Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Race Review: Minneapolis Tri

I've done this race three years now. It's a pretty good race, in the past my wife has not enjoyed coming to this race, but she gave me the green light to sign up again. There are several things I think about when signing up for this race. First, it's pretty expensive, close to $200 for an individual entry. It's large, nearly 2,000 people between the two races. The roads have historically been terrible, very bumpy, last year my water bottle shook out of the cage. Finally, my wife has said several times it's not spectator friendly.

Packet Pickup

I went down Friday before the race, it had rained in the morning, so they had sent out a note to not worry about coming during the rain that they would stay open later to accommodate the weather. The forecast had the weather clearing up by about mid-day. So I went down around noon over my lunch break. It was quite windy, and apparently the little expo tents were flapping all around. Also the rain had made the expo a little swampy. Overall though it was fine. I went to get my packet - here's a system I will never understand. They have the packets arranged by number, and so to get your packet you have to look up your number using your  name. Then you remember it for 12 feet, tell it to someone and then give them an ID so they can verify you have the right packet. I have no idea why I can't just go by name ... I'm sure there's some really fantastic reason that defies logic ... which is why I can't think of it.

After that I walked to the beach to see what the water level looked like, all the lakes and rivers are way up due to spring time rain, and so I was interested. It was definitely up, but it didn't look like it was going to cause any problems.

Two interesting things about packet pickup

  1. They were handing out clear plastic bags "This is the only bag you will be allowed to enter the transition area with tomorrow" I didn't ask why, I just took my bag and left.
  2. You were allowed to drop your bike off in transition - which would be fine, except there didn't seem to be limits on who could get into transition. I, for instance, while looking for the beach walked right in. I also left the transition area not through an entrance, but a gap in the fence. I assume that had I tried to leave with a bike someone would have said something, but still. I would not have left my bike or any of my stuff there. I'm sure it worked out fine though, this isn't their first rodeo.

Race Morning

My race started at 8 (ish) and transition closed at 6:45, which was also the same time the pro race started. I elected to arrive around 5:30. That meant get up at 4:30. I had laid all my stuff out the night before and hopped out of bed and got ready.

A note about the bag - too small. I put

  • Running shoes
  • Towel for wiping my feet
  • Wet suit
  • Goggles
  • Cap
  • Flip flops for pre-race walking
  • Race number for running

It did not close - when not full of racing equipment (shorts, shirt, flip-flops) it was plenty big enough

Usually I get there early enough to just drive right up the road that will be closed in a couple of hours and get to a side-street and park. This time they had already closed off the side-streets, so I had to be more creative. I ended up parking in about the same spot though. It's not totally clear to me why the roads were closed more than an hour before transition closed, but my guess would be a mis-communication.

There was no wind, the temp was mild, it was overcast, but overall it looked to be a decent day for racing.

I made my way to transition. Riding my bike with the little clear plastic handbag was an adventure. I'm thinking there is a reason transition bags are backpacks :) On the way in they were checking for plastic bags, and giving them out to people who didn't have them, but here's the kicker - you were still allowed in transition with the non-clear bags, they were just saying "make sure you don't leave this in transition." So I think the rule really was, you wouldn't be allowed to leave any bag in transition that wasn't clear. There was also a bag check - missed the memo on that one. After the race there were many people leaving with backpacks on their backs - so now I know - that the clear plastic bag thing still sucks and communication around it was really lacking.

I found my assigned spot - which I love because it means there's no worrying about if you have great transition placement strategy or if someone is going to try to squeeze their bike on an already full rack. Also I happened to end up on the end of  rack, which later would turn out to be fantastic. End of the row is always my favorite place to be.

I milled around transition for a bit, talked to the people around me, ran in to a couple of people I knew, overall things were good. I had looked around for the guy I mentioned in the pre-post, I did not see him. He's a little taller than me so he's easy to spot in a crowd.

This is the first race I've been to where you have assigned spots where they announced more than once that people were racking their bikes in the wrong spot. I mean, the rows had number ranges on both ends, the racks had numbers (though usually more than one) on them, and then, of course, you have a number. It seems pretty simple.

Transition closed at 6:45 - and the pro race started at the same time. I watch the pro-women and the pro-men start, then watched them get out of the water. They are quite fast. An interesting thing to me was that the women come out basically one at a time, and the men come out in a big group. The men basically swim single file. After that it was about 7, so I found a place to sit down and kill some time.

After the Olympic racers all get in the water there is a break to give them a chance to get out of the water before the sprint wave start. I put my wet suit on, and guess who I saw? The guy from the pre-post. We talked for a while. I mentioned I was hoping not to see him on the run, he said he felt under-trained, I immediately disregarded that is modesty/politeness. We talked till it was time to line up, and then he took his spot at the end and I walked up a little. I was probably in the last half of our group, and expected to swim past most of them. He bills himself as a slower swimmer and I think doesn't like to be swum over.

