Gill Fullen’s Race Report from ITU World Duathlon Champs in Adelaide
ITU World Duathlon Championships 2016, Adelaide:
It was warmer in Adelaide than normal for the time of year. I had looked up temperatures in South Australia well before the race and had been a little disappointed to learn that 16 to 18 degrees was fairly normal for early spring there. So much for getting a tan, still, it would be better to race in cooler temperatures, so silver linings and all that. We hadn’t allowed, however, for the unseasonal heatwave that hit the continent, taking the temperatures well up into the 30s. Yet another baking race for me then.
The build up to the race was difficult in terms of training. First of all the journey from the UK took 48 hours and I wasn’t able to sleep on the two flights, so I arrived not knowing which way was up and promptly slept for 12 hours straight, wrecking my plans to get up early and cycle before the traffic built up in the city. Setting out later than planned, I discovered that cycling was pretty much impossible anyway, with traffic lights every 100m and too many heavy lorries on the wider roads and a severe lack of signage.
I persevered and made it to the coast, but it wasn’t a pleasant ride and I was dreading the way back into town, so when I spotted a cycle path along the river signposted city centre I took it and threw all thoughts of speed out of the window in favour of safety and not getting lost.
Running was a little better, as there were parks and tracks you could get to, but I was trying to keep the running minimal, having had an ongoing hip problem, so training was rather restricted.
I did join one of the bike route recce rides with a large group of other GB age groupers and found out that the course did have some mild uphill sections, which would feel like nothing in training, but racing up them repeatedly would definitely test me out. Other than that it was a four loop fast course on wide roads with 3 dead turns per lap, but plenty of room to manoevre.
The run course I liked, but it wasn’t as straightforward as it looked. It started next to the river on a narrow path, which led to a dead turn after about 1.5k, onto a dusty trail to a sharp turn onto a bridge over the river, then ran gently up and down following the other side of the river, up to another bridge and a crossing back over to lead back to the start. Two 5k loops to start and one after the bike to finish. A little reminiscent of running round the embankment to be honest, but more undulating and definitely hotter than our usual conditions there, with the warm wind not helping matters.
Finally on the start line I was chatting with two Australians in the start pen, one of whom I knew from the 70.3 in Austria and who I thought would be my main rival. We joked that we could share the podium between the 3 of us. The whole race was set off in close wave starts, so I wasn’t racing all the other ladies, disappointingly, but it did make the narrow paths more manageable. The sprint distance race went off first, but not by much, so there were always a variety of athletes on the course and it was really hard to keep track of who was in which race and which age group.
My wave set off at a very reasonable pace, with an American taking the lead decisively. I didn’t have a firm race plan, being uncertain of how my running would be and aiming to see what the competition was like, but it proved to be a fairly easy pace for most of the first lap and I decided to sit in the pack and save myself, rather than going out hell for leather and maybe suffering later on. That lasted until about 4k, when predictably I got bored! I started to push the pace and, as the Australians stayed with me, I realised that I had a race on my hands.
I came into transition in first place, but only just. I knew I was going to have to push the bike whatever happened, so ran through transition and set off on the bike hoping I was strong enough to keep the better cyclists at bay. Soon one of the Australians had overtaken me and I determined to keep with her for as long as possible. It surprised me that she didn’t pull away fast and that actually, I soon overtook her back. That set the tone for the entire bike leg, where she would come past me just after the start of the leg and I would overtake her again on the long section to the turnaround. We seemed very evenly matched, so I knew I had to find another gear if I was going to get to the run ahead of her. On the last lap of the bike I put the hammer down and kept on pushing. The main hill I had been taking at 85% ish effort, so I gave it more like 90%, kept my pace and line round the tight corners and tried desperately to keep the effort level up all the way in to transition. It worked and I came into transition ahead of the Australians, but I heard their names over the tannoy as I slipped into my run shoes and set off to see what was left in my legs.
Confusingly, when I re-racked my bike there was already a bike racked next to me on the otherwise empty racking, implying that someone had beaten me back. I didn’t think there was anyone in front of me, but you’re never quite certain, so I just couldn’t be sure. It could also have been someone who didn’t finish the first run, but I really didn’t know what to think. When I collected my bike after the race I realised that the stray bike had been racked from the other side and so was from a completely different wave. Not something that occurred to me at the time, evidence of race-brain!
It was hot by now and I didn’t seem to have any reserves of speed to dig deep into, so I was hoping that the Aussies legs were suffering too! I was in no doubt that if it came to a sprint finish the Australians would be swept over the finish line by the enthusiastic crowds and the commentator, willing them to win on their home turf.
There were people in front of me on the course from previous waves and I set about picking them off, using them help me keep up a reasonable pace. Towards the end of the course I was following an American lady who, I noticed as I got close, was from my start wave. She was running well, but I had caught up with her, so logically, so must I be. We ran evenly for a while, then hit the sharp uphill to the finish chute still together. As we ran onto the road I picked up some pace and she responded, pushing on to the blue carpet slightly in front of me. At which stage I’m afraid I let her. I thought I had probably won my age group, but had no idea where I was overall and had little incentive to catch her. Maybe I should have pushed to get what turned out to be 5th place, but I survived without injury and still made the top of the podium, regaining my world title at this distance for the 3rd time.
The two Australians came in 2nd and 3rd in my age group, so we did share the podium, as we had discussed; probably not in the order they had hoped. They had pushed me all the way round and as a consequence I really enjoyed the race. The times weren’t great, but tactically it worked for me, especially at the end of a very long season.