Tri Del Sol Triathlon Recap

The front of the cotton race t-shirt

The front of the cotton race t-shirt

I was anxious to try another Olympic-distance triathlon after one race I signed up for got cancelled and another cancelled the swim. There are usually at least a couple races to pick from every weekend, and most of them are at least a couple hours away. I debated between a few before choosing the Tri del Sol Triathlon & Duathlon in Middleville, MI on Sunday, July 16. The first perk was that the Olympic distance was an option. It sounded like it should be a scenic venue, and it was for a good cause.

The race has been around for years and was recently purchased by the West Michigan chapter of myTEAM TRIUMPH. I first became aware of the group when I saw them participating in the Grand Rapids Marathon in 2013. This description from their website explains the program:

“myTEAM TRIUMPH is an athletic ride-along program created for children, teens, adults, and veterans with disabilities who would normally not be able to experience endurance events such as triathlons or road races.”

It’s pretty moving and inspiring to see people who would never be able to participate in a race get the chance to experience the excitement of race day thanks to “angels” who push them in a chair. I’d seen them participate in a running event, but it sounded like an even more awesome undertaking to do a triathlon. This race would be a great chance to see some incredible people in action.

Although I managed to drive two hours to Caseville on race morning last weekend, I decided two and a half hours was a bit much. I got a hotel in Grand Rapids the night before so I only had half an hour to drive the morning of the race.

Fortunately, the weather worked out. There’d been a chance of storms in the forecast, but it was mostly overcast and around 70 degrees for the race. The race took place at YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin, which was a great setting. They used a grass field for parking and it was a short walk through the woods to get to the transition area.

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Camp Manitou-Lin

After dropping stuff off in transition and getting checked in, I went down to the beach. Wind/whitecaps had cancelled last weekend’s swim, so I was relieved to see a nice, calm lake.

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Barlow Lake

There would be a little bit of a hike from the beach up to the transition area.

Looking down toward the beach

Looking down toward the beach

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Up past the lodge to the transition area

A post-race picture of the transition area

A post-race picture of the transition area

The lodge had real restrooms which was a bonus. I was able to use one of the picnic tables outside to sit down and work my way into my wetsuit.

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A very nice lodge

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Transition closed at 7:40 and 10 minutes later myTEAM TRIUMPH started. It was pretty impressive to watch swimmers pulling the rafts.

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myTEAM TRIUMPH headed out for the swim. Photo courtesy of Tri del Sol’s Facebook page.

The pre-race meeting came next, then a couple waves of Olympic swimmers started at 8:00. The waves started five minutes apart, and I was in the group of Olympic women who went in the third wave. I’m always relieved when the swim starts in waves because it helps reduce the crowd and craziness. Even though I can swim just fine, I always have nerves before the swim. It’s probably a combination of the swim and the start of the race in general. I swam on the outskirts of my group to help reduce my nervousness even more. That worked, because I never ended up too close to anyone. In fact, at times I thought that I went TOO far out of the way. I worried that I was adding a bunch of extra distance. I got a little closer to the buoys for the second loop of the swim, but by then the fast sprint swimmers were out there and I didn’t want them to swim over me. The water was around 74 degrees and I got a little warm in my full wetsuit. The buoyancy definitely helps reduce my time, but I probably wouldn’t want to wear it in water that is much warmer.

Aside from swimming so wide and wishing I was done with the swim at the end of the first loop, the swim went really well. My time was 28:14 for what was supposed to be 1500m. Considering how I worried that I’d added a bunch of extra distance, I was pretty happy with my time. That time also included some of the hike up toward the transition area. I wasn’t really dizzy when I came out of the water, but I wasn’t prepared to jog yet either. Walking most of the way up to my bike didn’t help my already horrendously slow transition time. The timing chip was more low profile than it has been at other races, so at least the ankle of my wetsuit didn’t get snagged on that. Still, I never get out of my wetsuit very quickly. My T1 time was 3:36…not great.

