Queen of the Castle

On Sunday 8th May, the annual 'Storm the Castle' duathlon took place in and around Ludlow.  Billed as one of the toughest dualthlon's in the country due to the hilly terrain, one of our intrepid Ludlow Runners, Laura Perratt, decided to take on the challenge.  I chatted with Laura after the event to find out what the attraction of a duathlon was and how the race went for her.

What got you interested in taking part in a duathlon (as opposed to a triathlon or a half marathon)?

Do you want the long version or the short version?!

The long version involves a year-long running slump, a broken toe, a new (second hand) gravel bike, a journey of discovery, a newfound love of cycling and a refreshed way of thinking about running… followed by a desire to challenge myself to do something different. Deep stuff, man.

The short version involves a glass of gin and tonic, a web link sent by a friend and a moment of slightly inebriated madness. 

Are you a keen cyclist?

Bike leg - 33kmHmmm... define 'keen'! I just love being on my bike, simple as that. The beauty of a gravel bike is that you can go pretty much anywhere, and you’re not just restricted to the road. If I can cycle somewhere, I will - whether it be the 20-mile journey to work, a blast through Mortimer’s Forest to High Vinnalls in time for Park Run, or the five minute trip to town. 

That said, I’m not one to get up at 5am and ride 100 miles by lunch time! 

What kind of training did you do?

I think of it more as 'practice' than 'training'. I’ve cycled before and I’ve run before, but I’ve never run then cycled then run again!  So, for me it was a case of practice, practice, practice. 

The hardest part of a duathlon, in my mind, is the transition from the bike leg to the second run. As soon as you get off your bike you want to fall over because your legs are jelly. For the first mile of the run, your legs are rocks. It doesn’t really get any easier with experience (even my hard-core triathlete friends admitted that they still find it hard!), so you just need to get used it….and the only way you can get used to it is to practice it a bunch of times.

The other thing I needed to practice was the pace of each leg. A multi-sport challenge is a different sort of beast to long distance running because running is largely a case of finding your optimum pace and maintaining that for a long time (much harder than it sounds, for sure). In a multi-sport challenge, you need to learn how much you can push your body in each separate discipline without conking out on the next leg. Runners treat 5k and 10k runs very differently, and 33k is short for a stand-alone bike ride. I needed to learn how to pace a 10k run, followed by a 33k bike ride, followed by another 5k run. The only way to do that was to practice. To get a feel for it I recced the route a few times, starting by pairing just two sections – first the run/bike, then the bike/run. One Saturday morning I cycled the 33k bike route, stopped at High Vinnalls and then did the Park Run…and somehow achieved a 5k PB! I was also training for the Mammothon at the same time as Storm the Castle, so sometimes I’d cycle to a point along the Mammothon route, park my bike and then recce a section of the Mammothon. 

Each time I did something like this I thought, "how on earth am I going to manage to run, then cycle, then run again?!” However, the practice paid off. A couple of weeks before Storm the Castle I recced the whole route for the first time and managed to complete it under my target time of 3 hours. That was a real confidence boost.

Serious triathletes practice the actual transition stage (i.e. changing shoes and getting on / off the bike) religiously and swear by various transition techniques, but I didn’t bother with that. I mean, I was a first-time duathlete riding a gravel bike against some seriously experienced triathletes on expensive carbon fibre machines, so a few seconds gained on transition wasn’t going to make a huge difference for me!

How did you feel the evening before the race?

Absolutely bloody terrified. A mug of hemp tea ensured a good night’s sleep. (I’m not joking, that stuff is great.)

What was the atmosphere like on the day?

It was incredible. While there weren’t as many participants as in previous years, the crowds whoLaura running strong turned up to cheer us on were brilliant and made such a big difference. It was wonderful to see lots of Ludlow Runners supporting the event, as well as members of the Andali Fitness family. I was really pleased to see fellow Ludlow Runners participating - big shout out to Peter Cartwright and Caroline Prentice!

