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.

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