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Duathlon training and racing: stories, advice, and views from the top

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Throwback Saturday: ITU Duathlon World Championships, Pontevedra, 2014

In honor of the ITU Multisport World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain, this weekend, I thought I’d post my race report from the ITU Duathlon World Championships in 2014 – also in Pontevedra. I’ll always remember the smell of cigarette smoke and grilled meat as we ran through the cobbled streets of that lovely city. I spent an extra four days in Galicia and loved every minute. I kept a travel journal, and this post is one entry of several. Note: when I talk about my travel/camping kitchen, I’m referring to the single burner I brought so I could make coffee and hot cereal in my hotel room. I’m strictly gluten-free (gluten sensitivity, Celiac gene and all, and didn’t want to risk GI Hell around a big race.) Best of luck to everyone competing today and this weekend–run-bike-run swift!

Pontevedra 2014 ITU Duathlon World Championship

Galicia, Day Four: Race Day.

I woke up with a jolt at 7:55 a.m. I’m so used to racing at 8, that waking up at 8 feels like I’m oversleeping and late for something. I quickly fired up my electric burner to boil water for coffee and start eating.

I ate what felt like my usual size dinner last night, but was hungry when I went to bed and hungry in the morning. Partly due to nerves and partly because I had four hours until race time, I ate a little more than usual, but not too much.

Thanks to my hotel camping configuration, I learned that canned organic sweet potatoes, pureed, no extra sugar, makes a good pre-race meal option. I ate part of the can last night with my dinner and took the rest with me to race headquarters so that I could have a snack in a couple of hours.

Surprisingly, I easily found parking on the opposite side of the river, about a ten-minute walk from the Sport Performance Center. The infield of a track served as the transition area and the run course took us along one of the straights for each loop.

It was about 9:30 by the time I got to the race site and the sprint race (5k-20k-2.5k) was well underway. I found the bag-drop building (amazingly efficient) and the entrance to the transition area, which I was not allowed to enter until 11 a.m.

I had some time to kill. Most of those 90 minutes were spent chatting with a few familiar faces: woman from the Santa Barbara area, last name Ray, who was on my flight into Vigo; a man from Oregon that stood in front of me in line at the bike check-in; other random USA people.

They opened up transition a few minutes before 11 a.m. and a throng of athletes made their way to set up their spots. The race organizers gave us buckets that looked like small laundry baskets for our stuff. All items had to stay in the bucket.

Turns out my NorCal ally, Cassie, was my transition neighbor, which was a nice surprise. Both jittery, we warmed up together along part of the run course, following the rear ends of a pack of men from France.

ITU Duathlon World Championship 2014

From L to R: Cassie, Martha (from Cleveland) and me

At about noon, all the standard-distance athletes assembled for the cattle call. There were six waves: three male, three female, from youngest to oldest. We were in the last wave, women 40-plus, which started (we thought) at 12:24, but actually started at 12:30. Those 30 minutes in the holding area had to be the most nerve-wracking. With each sound of the horn the nervous stomach lurched one more time.

We’re Off!

With lots of “good luck,” “have fun,” “kick butt,” and other well wishes, we were off! Around the curve of the track, running clockwise, out the main gate, a hard right, over the timing matt, another hard right, a sharp U-Turn and almost immediately up the first and only real substantial hill.

As expected, our group took off like a rocket. The women I planned to keep in contact with drifted ahead. For past two to three weeks, my running has been minimal thanks to a fussy posterior tibialis tendon. My usual 10k pace felt much harder than it should after a restful taper week.

The first 2.5k loop felt long, and we had to do this four times! Wandering through narrow city streets—cobblestone, asphalt and cement—smells of seafood and cigarette smoke wafting through the air, past an ancient church and any number of bars and restaurants, I eventually found a good rhythm. It seemed as though women were passing me left and right. We also had men from other waves passing us left and right. The 10k alone felt like enough. But there was oh so much more to go!

Transition went as smoothly as it could for someone who is not very fluid in such things. A long run in grass to the bike mount area just outside of the track and away we go!

