Sunday, June 27, 2010

Undaunted by debris: North Mankato Tri still a success

In a sense, it was both a good and a bad day for the North Mankato Triathlon Sunday at Hiniker Pond.

On the one hand, the rain of the last few days has brought down the humidity to a reasonable level, making the weather pleasant for competitors and spectators. On the other hand, the severity of the storms left debris littered on most of the streets in the Mankato area, creating the potential for a tree branch-filled obstacle course for cyclists.

Fortunately, volunteers for the triathlon and city workers put in some extra time before (and even during) the race to clean debris off the course and keep it safe for riders.

"They did a great job cleaning up the course for us," said Mankato resident Chris Crocker, who competed in the triathlon and came in with a time of 1:08:22. "There was a little sand here and there on Judson Bottom Road, but they did the best they could."

The diligence of volunteers shouldn't come as a surprise. In its 13th year of existence, the North Mankato Triathlon has traditionally been a first-class event with first-class organization. There's a reason why registration for the race fills well before race day every year.

Out of all the area races I've competed in during my time in Mankato, the North Mankato is among my favorites. It draws the most participants, the most volunteers and the most spectators. The parking lot at Hiniker might get crowded by race time, but the mass amount of people help create a great racing atmosphere that truly puts the community's fingerprint on the event.

Also, it's just a great all-around race. The course is tough enough to challenge seasoned triathletes, yet the distances are moderate enough not to scare off first-timers. Hiniker Pond is a great venue for a transition area (ample parking, good beach, warm water), Judson Bottom Road is low-traffic enough to keep cyclists safe, and the run through the streets of North Mankato has spectators at every turn.

Despite my love for the race, I didn't compete in the triathlon this year. It wasn't by choice. My legs are still pretty banged up from Grandma's Marathon last weekend, as anyone who saw me limping around at Thursday night softball can attest. Had there have been a wheel chair or segway division, I would've considered it.

As it is, I've been doing more biking lately in anticipation for RAGBRAI next month. But I haven't even attempted to run since last Saturday.

Oh well, there's always next year. Judging by how well the North Mankato race is ran and how popular it's become, I don't foresee it going downhill anytime soon.

To view Monday's Free Press story about the triathlon, click here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bike trip destinations: Trail Blazer Bar & Grill

Distance from downtown Mankato: 14 miles from downtown if you're sticking with bike trails.

Route I took: Pretty easy route to navigate, just stick to the bike trails. After hopping on the Minnesota River trail in town, you follow it until it turns into the Sakatah Trail by Riverfront Drive and then take Sakatah all the way to the restaurant in Madison Lake. Fair warning: Part of the trail is ripped up just outside of Mankato by the railroad tracks for road construction. There is still gravel to mark the trail, but the pavement ends for a few blocks.

General ease/challenge of ride:
You'll have to climb hills to get out of the river valley, but the grade is so gradual that you'll be able to do it without shifting gears much. Once out of the valley, the hills are very moderate and there's a decent amount of shade from trees planted around the trail to keep the sun from bearing down. Distance-wise, at 14 miles one-way, it's a decent trek, but nothing too crazy. Besides, there's plenty of park benches to stop at along the way if need be. The biggest challenge of the ride is avoiding the bumps and cracks on the trail along the way, as several areas of the Sakatah Trail are in serious need of resurfacing.

Safety of the ride: Aside from having to cross 3rd Avenue and Riverfront Drive in Mankato, there really isn't that much traffic you have to worry about. Most of the intersections on the trail are either low-traffic roads, or are visible enough from a distance to see whether or not a car's coming. You'll also have to be careful crossing the final road before the restaurant, as that happens to be the Main Street of Madison Lake.

Appeal of the destination: As far as convenience goes, it doesn't get much better for bikers that the Trail Blazer. The restaurant is literally right on top of the Sakatah Trail. It's also happens to be at a convenient central location for surround towns: 10 miles out of Mankato, less than 30 miles from Faribault.

