05 Aug 2021
Race Date: Sunday, August 1, 2021 – 8am
In the water of the first Brewhouse Triathlon in about 24 months, my last time at the race losing for the first time in 7 years or so and having not trained for triathlon hardly at all in the meantime, I was really nervous. I knew exactly what to do, but the fitness level was lacking and I didn’t want to be in the mix. I like to be up front at Brewhouse Triathlon short course, not in the mix. I like to win. But the bottom line was, I don’t deserve it.
Leading up to Brewhouse, my running volume was probably consistently lower the past six consecutive months, than almost any other single month in the previous 8 years! And slow running, too. I hadn’t swam more than a 500 yards since Brewhouse 2019, but my biking was extraordinary, especially in the month leading up to Brewhouse. I biked over 500 miles in July, but literally all gravel single speed miles. I had major concerns about my tri bike – namely the pedal, which had fallen off months earlier after seizing up, and literally the day before in a practice ride. It seemed to be spinning freely, and worked well in the morning, but was highly questionable.
I arrived in the morning, my van loaded with two bikes and all my tri gear. I set up at the start and saw Em loitering about. It was so great to see her and know she’d be watching the whole race and seeing me finish. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulder, actually. I anxiously paced about, setting my stuff up, trying to remember the morning routine. Dump, bike, run, get body marked? No, body marking, test the bike, dump, jog a bit. Well the decision was made for me and I saw Ryan on the way to the portable toilet area. Check that off the list. Feeling good, I rode a mile and the bike was working great. That was a relief. Yep, it felt fast, but I was unsure of the monster MPH readings that I know I’d put up in prior years. My quads seemed even a little stiff from a 60 mile gravel ride the day before. I knew the bike was the key today. I ran a bit then made sure everything was in order, put on my wetsuit and hung out by the lake.
I had lost Em but found her on the bluff by the shoreline. It was nice to get a pre-race shakedown with her as Matt Evans got married to Shelly with Rod Raymond enthusiastically yelling into the microphone and people cheering.
Once I got into the water, I felt pretty good swimming a few strokes, actually. I peed in my wetsuit, which is always kind of icky. But I’m led to believe that it helps with buoyancy. I tried to channel my countrymen USA Olympians after studying swimming the night before on primetime broadcast. Bent elbow, generate power from the hips, stay streamline with head down. Yep, it’s all in the muscle memory. I swam around and back to shore and people started congregating in the water. I wanted to get onto someone’s heels right away. They’d pull me along. That’d help right away. When you see Matt Evans in the water you know it’s about to be go time. I faintly heard the countdown from 10 start, and I think it was Paul Rockwood who asked “oh, are we going already?”. We could all hear “3! 2! 1! GO!!” and it was a free for all. I got a fairly good jump but was overtaken by churning bodies everywhere. I could feel my heart rate skyrocket and I was about out of breath after just a few front crawl strokes. Plus the splashing was sending water all up into my gasping mouth. It was terrible.
I avoided getting kicked, and eventually the crowd kind of thinned out. It seemed like a huge group sped off in front of me and I was left in the wake with a few stragglers. I tried to keep a good line and found myself off to the left a little bit. That’s what you get for never open water swimming…
The first buoy seemed like it took forever. The second one was an eternity. Once I got to the first one, I was pretty hopeless about the swim portion. I was dead already. I just kept a rhythm, and by the second buoy, felt really good actually. I felt like I was making good time, kind of out by myself where I liked to be. Maybe there wasn’t that big of a group, or they kind of spread apart. I seemed to be in the front end of the start wave, although I knew that probably wasn’t true. As I turned, trying to stay efficient but not get punched in the face, I thought about just staying calm and relaxed until I knew I was close on the home stretch.
My goggles worked well, the water seemed to be decently calm for swimming, and I was feeling really good getting to the second turn buoy. Bing bing bing, and I was on the home stretch. I focused again on form and keeping a strong stroke. I focused my legs and pushed home, sighting every now again to be surprisingly on course the whole time. Feeling good about my swim, I tried to put on the afterburners once I got past the last buoy and into the swimming area. I didn’t have any power whatsoever, but felt it was a good swim. Furthermore, swim was about done without a scratch. Now, onto the big daddy. Time to crank.
