By Rip It Ambassador, Kelly Rende
In April 2021, I participated in the Columbia Gateway Duathlon hosted by Rip It Events. I am a newbie to multi-sport racing and “doing the du” was an awesome experience for me. If you are considering whether you want to try a duathlon, read on.
The Columbia Gateway Duathlon consists of three legs. Participants complete a 2 mile run, 10 mile bike and a 2 mile run.
This race is particularly good for first timers because you travel around the same 2-mile loop for each leg of the race. And it is great for spectating.
I am a competitive swimmer but I’ve always been inconsistent with running. At 38 years old I bought a hybrid bike and my kids re-taught me how to ride because I hadn’t ridden in over twenty years. It was intimidating but after a few rides I was in love with cycling.
When the world shut down for the pandemic, I took advantage of that time to get back in shape. I registered for virtual races, including a series of five duathlons that Rip It ran.
A year later, as a first year Rip It ambassador, I took the leap and registered what would be both my first in-person race for 2021. While training time was limited, I got on my bike as often as I could prior to the race. I also read through the rules and regulations several times until I had them memorized. My goal for this race was to execute smooth transitions.
Finally, I looked up how to change a bike tire on YouTube… just in case…
Do Not Fall Into the Comparison Trap
When I arrived at the race venue, I looked around hoping to see some familiar faces. Music filled the air and all around me people dressed in expensive looking race outfits socialized while stretching. My stomach started to knot up and I began to feel like I was out of my element.
I checked in and got my race packet and headed to the transition area to rack my bike and lay out my gear. Row after row, the bike rack was lined with fancy road bikes.
My hybrid started to look cheap and out of place and I could feel a panic attack coming on. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that Rip It strives for a collegial atmosphere that encourages athletes of all abilities to compete and have fun.
For years I’ve listened to my friends discuss their training routines and races. The time commitment as well as an unhealthy case of imposter syndrome kept me from joining in the action for years.
As a single mom who works around sixty hours a week, I don’t always have the flexibility to train the way I should be. Combined with the fact that I joined the world of multi-sport racing later in life, it sometimes feels like a stretch to compete with seasoned athletes.
The thing I love most about Rip It races is that the owners, Danny and Suzy Serpico and their team have created an environment that welcomes athletes of all levels. Maybe your goal is to break a record or perhaps it is to make it to the finish line. Either way, there are going to be volunteers and competitors cheering you on along the way.
I laid a folded towel on the ground and set out my helmet and water bottle. Then I fastened my race bib onto my shirt and put my sunglasses on. It was still cold outside and I shivered as I surveyed the area when I spotted long-time friend Jeff Six and went over to chat while we waited for the race to start.
Finally, race director Danny Serpico started to call competitors to line up by wave, the earlier waves being the faster athletes. As I headed to line up, I saw my friend Terra Serpico in the crowd with her kids. They were there to support friends and family. We waved to one another and she wished me luck.
My wave was lining up towards the back. It was a fun crowd and we cheered as the others took off and waited for our group to be called up. We jogged in place to stay warmed-up and eventually we moved up to the starting line and waited for the magic words.
“Take your marks, get set, go!”
We took off running. I still had my mask on and pulled it down so I could breathe more efficiently. The two miles went by pretty quickly as I expected but my anxiety grew as I got closer to the transition area. I noted that the last quarter mile or so was uphill.
Once there, I fastened my helmet immediately, unracked my bike and walked it briskly out to the mounting area. Volunteers signaled me to hop on and I started riding. The first loop was unremarkable until the end where I had to start pedaling uphill. I made it up to the top and made a mental check mark. One loop done, four to go.
With each loop, that last hill got harder. What kept me going was the encouragement of the volunteers and other RipIt ambassadors.
“Let’s go, Rip It!” I heard over again as they passed me. These words gave me the energy to keep going and the breath to say the same words to others as they kept pushing through.
The Last Leg
I finally got myself up past the last hill, dismounted at the designated line and on wobbly legs made my way back to my spot to rack my bike. I immediately turned around and started jogging back out to make it through the last two miles.
As I headed under the inflatable archway, people started yelling at me. I was disoriented for a minute but then realized, I still had my helmet on. I stopped and removed it and a volunteer grabbed it from me.
Danny Serpico walked by at that moment and jokingly said, “Are you trying to run with your helmet, Kelly?”
I managed a chuckle and replied, “I love my helmet. It’s my good luck charm!”.
The last leg was much harder than I thought it would be. I admit, I had to do the run-walk routine so I could intermittently catch my breath. My legs were tightening up.
Other competitors were starting to join me when I took my walking breaks. We knew the last hill was coming up around the corner.
My second- third?- wind kicked in. “All right guys,” I said to the handful of people around me, “We can run the rest of the way, let’s rip it!”
We picked up speed and worked our way up the hill. I could almost see the transition area on the horizon when all of a sudden my feet were no longer on the ground and my body propelled forward seemingly in slow motion. I had time to pray that I didn’t land on my bad knee.
My prayers must have been answered because somehow my feet landed on the ground and I was able to right myself but my heart was racing. My fellow competitors stopped to make sure I was okay, but I could barely talk. I nodded and motioned for them to keep going.
Once my heart slowed and I caught my breath I started running again. No matter how challenging the race, and how tired I am, my one personal rule is to finish hard. I ran up that hill and back towards the finish line where the music was still blaring. As the line got closer, I tried to run faster.
The Finish Line Approaches
I threw my arms up in victory as I sailed across the line and heard the local radio DJ, Priestly announce my name. Someone handed me my finisher’s medal and someone else placed a bottle of water in my hand. I downed that water and headed back to the transition area that was clearing out, stopping to cheer intermittently for the others who were making their own trek across the finish line.
Walking my bike and race gear back to the car, I could feel the soreness setting in my legs and hips. It would be there for the next twenty-four hours, a sign that my muscles need more conditioning. Despite the exhaustion and pain, I already knew that I would be back for 2022.
True to my intentions, I’m registered for the race and can’t wait to outdo last year’s performance. As I am typing, the race is 70% full, so if you are on the fence about competing in a duathlon, I highly recommend the Columbia Gateway Duathlon.
If you’re looking to get out of your comfort zone and embrace a new challenge, the first step is to just “Du” it. Each competitor receives a finisher’s medal and a race tee, and of course bragging rights for “doing the due”.
Race information and registration can be found at https://www.ripitevents.com/columbiagatewayduathlon.