Interesting note: At this race age groups rack together, so the people near you in transition are also your direct competition. I like this format, you get to talk to people who are likely to see on the course and care about who they are. It also means that during the race you can sort of keep track of your age group position. So why didn't I see this guy near me? My number was 1219, his was four hundred something. Well, he had signed up for the Minnesota series, and as part of that you get the same number for every race. What's more interesting, is that this was very confusing during the lineup for the swim. Most people expect to see numbers close to theirs when we are all lining up.

The Swim

I saw my wife at the start of the swim - she was there with our youngest - the other three were visiting her mother for the week.

Apparently they had been "looking" for me for a while
Overall the swim felt fine, I didn't feel super strong or anything, I did pass a TON of people. At one point I passed a guy, and it's a not an exaggeration, the first part of him I saw was the back of his head, I was literally on top of, but not touching, him. I paused for a second to check out his body position, he was basically swimming like this:

Mad art skills
Pro tip - when you're swimming you want your feet at the surface of the water, and your butt, and shoulders and head, your whole body, at the surface. Practice it, you'll be about a million times more efficient. If you're having trouble, do what my sister does "engage your core."

Second Tip: Don't run over people - it's not nice. Even though I didn't see this guy until I was actually on top of him, I still didn't swim over him. I hopped over to the side and swam past.

The only other time of note on the swim is when I did some breaststroke around the second turn - I got stuck behind a lady and felt it would be faster to take a slow stroke or two and then take the inside line since she was turning right at the marker. Usually the inside is available because open water swimming is a challenge and most people aren't actually at the marker - this time that didn't work out.

I'm the guy in about waist deep water, see the other guy in a blue cap - he was in my group. For the first time in a long time I was not the first person in my division out of the water.
Reference shot - a guy in front of me running in his wet suit. Me with my wet suit almost off
Side effect of taking your wet suit off on the run, cool pictures "Whazzzup!"

The Bike

The transition setup this year was that the swim-in/run-out were in the same place, and bike-in/bike-out were in the same place. It basically looked like this
For reference, the distance from bike-in to my spot and then to run out is about .2 miles
This causes everyone to have to run the full length of transition three times. And unless you're near bike-in/out about half of the time you're running with your bike.

I got to my bike no problem, struggled a little with my wet suit, but because I had an end spot I just tossed it under the rack from the side - very handy. During this I saw and heard a woman talking to some sort of transition helper or official. She had no idea where her bike was and she said "My number is x, but I racked it at y I think" ... I don't get it.

Grabbed by bike and headed out.

I was in the seventh or so group of sprint racers to start. There were a series of relay waves, and then women under 19, and then my group. Normally what that means is that there is not anyone in front of me on the bike and I spend a lot of time alone with just the occasional speed demon passing me. Much to my surprise there were plenty of people in front of me the entire way. It is, I think, significantly easier to ride fast if there are people in front of you. So this was welcome.

Overall the ride was pretty uneventful, the bumps didn't seem as bad as last year, but they were still there. There was even a segment where a police officer was standing in the course suggesting that due to lots of bumpiness that it would be wise to ride in the (very narrow) bike lane. I felt like I was doing a decent job of keeping my effort level up, and not zoning out. Much to my surprise I was sweating a ton. That was surprising mainly because of the cooler temp, but also because normally sweat is not dripping off my face at 20+ mph. Then it hit me


It was humid! According to my weather source 94% humidity. This can be terrible if it's super hot, because sweat won't evaporate and help cool you. But it wasn't that hot, so I was, thankfully, not starting to heat up super fast. What it meant for me though was two things

  1. My sunglasses were foggy the entire way. I had to wipe them off with my finger more than once (from the inside) just so I could feel safe.
  2. My arms and hands were very slick with accumulated sweat. Every time I got up on the breaks to make the several 110 degree turns my hands would slip and slide around, one time I even lost grip with one of my hands.

During the ride I figured at least five guys in my age group rode by me. They were cruising, much faster than me. I came in to transition pretty confident in my 5th or 6th place, hopped off my bike - lost a shoe temporarily - and made my way into transition.

The Run

I made my way through transition without incident, I had trouble getting my shoes on because it was basically like trying to put shoes on immediately after getting out of the lake due to the amazing amount of sweat I can produce. Also, I was SUPER angry with my sunglasses, so they didn't get the privilege of doing the rest of the race with me!

I ran out of transition and sort of settled into what I figured was a good pace, and then someone patted my butt

Official race photo

That's the guy - the official race photo captures the moment he passed me, for the third time. Last year at this race it took him about 3/4 of a mile to catch me, at Maple Grove, more like a mile and a half, this time, less than a 1/4 of a mile. I yelled out "DANG-IT!" he laughed and ran on. He was cooking, he was out of sight way before the half way point which include a short out and back where you can sometimes see people ahead of you.

