DMYMCA Triathlon Series: Eric Conrad's Report

Eric Conrad did all three races in the 2019 DMYMCA Triathlon SeriesNew for 2019, the YMCA of Greater Des Moines is offering an indoor triathlon series. The series includes three races:

  • Ice Breaker Triathlon, which began in 2008
  • Y-Tri at Red Flannel Run, a new addition to the 30-year-old run race
  • Pieathlon, another long-standing event.

We plan to follow Eric Conrad, whom we have interviewed for indoor triathlons before, through all three races.

Ice Breaker Triathlon

by Eric Conrad

Ice Breaker Triathlon
400 yard Pool Swim, 7 mile Indoor Bike, 2 mile Treadmill Run
West Des Moines, Iowa
Sunday, January 27, 2019

With the Walnut Creek’s Ice Breaker Tri taking place so early in the calendar year, it always marks the start of the triathlon season for this freshman triathlete. As a runner transitioning to triathlon, this indoor short distance race helps get me get into the proper mindset for the year. With its shorter distances, I’m allowed to go full out to check where I am and put a little bit of a test to the training done over the winter.

I originally competed in this race four years ago as I wanted to check out triathlon. Part of a relay team, I took the run portion. With the non-intimidating distances that this race offers, it was easy to commit to doing whole thing the following year.

Making this race even friendlier is that the transitions between each discipline are not timed. There is no pressure for the uninitiated to scramble from the swim to the bike or from the bike to the run.

I’d recommend this event to anyone wanting to taste-test triathlon or to knock the cobwebs off and get ready for whatever is to come later in the year. The Ice Breaker is a race every level of athlete can patriciate in, and get something out of. [This is why we recommend indoor triathlons.]

This year, as well as every one I have entered, was well organized and went off without a hitch. The officials instruct and explain to the participants what is expected and what needs to be done. At the pool they count your laps and signal you when you have one full lap to go. On the bike they review the bike computer, and an official was right there at the treadmill as I finished the run so they could record my time. There was never a need to ever chase anyone down for help and there were signs pointing to the bike and run making for an easy path to travel.

This race kicks off the Des Moines YMCA’s new triathlon series that also includes the Red Flannel Run & Y-Tri at the Wellmark YMCA scheduled for February 9, 2019 and the Pieathlon at the Waukee Family YMCA on May 18, 2019. Points are awarded to finishers of each. Those points are then added up and everyone ranked. I’ll be entering these to see how I stack up over multiple races. It’ll be interesting to see if it is successful enough for them to include additional races in subsequent years.

Next up is the triathlon tied to the Red Flannel Run. Historically a runner, I used to do the Red Flannel Run. I stopped as their courses tended to be short by a significant amount. For this year's Y-Tri, the Red Flannel Run 5K finishes this triathlon. It’ll be interesting to see if we get the full 3.1 miles. Stay tuned!

Y-Tri

by Eric Conrad

Wellmark YMCA Red Flannel Run and Y-Tri
10 minute Pool Swim, 20 minute Indoor Bike, 5K Outdoor Run
Des Moines, Iowa
Saturday, February 9, 2019

With the Wellmark YMCA Red Flannel Run and Y-Tri, we’ll continue to look through the lens of the new or testing triathlete. If you completed the Ice Breaker Triathlon and want more, the YMCA has set you up perfectly in the Red Flannel Run and Y-Tri.

This year is the 30th annual Red Flannel Run, but for the first time there are options for a swim and bike. The format is something that I’ve never experienced in that both the swim and the bike are not set distances. What is measured is the distance the athlete covers in the amount of time allotted. That's 10 minutes for the swim and 20 minutes for the bike. Then each participant is ranked with the longest distances ranking higher than the shorter distances. Those ranks are then combined with the time it took to complete the 5K to give us the places of each participant.

Depending on your swim and bike speed you’ll most likely cover a bit longer distance then you did at the Ice Breaker. The run is the clear distance stand out compared to the Ice Breaker. It grows from a 2-mile treadmill run to a 3.1-mile outdoor run. If new to the experience, you’ll now get to run with others on the streets of downtown Des Moines, experience the relief and joy of seeing the finish line, and best/worst of all, you’ll get to experience the weather.

On that note, the Red Flannel Run has generally been cold and the race this year was in the single digits. Most were bundled up, but you should know that they do give out a Toughest Eskimo Award for the daredevil who is wearing the least amount of protective clothing. This year they gave out two awards: one walked up in shorts to collect, the other ran and completed the race as a stroke survivor.

If you are not familiar with the downtown YMCA, fear not, as they had a great review the night before the race. They took us to the pool and we stopped in to visit the bike studio so we could check out the bikes which are a different type and style used in the Ice Breaker. This was not only helpful in learning the layout of the Y but I was able to set up the bike as I would like to use it and note its settings for an easier set-up on race day.

Learning the layout of the Y was also important as one other difference in this tri is that all three disciples had hard set start times. The Red Flannel Run started at 9:00 but before that you were assigned a swim and bike wave which had very specific start times of their own. You had a little bit of extra time to get to the Red Flannel Run outside after the bike but only 10 minutes to get dried off and changed between the swim and bike portion. Knowing the Y and being familiar with traveling from the pool to the locker-room and to the bike studio takes the edge off as you already knew where you were going.

