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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Minneapolis Duathlon Race Report
Prior to this weekend, I had been contemplating trying my hand at a multi-sport race for quite some time. I've been running in races for many years. But I've never raced in any other sport. A running race only comes in a certain amount of flavors, most of which I've sampled repeatedly. To be honest, I was getting pretty bored with racing. And that was starting to do a number on my motivation to train at all. I figured something involving my other favorite endurance sport (biking) would be good to spice things up.
Usually there's one problem with races like that...I don't swim. It's not that I can't swim. I just choose not to. I'm not a big water person, and I never have been. I took swimming lessons in elementary school because my mom made me do it. And the only reason that I go "up to the lake" per normal Minnesota tradition is because there's usually beer there.
There aren't a lot of multi-sport races to choose from in Minnesota if you don't want to swim. So the Minneapolis Duathlon is pretty much your only choice. It's also the nation's largest, and is put on by a company (Team Ortho) that generally runs a good race. As races go, it's pretty pricey at $90. But Ortho makes that pill easier to swallow by cramming your goodie bag with tons of swag.
It was hard to fit all my swag in this shot! My bike jersey, arm warmers, weird beanie hat thing, and saddle bag. As a runner, I don't have a lot of bike stuff. So this was a lot better than the standard race t-shirt.
Anyway, the Minneapolis Duathlon is a sprint-tri inspired race. So the course was a 5K run, then a 18-mile bike ride, followed by another 5K run. I had no idea what to expect for any of it. I've either raced or done time trials at those distances, but never back-to-back. This was either going to be really fun or a complete disaster.
I woke up at around 4am to start heading down to the race. Even though I had no expectations, the night before I got a bit of the pre-race jitters. I woke up several times after having visions of crashing my bike, completely f-ing a transition, or just plain running out of gas during the race. The race didn't start until 7am, but the transition area opened at 5am. I figured as long as I was up I might as well head over there for something to do.
Not only have I never raced in a triathlon, I've never even seen one in person. I spent the next two hours before the race becoming increasingly intimidated by the transition area. The race had around 2500 participants, which were divided into 9 waves. Each wave had three long racks for people to store their bikes.
Now the race was pretty friendly to a newbie like myself. There were plenty of people there intending to race with their mountain bike, or their 1970s Schwinn. But there was also just enough hardcore tri folks to make me feel bad about myself. They came in carrying their feather-light carbon fiber bikes with one finger, with bike helmets straight out of the movie Tron, and Kardashian sized bubble butts. It was a sea of carbon fiber by the time it filled up. This picture doesn't even do it justice.
When I got there I was the second person to arrive for my wave (Wave 5...the coolest wave around!). I wasn't sure where to put my bike, but I saw the other dude put his at the end of the rack closest to the "bike out" sign. He had aerobars on his handlebars, which gave him instant tri-cred in my book. I decided to just do whatever he did. So I put my bike right next to his.
Then he rolled out a towel and started neatly arranging a whole bunch of gear according to when he'd put it on. Being a noob, all I had with me was a helmet and my bike shoes. So I pretended to care very much about their placement for several seconds, and then just tossed them wherever. I figured as a barefoot runner, my transitions would be pretty quick anyway. No need to make them too complicated.
Running Leg #1 (Time: 23:46)
Even though I was assigned to Wave 5, we were allowed to start the race whenever we felt like it. Since I had been milling around since about 5am, I was antsy to get going. So I pushed my way to the start line and wound up with what ended up being the beginning of Wave 4.
This is a picture of the race start. Right at the beginning is the only hill to speak of on the course, which takes you from the North Loop area of Minneapolis over the Central Ave bridge into St. Anthony Main. For those who don't live in Minneapolis, that means it takes you from one yuppie area of downtown to another yuppie area of downtown. You then went through Father Hennepin Park in St. Anthony (which has some cool cobblestone streets...neat for bare feet!), and over the Stone Arch Bridge back to North Loop. Again...for non-Minnesotans, you leave the second yuppie area and go back to the first yuppie area.
My plan during the first run was to run a comfortable but fast pace and wind up with plenty left in the tank for the rest of the race. I chose a goal pace of a sub-25:00 5K. I didn't know if that was a good pace or a bad one, but I did know that I could run an 8:00 minute/mile pretty much all day.
I have a thing about posing in front of race photographers. I never seem to get enough pictures taken of myself during the race to justify purchasing them. So to increase my odds, I like to do weird stuff with my hands. I call this one the "How You Doin'?!"
