Race Report: USA Duathlon Sprint Nationals

RACE REPORT, USAT Duathlon Sprint Nationals: DEAD CANARY, ANYONE?

DuNatsThe timing of Short Course/Sprint Duathlon Nationals was less than ideal for those of us returning from ITU Du Worlds in Spain just a few weeks before. I had been sick with a cold for about ten days, and racing again after winning the gold in my age group in Spain was a bit hard to get motivated so soon for. Having Nationals in Bend, Oregon I thought may also be a challenge for me, as having raced in nearby Sunriver twice, the heat, altitude, and extra dry climate had been more than uncomfortable for me. I had also experienced problems racing USAC Masters Cycling Nat’s in Utah two years ago in similar conditions: midday, altitude, dry heat. I run low hemoglobin and fight exercise-induced asthma, which these conditions always provoke and results in a struggle for me racing.

But no matter, this part of Oregon is absolutely beautiful, and even though I didn’t need to go race to claim a spot for next year’s Du Worlds (age group gold at Worlds gives automatic bid), the trip was already paid for, and I wanted to see my friends!

Four of us rented a beautiful home near the race venue. Doing so was great for staying in, not fighting the crowds, and cooking the night before. Two were racing the Standard event, which started early morning, two of us the Sprint, which started at 1:10 p.m. The early crew woke to 38* temps, the midday crew we treated to mid-80* temps.

I heard the two early racers leave, and in my drowsy, waking state, I suddenly became aware of a strong natural gas odor. I thought it strange, as my bedroom door was closed and I was farthest away from the kitchen. I disregarded it and tried to sleep more, as my race wasn’t for several more hours and my other housemate and my plan was to ride our bikes to the race around 11, hopefully to catch our friends in the early race finishing, yet to not hang out too much in the variable weather.

As I got out of bed another hour or so later, there was that strong gas smell again. I went downstairs to the kitchen, and couldn’t smell it there, and didn’t smell it by the stove. Climbing the stairs again, I smell strong gas odor by all the bedrooms. As my friend also doing the Sprint gets up, I tell her about the gas. We go downstairs and turn on the lights, and indeed find the burner knob on, but no flame. It had been on all night, gas infiltrating the house and seeping upstairs into our bedrooms!

I immediately opened all the windows in the house, but although the gas smell that I could sense upstairs finally cleared, we still stayed in that house for several more hours before leaving for the race…not thinking much of it.

Watching our friends in the Standard race on-line from the house, we could see our one friend’s pace suddenly drop back after the first mile of the 10K run. She is a fast and excellent runner, so we figured her nagging hamstring injury must be bothering her and she was playing it smart and dropping back her pace to stay in the race to finish and claim her sports for next year’s Worlds team.

Finally we ride to the venue, set up, and our race starts. It is hot and my HR is elevated before we even begin. Starting the first 5K run, I find I am winded even before the first mile marker. I look down at my watch at mile 1, and although slower but still close to my normal run pace, I am exhausted already and know I cannot hold it. I slow my pace greatly on mile 2, even more on mile 3. At the run turnaround, I see my very fast running housemate, also struggling and way behind where she normally should be. I stumble to get to my bike and am so far behind my normal competition, I wonder if my usual strong bike leg can make up such a vast difference.

The bike was a steady climb, six miles up a ~2-5% grade to the turnaround. I am passing people, but find I am getting very winded and my usual power is not there. It took me until the turnaround to catch my main competitor. I was hoping on the downhill, to regain whatever strength I was missing to pass her and then try to somehow hold her off on the last run.

But I couldn’t pass her. There was very little strength in my legs. I felt ½ the power I usually have. She took off, and I struggled. On a downhill!

The last run I felt like a suffering animal that needed to be put out of its misery. I couldn’t breathe; could barely jog. And it is only 1.5 miles.

I immediately blamed it on the geographical conditions, the heat, the cold I had just fought off. But something was nagging me. It hit us all in the house. Is it a coincidence that all three/four of us had unusually subpar performances, feeling extreme exhaustion? Our housemate in the earlier race said, “I was exhausted at mile 1 and felt like my legs wouldn’t move”….the same exact thing the two of us in the later sprint race experienced. And both of them have raced at altitude without this kind of result.

The icing on the cake to put all the pieces together for me was I finally looked up my Strava data. Per the Strava uphill segment results on the bike course, I was FASTER the day before the race, while spinning up the hill!! And I truly was going comfortably the day before, and also truly struggling race day…something I rarely do on the bike in a duathlon.

I know it’s speculative, and I know I tend to race poorly in heat and altitude, all contributing factors. Fighting a cold for ten days after Spain before didn’t help. I didn’t run the day before, so I cannot make any conclusions about running in the Bend climate/altitude. But to have my bike be slower than me spinning up the day before makes me truly wonder about that gas being on all night, and the smell so strong upstairs the morning of the race… and us all experiencing a low-level carbon monoxide poisoning. The half-life of carbon monoxide is five hours. Less obvious symptoms are fatigue and weakness. The hemoglobin binds up with CO instead of O2, and therefore muscular demand cannot be met. My hemoglobin as mentioned runs low, so much of what I did have was most likely bound up with CO. My Sprint-race housemate and I being in the house longer, even with the windows open, probably was not enough time to clear it from our bodies.

I had been trying to decide whether it would be worth me going back there next year (Nationals is held on the same course two years), if I cannot meet climate/altitude conditions in training and expect a different result. But in light of what now I think happened, I am hoping this might have been the ultimate cause of our suffering on the race course that day.

I ended up 2nd in my age group, despite the suffering and much slower pacing than in Spain a couple weeks before. I was lucky, and grateful, to be that well placed. But mostly thankful that none of us ended up with severe CO poisoning during the night!

((We are so proud of you K!!!!!))

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