Trinona: The Day Before

The countdown to Trinona 2017 is down to one. Today was the expo, which features sponsor booths, packet pick-up and pre-race meetings. 

Many of the benches down at the Lake Winona bandshell sat empty as most triathletes opted for shade under a tree or back near the Veteran’s Memorial. I can’t blame them. I was one of them. It was hot and windy out there this afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-90s. 

Speaking of weather, the forecast for race day looks to keep everyone on their toes with the possibility of rain. The race director mentioned his contingency plans in the case weather causes delays. He also said that either way, there will still be a party considering all of the beer from Island City Brewing. Rain or shine, I’m ready to have some fun tomorrow. 

After the meeting, I walked down to the lake to check out the water and see if the course buoys were out yet. Lake Winona is known for its abundant weeds and plant growth in the water. When people ask, “You’re going to swim in that lake?”, I like to reply, “Don’t worry, they’ll probably mow it first!”. As expected, there were plenty of weeds in the water near the shore. Luckily we’ll be swimming out far enough to be in the clear, but it could be interesting going in and coming back onto shore. It’s a small price to pay considering the rest of the beauty of the course. 

I also scoped out the transition area. It’s always good to be familiar with the entrances and exits so you know where to come in from swimming, exit and re-enter with the bike, and exit out to the run course. It was pretty early in the afternoon so the transition was pretty empty, but tomorrow it will be a small village of bikes and people. 

After eating a stereotypical night before the race pasta dinner, I applied my helmet and bike stickers, double-checked and prepared my gear and turned on some tunes to relax. It’s going to be an exciting day tomorrow. I’m excited to be participating in this increasing local triathlon in the town I grew up in. I’m excited to have my family and friends there to cheer me on. I’m excited to have two good friends also participating in the race. I’m excited for this opportunity to compete and have fun. I’m just excited about it all. The hard part is going to be getting some sleep tonight with all that excitement going through my head.

Good luck tomorrow fellow triathletes!

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Trinona: Flashing Back & Racing Ahead

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Looking ahead to my third Trinona this Sunday, I thought it would be good to look back at my previous two times and set an overall goal.

Trinona 2014

Trinona 2016

Swim

11:29

9:27

T1

4:44

4:07

Bike

45m 35s

43m 40s

T2

1:21

1:07

Run

27m 17s

27m 54s

Total

1:30:25

1:26:13

My Previous Trinona Times

In 2016, I beat my 2014 time by a little more than four minutes. I was really proud about that. Here’s how I did it:

  1. First, I actually practiced swimming. In 2014, the first time I got in the water was about three days before the race. Bad idea. Especially for my first ever triathlon. Growing up in swimming lessons and on the river, I overestimated my swimming skills. In 2016, I went to the gym and swam laps two days per week for a about five weeks before the race. Not a ton of practice, but a lot more than in 2014. Considering the two-minute improvement, I’d say it paid off.
  2. Transition times. Definitely better in 2016. Interestingly enough, I added a wetsuit in 2016, which one would think would slow a person down trying to get the darn thing off after the swim. Somehow, I was still faster with that added task than with not having one in 2014. I’ll chalk that up to having a year of experience in knowing what to expect in transition.
  3. I think I practiced cycling less in 2016 than in 2014, but overall I had an increased exercise regimen overall which contributed to more cycling speed and efficiency. I also knew a little more of what to expect having one year of Trinona under my belt.
  4. My run time was slower in 2016 than in 2014. I’m really not sure why. I made running a focus both years. It seemed like an obvious to focus on to build endurance. Nonetheless, I was slower in 2016. No good reason here folks.

Looking ahead to this year, I tried to identify areas of strength and weakness to determine a goal:

  1. Swimming: Much like last year, I’ve practiced swimming leading up to this year’s race. The consistency has been a little more spread out with only about seven to eight swims over the last two months, including one open water swim, but looking at times in the pool, I think I’ve at least maintained my pace from last year. I also feel a little more comfortable in the water, which should help from a mental standpoint.
  2. Transitions: I might skip the wetsuit, pending water temperatures. This should save on transition time for sure. I’m also wearing my tri top during the swim, with or without the wetsuit, which will eliminate the need to put it on during transition, again saving time. I think there a few places to improve here over last year. However, if it’s cold, I may wear the suit. Either way, I’m going to keep urgency top of mind in T1 and T2.
  3. Bicycle: I have a road bike this year. It’s lighter and geared faster than the mountain bike I used the last two Trinonas. This is where I think I can improve the most. I’m hoping to increase my average speed by at least 3 mph and shave multiple minutes off of my previous bikes times. A lot to be optimistic about here.
  4. Running: I’ve kept-up on running to some extent throughout the offseason. Over the winter, against my personal surface preference, I knocked-out runs on a treadmill. I got back to running outside early in the season due to favorable weather. I also ran one 5K this spring, averaging seven-and-a-half-minute miles. With that said, I’m hoping that after swimming and biking, I can improve upon my nine-minute miles from 2016. I’d love to drop down to around eight minute miles, which could save me three total minutes over last year. I ran sub-eight minute miles in both the MPLS Tri and Maple Grove Tri last summer, so this is certainly realistic.

