Maple Grove Triathlon Race Report
This past Saturday Sarah and I participated in the Maple Grove Sprint/Olympic distance triathlon (we both did the Olympic distance) in Maple Grove Minnesota, which is a suburb of Minneapolis. This marks my first Olympic distance triathlon and my first triathlon that wasn’t put on by Ironman. Maple Grove (along with Winona, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and a host of other ones) are put on by Lifetime Fitness. The natural side effect of being Lifetime members and being on the lifetime tri team is that registration was extremely inexpensive. Since my in-laws live about twenty minutes away from Maple Grove, it seemed like a natural fit.
Our training leading up to this race was not very extensive, in fact we only did one bike ride in the three weeks leading up to the race so we really weren’t expecting much. With our expectations set reasonably low, we went to packet pick up the Friday before the race (this race was on a Saturday) after having driven all night. The differences between racing in Colorado and Minnesota were apparent straight away when we were driving in. We had to run the windshield wipers…not because it was raining but because the humidity was 100% and it was foggy. Having never sighted the race course (and we didn’t bother on Friday) and heavy fog in the forecast, I had half a mind to expect to get lost on the bike!
We arrived at packet pickup and sat down for the athlete briefing. This triathlon is held primarily at Weaver Lake Park which surrounds the aptly named Weaver Lake. The park is not large but green and pretty. The lake is cool freshwater and the race was a combination of paths and sidewalks. The transition area was surprisingly large for a triathlon that I thought would be small.
We scoped out the transition area and the T1 run from the beach to the bikes which, according to my Garmin, was about 600 meters. We were in for a nice surprise when we got our goody bags. The T-Shirts are a nice blue color made of a moisture wicking material. They were also giving away blue Maple Grove Tri headsweats visors. I love these things and I can always use new ones.
One great benefit to participating in a smaller triathlon is that we don’t necessarily need to be there at the butt-crack of dawn. We got up at a reasonable hour and did the short drive to Weaver Lake and arrived at about 0630 in the morning. My swim wave started at 0700 or so, that sounds like it was tight, but it wasn’t too bad. We couldn’t park particularly close but duh, we have bikes, so we rode in from the car. One annoying part of Lifetime triathlons is that they do not allow duffels into transition, only clear plastic bags. It sucks to ride a bike with a clear plastic bag full of shoes, wetsuits, and other assorted crap.
Within a few minutes I was suited up for the swim, I was in an early swim wave. I didn’t warm up or anything, I dipped in the lake to get a little water in my wetsuit and I lined up with my wave. Two things stick out about this swim. Number 1, it was very foggy this morning.
These are the collegiate athletes entering for their mass start swim wave. This leads me to the second unique aspect of the swim compared to the other two triathlons I did. Ironman favors a floating start where you essentially wade out to a starting buoy and the starter releases you when it is time. At Maple Grove we entered the water in time trial fashion, which meant we lined up two abreast and every three or so seconds the starter would release us two at a time. We would run into the water and commence with the swimming. The last time I did an open water swim was in June but luckily I am not a nervous swimmer so I adjusted adequately. My only open water goggles are tinted (I swim in Colorado 99% of the time) which brought the already low visibility even lower. Combining the lack of sunlight, fog, and water sunglasses meant that I could only see the next buoy at any given time. Fortunately I could see the see of swim caps and I was able to follow th leader with the best of them. I didn’t get beat up to badly during the swim, even around the turn buoys. I got out of the water in 31 minutes pacing at about 2:01/100M. This was exactly the pace I was expecting.
One main goal I had during this triathlon was to run at a very, very, very short stride during the transition run. Running in a wetsuit sucks and a long stride means you are fighting your wetsuit on the way to the bike. I achieved this as I ran/stripped.
You can clearly see where my bike was racked. The mount point was actually sooner than is noted on this map, I just forgot to hit the “lap” button on my Garmin until I was on my bike.
