Kielder Duathlon

Kielder Water, Northumberland, UK.

How many mornings start with sliding the van door open to a carpet of fresh white snow, hauling out your bike and heading off for a run..? Not enough that’s for sure, but yesterday was one. Katie and me had driven up to Kielder on the Scottish boarder for the Kielder Winter Duathlon, a 7km run, 24km mountain bike, finished up with a 6 km run. All through a crisp frozen forest, over a snow sprinkled moor top and along the side of the biggest man-made reservoir in Britain.

Despite working a lot in triathlon for the past four years, this was the first time I was competing in a multi sport event myself. In fact even through most of the last fifteen years has centred around mountain biking and running, this would be the first time I’ve ever raced my bike… Nerves took over…

With running its easy, pull on shoes, maybe tights maybe shorts, a top and go. In the winter maybe you want a hat, maybe a gel on longer runs… But adding the bike in to the mix, my head was filled with questions driving up from Newcastle… Do I run clipless or flat peddles, a bottle or camelbak, if I go with clipless peddles then I need to change shoes in transition, but I will be quicker on the bike, questions, questions, questions all racing through my mind… And then Katie has her questions… A former elite swimmer, it’s not as if she isn’t competitive and a relative now comer to mountain biking she was firing questions at me like a gattling gun.

We registered in the spectacular castle, no time for tea and cakes in the little cafe, before changing and doing a last-minute check over the bikes. The racks were already quite jammed by the time we got back to the castle and it was a squeeze getting our bikes and transition boxes in safely. A quick walk through transition and a chilly race briefing kept us light on our toes as we tried to keep warm in the winter sun.

A gun, or a whistle or just a shouted go, I can never remember how starts happen, but we were off running up a snow-covered land-rover track, fighting for the middle ground were there was more snow and it wasn’t so slippery. A sharp right turn brought the first thigh burning up hill climb through the woods, and back out on to another landrover track. Before long we were out in the open, running out over the moor, time to cut cross-country back down hill… Watching the feet of the runner in front as we skipped down a peaty, muddy path…if their feet found water and mud, look for another landing patch, and then past them as downhills are the best, skipping over heather and through a patch of brambles. I love running downhill. Jumping a brook, which looked cold and feet numbing, before spitting back onto another landrover track, another hill climb followed by more of the good stuff, back down through the woods, skipping roots this time, twisting and turning, maintains speed and a big grin and then there’s the Castle, find the dibber station… Run over now the fun starts…

My bike shoes are on the snug size at the best of times, could I get my foot in them… No… I tried again, throw on the helmet and stuffed a gel down my throat as I trotted out through transition, in double quick time, or so I thought…. Dibbed out and took off on the bike…

A fire road lead up hill away from the castle, I dropped down a couple of gears and peddled, warming up a new set of muscles, getting comfy in the saddle, loving the crunch of fresh snow under the tyres. Turning off the fire road on to the blue mountain bike trail, a marshal called me through, rider 55… that needed changing…

Two riders are quickly picked off in the first forest section, allowing me to drop down the hill quickly and time to find the little jumps hidden here and there, back out of the fun land on to more fire road.

Reeling in riders quickly now, passing ones and twos, this is ace fun… as we grind our way up hill the legs feel good and I sneak a quick feed. As we start a long decent I spot a sharp right at the bottom…I pull right to pass another rider… But as I go, I hear his bike start to slide and I break the first rule of racing, I look over my shoulder to see he’s ok… He is, but now my bike is sliding on the ice hidden under the snow… I hit the ground, with an all to familiar thud and start to slide, thankful for the same covering of snow that has brought me down, reduces the gravel rash. Bitter previous experience tells me fire road hurts… 20-30 yards further down the road I come to a slow sliding stop, at least I went in the right direction… The other rider is already up and remounting, so grabbing my glasses which I had dropped in the fall, I right my bike and get back on it….

Getting round that sharp right, I spot a Sport Sunday Photographer, cursing herself that she was in the wrong spot for the crash. Sat on that corner I’m sure she will see plenty… A hill, good; time to recover from the crash and peddle… I faff for ages trying to stash my glasses, they won’t tuck back in the helmet, I can’t get them in a pocket and all the riders I worked hard to pass are now claiming me back…

A sharp uphill left is signposted as I change gear, I’m greeted by a wall or riders pushing up a greasy muddy bank, I’m not going to be able to peddle past them, so push I must… As I remount at the top on more fire road, I hear a voice behind “what the hell was that?” Horrid! I throw back as we both set to work on another climb… at the top Stephen Foster passes me, as we are greeted by more single track…

As we race down through the trees, my front brake starts playing up, on one pull it will be fine, firm as it should be, the next it pulls all the way to the bar, only just coming on in time as I drift round another switch back, in the snow it’s slightly unnerving.

Single track decent is followed by fire road climbs, and then we are passing riders heading out in the opposite direction, I’m jealous as they still have an hour or riding in front of them… And it’s fun! Next we pass runners, on lap two, we are approaching the castle and transition. Time for a last feed, mash up the last uphill, dismount, dib in and rack the bike…

Katie’s bike has gone, that means she’s away riding, excellent… Getting my shoes off is easy, I feel my toes relax, it’s a sweet feeling. I pull on my frozen inov8’s and struggle to tie the rigid laces, a quick gel and run…

As I turn downhill, running on the road my toes are turning to ice in the frozen toe boxes. Each foot strike sends red hot pains to every toe as the ice is shattered through to the bone… It seems splashing through the puddles earlier and then leaving my shoes for an hour in sub-zero temperatures wasn’t the brightest move…

Passing the bikes heading home is a great feeling, that bit is over, the end is in sight, just a short run now, easy it’s half the distance of the first run, well mentally it is anyway… We run along the edge of the reservoir for a short way, and then up hill. It seems to go quick, we pass more bikers, as I pass one a bang ruptures the stillness, as compressed air finds its way out of its former rubber confinement, the rider looks confused as he looks around, before realising he has a flat… Time to get the pump out…

The rest of the run passes in a blur, through trees still showing autumn colours, crunching through puddles and under a blue sky, you couldn’t ask for a better day for racing… Turning on to the forest drive, 100 yards to go, there’s the castle… The finish line… Glory..!

2 hours 44 minutes and a nice 44th place finish overall (18th in my age group), which I was more than happy with for my first duathlon… Looking at my split times in the comfort of a cafe serving strong coffee, it seems I need to work on my transition… What I thought had been quick transitions, actually ranked as 130th slowest, something to work on before the next race in the series which is Grizedale in March…

Despite the crash and dodgy front stopper, my bike was defiantly the strongest split for me, although I managed to finish both runs inside the top 50, which is where I wanted to be. With the perfect weather, frozen landscape and the excellent race route… it’s hard to pick the best bit of the race… But for me, it’s joint equal between, the main decent running of the moor top through the heather and riding fast singletrack down through the snow covered trees.

Katie finished 10th out of the ladies, so chuffed to bits for her! Looks like she is bitten by the whole bike racing bug as well…

Kielder Duathlon, Northumbria, UK

The Kielder Duathlon was run by High Terrain Events based in the Lake District and specialists in organising unique and exciting events, that incorporate challenging combinations of activity, amidst stunning scenery. Judging by Kielder, I would say they do a pretty good job.

I will be back…

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on “Kielder Duathlon
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  1. Pingback: Grizedale Off Road Duathlon | Touch of Winter

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