Immediately I heard an incessant click-click-click with every wheel revolution. Oh crap, what now? My bike computer sensor was hitting a spoke. An attempt to lean over while riding to adjust proved difficult and dangerous. After a few miles, it annoyed me enough so that I leaned over and gave it a good swat and it slid to some spot I couldn’t see. I wouldn’t know how fast I was going, but I wouldn’t hear the click-click. [Editor’s note: this was a couple years before I invested in PowerTap pedals!]

The bike course was glorious. For those familiar with the East Bay, imagine 40k of Bear Creek Road: enough uphill on the way out to allow me to pass a lot of women, and long descents on the way back that were steep enough to go fast, but not so fast that my bike blew around in the wind.

The second loop was more of the same. On the 1.5-mile climb near the beginning of the loop, a group of women were bunched up. I was working my way up to pass them when a race official rode by and decided to hover around for a while. I knew he was watching for drafting. I was passing as fast as I could on a hill – geez! The presence of the race official apparently lit a fire in my rear because I found another gear and left the bunched up group behind.

A hard left turn took us onto a road parallel to the river that was lined with spectators. Cool. The dismount happened and off I went to hang up the bike and run some more.

The second run is always the killer and can make or break a race. Sometimes it feels bearable, sometimes it feels like your legs will fall off. Today it seemed bearable, but by no means easy.

I reminded myself that this is only a 5k. Only two loops this time. Piece of cake. Just stay strong and don’t be a wimp. At the first water stop (they handed out little plastic bottles with the lids still on), I dumped more water on my head and down my back and got to it. My pace was decent, I think, and I passed a fair amount of people, both women and men from earlier waves.

The crowd support was phenomenal. For both runs, the streets of Pontevedra were lined with people, including friends of athletes, sprint racers and a lot of locals.

Along the course, I heard “Go Johnson!,” “Go USA!” and “Go Chica!” Near the end of the last run I also heard “Animal!” from a man with a Spanish accent. For some reason, this odd cheer gave me a boost! I focused more closely on catching the person ahead of me, and then the next one, and the next one. I couldn’t wait to get on the track for the final 200 meters. I know what I’m supposed to do on the track: run HARD!

The end result: 2:34:41 good for 12thin my age group (out of 29) and second American in my age group.

I’m happy with my result. Could I have run a faster 10k if I hadn’t had to back off for a minor injury? Maybe. But would my bike split have been as fast if I hadn’t gotten in some really intense workouts in those same two weeks? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I placed much higher than last year’s Worlds in Ottawa (19 out of 26), my first world championship. And I love saying that I’m something in the world.

Powerman Zofingen: Race reports and updates

What’s considered the toughest and most prestigious duathlon, the ITU Long Distance World Duathlon Championships, Powerman Zofingen, took over that lovely Swiss city the first weekend of September.

On Twitter, I promised I’d compile race reports for an upcoming blog. To date, there aren’t many full reports, but I did find some good nuggets of info about this epic event.

From ITU

First, here is the official report from ITU. Switzerland and France took the wins, with Petra Eggenschwiler (SUI) claiming the women’s title and French athlete Gaël Le Bellec winning the men’s race for the third time.

Powerman Zofingen winners

Check out the full report for photos and a list of top finishers.

One thing I noticed when perusing the results (particularly in my age group): the times appear to be faster this year than last. Is the new bike course faster than the old? If anyone has insights, please share!

Here’s the profile of the 2018 bike loop, which athletes complete three times:

2018 Powerman Zofingen bike course

A view from the top

In his inaugural Zofingen race, dominant U.S. athlete Albert Harrison finished sixth in the elite men’s race with a blazing-fast 6:25:52.

He published one of the few race reports I could find, and it’s a thorough one. He starts with the training, shares his goals and continues with his thoughts on the race and USA Triathlon’s lack of support for its duathletes.

He was on TV too. A lot.

Albert Harrison 2018 Powerman Zofingen

Most inspirational athlete

One of the most inspiring tidbits I found came from the Twittersphere. Blind athlete Fernando Raino didn’t just finish Powerman Zofingen. He finished strong.

For random info about Powerman Zofingen, including its history and a general course description, check out my post from September 1.