Just like the other races I've run while training with Crossfit Endurance, I felt really good throughout. And at the beginning of this race, I felt fantastic. So I caught myself floating around a 7:30 minute/mile several times within the first two miles. Since I was feeling so great, I decided to just go with it. I ended up finishing with a time of 23:47, which is only 20 seconds off my PR. I felt somewhat winded, but still had plenty of gas in the tank.
Transition #1, Run to Bike (Time: 3:49)
My first ever transition! And you could tell! I had no idea what to expect here. My thought was that I would have a leg up on everyone because I didn't have to take off any running shoes. So thinking that I'm a hot-shot barefoot runner, I started leisurely put on my equipment.
Then I watched myself get passed by about 20 people. I decided I needed to hustle a little bit. At that moment, all coordination proceeded to leave my body. I knocked my helmet on the ground, chased my shoes around my bike, and got my bike stuck in the rack. Then, feeling a bit like Robocop with my clompy metal cleats, I ran to the "bike out" sign to salvage what was left of this crappy transition.
Then I stepped down on my bike to get going, and nothing happened. Either while putting my bike in the rack, or while fumbling around like a beached whale, the chain had come off. I watched another 5 people pass me while I played bike doctor. Then I limped out of the transition area in my lowest gear. Real smooth champ...
Bike Leg (Time: 51:28)
I was more than a little nervous going into the bike leg. I've never raced a bike before. I've never even ridden in a group. At least not since I was 7-years old and we rode mountain bikes to school. Probably not useful experience. So I was worried that I was going to be the guy to cause one of those Tour de France chain-reaction crashes that take out the whole field.
Despite being less than confident about my group-riding abilities, I was fairly confident in my pace. Unlike my running, where I've been doing long-slow distance training for years, the only training I've done on a bike has been Crossfit Endurance style. So I only train at one speed while biking: as fast as possible. My average training ride speed is usually around 19-20 mph. And I usually feel pretty okay after a training ride, so my plan was to maintain that pace for the entire leg.
The course started with a gigantic downhill and then went along roads paralleling the Mississippi River. It was flat and fast, and maintaining my normal pace was cake. So I upped my goal pace, and decided to try to follow someone with a nicer looking bike than me. Just as I made that goal, I was passed by a couple people with carbon wheels and aerobars. I know carbon wheels cost more than my entire bike. So I hopped behind them and started drafting.
It seems that I have a tendency to ride with my mouth hanging open like a moron. Maybe that's why I'm always thirsty when I ride!
I must say...bike racing is really exciting! I can see why people like it. The speed of the race is very exhilarating. I felt like I was flying down the course. I ended up finishing this leg in 51:28, a 21 mph average pace. Pretty good for a first effort.
Transition #2 (Time: 2:20)
I learned my lesson from the last transition, and took to this leg of the race with a bit more haste. I slogged a couple shots of water from my water bottle, threw off my equipment, and was back out on the course in a flash.
Turns out that being a barefoot runner is a huge advantage if you actually try to make a fast transition. According to my online results, I passed 64 people in this leg of the race. I still could have gone faster yet by taking water and nutrition on the bike instead of in transition. But hey...I'm still new at this.
Running Leg #2 (Time: 24:07)
Back out on the course, I expected to be slow and tired. I had heard that after biking, most people take a several minutes to get over the "rubber leg" feeling and get going at a normal pace. I went right back to running 7:30 minute/miles without much issue. I was fatigued, but feeling good about my pace and maintaining it without much trouble.
My knee started giving me problems at around mile 2, but I was able to power through it to a finish time of 24:07. My overall time was 1:45:09. I placed 203 overall out of 1407 racers, and 36 out of 127 in the 30-34 age group. I felt good that I had maintained a consistent pace throughout, and even better that I knew I could go faster the next time.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see how well I did versus the field. Usually a 24 minute 5K is good enough to finish towards the middle of the pack. In this race, the top finisher in my age group only ran 21 minute 5Ks. I can totally do that! Had I not f-ed my transitions, and ran my race pace, according to the results I would have finished in the top 10 in my age group. Turns out my ability to perform incredibly mediocre in every sport I try is an advantage in multi-sport racing.
I saw my friend Sarah at the finish line, and we hung out watching some more runners come in. Sarah had run the 5K race barefoot as well.
Anyway, you can definitely expect to see me doing more of these in the future. I'm already looking for my next one. I might even give up my objection to swimming if I have a chance to maybe place in my age group at one of these.
If you're bored with the same old road race, I definitely suggest giving something like this a try! Do the Du citizens!