Earlier in the year a work colleague asked me if I was doing the Kielder duathlon. I knew nothing about it but the more I read the more I liked. A marathon distance duathlon with split transitions and an entirely off-road bike section. I signed up, told Sara that I’d beat her even on my old mountain bike, and forgot all about it.
Fast forward several months and I no longer work at BALTIC so it was a bit a re-union when we met up again and I discovered my manager Dave Coxon had signed up too. Although we had no plan to rendezvous at the event we found ourselves parking our bikes in the transition area at Kielder Village before finding the coach to take us the few miles to the Start at Leaplish. We found 3 seats and were jostled on our short journey like excited kids on a school trip.
I knew the Run Bike Run event started at the same place and time as the 10K. What I didn’t know was how the organisers planned to do that. In the end it transpired that the RBR competitors had to shove their way through the 10K competitors to get to the start line. I saw several Strider vests on my travels but I was wearing a cycling top that I hoped would be versatile enough to get me through the run and bike stages. I guessed it might be too hot for running, too cool for the bike.
The logistics had puzzled me. I’ve done very few duathlons, and none that had split transitions. We were allocated something called a bike box, and this would be waiting with our bike at T1. In here we had to put anything we thought we would need for the bike section. For many of us this was cycling shoes but many chose to ride in their running shoes. It turned out not to be nearly as complicated as I’d made it and the bike box would be magically transported to T2 at Bull Crag for the beginning of the second run leg.
A slightly delayed start due to waiting for late competitors to be bussed from Kielder village and away we went, doubling back on ourselves for the 11km run to T1. I had to remind myself that this was quite a long event and that I needed to pace the 11k carefully. Into transition and straight to the bike. I realised the grass was soaking so I executed an undignified ballet while I tried to change shoes – hopping on one foot so that I wouldn’t get my feet wet and grateful for my decision to use elastic laces in both sets of shoes. It wasn’t a lightning fast transition but it wasn’t too shabby either, and soon I was wheeling my bike out for the 25km ride to Bull Crag.
I was looking forward to the bike section. I’d ridden a couple of hilly sportives already this year and although not particularly fit or fast I was expecting to be comfortable and do well on this bit. I was in for a surprise. An 85 mile hilly sportive on a road bike is an entirely different beast to a 25km bike ride on a mountain bike. I’d forgotten how up and downy the Kielder lakeside path is.
After attacking the first hill and storming down the other side I was soon reviewing the situation. I realised that this was going to be hard. It was impossible to get into any rhythm and I was spending a surprising amount of time in my smallest granny gears before hurtling down the descent trying to catch my breath. The dam gave some respite but it was hard to pick up too much speed on the thick mountain bike tyres. As we turned away from the dam to head for Bull Crag I discovered, to my surprise, that I was quite looking forward to the end of the bike section and to running again.
Transition 2 at Bull Crag was quite elegant. A long horseshoe where we entered at one end and were ejected at the other. Of course, none of the competitors had seen Transition 2 before so we didn’t know where our bike box would be. But this wasn’t a problem as the marshalls had read our numbers as we approached and were directing us as we tumbled into transition. I always have to remind myself that the clock is still ticking in transition – it’s still real time although it feels like it isn’t. So I was back in my running shoes as quickly
as possible then jogging round the horseshoe before out of transition for the last 6km or so.
They were a long 6km, twisty and hilly, and my legs felt like they’d done a marathon even if 25km of it had been sitting down. I settled down to a steady jog and had no illusions of trying to hit the finish at speed. There was good crowd support in these last few kms and a buzzy finish that I remember from having done the Kielder Marathon. Across the line and No I didn’t want a banana, I just wanted to sit down.
Dave had been in for about 15 minutes and Sara arrived not long after me. The results showed Sara had belted round the bike section a fair bit faster than me and if it hadn’t been for her slower transitions and runs our overall finishing positions could easily have been reversed.
This was a good race and I enjoyed it. I thought as we hit a brief squall on the bike section that if the weather had been unkind the bike section could easily be a serious trial. The split transitions, lakeside route and marathon distance bring an elegance to the course that I liked a lot. I definitely underestimated how hard the bike section would be, but it was great fun hurtling down the fast descents and negotiating the twists and turns.