It was my hometown race. On top of that, the Minneapolis Triathlon has historically been a major stop on the non-drafting Olympic-distance racing circuit. Countless household names in the sport have competed in this race: Craig Alexander, Hunter Kemper, Simon Whitfield, Bevan Dockerty, Andy Potts, Cameron Dye, Matt Reed, Julie Dibens, and Leanda Cave.
Unfortunately, the race this year didn’t carry the same weight since Lifetime decided to eliminate it’s professional field from all its races. The Mpls Tri, nonetheless, still attracts many top elite amateurs from Minnesota.
The biggest thing running through my head the day and week before the race was how prepared I felt. I knew the course. I ride on a section of the bike course almost every day. A week prior to the race a few training partners with Channel 3 Racing and I rode the entire bike course. There’s been a few improvements, but the road surface is still littered with potholes in many sections. Before Trinona I began to regularly swimming in open water once or twice a week. My confidence built.
Unlike other races, though, this one was especially special because my younger sister also competed. It wasn’t her first triathlon, but it was her first Olympic distance race (she did a sprint a few years back). Like me, she also comes from a background playing sports growing up, and she’s run a few half marathons (some I’ve had the pleasure of coaching her for). She was, nonetheless, a little nervous leading into the race. True to my coaching tendencies, I tried to offer a little advice here and there before the race. The morning before the race I took her up to Lake Harriet for a 20 minute swim, mostly just to get used to the open water for her, and to point out some of the trouble spots on the bike course.
(In the end, she killed it! I saw her a couple times on the run after I finished and she looked calm, composed, strong, and like she was enjoying every second of it. She even beat her goal time by about 20 minutes. I’m really proud of her.)
Though I had the privilege of sleeping in my own bed the night before the race, the day before the race was a bit different than usual. After the morning swim with my sister and breakfast, I spent a couple hours at the Generation UCAN booth at the expo later in the day. I had a blast talking to other athletes about UCAN and even got to sample the new chocolate flavor UCAN Snack bar (which, is arguably one of the best tasting, cleanest bars on the market). It was a bit steamy though, and I was standing almost the entire time. Not the typical pre-race environment (standing and heat exposure), but I kept telling myself it was no different than any other work day.
Now here comes a big change up. It was one of two new things I tried the day before and day of the race. Yes, I know, you aren’t suppose to try anything new for a race if you haven’t practiced it. But, let’s just say I took a page out of the Andy Potts playbook who contends that he tries one new thing for every race. It’s the only way to improve, right?
Pre-race meals are always tough. I want something that’s not going to cause any GI issues and that my body is used to. Basically, I look for bland. And where did I find it? CHIPOTLE!
Yup, a basic bowl of white rice, carnitas, sauteed veggies, lettuce, salsa, and guacamole. Really simple, but very effective. It’s my go-to combination at Chipotle, and it’s served me well before or after big training sessions. I just hoped it wouldn’t let me down.
My other pre-race secret: beetroot juice. Beet juice has really caught on among endurance athletes for its performance enhancing effects. How does it work? Beet juice contains a lot of nitrates, which the body subsequently converts to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a key molecule in vasodilation, or the dilation of blood vessels, which increases blood flow. It’s been a part of my pre-race preparation for a few years now. (maybe I’ll do a more detailed blog on this)
Race morning. Wake up time was almost like a typical training day. Instead of my usual 5am, I woke up naturally at 4:45am. I immediately fell into my usual routine. Everything was already packed in my transition bag, so just had to make coffee and eat a little. Breakfast was coffee with coconut oil, along with a banana and almond butter. Forty-five minutes before the race I consumed a serving of UCAN Superstarch, which I mixed with about 8 ounces of water in a bottle I carried into transition. Simple, just the way I like it.
Setting up in transition was likewise uneventful. Same routine.
Then it was race time!
Again, I swam in the elite amateur swim wave. Unlike Trinona, this race featured a much larger elite field, which made the mass swim start a bit more chaotic.
I composed myself, envisioned the race, thought about my journey to get to the start line, and then…game time.
After a few minutes of delay, the gun finally shot off, and we all charged into the lake. It was a pretty simple rectangle-shaped swim course. The biggest challenge was the first 300 meters or so were directly into the sun, which made sighting more challenging. After a mad scramble during the first 100-200 meters when it felt like every other stroke was on top of someone’s back, things finally settled.
The lead group pulled away and I found myself within a secondary group. I felt really strong the entire swim. Once my heart rate came down from the initial chaos, I found a nice line in the water. I swam alongside a couple other athletes for a few hundred meters and then slowly pulled ahead. I led the small secondary pack. I thought I pulled ahead from the group a little, but the periodic slap on my foot from another athlete’s hand reminded me the group wasn’t far behind. Each time I gave an extra hard kick. It got annoying pretty quick.
I exited the water and glanced at my watch – 21 minutes. Man, I was shocked. Either I had a fantastic swim (and a PR) or the course was a little short. Either way, it gave me a HUGE boost of confidence heading into T1.
Aside from the poor road surface quality in some sections, the bike course was a ton of run. Technical in places with some tight turns and short, punchy climbs. But I really enjoyed it, especially since it was entirely closed to traffic. The entire bike, and I mean the-entire-way, I went back and forth with a young guy who ended up placing second in the collegiate division. We basically worked together the entire bike. I’d pass him and lead (or “pull” if you care to use the proper cycling terms) for a bit. Then he’d pass me and do the same. (Don’t worry, we kept the requisite 3 bike lengths between us, though you’ll still get a small drafting effect at that follow distance.)
Like Trinona, I didn’t feel 100% happy with my bike split, but it was a little better. The dodgy roads really interject a timidness to your riding at times. Last thing you want is to hit a massive pothole and end up with a puncture or mechanical.
As for nutrition, this is where I tried my second new thing for the race. Typically I’ll have one bottle of plain water and another of UCAN. I’ve heard of a lot of professional’s having success with coconut water, particularly immediately after the swim. So, I gave it a go. I had one bottle with diluted coconut water and the other with my typical UCAN. I drank the coconut water during the first 10-15 minutes of the bike, and then moved on to the other bottle.
My verdict? Not sure if it made much difference, though it didn’t hurt anything or cause any issues.
My first few strides coming out of transition felt fantastic. I passed my wife and her parents who came to watch the race (which, as an aside, was really special. They haven’t been able to make it to many races over the years, so to have their support, and to see them along the course gave me an extra jolt).
The run course was very straightforward: a double loop around Lake Nokomis – pancake flat! In my mind I visualized my 2x 3 mile tempo runs around Lake Harriet, essentially the same profile. I hit a 5k PR in training not too long ago, and that really gave me some confidence heading into the race.
In the first mile, I had another athlete hot on my tail. He entered T2 not too far behind me. About a half mile into the run, the course splits, to the left was the super sprint course and to the right was the sprint and Olympic course. They had arrows on the pavement but no volunteers. The closest athlete ahead of me was too far in the distance to see, so I didn’t know which way to go. I turned left. I looked back at the other athlete. He went the other way. Ahh. I didn’t panic, just backtracked a little, and resumed. I start to pull away from him.
Much like Trinona, I came into T2 at the same time as an athlete I traded punches with on the bike. He pulled ahead of me by a couple hundred meters on the run. My only goal was to catch him. Head down, I charged ahead.
Overall: 2:09:52 (1st 30-34 age group, 19th overall)
I caught up with my support crew (parents, wife and in-laws) afterwards. A huge thank you to them all, especially my wife (a.k.a. coach :)) who has always been my number 1 fan. Sure a part of me hoped to beat that other athlete on the run. But, to hit 2:09 felt really, really good.