When I started doing the Hy-Vee Triathlon in August/September, preceded by the Prairie Punisher Duathlon in July, slowly but surely late summer became the unofficial multi-sport season for me, just as cycling season was starting to cool off. Last year, with my cycling season...truncated...two added duathlons in August drove late summer's unofficial multi-sport season in to official status. And this year even more so: between July 12th and September 1st, I would have one team duathlon, two team triathlons, two solo duathlons and two solo sprint triathlons -- almost one a week, with only two weeekends' "breaks" between.
The Danisco Prairie Punisher Duathon two weeks ago passed with flying colors, including gold, taking a four-for-four first place in likely "Team Staples'" final relay running of the event (next year we plan to each go it solo). The UCP Shawnee Mission Triathlon ended in a wash-out (but not without nearly three hours standing in the rain during delays). And now with "cycling season" (if you can call it that) officially in the rear view, multi-sport season can officially commence with this weekend's Maple Leaf City Triathlon, a sprint triathlon offering in Baldwin City, Kansas.
This would be my third triathlon (if my LifeTime indoor triathlon counts, that is), and my first since May, when I suffered a kick to the face during the swim portion, although still taking 3rd in-category. Though the face-kick still feels fresh in my mind, I would go in to this weekend with high ambition. The Maple Leaf City Tri is by no means a large event, and attracts athletes from across the entire spectrum of ability, making this another great opportunity to stand on-podium. Let there be no mistake about it: I'm still a fair bit nervous. But entering race weekends with said nervousness always give prime opportunity to take that anxious energy and convert it into powerful race day efforts.
Enter the Maple Leaf City Triathlon, starting first with the typical course preview.
Like all other sprint triathlons I have this year (because I'm still not sold on swimming in lakes), the swim leg is held in an outdoor pool, at the Baldwin City Pool. It appears there are six 25-yard lanes, so I'm not quite sure how swim is going to be run (perhaps two per lane rather than swim-in/swim-out option??). Either way, participants will be competing - presumably - 6 laps, followed by running out to the parking lot in front of the aquatic center where transition will be held. Not much information was posted prior to race day, so it will just be one big happy surprise!
The bike leg, however, is a touch more transparent prior to race day. Though the specifics of where transition starts and stops wasn't available in time for course preview, the route itself was. Like this year's Kansas Time Trial Championships, this route would be difficult to get lost on. The city pool -- and thus, transition -- is on Fremont Street. A short pedal west to 6th street offers the first of two turns (three, if you count the turn-around). A left turn on 6th Street and it's a straight-shot out to the intersection at Shawnee Road where the turn-around is. Inbound is the reverse of outbound: north on 6th Street (which is called "Ohio Road" on the outskirts of town) with a right-turn back on to Fremont where transition is. Easy peasy.
Also like the Kansas Time Trial Championships, the course is pocked with the rolling hills that are so-common to the Eastern Kansas countryside. Though there are no "categorized" climbs, several mini-climbs mark the route, including at miles 4.68, 5.85, 8.00, and 11.00. Each are between 50 and 100 feet climbing, with the longest at the 8-mile mark, and the steepest at the 5.85-mile mark, right out of the turnaround. This should require a few out-of-the-saddle quick pips, although a seated position would be preferred. Also common to most all Kansas countryside rides, wind will be the biggest factor. Any gusts will be immediately felt on the bike, so the lowest-possible profile will reap the largest benefits.
This course is short and relatively shallow, so the most competitive cyclists will have the aerodynamic advantage. Climb specialists won't really get much a chance to work their advantages, and those with large surface areas (including the lengthy, like me), will need to find the most aerodynamic tuck as possible almost immediately out of the gate. Weather forecasts approaching the weekend are calling for the possibility of rain, which will not likely affect the ride much, given the lack of cornering.
Unlike the bike leg, which claims to be just short of 20k (it's actually only about 11.7 miles), the run leg is a true 5k on the dot.
