Mud-spattered participant at the Adrenaline Offroad Duathlon at La Mesa Nature Reserve.
Dirt finds its way into this racer’s tongue and teeth. Photo taken during the Adrenaline Offroad Duathlon at La Mesa Nature Reserve on September 09, 2012 by Raph Rios and the Office of Senator Pia Cayetano.

My first duathlon. The goal was simple: to not suck. By this I meant: to finish at a decent enough time, and maybe (if I was lucky enough) not in the bottom half of the list. It was that simple. I had no illusions about winding up on the top ten, much less stepping up to the podium… well, maybe just a little.

I have heard from friends who’ve done triathlons that duathlons can often be more punishing. Running, then biking, and then running again really test the limits of your legs’ powers of endurance. Against my slacker instincts, I said: Bring it on. I joined the Adrenaline Offroad Duathlon at the La Mesa Nature Reserve on September 9.

And here are few lessons I learned from gonzoing into multisport.

1. Have enough sleep

I am a night owl. I usually go to sleep at around 12 midnight. I sometimes stay up until 2AM. This is a big disadvantage as most races are held very early in the morning. To make a long story short, I probably slept only 2 hours. Shambling zombie-like into the starting line at 6 is not a good idea. It would have been OK if I was like one of the sprinting ‘infected’ in 28 Days Later, but I felt more like one of the undead in those George Romero movies.

2. Don’t eat too much two hours before gun time

Wise words from experienced racers. But I can’t run or bike without fuel can I? Oh well. And then halfway through the muddy, undulating, slippery trail, the full meal began to make itself felt. Did I swallow a sewing machine in that last meal? Damn abdominal stitches.

Runners in the La Mesa Duathlon
Happiness is a squishy muddy trail.
Photo courtesy of Raph Rios and the Office of Sen. Pia Cayetano
3. Pick a spot in front of the pack

There’s a reason why serious racers aiming for a podium finish always jockey for a position out in front of the starting line. You don’t have to weave through slower runners as you accelerate.

4. There will always be morons

Race organizers reminded participants several times not to throw any litter along the trails. La Mesa Nature Reserve should be kept clean and free of plastic wrappers and water bottles. But still some people just didn’t seem to get the message. It would have been OK if they discarded their bottles near the water stations where they could be easily picked up, but some jerks apparently thought that they could throw their trash wherever they wanted.

My shoes, before and after the race
The shoes tell the story. Before and After.
5. Minimalism pays

I just need to mention that my trusty Merrell Trail Gloves were fantastic. Unlike the other trail runners, they did not suck up pounds of mud while I was pounding the trail. The minimalist construction also made me more instinctively aware of the terrain, and improved my balance. I am happy to say, there’s more to minimalism than just being the next running fad.

6. Practice makes passable

I had been running religiously several weeks before the race. Thanks to tens of kilometers spent running uphill, I did not suck at all in the first run. Thanks to practicing a barefoot style of running with my minimalist shoes, I also managed not to keep a good pace on the mucked up trails. But the same could not be said for my transition into the biking portion of the race. I did not put as much time on the bike as I did in my trail shoes. I tried to cram as much bike time in the last week before the race, and even practiced hauling an extra 15 pounds of weight up Antipolo’s Sumulong highway a la Jacky Chan. But it was too little too late.

Some slacker trudging up a trail
Some slacker trudging up a trail.
Photo courtesy of Raph Rios and the Office of Sen. Pia Cayetano
7. There’s a reason why those bikes are so damn expensive

On the bike, I got passed by several racers who I had passed in the first run. I said to myself that I could probably catch them in the long climbs, but that was not the case. On the climbs, my 30-pound 26er bike felt like a hundred pounds. Lots of 29ers passed me, including ones featuring carbon frames and all. The trail had also become pure cross country hell—after being pounded by dozens of bikers earlier, the mud had become quicksand unrideable. Biker after biker had to dismount and haul his/her rig through hundreds of meters of trails that would have been a punishment to even walk through. Thick mud was getting into derailleurs and making pedaling impossible. I was falling farther behind, but I was still confident that I could reach my goal of not sucking. I thought that maybe I could make up for lost time in the second run.

Duathlon bikers
Some grind their cranks up the climbs, while others are forced to dismount and push.
Photo courtesy of Raph Rios and the Office of Sen. Pia Cayetano
8. Don’t be afraid of the mud

By the time I transitioned into the second run, I was gassing out. Thoughts of simply walking the rest of the way nagged at me like demonic words of wisdom. Why bother running when you’re sure of finishing already anyway? Why prolong the pain? But then I remembered what Haruki Murakami wrote about how he  never considered walking during a race no matter how dead tired he was. And so I continued running and passed several racers again, some of whom had chosen to walk. I noticed a peculiar thing about some of them—they were avoiding the muddiest parts of the trail even though they were already covered in mud themselves. I chose to just plow through the mud and get the pain over with as quickly as possible.

9. Have fun while trying not to pass out
Sen. Pia Cayetano on her way to the finish line
Sen. Pia Cayetano on her way to the finish line. This one’s a superwoman, and we’re not just saying that because we’re mooching off pictures from her photographer.

It was a beautiful trail, I focused on that and tried to forget about how my lungs and legs seemed set to collapse.

Thanks to this positive borderline delusional mindset, I did finish the race, and even achieved my goal of not sucking (too much). My legs felt like they had been though a frat initiation, but the psychological reward of finishing my first duathlon was worth it. The medal and the free jersey were also welcome—the singlet from 8A is definitely one of the more attractive free t-shirts I’ve had in the races I’ve joined.

But then I remembered that I forgot to ask a co-worker to relieve me for that Sunday shift. I still had to go to work despite all I had been through.

Which brings me to…

10. Going to work after a duathlon is a bad idea

It really is. It’s almost as bad as going to work during an ongoing apocalypse. But then again, someone’s got to deliver the news.

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