Lessons learned at Long Distance Duathlon Worlds

The Long-Distance Duathlon World Championships was unique course and the toughest race I’ve ever done. It was not just the distance that made this race tough, but also the terrain. The race started with a 10km (6.2mi) run, then 150km (92mi) bike, and finished with a 30km (18.6mi) run. The race was held in Zofingen, Switzerland, which is about a 50-min drive outside Zurich.

The first run (10km run) was a two-loop course and it started off with a 1600m (mile) climb, where we climbed 115m (375ft) with an average grade of 6.5% grade and max grade of 20%. I didn’t get a good starting position because it was my 1st time racing Powerman Zofingen, and all the pre-race favorites got called up to the starting line first. This made it hard to stay in front since I lost contact with the pre-race favorites just a few minutes into run. It was tough to keep the heart rate down on this climb, and the pace was quick right from the start.

At the top of the climb, I was behind Gael Le Bellec from France, who had won this race twice before (2014-2015). However, Gael too had lost contact with the main group. I decided to stay behind him and let the leaders go. The run continued with a fast-downhill section that was all off-road. Some of the sections were very steep, to the point where you felt your legs were spinning out of control.

Gael and me running starting the second loop:

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At the end of the first lap, there were about 8 men in the lead group and then Gael and me about 25 seconds back. Starting the second lap, there was that insane mile climb again. At about half way up the climb, Maxim Kuzmin from Russia and Kasper Laumann Hartlev from Denmark bridged up to Gael and me. A few meters later they attacked and ended up passing us. I tried to stay with them, but they went too fast for me. Luckily, they didn’t gain that much time on us at the top of climb and I was still running right behind Gael. On the descent, I decided to try and close the gap to Maxim and Kasper and moved in front of Gael. Gael still held onto my pace and ran right behind me.

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We came into T1 together about a minute back from the lead group of 8 and about 15 seconds behind Maxim Kuzmin. So, I was in 11th and I was thinking, “this is going to be great, I’m not too far back from the leaders and I can ride with Gael, who’s a strong bike rider to bridge to the leaders.” That unfortunately didn’t happen as I received a 1 minute penalty in transition. The reason: because I had clipped my helmet straps together when racking my bike in transition! Yeah, apparently under ITU rules I can’t do that and I had to wait 1 minute in the penalty box in transition until I could move again.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about I received a penalty for this: Picture below

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-Yup, I received a penalty for this 😦

I couldn’t believe it. I watched as competitors that I had outrun went by me and picked up their bike and started their ride. I was absolutely furious! At the end of the 1 minute, I was free to go and get my bike to start the ride. I was now in 21st place starting the bike ride and from there on, I admit I did go out a little too fast. One reason was that I was upset and worried because now I was 2 minutes back and in 21st place.

The bike course is a three-loop 50km (30.6mi) course. The total elevation gain throughout the entire 150km ride was 2,400m (8,000ft). There were three climbs per loop. The climbs ranged from 1600m (1mi) to 4km (2.4miles). The second climb was the longest one (4km) and had an average grade of 6% and a max grade of 14%. I started the ride aggressively. I ended up riding with Andreas Sutz from Switzerland, who had also received a 1min penalty. We pushed the pace in our group of 5, but it was mainly Andy and me who were taking turns at the front. By the second climb, we caught two of our competitors. One of them was none other than Gael Le Bellec, whom I had ran with for the 1st run leg.

Looking back at it, catching Gael in the first 20km (12.4mi) was not too smart. At that time, it felt good, but making up a minute on someone who’s a strong cyclist meant that I did start out a little too fast.

Soon we had a group of 7 riders. On the last climb of the 1st loop Gael went to the front of our group and drove the pace up the climb. I stayed close to him. He then drove the pace throughout most of the ride and I followed right behind him, meaning 12m behind, just outside the draft zone.

