ITU Duathlon World Championships

Date: September 26th, 2009
Location: Concord, NC, at the Lowes Motor Speedway (yes, it is a NASCAR track)
Distance: 10km run, 40km bike, 5 km run
Matt’s Times: 31:08 first run, 54:50 for the bike, 16:00 second run. 1:43:30 final time with transitions.
Official Race Results:
The full report:
It was an exciting weekend in North Carolina for me, as I won the 2009 ITU Duathlon World Championships! I placed first in my age group, 1st in the overall amateurs division, and also finished faster than all of the professionals. I hope you enjoy my story.
Wednesday through Friday, 9/23-9/25
I traveled with my trusty race manager, Rob Whitacre, arriving Wednesday night, flying into Charlotte from Seattle. Personally, I love traveling to races and actually find the process quite relaxing, if you can believe that. The usual stresses of life are long gone, and I find I can finally unwind, even with a huge race looming. My relationship with God always keeps things in perspective and allows me to stay calm at these events. No matter what happens in the race, God will never love me any less! That is a truth that I am finally beginning to grasp better these days.
The race was being held at a nearby NASCAR track (yes, you read right) that seats 170,000 fans. 1,000 participants had qualified to enter the race by competing in a qualifying race earlier in the season. About 300 of those were from the U.S., while I also saw good contingents from Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and Brazil. I had snagged the last spot available in the Phoenix Desert Classic Duathlon in February, placing 3rd in my age group. Needless to say, I was an extreme underdog coming into the race.
Lutz Braun arrived Thursday and was staying in our hotel room with us. He had given me a severe beating at the Dessert Classic, placing first in the 25-29 division. He ended up being a super cool guy, and I enjoyed getting to know more about him and it was nice to have someone to do my pre-race workouts with.
I toured the bike course once on Thursday, and twice on Friday, and noted that it was much more technical than I expected, with many 90 degree turns and one hard, choppy 120 degree turn. One rider I toured with commented to me that “to the brave goes the race.” How right he was! There certainly wasn’t much time to get up to speed before diving into another corner, as the course traveled in and out of the NASCAR stadium and along some of the adjacent service roads around the track. Fortunately, I still carry excellent bike handling skills from my bicycle racing days in high school, so I figured the challenging course would be to my advantage.
Saturday, 9/26/09, Pre-race
I woke up to a wet and nasty looking day, and was praying the course would dry out, knowing the technical nature of the bike course and how dangerous it would be if wet.
Run #1- 10km in 31:08 or 5:02 min/mile pace
The first run was a 2 lap (5km each) course through the infield of the NASCAR track, outside on a road that circumnavigates the stadium, followed by a turn-around, then the next 1.5 miles are hilly until the completion of the loop, including two sky bridges and a fast downhill towards the end of the loop through a tunnel when you re-enter the stadium.
The rain looked like it was going to stop and the roads might actually dry out, but right before the gun went off it started to drizzle steadily. It was going to be a wet one! Many age division left the starting line before us, and I knew I would be working my way through a steady stream of masters (that’s 40 and over) athletes.
I started out the race in classic Matt Sheek’s fashion: at the back! There was no need to go out in 4:50 pace in a two hour race! I quickly started picking off guys half way through the first loop. I caught up with Lutz and paced off him until the first sky bridge, and then started using the downhill’s to my advantage on the rest of the loop. It felt great passing people, so I just kept going after it even though I was already starting to feel the heart rate spike and was breathing heavy. By the end of the first lap I thought I was in first, so I started taking it a bit easier, not wanting to leave my entire race on the first run.
Making the turn-around for the second time, I looked to see if anyone wore a 400 series number coming the opposite direction, which would mean they were in my age group (I was 445, for instance). I spotted such a number on a short squatty guy in a black uniform. Knowing there was someone in front of me, I ensued chase. The short squatty man kept looking back, so I thought he must have been in first. I nearly closed down the gap on my chubby but fast competitor, finally passed him in the transition area, and set out on the bike course.
Bike- 40km or 27.1 mph
The bike course was a two loop course of 20km each (although I think it was a bit short considering my time), which spent a little time in the NASCAR stadium, and mainly followed service roads around the stadium and went through the local drag strip stadium as well.
Fortunately I had clear eyeglasses with me, so I could see through the steady rain. As I took a gradual corner, a rider hit the deck in front of me! Another rider (there are lots of riders around you at all times during the races, although you are not allowed to draft them) remarked to me that the fallen rider had made her turn on some paint lines, causing her to fall. Seeing the crash at the beginning made me skittish, especially as I was riding a pair of wheels I had never used in the rain before.
Not too soon through the first lap, I was caught by someone named Harris, who was from the USA (you can always know the last name of who you are competing against, as everyone’s last name is printed on their rear end). Harris was lighting it up, taking the corners incredibly fast for the conditions, but managing to keep the rubber side down. I recomposed myself and made it my aim to keep Harris in sight. During the rest of the course, I essentially used him as a guide, following his line through the corners. The man was using the course to his advantage, and I lost him occasionally, especially on hard corners or when slower athletes got in my way.
Towards the end of the race, I could tell Harris was giving it everything he had, yet I was still riding faster than him on the straight sections. I tried to open up a gap on him, but to no avail. We finished the bike course practically side by side. The race was to go down as a duel in the last run!
Run #2- 5km in 16:00 or 5:10 min/mile pace
As I entered the second transition, disaster struck: Someone was yelling very loudly “FOUR FOUR FIVE, STOP RIGHT THERE!!!” I looked up to see an official waving a yellow card at me (ITU officials give out yellow and red cards much like in soccer). Dazed from the adrenaline rush of being in the lead, and having an official screaming at me, I wondered what the heck was going on. Apparently, there is a rule on the books (ITU books mind you. USA triathlon does not have the same rule) that states a rider must keep his helmet strapped at all times until his bike has been re-racked. When I got off the bike and started running through the transition area, I had undone my strap (yes, this rule is completely worthless, in case you were wondering).
“YOU HAVE TO KEEP YOUR CHINSTRAP STRAPPED UNTIL YOU RACK YOUR BIKE!” The cranky official yelled. He finally got through to me, and once I had re-clipped my helmet strap, run the extra 5 yards over to my transition area, racked my bike, put on my shoes, and left, Harris had a good 75 yard lead on me! Oh no, I was going to forfeit the World Championships because of a technicality!
Hart-thumping like mad now, I chased after Harris. I could tell he was running for his life and was going to put up a good fight. I caught up to him by the turn around and barely held on to him up a hill as we reached the first sky bridge. Knowing the downhill’s to be a good opportunity to get rid of him, I threw in a surge as we descended off the first sky bridge. Taking a left, and then back up to the next sky bridge, Harris made his move on me! I nearly detonated going up the next hill, and Harris opened up some daylight on me.
At this point I knew it would come down to the final kick. I reminded myself that “it’s just the World Championships” (a funny saying Lutz and I had come to adopt) and to have fun just racing hard. I caught Harris on a minor downhill as we were still outside the stadium. I moved into first position, and floated, not wanting to expend too much energy and have him sneak up on me with a big move. We made a right hand bend, and descended through the tunnel back into the stadium. I let the legs spin as fast as they could, pounding the pavement. At the end of the tunnel, there was a hard right, and then a flat 300 meters to the finish. I dared not look back, and sprinted for all I was worth. Finally, with about 40 yards left, I looked back, and Harris was still right on my butt. I kept the throttle wide open, pumping my fist as I entered the finish chute. World Champion!!! By FOUR seconds!

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