Much like our 2016 ‘Queen of the Roads’, Sharon Peters spreading her wings and trying a triathlon in 2017, our current Queen of the Roads, Natalie Jenks spread her wings and entered a duathlon. The venue was Castle Combe moto circuit in Wiltshire and for Natalie, it was something like she had never done before – cycling on a motor circuit with chicanes and threatening bends. An additional challenge for Natalie (although she had overlooked it until she faced it) was transition from runner to cyclist back to runner while racing.
The Castle Combe Duathlon has been in operation for over 20 years and has been the breeding ground for many elite athletes including Olympians. The race format is, firstly a 2 mile run and this is normally ran flat-out due to its length. From this the competitors collapse onto their bikes before riding 5 laps of the 2 mile circuit – if the lungs are burning from the run, then the legs would soon be burning from the intensity of the cycling, which again is done at a relentless pace. From the cycling, the competitors remove helmets and set off on another 2 mile run – but of course, suffering the effects of the race thus far. It’s intense racing and demands a level of slickness to ensure there’s no mishaps in the manic transition zone which is under close scrutiny of race referees.
A duathlon is known within circles as “triathlon’s poor relation” and regarded as the tougher challenge due to the graceful and somewhat less-demanding swimming replaced by harsh running as the first discipline (that assumes one can swim!). Although not running as much as she did in 2017, Natalie has joined Tewkesbury’s impressive PB club this year with her 5km time being trimmed. Tewkesbury have fielded many runners in the Castle Combe duathlons before with Debbie Lee and Jon Mansfield winning the yearly series and quite often runners from local clubs have experimented at least once, the duathlon experience. Jon travelled to take part with Natalie and was surprised to see many familiar faces from this area.
Once on the 18:45hrs start line, the runners were off into fine sunny conditions. With her body producing adrenaline like a volcano erupting, Natalie was soon running to her maximum and tussling with decent runners from all angles. Her thoughts changed to her transition process and when she saw athletes scattered in the T1 (transition No1) she focussed on her steed and swiftly unshod, donned helmet and into her cycling shoes before a fairly steady mount under the watchful marshals. Once ‘rolling’ on the circuit, her speed rose over 20 m/hr and she was thankful that she had plaited her flowing locks and reduced turbulence. Jon had expected to ‘lap’ Natalie on his 4th or 5th lap but he didn’t and calmly assumed she had crashed in T1 or just given-up after the run stage. Jon went on to finish his 2 mile run and cross the finish line in 49 minutes. After getting his breath back, he jogged back on the course for the long wait for his team mate to finish. However, to his unreserved shock, Natalie came storming into sight fighting it out against two fast finishing lads! Those having seen Natalie train knows that she has the rare ability to turn herself ‘inside out’ with her efforts and she was reported to be running the last mile like a “raging bull”.
After confirmation from the results desk that she had rode 5 laps and not 4, Natalie took an astonishing 3rd place woman overall – thus beating some decent triathletes and only beaten by 2 Team Great Britain reps, including a England Triathlon Academy squad member.
Naturally, the Tewkesbury star was ecstatic with her performance as all aspects were relatively flawless – she abstained from reapplying lip gloss in T2 but apart from that, she had a 54 minute race debut to be proud of.
She enjoyed being the first person to be called to stand on the podium for her 3rd placing and there was further joy later as she was declared the fastest female cyclist of the race – noteworthy as she rode a road bike and the race favourites were riding Time Trial bikes or with aero bars.