My very first "cycling" race was actually a team duathlon back in 2009. This is when I got my first taste of competition. Sure, our team (I did the cycling leg of the run-bike-run race) wasn't the most competitive, but that taste was enough to get me hooked. The preparation, the anticipation, the speed, the spectators... Beyond the sentimental value I had assigned to it over the years, the Danisco Prairie Punisher is always well-run and an absolute blast, and would be an event I would visit over and over again.
The 2010 running came, and by then I was a truly competitive cyclist, with a love for the time trial discipline. My teammate (my sister) and I took first overall in our category, an honor we would hold for the next three years. 2013 marked the first year I missed since my first running in '09, but only due to my suffering concussion two weeks prior. Our streak would stop at 3. As such, 2014 would mean that much more. It would be our time to take back our rightful spot on the top of our co-ed category (once again, with my sister), and likely for the last time, as my sister starts to foray in to cycling herself, and has vowed to "kick my ass" in the 2015 running (we'll see about that).
Alongside the Prairie Punisher, our "Team Staples" preparation for the 2014 Hy-Vee Triathlon would begin in the form of the Shawnee Mission Triathlon (and a great prep for my duathlon series, as I would be doing the bike AND run), only 24 hours after toeing the line for the Prairie Punisher. This weekend would be an exciting (and likely painful) one. This is where racing season picks up to my favorite pinnacle of the year.
Run Leg #1 & #2f
The Danisco Prairie Punisher Duathlon is a 5k run, 20-mile-ish bike, and 5k run. The 5k run course is the same for both run leg 1 and 2, and from what I've been told, is by no means an easy task. It starts and finishes at transition, which is in a parking lot at Celebration Park in Gardner, Kansas, and involves a run down Kill Creek Road and back, through some of the trails within Celebration Park. Of the main climbs is one that starts near the start, as runners are turning on to Kill Creek Road from 159th, with 0.35 miles at almost 2%. The run south and back north along Kill Creek is mostly flat, save for a few minor undulations. The largest hits at about 1.75 miles as runners turn left from Kill Creek in to the back entrance roads of Celebration Park, and though only lasts about a tenth of a mile, hits average slopes of 5%, with some spots at 10% grades. From there is a easy descent back in to the main park before a short and shallow quarter-mile climb up to the transition. Run #2 is the same, only finishing just before the transition area, saving runners a few extra steps of climbing before the finish line. By Run #2, each of the on-paper calm ascents punish the legs, likely the source of this race's moniker.
The bike leg of the Prairie Punisher Duathlon is about what you'd expect for a eastern-Kansas country roads bike course: rolling hills with a few steep ascents. Eight mini-climbs (the 'rolling hills' stipple the bike throughout, and one "categorized" climb.
For me I see the course as divided in to four sections. The first is the quick trek outward from Celebration Park on to 167th street east, then south on Waverly and back west on 175th, which is relatively flat until about the four-mile mark. Two quick rolling hills on 175th west finish out the first section, until diving in to the valley-like sector on north Four Corners Road. Though the descent continues, so do the rolling hills, and rare is a flat section of road. A left on 151st, right on South Dillie, another left heading west on 143rd and the course's minimum elevation hits at about the 10-mile point, and marks the start of section three. Turning south on to Edgerton road begins the slow descent back up the 'valley.' The course's one major climb starts the final fourth sector, a long 1.5-mile ascent at just over 2%, with several points reaching 6%. The final section starts as riders turn back on to 175th Street and includes a few rolling hills, followed by a mostly-flat run back in to Celebration Park the same way riders came out.
Packet Pick-Up & Pre-Race
The Prairie Punisher Duathlon allows two different packet pick-up options at two separate locations, one on Thursday and one on Friday. Friday's is at Gardner's City Hall. I opted for the closer-by Thursday pick-up, at my home away from home, Gary Gribbles Running Sports in Overland Park, Kansas. Packets are pre-assembled, including all bibs and goodies, including commemorative t-shirts. Just grab-and-go.
Leading up to race day, the weather forecast look highly cooperative. Though afternoon highs would be in the low- to mid-90's, race morning would be lower 70's through to around finish time. The whole time we would be there, temperatures shouldn't peak above mid-80's. Winds would be out of the south-by-southwest at about 10 mph. Given the plains-of-Kansas race route, which means open roads with little protection, winds would by far be the biggest factor of the day (at least, on the bike).
Athlete check-in would be between 5:30 and 6:30am, so an early 4:45am wake-up for me, a few quick get-ready's, and I was out the door by 5:30am. From my home in Lenexa, it takes about 30 minutes to get to the race site in Celebration park (on the northwest corner of Gardner, Kansas). Race organization closes off all entrances to the park except for the north-side entrance just east of Four Corners Road on 159th St. Luckily volunteers are always on hand to quickly point you to the best parking spots.
A quick walk to transition for transition area set-up, and check-in next door to get our chip and body-markings, and we were good to go. Legs felt great leading up to race morning, and the weather felt great, with a calm and cool breeze out of the south. I was jacked.
7:00am was start time, including participants of the 5k and 10k runs (non-duathletes). All-told, the start line included about 80 participants at most, making for an easy start. Liz, my sister, and my running partner for our relay team, toed the line ready to go.
First place. Four-for-four. My sister claims that this would be our final team run, as next year she is planning on taking on duathlons on her own. She also claims that I have some solid competition ahead of me. HAH! We'll see about that...
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