On Saturday, June 2nd I did my second triathlon of the season. The Island Lake Triathlon took place at Island Lake State Recreation Area in Brighton, Michigan. I did the Olympic distance there in 2014 and 2017 and enjoyed it enough to do it again. The rolling hills make it a good challenge and the park is a great place for a race. I knew that I’d need to do a long bike ride during the weekend anyway, so why not sign up for the race and get a good ride in there? Although I had just done an Olympic triathlon six days earlier, I was anxious to do another. I recovered quickly from the other race and the weather forecast looked cooler and more enjoyable for this race.
I left home at 5am in order to get to the park at 6am. That gave me a little over an hour to do everything before the pre-race meeting. Since we’ve had a heatwave with highs around 90 degrees for the past week or so, I was relieved that rain had come through the night before and things cooled down. It was overcast, in the mid-50s, and pretty chilly with a little bit of wind. My biggest question was whether it had cooled down enough for us to use wetsuits. The water temperature had been 79 degrees the day before the race. That’s one degree too high for wetsuits according to USA Triathlon rules. I was thrilled when I saw a sign at the packet pickup area that said the water was 75 degrees and the swim would be wetsuit legal! I was glad I’d be aided by the buoyancy and speed of the wetsuit. Who would have thought that there would be concern over the water being too *warm* this early in the season though?
I love the design of the shirt and was happy that the packet included a couple of goodies from Clif.
I set things up in transition and thought getting into my wetsuit would help keep me warm, but I still continued to shiver.
At 7:15 the transition area closed and the pre-race meeting began. Nearly 500 people participated between all of the events – Olympic, sprint, super sprint, duathlon, relays, etc. The Olympic distance had 133 finishers and we got to start first. An email sent a couple days before the race let us know that seaweed had been a big issue in the lake. There were several paragraphs about the various benefits of seaweed, reminding us that it was a good thing. I appreciated the sense of humor about the situation. As a result, the swim course was altered a bit to help us avoid the worst of it. Instead of two loops, the Olympic athletes would swim three 500m loops. Last year we had to get out of the water and run around a marker on the beach between loops, but thankfully we didn’t have to do that this year.
The Olympic men started first at 7:30 and the women followed a few minutes later. The water was warmer than the air so it felt great. I’m in the middle of the photo below, keeping my body down in the water to stay warm.
The group spaced out eventually and I didn’t get kicked or beaten up despite some initial crowding. I grabbed a little bit of seaweed and got a piece in my face at one point, but it really wasn’t bad and it was mostly close to the beach. I felt comfortable during the swim and was always distracted as I looked for the next buoy and made sure I didn’t run into people. Thanks to Epic Races and Greg Sadler’s team for the free photos. Sometimes race photos can cost $15 or more a piece, so it’s a big perk to get some great shots for free.
I didn’t practice swimming in the open water this year before jumping right into racing. Fortunately, I seem to have the hang of it after several years of doing triathlons and it has naturally come right back to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that my new wetsuit would rub my neck. When I showered after last weekend’s race, I felt pain shooting from the skin on the back of my neck. I didn’t feel anything during the race, but it was clear that I’d done something. I thought my wetsuit sat lower on my neck and couldn’t be the cause. I realized pretty quickly during this race that I was wrong. Once I was in swimming position I felt it rubbing the area that was still raw. I’ll have to try Body Glide all over my neck next time in hopes of solving it.
Eventually I started to catch a few of the men during the swim. Before the race I was concerned that some of the faster men would swim over me by the time I hit the third loop. I thought the other waves of swimmers started late enough that I’d avoid them, but that became the biggest issue. As I finished my second loop, it was congested enough by the buoys near the beach that some people stood up and walked around them, so I did too. I didn’t want to keep swimming and crash into people. After I rounded the buoys and started to swim again I got caught up in a crowd of at least one other wave. As seen in the picture below, there were people from the red, pink, blue, and purple waves all mixed together.
It really turned into a mess when I approached a set of buoys where the purple wave needed to turn left while I needed to go straight. I was caught in a sea of purple caps and had to work my way out. I thought I’d push harder during the final loop, but I kept getting stuck in groups of people. There would be three people swimming side by side, and I either had to squeeze between them or hesitate, give them room, then work my way around them. I was a little frustrated because I wanted to finish strong, but it just wasn’t possible with so many people around. After the race someone mentioned how he did an Ironman where 1,700 people all had to run into the water at once, so obviously this was nothing compared to that! I was happy with my time of 29:04 for 1500m, but it left me wondering how much better I could have done if I could have really pushed through the end.