Other than that the run went pretty well, I tried to keep myself honest on pace and speed, and felt like I was doing pretty decent. There were times I wanted to slow down, but didn't. I did stop for a second to see if someone was alright, he had cruised by and then I found him doubled over in the middle of the route. Cramping quads - he was fine.

As is normal for me, many people came trucking by, I watched a bunch more people from my group pass me, my best guess coming into the finish was 12-15th in my group.

Another first for me, I actually witnessed someone getting a penalty on the run. She didn't have a race number on, based on her outfit I assumed she was part of a relay, which makes it a little harder to understand how that happened. A sort of funny thing though - when the guy asked her what her number was she rattled it right off, and then suggested he write it on her.

The Finish

Over the course of the run I felt like I was picking up speed, I tried to muster whatever speed I could in the last little bit so I'd look good coming into the finish, and also, who wants to be passed on the chute? I was feeling pretty good, and the finish area has a long lead in that is lined with a bunch of people so it's a good way to finish.

This is probably the only picture I have of me running where it doesn't look like I have some sort of super truncated running stride, like I just shuffle along

The Results


I had zero goals going into this - just go hard. The overall goal for the season is to have fun and be fit. I like racing, I like being in shape and I like being with my family. So sometimes workouts get skipped in favor of sleep, and sometimes they get skipped in favor of family walk.

The Swim
That's good for 2nd overall and 1st in my age group. Honestly I wasn't sure what to expect, I had a couple of junky workouts leading up to this race, but I guess for the race I was good to go.

The Bike
Garmin has this at 21.7 mph, and while I'd really love to be consistently over 22 by now and getting close to getting into the 23 mph range I really don't know how to get there. Considering where I figured I'd be, I'm happy with this.

The Run
The run felt surprisingly good, there were a few times where I really wanted to throw the towel in, but overall I'm happy with this. That split is roughly 8:40 per mile. I looked at my intermediate splits, and I was accelerating through the run (8:45, 8:42, 8:28) so that's something. I think that's good, it shows some consistency, and that I didn't hit the wall. I'm not sure if it means there was room for more effort somewhere or not. I wish these were under 8, but for now I'm going to take what I can get.

18/67 in my age group. 77/712 overall. I'm a little surprised how close I guessed on my overall place while running. Part of me was disappointed by this, but then I got to thinking. This is faster than last year, not as fast as the year before, but all things considered I did pretty well.

As we were talking before the race started, the runner-in-white and I were talking about how there seem to be faster and faster people showing up at the sprint level. He suggested that perhaps some of the people who had been doing Olympics were coming down and dishing out some pain at the sprint level. Some people say "only a sprint" but honestly it's not like just because it's a shorter race it's easy, and so my guess is that perhaps people are switching because it's just more fun. Half the time, same amount of fun!

Ice cold towel - yes please!

Closing Comments

I had a good time at this race, my wife did too. She says races are easier with only one kid that wants you to hold them or is happy in a stroller. Also I think they redesigned the race-site a little and it's a little more spectator friendly.

Even though triathlon is primarily an individual event, it's fun to see people you know at races. Especially if I can turn it into a fun game that motivates me a little.

A couple of thoughts about the non-racing portion of this race

  • Race meetings that happen during a work-day, are not great for people who have a job. I sort of wanted to attend to see what course changes might be in store due to flooding in the area, but also wanted to not get fired for taking a three hour lunch.
  • Clear plastic bags in transition - they said "for safety" and that's a better reason than most, but it sort of sucks. At least make sure the bags are slightly over-sized.
  • The post race food - I wish I knew where it came from - super tasty.

I like big races, I mean many people like small races and they are good too, but big races like this really make it fun to be in triathlons. There are people around from all over the cities and states, there's the opportunity to see pro athletes race each other instead of just get first. And it's sort of inspiring to see every size/shape/age/ability person out there having fun!

At every age the kids always want whatever drink I have in my hands

This is not a lake - flooded field. The flooding didn't have much impact on the race, a minor off road section on the run was all I noticed.
Final thought - My wife sent me this text during the race
Devon Palmer just recognized me and said "hey Amanda, how are you"
She's kind of a big deal, and good looking, so it's understandable he wants to make sure she knows he's around. He's a local pro triathlete and coach, and apparently he and my wife communicate regularly and are Facebook friends. Now, I've not met Devon, or talked to him, we participated at the same race once (in Florida no less) He's the kind of guy who writes blog posts where we pretend his dog is giving training advice, if that helps frame him in your mind any better.

In any case, it's another piece of evidence that Minnesota has a great triathlete community, and that triathletes in general, from beginners to seasoned pros are a good group of people.

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