Grand Adventure Race 2012
I was really excited this summer when I discovered that there was going to be a new adventure triathlon coming to Michigan in late September. To me this immediately felt like a great time of year to host an adventure triathlon as most of the paddle and traditional triathlon racing seems to quickly wind down after Labor Day weekend even though we still have lots of great weather and warm water through September. Additionally it was being held in Grand Ledge just outside of Lansing so I knew it had a great community to draw on. I quickly reached out to the race organizers and offered for TC Surfski to provide a small sponsorship and committed myself to doing the race.
No Time to Bike and Run
After the M22 Challenge race in early June, with the new business and doing demos, races, and time trialing new boats, I quickly found myself exclusively paddling and not doing any running or biking. In early September I had to painfully forced myself to start running again. The first run after a few months off never gets any less painful for me, the run itself isn’t bad, its just the next three days of walking down stairs that really hurts. It never ceases to amaze me the impact just three miles can have when you haven’t been running for over 2 months. I also knew I better quickly get reacquainted with my bike, so forced myself to take a few days off paddling and get out for a couple rides.
Nothing Like Last Minute Training
I was in the London area for work the weekend prior to the race and stayed with my brother Ben in Southampton over the weekend. Ben was excited at the opportunity to organize some training for me. He created the Isle of White Duathlon which involved paddling his tandem kayak across the channel over to the Isle of Wight and then riding cycle cross type bikes around the two tracks that seem to cover the entire island winding around the castles and across the farmland. This was definitely a great and fun training session and also a reminder of how lucky I am to be racing in a surfski. Ben had one of the more common heavy plastic sit on top kayaks (what we in the surfski world refer to as bathtub boats). A very fun boat and great with the kids, but not a racing machine . I managed to squeeze in a 5 mile run during my layover in Detroit airport on Sunday and with that I was feeling about as trained as I was going to be.
Oops, Wrong Day
On Thursday before the race I got an e-mail from the race organizers that finished with “See you on Sunday”. I unfortunately had assumed the race was on Saturday and booked a hotel for Friday night and we had made plans to see friends on the return Saturday. Unfortunately no luck with a refund from the hotel, but we went ahead and booked for Saturday night. It actually worked out much better visiting our friends in Midland on Saturday.
Arriving in Grand Ledge
Sunday morning we drove into downtown Grand Ledge (first time ever) and found the race start tucked away in a very nice little park alongside the river. It was a perfect location for staging the race with lots of grass for staging boats, a pavilion for registration, and a very nice playground for the kids to hang out at. It was a very spectator friendly arrangement and in addition to the park, there was a perfect bridge about a 1//4 mile into the start of the paddle event where spectators could watch the paddlers at the start and on their return.
I have extremely limited experience paddling in rivers and my biggest fear was getting into any shallow sections where I would risk bumping my rudder. Fortunately this was not an issue as there was plenty of depth in the river throughout the course. My biggest challenge became the weeds. A few days before the race I realized I had sold all my weedless rudders and ordered more but unfortunately they had not yet arrived, so I would have to race with a standard surf rudder. I chose the Stellar Adv SEL to race because I knew it would be fast and not knowing the conditions of the river I didn’t want to risk taking my V12 Ultra or Stellar SE Excel. As it turned out, I would have been fine in either of those boats as well, but I really enjoyed paddling the SEL and don’t think I gave up any time.
All Out Start to Show What Surfskis Are Capable Of
The race was setup in waves based on age/gender and my wave was the last one to go. When the gun went off I took off in a flurry hoping to show the spectators and racers what they too could do if they were paddling a surfski. Having done three recent paddle races with Simon Longdill and Rob Hartman I was well conditioned to starting off at a wicked pace, so it actually felt pretty normal to go all out in the first mile. Although I started in a full out sprint and my GPS showed speeds in excess of 9 mph, I quickly slowed down as weeds began to accumulate. It was my first experience dragging weeds, but I could tell it was causing significant drag and loss of speed. At the 1 mile turnaround I found some shallow water, got out of the boat, and removed a huge clump of weeds. I once again felt fresh and strong in the boat and was ready to push hard back to the finish.
Transition to the Bike
I had a pretty uneventful transition onto the bike and was on my way. It was a little chilly being wet from the paddle but I warmed up quickly after the first couple of miles. The bike course was fun and challenging. Of course we didn’t have the big hills we’re used to in the northern parts of Michigan, but there was plenty of wind and corners to content with which kept it exciting and made it hard to get a really fast time. I was happy to finish with an average speed just over 20 mph.
Transition to the Run
It had been a very long time since I did a bike to run transition (M22 Challenge in 2010 was the last one) and I forgot what an awkward feeling that was. I was convinced that extra socks or something had been stuffed into my shoes because my feet felt so strange during the first ¼ mile. The run course was very well setup with about a ¼ mile run out along the river and then into town across main street and out to a park for the turn around. My goal was to not stop during the run and I managed to pull it off. The return leg on the out and back course had more downhill which was definitely a welcome bonus.
At the finish line they had music blaring and an extensive selection of food and drink including donuts, bagels, chips, and brats along with bottled waters, soda, and Gatorade. My kids definitely made the best of the buffet and were sure to sample everything that was offered. Additionally all finishers received a medal plus an additional medal for the top three finishers in each age group and trophies for the top three male and female overall. All said and done I left with three pieces of hardware which the kids found to be very exciting.
Do to the wave structure (which is common with triathlons) I had no idea how I finished compared to the rest of the field, and was pleasantly surprised when the results were posted to find out I managed 3rd overall. Of course it was mostly a result of my unfair advantage on the kayak portion, but I also posted a solid bike and ran just fast enough not to blow my lead.
A Perfect Day for Racing
It turned out to be a picture perfect fall day for racing. It was really neat to paddle the Grand River and race through the streets of Grand Ledge with the crisp fall air and vibrant fall color. Heat is always a killer for me when running, so I really welcomed the low 60s temps we had at that point in the morning. By the finish it had warmed to a perfect 70 degrees.
The race was extremely well organized and it was clear the organizers had a lot of triathlon racing experience that they brought to this event They had chip timing that recorded all of the three events and were very quick to get results printed and posted. There was plenty of safety coverage on the water and the bike and run portions were well marked and staffed with volunteers. They had one of the most generous food and drink spreads I’ve seen at a race in a very long time. Last but not least, they picked a great little spot that is very spectator friendly.
Add this Race to your Fall Calendar
If you are interesting in doing an adventure triathlon I would definitely recommend adding this one to your list. Similar to the M22 Challenge all of the distances are very doable even for beginners just getting into the sport. In fact, I would estimate that at least 80% of the racers this year were beginners out there to have fun and challenge themselves versus elite hardcore competitors. I fully expect that this race will see great growth in the coming years.