March 13th, 2012
By: Mike Murphy
For anyone out there who isn’t familiar with the North Shore Dirty Duo, it’s one of the toughest ways that you could come up with to test your early season fitness. It’s an amazing race through some of North Vancouver’s best technical running and mountain bike trails. The original ‘Duo’ is a solo effort of a 25km trail run, followed by a 30km mtb (the core loop of both legs being Bridle-Old Buck-BP-Neds, with significant chunks on both ends). Most racers are quite thankful though that doing the Duo Solo event isn’t the only option. You can also do the whole thing as a relay, or you can break it up and do either just a run (15km, 25km, 50km) or just the ride.
In my case, the solo duo event is the only way to go. There’s nothing like more than 2 hrs of technical hilly trail running, before you hop onto your bike for another couple hours, to make you take an honest look deep inside yourself and push both your physical and mental limits. Besides the obvious aerobic fitness needed to get through the day, nutrition and weather are big factors too. With all the hills, you can easily burn through your energy stores and be reduced to a crawl. Having a nutrition plan, and a back-up nutrition plan, is mandatory. Along those same lines, i had both a plan A clothing change in transition, and a plan B; it all depended on how wet and cold i was going to be after the run. Thankfully, mother nature was kind to us this year, and race day was relatively dry.
Solo racers, relay runners, and the 50km gang all started at 8am, with the other events being staggered later in the morning. Right off the start i went to the front and settled into a comfortable steady pace. My plan was to do a building effort for 2 hrs, and then a slightly easier effort into transition to absorb some extra calories. I had some company for the first bit of the run, as Chuck ran with me to the Gazebo check point. That’s sort of where i upped my effort a notch and pulled away a bit on the downhill to twin bridges. As i worked my way up and through to Bridle, i was careful to hold back a bit. I absolutely love nasty, muddy, hilly technical running, and i kept my feet light and quick on Bridle to the base of Old Buck. From past experience, i know that the climb up Old Buck is not the place to make a move. I kept it at a steady effort all the way up to Ned’s, and i was surprised at how muscularly strong i felt. That’s where the fun begins for me…like i said, i absolutely love nasty, slippery, rocky, technical running. I went down Ned’s at full tilt. If gravity is handing out free speed, why not use it !!
When i popped out of Bottle Top onto Fisherman’s, i checked my watch to see that i was actually a couple minutes ahead of pace, and i still felt great. The next climb up Homestead is usually a leg (and morale) killer though. I definitely had to work hard to keep my positive mental focus up the climb, but my body was up for the challenge and i stayed just under my red-line the whole way up. After Homestead I started to do my internal checks to see just where my energy was at, and how beat up i felt. I didn’t feel too bad, but definitely needed a few calories. A steady effort back from the Gazebo, almost losing a shoe in the mud on Diamond, and i came in to transition in relatively good shape.
The DD transition is not like the typical triathlon transition, at least not for me. Frozen hands always turn my clothing efforts into a fumbling mess. This year i planned ahead though; little hot-shot hand warmers in my mitts on the run meant i could actually feel my fingers and put on my mtb shoes with ease. Within a couple minutes i had on my cycling gear (and an extra layer of clothing) and i was off on my bike leg.
“My legs feel like two bags of S**T….how the F**k am i going to get through this?”
was pretty much my first thought on the bike. I’m betting that anyone else who did the solo (or has done) had the exact same thought. This was definitely the starting point in the race where i needed to be mentally strong. I like to break the bike leg down in to small segments, and completely focus on what’s happening in the moment. At this point, thinking of how hard the next couple hours will be is not what you need running through your head. Just get to Gazebo…just get down circuit 8…just get to Hyannis…just get through Bridle….you get the point…
Anyone who says that their bike legs eventually ‘came around’ on this part of the solo event is lying. Take your usual, fresh, snappy cycling legs and half your power output; that’s more like it. Every little hill is a grind. Parts of the trail that i usually fly through were a struggle….Just get to the bottom of Old Buck…
Soon after i started up Old Buck, the inevitable happened….Arthur. Arthur being the cyclist for the lead/winning relay team. (last year the inevitable was named Kim Steed). I swear Arthur was riding uphill in his 44/12, while i was struggling to just not come to a stop. Thankfully, at this stage of the day, there were athletes in the later events on course. Seeing them all pushing hard, kept my effort honest and steady to the top of Ned’s. Now, the only thing i love as much as running fast down nasty technical trails, is riding fast down nasty technical trails. Ned’s (and Bottle-Top) wouldn’t normally qualify as ‘nasty, technical’, but on an XC bike several hours into the DD its a bit more of a ‘keep your head in the game, don’t over-brake, and look ahead’ trail than usual. I even managed to catch and pass a group of riders (non-racers) on big bikes on my descent…that’s one for all the XC riders out there.
When i hit Twin Bridges again, and was looking at the last big climb, I had to have one more talk with myself. It was along the lines of; ‘Last climb. Keep it together. Steady tempo all the way up. All that matters is getting to the top’. Somehow, convincing myself that the race ended at the top (it doesn’t really), worked. Both mentally and physically I kept it together, and i knew that i was into the home stretch. From the Gazebo back to the finish is a super fast segment. It was motivating to be going at a good clip (thanks again to gravity), and i even had it in me to attack the small hills on the last section and finish strong.
I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 12 minutes and change, thoroughly satisfied with my race. I laid everything i had out there. I was faster on both the run and the ride than last year, and i feel like my mental game on race day was rock solid. After a short cool down, a change of clothes, and some food, i was able to pull my head out of my own little world and began noticing all the other athletes crossing the finish line. Lots of mud, a little blood, a few grimaces, and tons of smiles were the order of the day. I swear that half the fun is comparing stories after the event. I may have crossed the line first, but everyone i talked to had their own battles out there and came out on top. No better way to spend a Saturday.