Ugly Dog Triathlon Race Recap

On Saturday, July 17th I did my second triathlon of the season. When I signed up for the race I didn’t realize it shared the same course as the Tri Goddess Tri race that I did a few weeks ago. I returned to Big Portage Lake State Park at the Waterloo Recreation Area in Grass Lake, MI once again. It’s hard to compare results from different triathlons because the distances can vary so much from race to race. For example, I did an 800m swim, 10.8-mile bike ride, and 2.8-mile run at this race. Sometimes the bike and run distances are a little longer for a sprint triathlon but it all depends on the location of the race and the best route that can be created. By racing the exact same course I would have a true comparison to see if I could improve.

Another bonus for racing the same course was knowing what to expect. Tri Goddess Tri was a real rust-buster after a couple years off and I felt more at ease this time. It wasn’t fun driving through the rain in the dark for the first hour of my trip, but the rain stopped half an hour before I got there and the rest of the day was clear. It was a relief knowing I wouldn’t have to worry about riding in the rain. However, the mosquitos were terrible! I’m glad I watched a video update from Epic Races a couple days before the race because they told people it would be smart to bring bug spray.

The transition area

The main idea behind the Ugly Dog Triathlon is that it gives people a rare chance to do a triathlon that uses gravel roads for the bike segment. They had a bunch of different race options. People could choose the triathlon, duathlon, or aquathlon with either a 29-mile or 10-mile gravel bike ride. There was also a relay option and the Pretty Dog triathlon, which used the same swim and run courses but had a separate 10.8-mile bike route on the pavement. The largest event was the 29-mile gravel triathlon with 49 people. Pretty Dog followed behind that with 47 people. Somewhere around 150 people participated between all of the events. I opted to do the Pretty Dog because I’m not very secure on the bike and knew I wouldn’t want to worry about losing control on loose stones.

After everything was set in transition I went down to the beach and swam a tiny bit before the pre-race meeting. The water felt good and I was able to swim comfortably. I hoped that would continue during the race since I struggled a bit at Tri Goddess Tri. I guess nerves got to me after not doing a triathlon for a couple years. I was out of breath from the start, I was intimidated by all of the people splashing around, and it probably took me 5-10 minutes to get into a good rhythm. This time I decided to use my wetsuit and knew the buoyancy would help.

Before the race started I saw my buddy Jeff, aka “Detroit Runner,” who was also doing the Pretty Dog. My friend Lisa was there because her husband was doing the 29-mile Ugly Dog duathlon.

The Ugly Dog racers started first and went into the water individually every few seconds. When it was our turn I tried to line up somewhere just in front of the middle of the pack. I walked/ran through the shallow section and realized after a minute that I was breathing too hard. I didn’t want to start the swim totally winded and struggle with breathing problems like I did last time! Fortunately it didn’t mess me up. Once it got deep enough to swim I got into a groove.

I’ve never tried to smile mid-swim before! Great race photos courtesy of Greg Sadler Photography.

I did a good job of staying on course with the buoys and this was one of the rare races when I didn’t do any breaststroke. I usually mix a little in when it gets congested by the buoys, if I get stressed, or if I struggle to spot the next buoy. I kept going smoothly with freestyle the whole time and didn’t have any issues. The wetsuit definitely made things easier. I finished the 800m swim (and run up to the transition area) in 18:05.

This was my first time racing in the sleeveless wetsuit and I loved it. I felt like my shoulders were too restricted in my long sleeve wetsuit. That suit is a bit tighter than I like. I always struggled to get the sleeve over my watch and to get my feet out of it as well. I got a larger size for the sleeveless suit and it was easier to take it off. My first transition supposedly only took 1:11 – much faster than I expected!

