Duathlons in the Austin area attract athletes of all stripes – triathletes, cyclists, dedicated runners, first-timers, maybe a retired pro or two. Until race day dawns, you never really know who’s going to show up as the competition.
Jeff Shelton and Ben Munguia, though both ATCers, had never crossed paths before. Both are real runners, the kind of guys that you simultaneously want to feed a quarter pounder with cheese and recruit on your zombie apocalypse team for decoy duty. They’re also remarkably humble, so make no mistake: on both the bike and the run, though especially the latter, you can expect a blistering pace. Read on to find out what happens when you put two uber fast competitors in ATC kits out on the course together for the first time.
Jeff Shelton, “the old man’s perspective”:
If you know me, which you likely don’t, but if you do, then you know I’m a runner. It isn’t because I choose to be a runner, but because it is in my DNA. I’ve always been a runner. According to my parents, my first steps at nine months were more of a jog than a walk, and it seems as if I've been running almost every day for 45 years. Once upon a time way back in the late ‘80s, I wasn't too bad of a runner. I wasn't too good, either, but rather just hoping on a weekly basis to be chosen by the coaches to be on my university's traveling cross country squad.
I give you this worthless background so you’ll understand when I say I don’t worry too much about running. It sort of just happens. I may have slowed down a tremendous amount, but I'm still a runner, so a duathlon should be easy, right?
So how does this relate to the Hotter Than Doo Du last weekend? Well, the crazy thing is that I love to run, but I’ve been spending a fair amount of time on the bike lately. My running now consists of taking our Weimaraner and Vizsla for their daily 4:30 a.m. exercise whether I want to or not. Let's just say that I'm not run-fit at all. I wouldn't say that I’m bike-fit, either, but relative to my running, I have a higher level of bike fitness.
The thing is that I want to be a good cyclist, but I needed help to understand why I have the weaknesses that I have on the bike. The list of weaknesses is too long, so I'll spare you, but let's just say when it comes to running I'm not too worried to run with others, but on the bike I'm constantly worried about getting dropped. I worry so much that I've been given the onerous nickname "tick" by a few riders. No, not the cool animated TV character from the early ‘90s, "The Tick," but just plain old "tick.” It would take too long to explain, and it is a discussion for another time and place.
Recently I started working with Rothe Training with the caveat that I’m still a runner and I need to do a couple of run workouts in amongst cycling. I want to be as good as I can be on the bike, given the poor genetics I got doled out. So I started working with Rothe Training, and Stefan has worked running into my cycling. I'm improving on the bike, and I'm still able to run.
So, again, how does this relate to the Hotter Than Doo Du? When the opportunity to compete in a duathlon arose I thought that it would be easy to run, bike, and then run again. What I learned was just how wrong I was. I knew that most competitors would be triathletes, with maybe a few runners or cyclists tossed in the melee, but I only recognized one person, who was ultimately the overall winner. He also served me up a big ole piece of humble pie. More about that in a minute.
My race strategy was to just stay with the leaders on the first 5K and on the bike ride just hard enough to stay within one or two seconds of the leaders, then crush the second 5k since I’m a runner. It is what I am and what I do. It all sounded so easy in theory.
The race organizers had the Sprint and Olympic distances start together, so on the first run I wasn’t too shocked to see a couple of teenagers shoot out of the gate. Quickly our herd narrowed down to near single-file, and the race was on. The young kid, who I later learned was Ben Munguia, and I were running along most of the time shoulder-to-shoulder, and I thought to myself, “Okay, he can run pretty well, but I know something he doesn’t know: I’m holding back for the second 5K.” Then I started to laugh because I was thinking about a scene from Princess Bride. I thought of the words of Inigo Montoyo, "I know something that you do not know. I am left handed." Ben and I chatted a little on the run, and before I knew it we were back at T1.
Ben was first out on the bike, but I wasn’t too worried. I just kept him close, all the while telling myself, “I know something he doesn’t know. I’m holding back for the second 5K.” What I didn't know was I was about to get a lesson from the youngster. Ben had a little something in store for me on the second run.
