It was raining when my alarm went off at 05:30 on Saturday morning. A good 3 hours before I would need to leave for the 3.1 mile race at Park-Run (that was for Shane). However, that was not to be. I hauled ass out of bed, down stairs to grab my kit and in to the garage to collect my old faithful mountain bike, for Saturday 4th November 2017 meant just one thing. Robin Hood Adventure Duathlon!
For those who are unfamiliar with the duathlon format, it’s like a long run but the middle bit is done on a bike. In this case, it’s a 5k gravel run, 16k trail bike and then another 3.4k gravel run. The “transition” from run to bike to run is done in a penned off area where you have a small personal space in which to leave drinks, shoes, helmet and bike etc. The race is chip timed and encourages some fast action.
This duathlon from OSB Events is hosted at Sherwood Pines which is now flatter than ever as the 350 competitors each brought at least 1/3rd tonne of it home with them. Muddy? Much? Hmmmm….
So, with bike racked on my car, I set off for Sherwood Pines stopping only to pick up Andy Nicholls and his bike (which he apologised for being a bit dirty on my car – how we laugh now!!!).
If you have not been to Sherwood Pines, it’s about 50 minutes from Melton just north of Nottingham. It’s the far side of Centre Parcs. There are numerous walks, bike routes, cycle parks and play parks and even a Go Ape scattered throughout the largest forest open to the public in the East Mids. Parking is £6 for the day but 1 and 2 hours are £2 and £4. See https://www.forestry.gov.uk/sherwoodpines for more info on that! Parking is Pay and Display from 8am and you can’t pay up front so don’t stray far until 8 but pay on exit will arrive soon.
It was still raining hard when we arrived for registration but spirits were high. The goodie bag was well stocked and the long sleeved technical T looked good to change in to at the end. We had some numbered stickers for our helmets and bikes and a race number. Race belts are recommended for multi-sport events but not critical as long as it’s visible on the front for running and the back for cycling. Once labeled up, we gathered our “transition” gear and headed down to rack up our bikes. As you can imagine, with 350 bikes in a pen, it’s important to know were your space is but being numbers 10 and 14 – we had an easy spot to find. The pen has an entrance at one corner and an exit at the far corner so theoretically, it’s the same distance for all when running through.
Nearing 8:15am, the rain slowed to a dreary dribble and we joined the rest of the 40+ males (and one female for equality purposes??) and listened to the race briefing. This was given by the race organiser who had just returned from a lap on the bike. He said it was muddy. He said some parts were more river than trail. He said we should be careful. All 3 of these were dramatic understatements. At 08:30 on the nose, 149 old men and a lady charged off for the 5k run around the wide gravel paths of the Sherwood Pines parkrun. This was nice. A bit rainy but wide paths and a solid terrain. A nice chat with Andy for the first 3-4k to let the other runners know that we were chilled and the race was on. The subtle hills were nice for catching the cyclists who weren’t such good runners but the top guys disappeared in to the distance. I was happy with my time of 21:21 just about 30 seconds behind Andy.
Next was the first bit of strategy. Andy opted to ride his bike in trail shoes so could just put his helmet on and go (got to have helmet on before you touch your bike) where as I opted to change in to cycle shoes that could attach to the bike. Andy’s option was faster in transition and gave him better stability and was able to get off the bike more easily but my option gave me better efficiency and power at the cost of looking like an idiot if I got in trouble. All in all, Andy was out of first transition a full minute ahead of me. Anyone who knows me knows what was going through my head.
So, bike then. It was definitely a mountain bike day. The CycloCross guys had a bit of a nightmare. It was muddy. VERY muddy. Bike slipping all over the shop muddy. After about 1k, the cycle route dived in to the trees where the terrain varied from 1m wide muddy paths that turned and undulated with regular frequency to much narrower, much muddier, much twistier paths that were quite tough. I think this is described as “technical”. I describe it as bloody hard. Within another kilometre I had become friends with a tree that I somehow ended up hugging tight so the guy behind me had enough room. Remember I said that I ran the risk of looking like an idiot? Well, I don’t like to disappoint. Still, quick check that my bike was OK (it was) and off again. Another couple of km’s later I saw Andy and caught up on some particularly tight sections. It was this point that I saw my first CycloCross guy. Andy and I were twisting our way through the trees. There didn’t seem to be a path. It was more like someone had used a 30cm ruler to scrape a route through the forest trying to turn around every tree possible. I was just holding my nerve when I heard “On your right” and some foolish fool of a fool on a CX bike tried (successfully) to squeeze past me despite my yells of “There is no room mate!”. There was no room. I still do not know how he managed it or how I didn’t hit a tree. At this point, I think Andy took the wise decision to pull over and let the foolish fool past. A few other riders, myself included, also went past. I had 3 behind me at this point and my way of dealing with this was to add speed. I was getting more confident so hands off the brakes and let the adrenalin flood through.
That is when I saw the dip.
I may have sworn a bit. I may also have soiled my cycle shorts (I wouldn’t know through the mud). It was a short 1m drop with an instant 1m climb up the other side. Fine at a steady pace but at my über confident “lets win this” pace it was not. My face and the tree opposite had a nice coming together. My bike hit the tree square on and I ended up a couple of meters from the trail. Somehow, I was not too scratched. Also my bike was still OK so back on and off we went again. I would like to say that this time I set off a little more carefully. Again, anyone who knows me, knows what happened next. Yup – I lost a good 20 seconds in that crash so I added a bit more speed. The rest of the race was quite uneventful. Mud, puddles, trees, mud, climbs, mud, twists and turns, mud with a bit of mud on the side finished the lap and on to the second lap of 2. I knew what was coming this time so knew where to slow down. Unfortunately, my brakes had some grit in them so they had pretty much stopped working. This time, I positioned myself better for the dip and jumped back on to the trail rather than in to a tree. After just over 1h20, I had completed 2 laps and with cheers from a crowd that had gathered at the end of the lap, I turned back towards race village and on to the final run leg.
Running “off” of the bike is always a wobbly affair. An hour of spinning legs on a bike makes running feel unnatural and slow. It was great to let go of the concentration from the bike leg but with numb toes and legs full of lactic acid, progress was not rapid. The good news is that it’s the same for everyone so a good chance to claw a couple of places back from those that capitalised on my misfortunes. The final run was a shorter version of the first run using much of the same route. Coming back in to the race village in a little over 16mins for the 3.4k and 1h58,50 in total. A respectable 17th in age group (of 35) and 119th overall, Andy about 5 minutes further back.
A cracking event that anyone can do, lots of muddy fun, but if you want to go fast, you need to be supremely confident on the bike.