Volume XI, Issue 46 ~ November 13-19, 2003

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The Average Joe and Jane’s Race of Choice

Multi-sport competitors challenge themselves physically and mentally

By endurance we conquer.
– Sir Ernest Shackleton’s family motto

by James Clemenko photos by Judy Clemenko


Thump, thump. Thump, thump, thump.

My heartbeat quickened. My head swirled; as adrenaline raced through my body, I was hot headed. Race time was closing: 8:30am.

I stretched the kinks out of my legs and body. Obeying the call for competitors to move to the field for the start of the race, I stowed my bag of clothes, energy bars, cycling shoes, helmet and gloves under my bike.

The sky was overcast, but it wasn’t chilly. I hoped the threat of rain was just that, or else the cycling section could be dangerous.

In position at the start, I flexed up and down on my toes to keep moving and to ready myself for the word go, which would mean the start of my duathlon — a running and bicycling endurance test.

In the background, the crowd was going wild, cheering us on. Only this crowd wasn’t people but Canada geese, and we 300-plus duathletes weren’t on their horizon.

Among us, 198 men and 74 women from ages 15 to 73 ran against the clock. Fifty-two kids would race after the adults finished.

Through a megaphone, Brad Jaeger blurted the word we had been half dreading and half anticipating — go!

My heart leapt along with my legs. My race for truth had begun.

I took off in the first of the two running sections. Now I had to convince my body to trek three miles across the grounds of the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary in western Prince George’s County along the Patuxent River, the host for the Triathlantic’s aptly titled Greeting of the Geese Duathlon.

Starting in a field with mole holes could wreck anyone’s ambitions. It was time to leap this first hurdle onto the grass-and-dirt path. Three miles, here I go. Steady as she goes, captain — full steam ahead. But I can’t go too fast on the first run, for I must conserve energy for the next two sections that make up a duathlon.

Two-thirds a Triathlon
Duathlons combine two sports to test mettle in dual disciplines. The Greeting of the Geese Duathlon sandwiches one cycling section between two running sections. Each running section is three miles long; the biking spans a 15-mile course.

Most people have a sport that they are good at. Some people are good runners. Some people are good cyclists. This competition demands both, testing will, skill and adaptability.

Brad Jaeger, president of Triathlantic Association, created his company in 1988 to give athletes opportunity to raise the bar in competition.

“I used to compete in the Bud Light Triathlons in the 1980s. When the company organizing the triathlons went under, my wife thought that we could run our own company,” said Jaeger, who did just that. “The object was to market the races for families.”

Triathlantic Association now produces a bigger variety of races than any other company in the nation. It coordinates triathlons, road-cycling races, mountain-bike duathlons, adventure races, in-line skating races, swim meets, track and field events and kids’ races in addition to duathlons like Greeting of the Geese. But who dares compete in these races?

Meet the Duathletes
“I was going bald with hair coming out of my ears, so I had to do something worthwhile,” said 48-year-old Annapolitan Terry Druffel, who returned to competition after several years away from the multi-sport race. He completed the Greeting of the Geese in one hour, 42 minutes and eight seconds.

As a veteran of a half-Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, sprint-distance triathlons and the Virginia Beach Marathon, Druffel wanted to compete again.

Jacque Lanier, a 42-year-old single mom from Annapolis, competed in the Greeting of the Geese after a nine-year absence from endurance races. She’s recovered from a herniated disc and wanted to use the race both as motivation to exercise and to set an example for her four-year-old son Mark.

“Many single moms say that they don’t have time to exercise. But exercising is a great stress reliever. I wanted to make exercising a priority. You have to find a way to make it part of your life,” said Lanier, whose first postpartum purchase was a baby jogger.

After the Annapolis 10-Miler, Lanier wanted something different. “The bike provides a low-impact activity, but duathlons offer a challenge the same way long-distance running does,” she said.

Many duathletes look at their sport that way, said Jaeger. “They’re runners who don’t run long distances anymore. They wanted to stay active, so they integrated cycling in the mix, and wanted to continue to compete.”

Me? Triathlons and cycling races test the human character. To endure through such pain yet have the will and determination to succeed: that inspires me.

Reading about Triathlantic when I wanted a physical challenge piqued my curiosity. On a whim and with a friend, I signed up for my first duathlon in the winter of 1996. We hadn’t trained. We were young and foolish. We were going to compete in the Greenbrier Duathlon up at Greenbrier State Park, in Boonsboro, Maryland.

The night before the race, Old Man Winter dropped five inches of snow on the ground. We drove to the course the next morning to find that the park refused to open with the snow, canceling the race. Triathlantic races usually go on regardless of weather, except in extreme circumstances.

