I did not see that coming!
Superior Man 41.5, Duluth, MN – August 27, 2017
0.5 mi swim / 35.4 mi bike / 5.6 mi run // 41.5 mi total
Leading up to the race
Saturday, August 26, 2017, it was a grey and dreary and rainy day. I was on MN Hwy 2 heading to Duluth, MN. There was drizzle in the air when I left Bemidji, and so far I hit pockets of heavier and lighter rain, and everywhere the roads were wet. Tomorrow was the last triathlon of my 2017 season, Superior Man 41.5. And, the weather forecast did not look good, rain all weekend long. Swimming and running in the rain is not really an issue and can even be fun if the temperature cooperates, but cycling in the rain, especially on a technically challenging course is a whole other skill set than riding under dry conditions. In addition, it is also easier and more comfortable putting on a helmet whose padding is still dry or slipping into running shoes that are still dry. In previous year that would have not been an issue, but this year they had moved the transition area from the Paulucci Arena in the DECC to a grassy area at the end of the Pier B Resort harbor slip. I expected the transition area to be wet and muddy. During my transition practice leading up to the race, I had played with different set ups including plastic bags and Sterilite containers trying to keep my stuff somewhat dry. So, equipment wise I was prepared, but was I mentally? I was not really feeling it.
For this triathlon, it always seems a good idea to go to the athletes’ briefing, especially since there always seems to be construction going on somewhere along the bike course through downtown Duluth and along Expressway 61 and Scenic 61. So it is always good to hear about the route adjustments and issues from the organizers first hand. In addition, this year’s triathlon featured a new swim course and a subsequent location change of the transition area.
As I left the athletes’ briefing it started raining, by the time I arrived at my car it was coming down hard. I still decided to drive the accessible portions of the bike route to check out the construction areas we had to navigate. There was running water and puddles everywhere, the transition area was pretty much flooded. The conditions for the next day promised to be wet and tough.
The night before a race tends to be a restless night. The night leading up to this triathlon was not any different. Every time I woke up, I still could here the rain falling. And I kept picturing the huge water puddles on the roads and the swamped transition area.
When it was finally time to get up, it had stopped raining, but everything was wet and dripping. I checked the weather app, and the new forecast indicated a cloudy, cool, but dry morning; optimal racing conditions if the streets were somewhat dry. It was still dark when I arrived at the transition area, so we couldn’t really get a good impression about the state of this area of the race course. There were muddy puddles in the dirt parking lot, the grass was very wet, and it soon became clear that the transition area had drained unevenly. I picked one of the spots close to the bike/run out that did not make a squishy sound anymore when I stepped on it. But I anticipated that especially the areas around the swim/bike in and bike/run out would get very muddy over the course of the race.
Everybody was hoping that the forecast was right and the rain would hold off at least until the race was over. I did not want to chance it, so I draped a plastic bag over my helmet and sunglasses and covered my running shoes with an up-side-down Sterilite container that could easily pushed to the side. Considering the cloudy conditions, I also had opted for the lighter colored goggles and sunglasses inserts.
Garmin > 1:26 / 100 yds
Last year I was the last woman jumping off the Vista Fleet boat to start the swim, and it worked out well for me. I like rolling up the field from behind, being the hunter instead of the hunted. I tried the same strategy this year.
Resurfacing after the jump seemed to take for ever, but then I got going quickly. At about 64°F, the water temperature was just perfect for a fast wet suit swim. During races I tend to breath towards the left, primarily because that makes sighting with my stronger left eye easier. This works well on a clockwise course and allows me to swim a really straight line to the turn buoys. However, this was a counterclockwise swim, and I very quickly realized that breathing and sighting towards the left made me drift away from the buoys. Luckily, I’m equally comfortable breathing to the right, so I quickly switched towards the right and I was on a straight line again.
As I swam underneath the bridge forming the entrance to the Pier B Resort harbor slip, I could only see one more green cap of my wave with me. For the remaining about 200 yds we swam next to each other and reached the exit ramp at the same time. I knew that unless somebody was really fast and way ahead of me, I just had one of the top swims. Turns out, I had chicked everybody!
T1 > 0:51; 1st age group, 1st female, 1st overall
This whole transition seemed to go in slow motion: Jumping to my feet and getting my legs going to run up the exit ramp seemed to be taking for ever; at my bike I put on my sun glasses before I even had slipped out of my wet suit; overall, it just felt like I was moving really slow. However, my time and placing for T1 does not support my impression.
Garmin > 21.0 mph
Not knowing how wet the streets still were, and not being sure about my bike handling skills in tight turns under wet, slippery conditions, I took the first 5.5 miles consisting of the technical part of the bike course somewhat cautious. However, the streets turned out to be relatively dry with the exception of the short Lake Walk Trail section, which had some running water on it.