Overall, in 2014 and 2016, I was starting from scratch at the beginning of the year. I hadn’t been training prior to registering for Trinona those years. Heck, in 2014, I had never even ran a 5K before. I just jumped right in to triathlon.

This year, I’ve tried to keep up on conditioning since completing the Maple Grove Triathon in August 2016. Sure, the training wasn’t quite as consistent as I thought it would be at the end of last year, but it was there nonetheless. With one three-race season of experience under my belt, and solid training efforts this spring, I think there’s much room to be optimistic.

Given my improved swimming confidence, ideas to reduce transition time, new bicycle and running optimism, I’m setting my goal for Trinona 2017 at one hour and seventeen minutes (1:17:00). That’s more than nine minutes faster than last year. That’s a pretty big improvement if achieved. Maybe even lofty. But I think it can be done. This is the first tri season where I’m not starting from scratch. I have a base built up from last year, and I’ve added to it with training this spring.

The goal is driven partly by data and realistic opportunity, but it’s also driven by a gut feeling. I think I can do it. So with just a couple days to go to race day, cheers to setting goals and busting ass to achieve them. Cheers indeed fellow triathletes. Let’s go get ’em this weekend!

Return to Open Water

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I’ll admit it; I kind of freaked out. My first open water swim of the year had a bumpy start.

I crawled down the dock ladder into the water and immediately tensed-up as chills ran through my body. Sure, it’s finally summer here in Minnesota, but the lakes are still a bit chilly. I was wearing a wetsuit, but the water was pretty cold. I turned towards the lake, put my head down, took a couple strokes and that’s when I kind of freaked out.

I’ve been back to the gym over the last month swimming in the lap pool, but it’s been about nine months since my last swim in a lake. I had somehow forgotten that once your head goes under the lake water, you really can’t see much. The unknown felt confining. Combine that lack of vision with the cold water temperature and I immediately thought, “What the heck am I doing out here? What if I can’t do this anymore?”

For those that know me well, I can sometimes be a little dramatic about things, even jumping to the extreme end of a conclusion like I did in the water. I didn’t quit though. I treaded water, caught my breath and swam a couple 30-40 yard laps in the bay. I found a groove and knocked out 16 laps total, including eight without the wetsuit. I had never swam while wearing my tri top before and wanted to know how that felt without the suit before Trinona, my first race of the season.

I’ve struggled getting the compression tri tanks on during transition. They’re tight and get bunched up when I pull it over my shoulders. Plus I’m dripping water, tired and short of breath after the swim, which I’m sure adds to the dressing awkwardness. This year, I thought it would be nice to skip that part and just be dressed before I swim, like most other triathletes do. Heck, that’s what the tri outfits are meant for. I’ve just never done it that way before – just shorts for the swim and then the top for biking and running. So now I’ve tried it and I know what it’ll feel like on race day (always a bad idea to try something for the first time on race day). The lack of warmth without the wetsuit was very noticeable though.

I’ve also been contemplating skipping the wetsuit for Trinona since the swim is a shorter one (0.25 miles) and it would save me a good chunk of time in the first transition. However, that genius idea was before jumping in the lake yesterday. Feeling those shivers all through my body is giving me second thoughts. I’ll wait to hear the race day water temperature before making that call, but at least I have the option.

All in all, it was a good day in the lake. I’m glad I got that open water refresher before my first triathlon of the season this weekend. The limited visibility really messed with my head, but the rest of the swim was much smoother after finding a calm and settling into a groove. That calm will be much needed on race day!

TreadingWater

All smiles after the swim.

Ending the Laps Lapse

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Swimming. I’m always amazed by triathletes who feel it’s not the most difficult leg of a race. Open-water swimming is an animal of it’s own, but then add in a hundred other swimmers around you, who you may or may not accidentally swim into, or who may or may not accidentally swim over you or grab your leg, and you have what I like to call organized chaos. But it’s really not all that bad either. It’s kind of a rush. It’s an obstacle that once completed, you know it should be downhill from there, in a good way.

