Friday, June 12, 2015

USAT Duathlon National Championships

I drove to St. Paul last week with mixed feelings. I left three days later emotionally and physically devastated. I was content to finish the event and would have been extremely excited about a podium finish. Other aspects of life are more important and, as those close to me understand, I currently have greater concerns that keep this in perspective. I simply needed an uplifting experience.

After months of consistent strengthening and stretching my body seemed not only to have returned to balance, it also moved more powerfully and fluidly while walking, running, or riding. Hell, I even sat with authority. My confidence was higher than it had been in three years. One prolonged uncomfortable session of sitting changed all of that and my struggle to regain equilibrium returned just before my season of racing.

For almost two weeks leading up to Du Nats I could not run, but almost miraculously the body relaxed the day before I was supposed to leave. Though a test run went smoothly I did not fully trust my body. I also had the struggle of last year's embarrassing race in St. Paul stamped in my mind. Still, driven by whatever it is that motivates me, I loaded the car and drove to St. Paul. My biking, strong of late, would need to make up for slower running.

Run one went much better than last year as I went out tentatively, but was actually moving at just under six minute pace. Andy and another guy raced off ahead of the pack while I cruised back in 8th-10th place until people began to slow and I found myself in 3rd. Then, when accelerating after rounding one of the u-turn cones on lap two, I felt the hamstring twinge. Reluctantly, I shortened the stride and fell back to 5th entering transition.

The lead pair was about 90 seconds ahead of me when I powered up the 2K 9% Ohio Street climb the first time. There were dozens of riders from earlier waves going up with me. Countless menacing cracks and holes, a creaking bike, and two burning thighs are all I remember about the three passes up that hill. I loved it.

Unfortunately, the long winding descent was interrupted each loop by slower less confident riders. On the first loop I was passed by a guy with a disc just before the sharp turn at the bottom. It was Marcus, who was in my age group and who had left T1 just behind me. He promptly lost control on the sharp high speed turn and almost took both of us out of the race. I would pull away Marcus on each climb only to have him catch me near the bottom of the descent.

On the third descent I caught Andy just as Marcus caught me at that same sharp turn. The three of us entered T2 within seconds of each other and just behind the leader, but I must confess that I pedaled hard right up to the dismount line to close a hundred foot gap the two had opened on me after I dropped gear to ease off on the tight hip/ham. That meant that the top four positions in a very strong age group were within about twenty seconds of each other at T2. I needed and really wanted to do what I have always loved to do in duathlons: throw down a brutally painful second run.

The hamstring had begun to tighten and pull while I was riding, so I knew that the piriformis was knotted up. Unlike last year when I laid down in T2 and stretched, I was caught up in being in T2 with the others. I came out in 4th place and held my position behind Marcus while Andy pushed toward the leader, Fred Bunn, who was leading the age group at nationals for the first time.

Approximately seven minutes into the first loop of run two I decided that I need to pass Marcus strongly and create a gap since the tight leg was not going to allow me to run fast (I'm slow anyway!) at the end. A dozen or so strides into the quicker pace I had pulled within arms length of Marcus when the hamstring locked up. I tried to stay upright, but the leg was immobilized in a bent position so I fell and rolled.

If you've ever had a cramp, say in your arch, then you have an idea what kind of pain I was in. Over the next four minutes I rubbed, stretched, stood, and cursed the leg before falling again as soon as I attempted to move forward. It is all right there in the heart rate/pace file below. Missing from the image is the emotional devastation the incident caused.

The Polar V800 tracked my effort right up to the bitter Man up/Man down ending.

I typed this post in Gardiner, MT near the North Gate of Yellowstone National Park. I've driven 1400 miles since I left St. Paul. The back of that thigh is colored - green and black. Driving does not make it feel better, but the journey, the journaling, the people I've met, and places I have and will see are helping with the mental healing.

I've noticed that the curious followers of this blog have checked in several thousand times since my last post. Though I have not blogged about most of my Spring races or trips, I plan to add posts about my summer experiences (and maybe even insert journal entries from prior events). This introvert certainly would be content with journaling if people weren't interested in reading and looking at the photos. It is my hope that some of you gain satisfaction, a smile, or bit of knowledge from my musings. ST

They seem to have life sorted out.


  1. Shane, Wishing you back to 100% soon Champ:)! Onward, Dave

    1. Thanks, Dave. Hope to see you again soon at the races. Best wishes for the rest of the year.

  2. Hey Shane, good read! This is my 1st or 2nd time in your blog since you told me about it over dinner at St Paul, but good effort at Nats. Get healthy (still trying to do that myself!) and we will see you again at the races. I have a blog too which is more "quarterly" than anything, but yet to do a Du Nats entry as of this comment. If you get a chance you can check it out: Take care!

    1. It is always good to catch up with you and Andy at the races, Kevin. Sorry about your tough luck. I thought of you when I saw/heard a guy's ankle break at Yellowstone when he stepped on the edge of a pothole. He had just arrived at the park and his trip was likely over due to a low tibia fracture. Hopefully, we will both be back to par soon. I have read and like your blog - write more!