2014 New River Duathlon

The New River Duathlon in Fries, VA, has been on my radar for a couple of years now. I’d been wanting to try a duathlon, and I was intrigued with the New River Trail, a popular rail trail along the New River. There was just one hitch, to do well in the race I would need a cyclocross bike. I didn’t really have the money for another bike right now. What I did have was my old steel Trek 470 road bike that already had gearing very close to that of a cross bike. So with some help from my friend, Frank, and Timmy at Rocky Top Bicycles in Morristown, TN, the Trek was repurposed to be the “sorta cross bike.” I’ll write about the Trek’s conversion in a future post.

My wife and I went up the day before and scouted the race starting area. I didn’t want to risk driving around lost on race morning. The drive along scenic Virginia back roads without the stress of having to be somewhere was a tonic in itself. Having completed our due diligence we spent the night to my mother-in-law’s house near Jefferson, NC.

We got up early race morning and drove to Fries. The event was very low key. Transition was a gravel parking lot, and there were no bike racks. You just prop a pedal on a concrete car stop and lay out your gear. There was a definite small town vibe. Most of the competitors seemed to know each other.

Walking from transition back to the start line I ran into Viktor Kimmel, a Facebook friend and fellow blogger. He had borrowed a cross bike from a local bike shop and came up to give this race a try because it sounded like fun. See the links below for Viktor’s race report.

As 9:00 am rolled around, it was once more it was time to toe the line. The weather was overcast and a bit humid. The temperature was about 60 degrees at race start. The race had a mass start with all of us heading out onto a complex and challenging 5K course. It included almost every conceivable surface: sidewalk, pavement, broken pavement, stairs and a grassy field. Two highlights standout in my mind. At one point you had to jump down about two feet from a sidewalk into a parking lot, and the turnaround was in a cemetery. It there had been an abandoned amusement park, Scooby and the gang could have run it with us. Serious props to the race volunteers for doing an excellent job marking the course.

Even with the tough run course, things were going my way. Each time my Garmin buzzed, it reported a sub-12 minute per mile pace. This was way better than recent training runs. My 2nd 5K would turn out faster than what I had predicted for the 1st 5K. Toward the end of the run course I found myself on a hill overlooking transition. The sorta cross bike was there waiting for me, and it wasn’t alone. Things were looking up.

I arrived at transition winded but elated. Time to see what I and the sorta cross bike could manage on the New River Trail. There was no mount/dismount line you just jumped on your bike and rode through the barriers onto the trail. I had done a few test rides on the Trek including a 25 miler from Moses Turn to Hot Springs but really didn’t know how it would perform in the race. On the back it had a 700 x 25 commuter tire inflated to 85 psi. It was the biggest tire that would fit without rubbing the frame. On the front, it had a 700 x 32 cyclocross tire inflated to 65 psi.

Heading out I pedaled hard and found myself rapidly shifting to higher gears until I was in the big ring and in the fifth of the bikes seven gears. Almost immediately I started passing mountain bikes. My gamble on the sorta cross bike was paying off. About a half mile into the race I saw a man walking his mountain bike back toward transition. I yelled to see if he needed something simple like a CO2 cartridge. He yelled back that he had busted a tire. Bummer.

At about a mile and a half I came to the road crossing. The car barriers were up and out of the way. A policeman was there with blue light flashing, directing traffic. He waved me through. I yelled a thank you as I crossed. I rolled along shifting as necessary to stay at about 80 rpm. I was going completely by feel. I hadn’t moved my Garmin speed/cadence sensor over from my road bike.

I pedaled along enjoying the trail and views of the river. Shortly I was at Fries Junction about halfway to the turnaround at Buck Dam. Looking ahead I saw the lead bikes coming back. It was Viktor in the lead with another rider right behind him. He gave me a big grin and a thumbs up as he flashed past. The trail was scenic and smooth. Occasionally I would ride over a short wooden bridge. The bridge at Brush Creek gave me a brief sensation of flight. Every now and then I would hit a rough section of the trail, and the feedback through the sorta cross bike’s handlebars would remind me that suspension could be a good thing.

A couple miles from the turnaround the trail crossed a gravel road. As I headed toward the car barriers I noticed a mountain bike coming the other way. I would have to time this carefully to avoid causing a head on collision. Mentally I gauged the distance and our relative speeds. I estimated that I could make it through the barriers first with enough time to get out of his way. I move to the center of the trail and begin accelerating: 85, 90, 100 rpm. Through the barrier, hard right, he nodded as we passed, back to the center of the trail and through the 2nd barrier. Whew!

Then I was at the turnaround. As I rounded the cone and headed back down the trail, my left calf cramped up rock solid. I stopped and made a loud noise usually associated with a donkey in distress. The volunteer asked if I was OK. I assured her that I was good to go. The cramp eased. I headed back down the trail. I wondered how my calf would hold up during the final run. Oh well, it had 10.5 miles to loosen up.

Less than a mile past the turn around a mountain bike slide past me. The rider, a large man, yelled “How’s it going Dave?” Confused I didn’t rely. Then I heard him say “Sorry guess you aren’t Dave.”

I was able to say close to him for most of the ride back to transition but just could not muster the speed to cut his lead. I was struggling a bit and realized that I had not rode enough in preparation. I would just have to gut it out.

As we returned to Fries Junction, I spotted a mountain biker with a race number heading out. It looked like the guy with the blown tire. I can’t be certain but that’s what it looked like. If so he had either repaired his tire or gotten a new one and was determined to finish regardless of how long it took. Now that’s what I call stumbling on.

I was almost back to the road crossing when I came up on a rider standing on his mountain bike cranking with one leg clipped in and the other leg dangling. It looked like he had somehow lost a pedal and was using this one-leg technique to make it back to transition. This field was showing major league grit on the bike course.

As I hit the road crossing, the policeman was still there, minding the store. I breezed through no problem. As I went by he yelled, “It’s all downhill from here.”

I rode back into transition, braked to a stop and I gently laid the bike down next to my gear. I didn’t have the time or fine motor skills to prop it back on the car stop. The sorta cross bike had done all it could. From here it was up to me to finish strong. Assuming my left calf was feeling functional.

A quick change of shoes and headgear and I was back out on the 5K course. My calf was holding up. I struggled to stretch out my stride post bike just like in a triathlon. Within a quarter mile a runner with an awesome Thor compression shirt passed me. Midway through the course I spotted the guy that passed me on the mountain bike. It looked like I might be able to close the distance. Then I was at the cemetery turnaround. As I passed the volunteer stationed there, I yelled “My middle name is eventually.” Where that came from I will never know.

Following the orange arrows spray painted on the sidewalk and road and the red balloons on sticks, I was once more on the hill overlooking transition. The guy I was chasing had really picked up his pace. He was already crossing the grassy field, and there was no catching him now. I struggled to hold my pace along the road, down the steps, under the trail and out onto the field.

About 100 yards from the finish a woman passed me saying “good job” as she went by. I picked up my pace and stayed with her. With 50 yards to go I surged past and then I was across the line.

It was a good day and a fun race. I ran better than my pre-race predictions. My trusty old Trek got another day in the sun. And Viktor – the guy on the borrowed bike, who was racing for fun – he won the whole dang thing.

New River Duathlon Links:

Race Organizer Website

2014 Race Results

2014 Race Report by Viktor Kimmel

2012 New River Duathlon Race Report by Doug Falls

New River Trail Information


Al Dockery is a PTA (physical therapist assistant) based in the Upstate of SC. He is a former award-winning writer and editor, who has worked for publications including Textile World and Furniture Today. He is a NC native and a NC State graduate.

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