Will Thames

swim, bike, run, tech

Merrell Mudman 2009

After doing Hellrunner last year, I was inspired by offroad events, and decided that an offroad duathlon, or even triathlon, was the race for me. Once I had my mountain bike, I searched for an appropriate event, and found the Merrell Mudman, and entered. The race is a 7.5km run, then 3 x 5km laps on the bike, then another 7.5km run. Later I realised that this is actually like doing Hellrunner, but where you stop half way and get on a bike for 15km, and then finish the race.

The leadup to this race has not gone so well - I had little time to prepare for the race itself, in terms of putting decent offroad tyres on the bike, putting elastic laces in my shoes for quick transition, and my fitness may well be down after a fairly inconsistent training schedule, packed around a weeks skiing.

I got up at the planned time, ready to set off at around 8.30am, to collect my hired car. Due to the lack of choice, I’d had to plump for the Honda Civic, which I imagined would actually be more spacious than the usual Audi A3. However, the A3 is a hatchback - the Civic has a boot, so I couldn’t just put the back seats down to use the entire space. In the end, the wheels went in the boot, and the bike went on a shower curtain on the back seats (I’d realised I’d have to protect the car somehow).

In my haste to leave, I’d forgotten to bring my race instructions, but I wasn’t too concerned, I knew vaguely where the event was, somewhere near the A311 just off J3 of the M3. However, I may have been spoilt in previous races by signage - I didn’t see a single sign on the entire road, and frantically drove around for nearly an hour looking for suitably army looking training camps (including one point where I asked a bloke with a gun for directions). In the end I finally got hold of Peta for directions, and it was simple after that, but it was nearly race start time as it was!

At the site, I unloaded the bike, changed into racing gear (tri shorts, tri top and running shoes) and then took rucksack, helmet and bike to racking. By the time I get to racking the race had already been going 5 minutes, so they let me prop my bike up, put my helmet on it, drop my bag and jacket and get running.

It was obviously no time to be worrying about position. The only thing I was really competing against was the course, with its seven hills per run lap. I’d call the first lap a draw - I overtook 3 people, while trying to maintain a sensible pace. Most of the time this pace was dictated by the course - the hills were so steep that I could only walk up them. And then too steep that I could only walk down the other side. The hills take up the middle third of the lap, so I’d picked up a reasonable rhythm again by transition.

At transition, I quickly took my running shoes off, put my cycling boots on, put my helmet on, and pushed my bike to the allocated mounting point, and set off. I’d already been lapped by people finishing their first bike lap by this point! I really need to work on my transitions (one of the ‘laces’ on my boot wasn’t secure, and wrapped itself around a pedal) and perhaps more importantly, my technique - there were a few points where I pretty much fell off because I misread what the course did, and stacked it! The hills on the bike lap are fewer (thankfully, because it was hard enough walking up them, let alone while pushing a bike), but still hard, and they were the few opportunities for me to overtake. By the end of the first lap I was pretty shattered, particularly my lower back, but the second and third laps were relatively ok - I was relieved to finish on the bike, and change back to running shoes. Perhaps offroad duathlons aren’t for me!

I’d noticed that I was getting blisters on the first run lap, and that didn’t improve on the second. I’d made the classic error of running in untested circumstances - worse, I’d changed two things! The elastic laces were one thing - my shoes didn’t feel quite so secure in them, but that might be a matter of tweaking them. I’d also decided to run in my cycling socks, rather than my running socks - I think in retrospect that was a bad idea, as it’s the running where my feet really take the hit.

It didn’t really matter, as by now the course was well and truly beating me. There seemed to be more hills the second time around (it was exactly the same course) and I was running less and less. By the end of the hills, I was pretty broken, and could only manage a run-walk, probably about 50:50 (although one of my 1km splits was 6:30, compared to what I think of as a fast pace for me of 5:00, and a slow run pace of 6:00, so maybe I was running a bit more than I thought). However, I knew that whatever I did would be just as far, so running would finish it all quicker, which kept me going. I walked the last few smaller hills before it levelled off for the last 500m or so, and then just ran the rest to the finish.

The support in this race was fantastic - all of the marshalls were really encouraging and enthusiastic, although some of their encouragement wasn’t always helpful (e.g. not far to go now, near the end of the first bike lap). The finish was just as good, with people cheering and clapping as I finished. The cup of water was also a welcome gift. The goodie bag was one of the better ones, and there were plenty of freebies from Lucozade too. I heard a few people come in after me, so I wasn’t last, but it was certainly not my favourite race ever!

I’m not going to rule out any more offroad events (I’ll certainly do more runs) but I want to improve my bike technique before I do more multisport offroad.

Run 1: 0:54:29 Bike: 1:18:28 Run 2: 0:57:58 Total: 3:10:55

  • I suspect these are both 5 minutes longer than they would be, due to me giving everyone else a headstart.