Got anything to add re: the 2018 Zofingen ITU Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships? Please share in the comments below! We’d love to hear your story.

Powerman Zofingen: what to know about the longest ITU duathlon

powerman zofingen

Photo by Ozzymate [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Michael McCormack, a former professional Ironman champion who won Ironman Canada in 1991 and 1995 and broke the course record, once told me Powerman Zofingen was the hardest race he had ever done.

Considering McCormack trained with and raced against some of the best in the world in both triathlon and duathlon, that’s a statement not taken lightly. His words echo the sentiments of most athletes that complete this grueling race. It doesn’t seem so bad on paper, but executing is a different story.

What is Powerman Zofingen?

Thanks for asking! Launched in 1989, Powerman Zofingen is the longest championship duathlon. It’s also the most prestigious, as many call it the “Kona of Duathlon.” It’s one of the few duathlons that attract spectators. I’d say it’s one of the most competitive, and it is, but everyone from front to back suffers in equal measures. It’s the ITU Long Distance World Duathlon Championships as well as the International Powerman Association duathlon final.

The event consists of a 10K run-150K bike-30K run. Much of the runs traverse up and down through forests, while the bike goes up and up and up (and down) through hills, valleys and villages.

Here’s what I know about the course, until they changed it for 2018:
The first 10K starts with a steep 1.5K climb (about 8% grade) and continues up and down gravel trails. You do one 5K loop twice.

The bike consisted (until this year) of three 50K loops. Each loop has/had three solid climbs ranging from 5 to 3K-ish, which grades up to 10 to 15% on the Bodenburg ascent, as well as sweeping descents and a flat stretch. After 93 miles of riding, you get to “du” a 30K run.

For the final run, once out of transition you head(ed) up a long climb and then run up or down to complete three or four loops, depending on the year (the course has been tinkered with through the years).

Powerman Zofingen: a few historical tidbits

• In 1989, its inaugural year, the event was still called a biathlon. Yet, it was a three-legged sport: a 1.5K run, 150K bike, 30K run. In 1990, banana-hammock-wearing American Kenny Sousa won the men’s race.

Kenny Souza

Kenny Souza in 1993. Hope he wore more clothes in Switzerland. It can get chilly in September!

• In 1993, the prize money in Zofingen totaled $200,000—more than Ironman Hawaii.

• In 2000, attendance started to fall in Zofingen and at other duathlons worldwide. Why? Triathlon became an Olympic sport, which means the major players started swimming, biking and running for what became the more lucrative sport. [Biting my tongue here]

• On the 25thanniversary, in 2014, combined Powerman Zofingen events attracted 1,480 participants. (That includes PowerKids, charity and long and short distances)

• In 2018, nearly 700 athletes will line up for this incredible race (that’s not including PowerKids and charity, only long and short). About 383 athletes will do the full long-course event, according to today’s start list.

Powerman Zofingen today

Due to what were essentially permitting issues, Powerman Zofingen changed the bike and second run course. (Honestly I can’t remember if they altered the first run.)

The 2018 bike course is still 150K, but traverses through different villages and takes athletes over one of the hills in a different direction. It still has a comparable overall elevation profile—from a little over 1800 meters of climbing to a little under1800, depending on who you talk to.

The new course also features about 300 meters of cobblestone. The race directors promote this as a perk (oh yay! Like riding Paris Roubaix!). I see it as a potential tire-puncture risk. The descents are either technical or sweeping, depending on who you ask.

 

Best of luck to all the Powerman and ITU competitors. By the time this posts, I hope you are all sleeping soundly and wake up early in the morning feeling fantastic and ready for the path ahead. I’m cheering for you all!

CODA: Powerman Zofingen will be missing a bright light this year: professional triathlete/duathlete Alistair Eeckman. He died when a bus collided with him while he was on a training ride in Austria. He had just finished sixth in Powerman Austria and was gearing up for Zofingen. He is deeply missed.