Aside from it's convenience, the characteristic I found most appealing about the Trail Blazer was the relatively cheap price of food there. Nothing on their menu totals much more than $10 and their food selection covers a wide variety of dinner fare, from appetizers to burgers, sandwiches, walleye and steak. The chicken sandwich and fries you see in the picture only set me back $7.50, definitely cheaper than most of your average sit-down establishments. The best bang-for-the-buck item on their menu is easily the Red Eye Special breakfast combo (served until 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays), which includes three eggs, three slices of bacon, hashbrowns, toast and your choice of either a Bloody Mary or a screwdriver all for the price of $6.95. I'm getting hungry (and thirsty) just thinking about it.

Atmosphere-wise, it may be a restaurant on a bike trail, but it's definitely geared toward fisherman, which makes sense since Madison Lake is a fairly popular fishing hole in the area. Novelty fishing lures hang from the rafters and antique angler artifacts hang on the walls, as do pictures of some of the behemoth fish caught in the area. The restaurant also has a thing for wooden statues, some of which can be seen on the left-hand side of its website. Live music has also been known to perform there on weekends.

Another appeal of the Trail Blazer isn't even in the restauarant itself, but in the campground located right next to it. There's nothing all that special about the Sakatah Campground; it's basically 25 RV rest areas with a shower building and a fire pit. But for any cyclist carrying a tent, it makes for a nice secure location to set up for the evening if it starts getting too dark to bike. The rates ($25 a night for an RV site, $15 a night for a tent camping area) are also pretty reasonable.

The only real bad thing I can say about the Trail Blazer isn't even all that bad: The food was relatively forgettable. The fries were very bland (I'm kind of a french fry connoisseur, don't ask me why) and the chicken sandwich was in the good-not-great range. However, I can forgive the food being average for three reasons: the prices are reasonable, the beer selection is very good, and the restaurant has free popcorn available to patrons. Trail Blazer also scores bonus points for having a "Welcome Bicyclers" sign on their building. It's the little things that win cyclists over.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A different kind of triathlon

In a general sense, most triathlons are pretty much the same. Almost all of them involve the same three events (swimming, biking and running), most of them take place at a lake and all of them end with competitors crossing a finish line of some sort.

However, the Hermosa Beach Ironman out in California is anything but your typical triathlon.

Held annually on the Fourth of July, the Ironman takes place at a South Bay beach along the Pacific Ocean. For the cool price of a $20 entry fee, participants begin the race by running a mile on the beach and paddling their surf board for a mile in the ocean (participants are required to supply their own long board).

After those two events comes the most difficult leg of the race: chugging beer. Rather than crossing a finish line, participants have to polish off a 6-pack of their own beer to finish the race. The one catch: They have to be able to hold down the beer in order to be eligible to win. I was going to show a clip of race, but since every video I saw of it turned into a montage of vomiting (imagine that), I won't subject my readers to watching any of it.

However, I will subject my readers to watching a clip of the closest comparison I can think of to this very unique race: The beer-chugging tricycle race in "Revenge of the Nerds." In that scene, competitors had to race child-sized tricycles around a track and had to chug a beer after each lap. Enjoy!

All humor aside, this isn't a race I'd want to compete in. For one thing, I know as much about surfing as I do about astrophysics (in other words, not that much). Also, as much as I enjoy challenging myself physically, I'm not all about subjecting my body to senseless abuse. The last thing anybody needs after physically exerting themelves is slamming six beers in rapid succession. Even if you're capable of keeping it down, imagine the damage the beer is doing to your stomach, liver and digestive system. Aside from that, you're almost guaranteed to have a crappy day after doing that to yourself, thus putting a damper on your 4th of July festivities.

But would it be fun to watch? In a "I can't believe they're doing this to themselves" kind of way, it'd defintiely be entertaining. After all, that's how shows like "Jackass" and "Viva La Bam" found a following.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grandma's recovery, both mentally and physically

The first few days of recovering from a marathon is kind of an odd time. On the one hand, you know you shouldn't be running because your legs are probably shot. But on the other hand, you're so used to going out for a jog on a regular basis that you forgot what it feels like to do otherwise.

It's been four days since Grandma's, but it seems like it's been closer to a month. Most of the time has been spent reading (just finished "Born on the Fourth of July"), watching movies (forgot how good "The Graduate" is) and catching up on sleep. You might say that I'm going through running withdrawals: I feel like I need a fix, even if it's going to hurt.