The shirts given out are top notch and this year they provided a red flannel design buff (I’ve also heard these referred to as ‘neck gators’) to keep your neck warm. The Red Flannel Run has also always offered a bountiful breakfast after the run and I now can say the associated Y-Tri does as well. The Red Flannel Run itself is always fun. And yes, this year it did seem to be an appropriate 3.1 mile run.

Next and last in the Y series is the Pieathlon. There is only one question I have right now for this race, what pie will I have afterward?

Pieathlon

by Eric Conrad

Pieathlon
400 meter Pool Swim, 12 mile Outdoor Bike, 5K Outdoor Run
Waukee, Iowa
Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Pieathlon used a serpentine swim formatThe Waukee Pieathlon is the perfect continued transition for the beginner triathlete who wants to expand their experiences and build upon the two previous races in the this series. This race is a 400-meter swim, 12-mile bike, and 5K run. In this race, the competitor gets to experience being timed from start to finish including transitions, an indoor pool serpentine swim launch, and an outdoor bike course. If the YMCA added a fourth race that included a 750-meter open water swim they would be able to market the series as a great novice to sprint triathlon series.

In the first two triathlons, swimmers jumped into the pool and had a half-lane to themselves to complete the swim portion unabated. In the Pieathlon, eight swim lanes were used. Competitors formed one line according to how quickly they would complete the distance. Faster swimmers to the front, slower swimmers to the back. One at a time each swimmer entered into lane one, swam down and back, and then moved to the next lane until the eighth lane was completed, to then exit the water and scamper to the transition area where their bike awaited. Those advanced swimmers who have mastered the flip turn would launch into the next lane impressively underwater once a lane was completed, while like me, most would ‘bob’ our heads under the lane divider. Swimmers were well aware that there was a swimmer ahead of them and one behind them. I ended up catching up to two swimmers, who at the wall had allowed me to pass them.

For the Pieathlon, transition and both the bike and run legs are outdoorsAlong with swimming with others, the building triathlete at this race now gets to experience an outdoor biking leg. The first two tris in the series used the indoor studio bikes at each location. Now we get to use our own bikes on an outdoor course. The course they plotted used the Raccoon River Valley Trail that runs through town. There is a small bit of riding on the street but once on the trail it was a flat, out and back route.

It was threatening to rain, and while it did not rain during the bike there was a tail wind on the way out and a head wind to fight on the way back. Also, there was one muddy puddle to navigate, light gravel patches, and a handful of roads that crossed the path, so we had to make sure we were aware of any impending vehicles. There were volunteers helping get you to the trail and some stationed at the road intersections helping contend with any of those impending vehicles.

At the turnaround there was a sign that said something about a turnaround, but it was at a road and between navigating the gravel, checking for cars, and racing my bike it wasn’t 100% clear to me if this was exactly the turnaround or if the sign was giving notice the turnaround was up ahead. As the lone biker in the area, I was about 10 feet past the volunteer when I asked if this was the turnaround. He said yes. He didn’t say anything as I approached, and if I didn’t verify at that time I may have kept going.

In a lot of large races there are a lot of athletes on the course to take cues from, and you have a lot of trained volunteers helping. In smaller races, it is not unusual to find yourself alone, relying on volunteers, maps, or signage to get you through the course.

The Pieathlon run went through the neighborhood by the Waukee YMCAThose who participated in the Y-Tri have already run outside in the cold. There was no ice to contend with here, but some of us at the end did get rained on. The course ran through the neighborhood and was relatively flat.

There is a piece of the course I cannot comment on, as I missed a sign somewhere along the way and went off course. They have volunteers getting you to the course and a water stop in the middle, but it is mostly just signage and your study of the maps they provided beforehand to keep you on course. I and another runner, Joe, did make if back on course and we finished. Based on my time and my average pace we might have covered at least another 1.5 miles before we realized we were off course and found our way back on.

Joe and I were running by ourselves. Joe, at about 14 years old and the faster of us, was a couple blocks ahead. I think we both thought something was up at the same time as he slowed and I sped up to catch him. We agreed we were off course. Neither of us knew the area but we were both determined to get back on track. Once we did, Joe's father, on his bike (I believe also a participate in the race that day) came riding back through the run course looking for him. They called out to each other, which is also when Joe pulled away from me to the finish.

As promised by the race organizers, there was pie at the finish. I had apple.

Epilogue

With Des Moines in contention for hosting an Ironman, triathlon has gotten a boost in mindshare as one of predominant racing brands shines its light on our capital. If you are thinking about starting to think about competing in triathlons, the DMYMCA Triathlon series provides a great series of stepping stones to ease into the sport as it introduces new race elements with each one.

Because of my side adventure with Joe at the Pieathlon my ranking for that race fell, and it of course will affected my overall ranking in the series. I'll participate in the series next year as it is a great series for elites and the beginner alike.

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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on mountain biking and long-distance gravel riding. She still has a soft spot in her heart for weird multi-sport events like indoor triathlon and aquabike. She also teaches indoor cycling.