At 7:00 a.m before the start of the Galena Triathlon/Duathlon a steady rain fell from the sky as dozens of athletes gathered under the roof of a beach house along the shore of Apple Canyon lake. The rain fell so hard a flock of swallows nesting on the nearby cliff did not seem to want to leave their perches on the old quarry wall. Yet venture out they did, making sorties to catch insects between the raindrops as the day began.
The birds were an apt symbol for the event about to transpire amongst humans lingering along the shore. Between rainstorms, dozens of triathletes and duathletes made urgent runs back and forth to check their bikes and arrange equipment covered by plastic bags. The forecast called for the rain to stop by 8:30, but that made it a pressure to get everything in T1 organized before it closed at 8:45. The racing started at 9:00 a.m. with the first wave of triathletes. The final wave of duathletes would not start until 9:50.
That meant there were choices to be made as competitors huddled together under a beachside shelter out of the rain. Many duathletes decided to sacrifice an old shirt in order to keep warm while waiting for the later start. The triathletes simply stood around in their warm wetsuits like so many tall seals.
Finally the last of four showers passed and the first wave of swimmers gathered in earnest on the sand. It was time first for the national anthem to be sung. Unfortunately the wet weather prevented the singer’s microphone from working. Her quiet voice cast out over the water and died in mid-air, so the entire assemblage took up the song on their own. A calm joy it was to share that space with fellow competitors, who held the notes accurately if not beautifully, and a warm cheer went up when the words “home of the brave…” were complete.
In fact bravery was a keen point of reference in pre-race discussions. “I’m going to let some air out of my tires,” one triathlete noted. “The roads are really wet.” They were indeed. As the first waves of triathletes emerged from Apple Canyon lake and mounted their bikes for the instant climb from the lake basin to the roads above, you could still see their reflections on the wet asphalt below. Some walked their bikes up the steep incline. But most made a good go of it. All were cheered along by a chorus of gray treefrogs singing from the woods along the road.
When the horn finally sounded for the start of the men’s duathlon at 9:45, the sound of feet smacking on the asphalt road made a sticky sort of sound. Yet off we went down a steep hill into a valley, turned around at just under a mile and made our way back up the hill we’d just descended. It was a precursor for many more hills to come.
I’d settled on the idea that for me to cover the logistics of the race would require two sets of orthotics. That meant a pair of dress orthotics were inserted in my original pair of Saucony Triumphs for the initial two-mile run stage. It wasn’t ideal, but the idea of carting my full orthotics for 17 miles on the bike made no sense. So I ran on my forefoot like a middle distance runner and thankfully did not encounter any cramping of the feet or ankles. Confession: I did sit and massage my feet sans shoes for five minutes. And I think it helped!
20 years running
The Galena Triathlon/Duathlon celebrated its 20th running this year. That’s a lot of years to conduct an event that requires both the race directors and athletes to perform a double set of logistics. It’s really an impressive effort by race organizers to make use of some beautiful landscape and provide a rich experience for the athletes. Plus the town of Galena is a pleasant and inviting place. All told it’s a wonderful race in that celebrates the distinctive environment of the driftless region covering northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. You should take your bike and go there if you haven’t already. It’s the Best of the Midwest!
The course leads from a beautiful spot of land in Apple Canyon where the swim and first leg of the duathlon transpire, then cycles its way nearly 20 miles west to Galena where competitors jump off their bikes and embark for a traditionally cruel run up the nearest steep hill available. This year’s version was a 600 meter incline that reached a likely 6% grade at one point. Then the course continued largely uphill to the two-mile turnaround. That first hill took the steam out of just about everyone, yet the leader managed the entire loop at a 5:29 pace per mile.
Double the fun
It turned out to be an day for couples actually as a pair of competitors in the duathlon from Plainfield, Illinois finished first and third overall in the women’s and men’s races. In fact female winner Maxine Franck-Palmer (age 48) placed 16th among all competitors and first among women with a time of 1:47:03. Her bike time was a quite snappy 52:07 at an average of 19.34 mph. Her husband Jeff Palmer (age 46) finished third overall and had a bike leg of 50:37 and 19.92 mph, and an overall run-bike-run time of 1:35:33. Jeff competes for Experience Triathlon and Maxine is coached by Jenny Parker Harrison, whom she credits for getting her such progress in racing.
