Monday, August 26, 2013

Race Review : Maple Grove Sprint Triathlon

Three years ago I did the Olympic distance at this race, didn't like it too much. Last year I did the sprint and won my age group, this year I went back to defend my title. Overall I had a great time, though again my wife did not. She wrote her thoughts down and did a quick post DURING the race. While I like this race, I will give careful consideration to her feelings before choosing this race again.

Packet Pickup

I went up to Maple Grove the day before the race. The expo was similar to other years, little booths around that I glanced at briefly. I'm just not an expo guy. I walked in, gave them my number and much to my surprise the lady asked me what color swim cap I wanted. That's a first. I choose orange over silver. Head over and get my t-shirt and then headed out. Quick and painless. One plus, this year they didn't give me a bib that said Olympic in big letters on it. Though I did notice that at least one guy thought he was entered in the wrong distance race.

Race Morning

The race started at 7:30, I was planning on getting there by 6. So I got up at 4. I got up, had some breakfast, a bottle of water, another bottle for the road, and a bottle for the bike. The weather forecast had a chance of thunderstorms and a lot of wind with highs approaching 90. I woke up to no thunder or even rain. The temperature seemed good. But I loaded my bike in the trunk just in case - dry bike is a good bike :)

On the drive up I saw a lot of people passing me with bikes on the backs of their cars and in their back seats. I thought to myself, I'm the slowest triathlete driving down the interstate!

I found a parking spot in a rapidly filling up parking lot and pulled my bike out of the trunk. Temp was great, the sun was rising, and the skies looked clear and I couldn't really feel any wind. As I was getting my stuff all put together I noticed the lady who parked in front of me was having a small panic attack relating to her bike. I walked over on my way out and asked her if she needed anything. Apparently her bike tire was flat and wouldn't hold air. She suggested she had changed her tire the night before and may have gotten it wrong. She said she had a spare but didn't feel like she had time to fix it. I told her not worry, there would more than likely be a bike mechanic or five at the race site. I told her to grab her stuff and her spare, and walk her bike over to the race site, they would be more than happy to change her tire for her. I wished her a good race and went on my way. I was happy to see when I got to the race site there were plenty of bike mechanics from the local bike shop. I saw the her some time later before the race start, she was in her wet suit and looked ready to race.

I got marked up, found my assigned place on the racks and got set up. Over the next 40 minutes or so I chatted with the guys around me about whatever. A sort of neat thing about this race is that the series seems to have attracted a lot of repeat racers and I ran into a couple of the same guys who were racked near me at the Minneapolis tri. It was kinda neat to see some familiar faces. There were also a bunch of people who had signed up for the entire series and had the little series transition mats.

Race meeting time came, before the meeting a guy from work came up. That's always fun, we chatted a bit. Then made our way over to the gathering place for the swim start. I made myself comfortable for the next hour or so until they got to my start time. All in all, there were 1,600 racers and i was just about in the middle of the group.

A view of the swim start gathering area

Closer shot
My wife found me in the holding area. Actually, she ran into the guy from work first, who she didn't already know. That's a funny coincidence.

Me and the kids. I thought it was almost time to swim

The Swim

When I lined up for the swim I ran into another guy from the Minneapolis tri. He ended up passing me about a mile into the run in that race and probably ended up second in our group. He seems like a good guy, he bills himself as a slower swimmer. I made a joke that it will be nice to see him again on the run when he passes me again :)

This year the start was a time-trial start, two at a time, four seconds apart. I lined up near the front of our group and took it out pretty solid. Because of the time trial start and because the caps were mixed I had no way of knowing where I was in relation to anyone else in my group. I passed a bunch of people and only ran into bad traffic once or twice.

The kids waiting for me to get out of the water
Overall the swim felt good, a good effort that I was happy with. I exited and started a long run to my bike.

Running by - having a good race so far

The Bike

The run to the my bike seemed to take forever. When I got to my spot things seemed to go fine. I was surprised that there were people near me getting on their bikes. It was a little confusing though because I was pretty sure they weren't all in my age group due to pre-swim analysis of numbers.

I headed out, and got going. The plan was to try to do what it took to meet my goals. This is contrary to the way I usually race which is to do what feels maintainable and good. The forecast had called for a pretty good chance for 15-20mph winds coming from the south-east. This bike course run straight south for a couple miles, then west for a mile then north for 6 and then back. Overall it's like a figure eight. So I was surprised that the wind didn't seem terrible during the first leg. Some of that may have been adrenaline because when I look at my splits I can see the noticeable impact the wind had on my splits. Having the wind at my back for six miles felt pretty good.

The ride was going pretty well, I was passing people, unfortunately there were also plenty of people passing me. I counted at least four from my age group blow past me. Admittedly it was a little confusing because there were also a fair number of people starting out on the Olympic course. I didn't realize that until we got to the split and almost everyone in front of me went out on the other course. That actually made me feel kind of good, because it might have meant that the people who were passing me were not doing my race. I didn't hold my breath though.

