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Merrell MudMan duathlon

Duathlons involve running and riding. This is the running part

The course managed to catch a few people out

Winner Sam Gardner

Once again, athletes were greeted with glorious spring weather for the Merrell MudMan duathlon on Saturday 7 March. The event took place on an army testing ground near Camberley in Surrey with both a 7.5km offroad run and a mountain bike duathlon on offer. Over 160 athletes eagerly lined up for the challenge.

“The Merrell Mudman isn’t for the fainthearted,” explains John Lunt of Human Race. “With lots of hills, lots of mud and a tough, tough route, pain is guaranteed. We like to think everyone has a lot of fun as well though!”

The Duathlon competitors were an eclectic mix of hardened triathletes, mountain bikers and adventure racers – the racing would prove to be interesting. With twice previous winner Colin Dixon not on the start list and XTerra champ Jim McConnel also absent, the men’s race was wide open. The first run followed a gruelling 7.5km course, then the 15km bike and another loop of the same 7.5km course for the final run.

After the first run, Sam Gardner and Eliot Challifour (Vo2) came into T1 neck and neck in 30:58 and 31:04 respectively. On to the bike however, and Gardner used his superb skills to create an insurmountable lead, completing the 15km bike course in a stunning 39:13. The second run was simply a formality, with Gardner then taking the overall victory in 1:43:07. Challifour had been pushed on the bike by the improving form of Paul Davies, but reclaimed his lead on the final run to take second in 1:49:59. Davies was third over the line in 1:52:47. In fourth place overall was Bradley Hales, and at only 18 this performance showed huge future potential.

Gardner is about to embark on a world tour of the XTerra circuit and was using the Merrell MudMan as a final sharpener before his departure. He was delighted with his win. “Doing a race like this is perfect preparation,” he said “You would never work as hard in training, and it’s brilliant to push yourself on a challenging course.”

The ladies race welcomed previous MudMan winner Aileen Anderson back to protect her title, which she did in great style. Anderson, who has been focusing on her running since the last event, cruised to victory in a superb seventh place overall and in 2:07:41. “I love hills,” she exclaimed, “this course suits me down to the ground!”. Next over the line, and only just over a minute behind, was Fay Cripps in 2:08:59, with Becky Crisp in third. For Crisp, it was the icing on the cake, having won her entry in a competition on “I’m delighted,” she said, “I really enjoyed it and had a great race.”

Full results are at, where you can also find details of a stack of other events throughout the summer. The Merrell Mudman itself returns in November.

The view from the middle

BM editor Mike has a go

As a general rule, I don’t do running. I used to, but I kind of retired. Entering the MudMan seemed like a good idea at the time, but started to look less so when I actually figured out what was involved. I blame metrication – somehow 7.5km doesn’t sound far, but in old money that’s knocking on five miles. And you have to do it twice, so that’s nearly ten, which the increasingly-panicked part of my brain immediately categorised as “almost a half marathon”. Off road. With hills.

Clearly some actual preparation was in order, but as is ever the way I’d left myself about three weeks, during which I had to move house. I managed a half-hour run (the first for almost exactly a year) which resulted in very sore legs indeed, and once that had subsided, another very slightly longer one that resulted in slightly less sore legs. And then there was a week to go, so I figured I’d better “taper” ‘cos that’s what proper athletes do. Although I’m not sure that you’re meant to just do nothing.

Race day arrived and thankfully turned out to be quite springlike. I parked up my bike, shoes and helmet in the transition area and eyed up the competition. The demographics of duathlon are quite interesting. The 100+ competitor field had a clear split between runners who had bikes (typically a Rockhopper or a Decathlon) and riders who dabbled in running (Yeti, Whyte etc), with a small elite of proper multisport athletes who take everything equally seriously.

I decided to position myself on the grid by using clothing style as a cue – behind anyone with Paula Radcliffe-style long socks or a tri suit, in front of anyone wearing a rugby shirt. Or “hiding somewhere in the middle” as it turned out to be. My strategy, such as it was, was to take it very easy on the first run, recover on the bike and hope to have enough remaining limb movement to get around the second run at something other than hobbling pace.