Lessons learned at Long Distance Duathlon Worlds

Originally posted on alistaireeckmantriathlete:
The Long-Distance Duathlon World Championships was unique course and the toughest race I’ve ever done. It was not just the distance that made this race tough, but also the terrain. The race started with a 10km (6.2mi) run, then 150km (92mi) bike, and finished with a 30km (18.6mi) run. The race…

Guest post: Want a pretty medal? Wait for it.

Here’s another great column from legendary duathlon “mere mortal,” Dr. Steven Jonas. Funny he should bring up this very important topic. Last weekend, I volunteered for the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon, a race my running club, Pamakid Runners, puts on each year.

My teammates and I manned a booth at a local race expo. The number one question? What will the medals look like? It’s a beautiful, flat course? That’s nice. What about the medal? When can I see the medal? Can I buy a medal? Medals are a big deal in today’s running community. They’re also a big deal for age-groupers competing in big multisport events. Here’s Steve’s take on his well-earned inventory. Enjoy! –Du It For You

ITU Duathlon medal

Are you slow, but want to get a medal? Well, hang in there. Hey, you never know. I am a very lucky man to have found multi-sport racing. I reached the age of 46 having been able to do only two sports reasonably well. They were downhill skiing, which I got into during my first year of medical school at the age of 22, and sail-boating, which I got into in my 30s.

I fell in love with skiing on my very first day, even though I spent almost as much time down on the snow as I did actually standing up on my skis. But not being good at any of the usual school sports, I felt that I had finally discovered one I could do, if I took lessons and practiced. Eventually I did it well enough to become a Level I Certified Ski Instructor.

As for sailing, I was a good seaman and a safe sailor and just loved the “sailing sensation.” But I was never much at making my boat go fast in the club races I regularly entered. And in sailboat racing, if you’re not first, second, or third overall, fuhgeddaboudit (as we say in Noo Yawk). But then came triathlon, at age 46.

My-oh-my! Here was a racing sport which required only the ability to swim some distance, ride a bike, and then manage a run. My very first race was the 1983 Mighty Hamptons Triathlon at Sag Harbor, New York. In it, I discovered that unless you were fast, and competitive, it didn’t really matter where you finished, as long as you finished (and in my view, I did that happily and healthily, a phrase I coined the very next morning, when I went out for a little unwinding trot).

Then it just happened that my third race overall, held the following May, was what Dan Honig, the now-retired President of the New York Triathlon Club (nee Big Apples Triathlon Club) and I have concluded was the very first biathlon ever held. Dan thought up the event as a “season-extender” for multi-sport racing in our region. (FYI, “Biathlon” was the early name for our run-bike-run sport, before the application for inclusion of triathlon in the Olympics came up. Then, because biathlon is a winter Olympic sport consisting of cross-country skiing and target shooting, the Greek prefix was exchanged for the Latin one.)

Dan’s race was held at the old Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. (That airfield, now long-closed, I had known in my New York City childhood as a Naval Air Station. Before that it was New York City’s first commercial airport.) For my first few years on both variants, that’s what it was in its entirety: racing for the pure fun of it.

But then, at what was already a relatively advanced age for getting into a new sport, in my region (New York Metropolitan Area), my age-cohort started to shrink a bit when I turned 50. And lo and behold, with the Mighty Hamptons back then giving age-group awards ten deep, I got my first award, an 8th, in 1987. I took my first age-group 3rd in 1991. I really started reeling them in in both duathlon and triathlon when I entered the 60-64 age group in 1996. Why? Was I going any faster? Why no. As I have gotten older, not one for speed-training, I have gotten steadily slower. But in this region, my age-cohort has continued to shrink while I have continued to race. Now 80, in my 35th year in the sport, I have 250-plus multi-sport races under my belt, including 90-plus du’s. At my age, I am almost guaranteed a plaque if I cross the finish line.

Would I still be racing if I weren’t getting plaques? Because I love the sport so much, I’m sure that I would. But I must admit that I do like getting them. That’s because I view them, for me, as a reward for staying with the sport for so long, especially since I am so slow (and now for the most part walking the run legs). And so, my message here is this: do you enjoy du-ing the Du for its own sake? Great! But even if you are slow like me, if you stay with run-bike-run long enough, you may eventually end up with some plaques too

*This column is based on one that originally appeared on the USAT blog and is used with permission.