Julie Logan (44) of Wheaton, Illinois, another Experience Triathlon competitor, was second in the women’s overall duathlon in 1:50:42. Her bike split was also impressive at 19:15 mph.
Second overall in the duathlon was Bob Jones of Bartlett, Illinois (age 53) at 1:35:04. He is headed to duathlon nationals in Minnesota in a couple weeks, and his preparation seems on target for a good finish there. Jones capitalized on a zippy 49:35 bike leg at 20:33 mph. But it was overall winner Matthew Panke (age 43) whose bike leg shone the brightest with a 22:52 mph average, 44:46 for the ride and a winning time of 1:30:39 overall.
By way of comparison, it was the bike section the defined the race, for the runs were comparatively even between the top three duathlon competitors. Palmer closed the fastest with a 4.2 mile pace of 6:39. Next came Jones at 6:49 per mile average followed by winner Pahnke, who ran 6:59 per mile. Actually that amounts to a 40-second differential in the run department between these competitors. So who knows what actually wins the day?
Hills of truth
Clearly it was the ability to handle the hills on the bike that won the day. The course for both triathletes and duathletes covered a 17+ mile distance from Apple Canyon to Galena. The first 7 miles consisted of twisting, turning roads punctuated by steep inclines and breathtaking descents. Then the course rose to the highlands for a brisk and focused 8 miles in which rolling grades allowed for some serious pace gains in the aero position. Then came a two-mile descent to the transition zone at Recreation Park.
Several athletes stood out superbly on the ride segment. One was triathlete Ryan Giuliano, a former track and cross country athlete from Cary, Illinois who popped the ride at an average of 24.22 mph. His run pace of 5:29 per mile on the hilly 4.2 mile run course also was an eye-opener, with a finish time was 23:02. However his next competitor was no slouch as Alex Arman of St. Charles, Illinois averaged 23.61 on the bike and 5:36 per mile average for the 4.2 mile run. Giuliano’s overall time was 1:14:37. Arman came in at 1:17:27.
Our coach and President of Experience Triathlon, Joe Lopresto, came in second in the Men’s 55-59 triathlon age group at 1:43:40. His bike average of 18.88 was impressive but age division leader Doug Morris clipped along at just over 20 mph and was quick on the run as well at a 6:40 per mile pace.
My own time of 1:57: 58 won the age 55-59 division. Interestingly, 5 out of the top 10 finishers in the duathlon were over age 50. I felt fair but not swift on both runs, averaging 7:58 in the first two miles and 8:24 in the final four.
My bike averaged 16:57 mph, actually a tad slower than my companion Sue Astra who rode 17:41 in the triathlon bike segment. So I’ve got work to do to catch up to my athlete girlfriend, who took third overall in the women’s 50-54 triathlon category. Another pair of “couple” winners!
The roads really kept the bike racing honest if not downright thrilling at certain places on the course. The wet roads made for interesting bike handling on the swooping downhills. Then southwest winds gathered to make the high roads a strategic playing field and when to pedal hard and when to spin up the next grade.
Not so transitional
As for this budding duathlete, there is still much work to be done in the transitions. I spent 2:46 getting through T1 and a scary 3:07 getting through T2. That’s a total of 5:53 in the transitions! If I can cut that time in half I finish in 1:55:33 but for what? That save only moves me up two places, from 28th to 25th overall. It appears that I do better sitting on my ass changing shoes and catching my breath!
Still, there’s hope in there. Between the relatively careful first run time in dress orthotics to my somewhat fearful bike stage. The long descents were frankly strong reminders of my bike wobble crash, and I hit the brakes some on the steepest and longest downhills. I also need to get better on the brick, as I walked for thirty yards going up the steep hill on the second run leg.
None of that is would-coulda-shoulda. I did my absolute best in every way last Saturday. It was fun. I lived in the moment. That’s why we go to races, to experience life in bolder relief. It’s part of the growth we all go through in our sports. No matter what age we are, there is still a lot to learn, and to do.