I was able to run pretty well into T1, and even remembered to eat my caffeinated gummis instead of sitting on them like in 2019. It was quick onto my bike and I had a major sense of urgency. The suspense was killing me – how fast can I bike into first place? It was smooth into my bike shoes and I somewhat precariously smashed up to full speed without the concerning pedal falling off. I stopped one pedal stroke to see if the pedal was still on. Yep. I knew it was a tailwind, but was pleasantly surprised to see 27 mph on my watch once I felt up to speed. Keep it up, Mikey. I drank a bit of water over the Island Lake bridge and past Boondocks restaurant. I passed a few people feeling like a speed monster. Reeling people in is so fun. I couldn’t see the motorcycle up ahead, but had a long way to go. No way my swimming is even in the same echelon as some of those. There are good swim-bikers that exist! But might as well try to bank time while I have a nice tailwind, I thought. I knew I had extreme endurance on the bike. So push it.
When I turned to Emerson, I still hadn’t seen the leaders. Shortly thereafter, I saw two cyclists, one with a disc wheel. They were decently ahead, actually. I’d catch them. I cranked and cranked into the wind. My mph dropped. I didn’t make ground. I got into T2 after losing my shoe. Someone yelled “you lost your shoe!”. I was so mad at those shoes, I didn’t even look. It was at my bike after the finish, though.
I tried to transition as quickly as possible, because Ryan and Benjamin put a gentleman’s bet on T2 time and I was confident. I had an issue with my shoe heel folding over as I smooshed my foot inside without elastic laces. Oh well. I sprinted towards the swim exit and knew it was up to the run to seal the deal. Who was up ahead? At the run exit, Emily was standing right there and yelled that she was a minute back. Must be Shyanne. MN Tri News had pegged myself and Shyanne McGregor, local beast triathlete, as winners. That article was the only confidence I had. Now, starting the run, I thought I could run her down. I saw her. I thought there was someone else biking up ahead of me? Maybe I passed them in transition. I don’t know. I just need to run, and run fast. I had major doubts that I’d be able to fend anyone else off. Especially with the likes of Paul Rockwood and Benjamin Welch closing hard. I wasn’t confident in their training, though, but I knew for sure that I couldn’t be confident in my training! So I just focused on hunting down the lone runner ahead. I was hoping to go under 6 minutes per mile. My first mile was over by a handful of seconds. Yeesh, not what I want! Up the hill on County Road 4 past the outdoorsman’s club, I reeled her in a little more and a little more, and I knew I’d catch her. But I was also running very sloppily. My form was crap, I had no endurance and no speed. I could tell I was making traction at the water stop to turn into the boat landing at the run half-way, because when I turned I saw Shyanne running back toward me, then a left where a volunteer was beckoning her. The volunteer pointed me right, and I went, knowing that that way was opposite from every other year that Brewhouse Triathlon has been at Island Lake. Typically we go straight, clockwise to the boat launch parking lot, around the bend, then a right hand turn, and a left to complete the lollipop loop. This year, a volunteer was pointing a different way, and Shyanne had taken a small wrong turn by what it looked like. I finally caught her around the loop portion, and she got confused when the dirt trail went under a low-pass tree out to the main lot. She didn’t fully know exactly which track to take, and I passed her and showed her the way. I felt kind of bad that she clearly wasn’t dead certain on the exactly route to take, but it was a change from previous years and I was a little nervous that I didn’t take the right route! No, there was pretty much the one way, and so I trucked on back towards the water stop.
Before I turned back onto the main road, I saw Paul Rockwood running smoothly onto the gravel. He would be pursuing me. Who else was on the loop? Hopefully no fast runners. Hopefully not Benjamin. I looked back, and Shyanne was in close pursuit. Would she close on me after my kersplosion? Well, don’t kersplode, MIKE!