2017 marks Steve Jonas’ 35th season of multi-sport racing. As of this writing, he has done a total of 255 du’s and tri’s. He is a member of USA Triathlon’s Triathlon Century Club and is in the 90s for duathlon. He has raced up to the ironman distance, but now at 80, he is sticking to the sprints in both duathlon and triathlon. Steve is a prolific author of books on multi-sport racing. His first (originally published in 1986) was Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®. The 2nd Ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006) is still in print. In 2012, he published a book exclusively devoted to duathlon: Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012). All of his books on multi-sport are available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. He is also long-time writer for various multi-sport periodicals, most recently, and happily, joining Du It For You.

Motor Doping coming to 60 Minutes (Updated)

UPDATE: 60 Minutes aired “Enhancing the Bike,” its story about hidden motors in pro cycling, on January 29. Reporter Bill Whitaker did interview Istvan “Stefano” Varjas, inventor of a motor system. He said pro cyclists have used some version of his motor on “professional tours.”

Watch the full story, and read the transcript, here.

Stay tuned for another doping exposé! But this one’s not about TUEs or EPO. Bicycling magazine recently reported 60 Minutes producers are investigating professional cycling’s motor doping issue for an upcoming episode.

In June 2016, 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker visited Budapest, which is the home of Istvan “Stefano” Varjas, who claims to be the inventor of hidden motor systems that pro cyclists have allegedly used since 1999.

Varjas has hinted at a forthcoming exposé to more than one news outlet. Among other claims, he says pro riders have used hidden motors in Tour de France and other races for “years.” Varjas’s system is hidden in the wheels. Another product allegedly used, from Vivax, hides in the seat tube.

motor doping

Race officials caught a motor in the spare bike of Femke Van Den Driessche during the U23 cyclocross World Championships last year.

Both UCI and ITU use fraud software to detect these hidden motors. Varjas claims the technology is sub-par.

Read Bicycling‘s full account of the supposed 60 Minutes story and the motor doping issue here. For more on motor doping: what is is, how it’s done, and who’s accused of doing it, check out this article from Cycling Weekly.

If I could add something invisible to my bike, in light of all the rain we’ve gotten lately in Northern California, I would add an invisible, retractable rain shield to hover over and in front of myself and my bike. It might need invisible windshield wipers too. That way, I wouldn’t be stuck riding indoors. Like today.

Whether you’re running, riding or both, indoors or out, enjoy! Work on building up the only motor that matters — the one that powers your legs and your lungs.

Long Distance Duathlon European Championship returns to Germany

The European Triathlon Union announced the 2017 ETU Powerman Duathlon Long Distance European Championships return to Sankt Wendel, Germany. The event takes place May 21, 2017.

Powerman St. Wendel

Of course we are happy to welcome the European long distance Duathletes in Germany after we already hosted the standard distance Duathlon Championships in 2016,” said Matthias Zoll, CEO for Deutsche Triathlon Union. “St.Wendel, with its tradition as an excellent event organizer as they hosted already Worlds in duathlon and cross country cycling, is a perfect choice of ETU to guarantee a spectacular European Championship in 2017. We are also looking forward to St.Wendel as it will be also the start of the year where German Age Groupers can perform on home soil as the European Sprint Championships on 24th & 25th of June are just around the corner.”

As Zoll mentioned, Sankt Wendel hosted the 2005 and 2011 UCI Cyclocross World Championships. It hosted the ITU World Duathlon Championships in 1998.

European duathletes can start planning now for their national long-course event. Here in the U.S., the USAT Long Course Duathlon National Championship takes place May 14, 2017, in Cary, North Carolina.

Crazy me, my 2017 racing calendar includes a trip to Cary, NC, followed by a trip to Bend, Oregon for the standard course nationals on June 17, followed by the World Championships in Penticton, British Columbia, in August. I’m saving my dollars for this plan already!

Wherever you are, may you have a fun weekend of running-riding-running.

