The alarm going off at 6am heralded an extremely early start for a Sunday morning – off to Balmoral for my first ever race (well since I was at school) in the Run Balmoral Apollo Duathlon. This had attracted me as the bike section was mountain bike only, no roads lorries n lycra, just scenic single track and a comfy pair of 3/4 shorts.
Arriving there in plenty time, we scoped out the starting area. There’d not been much info sent through from the organisers, who I guess presume everybody participating are experienced racers who know how it all works. All new to me and a friend who was along. Lesson 1: The bike transition area fills up quickly – place your bike in a closer spot straight away or end up with it leaning against a rail at the back like me. One moment there were only a few bikes, then -boom- all racks filled.
I decided to take a mini action-camera with me to grab a snap or two without being weighed down.
The weather the day before for the main 10k event had been pretty harsh for April with blasts of snow – so I’d taken a bag full of different clothes to cover every option. Fortunately today looked great, more a question of what was going to be too hot. I put my bike rucksack for later in a dry bag and went over to the start.
We were soon underway, before we headed into the countryside the runners began to spread out and made a quick pass by Balmoral Castle – a nice vista to start a race from
Me and friend Fraser sporting the baseball cap look
Then along the River Dee onto trails, in places it was better to run along the soil embankment rather than the quite bumpy rubble trail bed
From this point on the course climbed uphill into the forest. I started generating heat and with no breeze I wondered whether the soft shell I was wearing would be breathable enough
So far I thought I was doing OK, the pace had been a bit quicker than I’d planned, but slowed into the climbs. I ran alongside an old mate who had done loads of races previously (including the 10k the day before) so reckoned if I could keep up with him I was doing a reasonable job.
Lesson 2: There’d been little movement in position up to the top of the hill, perhaps overtaking a few, but on the way down half a dozen folk passed on a steep descent, I wasn’t quite ready to throw caution to the wind feeling a fall here amongst the rocks would definitely hurt.
A brief bit of flat then into the first transition – lesson 3: I’d been warned to try and remember where my bike was, but was approaching from a different side and went into the wrong row (twice). I should have clarified where we’d enter from before the start, and taken a look from that direction. I headed out and span up the gears. Looking up I knew this was a longer stint and I needed to pace myself and not get too carried away
Now out on my bike, I was determined to catch up with another friend who had gradually drawn ahead during the run. As a daily cyclist I thought I’d have a better chance of doing myself proud here than in the run sections, and so it proved as I gradually reeled in rider after rider as the route climbed up through the forest. I passed my friend, and pressing on and thought about taking on some drink and snacks at the next smooth section, tucked away in a back pocket (thinking a bottle cage might jump out really bumpy terrain).. except there wasn’t one, all rubbly and bumpy, with a lot of riders and pretty much needing hands on grips at all times. Lesson 4: use a bladder, and have snacks easier to reach.
Sometimes i got caught behind riders, the fairly narrow tracks generally had a better smoother side and to power passed meant grinding through deeper dirt, sand or rubble, expending a bit more energy. In retrospect should have got out of the saddle and blasted past, sucked it up, and made the most of my best area in the race. On long days in the saddle I find the occasional stand helps shake out the muscles and loosen up a bit, not sure why I didn’t do this much on this day
Some great scenery emerging from the forest at the top into moorland, with snow capped peaks, unfortunately couldn’t really take the time to snap, too busy grinding away. Fortunately there was a lonely water stand in the middle of nowhere at the top of the hill, grabbed a bottle had a quick glug and it before long it was time to descend. I hadn’t made it to the open day, so no idea of the route but speed gradually built up. There was a sharp turn and climb at the end of a long track descent that had a well considered ambulance placed nearby – I wouldn’t be surprised if that twist caught out a few. I could have probably done a bit better descending if I knew where i could really let loose. Lesson 5: study the route, go to the open day if new to the route. After that it was onto tarmac, now glad of the softshell as speed crept over 30mph.
Back into transition, I lost a bit of time grabbing a snack, and was back out retracing the running route along the river. This time I was out on my own, nobody within sight. Legs were extremely heavy, I was definitely suffering, the first doubts crept into my mind, and I dreaded the climb into the forest. I gradually crept up on a group as I entered the trees and surprisingly, and at a glacial pace managed to overtake a few who had succumbed to walking up the really steep bits.
Over the top and starting the final descent, I felt a twinge in my leg that warned of impending cramp, and easing off a bit and my crap descent technique, lost quite a few places, my friend said hello on the way past. At the bottom of the hill I saw a chap heading West and was away to follow before realising he was heading out from his bike section and not back, an arrow would have been good in my tired state..another few seconds lost..
With only a few 100m to go, I gave it my best sprint to try and close a few places, and pipped a few near the line.. race over!
Time was 1h 49m 13s, which was better than a rough prediction of 2h. I’d had a few injury niggles in the run up, so the main thing was to finish.
I waited for another friend at the finish and he came in a few minutes later
After the team photo, a quick bite to eat then the prize awards
Well done all. Winning time was 1h 20-something.
I was 59th, 20-somethingst in the veterans category, and 30-somethingst in the bike segment. There were over 200 started. Not a bad effort for my first race.
The 15-miler race was up next, over 600 participants
Being Balmoral, we thought we’d have a touristy wander around while the estate is open to the public
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable day. Beautiful scenery, a decent performance and great craic all round. I guess that it’ll be hard to motivate for other races in comparatively drab surroundings. A shame there aren’t more duathlons that are mountain bike only, pure cross country MTB races or non-ultra length trail races in these parts. I’ll definitely have to come back to this area and take a more leisurely tour and really soak up the scenery.