The bike course was four loops and very narrow, and we often had to ride outside of the cones while passing other competitors. I just wanted to be close coming off the bike, because, hey, I'm a runner and I'm going to just drill it on the second run. We returned from the bike, and I was first out of T2, but that would be the last time I was in first. The first 10 steps my legs felt weird. I felt as if I was running in slow motion. I looked at my Garmin, and the feeling was confirmed. I was moving slowly. It wasn't long, and I heard steps from behind, and they were much quicker than my own. Oh no, my strategy had backfired, and soon after leaving T2, Ben cruised by me, and he looked like he felt good. I tried to quicken my turnover, but nothing happened. Then I thought back to my wife, who had suggested that I might want to get in a few brick workouts while preparing. Nah, I told her. "I am a runner, what could possibly go wrong?" I've done one duathlon prior to this a couple of years ago, but I was running at least 60 miles per week then, and the second run just came easy. This time I was struggling on the run and could do nothing as Ben quickly disappeared around the first bend and disappeared.
At the turnaround I determined how much time he'd put on me, but I refused to concede at that point. By then I felt that I finally had my running legs, and I might get lucky since anything can happen. I closed the gap a little, but he must have been feeling good, as I saw him dash towards the finish line and he looked to be flying.
Was I disappointed? Yes. I'd just had my butt handed to me by a better athlete; however, I will say it was a great way to start a Sunday.
The race directors were on the money when they named this duathlon. Without a swim to cool things off from the start, the 7:30 a.m. opening 5k made the rest of the race hotter than du. I'm hoping to have some strong late season races, so I wanted to use this race to get in a solid effort, without taking away from my normal weekend training. I did make sure to avoid the Austin Tri-Cyclist Saturday ride, though, and opted for an easier loop of the dam with a friend.
During my warm-up, I recognized the good-looking Austin Tri Cyclist race kit on a fellow competitor. It was Jeff Shelton, who I'd never actually met, but had seen zipping around Lady Bird Lake enough times to know that the man can run. I did a longer warm-up than normal, which left me drenched, and I struggled to get my race kit past my head. Race kit on, Thunderbird Energetica bar down, and I was ready to roll.
The run course was an out and back along the Brushy Creek trail, and luckily we had a decent amount of shade for the majority of the run. We took it out controlled, but Jeff and I maintained an honest pace to create some separation from the other competitors. Jeff casually chatted away, while I labored up the short climbs, thankful for the distraction and good conversation. Side note to Jeff: Sorry if my responses sounded more like uncomfortable grunts than words. As we came back into transition, Jeff thanked me for the company and said he probably wouldn't be seeing me on the bike since he just took up cycling. I had my doubts, though.
Sure enough, I looked back after lap one of four on the bike and saw Jeff not too far behind looking pretty comfortable. We stayed like this until I decided it was Jeff’s turn to set the pace for the first half of the last lap. Then I started to strategize the best way to gain some time on him going into the run. I didn't want to come off of the bike with him after seeing how comfortable he looked on the opening 5K. Instead, I decided to put in a good effort a mile or so out from T2 to see if I could get some separation. FAIL.
I rolled into T2 a second or two ahead of Jeff, but left T2 a handful of seconds behind. I had laid out a different pair of shoes (race flats) with quick laces for the second run to allow for a quicker transition. At the last minute I decided to stick with the same, more cushioned shoe I wore for the first run to minimize the post-race soreness. The adjustment had me fumbling around in transition to lace up my shoes again, and Jeff took off before me. I closed the gap in the first minute or two of the run and decided to push on and see if I could open things up. Fortunately, I was able to create a little gap. It was tempting to look back to see how much time I had, but I just kept pushing until the turnaround. I made the turn and saw Jeff flying down the hill not too far back. This made me a little nervous, but I knew I only had a little over a mile left. I figured if I kept the pace up, then he would have to run about a five-minute mile for the last mile to catch me. Luckily for me, I held on and finished about a minute ahead for the win.
It was a great local race, and one that I will be sure to do again in the future. The race directors did a fantastic job, and even gave out some great prizes – a rarity these days. Be sure to check out the Hotter Than Doo Du next year if you are looking for a great local race.