The next year I tried again in the Cougar Duathlon in Frederick County. I wanted to prove to myself that I could endure and succeed — and I did. I finished the race in one hour and 55 minutes.

I was thrilled to do something not many others have attempted. I like a challenge and this was certainly one for me, as I suffer from shin splints from playing soccer on Astroturf in college.

So why race again?

I wanted to prove to myself that I could still get in shape to compete. My long-term goal is to get into good shape and stay there. My short-term goal was to enter a duathlon to push me to achieve my long-term goal.

Ride Like the Wind
I’ve got to ride
Ride like the wind
To be free again
And I’ve got such a long way to go
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I’ll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind
– Christopher Cross, “Ride Like the Wind”

Competing in the Greeting of the Geese Duathlon did not lead me to Mexico, but I did feel I had to ride like the wind.

The end of the first run returns competitors to the start of the race, where a transition area beckons. Here bikes, gear and water are stored. Serious racers treat the transition area much like NASCAR drivers do a pit stop. The less time in, the better. Races can be won and lost in transition.

Duathlons have two transitions: from run to bike and from bike to run. Triathlons are the same, except that a swim replaces the first run.

“The last month before the race I practiced running and immediately switching to the bike,” said Lanier, who used the same shoes the whole race. Terry Druffel also followed that plan.

I planned to switch to bicycling shoes for two reasons: for a moment’s breather between sections and because the special shoes, used with clipless pedals, offer greater efficiency cycling. The energy transferred from foot and body to pedal is greater when shoes don’t slide off the pedal. The clipless pedals attach to the shoe, making the body become one with the bike.

Dressing the Duathlete
Just as for senior prom, you wear the right clothing for an endurance race.

In addition to my clipless cycling shoes, I wore my cycling jersey, with pockets in the back for storage of water or food, and a lycra jersey on top. The combination would allow my body to breathe when sweating and keep me cool.

The rest of my ensemble consisted of Umbro soccer shorts and a good pair of cotton socks. The shorts are light, they dry quickly, and I’m used to them. Wearing comfortable clothes is always smart when competing. Race days are not days for experimentation.

My running shoes are a good pair of Nikes with arch support for all the pounding on grass, dirt and pavement. Running shoes that offer sole support are pretty standard. Some competitors also bike in their running shoes.

I ride a 1995 Cannondale R300, upgraded with clipless pedals requiring special shoes and STI shifters that sit on the underside of the brake levers for easy shifting. The aluminum bike frame is lighter than steel frames, making for easier climbing.

Most competitors choose road or racing bikes because their thin wheels and tires consume less friction. But some racers like hybrid bicycles for their comfort. An intrepid few raced on fat tires — mountain bikes — even though speed would be harder to come by.

“For someone wanting to race and needing a bike, I recommend a road bike. I also send people to cycling clubs, shops, TransitionTimes.com and local running clubs,” said Jaeger. Clubs and shops offer good advice from fellow competitors and guidance on the latest gadgets and tips.

My last item of equipment was a Camelbak water bottle worn on my back with a hose over my shoulder. Hydration keeps the body from overheating.

Accessories aside, the real test would be in my own head.

Going Mental
Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.
—Yogi Berra, who played with the Yankees and Mets, mostly as catcher, from 1946-1965

As Yogi Berra said of baseball, much of sport is mental. Physical preparedness — proper training — gets you to first base. But it’s mental attitude that brings you home.

“I try to break up the route mentally during the race to make it easier,” said Terry Druffel.

I also break the route up into thirds. I throw a little party in my head after the completion of each section of the race. Whether I’m cruising along at a steady pace or suffering terribly, in the middle of each portion I’m always telling myself to keep moving.

Playing sports most of my life, I’ve learned to keep my mind focused. If you’re thinking about your taxes or the fender-bender from the day before, you’re wasting energy that might get you to the finish a little quicker.

If you’re not up to the challenge mentally, little things start to creep into your head. You start to wonder how much farther you have to go. Little hills you have to climb resemble mountains. Your mind begins to quit, and your body soon follows. Sometimes it feels like you’re going mental. The trick is to put one foot in front of the other and not quit.

Those competing for overall honors are thinking about other things, like how to spend the prize money. The winner of the Greeting of the Geese Duathlon earned a $200 prize.

Sacrifices and Trepidation
To prepare for this test of endurance, I changed my ways to increase my strength and speed.

Duathlons are a test of determination as much as they are about physical condition — a quest, indeed, that challenges the truth of one’s self.

The body can and will only do what the mind tells it. To be self-assured I made sacrifices to finish the competition and succeed beyond my dreams. Slim and thin bodies work better for endurance sports than big, strong bodies.

I altered my diet.

