Joyous Ordeal: Du Nationals 2016 Recap

During a recent 8-day stretch, I participated in three duathlons…and none of them were easy.  As I sit down back home, I now view those 8 days as a joyous ordeal.  During the moment, though, it was anything but joyous.

Like most trained athletes, every event as an A, B and C goal associated with it. Typical “A” goals include winning the race/game or setting a personal best.  My “B” goals include doing well in my age category and seeing a reflection between my training goals and my race results.  “C” goals would be to cross the finish line in one piece.  Each of these last three races had different grade and outcome.  Even as I type this, it is hard to believe that all of them happened in such a short window of time.

Duathlon #1: Powerman West Virginia.

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Setting up at the start of Powerman West Virginia

I didn’t reach my C goal.  During the cycling portion of the event, one of the spectators walked across the race course during the race and stepped in front of my bike path.  My efforts to follow cycling etiquette and rules for safe riding were not enough.  Upon impact, I went over my handlebars and slid on the pavement.  I limped my bike into transition and abandoned the race.  I was sore and bloody, and I began to question my ability to compete the following weekend.  After counsel, I decided to talk to a lawyer, see a doctor and spend some time healing and while getting my bike shipped out for repair.  Seven days later, I was still struggling with a sense of anger that someone would decide to walk across the race course and not apologize for their actions, and I felt pain, as my back was deemed to be burned by the abrasions from the road and was still bleeding when I got on the plane two days before Nationals in Bend, OR.

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Finger to the sky at the end of the USAT Duathlon National Championships in Bend, OR.

Duathlon #2:   USAT National Championship, Standard Length.  Grade B.  It was a good performance, all things considered!  Going into Nationals, I was physically unable to go at 100%.  My left hip flexor did not have a full range of motion, and I could not rest my full weight on my left elbow while on my tri-bars.  As such, I took off all of my electronic gizmos that measured my bike and run metrics and decided to race by feel.  To my surprise, event timing chips showed that my bike splits were way ahead of what I thought they might be, considering I couldn’t put much weight on my left forearm.  In addition, my runs were as good as a training run, and I was pleased with that, as I couldn’t kick hard as I normally do.  During the last 3 minutes of the final run, I passed 3 others guys in my age category, all of whom were suffering more than I was, and I confirmed my TeamUSA slot for 2017.  That all said, I laid down on the grass after the race was over and had a tough time trying to stand up 15 minutes later.

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Walking across the finish line, ITU style.

Duathlon #3:  Pacific Crest Olympic Duathlon (even though there is no such thing as an Olympic Duathlon!)  Grade of A!  Going into that event, I knew that I wouldn’t be recovered from the previous day’s race, but I knew it would be great training effort to get ready for Zofingen.  Between races, I spent as much time resting and hydrating as I could stand but as late as Saturday night before the Sunday am race, I am almost cancelled, as I didn’t see how I was going to get up and complete for two more hours.  When I finally decided to look beyond my muscle soreness, I decided to race with electronics measuring my efforts, and I did the race with my best effort.  My Garmin showed that my cycling average reached nearly 22 mph on a hilly course.  I was amazed that I was able to sustain the speed on the bike for 28 miles, knowing my limitations. When I got on the 10k run at the end, I was unable to sustain even what I did the day before.  I went with best effort, watching my heart rate to make sure that it was high enough to be in its upper limits but not at threshold.  I held back until the last mile, which I ran about 30 seconds faster than any of the first 5 miles.

Seeing all the people that I had passed on the race, I had an idea that I had done well, and that knowledge gave me a confidence that I can’t always count on.  When I saw the finish line, I knew that my 8 day ordeal was about to be done, and I decided to savor the moment the way that the elite ITU athletes do on TV. I walked across the finish line knowing my ordeal was over and that I was a better athlete for trying to do three races in 8 days.  Although the race management’s timing chip didn’t record my numbers, I reviewed my Garmin data afterwards.  I came in first place out of 91 athletes!

Did I get better through the races?  Depends on what better means.  I was most ready for the 1st race, but I couldn’t even finish it.  I was least ready for the last race, but I raced within my limits and had my best result.  The middle race had me most concerned, as there was more on the line during that race than any of the others.

I conclude that I mentally improved.  Physical improvements are more difficult to evaluate.  Every run in every race was slower than the previous event.  Ugh.  Yet, every bike was faster than the previous event.  I now feel more comfortable competing successfully while injured, and that mental strength only came to me from experiencing adversity.

Jeff Gaura, racing against Europeans at the Powerman World Championships
The final run, against my peers from Europe.

My body is now in need of healing and recovery.  I have no more competitions until ITU Worlds.  For the next 9 weeks, I am preparing to go back to Zofingen.

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