We caught the leading group just before the first climb of the second loop. At that point, it was a big group, and that first climb was fast and quick. More guys were pushing the pace and attacking to try to break the group up. It almost felt like doing intervals. Even staying outside the 12m draft zone, I felt I got some benefit riding along. Unfortunately the pace was never steady, even on the flats. There were times when we were going 32kpm (20mph) and times where it was 50kph (30mph) and on top of that it was tough to avoid getting a drafting penalty, because if you opened up any gap outside that 12m draft zone, someone would pass you and slip right in it. On the climbs, it was full gas and guys were literally attacking as if we were riding a cycling race. I’ll admit I took the lead at one point and that too was probably not so good. It became very tactical race.

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At the end of the second lap, I was definitely feeling the hurt in my legs from the unsteady pace with the lead group, the first run, going out fast with Andy Sutz at the start, and my lack of low gearing. I think for next year I will use a 39×25 as my lowest gear, because a 39×21 wasn’t low enough on some of those 10-14% grades. It killed my legs.

Starting the final lap there were still 10-15 of us in the lead. Then the group split apart and I was dropped at the bottom of the first climb. I now focused on riding a steadier pace and taking in a lot of nutrition. I finished the last lap in 1:25, substantially slower than my first two laps where I rode a 1:16 and then a 1:15. I was now paying the price for my rapid start.
The full bike ride analysis is on strava at this link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1167379194/

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I ended up finishing the bike in 11th place, back to where I was after the first run –if you ignore the penalty. The second run was totally insane! A four-loop run course of 7.5km (4.7mi) that wasn’t even close to being a flat. This was a change from the standard Zofingen course, where you run two 15K loops. The reason for this change was extensive trail damage due to a hail storm that hit the area in late July. Most people felt the new course was substantially harder than the old one and the slower finishing times bear that out.

The first 2km (1.2mi) were all uphill with one section of about 100m where the average grade was 25%-30%. We had to cover that super steep section 4 times going up and 4 times going down and it was absolute killer in either direction.

At the top of the climb, the course was rolling and mainly off-road until you reached another steep climb. This time shorter (Thank goodness)! But, off-road on loose gravel. On top of that, (here’s the good part) you had to turn around and run down these two steep climbs! Oh, the pain on the quads and hamstrings running down those hills. I don’t know what was worse, running up these steep climbs or running down. It seemed like every muscle group was in pain at some point during this run.

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For me, I stuck to my plan and looked at my heart rate monitor and tried to stay within a certain zone, even though it was tough to do on this course. On the second loop, I caught Marc Widmer from Switzerland and passed him for 10th place. I saw I was gaining on Michele Paonne from Liechtenstein and Fabian Zehnder from Switzerland, but on the last lap, my body began breaking down and legs were close to cramping. The run form went from looking ok at the start to absolute misery near the end. I couldn’t close the gap to Fabian and Michele, but I was able to hold off Marc to take my 10th place spot.

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I finished the race in 10th place in 6 hours, 50 minutes and 1 second. A top 10 finish in my first ITU duathlon world championships is something to be proud of and especially because I had never raced at this distance. Overall, it was the most painful, toughest, and longest duathlon race I’ve ever completed. Looking back at it I learned a lot from this race, when it comes to pacing, gearing on the bike, and gritting it out. It was a rewarding feeling just to finish the event.

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I want to thank my parents, Barbara Liepe & Frank Eeckman, who’ve supported me through this journey and everyone who donated to my fundraiser to get me the the start line of this race. Thank you: Chris Van Luen, Turd Ferguson, Peter Kenton, Chavon Rosenthal, Oakland Tri Club, John Papazian, Michael Oster, Lucas Riemens, Jeff Morrow, Kirstin Glenn, James Griffis (great race btw), Wolf Hillesheim, Steve Sloan. I also want to thank the crew and volunteers in Switzerland, and my homestay family Mariann and Patrick Ebeling. Thanks to Stefan Ruf and John Raadschelders for organizing Powerman Duathlon races. I hope the sport of duathlon and the Powerman brand continue to grow.

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