Race Report: Duathlon Nationals 2015

USAT finish lineFor a few months now, my friend Mary Craig and I have been planning to race Duathlon Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota.  After a long flight in, we made it on Thursday and raced on Saturday.  Here’s a race report.

Executive Summary

My race reports usually go much longer than I like and describe every detail under the sun.  Just in case you’re pressed for time, however, here’s a quick synopsis.

  • Fiasco #1.  I left my water bottles in the hotel room and so I had run back to the hotel (2 miles round trip) before the race start to get them.  I did the whole race with my hotel key under my shorts.
  • Fiasco #2.  Coming out of T1, I caught my right shoe on the uphill bike mount.  Turned around, walked back 10 feet, leaned my bike up against the fence, sat down and put on my shoe, and took off again.  By my calculation, this mistake cost me 30 seconds and two places.
  • Stupid Fast Age Group.  I ran my first 5-K at a 6:32 pace– and got my butt handed to me.  Wow, those guys go out fast.
  • Frozen Shoulder but Still Good Aerodynamics.  Over the last few months, I’ve had a frozen shoulder, which has been causing a lot of pain and compromising my performance– but really taking a hit on my aerodynamics.  Nevertheless, my aerodynamics are still pretty good compared to my competition and really saved me on the bike.
  • Tough Hill Slowed Second Run for Everyone.  This year’s course was totally different from last year and had three loops up a really steep hill.  Everyone’s times were slower on the second run but I got lucky– Seattle races are almost always like this so I had an idea of what to expect.


Over the winter and spring, my training had been going great.  During the winter months, I put in a good base of slow running miles and some super-fast above-VO2Max efforts.  Over time, this morphed into fewer long runs but more longer intervals, slowly developing up to hard 1.5 mile efforts.  shoulder painBut then my left shoulder started bugging me in mid-spring.  At first, I couldn’t care less about a super-painful shoulder because it didn’t affect my running or cycling.  I was seeing a physical therapist and undergoing Soma treatment– surely, I thought that it would resolve.  When it didn’t, I made an appointment with my doctor after my shoulder did start to affect my cycling– but the first available appointment was a month out.  By the time I finally saw her, she said it was a frozen shoulder, which was the last thing I needed to hear!

A frozen shoulder is an odd ailment to have.  As my doctor explained, it happens around my age (50’s and older)– even though I had none of the predisposing factors for it (e.g. obesity, diabetes, etc).  During the “freezing” phase, the shoulder becomes more restricted in it’s movement.  For instance, right now I can’t move my arm above shoulder level on the left side.  I can lift it overhead from the front– with tons of difficulty.  I also can’t cross my hand over my chest or scratch my back at all with my left hand.  Also during the freezing stage, going outside the current range of motion is answered by an intense pain that isn’t specific to an exact location.  In fact, that last symptom is a telltale sign of frozen shoulder.  The pain also lasts for a good 30 seconds or so, leaving me bent over, holding my shoulder, and cursing.  It’s very temperamental at this stage and there were several times when I moved it slightly in the wrong way during my sleep and I woke up in the middle of the night in agony!  After a few months, the shoulder enters the “frozen” phase where it isn’t as painful but just as restricted in movement.  It’s still very painful to try to move outside the range of motion– just not as suddenly painful.  Finally, the shoulder enters the “thawing” phase when everything slowly (e.g. over one to five years) returns to normal, leaving its victim only with a painful memory.  After that, range of motion is fine.  My doctor told me that it appears to be a fairly random auto-immune reaction in which the joint capsule mildly inflames– but just enough to mess up the shoulder’s delicate mechanics.  Also, fibrotic tissue starts to form but eventually (and somewhat randomly) breaks down.  It doesn’t have a specific cause– it’s just Mother Nature’s way of screwing with carefully laid plans.

My doctor explained that they can’t do much to resolve a frozen shoulder during the “frozen” or “thawing” phases– but they could arrest the freezing process and shorten the remaining phases if they caught it during the “freezing” phase.  All she would have to do is insert a needle deep into my shoulder joint and inject cortisone.  From having undergone PRP and prolotherapy a number of times, I opted for the injection, which she was able to do the next day.  It helped a little but not a great amount.