The route should give athletes a nice tour of Baldwin City, as the route treks east out of transition to the east side of town by the track and football field before turning north on 2nd Street to the north side of town. Nearing the highway in the northeast corner, the run turns left again heading west on Chapel Road, through Baldwin City's neighborhoods. Once the route reaches the north-central part of town, it heads south through the city center, including past City Hall and through downtown, all along Eighth Street. At the southern edge of town, runners will turn east on Newton, which turns into Orange Street as it passes 6th, intersecting with the bike route (given the relatively small participation numbers, collisions I'm sure will be rare). On eastbound Orange, runners will face their only significant climb before turning north on 3rd Street back in to town. A right on High Street, followed by an immediate left on 2nd Street, and athletes will spill on to Baldwin High School's oval track. The finish line is on the track itself after nearly a full 400m lap of the stadium.
The run out of transition is a slow ascent over the first mile before increasingly descending on the southbound run along Eighth Street. Turning east on Newton/Orange Street gives the route it's only rated climb, a quarter-mile run up 67 feet and at a 4% average gradient, with some places reaching nearly 10%. There are three non-rated ascents on the inbound approach towards the finish, which may shove athletes a bit further in to redline territory.
With the Orange Street Hill, the slow ascent out of start, and the slow ascent in to finish, runners may feel like they are climbing the majority of the route, and the run course climbs a full 241 feet over it's short 3.1 miles. Competitive run leg times will likely be with the more seasoned of sprint-distance triathletes, and those that can reach deeper in their "suitcases of pain" than the average. A good fueling strategy during the bike may also help propel tired legs through the run.
The Monday before race day, the forecast would call for a 30% chance of thundershowers with temperatures in the lower- to mid-70's. Humidity would be high, topping out at near 90%. That afternoon would bring a heat index, so if there were any motivation to finish quick, it would be to avoid the afternoon onslaught of steamy conditions. As of now, the swim would likely be a touch chilly, the bike comfortable (albeit a bit humid), and the run possibly overheating. With the added humidity, drying off out of the water would probably take a fair bit of time.
As early as the next day, rain chances were further isolated to Friday overnight into Saturday very early morning, and throughout the week, would be removed completely. The rest of the forecast would remain, particularly the humidity, and temps were boosted to highs in the mid-90's. The temps at start time would stay near the same (low- to mid-70's), quickly climbing to near the daytime high, so finishing fast would be doubly-important for Saturday: the longer out there, the warmer it would get, and the more miserable the run would be.
Given the long drive to Baldwin City (about an hour from me), I decided to keep packet pick-up for race-morning.
Training this week was quite intense, with a triathlon-specific brick workout on Tuesday, hill-climb exercises on Wednesday, and a long tempo ride on Thursday. Going in to pre-race rest day Friday, my legs were still quite tired. The focus pre-race would be recovery and healthy eating (which I'd been struggling with quite a bit lately).
With only three hours sleep and torturous allergies, I woke up race morning feeling as if I'd pulled an all-nighter. I was excited and nervous all the same, but unlike normal race days past, in a very dense fog. The 45-minute drive along country highways didn't help, nor did the sun, which by this time of year, was waking up later and later by the day.
Arriving in Baldwin City, parking was easy, located just north of our finish line inside Baldwin High School's football stadium and track. Though not immediately next to the city pool, where we would start, the walk was less than a city block. Closer to race time, the west side of the parking lot became inaccessible due to closures, but the east side of the lot remained wide open. Getting in and out by spectators would be easy throughout the race's entirety.
I grabbed my transition bag, bike, and headed to the city pool. The transition area was composed of eight racks, four on each side, lined up in rows where the city pool parking lot would normally be. Transition in was on the west side of the row, and transition exit halfway down the row on the north side. The east side of transition was capped off by barriers. Transition was non-assigned, so I opted for the most-open transition area I could find, right inside transition entrance, and only six-or-so steps from transition exit. The area around transition exit was way to crowded, and seemed a worthless sacrifice for only a few extra steps.