But my brain knows better. My legs are still feeling the effects of the race and my feet have been in and out of ice buckets ever since I limped across the finish line on Saturday. My psyche is still recovering from Grandma's too, as the results of the race have indeed bruised it.

I'd be lying if I said that Grandma's went according to plan. Ever since I started training for it late last fall, the goal was always to run it in 3:10:00 or less and qualify for Boston Marathon. I logged a lot of hard miles for it (ending at more than 1,100, averaging about 34 a week), I dropped weight for it (grand total of 18 pounds), and I burned through lord knows how many running shoes. It was pretty much a 'Rocky' montage of running for eight months.

But a Boston-qualifying time just wasn't in the cards for me that day. The aches and pains of running became too much for me around Mile 17 and I spent the last nine miles rotating between running, walking and conversing with other runners who had fallen back in the race. Every attempt to take off running was met with either the sharp pain of leg cramps or the steadying pain of the blisters on my feet. My dreams of sprinting across the finish line were instead replaced by the reality of limping across the line like a cross between Fred Sanford and The Gimp from 'Pulp Fiction.'

I wound up finishing 3:30:35, not a bad time by any means and also an 8-minute drop from the time I got last year. But it wasn't the time I was shooting for after all those months of training. Like anyone else who's ever worked hard for something, you can imagine my disappointment.

However, after giving it time to marinate over the last few days, I've come to accept and be proud of how I did. Sure, it wasn't the time I was shooting for, but like everything else in life, races don't always go according to plan.

I still had a lot of fun in Duluth that weekend (thanks again to my cousin for letting me stay at her place) and enjoyed every minute of competing in a race that had 5,500 other runners in it. I'll never forget the sight of all those runners lining up at the start of the race, and I'll never forget the relief of seeing my dad and my girlfriend at the finish line after it was all over.

Besides, life goes on. Rather than dwelling on what could've been, I plan on spending the next few weeks getting reacquainted with my bike and getting ready for RAGRAI next month. After all, the bike isn't going to peddle itself across Iowa.

As for taking another run (no pun intended) at a Boston-qualifying time, I haven't decided yet on signing up for the Mankato Marathon. Like any other running hobbyist, I'm excited for the prospect of a road race in my own backyard. However, it's going to take some time to talk my legs into another 26.2 miles of torture.

*Note: The photo in this post is of me running Grandma's, courtesy of (aka stolen from, I don't like paying $15 a photo) Amazingly, this photo doesn't show me grimacing in pain or walking.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Leg pains: profound. Grandma's Marathon: complete

I just got back to the place I'm staying in Duluth after running Grandma's Marathon this morning. Since my legs are pretty much useless at this point, I might as well give a few notes and observations about the famed run along Lake Superior.

  • First off, fantastic venue for the course. Maybe I'm weird, but running alongside a lake has always been something that makes me run better, and there's no lake quite like Lake Superior. There were several beautiful viewpoints along way and the lake was almost always visible. The course was also fairly flat for most of the way. Several experienced runners warned me about Lemon Drop Hill, but aside from it being after Mile 20, it wasn't anything too daunting.
  • The only other marathon I did was last year and had all of 180 participants in it. In fact, the largest race I've ever ran in prior to today had about 1,500 runners. So you can imagine the culture shock I had with seeing nearly 10,000 runners at the starting line. It literally looked like a sea of people.
  • This was the first race I've ever competed in where they had a "beer" option at the later water stations. Considering how my race was going (more on that later), barley and hops was the last thing I needed.
  • Aside from it being a popular marathon in the area, part of the reason I signed up for Grandma's was it's famous (or infamous, depending on your opinion) downtown scene following the race. Since it's 3:00 p.m. now, I obviously haven't ventured downtown yet for the evening. But from what I saw at the finish line, Grandma's didn't disappoint. A live band started playing early in the day, restaurants in the area were busing at the seams with people and the beer tent at the finish line was churning out cups at a frantic pace. Despite being worn down from the race, I'm actually pretty excited to hit up downtown later.
  • As far as how my race went, I was doing quite well for most of the race (kept pace for a 3:10 finish until around Mile 18). But around Mile 17, my left foot started to feel like it was on fire. At Mile 19, I took off my shoe and my worst fears were confirmed: I had a massive blood blister on the ball of my foot. If it had happened later in the race, I might have tried to run through it, but since I had 7 miles to go, I settled into a running/walking combo that pretty much killed my chances for a good time. Making matters worse, both my legs started to cramp up terribly around Mile 24 and I pretty much couldn't shake the pain for the rest of the race. Despite all that, I finished with a time of 3:30:34, not the time I was shooting for, but all things considered, I'm satisfied with how I did.

