Ann Arbor Triathlon
Largely because it’s the first race of the season in South East Michigan, the Ann Arbor triathlon is always well-attended and attracts a quality field of 400+ athletes. The only thing that prevents numbers being higher is the fact that the race is invariably on the same day as the Racing for Recovery half-Ironman down in Monroe that attracts the State’s long course specialists.
The race is held in the Pinckney State Recreation Area which is twenty miles or so North West of Ann Arbor. It is longer than the sprint distance and is really closer to an Olympic distance event in terms of its difficulty. This is due to the five mile run, four of which are on the Potowatami trail and there are a couple of nasty hills too.
The swim is held in Halfmoon Lake and begins with an in the water start from the eastern shore. Competitors swim a clockwise, triangular course, heading slightly south of west for around 350 meters to the first buoy. Swimmers then turn north for 100 meters or so to the second buoy before turning east back to the shore. Like most races, this one has an 8:00AM start, so you will usually find yourself swimming directly into the rising sun on the final leg, making navigation a bit tricky.
As you exit the water and cross the timing mat, you come across the first nasty bit of the race: a two hundred yard run up a steepish hill to the transition area which is set up directly to the north of the parking lot at the entrance to the park. (Click on the picture to make it bigger!)
I find the bike leg a fairly unpleasant experience for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s difficult to settle into a rhythm as there are a few flat bits or long drags where you can settle into an aero position and just crank away – none of hills are difficult but, they do disrupt your rhythm. Secondly, the roads are pretty awful, it’s not a course for your brand- new, carbon fiber wheels and, if you’re in one of the later waves, you need to be careful of other people swerving to avoid potholes.
You bike out of the park and head south on Hankerd for about two miles down to North Territorial Rd. There’s a nasty little hill on this section that’s a bit steeper and longer than it first looks and I normally have to reach for the small chainring on this part. You turn right on North Territorial and you then get to enjoy the next six miles or so: it’s flattish and both North Territorial and Hadley Rd are in a reasonable state of repair. The only tricky bit is in the village of Unadilla when you have to negotiate two ninety-degree bends in short order. Beware. I have done this race four times and every year someone has wiped out on this corner.
A mile or so past the village, you turn right again on Doyle Rd which after a couple of miles becomes Patterson Lake Rd and a couple of miles after that you turn onto Hankerd and head back towards the park entrance. This last four or five miles has very little to recommend it: all of the roads are fairly severely pot-holed, there are several nasty little hills and you’ll probably pass at least half a dozen people on the side of the road who are trying to fix punctures and buckled wheels. If you’ve gone too fast on the first half of the bike, this is where you’ll start to pay for it.
In summary, the first two miles are fairly unpleasant, the next six or so are good fun and the last five or so make you wish you’d borrowed somebody else’s bike!
When you get back to transition, you head out onto the run. The first mile or so is pretty easy and the biggest and steepest hill is about a mile and a half into the run which causes almost everyone outside the top 10% of the field to slow to a walk. Once you’re at the top, you’ve got about half a mile to the first feed station and a couple of hundred yards later, you turn on to a dirt road. This is about the only place on the cross- country section of the run where you can easily overtake, so make the most of it.
After about a mile, you turn right onto a trail and the next mile is about the worst bit of the run: there’s a couple of tough hills and several sections where you’ve really got to watch where you put your feet. You enter a clearing where you will find the second feed station and from here you’ve got a mile to go. The first few hundred yards are on dirt trails and then you turn onto Hankard Rd. There’s a nasty quarter mile or so uphill and the road then flattens out a bit until you get to the park entrance. At this point, there’s a quarter mile to go and it’s all downhill. To summarize: the first mile’s easy, the second is hard, the third is easy-ish, the fourth is horrible and the fifth wouldn’t be too bad if you weren’t going flat out!
Let’s summarize the pros and cons of the race …
First the positives ….
- It’s a well organized race by Elite Endeavors
- They have nice trophies if you win!
- There are enough porta-potties!
- It attracts most of the top short course triathletes in the State, so you get a realistic idea of how well you are doing versus the other contenders in your age group.
The not-so-goods ….
- It clashes with the half IM in Monroe so you have to pick one or the other
- The weather …. You can almost guarantee it will be the first hot weekend of the year and twenty degrees warmer on the day of the race than you are really used to!
- The potholes!
- It’s not a well-balanced race: it definitely favors runners and, to a smaller extent, swimmers over cyclists.
(NB .... I'll always complain that any race that doesn't have a massively over-distance bike leg favors runners and swimmers!)