Three days before Nationals, my shoulder was still a mess so I made an appointment with an acupuncturist whom I had seen many years ago.  A quick search on the internet revealed that acupuncturists tended to have some success with frozen shoulder.  When I went to see him, he told me in extremely broken English that, in China, people know that they shouldn’t go to western doctors for frozen shoulder– only acupuncturists can help the disease.  But, while he could offer some relief, it wouldn’t be fully cured without at least one follow-up visit the following week.  Nevertheless, after that one visit, I was moving much more freely and with less pain.  Maybe Nationals wouldn’t be an entire disaster after all?  I did have to move my left elbow pad from the most extreme inward position to the most extreme outboard position– probably costing me a few grams of drag and more time in seconds.  But my front end is so low and my back so flat that I’m sure the compromise wouldn’t be too severe.

Mary and I arranged our some inexpensive tickets on Alaska Airlines back in December.  I’m a frequent flyer on Alaska Airlines and have MVP Gold status (about 40,000 miles just on Alaska) and so they are really nice when I call them.  While we were arranging our tickets, the agent kindly said, “you have a few upgrade coupons– and they expire today.”  Obviously, we jumped at the opportunity.

We flew in on the late morning flight and made it to St. Paul without a hitch.  Friday was pretty lazy and uneventful.  Sleeping in, checking out the course, and picking up our race packets.

Riding the course, we rode up a really steep hill that they inserted in for this year’s race.  In fact, they even added a “King/Queen of the Mountain” category this year just to draw some focus on the hill.  On paper, the hill wasn’t that impressive– a 1.78 mile long hill with a total climb of 261 feet.  But the hill is front-loaded with a half-mile stretch at over 5% and momentary pitches over 10% (according to my Garmin file).  One time up the hill on an easy day was no big deal– three times up the hill on race day would be a different story.

After taking care of the race business, it was a very lazy afternoon in St. Paul.  PeanutsMarta explained that she spent time in St. Paul and that the winters were utterly brutal– sometimes as cold as -20 degrees fahrenheit.  To accommodate these brutal winters, there is an elaborate set of enclosed above street-level walkways connecting the buildings downtown.  It goes on forever– and Minneapolis’s habitrail system is even more extensive.  It forms an enormous shopping mall that includes a ton of restaurants and shops.  I would love to run a race in some of these walkways!  We also visited a park with tons of Peanuts sculptures in the walkways and sidewalks.  A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that Charles Schultz was born in neighboring Minneapolis.

After an early dinner, I nervously prepared for the race.  I’ll confess that I’m a wreck when it comes to race preparation.  So I was up to 11:00 pm getting ready– and then had to take an ambien to fall asleep.

Race Day

Race morning started okay.  Up at 6:00 am, quick warmup on my Omnium trainer, fast pre-race breakfast, and off to the transition.  As an aside, in case you haven’t heard of it, the Omnium trainer. it is the most amazing bike trainer– I’ll blog about it in the coming weeks because everyone who travels and races a bike should have one.  Then Mary and I rode our bikes to the transition zone and set up our bikes.  I use rubber bands to hold my bike shoes in just the right position (yeah, more about that later) and usually tuck one under my water bottle.

Up to that moment, my life was going so well.  I suddenly had a feeling of utter disgust– I had no water bottle!  For a few minutes, I panicked– transition was closing in five minutes and there was obviously no way to ride back and get my bottle in time.  In a shorter, cooler race, I would have raced without one, but that wasn’t an option today.  While I normally hate waiting a long time for race starts, this time it saved me.  I figured I had 45 minutes until my race started– easily enough time to jog two miles for my water bottle back in the hotel.  Ugh.  After I ran the extra two miles, I begged a race volunteer to toss my water bottle on my transition mat.  At the end of the day, it only meant a few extra seconds replacing my bottle in T1 and having to carry my hotel room key in my shorts during the race.  Not a total disaster, but still way too much stress to start a race.