I didn’t care about the grimace. I channeled the 2020 Olympic Triathlon champ from Norway who gritted his way to gold looking like he was in immense pain. I tried to push as hard as possible. I was so happy to get to the trail, but it was immediately more grueling than the road. I tried to sprint down the boardwalk, and felt like I might vomit if I kept up the painful pace. Don’t vomit, I said in my head. Off to the other side, and I just felt pooped. My form was so spread out and inefficient, I was probably running 7 minutes per mile pace over the rocks and pinecones. I could sniff the win, but just needed to hold on. Once I got out to the grassy picnic area, I was so happy to be done soon. I peeked over my shoulder and knew that nobody was there and I was safe. I thought about the Olympic triathlon champ looking over his shoulder 5 times, then walking in the last few steps. I let it up just a tiny bit to make sure I didn’t yak on the timing mats, but saw 1:05 on the clock and sprinted through the finish, leaning for style.
I crumped over on the ground, totally spent. God, that was terrible. All that effort for slow, arduous, inefficient pace. It was a relief, and an honor and joy to reclaim the Brewhouse Short Course Triathlon title, and to know that I still had the fitness to pull it off. Something is working! Shyanne had a crazy fast race and finished right behind me. Paul was not far back either. Between the finish and awards, I biked 30 miles on gravel on the singlespeed machine. It was grueling. I made a vow to practice triathlon and pull a fast Park Point 5 Miler before the 2022 version.
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Bike: 3 Clif Bloks, couple sips of water
05 Aug 2019
Race Date: Sunday, August 4, 2019 – 8:30am
I strolled up to the race venue at beautiful Island Lake outside of Duluth with a bit more than an hour before race time. It was nervewracking to feel late! I felt confident in my abilities to win this race for the 8th time and just wanted to check each item off the list before race start.
Bib pickup, body marking, timing chip pickup. Rack my bike, unload all my stuff, and start putting it together. I took my bike for a spin once my backpack was unloaded, and it was working great. Then I got my shoes on to go for a little spin. I was feeling good and ready to rip my 9th Brewhouse Triathlon sprint course.
Despite feeling super late, I got back to my transition zone area and starting putting on my wetsuit with plenty of time to spare. Nice. I had run through my transition sequences several times in my head and felt good. Caffeine gummies were on my bike seat, water all set… I couldn’t think of anything else so headed down to the water to get acclimated and get the arms warmed up.
I chatted with some familiar faces, found my support crew Emily on top, and took a spin around the swimming area to warm up. All systems go. Before long, the crowd assembled, the PA announcer started beckoning us. The race director Matt Evans told us where to go, big triangle buoys, turn right. Then, the 10 second countdown, GO! And we were off. It was a washing machine start, as always, and I doggy paddled in an attempt to find my slot to swim in. The field spread thin before too long and I was able to swim like normal.
This was my second swim of the year, but I felt comfortable. I was only breathing on one side and kind of pinning to the left. There were swimmers to my right and when I tried to breathe on both sides, a faster method but less oxygen availability, I got some choppy waves in my face. Back to the one side. When I’d sight that first buoy, it’s off to the right. Swimming straight was the battle until the first turn. But I made it to the first buoy seemingly in the second pack of swimmers. There were a few ahead of me and I could see a bigger group further up. I felt good making the turn, right where I expected and wanted to be. The second buoy was close, I made that turn and got my bearings for the home stretch. The field was spread out after the two turns and I wondered if I left some of the others behind, giving me a little surge of confidence. Let’s go!! I fluttered my back legs extra hard in an attempt to get some forward propulsion, and tried to lock in on my bilateral breathing method. I was focusing on putting my head down and practicing good form. When I put my head up to sight, again the swim exit buoy was way to my right and thus I was pinning left. Gah. Oh well, I cranked it in, and exited the water with two other swimmers.
Running into transition, I almost felt like I was going to faint. I don’t know why running into T1 is always such a grind… catching my breath after swimming is a major struggle. I was fumbling around with my wetsuit trying to put it in just the right place below my bike. I felt that my T1 was long. I saw a tall gentleman in a nice bike speeding out on the bike and figured that was who Ryan told me looked to be the main competition, just based on how he looked and his bike. So that’s my target.