After the six mile downwind leg we made the turn ... and there was the wind. With only four or five miles to go my legs were start to feel the effort. There was no question in my head that I had worked the bike pretty well. Coming into transition I was pretty confident that I had basically met the bike goal.

Transition went pretty well, and another long run through the transition area. Thankfully this time with shoes.

Note to race directors: If someone has just chip-sealed the transition area, no amount of sweeping or vacuuming is going to help. Running through that mess with no shoes was PAINFUL. Fair notice, I've been given the nickname "tenderfoot" ... so I might not be a representative of all racers. But still, some cheap carpet or something would have been heavenly.

Coming out of transition

Smiling, I just saw my wife with a huge smile on her face

This is what I look like when you're coming up behind me on the run :) A likely scenario

The Run

I was dreading the first little hill, last year I got a big ol' cramp and had to stop for a second. Thankfully that didn't happen this year. I went up the hill, through the little cliff-shot zone which took a new turn that wasn't there last year. It wasn't much of a change, I'm guessing it just worked out better for doing the feed zone.

After I got past the hill I glanced down and noticed I was WAY off pace. It felt good, hard but maintainable, I felt like I was moving well, but it wasn't translating to goal pace. Mile one ticks by, low 9. Uh oh.

I push a little harder. And there he goes .. the guy from the swim line, the same guy from the Minneapolis race. When he passed me there I was in second, at this point I figured I was in ... at best 9th. And he didn't pass me with the same speed he had before. I was running slower and so was he, it took him much longer to pull out of view this time. I tried to keep up for a while, but just could not get my legs to turn over. Mile two ticks by, low 9 again. I am watching my goal slip away.

Keep pushing. Honestly, if I didn't have my watch on I would have sworn I was holding a great pace. I felt like I had good turn over and keeping a decent form, it just wasn't fast. Over the next mile I keep trying to figure out ways to get moving. Move my legs faster, move my arms faster, small surges, etc. Nothing.

The Finish

The Olympic course had a run change this year, they come back into the park along the finish line and the second lap is exactly the same as the first one. So everyone starts down the finish line. I was feeling good, spent, but good. I really felt like I had a good race. I knew I had missed my goal, but I felt like I gave it what I had.

Waiting for me to finish

Here I come

Zoooooom! Faster than the shutter on the camera!
The Results


Well, I missed again. I mean I saw it slipping away on the run. I just could not find that gear.

The Swim
That's good for 4th overall and second in my age group.

The Bike
20 seconds isn't much. The wind was brisk, I pushed pretty hard and I'm happy with this.

The Run
Uhh, I guess I'm going to have to be honest and say that this year I just didn't put in enough time running. I stopped running further than four miles about half way through the summer. So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I just didn't have the legs to get my body to get going.

17/79 in my age group. 81/785 overall. Now, obviously this is a major change from the rest of the results this year where I think I had a top 10 or close to top 10 finish. Two thoughts on that. First, I didn't come close to my top speed. I missed by five minutes.

Quite note on that - if you're doing the math you'll see that I was only off by just under 4 minutes in "main leg" times. The rest came in transitions. And can you guess what? That first transition was THREE FULL MINUTES! At first I was shocked! And then I looked closer, it actually wasn't terribly slow compared to others. Don't get me wrong, I didn't win the transition race, but it's not like everyone else was doing sub minute. The run was basically up and down the full length and width of transition barefoot.

The second thought - faster people showed up. Even if I had met my goal, that was only good enough for 6th place in the age group. I ran into the guy who got second at Minneapolis, he was just as surprised as I was at the speed difference. If I guessed his name right, he ended up 9th.

I had to wrangle the finisher's medal off my daughter for this shot

Closing Comments

I had a great time. I felt like I turned in what I had and while I didn't end up making my goals I am pretty satisfied with my effort. My wife and kids were there the entire time, I got a chance to chat with a guy from work, and even got to see some familiar faces from other races.

I'd say that lifetime did a good job with the series, I mean if the same set of people show up at all the races they must have done something to attract them and it was fun to be part of that.

Having said all that, I agree with my wife that I don't really think the venue can support this race. I thought that the first year, and it was re-enforced this year. It seems almost silly that this site has no (not an exaggeration) on-site parking. Everything else is great, good volunteers, good energy, well organized, etc. But, I really want a race to be a good spectator experience for my cheering team. So we'll see, I said I wouldn't go back last year and I did. Maybe I'll do it again, but it's on the naughty list.

A big thanks to my family who came out and yelled and cheered for me. My wife who took pictures and stayed pretty positive even though she was really a sort of downer morning.

Aunty Bethany, a triathloner her in her right came out and hooted and hollered at me
That's it for triathlons this year. I have one more goal on the year, attempt at a new 10k PR. At the start of the season I was feeling good about that, less now. But I'm going to give it a go, I'm hoping that overall fitness means that I can build some speed sort of quickly since I won't also be trying to keep bike fitness.

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