Run 1: 5K in 20.20.3 (6:32 per mile)

It just amazes me that I ran this race faster than I’ve run some open 5-K’s– and still managed to get my butt kicked.  Wow, the guys in my age group (50-54) are ridiculously fast.  I’m absolutely positive a bunch of them must have been Division 1 runners in college.

Starting off, I felt pretty solid.  I was breathing hard, but knowing that the bike is my strong suit, I kept my pace under control.  The air felt heavy and much more humid than I was used to.

The running course this year was two laps of a 2.5 kilometer course that was obviously devised by someone by someone who wanted us to explore every tiny footpath in the park that we were running in.  The course had more turns than just about any run leg that I’ve ever run.  I suppose the strategy was to get the run course to exactly 2.5 kilometers by any means possible.

Pretty much, I just looked for familiar faces and tried to keep them in sight.  Coming into T1, it was clear that I hadn’t pushed myself as hard as I could have.  Normally when I come into transition, my head is spinning like crazy.  This time, I was fine.  A little out of breath, but feeling good.  Part of this was just letting the pack go near the end of the run as I composed my thoughts for the long bike leg ahead.

By the numbers, I ran 20.20.3, which comes out an average pace of 6:32 per mile.  My Garmin said that my heart rate was really high– in the mid-160’s.  I think that this was a device error, however, because my heart rate on the second run (where I was pushing much harder) was a lot lower.  Also, I tend to spike up into arrythmias above 160 bpm and I was no where close to that feeling today.

Bike: 21.44 Miles in 1:01:08 (21 Miles Per Hour)

As I mentioned, the bike leg included a fairly nasty hill that we would be climbing three times over three loops.  I hate hilly bike legs because it can make the second run utterly soul-crushing.  I first experienced this after I first moved to Seattle and ran the Mount Rainier Duathlon—the hilly bike leg that left me walking most of the final 5-K run.  After doing lots of (unfortunately) hilly duathlons in the Seattle area, I’ve discovered how to handle them: I need to watch my wattage like a hawk.  I never let my watts go more than about 20-30 watts over FTP.  Sure, there would be guys blowing by me on the hill— and I reeled in every one on the downhill and flats.  As my (only) strengths are downhills, windy conditions, and aerodynamics, this was almost as perfect a course for me as a blustery, pancake-flat course.

On the final section of the last lap, I passed my friend Jeff Gaura— an amazingly talented athlete from North Carolina.  I rode the stretch into transition, dismounted and began the long jog back to my rack position.
I’ll confess straight-up— I suck at transitions (even when I don’t drop a shoe).  So after I sat down, changed my shoes, and gathered my thoughts, I got up and started my run.  By this time, Jeff was not that far behind me.
By the numbers, I rode the course in 1:01:08, which came out to 21 miles per hour.  I only held about 190 watts average (199 watts normalized).  While I’m happy with the bike performance in terms of overall placement, my watts were definitely low.  I think this is due to my frozen shoulder because I’m just not able to push in the same way and gain the same leverage as I had before.  Given these circumstances, I’m good with how I did.  My heart rate stayed pretty consistently between about 135 and 145, which is a touch low for me in a race on the bike– again suggesting that shoulder was preventing me from going super-hard.

Run 2: 5K in 21:04.9 (6:47 per mile)