Out of transition, I hastily hopped on my bike and pedaled a few strokes over top my shoes. I always have a slow time getting my bike shoes on. Careful, as not to unclip the shoe. Faster, the clock is ticking. I finally got all clicked in, and remembered the caffeine gummis on my seat. Crap! Were they still there? I stood up and touched my seat… no way. Oh well. Time to crank. I got up to speed and passed a few people right away. My legs felt slow and sore, like there was already lactic acid built up. I tried to crank anyways. Push push push I told myself. PUSH! I passed a few people but couldn’t see the lead bike. What can ya do besides put your head down and… yep… CRANK! PUSH!
Before the turn onto Emerson Road just before the turnaround, I saw a very tall gentleman on the bike coming the other way. First place. I figured it was a Canadian. He’d raced against me before and I somehow edged him every year but knew this would be a major challenge. What’s his name…
For the first time all day, I was very fearful of my winning streak of 7 wins in my last 7 starts crumbling. He was way ahead of me. I glanced at my watch and looked at the seconds, trying to figure out by how many minutes he was ahead. At the turnaround I passed last year’s female champion Bettina. I passed her quickly and tried to break away as fast as I could. With the left turn off of Emerson, I glanced back at my watch and knew that I was probably two minutes back at least. Whoosh, that’s a lot to make up. I didn’t feel like I was going fast and my legs still felt kind of sore and just drained. It’s mental, I told myself, and slid forward on my seat to get an aggressive angle on my bike, hoping to find more power somewhere. I saw another gal up front, by the looks, and was really impressed by her biking. Holy crap she is way up there! I was used to being behind the lead motorcycle and here I was in third place. I began to think about the run. I’d have to run really fast to stand a chance, and that’s after closing this bike split out in a very powerful way. I drank a sip of water and tried to capitalize on a downhill.
Across the Island Lake bridge and within sight of the transition area, I was gaining ground on the gal in front of me. I finally caught up to her within mere feet of the dismount line. I dismounted quicker than her and tried to sneak around to her right and onto a little bridge to the transition entrance. At that moment, she swung her leg around her bike and almost karate kicked me in the face. I apologized… poor form on my part to sneak up on her like that. Whoops. I wondered how fast she was on the run… And how far behind I was from the singular person ahead of me now. I sure didn’t see anyone up ahead.
As I sprinted through transition with my bike, I heard the announcer Jerry MacNeil telling the crowd how when I get my running legs on me, it’s my best leg. I hope you’re right, I said to myself. I fumbled again in T2, accidentally clipping my bib number on before putting on my shoes. Gah! I can do that while running! But my bib number belt was clipped, my shoes went on smoothly, and I put a caffeine gummi found on the ground in my mouth. Better late than never. Then I sprinted out the gate, onto the chase.
This was kind of fun, I thought, to be a supposedly fast runner on the chase in the running leg of this triathlon. The past years that I’ve won the Brewhouse Sprint, I’d led off of the bike, and so my mission then was to just hold everyone else off. And being a faster runner, that is somewhat easy to do. But I figured that I was down by several minutes. So if this guy is a halfway decent runner I’d need to run several minutes faster than him?? Knowing the run course has been kind of short, I did the math and figured I’d have to run a minute faster per mile. I looked at my watch, in a dead sprint, to see 6:06 in the pace field. That won’t cut it…
I thought of Jerry’s sentiment. I just gotta get my running legs under me. Push, Mike, push!! I focused on my rhythm, keeping a fast turnover. Nah, that’s not fast enough, just sprint. My labored breathing was OK. I liked to feel that, actually. Put it all out there. You don’t want to lose this race. What will it take? What do you have to give? It’s not worth it, you don’t have what it takes. It was a flurry of emotions and thoughts before the first mile, especially on the straightaway section where I saw nobody in sight. I asked a volunteer how far back I was. A good bit. That’s not encouraging. I pushed to the water station, knowing it’s a quick lollipop on gravel from there, then about a mile back home. I asked those volunteers where he was. They encouragingly said I’d see him in a minute. Like, an actual minute? But I smelled it… I could tell I was reeling him in. And if I didn’t see anyone before the lollipop I’d be in great shape. Well, right as I passed the lollipop, this very tall guy popped out. I barely got a glance at him, choosing instead to glance at my watch to try a calculation. I tried to run as hard as possible around the dirt circle, hoping to at least get him in my sights back on the road. Back to the lollipop intersection and I figured I was more than a minute behind. That’s a lot to make up in a bit more than a mile.
