clocked it at 2.6 miles), which would be awesome if it were true.
Awards didn't start until 11, but they started with Woolly Mammoth, so I was able to get out of there by 11:30. I had lunch, took the car back to the airport, and took a nap when I got home. It was only an hour, which really isn't enough, but it's better than nothing.