Now that I've typed out some of my thoughts, an ice bath and a nap awaits me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Some good news in the mail

Anyone with a mailbox knows how mundane it usually is to check it.

Most of the time, if you're not getting bills in the mail, you're getting coupons and "special offers" that you don't plan on using. I don't know if it's the same for anybody else, but if I go more than a week without checking my mail, it's usually overflowing with mail from Charter about their "New promotional deals" on expanded cable packages.

A few days ago however, I received a piece of mail that pretty much made my week. It wasn't an additional tax refund, nor was it a voucher for free Twins tickets. It was my information packet for RAGRAI, a group bike trip I'm participating in later this summer.

For those who haven't heard of it before, RAGBRAI is short for Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. The ride takes place over the course of a week (this year it's from July 25-31), begins in Sioux City and ends in Dubuque, more than 450 miles later.

I'm sure some of you are probably wondering what's wrong with me. After all, it's Iowa. While I was on road trips with my dad when I was younger, we used to joke that Iowa was one of those states that was better to drive through in the dark, since there wasn't much worth looking at in the daytime. Why would I take a week off work and drop $140 to bike across a state whose defining geographical characteristic is cornfields?

Well, for one thing, I'm not the only doing it. In it's 38th year of existence, RAGBRAI usually draws around 10,000 riders annually with skill levels varying from Average Joe cyclist to former Tour de France competitors (Lance Armstrong rode several stages of it in 2006 and 2007). RAGBRAI garners national exposure on a yearly basis for being one of the most popular and well-established group rides in the country.

For another thing, biking will hardly be the only item on the itinerary. Upon glancing at RAGBRAI's website, I found out that every host community along the way (i.e. towns we'll be staying in every night) will be rolling out the red carpet for visiting cyclist. In addition to town festivals and tourist attractions, every host community has a live music act planned for evening entertainment. In Sioux City, for example, I'll get to experience a bit of 6th grade nostalgia by listening to a live performance from Smash Mouth (if they don't play "Walking on the Sun," I'm going to be VERY upset).

Aside from that, unlike every road race and triathlon I've signed up for in the past, it's not a race. There's no prize for whoever bikes across Iowa the fastest. I don't have to be concerned with my pacing or whether or not I'll be able to pass someone before the next bend in the road. The only goal for the week is to have fun, soak up some culture and get acquainted with other people who have decided to take a week off from their life to do some biking.

The contents of the information packet were relatively simple. Just a booklet on how to prepare for RAGBRAI and an assortment of identification tags I'm to keep on me at all times during the trip. But considering the contents reminded me of what I'll be doing later in the summer, I was more excited to see that in the mail than I would've been for an extra tax refund.

Well, almost as excited.


For any regular readers that it may concern, I am now going with a different header for my blog. The backdrop behind the blog's title and description is an actual collection of racing bib numbers I've accumulated over the years. Feel free to chime in your two cents about whether it looks good, bad or ugly.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bike trip destinations: New Ulm

Distance from downtown Mankato: 25 to 30 miles, depending on the route.

Route I took: Here is the route I took. There really aren't any bike trails between Mankato and New Ulm, so I pretty much just tried for back roads with relatively low traffic whenever possible. For the first five miles or so, it mostly follows the same route as the North Mankato Triathlon. However, rather than biking up Rockford Road, stay on Judson Bottom, turn right onto Highway 23 toward Nicollet, turn left onto Highway 25 and then follow Highway 14 into New Ulm after getting to Courtland.

General ease/challenge of ride: The challenge of this ride lies in the distance you have to cover. At 28 miles one-way and 56 miles roundtrip, it's not a ride for the faint of heart. The hills during the ride (first on Judson Bottom Road, then in New Ulm) are also something to be mindful of. And that's before going into the safety issues of the ride.