 

USA Triathlon Announces 2017 Calendar

Last week I talked about goal setting. This week I give you goals! USA Triathlon has announced its 2017 national championship calendar. Start planning now!

The season runs from January to November, so you have more than enough to choose from! Of note to duathletes, the duathlon long course nationals will take place again in Cary, North Carolina on April 29. The standard and sprint distance national champs will be held in Bend, Oregon in June (most likely late June), date TBA.

usatagncolympic2015bycruse0007a

photo by Rich Cruse, courtesy of USA Triathlon

These events qualify you for ITU World Championship events. The 2018 Multisport World Championships, site of the standard and sprint distance duathlons, will head to Odense, Denmark that year.

You can find the full national championship slate on USAT’s website.

What big races do you have planned for 2017? Tell us in the comments below!

My duathlon “A” race next year is the Duathlon World Championship (standard distance) in Penticton, BC. I also plan to compete in the National Championship in Bend, Oregon. I’ll call that an “A-” race goal!

Zofingen ITU Powerman Long Distance Duathlon Worlds-news from the U.S.

USA Triathlon reported that United States duathletes claimed two world titles and eight total medals at the Zofingen ITU Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland last weekend.

Steve Sloan, from Berkeley, California (not far from yours truly in Oakland), earned gold for his 7:21:33 performance on the extremely long, difficult course. At age 19, Steve was also the youngest athlete in the race. He’s certainly got a long, successful career ahead of him.

Jenny Hay, from North Richland Hills, Texas, also topped her 20-24 age group with an impressive 10:42:46.

Read the USAT press release and get full results here.

I’m fascinated with Zofingen and intimidated by it. I’ve heard Ironman triathletes say it’s the hardest race they’ve ever done. Yikes! I think of the hilly 10K-150K-30K course as the pinnacle of our sport. When I talk to someone that’s finished Zofingen, my eyes get all big and I have to know more.

Soon, I hope to have my own stories to tell. My goal is to compete in this race before 2020. 2018 will be Powerman Zofingen’s 30th birthday. That could be my year!

ITU Combats Mechanical Doping

Triathletes and Duathletes can only rely on their body’s motor, not a motor hidden inside their bike, now that the International Triathlon Union (ITU) has licensed technological fraud software from Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) to combat mechanical doping in all events on the international triathlon calendar.

Last week ITU technical officials received training on UCI’s software, which uses magnetic resistance technology to detect fraud. Officials use an iPad mini to scan bikes for disruptions. Read all about the new announcement here.

UCI tested 600 bikes before the opening prologue of  Giro d’Italia. The organization said it planned to test 10,000 bikes this season.

Is mechanical doping a thing? It could be, but not yet. So far, only one cyclist has been caught with a hidden motor: Femke Van den Driessche at the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships.

Is it a thing with amateur athletes? It could be. Vivax, the company that manufactures the Vivax-Assist conversion kits, which can go unnoticed on a road bike, told Cyclist magazine that its customers were primarily people over 60 who were trying to keep up with riding partners.

moto-doping

100 to 200 watts for $2,000-$3,000? Not worth it.

I won’t go into a diatribe about cheating. There are plenty of essays and comments out there already that talk about all the reasons why cheaters embody the antithesis of what sport is about. Officials and the public have caught amateur athletes cutting marathon and Ironman courses and taking performance enhancing drugs to win road races and crits. The cheaters deprive true champions of medals, prize money, and on a professional level, possible sponsorship deals and more prize money. Boggles the mind.

Speaking of doping, I’m fixin’ to read (as they say in the south!) a story from ProPublica and the BBC where the former chief investigator of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said WADA’s president thwarted his efforts to investigate state-sponsored doping in Russia. I’m sure it’s an interesting read. Let me know your thoughts.

And now, after all this doping talk, enjoy watching the Olympics! I caught much of the men’s road race today after a very long run in the Berkeley hills. I saw the race with more than 100K to go, took a nap, then saw the exciting, unexpected finish. (It was a long race!)

Whether you’re running, riding, or doing a bit of both, enjoy the rest of your weekend. And don’t feel bad if that guy or gal flies by you on a climb. He or she probably uses a hidden motor…right?

 

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