2015 USAT Duathlon National Championships Race Report
by Adam Burrack, PhD
I learned that I can still push myself to the edge (of collapse) last weekend. Saturday was the big run-bike-run “Duathlon” race in St Paul, MN, I have been training the past couple of months. I did my first duathlon in 2011 in Colorado during graduate school, have been competing in this type of event once or twice per year since, and saw this event as a sort of “final exam” on how my training the past several years has worked. I definitely “felt the edge” – and backed off just enough to finish without collapse — en route to meeting a goal that had become personally important. Saturday’s race was the USA Triathlon national championship at the standard distance duathlon race. I raced: 5k in 17:45, then a 35k cycling time trial averaging 20.0 mph, then another 5k in 19:26, with transition times of 1:19 and 1:14. Individually those aren’t too impressive (my 5k best is 16:10, and there were athletes who did the cycling course at 24 mph, and I was too slow on the transitions), but it was just good enough to get me age-group-qualified for the World Champs in 2016!
I was 8th in my age group, and the top 8 from the USA championship in each age group are automatic qualifiers. I was minutes behind my peers in the cycling so I know exactly what I need to improve, cycling strength. On the plus side, I was between 81-92% of my maximum heart rate the whole time, which was my gauge of how hard I was trying relative to my own limits. Below 80% of maximum in this sort of “time trial” race is way too slow. My goal was to stay between 80% and 95% of maximum. In a stand-alone 5k or 10k running event, or stand-alone cycling time trial, I would have gone at a higher percent effort, like 90-95% the whole time. For this event where I anticipated about 1:40 of hard effort, I did not want to run the tank empty, so picked a “happy medium” between too hard and too easy. This strategy seemed to work well.
On the down-side, given the effort I’ve put into mountain ascents (including a personal best of 24 minutes up Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado, 9 days prior to this event), spin classes (an hour of cycling intervals in a group setting), and 20-minute hard efforts on the bike (at 85% of maximum heart rate) I was hoping for a better showing on that discipline. Over time, and several thousand more miles of riding, I anticipate the cycling work will kick in. Anyway, the winner in my age group ran 15:00 5k, then biked 24.0 mph, then ran 16:08. I am not that caliber of aerobic athlete — those are guys that were D1 college cross country runners, and were competitive at that level, whereas I ran D3 college at UW-Stout 10 years ago, and with the Wisconsin Track Club post-collegiately and was at the 60-70th %tile of the pack. Given the athletes I was competing against, I was humbled to qualify for Worlds and hold no illusions about a break-through performance where I transform into that caliber of athlete. Overall, I was satisfied that I was able to perform to the best of my ability on the day of the race. I felt like I did the best I could do given the conditions and my training.
However, I think I have 4-6 minutes to take off the cycling time, and can improve each 5k by 30-45 seconds. My running training was minimal this spring, so I gave up a full minute on the second 5k. The World Champs distances of 10k run, then 40k bike, then 5k run plays a little better to my running strength. If I can get up to 22 mph cycling average that would help a lot at the next level. As mentioned above, that will take a lot of work. Within the next couple years I want to get to that point, at the Worlds event.
Almost forgot: finishing blood sugar level was 155 mg/dl. I went into the race with normal range BG levels and stayed level throughout. For hard interval workouts – running or cycling – I prefer to suspend the pump. I’ve noticed that I tend to get low during hard workouts if I have >1.0 units of active insulin when I start. So, I suspended my pump for the event due to the high-end aerobic nature, and supplemented with 20 grams of CHO per hour. I probably could have consumed more carbs to fuel the cycling in particular. I got dehydrated and will need to work on that for events over an hour. There are probably some tweaks in the nutrition and hydration department that would improve my performance.
The World Champs event next year is in Spain, near Barcelona. So that might be a fun vacation to take my wife Kristina (who took the pictures) along for. In addition, the national champs next year are in Bend, Oregon, which I have not yet visited. It’s an interesting challenge, the duathlon. And yes, I wore my 2011 Team Type 1 jersey for this event 😉