Once my transition area was established, I grabbed my packet. Baldwin City was too far away from me for early packet pick-up, and it seemed a good portion of participants felt the same. I grabbed my spot in line about seven back. Packets included a race bib with "sticky chip," the ankle bracelet chip (not sure why there were two?), a small drawstring bag from Novo Nordisk, a few coupons, a Kansas road map and Baldwin city map (which I though was a nice touch, actually!), and the race t-shirt (which is a cool design). Despite being six back, packet pick-up and body marking was quick, and volunteers were really nice and always smiling and chatting with athletes and spectators.
I finished preparing transition (and myself). I stuck my bib number in to my waistband number holder...and one of the bib number's holes ripped. Ummm -- is this an omen? I grabbed a safety pin from my bag and fashioned a new hole. Triathletes are notorious McGuyvers when they need to be. Running shoes? Check. Cycling cleats? Check. Running visor? Check. Helmet? Check. Sunglasses? ....ummmm sunglasses??? Uh oh. Omen #2. I have an extra pair in my car -- one that has been subjected to about 6 summers of nose-piece-melting sunlight, but it would have to do. And just in time for organizers to call "transition closing in 5 minutes!" Why is transition closing 45 minutes before start time?? Spare sunglasses...check.
I grabbed my goggles and swim cap and headed to the pool to ready for the start. Race instructions were already underway...What?? Turns out my Gcalendar was wrong -- race time was 7am, not 7:30 like I'd thought this whole time. So that's why transition closed at 6:45...it was only 15 minutes before start. Thank goodness for early arrivals. Omen #3? Is my life in danger here?
Swim would start in waves depending on estimated 300y time. Then athletes would start down the lane in roughly 30-second intervals. It would be important to stay left of the lane line, as the swim included an out-and-back before switching to the next lane. I grabbed a spot just short of the 5:30 time wave, about 12 people back or so. And before I knew it, the first swimmer was in.
I got nervous. Flashbacks to the face-kick from May's CGSC Triathlon kept cropping up, along with my thus-far 3 omens on the morning. A mere five minute later, and it was my turn. "GO!" and in I went.
If you've never shared a lane with someone at the pool, it's certainly an essential experience before going in to a race format like this. At the pool, lane ethics are usually adhered to. If lane-sharing is necessary at the pool, newbies often shy away, leaving the lane-sharing experience to the swim-experienced. This means, come race day, inexperience combined with adrenaline, and lane ethics go out the window.
Such was the case for the swimmer behind me. I kept my pace the entire swim, meaning gaining no ground on the swimmer ahead, but no losing no ground on the swimmer behind, so I passed by the swimmer behind me a little more midway down each lane, just in time for his wall push-off. Apparently the "stay left of the lane line" instructions were lost on him, resulting in a near-collision with each lap. I would've thought the strong brush against each others' bodies would've been indication enough that an adjustment was needed, but apparently not. Luckily, I made it out of the water with no incident, maintaining my position, including the just-under-5:30 pace I'd estimated (5:22). Shoes on, crappy glasses on, earplugs out, HRM sensor on, and I was off. T1 was smooth, albeit a touch slow, but successful. No omens there.
Then, the bike. Which was...interesting. I have included the bike video part one and two below, but if not interested, the short summary goes as follows: Forgot to turn on camera until 2 miles in; 2.5mi...why are my legs so damn tired??; passed at 3 miles...what???; passed again and again; something starts squeaking on my bike around 4 miles...crap; a loose skewer? nope; THE BRAKES ARE OUT OF ALIGNMENT AND RUBBING AGAINST MY WHEELS! THAT'S why I'm struggling so much; open the brakes, and my speed rockets forward; I have a lot of ground to make up; average speed only 16mph at the turnaround...crap; northbound give me a tailwind...I'm flying; pass a few on the way back; in to town, mile 10, my average speed is just short of 19mph...I would've averaged this at the turnaround had it not been for my brakes; enter transition in 10th place.
