Monday, November 21, 2011

Mankato duathlon in the works

Give Final Stretch's Mark Bongers some credit: The ever-busy race organizer has certainly made his mark on the Mankato area.

Last year, Bongers and Final Stretch introduced the Mankato Marathon to south central Minnesota. Despite being a first-time race, the marathon drew more than 2,000 participants and the admiration of many (myself included) for being a well-ran, first-class event. This past spring, Bongers also brought a trail run to the area, with the inaugural 7 @ 7 race bringing in a respectable 200 competitors.

Next year, Bongers will look to add to that list with the Mankato Duathlon. And if last week's forum at Nicollet South Bike Shop is any indication, it will be every bit as well organized as the other races Final Stretch has brought to the area.

Similar to the forum held during the early planning stages of the Mankato Marathon, the duathlon meeting was open to the public. The turnout was relatively small (about 10-15 people) and the meeting structure was pretty laid back compared to the marathon forum (It was really more of an open discussion instead of attendees being divided up into topic groups), but Bongers was encouraged by the amount of brainstorming in the group.

"These people know a lot more about the city than I do and what will work best for a race," Bongers said of the meeting attendees. "Even if it's just a few people in the room, it's good to get some ideas from local people about what they want to see with the race."

The informal meeting structure can also be attributed to the different type of race Bongers envisions the duathlon being. Unlike the sizable turnout of the marathon, Bongers' goal is to have about 300-400 participants in the duathlon next. The run-bike-run structure of the race also means that the race organizers and city will have more to take into account in terms of course safety.

"It's a very different event when you're comparing a marathon to a multi-sport race," Bongers said. "The process we go about to plan for it is a lot different."

Here are some of the major topics discussed at the meeting:

  • The date of the duathlon is still to be determined, but the third weekend in May of next year (May 19-20) is the most likely date. Bongers was adamant about the race not taking place at the same time as some of the other major races organized by Final Stretch. Other Final Stretch events scheduled around that time include 7 @ 7  on May 5 and the Cannon Falls Duathlon on April 28. Likewise, the local athletes in attendance also didn't want the race conflicting with some of their traditional races like the Minneapolis Marathon or the Land Between the Lakes Triathlon in Albert Lea.
  • The race course has also not been finalized yet, but it will likely take place around the MSU area of town. Most in attendance agreed that a bike course in downtown Mankato would be difficult to achieve without causing some serious traffic concerns. The bike course used for the MSU Indoor/Outdoor Triathlon (basically a down-and-back course on Monks Ave) was suggested because the parking lot at MSU is considered to be an ideal transition area. However, Bongers and others in attendance agreed that they want the duathlon course to be unique.
  • Bongers is less concerned about the traffic implications of the running portions of the course, as those would cover a much smaller area and be much easier to regulate. Both running legs of the race will likely take place on city streets with the both starting and ending at MSU. Bongers said the point of the running legs was to "draw a crowd" and have some good viewing spots, and urban routes will likely provide more of that.
  • The prevailing thought was to have the race distances be 2-3 miles for the first run, 15-20 miles for the bike, and 2-3 miles for the second run. However, the distances could change depending on what course Bongers and Final Stretch decide on. The two themes that were brought up most often at the forum were to make the duathlon both "urban" and "family-friendly," and Bongers says a major part of the planning will be to mesh those two concepts.
  • Like other aspects of the race, the entry fees are still very much up in the air. Some in attendance were advocating generous-sized gift bags with each participant getting a medal, while others felt a simple t-shirt would be sufficient. I personally thought a free beer with entry fee (like the Warrior Dash) would've been fun, but that would likely take away from the whole "family-friendly" theme they're going for. General thought was to keep entry fees in the $40-$60 range.
  • One intriguing idea was to have the race finish with a lap around the running track at MSU, similar to ROTC 5K held there earlier this month. I've never participated in a race with that type of finish, but I'm guessing that would be quite a thrill for competitors.
  • Another intriguing idea: Getting a local band to perform at the finish line area and possibly having local food vendors putting on a barbecue of some kind. Mankato Multisport leader Chris Crocker and others in attendance want the finish line to be like a party, and that sounds like a party I'd much rather go to as opposed to one serving bagels, bananas and granola bars (usual finish line fare).
  • After much discussion, it was agreed that there would be no standalone 5K event taking place in conjunction with the duathlon. However, there will likely be a kid's duathlon.
  • According to Bongers, the next step is to take some of the ideas from the idea and finalize a race day and location. After that, Final Stretch will be able to approach the city with an outline of the help they'll need (i.e. city officials and traffic regulation) on race day.
More information will likely be available on the duathlon in the coming weeks. You can keep up with it by checking either the Greater Mankato Multisport Club website, Final Stretch's website, or my blog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Renewing old acquaintances

I consider myself to be a fairly adventurous person. I love new experiences, I embrace the unknown and I enjoy getting out of my comfort zone whenever possible.

It's the reason I decided to bike to Lanesboro this past summer instead of relaxing around my apartment with a few days off. It's also the reason I opted to run in the Warrior Dash instead of any of a number of 5Ks that were cheaper and closer to home.

However, as cool as it is to experience new things, it's also good to revisit old ones from time to time. Incidentally, this post represents a renewing of two old acquaintances for me: the Red Jacket trestle bridge and my blog in general.

As most of my regular readers have probably noticed, I've been relatively absent from the blogosphere lately. There's a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, I signed up for classes at Minnesota State University this fall and have been devoting much of my free time to schoolwork.

The other reason relates to employment status. The harsh economic times forced the Free Press to resort to layoffs recently and tragically, I was one of the casualties.

The Red Jacket trestle bridge is back!
Aside from going through the other processes related to being out of work (job searches, resume updating and applying for unemployment), I've also been grappling with the notion of continuing this blog. The original intent of it was to provide supplemental material for the health & fitness readership of the Free Press, and since I'm no longer an employee of the Free Press, that purpose is now moot. On the flip side of that, the blog does not run through the newspaper's website (it's through Blogger) and my readership has expanded to an audience well beyond the Mankato area (I got an email from a cyclist in Copenhagen this past summer about my experience of grocery shopping on a bike).

So in an effort to maintain my sanity during unemployment, I've decided to revive my blog. I figure there's a reason people enjoy reading it and I think the writing will be therapeutic as I contemplate my next step in life.

Therapeutic use of free time is also what led to reviving my relationship with the Red Jacket trestle bridge. I used to make a regular habit out of biking on the Red Jacket Trail. It's scenic, it's relatively flat and the Dam Store's delicious pies are mere minutes away from it.

The new support pillar of the trestle bridge 
was completed earlier this month. 
According to the Free Press, It will be
stained to look like the other pillars next spring
However, with the trestle bridge being out of commission due to last year's flood damage, like many cyclists, I turned to other routes for leisurely rides. Red Jacket users could still ride the rest of the trail by crossing the Le Sueur River on Highway 66, but it was inconvenient to do so (steep hills) and the historic trestle bridge was a major reason why the trail was so appealing to begin with.

I figured the trestle wouldn't be ready until next spring, but while getting my bike repaired yesterday, Flying Penguin Outdoor Sports owner Jon Anderson told me that the final deck boards have been installed and the bridge is up and running again. Ecstatic over the news, I rode the Red Jacket Trail this morning, stopped on the bridge and took a few minutes to admire the view.

I never used to stop on the bridge during bike rides. After being on it so many times, it simply became another part of the trail to me. However, after being without the bridge for so long, it felt good to bike across it again and feel those wooden planks clatter against my bike tires.

And after being absent from the blogosphere for so long, it feels good to be back.