I am a 30-year-old bachelor who was eating like a 15-year-old. The problem was that I had the body of a middle-aged man. I needed to change. Thus began my healthy mix of fruit, vegetables and moderation.

I shopped at stores that sell health foods. Trader Joe’s has become my one-stop food shopping destination. I needed more fruits and vegetables, so I began buying bananas, apples, strawberries, cantaloupes and honeydews. I ate the fruit for dessert after dinner.

Fish became a regular staple of my dinner diet. I’ve relied on salmon burger patties and tuna steaks for my protein fix. For dinner, I prepared a multi-colored salad: lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and fat-free Italian dressing.

For lunch, I was more lenient with my diet. I cut soda and caffeine out as much as I could. It wasn’t too hard, since I don’t drink coffee. I ate salads and low-fat sandwiches, but occasionally I ate what I wanted. When that happened, I reduced the quantity of food I consumed.

My breakfasts were regulated exactly — one Promax Cookies ’N Cream bar. That gave me the morning energy and the protein my body needed without the fat.

Lack of hydration and too little sleep directly affect your immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, colds and allergies. So I made sure to drink several large glasses of water a day.

And I slept longer. Sleeping seven or eight hours became my goal. My usual of four or five hours became a thing of the past. I wake up more refreshed instead of grumpy. Energy courses through me, now.

Changing eating and sleeping habits was fairly simple. Preparing my body for the rigors of an endurance race would take more time and effort.

Exercise was a key ingredient for my success. As an athlete active in two cardiovascular sports, ice hockey and soccer, my task was not too difficult. Five days a week, I treked to the gym. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I ran. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I lifted weights to tone the body, increasing the number of repetitions but not the weight in order to lose fat and not gain muscle weight.

“The key is to be consistent with your training. Duathlons are not weekend warrior-types of sport,” said Brad Jaeger, who in 1993 was named one of the top-seven distance coaches in the country.

Added Jaeger, “If you want to be serious, do something at least five days a week. Start slow and build up distance and pace. It’s easier to do the training with a group.”

Was all I’d done to improve my overall health over the last six months enough to make me feel comfortable to compete in this challenge?

Ah, no.

In 1997, when I competed in the Cougar Duathlon, I did well enough to win third place in my age group. Of course, there were only three people in the age group for that race, but who cares — I have the plaque to prove I was a winner. For that race, I was easily 40 pounds lighter. And even then, as I recall, I found the race difficult.

With my solider body, you can see why I had some doubts as to my survival in the Greeting of the Geese Duathlon — trepidation indeed.

Down the Stretch …
I didn’t want to finish last. There’s no shame in coming in last place. For pride, I wanted to do better.

Training just three months before the race was risky. I knew I wouldn’t win, but I didn’t want to look like a fool.

My first run went smoothly. I set a steady pace and made it through cleanly.

The bike section was hard. I knew before the race that it would be my toughest section, and it lived up to my fears. But I survived.

As I began the second run, I knew what to expect. My objective was to keep a steady pace and literally put one foot in front of the other.

My legs felt sore on the bike, but now they felt like lead weights. Beauty inspired me as I ran by the lake. The geese and their cacophony provided me a burst of energy as I knew their playground was close to the finish.

For the last stretch on the road, I picked up the pace. From my days as a track-and-field athlete, I wanted to finish the race strong regardless of my time.

With the finish line behind me, I caught my breath and headed for the tables of food. I needed to resupply my body with sustenance. I also wanted to be near others who had already finished. As tired as I was, I felt great.

Mission Accomplished!
Duathlons and triathlons are races for truth. With the exception of the winners, everyone else is trying to beat their best time. Their opponent is the time clock.

In the Tour de France, won by Lance Armstrong for the fifth time last July, individual time trials are known as races for truth. It’s them against the clock for the lowest time.

The clock never lies. It records time in a linear sequence. You can’t change that except by going faster. The goal is to beat your own best time — and to survive.

“This was a big accomplishment for me. I’m looking forward to more in the spring,” said Jacque Lanier, who finished the race in one hour, 52 minutes and 58 seconds.

“The race was harder than I thought. I’m glad the run was flat,” said Terry Druffel, who completed the duathlon in one hour, 42 minutes and eight seconds.

The overall winner of the race eased to the finish in one hour, eight minutes and two seconds.

As for me, mission accomplished! I met my goal of completing the race. As for my pride, I did not finish last. I finished in two hours, 11 minutes and 12 seconds.

I found the race thrilling as well as challenging. It’s my goal to do three races next year, I’d better start training now.

Learn more about duathlons and Triathlantic Association, on their web site: www.triath.com.

About the Author: Staff writer James Clemenko lives in Annapolis and spends time away from the office playing soccer and ice hockey and mountain biking.


© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated November 13, 2003 @ 2:28am.