On the road north on the bike, I couldn't shake the disturbing amalgamation of absolute horror, sheer embarrassment, and crippling anger that came with such a mortifying mistake. A simple bike inspection -- a necessity before every ride, let alone race -- would've kept that from happening. A true rookie error -- and I wasn't even a rookie. All I could do was take my anger out on the pedals, attempting to make up as much lost ground as possible. Sure, I had a hilly run at the end of the bike that I should save some energy for, but I had to take the risk of bonking to make up for my mistake. Every pedal stroke was focused on picking up lost time.
Entering town, visualizing transition wasn't an option. I had to keep pounding out a rhythm. Dismount line ahead -- The final miles of the bike should be spent visualizing transition, but I was too busy beating myself up. Dismount successful. Run to transition...and suddenly every volunteer starting yelling. WRONG WAY, WRONG WAY! I was headed towards transition out. damn. Another rookie error. I ran back towards transition in and hooked my bike. Another few seconds lost. Visor on, shoes on, and off on the run I went. damn, damn, DAMN!
I found my run rhythm fast, finding a threshold 7:30 pace, slightly faster than my usual duathlon pace. My legs were exhausted from all that wasted energy...wasted through the brakes! Ugh...I had to put it out of mind, though. I was able to pass several to jump back in to 10th (who knows how much higher in the standings I'd be if I hadn't made my mistakes! ugh), and saw one up the road that, if I kept stamping out this pace, could catch by mile 2. I tried to enjoy the run a bit, as the course worked its way through the pretty neighborhoods and downtown streets of Baldwin City, but my focus was fierce. I kept my eyes fixed on the back of the runner in front of me, who himself appeared to be approaching a runner in front of him. If I could catch him, I could leapfrog past him up two spots in to 8th.
The southern stretches of road are where the hills come in to play. My heart rate began to tiptoe upwards, but it was my legs that were really telling me to slow down. I ignored, narrowed my focus, and put in a quick surge to overtake 9th. Then came the Orange Street Hill. This is where I would have to show strength at a time when everyone else was tiring. I pushed to my limit, overtaking 8th halfway up Orange. Cresting the top, my legs were running on fumes. They wanted to give out underneath me. Just a short mile to go. My body wanted to go in to survival mode, but I had to assure my 8th place and keep at this pace.
1km to go, and the stadium was just up ahead. In the distance behind me, a runner was approaching, one I could remember passing way back on the second half of the bike. I tried to put in an effort, by my legs wouldn't let me. On to the track, and less than 400m to go. Only a few short seconds later, a quickly-approaching 9th place would step on to the track as well. Around the track's last bend, 200 meters to go, I hugged the inside line as much as I could without disqualification. By the time I reached the final straight, he was right in my slipstream. I waited for his sprint until it came at 100m to the finish. He kicked -- strong -- and I tried to respond...but my legs wouldn't allow it. Nothing left, I could only hold pace. He took 8th, and I coasted across the line a few seconds later in 9th.
Looking back, I can't help but feel that something was telling me to focus and double-check everything
before toeing the start. Too ominous to be purely coincidental, a simple 5-second adjustment of the bike would've saved upwards of 5 minutes off of my bike time, possibly putting me as far up as a top-3 placing, or at least a top-5 for sure.There are morals in this story, but it should go without saying. Luckily I would have 4 races in the next six weeks to make it up, but I would no doubt lose sleep over this one.
Let's just say I'll be double-checking my brakes from now on.
A huge thanks to the event organizers and volunteers of this incredible event. In only its second year, the event ran like clockwork because of everyone's amazingly hard work. If interested, visit the event's Facebook page HERE.
Also a big thanks to SeeKCRun, who always provides great race photos free of charge at a variety of events across the KC area. If you ever see them at your event, say hello to Ross...dude is a rockstar. You can visit their website at SeeKCRun.com.
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