I love the days when you’re soaked and covered in mud five minutes after leaving on an adventure, but you couldn’t care less as you’re having such a great time. The Bowhill Off-Road Duathlon earlier this month was definitely one of those.
This was the third duathlon in the Bowhill series, and the longest of the three. Rumour had it the course was about 12 kilometres of mountain biking, on a mix of singletrack, old landrover track and a bit of forest road, and then a 10km run on forest trails, and I was excited to see what it would be like.
I had some kit agonies before setting off – hardtail or full sus, race tyres or knobbles for the mud, trail shoes or fell shoes… in the end I went for the hardtail with Nobby Nics and my fell shoes. Given the depth of mud, a bit more tyre tread might have been a good idea, or maybe it wouldn’t have made much difference anyway as everyone was slithering around. Lining up at the start on the mountain bike I seemed to be in the middle somewhere when it came to tyre choice, so would just have to see what happened.
The ride was fast and furious – a decent climb to start, then diving off down muddy doubletrack, trying to ride with my eyes closed as the wheels flung mud, ruing my lack of mudguard and glasses! Another short climb and a push and then into some muddy slidy brilliant singletrack descents. I was trying not to smile too widely for fear of a mouthful of mud and trying desperately to keep the bike pointing in approximately the right direction as both wheels lost traction and it felt more like skiing.
The competition was fierce with a group of us girls vying for the lead of our group and I was glad of the superlight hardtail to be able to put my foot down on the climbs. Although it was very wet on the ground it was a lovely day to be out riding with mild temperatures and the sun trying to poke through. I was just the right temperature in leggings and a FINDRA merino t-shirt plus long-sleeve despite being faily well soaked. Some more singletrack followed with a stack as the rider in front did a 180 in the mud on a sharp corner and then we were back at transition.
A quick change of socks and shoes brought a welcome respite for my cold toes and an important boost to set out for the run with dry feet (not that that would last long!). I glanced along the bike rail and saw that one of my competitors had clearly done this race before and had thought to bring a towel which would have been a great idea to wipe the layer of mud off my face! I knew I needed to eat and drink as there was still 50 minutes of running to come but I always find it hard to do so, doubled up trying to change my shoes with an eye out for the other racers coming in. Inevitably I left the transition area with cheeks hamster-full of flapjack and still trying to stuff a gel into my pocket.
The run was an out-and-back up to a highpoint and started on forest tracks which continued the muddy theme and I was glad of the extra grip my fell shoes bring. After passing a couple of people the track turned onto a narrow path through the woodland and the sun came out casting gorgeous dappled light through the leaves. What a beautiful day to be out getting covered in mud! The trail ducked and wound over and under fallen trees and across streams and was full of interest. I started seeing the race leaders coming back the other way and busied myself trying to work out how many of them were doing the full race (covered in mud from biking) and how many were doing it as a relay (remarkably clean!). As we emerged back onto forest tracks I spotted a couple of other women ahead of me and set myself to overtake them in case they were in the same category as me! Happily I managed to pull away on a steeper section of uphill, my legs feeling strong.
Finally a long gentle descent and then a short steep scramble up a bank brought me to the turnaround point and a lollipop from the marshal as proof of getting to the halfway marker. I scrabbled back down onto the track and then started the long slow pull uphill which suddenly felt quite hard work. But I was cheered by seeing plenty of other racers going the other way and was spurred on to not lose any ground to them.
Back down the hill, back through the woodland singletrack and then following the tracks back to the estate house I managed to keep pushing. The finish flags finally hove into sight and after dibbing in I headed over to the cafe to get my result. Ed had turned up on his road bike by this time and was looking weirdly clean compared to the other racers milling about.
I got my printout and was thrilled to discover I had won the women’s race in a time of 1:47. Even better, the prizes were wine- and chocolate-based which was a definite result! The full duathlon series is definitely calling for next year – it was an excellent day out in the mud.
Photos courtesy of Trev Worsey Photography, Carnethy Running Club and Julius Gaubys.