I still had the energy for a pursuit. I really laid it out there back on the road. I thought I saw someone ahead, but there were runners coming at me… it was too hard to tell. I figured this tall guy may falter on the relatively technical off-road half mile section of the run course, and I tried to hammer it. I couldn’t hammer, I just didn’t have the speed. My watch beeped my mile split and it was over 6:00. That just won’t cut it! So at that point, I dealt with the fact that I wasn’t going to win. But that sentiment quickly shifted as I looked over my shoulder. And that fearful sentiment quickly shifted as I saw nobody.
I couldn’t see anyone at the finish line. Tunnel vision. I was very disappointed crossing the line. The legacy is over. Well, how long could I not train for the race and expect to win? That is a joke! I am a joke for even trying all these years. The champion was at the finish and greeted me with a big handshake. He had a great race, and played it well with a monster bike split. I quickly departed the finish area and headed straight to the lake. I barely looked Emily in the eye and I think she understood my frustration and backed off. I took off my jersey and shoes and stomped down to the lake. I slumped into the water, putting my face in and floating on my belly. Gah.
I should have known that my fitness on the run, or lackthereof, would be an issue. I felt fit, but it really makes a difference when I can rip a fast open 5k or 5 mile run. Like under 17 minutes for a 5k. That run speed translates to the bike more than many may give it credit for, and obviously translates to the last leg, too. Good overall fitness, that I’ve derived from paddling and biking and hiking and some running, isn’t enough to actually compete. Legitimate running speed is enough. And that is what I was lacking. My time was good, 1:02 or so, but still slower than when I’m in good running shape where I know I can hit under 60 minutes on this course. Emily greeted me by the lake and tried to cheer me up. It worked, and I couldn’t really be too mad or angry or frustrated. The race actually went good. Maybe a few little flubs, but I think I left it all out there given my abilities at the time of the race start. The champion, Kris Nisula of Thunder Bay, came over to me as I sat at the bench with Em, and I could tell he was happy. I was happy for him! He put on a good race, knowing that he was going up against the defending champ and that I had a strong run. He told me he knew he had to hammer the swim and the bike, and the strategy worked out. Furthermore, he talked about other races he was training for and I knew from meeting him in the past that he was a pretty serious triathlete. He deserves to win, when I think I can just stroll up and compete against him. Kris was great to chat with–a very nice, tall gentleman.
In hindsight, the race was fun. How can you not have fun? Brewhouse Triathlon is a great event at a great venue. If anything, I’m more motivated to train and set the course record. That is my prerogative for 2020. I can’t wait until next year for my favorite race.
Pace: 1:45/100 yd
Shoes: Saucony Freedom
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Water, one caffeine gummi
07 Aug 2016
Race Day: Saturday, August 7, 2016 – 8:30am
I went in to Brewhouse Tri with big expectations. I had the expectation to win. It’s easy to say you have no expectations, but this was not the case. It’s easy to say you have no expectations when there is no reason that you should have them, such as not swimming and signing up for a triathlon, which involves swimming. Or letting my tri bike literally get dusty from no use, when the race involves riding a tri bike. Nevertheless, I went out to Brewhouse with the goal to win. Time was irrelevant.
This was my sixth time racing the Brewhouse Sprint, and I was competing for my fifth win. The caveat was my severe lack of specific training. This seems to be a common theme lately, but seemed to play out OK with Voyageur just one week prior. I hadn’t swam a stroke or sat on my tri bike, for all intents and purposes, for nearly 11 months. I knew I had good run fitness, and I knew I had decent biking fitness from biking to work every day. Is 6 miles a day enough? I rarely push it… my commute is at a very leisurely pace. How far back on the swim will I be? I had some major questions on how the day would pan out.