This month, I finally got back in the pool after a few months off. I never planned to take that much time away from swimming, but that’s usually what happens anytime you say you’re going to take a break from a routine. You see, I’m not a great swimmer. Sure, I know the basics of swimming. My parents had me in swimming lessons as soon as I was old enough. And I grew-up spending my weekends on the Mississippi River. But now that I’m trying to be somewhat competitive, I realize I still have some work to do.

Last summer, I got into a habit of swimming at least twice a week – and it really helped me prepare for the triathlons I did. Last May, I could barely swim more than eight laps before feeling exhausted and needing a break (the .25 mile swim at Trinona is equal to about 16 laps in a lap pool). I got a little better with each swim practice, swimming a few more laps each time without a break, and was ultimately able to make my way through Trinona ok. I was exhausted when I got out of the water, but I made it through.

I stuck with the twice-a-week practices. I mean, I had to, especially knowing the MPLS Tri sprint distance was .47 miles, almost twice that of Trinona. It would be my longest swim yet. Somehow, during the swim leg of the MPLS Tri, I became comfortable keeping my head under water and using rythmic breathing. Somehow, someway, something just clicked. Not only did I feel more confident in my ability, but I also noticed I was swimming more efficiently than with my previous doggy-paddle form. This was a turning point. I was getting faster and more comfortable with the distance. Oh, and using a wetsuit didn’t hurt either. The buoyancy gave me the mental piece of mind that helped me relax in the water. I realized open water swimming was something I could actually do and not be scared of.

At the end of the year, I told myself I was going to keep that swimming routine and be an even better swimmer this year – never letting up. Well, as I already mentioned, that routine fell off.  But I’m back at it. A few weeks ago I went for my first swim since October and was pleasantly surprised to knockout 32 laps (just a tad longer than .47 miles) in about 15 minutes without a rest. I didn’t lose much of a step, which was quite a relief. I took a short break and then swam eight more laps just for good measure, making the total distance 1,000 meters, or the length of a football field just under eleven times.

I’ve been back to the pool a few more times since. Realizing that my first race of the year is only three weeks away, it’s definitely time to step it up a notch. Or a couple notches for that matter.

What are most focused on heading into tri season?

 

 

The Need for Speed

NewBike

As someone who’s not the strongest of swimmers, the bike leg of a triathlon is a perfect opportunity for me to make-up some time and build momentum. I’m even more excited about that possibility now that, thanks to my dad, I’ve added a road bike to my race day gear.

Last year, I completed all three triathlons using my mountain bike. Sure, I swapped out the knobby tires for thinner, smooth road tires to reduce rolling resistance. But I could still only go so fast. I felt like I knocked out some respectable bike times, averaging over 17mph in two of the tree races. But I vividly remember being maxed-out on gears and pedaling as hard as I could, hitting about 19mph max on smooth straightaways, and getting passed by guys on road bikes going so fast that I felt like I was standing still. There was literally nothing more I could do. I was going as fast as I possibly could.

Split Time Split Pace Distance
Trinona

43m 40s

15.12 mph 11 miles
MPLS Tri

51m 4s

17.63 mph 15 miles
Maple Grove Tri

37m 58s

17.39 mph 11.5 miles

Bike times from my three 2016 triathlons

Excited turn the pedals and shift some gears, I took the new bike out for its maiden voyage last weekend and boy was it a night and day difference from my mountain bike. I was hitting 17mph with a steady pedal. I continued pushing, reaching 19mph, realizing I still had a couple gears left. Reaching 21mph on a smooth straightaway was a joy. Then maybe a little more scary, mixed with fun, was speeding 32mph down a winding hill. Don’g get me wrong, flying down the hill was a thrill, but I was still getting used to the caliper brakes. The mountain bike I had rode for years to had disc brakes that stopped on a dime. The caliper pads on the new ride still needed to be broken-in. But all went well. The 14 mile ride was over before I knew it. The first ride was a success.

I’m pumped about the possibilities this bike will bring this year. It’s light. It’s geared for faster speeds. The tires are thinner and capable of holding higher air pressures. I should definitely see some improvements in my times.

But I also know that equipment can only take you so far. And Trinona is only a little more than six weeks away. Time to get back to training!