Jeff and I have a long history of finishing near each other at the end of duathlons– even though we only see each other once a year (at Duathlon Nationals).  We met at Nationals in Tucson a few years back.  As Jeff remembers it, I was walking up the last hill complaining that I was having the worst race of my life (which I was). He told me to rally and I managed to finish the race right behind him.
This year started off feeling the same way.  My legs were really heavy from the hilly bike leg and, as we were leaving transition, Jeff yelled that it was him and me finishing the run together again.  I laughed but if he passed me, I would have just let him go.  But, oddly, he didn’t pass me.  Instead, it was just the opposite— he was pacing off of me and was right on my heels after the first turnaround.
As the run continued, I started feeling better.  My legs started opening up and I gradually started pushing the pace.  At one point, Jeff came up to me and I joked to him that three times up that hill on the bike would be great preparation for Powerman Zofingen, which he is racing later this year.  As I mentioned, I have a habit of being quite chatty with Jeff in the middle of running races.  But this time, while I was talking to him, I thought about how easy it was to talk— obviously, I had a bit more energy than I thought.  So I started increasing my pace even more.  Nearing the second turnaround, Jeff was a bit further back but still really close.
As I neared the last half mile of the race, I saw a guy in a black kit that I was coming up to.  I looked down at his calf and noticed that he was in my age group.  So I paced off of him for about 200 yards and then slowly passed him.  Much to my surprise, he responded back, so I just bolted out in a nearly full sprint.  Coming into the last 100 meters, I turned around and noticed that no one was there so I coasted in across the line.  “Coasted” is probably not quite the right word as my race photos at the finish line made it look like I was in utter agony.  I turned around to congratulate my competitor for a really good effort, but he was crumpled on the ground and the race officials were tending to him.  That made me feel awful (I hated the idea of causing someone that much pain) but also a huge feeling of respect that he was able to dig that hard.  Yeah, guys in my age group are nuts!
By the numbers, I ran the second 5K in 21:04.9, which comes to about 6:47 per mile.  My heart rate stayed around the mid 140’s at the beginning but then disappeared because of some electronics fallacy.
Unofficial Race ResultsAt the end of USAT championship duathlons, there is a red results tent where you can get your immediate race results.  I happily accepted a bottle of gatorade from the race volunteers and made my way straight to the tent.  I saw my buddies Bobby Jones (5th overall) and William Jabour (12th overall)— both crazy fast athletes.
Sweet!  I got 15th place (oddly later changed to 16th place)— about five places up from last year.  I also ran both legs much faster than last year.  Even better, I qualified for Team USA for the ITU World Championships in 2016!
Explaining why I qualified for Team USA, however, isn’t so easy.  USAT and ITU have strangely different rules for calculating placement at Nationals and qualifications for the World Championships the following year.  Both Nationals and Worlds are broken into age categories and I’m in the (abnormally large and fast) Men’s 50-54 group.  Ranking at Nationals 2015 (this race) is based on an athlete’s age at the end of 2015.  I’m 50 years old, but because I was born in October, I’m 51 years old for USAT purposes.  But because the ITU World Championships are in 2016, I’m 52 years old for purposes of Worlds qualifications because that’s the age I’ll be in December of 2016.  Thus I need to look at everyone who is 49-53 at Nationals to figure out who is 50-54 for Worlds.  The top 18 in each age group automatically qualify for the World championships, with “roll down” spots down to 25th place.  Thus, just about everyone in most age groups qualify just by finishing the race because most age groups have 18 or fewer athletes.  But Mens 45-49, 50-54, and 55-89 are the much tougher because they are generally much larger than 25 positions. As it turned out, there were three 49-year old guys coming into my group and three 54-year old guys aging out of my age group.  Whew!  My spot was secure!
After the race, Mary and I hung out forever in that state of post-race euphoria, chatting with friends, making Facebook friend requests with new ones, snacking, and getting our stuff out of transition.  Mary snagged 7th place in her age group (yay, a top-10 finish!) so she was on Cloud Nine.  We also wished our friend Marta good luck preparing for the sprint duathlon and headed back to the hotel before we got too sunburned.
All in all, it was a good day for my Seattle racing buddies!
  • Cora Sturzl— a friend who is crazy enough to do Powerman Zofingen for the third straight year in a row this fall–got 9th in her age group!
  • Heather Leach, who was nursing a hamstring injury, still managed a 7th place finish in her age group!
  • Marta Medcalf, who was changing course from her normal ultra-long distance racing, still managed 7th place in her sprint duathlon!
The full race results are available from the USAT site.