A PARP! from organiser John Lunt (he didn’t make that noise himself, he used an air horn) and we were off. The long-sockers quickly vanished into the distance and I attempted to establish some kind of rhythm. Ideally some kind other than “experimental jazz”. Over the first mile or so the field spread out, and the extra space meant I settled in to a pace that, if not actually comfortable, felt as if it might be sustainable, and also wasn’t right at the back which was about my only goal.

Just when I was thinking that this wasn’t too bad, the hills arrived. Responding creatively to the presence of the fairly small number of hills in the course area, the organisers had routed the course up and down the same really steep one five times. This being an army testing ground, a track went straight up the bank, hairpinned round at the top and straight down again, and kept doing it. Most people around me were walking – I experimented with a kind of tippy-toe fairy-steps uphill tapdance in an effort to keep that long-awaited rhythm, but common sense (and exploding calves) put paid to that idea. Descending the hills was hard too. More experienced trail runners clearly had the knack, skimming down the banks at a startling rate. I, for want of a better term, minced.

Thankfully the second half of the lap was considerably more level, with just a longish, draggy climb towards the end. Looking around, I seemed to be with largely the same people I had been since the start, which I took to be a promising sign.

Also promising was the presence of a reasonable number of bikes still in the transition area. Running shoes off, bike shoes on, helmet on and away for the first of three laps, before immediately reaching for the bottle to take on some much-needed fluids. Pedalling felt great after running, but that wasn’t going to last. Deciding that my seat was a whisker too low, I hopped off to adjust it and immediately cramped up in both calves. For a moment I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back on, but thankfully the cramp eased just enough to let me remount and once I was pedalling again it was fine. That little downer was compounded by the leader, Sam Gardner, flying past on his second bike lap. Not great for motivation, although on the other hand he’s doing the whole global XTerra off-road triathlon circuit, so you’d expect him to be a bit nippy.

Thankfully the tables were turned on the steep bits of the course, with us riders now the experienced party and the runners struggling a bit. That said, the bike route missed out most of the ups and downs of the run course. Although it was fairly straightforward stuff, with only about fifty feet of singletrack, there were enough twists and turns to keep things interesting – the army training ground tracks are considerably more interesting than their gravelly doubletrack appearance would suggest.

Mindful of the risk of cramping again, I tried something I’d read somewhere at the end of the bike leg – big gears, lower cadence, more standing up, a pedalling action that’s meant to be a bit more like running in terms of muscle groups and that therefore eases the transition. I still cramped up quite badly trying to change shoes, so it’s hard to say whether it helped, but I managed to get back out in reasonable time and was surprised to find the early parts of the second run leg not too uncomfortable.

It’s all relative, of course, and hopping off a bike and straight into a run is never going to be easy. There’s always an unnerving sense that your legs have shrunk to garden gnome proportions and no longer bend. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to those steep banks again, but at least they showed up early in the course – if they’d stuck them in at the end they might have proved fatal. They were very definitely a walk this time around, and from further down the hill too. Getting them all out of the way was definitely a relief.

After that it was just a question of not coming to a complete halt during the remainder of the lap. Coming on to the home straight, though, I noticed the time – 2:27. I could almost see the line, and suddenly getting in under two and a half hours become the goal. I wouldn’t say I managed a sprint finish, but I teased out a marginally brisker jog and snuck in at 2:29:09 for what turned out to be a surprising 38th place.

Just to put things into perspective, winner Sam Gardner completed the course in a ludicrous 1:43:07. He scary man.

So, duathlons then. If you’re looking for something a bit different for your competitive outlets, but it’s got to involve bikes, then give one of these a go. Trail running is miles more interesting and less painful than on the road, and if you want to gain some fitness then the run/bike/run mix with a garnish of steep is hard to beat…


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