 

My Stretching Partner and I

JoshNellie

I’m certainly no expert on stretching, but one of my favorite ways to keep the legs moving after a good run is going for a walk with my dogs. It’s hard to want to do much of anything on tired legs. It’s also hard to resist a dog’s stare and wagging tail that greets you when you walk in the door. After tonight’s run, my dog Nellie and I went for walk, which helped her stretch her legs after a day in the house and it helped me stretch mine too.  It was a win-win really!

Spring has sprung here in Minnesota and the warmer weather is certainly welcomed for spending more time outside. I’ve been able to get three good workouts in during the last five days – two outdoor runs and a brick on a rainy day at the gym.

You might be wondering what exactly a brick is. In triathlon talk, a brick is where you practice two of sport’s three activities in succession to help prepare not only your muscles but also your mind for that weird feeling you get transitioning during a race. For example, after biking many miles, your legs are quite confused when you hop off the bike, rack it in transition, and immediately start running. It’s definitely a challenge to run when all your legs want to do is pedal circles. I can remember each of my T2 transitions from last year’s races. If I didn’t have my bike to lean as I jogged it back to the rack, I probably would’ve tumbled immediately after the dismount line. So, with all that being said, I spent 35 minutes on the bike at the gym and immediately went into a ten-minute run on the treadmill. My legs felt surprisingly good making transition, but then again, the gym bikes aren’t quite like the real bikes one would ride outside and the treadmill isn’t quite like actually running. It still makes for good training though, I hope!

Here’s the details on my two recent outdoor runs:

Monday

  • Distance: 3.04 miles
  • Total time: 24:40
  • Average pace: 8:07/mile

Friday

  • Distance: 2.90 miles
  • Total time: 23:17
  • Average pace: 8:02/mile

I’m quickly approaching a sub eight-minute mile and not far off of the seven-and-a-half-minute miles I averaged during last fall’s training runs. For further context, at this time last year, I don’t think I had even started running yet. Looking back in my Nike+ Run Club app (that app wails by the way!), my first run of 2016 was at the end of April with nine-minute-plus miles. I used to think keeping track of all these running activities might be silly, but now I see the value in being able to track progress. Luckily the app makes the tracking part easy.

Trinona is only nine weeks away. I’m happy to be ahead of the game compared to last year. I also know now that April is here, it’s time to pick up the pace. My goal for next week: get back in the pool!

My 2017 Triathlon Season Preview

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At this time last year, the idea of doing a triathlon wasn’t much more than a fleeting thought. Almost three more months would pass before registering for my first race of 2016. Things are different this year. My 2017 triathlon schedule is set and I’m pretty excited about it.

I’m kicking-off the season at Trinona, the race where it all began for me. In 2010, my wife and I volunteered on Trinona’s green team, helping sort recyclables and compost. This was my first exposure to the sport and it had me dreaming of tackling the race some day. In 2014, I completed my first triathlon at Trinona. The sense of accomplishment after crossing the finish line was like nothing I’d experienced before, proving to myself that I was capable of something I’d doubted I could do. In 2016, I raced Trinona again, sparking a love for the sport and completions of two more races that summer. This year, I’m looking forward to having two close friends participating in this race too. I’m sure lots of camaraderie and friendly jeering will enjoyed before, during and after the event.

Next up for 2017 is the LifeTime Tri Minneapolis. This one will be special because I’m not just racing racing for myself. I joined Team Save the Children for two reasons: to raise awareness about worldwide hunger and poverty and its affect on children – and to do so while honoring the memory of Olivia Ann Christiano. I get goosebumps just thinking about this race. I pledged to raising at least $500. Thanks to the contributions from family, friends and some very generous people who I’ve never met, I’ve already exceeded that goal. But I’m not stopping there. Between now and race day, I want to keep adding to that fundraising total. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of children throughout the world. If you’d like to contribute, please visit my personal fundraising page here.

In August, I’ll be tackling my most adventurous event yet – the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon. Adventurous is open to interpretation, but traveling out of state for a race, and the thought of swimming in Lake Michigan, both say “adventure” to me. This will also be the largest event I’ve competed in. For a comparison, last year’s Minneapolis Tri Sprint race had 641 participants; Chicago’s had 2,237. Biking and running along the lake shore and through downtown Chicago will provide some spectacular views. Plus, celebrating with a slice of deep dish pizza sounds like the perfect prize.

Setting the race schedule felt like an accomplishment in itself. But now the real work of training becomes the focus. I’m just happy that this year, I’ve planned ahead and allowed plenty of time to prepare for the season – a season with a lot to look forward to.