Safety of the ride: I feel unsafe even driving on Highway 14 for an extended period of time, so you can imagine how nervous I was during the Courtland-to-New Ulm stretch of the trip. The shoulder might be big on that road, but cars zipping past at 60+ mph don't do much to help make a cyclist feel comfortable. Upon looking at a map of the area, a safer version of that route would be to cross Highway 14 in Courtland, take Highway 12 north and take a left on County Road 21 into New Ulm. If you wanted to try a different route all together, you could go left instead of right at Highway 23 turn and take Highway 68 to New Ulm. However, I haven't tried either of these routes, so I can't attest to their safety.

Aside from the Highway 14 part of it, the trip wasn't too nerve-wracking. Once I got out of the Mankato city limits, there wasn't a whole lot of traffic to contend with on the other backroads. New Ulm itself isn't too tough to navigate through, but town also isn't exactly biker-friendly. There aren't a lot of in-town bike trails to travel on and several of the streets I biked through didn't have accommodating sidewalks for cyclists (no ramp, just curb).

Appeal of the destination: This was a trip I took last summer when I had a day off from work with nice weather to boot.

Admittedly, this breaks the mold a bit for bike trip destinations. Rather than traveling to a specific landmark or place, I decided to bike to a general town. Most locals would ponder over the appeal of this trip, as it's a long (and somewhat dangerous) way to bike to visit a town once described to me as being "insanely boring" by a New Ulm native. However, there was one overriding factor that made this bike ride inviting for me: unfamiliarity.

Being the relative stranger that I am to the area, as of last summer, aside from driving past it on Highway 14, I had never visited the town of German heritage, Terry Steinbach and Schell's beer. So, with a list of New Ulm landmarks in tow, I took off on my bike and prayed for no flat tires.

Contrary to what the New Ulm native told me, the town is far from boring. Maybe it's the German heritage in me, or the fact that the town has an exchange program with a sister city in Germany, but I found it to be wonderfully cultured and unique. In an attempt to keep my trip entry to a reasonable length, since I visited several landmarks that were interesting in the town, I'll keep my descriptions brief.

My first stop was Schell's Brewery, where I looked around the museum for a bit and walked through the beer gardens (best part of the trip: Getting offered a beer by a Schell's employee after telling them that I biked there from Mankato). Since history and beer are two topics of interest to me, taking a tour of a brewery celebrating its 150th anniversary would only make sense. However, with money and time being short, I decided to keep moving.

After visiting Schell's, I played a round of disc golf at the course just outside the brewery, hopped on Summit Avenue and headed up to the Hermann Monument/Martin Luther College area of town. I mostly just walked around the campus and admired the view from atop the Hermann statue. I wanted to check out the library at Martin Luther, but since I looked (and probably smelled) every bit like a cyclist who had just biked 30 miles, I decided against it.

On the advice of the man working at the concession stand of the Hermann monument, I then biked down to the downtown area of town and ate at Kaiserhoff's restaurant. Simply put: The food there was amazing. Granted, my opinion was a little skewed, as I was hungry from biking and probably could've eaten a shoe at that point. But the plate of ribs and bowl of cheesy potato soup I had really hit the spot.

After eating, I checked out the town's Glockenspiel (my timing was right, so I heard the 5 p.m. chimes, good stuff), walked around German Park and then headed back to Mankato. In hindsight, I wish I couldve spent more time with one specific landmark in the town. But since I wanted to "experience" New Ulm in a relatively short amount of time, my sightseeing pace had to be brisk. If I were to venture back there again, the areas I would like to explore more would be Schell's Brewery, Flandrau State Park (good camping according to the locals, and there's a disc golf course near the park) and the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bike trip destinations: Minneopa State Park

Distance from downtown Mankato: Roughly 5 miles.

Route I took: There are two different routes I've taken to get to the park. Here is the route I initially took when I first moved to Mankato and knew little about its bike trail systems. I mostly just followed Highway 169/60 to the turnoff point and found the park from there. Here is the route I took when I visited the park earlier this summer. This was after I found out that the South Route Bike Trail crossed County Road 60 into the park area. It mostly just follows the Red Jacket Trail to its intersecting point of the South Route Trail, when you then take it all the way to the park.