After the race, we all went to the hotel, showered, and after a bit of relaxing, walked to the Awards Ceremony.  There’s an informal rule that, in order to claim your spot for the World Championship, athletes have to sit through the entire awards ceremony.  I’ll be perfectly honest– I don’t love going to the Awards Ceremony.  I’m jealous that I can’t run as fast as the winners– and I’m sorry to say that no amount of hard training would ever get me to running and cycling that well.  It’s also long and a bit boring because there are so many categories to read through.  In this way, it’s a lot like going to a stranger’s son’s graduation ceremony.  On the other hand, it is amazing to see the older athletes and their performances.  Plus it’s a hoot when you actually know someone who gets to stand on stage.  Unfortunately, I don’t know most of the top performers– at least not yet.
Black Sheep PizzaAfter the Awards Ceremony, Mary, Heather, and I went to pizza at a really cool coal-fired pizza place called Black Sheep around the corner from our hotel.  It was awesome to stuff ourselves on great pizza and lots of red wine.  As I normally don’t touch alcohol while I’m training, a few glasses of red wine left me an utter wreck.  I stayed up far too late and got up earlier than I wanted to.
The next day was spent lazily getting ready for the flight back home.  We packed our bikes and bags and made it out of the airport to explore St. Paul.  We discovered Grand Street on our last trip to St. Paul so ventured up there– only to find that there was a gigantic street fair called “Grand Old Days” that filled the entire street seeminglyStreet Fair for miles.  While we were there, we went to an amazing French patisserie and boulangerie called Chez Arnaud and stuffed ourselves before the long flight back to Seattle.
On the ride back to airport, we swung by Heather’s hotel and somehow managed to stuff a third bike case (Heather’s) into our rental car and got to the airport with plenty of time to make our flight.  Heather got an upgrade– and we managed to get seats all next to each other.

Next Steps and Lessons Learned

First, I’m thinking that my lousy (and disastrous) transitions might be fixable with Pyro Platforms, which used to be the hottest thing in draft-legal duathlon (old videos from a decade ago showed the ITU elite duathletes all using them to blaze through transitions in draft-legal races).  I think I’m a good candidate for the platforms for a couple of reasons.  First, because I can’t use elastic laces (my feet slip too much inside the shoe), changing into my running shoes from my bike shoes just about always requires sitting down and tightening my laces.   Second, according to comments online, Pyro Platforms can wobble around a bit when standing– but I never stand on the bike because I’m all about saving my legs for the final run.  Between that and not dropping my shoe (smile), I figure that’s about a minute off my finish time (and raised me up to about 13th place overall!).  Along the same lines, a magnetic helmet closure might shave a second or two by allowing me to buckle or unbuckle my helmet with one hand as I’m running through transition carrying my bike in the other.

Next, it’s time to reboot my running program.  I think that many of us endurance athletes have really good lactate threshold development and a fantastic aerobic base– but not such a great VO2 max.  For instance, my mile best pace is pretty close to my lactate threshold pace, which suggests to me that getting faster in my runs will depend on getting a little headroom for my lactate threshold to grow into.  This means improving my speed at maxVO2.  After I take a little R&R, I’ll start in on a bunch of shorter intense workouts (e.g. 200’s building to 800’s) with nice recoveries.  This will kick up my higher end speed and then I’ll progressively shorten my recoveries while simultaneously extending that newfound speed into longer efforts.

Third, I think I could use a few carbs on the bike right before hitting the second run.  I had planned to tape a Gu pack on my top tube before the race but that didn’t make it into my race prep.  While my second run always feels slow, maybe a few carbs would have helped it feel a bit less slow.

Wrapping Up

Despite its setbacks, 2015 Duathlon Nationals was a great hit. I did really well and turned in some fantastic times.  It’s awesome at this age to actually get faster!  It was also gratifying to see everyone else turn in some solid performances and get great results.  Lastly, it was great to meet old friends– and discover new ones as well.

Thanks for reading and be sure to like the Athletic Time Machine Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AthTimeMachine.  If you found this post useful, please reblog it on WordPress, share it on Facebook, or retweet it on Twitter to share it with your friends.


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