Dawn of the Dead

he clock on my dashboard reads 6:30 AM as I pull into the Live Oak High School parking lot in Morgan Hill, CA. It is the first day of daylight savings time, and it is still pitch-black dark.


For three consecutive years now, on the second Sunday of March, I’ve showed up at this same spot at this same insane time.  And every year, I’m amazed to see that the parking lot is already filled to near capacity.

Like many other sleep-deprived multi-sport enthusiasts, I’ve made the South Bay Duathlon a yearly ritual. Why sleep in on a Sunday morning when you can be up and running a 10K, biking a 40K, and running another 5K?

I pondered that question as I parked my truck and began unpacking my bike.  Within a few seconds, I dropped my keys, clunked my head on the tailgate, and knocked over a bottle of Gatorade.

Eh, what was the question, again?

Every year, it’s the same story. I start out the day with a flurry of klutzy, uncoordinated moves –  and wake up about 2 ½ hours later just as I cross the finish line.

Not What It’s Cracked Up to Be

The race site at Live Oak High School is only a 12-minute drive from my house. Some athletes drive several hours to get here. So there’s no reason I can’t arrive at the starting line on time – right? Wrong. I managed to set my clock ahead one hour the night before. But I was still completely out of sync with the time change – and just about everything else.

While most athletes quickly and efficiently set up their equipment and got warmed up, I aimlessly fumbled around in the dark. I’m guessing my main problem was that I was using a crack pipe for the first time.

Ahem – wait a second, I’ll explain…

A few weeks ago, I bought an aerojacket disc cover for my bike. An aerojacket fits on the spokes of the rear wheel and cuts down wind resistance, which, in theory, enables your bike to go faster. Here’s what mine looks like:


The only problem with an aerojacket is that it fits so snug on the wheel that it makes it difficult to secure the nozzle of an air pump onto the valve stem of the inner tube. Getting air into a tire is, of course, crucial. So I have to use a special device, called a “crack pipe,” to form an angle so the pump nozzle fits onto the valve stem.  Here’s what a crack  pipe looks like:


Are you with me so far? Okay, now this is where it gets tricky. The main problem with this setup is that I have to use one hand to hold the crack pipe onto the stem, and use my other hand to pump the air into the tire. A few days before the race I tried this and I didn’t have a problem. But in the wee early hours of Sunday morning, in a haze of sleeplessness, I fumbled around with that damn crack pipe and air pump for what seemed like an eternity.

It wasn’t long before I heard an ominous set of words blare over the PA system:

Ten minutes to race time!

Yikes. I still hadn’t warmed up – or made an all-important stop at the porta-potty…

First Steps – the 10K Run

The South Bay Duathlon is comprised of two separate distance races:

  • The International duathlon consists of a 10K run, a 40K bike ride, and a 5K run.

  • The Sprint duathlon consists of a 2-mile run, a 10-mile bike ride, and a 2-mile run.

In my first year in 2011, I did the Sprint race, and the last two years I’ve competed in the International race.

The 10K run for the International race is two laps around a 5K course. It’s a scenic wide-open run that stretches out between cherry orchards, mushroom fields, grazing sheep and cattle, some multi-million-dollar hillside mansions, and several modest farms and tract homes. Here’s a birds-eye view of the run and bike courses:


The race begins with a series of wave starts.  Women 39 and under start at 7:35; women 40 and over start at 7:36; men 39 and under start at 7:37; and men 40 and over (my group) start at 7:38.

It’s worth noting that at exactly 7:38 AM I was still tightening my shoe laces and had yet to attach my race number to my jersey.  At that moment, I realized I needed to get my act together – quickly.

Once I finally got moving, the first mile went by easily enough. At least the sun was finally up and shining! My plan was to hold an 8-minute-per-mile pace, and I covered the first mile in 7:55. But the second mile of this course has an ever-so-slight uphill that always gives me problems (although in my case, it’s probably just mental). Predictably, my mile pace dropped to 8:24. For miles 3 and 4, I was back to a 7:55 pace. But on mile 5 (again, the same slight uphill section of the course), I slipped back to an 8:27 pace.  I finished the last 1.2 miles at a 7:50 pace. To sum up, I am basically a human yo-yo – in many more ways than I care to contemplate.

This is me finally moving forward after my dismal start:


Caution, Fog Bank Ahead

After a brisk run, it was time to transition to the bike leg of the race. During this phase, the idea is to quickly (#1) remove your running shoes, (#2) strap on your bike helmet, (#3) put on your sunglasses, (#4) grab your bike, (#5) run out of the transition area, (#6) hop on your bike, and (#7) start pedaling.

I completed Steps #1, #2, #3, and #4 without incident. But Step #5 (run out of the transition area) proved challenging when my sunglasses suddenly fogged up,. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be a problem. But at the time I was trying to maneuver my bike through a maze of orange road cones, bike racks, parked cars, and speed bumps. Amazingly, I managed to pull off a rare early morning multi-tasking trifecta (at least for me): I simultaneously removed my sunglasses, held on to my bike, and skipped though the transition gauntlet unscathed. Whew! From that point on, the race went much smoother.

Once I got on my bike, the crisp early morning air seemed to unclog the cobwebs in my head. I settled into a steady tempo and worked my way through the first lap of the bike course. The first and last 1 ½-mile sections of the bike course run directly parallel to the run course. In between, there’s a 2-mile detour that heads up towards a short, sharp hill that skirts alongside the dam of Anderson Reservoir before heading back down to the valley floor. We circled this five-mile course five times (approximately 40 kilometers). Here's what the elevation profile looks like from my Garmin bike computer:


In comparison, here’s my speed profile:


Seems to fit in well with my earlier “human yo-yo” comments, doesn’t it?

Now it’s debatable exactly how much the aerojacket and crack pipe helped (or hindered) my cause. But I managed to average about 19.5 miles an hour for the bike ride.

Here’s a picture of me approaching the finish of the bike ride:


Back to the Run

Next up was the final 5K run. I figured I’d again try to hold an 8-minute-per-mile pace. True to form, the yo-yo effect reappeared, although it wasn’t as severe as during the first run. I ran the first mile in 7:50, covered the second mile in 8:10, and completed the third mile in about 7:35.

I finally crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 12 seconds, which put me in 6th place for my age group (50-54) out of 15 – still plenty of room for improvement.

The keys for next year? Toss the yo-yo and learn to use a crack pipe.


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