Eventually I got started on the bike. Although 40K (24.8 mi) is usually the standard Olympic distance for the bike, this ride was listed as 23.04 mi. I’ve ridden courses that I consider rolling, but the rolling for this ride seemed to never end. It was challenging for me, and there were enough climbs/inclines to slow me down to a crawl numerous times. A few of the downhill portions were nice and fast, but I’m not sure they made up for my slowness the rest of the time! It seemed like I got passed by almost everyone. I got a comment from one guy about how I must be a fast swimmer. It was kind of a compliment, except for the part that implied that I clearly wasn’t fast on the bike…but I’m very aware of that.

It was a struggle and at times I questioned why I do this to myself. I also questioned if I ought to stick to sprints where the bike is usually around 12 miles. I tried to put a positive spin on it though. I told myself that I was doing this for me, not to beat people, so does it really matter how long I take if I’m up for the challenge?

A sample of the bike route from Google Maps

A sample of the bike route from Google Maps

I did enjoy some of the scenery, such as glimpses of Yankee Springs Recreation Area and some lakes.

I enjoyed looking at the houses along the lake on Gun Lake Road (photo from Google Maps)

I enjoyed looking at the houses along the lake on Gun Lake Road (photo from Google Maps)

My final time on the bike was 1:23:46, around 16.5 mph. Usually my bike to run transition is pretty quick, but I got tangled up for a minute trying to rack my bike. The bike next to mine was so close that I had a hard time squeezing mine in. My T2 time was 1:46.

Even after a challenging bike ride, my legs didn’t feel heavy for too long. I warmed up into the run pretty quickly, starting with a 7:49 mile. My second mile was slightly faster, then I hovered around an 8:00 pace for the rest. I typically don’t have a target running pace in triathlons. I end up running by feel and hope I can hang on! There was a little bit of rolling on the run course as well, though nothing that felt as extreme as it did on the bike. I loved running along a neighborhood road past lakefront homes. It was a really pretty area that provided good distraction. Another good distraction was seeing and cheering for other runners along the out and back course. When we got back to the YMCA grounds, we wound through the woods briefly before getting to the finish line. I tried to pick up my pace a little bit, though I didn’t have a whole lot left in me. I finished the 10K run in 48:51, an average of 7:52 per mile. I figured I might run somewhere around 50 minutes, so I was happy to be under that.

Stills from video shot at the finish line

Stills from video shot at the finish line

Here are the final stats:

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It’s hard to call this a PR since the bike distance was shorter than most Olympic tris and every race varies with the post-swim distance to the transition area. I’m really happy with my swim and run, and still have room for improvement with the bike and transitions. Regardless of my time, I’m glad I got out there and did another Olympic race. Although I may not have always enjoyed the bike portion, it was good to get that work in. As a bonus, I ended up third out of six in my age group, so I got an extra medal! They had little printers set up where you could type in your bib number and it printed your results. No waiting for an awards ceremony at this race – you just took the results to a table and they had the age group awards ready.

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I was happy about the age group award, but probably even happier about the post-race food. It seems like I always complain after triathlons that they don’t have enough food. Finally – a race that got it right!

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Plenty of fruit, muffins, bagels, cookies, popcorn, etc. I was happy that they had plenty of carbs! I didn’t have to resort to my own post-race stash of snacks like I have at a couple other races this season. After burning 2,100+ calories, I get very excited about food.

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I don’t expect these things to be easy, but this one was certainly a challenge. It turned out to be a great day, and myTEAM TRIUMPH did an excellent job hosting the race. Everything went smoothly, the YMCA venue was beautiful, the course was well-marked, the volunteers were great, and there was a good variety of post-race food.

I’m feeling a bit sore after this effort, so I’ll take a couple days off and ease back into things. Next up – the Shermanator (sprint) Triathlon in Augusta, MI in a couple weeks.