The morning drive to beautiful Island Lake outside of Duluth confirmed my notions that the day would be ideal for a triathlon. I got to the transition area and saw plenty of familiar faces to who I had to explain being off the grid and spending my time hiking. It was good to be back schmoozing with the awesome triathlon community in Duluth.
The bike warmup was on point, and I didn’t spend too much time running. I had a pre-race Mountain Dew and was ready to rock. My transition area seemed so much more compact and easy than I remember. A testament to the backpacker ‘less is more’ mentality? Perhaps. I suited up in my wetsuit and did a few strokes. They felt fine, but even a minute was enough to feel the tension and soreness in my shoulders. Not good.
I found myself antsy for the race to begin. Before long, Matt Evans came out of nowhere to instruct us on what buoys to turn at and to come back to. In a flash, the goggles went on and the 10-second countdown began. “GO!” and the hectic start commenced. Nothing like a triathlon start… Hands, feet, faces, bodies everywhere.
I felt fine right away, but definitely noticed my lack of swim fitness. I was used to pulling away from people at the drop of a hat, er, swim cap, and now people were swimming away from me. I tried to get on someone’s feet, but it was only for a short while. The first buoy wasn’t too terribly far off, and I felt good rounding the first and second markers. My shoulders were burning and they felt like wet noodles dragging through the water, but I was halfway done and still swimming as strong as a non-training fool like me could go. I took it all the way in until my fingers scraped on the bottom of the lake floor.
I knew I had some ground to make up while I was in T2. Not to belittle my fellow athletes, but I was not used to being down off the swim. My transition was hasty, it took me a bit to get my shoes set, but then I took off hard on the bicycle.
The Brewhouse bike course is fast. I cranked right out of the gate and got up to speed quickly, passing a few people in the process. I was gaining on others quickly and passed them like they were stopped with a kickstand up. I peeked at my watch to get a reading of 30MPH, and I knew I was on the right track. I figured that I could hold a decent run pace regardless of how hard I push on the bike. At that moment, I knew to achieve my goal, I’d have to put it all on the line on the bike. And so I cranked away. Every person I passed, I looked ahead to hopefully catch the lead motorcycle. The legs were feeling fine, but I was breathing really heavily. No time to catch my breath, I thought. A few more people, and I saw the leaders near the one turn on the course. He was just a few minutes ahead of me, so I made the 180-degree turn and had my sights focused to that motorcycle like a track dog to the fake rabbit.
The next few people were slower to pass. It took a while to reel them in, and it was a slow pass. I was happy to get past my tri buddy Lee Brown, because I knew he’d be a contender. He’s had a few second-place finishes at the race and I knew he was hungry for a local win with his new tri bike. A minute later, I caught the leader, with time to pad until T2. I made an effort to put more time on my fellow competitors, and hopped off my bike in a hurry, sprinting for my running shoes.
The second transition was speedy, and I was off. I wondered how my legs would feel without doing a single brick workout on the year, and they felt like jelly. The feeling of running in a triathlon is pretty terrible. It’s like you have a parachute on, or ankle weights. You just can’t get that speedy pickup. I was breathing heavy out of the gate, and took a peek behind my shoulder to gauge how this guy was running. He was close. I figured I’d be able to pick up a little speed once my legs get used to the switch-up, but three miles isn’t much real estate. In that case, I tried to focus on my cadence.
By the turnaround, I couldn’t see anyone. By the time I had a clear view behind me, back on County Road 4, there was nobody in sight and I knew I had it. I picked up my pace for good measure, and just because I could, and my notions were confirmed as the athletes going the other way told me it was mine. They popped us into the woods, and I was cruising on by on a wooden bridge. Sweet. The last half mile was on a trail, and you could just smell the Northwoods pines. The sound of the crushed gravel underfoot made it a treat for the senses.
I held up my five fingers on the finishing chute, and brought it in a few seconds past an hour, far off of the course record. To my surprise, Lee Brown came waltzing in before I could bat an eye. I somehow held him off with a big bike, giving me five wins for this race. The Brewhouse Sprint Tri is a spectacular event.
Pace: 1:40/100 yd
Shoes: Mizuno Hitogami size 11
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78