The event staff were super friendly and there was a great sense of camaraderie amongst the other participants. I was worried that I’d be looked down on as a complete rookie, but even the experienced athletes were really supportive. Some even offered tips, for example how to lay out my kit at the transition area. 

Overall, despite the lower numbers, there was high energy and the fantastic ‘festival’ feel that makes events like this truly special.

How did the race go?  Did it all go to plan or were some aspects better or worse than anticipated?

Finished at lastI absolutely loved every minute of the race. It didn’t feel much different to a running event - you’re nervous to begin with, but once you set off you get into the zone and enjoy yourself. I set myself a personal target to come in under three hours if possible, but I was quite relaxed about it so I didn’t feel any pressure. My main aim was to have fun and try something new…which I did!

There was a bit of a hiccup at the beginning of the first run where the leading half of participants were sent an extra mile up and down Halton Lane - woops! I didn’t find out about this until after I’d crossed the finish line, but at the time I had thought we were going a bit further than expected and I was a little confused when I overtook people who had started in the wave behind me, and I wondered how they got in front of me!

Other than that, it went more smoothly for me than I had anticipated. I was worried that I’d mess up at the transitions or conk out during the first run or get a puncture or that my wheel would come flying off and send me into a ditch, but perhaps I was catastophising a little bit…In reality, the transitions were straight forward and I had a good amount of energy the whole way around, helped by the support of the spectators. I even had a brief chat with Peter Cartwright while cycling up the hill from Pipe Aston to High Vinnalls - a big ol’ hill but much more enjoyable with company!

How did you feel at the end of the race?

Elated, exhausted, relieved, proud, and actually quite sad that it was over…oh, and miffed that the ONE person I wanted to beat came in ten minutes ahead of me (okay, so maybe I am a little bit competitive)! I was also very surprised to find out that I was10th female finisher and 2nd female in my age category…I was so shocked, I had to ask the timekeeper if there had been a mistake! It turns out that there were only 18 females participating and 3 women in my category, but still, it felt nice to be on the pedestal for once.

Overall I just felt really chuffed with myself and so happy to be surrounded by friends and family, and privileged to have taken part in such an awesome event.

What would you say to anyone wanting to step out of their comfort zone and try something other than pure running?

Go for it! Honestly, it may seem scary but there is immense satisfaction in trying somethingQueen of the Castle different, discovering new activities you enjoy and achieving things you didn’t think you were capable of. I heard about Storm the Castle when I moved to Ludlow in 2019, and while I thought it sounded cool, I never seriously imagined I’d do it. Even when I signed up for it, I thought “what on earth have I got myself into?!” I think we all have a tendency to underestimate ourselves and sell ourselves short, but we are capable of much more than we believe ourselves to be. I totally surprised myself, and you can too.

Personally, I was also motivated by other people who were also taking on the challenge. I’m very much a people person and was encouraged by those who were doing it with me – we could inspire one another, offer advice and create a sense of community and camaraderie. The Ludlow Runner community is a fantastic support base so if there’s a new challenge you’d like to have a crack at, I am sure you can find someone mad enough to do it with you!

The next challenge I’ve set myself is to tackle a 50-miler such as the Shropshire Way 80k. Right now, I question whether I have the ability to do that. I don’t know unless I try, though, and who knows? Maybe this time next year I’ll have the SW80k under my belt and I’ll look back and wonder what on earth I was worried about!

For anyone tempted to take part in a triathlon or a duathlon there are two great events taking place in Ludlow:

Ludlow Sprint Triathlon - Sunday 25th September

Ludlow Runners help to marshall this event and it is always and really great ocassion with a super atmosphere.  Perfect for beginners.

Storm the Castle

Yes, Storm the Castle will be taking place again in 2023 under the helm of 'Andali Events'.  So if you were inspired by Laura's story then why not have a go next year?!

Published: 30th May 2022


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