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz




Caseville Triathlon/Duathlon Recap

The front and back of the shirt. "The finish crowns the work."

The front and back of the shirt. “The finish crowns the work.”

The Caseville Triathlon on Sunday, July 9 was going to be my second triathlon of the 2017 season. Actually, a couple weeks ago the Sanford Lake Triathlon was going to be my second of the year. However, bad flooding in the area led to cancellation the day before the race. That race was hosted by Tri to Finish, who also hosted the Caseville Triathlon. Luckily they made it possible to transfer my registration fee from Sanford to Caseville. I loved the Caseville Triathlon when I did it in 2015 (recap here) and knew I wanted to do it again. Not only because I enjoyed it so much the first time, but also because racing the Olympic distance on the same course would allow me to see if my fitness had improved.

While I stayed in a hotel half an hour away the last time I did the race, I opted to save the money this year. That meant a 2-hour drive the morning of the race. I worried about deer on the backroads before sunrise (I only saw one) but otherwise it was fine because traffic was so light. Like last time, I was intrigued by the fields of wind turbines as I approached Caseville.

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I got to Caseville County Park around 6:30 for the sake of parking easily and taking my time getting ready. The transition area was open until 7:45, so I had plenty of time. When I got out of the car, I noticed that it was really windy. I wasn’t too excited about that! After I checked in and got marked up, I headed down to the beach.

A pretty morning

A pretty morning

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Lots of waves!

The windy conditions meant that the water was pretty rough. I was a bit concerned about trying to swim amongst all of those whitecaps. I have trained almost exclusively in the pool. I’ve been in lakes twice this year, and the conditions were as calm as could be. I wasn’t sure how I’d deal with it.

It turns out I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Ten minutes before the transition area closed there was an announcement that the swim was cancelled. I was torn. I’ve been swimming so much lately that I was excited to see how I would do…but not in those conditions. The people in charge of the race didn’t feel like it would be safe, and I agreed. Between the cancellation in Sanford a couple weeks ago and now cancelling the swim at this race, the season hasn’t gone quite as planned. All you can do is adapt!

This race had sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and duathlon options. The new plan was for the 70.3 racers to run a mile first, come back, head out on their bikes, then the other races would start. The Olympic people would also take off to run a mile, then the sprint athletes. Finally, the duathlon would continue as planned. After announcing the new “modified” format with the mile run in place of the swim, it was also announced that people could switch to the duathlon if they’d like. I decided that sounded like a good option. That way I’d get to do a race that was a standard distance rather than a weird modified one. It would be a typical sprint duathlon with a 5K run, 20K bike, and 5K run. I wasn’t too excited to face the wind on the bike, so cutting my bike distance from 40K down to 20K would be kind of nice. Especially since the bike is my weakness!

We were given extra time to adjust for the changes, for people to get out of their wetsuits, etc.

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People changing out of their wetsuits in the transition area and getting ready to start with a run

The 70.3 athletes headed out for their run while the rest of us hung out and waited for them to return before starting our races.

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I headed out for the first run with the duathletes without any specific goal. I put in a good effort but knew I had a second run coming later so I didn’t go nuts. Aside from one faster run last week, 8:00 miles have been about the fastest I’ve gone lately. I was pretty thrilled when I averaged a pace of 7:31 and 7:21 for the last two miles of the first run! Still not PR kind of speed for me, but faster than I’ve done in a year. I finished the first run in 24:10, which was a 7:48 average pace and a solid cutdown/negative split run. I think I actually ran a bit long, so my average pace was probably faster, but I messed up when I started my watch and all of the numbers were thrown off.

I realized that one major perk of a duathlon is fast transition times. Without the swim, I didn’t waste a ton of time struggling to get out of my wetsuit, drying my feet, getting shoes on, etc.

The bike was an out and back route along a main road with wide shoulders, so we didn’t really have to worry about traffic. The road follows the tip of Michigan’s “thumb” area with glimpses of Lake Huron at times.