General ease/challenge of ride:
Regardless of which route you take, you're going to encounter some hills along the way. The 169/60 route generally has a more gradual slope to its hills, whereas South Route's hills are consdierably steeper, particularly coming out of the Blue Earth River valley. I would consider the 169/60 route to be easier because the hill climb is easier and the distance is shorter (4.5 miles vs. 6.7 miles). However, the tradeoff is in the route's safety.

Safety of the ride: Depending on which route you take, the general safety of the ride is hugely different. The South Route way is entirely on bike trails and crosses very few busy intersections (Highway 66 is probably the busiest crossing, and I don't recall traffic ever being backed up there). In contrast, the more direct 169/60 route rides along two busy streets (Riverfront Drive, then the highway) the entire way. Riverfront has a walkway and the highway has a wide shoulder, but the sound of vehicles zipping past is a precarious one for any cyclist. It all boils down to what you value more: Trip speed or safety.

Appeal of the destination: Minneopa is one of the oldest state parks in Minnesota, so if you're into camping and hiking, you're sure to find a lot of it there. The park has an abundance of campgrounds and the hiking trails along the Minnesota River at Minneopa offer a lot of scenic views of the river valley. For those with a pension for history, the Seppman Mill at the west end of the park is an intriguing find. According to the Greater Mankato Visitors Bureau, the mill was built in the 1860's by German immigrant Louis Seppman and powered by wind to process grains until the 1890's. The mill is listed on the National Historical Register as a historical sight. I didn't know about the mill during my initial visit to the park, but later found out about it after glancing at a park map and visited the sight earlier this summer.

Of course, you can't talk about Minneopa without mentioning the falls area. It simply doesn't get any better than this for waterfalls in the Southern Minnesota area. There's a nicely maintained picnic area at the top of the falls and hiking trails to lead you down to the base of it. The falls don't have much for swimming areas (I wouldn't recommend it, too rocky), but it does offer a lot of good viewpoints to take in its splendor. For the adventurous and dangerous type (which I'll confess to being on occasion), there are a few very accessible caves to climb into along bluffs lining the waterfalls. I recall the one I climbed into had enough "this person *hearts* this person" scrawlings in it to be nicknamed the "tunnel of love."

Another upside about biking to Minneopa instead of driving: You don't have to pay for parking to view the falls.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Area triathlon preview

Anyone looking for something more than an average 5K will have plenty of options in the Mankato area this summer.

Simply put, the area is teeming with multisport events, all of which are only a short drive from Mankato. Some are as established as Elysian's Rookies Triathlon, now in its 27th year. Others are still pretty new to the scene, like the Waseca tri, which is heading into its second year.

The stark differences between the area triathlons also assures that competitors can find the right race for them. The relative distances vary from short sprints to 1/3 Ironman and the difficulty of the courses offer the same variety as well. Competitors also won't have to worry about having to break the bank on local races, as most of them are relatively cheap price-wise.

Here is a breakdown of the triathlons going on this summer that are less than 30 miles from Mankato. I've competed in three of these races in the past, so the insight on those events is based on personal experience:

Loon Lake Triathlon
Location: Loon Lake public access in Lake Crystal
Driving distance from Mankato: Less than 15 miles
Race Date: June 12
Distances: 1/4 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3 mile run
Cost: $40 individual, $50 relay team
Registration website: click here
What to expect: This is generally the smallest of area triathlons, with just over 70 competitors last year. The course was relatively easy to get through, with the run being a quick down-and-back along the south end of Loon Lake and the bike ride mostly on flat country roads. Seeing as how the first triathlon I ever signed up for set me back $75 back in 2007 (no small amount when you're a poor college student), the cost is also very reasonable. My biggest criticism of the race is in the swimming portion of it. Unlike other triathlons that begin on a beach, this one begins on a boat launch, making it a dangerous area for barefoot swimmers complete with sharp rocks and the concrete slabs of the boat landing. The single buoy competitors swam to was also tough to navigate (most other triathlons have multiple buoys to help swimmers stay on course).
Other notes: Since it's relatively early in the summer, the water temperature might still be a little chilly in Loon Lake. At least it was last year, when it took me several minutes on the bike for me to regain feeling in my limbs.