I knew the bike was going to be an unknown. I haven’t been training on the bike and I have never done a 40KM TT and I have never done an Olympic distance triathlon so I had no idea how to pace. I had recently read some triathlete (Jordan Rapp, I think) who said you should be able to be at 97% of maximum on the bike portion, so I said “What the hell” and hammered it. The course profile was very easy. There was a little bit of wind and a TON of fog. So bad I could barely see through my sunglasses, and I had put the low visibility lenses in! I got to a pattern of peddle, peddle, wipe glasses, peddle, peddle. I always wear glasses riding, the tiniest of rocks can ruin your day if you don’t have eye protection. This marks the first time I have done a competition course where I literally had no idea where I was going. I never rode the bike there, barely looked the map, and snoozed through the athlete briefing.
The bike was a strange experience, it was foggy, and cool, so it was comfortable in temperature. The fog though, gave it a surreal feeling, like biking in a dream. It felt like there was something holding on to my back wheel, I thought my brake caliper might have been running but my pace was OK. I attribute that to lack of training, no more. The roads were heavily policed as some out and backs required us to use the left part of the right lane. This was good because it would be hard for me to get lost with cones one the road. There was a critical intersection where people doing the longer course had to go left and the shorter course folks went right. I was worried I would make the wrong turn here. Luckily for me when I approached the intersection the race organizers set up a large VMS (variable message sign) the type normally used to inform people of traffic problems which said “Long Course Left, Short Course Right”. By this time I had acquired a rabbit biker who, between the two of us, would pass and be passed. They had one aide station on the bike which came out of nowhere (no really, it was heavily foggy at that point so it appeared to come out of the mist) and I had enough time to slow down and take a bottle hand off, but not too slow that I lost my rabbit rider. I got about half a bottle of Gatorade in my aero bottle. In total, I would drink a bottle and a half on the bike.
My bike was 1:09 and I averaged 21.5 mph. This should have been faster. On similar terrain under similar circumstances at altitude I have done 22/23 mph. A month of deconditioning will do that to you. My T2 was pretty quick, I took some more fluid, 1/4 EFS powershot, and three honey stinger gummies. I put on my shoes and headsweats and took off the glasses and I was off.
The first bit of this run is straight up a rather steep hill, that says “Welcome to Maple Grove” where there was an aide station where I took some water. My legs were stiff from biking and swimming and I had a bit of reservation about the run. This lasted about a mile. I took a gel 3/4 of a mile into the run and the stiffness started to run itself out of my system. I ended up taking water at all 6 aide stations out of habit but I didn’t walk through them so it didn’t hurt my pace.
A combination of being at low altitude (about 900 feet), it being a very cool day (about 67 degrees), and some more aggressive run training conspired to make this the best 10K I have run to date. I ran the 10K in 52 minutes which is 8:28 pace and that is a whole minute faster than normal per mile. My goal for the run was to hit 9:10 a mile (since that is what I want for the 1/2 marathon) so I hit that goal without issue. This was a high zone 5 effort which at low altitude is sustainable for a longer period of time. The run was a nice two loop through a very nice neighborhood where curious homeowners and onlookers gathered to watch us. A 12-14 year old brought his drum set out and entertained the passing runners.
By the time I hit my second loop many of the sprinters were taking to the course and it became more congested. This was one of the few times that I passed other people whilst running. What a feeling. I did get chicked by a 55 year old lady who asked me the pace we were at (she didn’t have a GPS watch) who, after being told, promptly strided away from me. If anything will keep your ego in check, that certainly will. I am not saying 55 as a guess, this was what was written on her left calf!
After it was all said and done I completed the triathlon in 2:40 which easily beats my goal of “under three hours”. Sarah had a good race coming in at 3:10. Later that day we went and walked around the Minnesota State Fair for 5 hours. Olympics are much more forgiving activities than 70.3s!
I would do Maple Grove again (but I probably won’t) and I will certainly do another Lifetime Triathlon. The venue was great, the race staff were excellent, and the event was done efficiently. I think next year we will try for one or more of the Lifetime Triple Crown (MSP, NY, CHI) series based on the experience we had at this event. I would recommend Lifetime triathlons to anyone, especially beginners who may want a less intense environment than ironman, but still want to experience a real triathlon.