I used my mountain bike for Tri Goddess Tri because it had stormed the night before the race, I saw that some of the road surfaces were a bit rough, and I worried that things could be slick if it rained during the race. This time I brought my lighter bike with skinnier tires and figured it would make me go faster. I did okay with the rough patches of the road but at times I wondered if there was enough wind to slow me down because some stretches felt challenging. The ride went well and I finished 10.8 miles in 37:50. I didn’t see any photographers while I was on the bike course. They may have concentrated on the gravel riders at that time.

My second transition took 37 seconds and it was the first time I’ve taken a moment in the middle of a race to spray myself with bug spray. Since a good chunk of the run goes through trails I didn’t want to worry about the mosquitos. 

The first mile of the run had a bit of pavement and I wanted to take advantage of the good footing to run faster but I could only do so much. I wondered if the trails would be sloppy after all of the rain. The surface was soft but I only slid a tiny bit on one patch and that happened to me at Tri Goddess Tri too. Last time there were branches to jump over or to duck under but it was cleaner this time. I managed to catch a few people during the run and finished in 22:45 for somewhere around 2.8 miles. My total time was 1:20:30.

I received my medal then went to check out the food. They had some puppy chow from Ugly Dog Distillery so I took a bag of that. They had a couple kinds of wraps – one with peanut butter and one with egg and cheese. Both of those were good and I got a couple of pancakes too. I found Lisa and hung out with her for the next hour or two. During that time I saw that I was first in my age group so I collected my award and Lisa took a picture for me. The glass and whiskey came from Ugly Dog Distillery too.

I left the race with quite a collection of stuff. The black things are toe warmers. Once it gets cold enough to need them I usually don’t ride my bike outside, but I guess it could be a handy thing to have if I ever brave the cold.

As Lisa and I hung out we watched for her husband. He was doing the 29-mile gravel ride so it took quite a bit longer than my race. It turned into a beautiful day and I loved watching an adorable puppy while we waited. One of the race photographers enjoyed it too and I knew I’d have to look for those photos when they were posted!

After Lisa’s husband got back from his ride and headed out to the trails, I said goodbye and went home. Then I took more time to analyze how I did in this race versus Tri Goddess Tri.

I shaved four minutes off of my time! Most of that came from the swim. Using the wetsuit surely helped. It also made a big difference that I swam comfortably the whole time and didn’t struggle with nerves, breathing, and feeling totally thrown off. My swim segment was over three minutes faster than last time. It looks like the other minute I saved came during my first transition. I was surprised by that because I had assumed I wasted some time taking the wetsuit off and I didn’t use one at the last race. I guess a slight difference between the races is that the transition area was much larger at Tri Goddess Tri. I had to run a lot farther to exit with my bike last time so maybe that added some extra time. 

You would think that a lighter bike with skinnier tires would make me a lot faster than I had been on my mountain bike. According to the results I came in two seconds faster this time. I swear I seem to have a certain zone I hit when I’m on the bike and I guess it didn’t matter what bike I used. I couldn’t believe I didn’t go faster!

My second transition was one second faster this time. It’s funny that I was within three seconds of the time from the last race between the bike segment and the second transition. My consistency can be pretty crazy! The one thing I did slower this time was the run – I was 15 seconds slower. It’s fun to see how much I improved even it if was mostly because of the swim. I had been so disappointed that I struggled with it last time. I knew I was capable of more and I’m glad I proved that in this race.

Now that I’ve done a couple triathlons this season I feel like I’m on a roll. I hope to do at least one more this summer. A post-race email from Epic Races put a crazy thought in my head. They have a Battle of Waterloo race in a couple weeks that will be based out of the same park. That race is not a conventional triathlon though. It involves 10 different legs and starts with a run, then bike, then a swim, a run to another lake for a swim, etc. When I’ve thought about this race in the past the logistics of trying to carry shoes and other stuff while swimming seemed overwhelming and I didn’t have the right equipment. I’ve thought through the logistics a bit more and I might feel adventurous enough to try it. In the meantime, I have the Loopty Loop 4-hour run next weekend. I’m keeping busy this summer. :)

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography


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