Once I had the technical portion behind me, I opened up and pushed hard, and aided by a light, 5 mph tail wind I could average above 22.5 mph on the next 14 miles to the turn around. I was slower on the way back south, both, on the first 14 miles as well as on the technical section. The latter even though I tried to be more aggressive in the turns, knowing now that they were not slippery. I could blame it on the light head wind that I was encountering now, but I think there was more to it:
On the way out I could take advantage of the draft area of many slower cyclists I was passing. I could approach them in their slip stream, and move to the right to pass them in the last possible moment. I did not have this advantage on the way back, going South, I was pretty much by myself the whole time. BTW, one of the triathletes I passed on the way out had music playing on speakers as I passed him. That was a first for me during a triathlon.
I was very cautious on the Lake Walk Trail section. It is narrow, it still had running water on it, and I was going downhill now. In addition, despite the warnings of the volunteers, there were walkers with dogs on it and its twisting course, did not allow me to look very far ahead.
The Superior Man 41.5 bike course is more than 10 miles longer than what I’m used from my Olympic distance courses. I could feel that in my glutes over the last 10 miles. They were tightening up on me. I tried to stretch them out several times but it only help a little bit.
I was glad when I finally could see the DECC again, and turned towards the transition area.
T2 > 0:53; 2nd age group, 4th female, 7th overall
The bike in area and some of the path through the transition was really muddy by now. My feet were pretty dirty as I arrived at my spot. I did not want to run the risk of getting blisters, so I wiped down my feet with a little towel I had left on my transition mat. Despite this extra time spent cleaning my feet, I still was pretty fast compared to the rest of the field. 🙂
Garmin > 7:53 min/mi
As for all the previous races, the run went OK, nothing really to brag or write home about. I knew from Jerry MacNeil’s announcements that I was the second woman starting the run. I did not know how far ahead the first woman coming through the transition was, and I did not know if she had started in group 1 or with me in group 2, but I was at least in second place.
The first mile and a half of the run felt really good, but then came the dirt carriage way on the lake side of Canal Park. I did not like running on the soft dirt road and having to dodge all the puddles on it. My legs also did not like having to drag my body up the incline at Sister Cities Park and up the hill at Leif Erickson Park, and my quads started to complain. BTW, in case you ever wanted to know, Duluth has five Sister Cities: Ohara Isumi-City, Japan; Petrozavodsk, Russia; Rania, Iraqi Kurdistan; Thunder Bay, Canada; and Växjö, Sweden.
As I was approaching the turn around of the run, I crossed path with the woman ahead of me. Very quickly I went through my chances in my head: She currently is about one mile ahead of me. (1) If she started in group 1, i.e. about 20 minutes ahead of me, I’m currently about 12 minutes ahead of her, and she is not running fast enough to catch me on the run. (2) If we both started in the same group, she is currently about 8 minutes ahead of me, and I’m not running fast enough to catch her. Conclusion: After the turn around, check where the next woman is and make sure you can maintain your current position.
The next two women were about 1/2 mile behind me, and especially one of them looked much lighter and faster on her feet than I felt. I tried to push harder, but pretty soon my quads, especially the vasti medialis, did not just complain but started screaming at me: OK. we’re ready to cramp here! I started to talk back to them, literally: All right, I know you don’t want to continue, but we are almost there, and the faster you allow me to go, the sooner we will arrive and you can relax. Well, it seemed to work. They quieted down and allowed me to increase my speed over the last few miles, and I could hold on to my position.
Overall > 2:40:41; 1st age group, 1st female, 6th overall
I had done it: I had defended last year’s title, AND I even improved on last year’s time. I didn’t believe Jerry MacNeil, when he predicted in his Superior Man 41.5 preview that I might possibly crack 2:40. I even told him prior to the race, that he has a lot of faith in these old bones. Based on how my year had gone so far and on the expected race conditions, I did not see myself improving on last year’s time by over 2 minutes and setting a new Master’s record. But as Jerry promptly pointed out at the finish line and in his Superior Man report, I was caught with my pants on fire. We were both excited; Jerry because he had been right, and I because I had not seen this coming. Granted, most of the time improvement was due to the shorter transition distance. But even the combined time of Swim, Bike, and Run without the transitions was faster than the corresponding time from last year. I just had totally surprised myself.
What’s coming up next?
On October 14, I will be racing the Blue Ox ½ Marathon in Bemidji, MN.
Some venting about one of my triathlon pet peeves
Rule 3.4 Race Conduct of the USA Triathlon Rules states: “It is the participant’s responsibility to know the course.” So, athletes take the time to read the materials the race directors send you, to study the maps of the course, to go to the athletes briefing. I generally also try to at least drive the bike course on the day prior to the race to get an impression of its condition.
After the race, I heard several people complain that the course was terribly marked because they missed turns. I asked:
Did you go to the athletes’ briefing? No!
Did you look at the maps in the athlete’s email and in the race packets? No!
Then you won’t get any sympathy from me and stop complaining about missing your turns. Those turns were clearly explained during the briefing and clearly marked on the map. I did both and I had not problems finding my way and so did all my friends who had done the same. You should have known about them even if you missed the signs indicating them out on the course. Do not blame others if you do not do your homework!
Finally, a big thanks to the race directors and volunteers for another fun triathlon. Until next year!