Big challenges, big dam bridges

In the past fortnight I’ve completed two of the toughest physical challenges of my life: my first duathlon, followed by my first 100-mile bike ride.

London Duathlon

First up on 18 September was the London Duathlon: a 10k run, then a 44k bike ride, followed by a second 5k run. The distances covered aren’t in themselves a challenge to me; the test comes from putting them back-to-back. The event was set in Richmond Park, close to where I live. This meant I knew exactly what to expect from the course: plenty of undulations!

My goal was just to complete the event but in the back of my head I had a three-hour target time. My running form isn’t yet 100 per cent following all the strengthening work that I have been doing over the past two years, but I was pretty confident it would be enough to get me around.

Approaching the London Duathlon finish   (Photo © 2016 Paul Morgan/

Approaching the London Duathlon finish  (Photo © 2016 Paul Morgan/

One thing I hadn’t practised was my transition: the art of removing running shoes and getting on the bike quickly. Ultimately I’d like to be able to do this properly, with my cycling shoes already attached to my pedals so that I can do a ‘jumping’ mount onto the bike. But with time restricted, I took the sensible option and decided to put my cycling shoes on before getting on the bike before running to the start of the bike leg, cleats and all – at least I’d be running in them on Richmond Park’s soft grass, and there was an added bonus of avoiding falling over in front of spectators!

The 10k was pretty relaxed and I deliberately took it comparatively easy, knowing that I still had more to come. My running form thankfully felt pretty good. I did the first 10k in 53:25.

I adopted the same conservative approach to being on the bike, although I still managed to set a few Strava segment PBs on the traffic-free descents. My four laps of Richmond Park took me 1:35:36.

This is when things got tricky. As soon as I started the final 5k run I could feel my left leg’s adductor starting to cramp up: it’s one of the final places in my body that is still holding the tension that I’ve been working for so long to remove, and obviously it was finding things tough going!

It was a very odd sensation when the cramp came: a sudden kicking motion across the body’s centre line, almost like a disorientated can-can kick. But with plenty of pauses around the course to stretch it out, I managed to finish things okay, before heading for what I think was a well-deserved pub lunch with some friends.

If it hadn’t been for that cramp, I’d have ducked under the three-hour mark. As it was, I came home in 3:02:07.

Big Dam Bridge 100

Almost as soon as I’d finished the duathlon I was on a plane to Little Rock, Arkansas. A friend of mine now lives in the city and we’d both entered the 100-mile Big Dam Bridge event on 24 September, the first time either of us would attempt a 100-mile ride.

I decided to take my own bike with me rather than hiring one – the prospect of doing a 100-mile ride on an unfamiliar bike wasn’t an enticing one. Hiring a bike box and disassembling the bike was a first for me, as was entrusting it to the tender care of an airline or two (and the TSA agents!)

Descending Wye Mountain in the Big Dam Bridge 100   (Photo © 2016

Descending Wye Mountain in the Big Dam Bridge 100  (Photo © 2016

We went for a couple of warm-up rides in the two days beforehand, just to help me acclimatise to the ~35°C heat as much as anything else. On the actual day of the ride things weren’t much cooler, so we made sure to stop at almost all of the regular aid stations which provided lots of water and Oreos (appreciated) and pickle juice (not quite so appreciated).

The route is comparatively flat (only 1200m of ascent compared with RideLondon’s 1800m) but does include one big climb of Wye Mountain, a pitching, curving climb that tantalises you by continually taking you around corners before revealing another ramp. We drove the course the day before and I was worried about this climb but thankfully on the day it turned out to be less of a challenge than I’d imagined.

We spent nearly an hour in total in the various aid stations, crossing the line in 7:39:05. By the end of the ride my big toes were in agony – it felt like I was getting blisters but thankfully not. Maybe my feet had just swollen a bit in the heat.


It’s now nice to be back home and with no events scheduled in the immediate future – I have nothing ‘big’ in my diary until the Surrey Half Marathon in March, which will be my first ever half marathon.

So tonight I’m going to sit down with a bottle of wine and a curry and gorge myself on some television. Well earned, I think!

If you’re thinking of doing your first duathlon or 100-mile ride, I’d recommend giving it a go: if I can get around in my not-quite-100-per-cent state, I’m sure with proper training you’d be able to, too!