Sunday kicked off my 2015 triathlon season. As I wrote in a previous post, my entire running and triathlon season is all Minnesota-based this year. Minnesota is known for its endurance sports community, so why travel when I have plenty of top-notch events right in my backyard?
My first race was a great start. I raced “Trinona,” which is a popular international distance triathlon in Winona, MN, known for it’s bike course featuring an epic climb up the Mississippi bluffs. It’s also the first of three races in the Lifetime Fitness Minnesota series, which I’m competing in this year.
But, before things even got underway, mother nature almost put a huge wrench in the day.
I woke up race morning at 4:45am to thunder and down-pouring rain. I didn’t particularly want to see either. Not that bad weather bothers me from a racing standpoint, but as a new race director, I can sympathize with the tough weather-related calls that sometimes have to be made on race morning.
I walked downstairs to the lobby of the hotel to meet my dad and then drive over to transition. Thankfully, I ran into a few other athletes who gave me the update. They delayed the opening of transition by an hour, meaning the start would likely be pushed back as well.
So, instead of hustling over to transition just to sit in the ran, I sat in the hotel lobby for a few minutes, sipping my coffee.
Breakfast that morning was pretty standard, and because it was a short-course race, I didn’t fret about getting too much food down: coffee with coconut oil, banana, cashews, and a water bottle mixed with 12oz of water and a serving of UCAN Superstarch, which I drank about 30 minutes before the start of the race.
When we arrived at transition, things looked pretty dreary – rain and clouds – though the weather was expected to clear throughout the morning.
I found my spot in transition (I was bib number 5, so not too difficult to spot), and started setting things up. My biggest dilemma? What lenses to use in my sunglasses? Should I use clear because of the rain and clouds? What about the yellow shades that brighten things up? Or even the dark lenses because the sun was expected to come out? I chose yellow, but it didn’t matter much. I ended up taking them off halfway through the bike anyway.
I laid out my towel, placed my shoes and race belt on top, then clipped in my cycling shoes to my pedals. Then something caught my eye. The guy next to me was wearing Villanova soccer gear, where I played for two years from 2008-09. He graduated a couple years ago, but ironically lives in the Twin Cities as well. For a school with a predominantly east coast student body, it was pretty cool to meet someone who went there from MN, and who even played soccer too. Trinona was his first triathlon, and he said he’s also doing the MN series. So, I’ll see him again in a few weeks at the Minneapolis Triathlon, the next stop.
Though the opening of transition was delayed by an hour, swim start for the international distance race was only pushed back about 20 minutes. The announcer instructed all the athletes to assemble in their waves. For the first time, I was in the elite wave. This wasn’t because I raced as an elite athlete (though I could’ve), it was something that the race organizers offered to all the MN series participants to try and get a few more athletes in the elite waves. As you can see, the men’s elite wave was pretty sparse.
Ahead of me were two other athletes. For a while I seemed to hold a 100 meter gap between us. But, I was also between packs. Ahead of me were a couple athletes and I knew there were plenty of others behind me.
I fell into a really comfortable rhythm and just swam, though I was solo for most of the swim. At times I thought to myself, “am I swimming hard enough?” I felt really comfortable.
Thankfully, living just a few blocks from a lake in Minneapolis, I now have regular access to open water to swim in. And leading up to the race, that’s exactly what I did. It really helped reintroduce me back to open water swimming after months and months of staring at that dreaded black line at the bottom of the pool. I think have some preparation in open water really helped, not to mention I’ve really upped my swim yardage over the past few months to 5-6 days of week with about 12-15k yards.
A quick, smooth, uneventful transition, and off on the bike course. After getting up to speed I could feel my body struggling to make the switch from upper body muscles to lower body. I passed a couple athletes who passed me on the swim, but I still wasn’t feeling totally comfortable. It’s like my legs were fatigued and didn’t want to work.
The first 8 miles of the bike course are somewhat flat, with a couple short inclines. Then, it was time for the climb up the bluffs. I did some recon the day before and road the climb. So I knew what was coming. But, my legs still felt a little off. As I began to climb they burned more and more, starved of oxygen, it seemed. I even rode the climb in a smaller gear (though slightly higher cadence) than the day before.
Towards the top one athlete passed me. I wasn’t happy. I’ve spent a ton of time working on my cycling this year, and felt great heading into the race. Maybe I didn’t eat enough for dinner the night before (I had fish tacos with a wild rice salad). Maybe it was the poor night sleep (couldn’t fall asleep for a few hours after going to bed). I could make excuses, but the bottom line was that I knew I could’ve done better.
Nonetheless, I reached the top, and clicked into a larger gear as I got going on the flat. A couple miles up the road, my legs finally began to feel a bit more normal. I began pushing gears I knew I should be pushing, and my speed ticked up to where it should’ve been.
Now time for the fun part; the descent! And boy was that fun! A little slower than normal because of the wet roads from the early morning rain, but still a rush.
For the remaining 5-6 miles, I and one of the elite males duked it out to see who would come into transition first. He passed me, I dropped back and rode behind for a minute or two. Then I passed him and he did the same. We kind of worked together for the rest of the bike course. But then with a mile or two left, we rounded a turn and he built a 100 meter gap between us.
I was faced with a choice. Exert some energy and try to close the gap. Or ride smoothly into T2, conserve energy, and hope to catch him on the run.
I chose the second.
The run course was a simple out and back along the lake path. Up ahead I could see two other athletes. That left me in 6th place at the start of the run.
I charged out of T2 determined to eliminate the gap. At the first mile marker, my watch read 5:57. I thought, “dang, a sub 6 minute mile and I feel like I haven’t done a thing with that gap.”
I didn’t let it discourage me. I kept up the pace. My second and third miles were a little slower, but still around 6:05-6:10. But as I hit the turnaround, the gap was almost exactly the same. I just couldn’t close it. I thought, “maybe I should’ve worked a bit harder at the end of the bike to close things down.” Wrong choice.
By mile 5 I mentally felt I couldn’t do it. I knew I wasn’t going to catch him. At one point during the race I thought I had a chance at an overall podium spot. With a better bike split I would’ve.
I passed the 6 mile mark and entered the final couple hundred meters. I could hear the announcer. I cruised into the finish chute, waved to my wife and parents, and crossed the line.
I finished 6th overall, and won the 30-34 age group. The finish also put my 5th in the overall standings for the MN Series. Overall, it was a solid effort. A lot of good things happened. A few things I know I need to work on, but not a bad start to the season!
Top of the podium!!