The transition area was right next to the beach and it was a quick walk/jog up from the water. It was still in the mid-50s and it would only feel worse while I was wet so I figured I should wear something warmer on the bike. After I got out of my wetsuit, I tried to get into a quarter-zip jacket but I couldn’t get it on. I kind of wiped off, but not enough to keep me from getting tangled up. I looked around and saw that most everyone else was leaving the transition area in just their tri suits, so I decided to ditch the jacket. I had debated wearing gloves but left those behind as well. After all of that screwing around, I managed to spend too much time in transition as usual – 3:01 this time.
I knew what to expect from the bike course since I had done the race a couple times before. The road surface is good and I like that the course keeps us on the roads within the park. There’s a nice mix of rolling hills to keep it challenging. Some of the uphill stretches slowed me down to a crawl, but I could make up for it on some of the fast downhill stretches. Olympic athletes had two loops of the out and back course. Watching the people who were riding on the other side of the road provided a good distraction.
I did the best I could, which really wasn’t all that good. I spend more time running and swimming than I do biking, simply because I enjoy them more. As expected, that means my bike skills are lacking. I lost plenty of ground that I’d gained during the swim once people flew past me on the bike. I’ve been informed at both races this season that I could be faster if I got a better bike. Maybe one of these days, but for now I’m not up for investing a minimum of $2,000 for a new bike. One guy informed me that I might be able to get something decent for that low. Of course most of the athletes have even pricier bikes.
The air felt crisp during my first loop, but I think I had enough adrenaline flowing to stay warm. I started to get cold by the second loop. It was manageable, but I wished I had gloves. I finished the 40k bike in 1:28:31, which averaged out to 16.8 mph.
I probably could have made it through the second transition faster if my hands hadn’t been so cold. I really struggled to get my thick ponytail through the hole of my running hat since my hands were half numb. Still, 50 seconds was decent enough.
Onto the run! Now the overcast sky and mid-50s felt PERFECT. It was nearly 30 degrees warmer during my run at last weekend’s triathlon so this felt nice and refreshing. I knew that the run started up a steep, grassy hill, and that part is always tough. Once I recovered from that, I felt pretty good. Aside from a stretch of grass at the beginning and end of our two loops, we ran on a paved path with a few little climbs, but nothing too bad. Part of the run was through Island Lake and the other part was through Kensington Metropark. Like on the bike, watching the people on the out and back route provided a good distraction.
My first and fourth miles were around an 8:00 pace, probably thanks to climbing that grass hill. The rest of my miles were somewhere in the 7:40s. I was really happy with that pace since I haven’t been running very fast lately. I’m sure the cool temperature played a big role. I was surprised that I felt so good and wondered if that meant I should be pushing harder. I just kept rolling with it and enjoyed it, deciding that I’d try pushing harder during the last mile. There was a steep, grassy downhill stretch on the way to the finish where I picked up a lot of momentum. I was probably pressing my luck there and was lucky that I didn’t wipe out!
I finished strong with a time of 45:59 for what was supposed to be 10k. When I heard people at the end questioning the length of the course, I checked my watch. It said that I had run closer to 5.9 mi rather than 6.2 mi. If it had been a true 10k, that meant I would have run a 7:25 average pace. I doubt the run would have felt as enjoyable or that I’d be smiling so much if I had actually run that pace!
2:47:26 was about a minute and a half faster than my time last year. Factor in a shorter run this time around and I was probably in the same neighborhood.
I enjoyed the post-race food options, especially the pancakes. They also had little cookie bars and brownies, bags of chips, bananas, and a freezer with ice cream sandwiches. Before I left I ate the little Clif bar we received in our packet, and I also bought a smoothie from a coffee/food truck that was set up in the parking lot. Plenty of good options for refueling. They talked about a beer tent, but I never made my way over there.
They had computers set up so people could check their results. Since I was third in my age group (out of six) and they gave awards to the top five, I won something. I thought it was pretty cool that I could pick from any of the things on the table.
Since I had won a glass last year and didn’t need a duplicate, I chose a hat.
I had a great day and hope to keep returning to this race in the future. It’s challenging enough to keep things interesting but enjoyable enough that I finished with a smile on my face. I’ll take a couple weekends off but will probably try to get one more triathlon in later this month.