A sample of some of the scenery, courtesy of Google Maps

A sample of some of the scenery, courtesy of Google Maps

I took in the scenery now and then, but mostly worried about what I was doing on the bike. After the turnaround, the wind was kind of frustrating. My speed dropped 1-3 mph on the way back versus what I had done on the way out. I ended up finishing the 20K (12.4 miles) in 43:05. That was an average of 17.3 mph – placing me right in the middle when it came to the bike results for everyone in the race. Not especially fast, which is pretty typical for me.

I had another quick transition after the bike, then headed out for the second 5K run. My legs didn’t feel too bad, but there was one hill to climb on the way out of the park that was more of a struggle the second time around. The rest of the run was flat and went pretty well. I didn’t pay much attention to my watch, but saw that my pace was in the 7:30s for a good chunk of it. It was a good effort and I was breathing heavily yet able to maintain it somehow. I came up to a guy when there was a little more than a mile left, and he commented that it was good for him to have someone to pace with. I noticed his calf said he was 15 years old and I was pretty impressed. Triathlons weren’t even on my radar when I was 15. He said he’d been doing them for several years. We chatted for a while and it was a good distraction. It’s fun to meet new people at races and hear some of their stories. I’m not sure how I kept up a conversation at that pace, but eventually I picked up the pace a bit more and concentrated on finishing strong. The hill that was a struggle on the way out was awfully nice to fly down on the way back. From that point on, maybe about a quarter mile, I hauled as fast as I could. I gave everything I had through the finish. I had another negative split, running 7:38, 7:34, 7:24, then sub-7 for the last little bit. My time was 23:43, with an average pace of 7:39. Like the first run, it looks like I ran a little long (3.18 mi) which made my actual pace closer to a 7:27 average…even better! I was proud of myself for running the second 5K faster, and pretty happy to see those kinds of paces. Without any real speedwork lately, I wasn’t sure I still had that speed in me. Especially after running and biking for an hour first!

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Here’s the final breakdown:

5K Run #1 – 24:10 – 7:48 pace
T1 – 0:30
20K Bike – 43:05 – 17.3 mph
T2 – 0:24
5K Run #2 – 23:43 – 7:39 pace
Total – 1:31:50

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After I received my medal and bottle of water, it took a few minutes of pacing around to settle down. They had bananas at the finish line, but I knew there should be some other food too. At first, this is all that I found:

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A table with a few packages of assorted creme cookies. That was it?! I’m still really disappointed that nearly every triathlon I do lacks a variety of food at the finish. I went to my car to eat snacks I brought with me since I’ve learned to expect it. I saw someone with a paper plate a little bit later, so I asked if there was more food. At some point they put pizza out. Unfortunately, my stomach didn’t feel great and I didn’t think pizza would help, so I stuck with my food.

Because I had started my watch too early and ended it too late, I didn’t know what my final time actually was. When sheets with the initial results were posted, I didn’t see my name. I kept checking my age group and figured I should be listed based on the other times. I talked to the woman who was posting the results, and after a minute she called my name and told me that I was listed in the top three women! I just assumed I’d be listed in my age group and it didn’t even cross my mind that there were overall winner results that I should check. I was pretty excited that I had placed third overall for women in the duathlon!

Eventually they started the awards for the sprint and the duathlon, and this is what I received:

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It’s a really nice stone award that came with a stand to prop it up on a shelf. I can also contact Tri to Finish next year for 25% off of my race!

Although I was bummed that the swim was cancelled and I didn’t end up doing the Olympic distance, Tri to Finish did a great job adjusting on the fly and creating a great race day experience. I think switching to the duathlon was a good move for me. Since the run is my strongest of the three events, the duathlon probably plays to my strengths the most. The more running there is, the better I do! Although the duathlon went so well, I enjoy swimming and I’m anxious to do another triathlon soon. I’m scoping out more races and hoping I can make an Olympic one work soon now that I’ve had two failed attempts!

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz