MusselMan Half-Iron Triathlon Race Report
Last weekend was my third consecutive year competing in the MusselMan Triathlon. It takes place in Geneva, NY – the Fingers Lakes region. This is by far one of my favorite races because the scenery is beautiful, the race organization is superb, and the post-race finish line festival is first-class (it’s catered by Wegman’s… ‘nough said!) MusselMan got its name from the zebra mussels that inhabit the Finger Lakes. They feed on algae and plants, making the lakes crystal clear. The half iron triathlon distance consists of a 1.2 mile swim in Seneca Lake, a 56 mile bike ride, and a half marathon (13.1 mile) run.
Seneca Lake was very choppy the last two years for this race, so I was relieved when it looked flat and calm on race morning. I set up all of my gear in the transition area (where racers have a designated area to keep their bike, shoes, helmet, etc) and did a quick 10-minute running warm-up to get my muscles and cardiovascular system ready to go. When it was time to start, I waded into thigh-deep water with my age group and waited for the countdown and gun. The first few hundred yards were congested, but it soon thinned out and I found a good place for myself in the pack of triathletes. I focused on keeping the turn-buoys in sight and maintaining a relaxed stroke and even pace. The worst thing you can do in a half-iron triathlon is expend too much energy on the swim, or it will be a loooooooong (and painful) day on the bike and the run! When I exited the water, I looked at my watch and saw 34:10 – a 3 minute improvement off last year’s time! I had hoped to complete the swim in around 35 minutes, so I was very happy with this.
I ran into the transition area, peeled off my wetsuit, grabbed my bike and helmet, and was off to start the 56 mile bike!
From previous years, I knew that certain parts of the course were prone to headwinds, and to be careful not to burn myself out. I settled into a comfortable pace and watched the miles tick by. Despite lucking out with a calm lake for the swim, the wind on the bike was the worst I’ve experienced on this particular course. There was a strong headwind for the first part of the course, which later turned into some balance-testing cross-winds, and thankfully, once or twice, a sweet tailwind. Headwinds are not fun, but the silver lining is that they affect everyone equally, so I rode on and enjoyed the scenery- lots of farm country, vineyards, and the blue waters of Cayuga and Seneca lakes in the distance.
I returned to the transition area in 2 hours, 51 minutes. This was two minutes slower than my time on the bike course last year, but given the crazy wind, I was happy with the time. I heard some friends cheering for me as I rode in, which got me really pumped up! I returned my bike to the transition area and noticed there were very few other bikes around, which meant that I was at the front of the pack and in good position for an age group podium spot.
I pulled on my pink racing flats and grabbed my visor and headed out for the run. The run course at MusselMan is pretty tough. The first 2.5 miles out, and the last 2.5 miles back in, are on a flat trail along the lake. But, that is pretty much the only part of the course that is flat! There are a few tough hills, including a monster gravel hill, Barracks Road, at around mile 7 that everyone dreads.
The course is marked with mile markers, so I was able to take splits at every mile to keep track of my pace. I saw lots of guys out on the course, but wasn’t seeing any women until mile 7 – when one passed me on the dreaded Barracks Road hill. She was running very fast and I knew if I tried to keep up with her, I would burn myself out, so I let her go. When I reached mile 9, some spectators cheered for me and told me I was in the top 15 women to run by, which was very exciting to hear!
Coming back into the final 2.5 flat stretch, I asked a guy running behind me if he knew what pace we were holding since he was wearing a Garmin GPS. He told me the pace and asked if I wanted to run the last few miles in together, as motivation. It was great to have company, since I was starting to feel fatigued not only physically but mentally. Endurance sports are very taxing mentally, and it’s easy to marginalize goals when you’re feeling fatigued and decide that less-than-your-best will suffice. It was such a huge help to have someone to run with for that last part; I’m sure I would have slowed down without someone to make me push myself. As we approached the last mile, Craig, my running buddy said, “You know the big rock heading back into the finish line area? It’s about a quarter of a mile out from the finish line.” I said that I did. He suggested we maintain our pace until we hit the rock, then put whatever energy we had left at the rock into a sprint to the finish. I agreed, and we both took off when we came to the rock. I couldn’t keep up with him, but trying to do so forced me to put every last ounce of energy into the final sprint.
I crossed the line with a total time of 5:15:26, an 8 minute Personal Record (PR) for this course. Even better, my run time was nearly 7 minutes faster than last year! As soon as I collected my finisher medal, I headed to the kiddie pools filled with ice water located conveniently behind the finish area for hot, tired racers — another reason why this race is simply one of the best. The temperature was close to 90F at that point, and the cold water felt AMAZING! The next thing I did was head straight to the Wegman’s food stand for an ice cream cone piled high with cookies & cream and black raspberry ice cream — it really hit the spot!!
When I checked the posted results after devouring my ice cream, I saw that I’d placed second in the female 30-34 age group and was the 13th female overall finisher (including an Elite division). All in all, I had a great race and feel so lucky to be able to train for and race in this crazy sport. One thing I’ve learned – a lesson that has been reinforced several times in the last year – is that everyone has good days and bad days. The bad days are rough, but one thing is for sure: they make the good days, like my day at MusselMan, even sweeter!