North Mankato Triathlon
Location: Hiniker Pond in North Mankato
Driving distance from Mankato: In town
Race Date: June 27
Distances: 1/4 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3.6 mile run
Cost: $40 individual, $90 relay team
Registration website: click here
What to expect: With participation numbers annually topping 300, this is the largest of area triathlons. Since it is part of the Minnesota Tri Series, the race is generally very well ran and draws in volunteers from several different organizations. The swimming takes place in Hiniker Pond, which is generally good for water temperature by then and has a sizeable beach for competitors. The bike course is probably the most difficult of any area race, as it rides along the rolling hills of the Judson Bottom Road and features a BRUTAL hill on Rockford Road. The running portion of it is a pretty meandering route through North Mankato (I remember almost forgetting to do a lap around Spring Lake Park last year), but it features some nice shade on the roads and volunteers keep the traffic under control.
Other notes: Registration for individuals is limited to 275 competitors and the race is already nearing capacity (244 as of June 1, according to the triathlon's website). Also, at least 1 in 5 competitors had to walk their bike up the Rockford Road hill last year. So if you're competing in it this year, getting practice on a hill wouldn't be a bad idea.

Elysian Rookies Triathlon
Location: Public beach at Lake Francis in Elysian
Driving distance from Mankato: About 20 miles
Race Date: July 10
Distances: .4 mile swim, 8 mile bike, 4 mile run
Cost: $25 individual until June 20, $30 afterward. $60 relay team until June 20, $70 afterward
Registration website: click here
What to expect: This is the one area triathlon I have yet to compete in (in that sense, I'm a rookie to Rookies), so my knowledge of it is second hand. From what I've seen, it generally draws between 200-300 competitors a year and is regarded as being a pretty laid-back atmosphere to help make first-time triathletes feel comfortable. Competitors quoted in last year's Free Press article spoke highly of the event's hometown charm. Thanks to a random triathlon blog I found and a conversation I had with area triathlete Chris Crocker, I now know that the course is unique in that it has two transition areas (one near the beach, one near the Sakatah Trail) and that competitors are supposed to have their own personal assistants to handle their equipment. Crocker described the dual transition areas as being a "security nightmare" because there are no bike racks and relatively little supervision. However, because of its low entry fee and easy-going nature of the race, Crocker also said it's worth the money. As far as the course goes, the Minnesota DNR describes Lake Francis as being relatively good for clarity, the estimated route I mapped on (based on the triathlon's website, couldn't find an actual course map) pegs the bike course as generally being pretty flat and the run is entirely on the Sakatah Hills Trail.
Other notes: In its 27th year of existence, Rookies is among the oldest triathlons in Minnesota.

Waseca Sprint & 1/3 Ironman Triathlon
Location: Clear Lake Park in Waseca
Driving distance from Mankato: About 30 miles
Race Date: August 1
Distances: Sprint - 1/4 mile swim, 14 mile bike, 4.4 mile run; 1/3 Ironman - 1 mile swim, 34 bike, 8.8 mile run
Cost: Sprint - $70 individual, $110 relay; 1/3 Ironman - $90 individual, $120 relay
Registration website: click here
What to expect: Between the sprint and 1/3 Ironman races, the event drew about 250 competitors last year and they're hoping for about 350 this year. For being an inaugural event last year, I was amazed with how well-ran and organized it was. Volunteers were stationed all over the course, routes were clearly marked for competitors and the transition area was roped off in a nice park. As far as the course goes, I competed in the 1/3 Ironman race last year, so my knowledge is limited to that course. Clear Lake hardly lives up to it's namesake for clarity, but it is a manageable lake to swim in on a sizeable beach with little alge. The biking portion is all on back country roads with rolling hills and and not much for wind coverage (i.e. very few trees). The running course was my favorite part of the race, as it was a simple two laps around Clear Lake on a bike path. My one criticism of the triathlon is that its cost is high compared to other area races.
Other notes: This was the first race I can remember in which an event volunteer actually asked me if I was drowning. Considering my swimming ability, he probably wasn't that far off.