Counting Boats and Eating Pancakes…

2014 Square Lake Triathlon; Stillwater, MN; September 8, 2013
(by Matt Backmann)

What a tremendous weekend! It started on Friday with a drive down to a house that David and Nancy Lewis, Sandi Heegard, and Brandi and myself rented for the weekend.  This may have been one of the best ideas that we have had for leading up to a drive away race as something needed to change in my preparation for events. I have chronicled all year my training and race execution and felt that there was some performance that was being left on the table, especially at longer than sprint events. It has been a year of improvement, not only physically but also mentally, and a this was another step along that journey.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone for the kind words of encouragement and support. I would list everyone but would likely forget someone that has been there for me. In general, without the support of you, the members of the club, I don’t think I could have gotten to this point this year.

Race Prep:

The training between the Maple Grove Olympic race and Square Lake was not about building fitness or getting faster, it was based on recovery and keeping an edge. I told myself to eat, rest, and when in doubt about what to do, eat and rest! I had four runs, the longest and hardest was 6 miles 8 days out. Four bike rides as well, none really difficult just a bit of race paced tempo. As well as four swims, one long swim on Labor Day and rest being normal intervals, nothing too fast or strenuous.

The Friday before Square Lake Brandi and myself met Nancy and David Lewis at the house we rented south of Stillwater. It was a beautiful location on the St. Croix river. We got together, decided on a grocery list and headed off to the store. We discussed what to eat for the next two days. My two-day out menu has varied from light and cleansing to normal and plant based. I took this as an opportunity to try something different. That night at dinner we had pancakes, big beautiful pancakes. At home when we have pancakes it is a couple, maybe three. This escalated to 5, plus eggs, and bacon! Everything is better with bacon. Add to that a cup or so of fresh fruit and I felt as though I could explode! After dinner and a little cleaning we all headed out to the dock and chatted as Nancy, Brandi, and myself enjoyed a bottle of wine.

Our fridge in the house we rented…


Saturday was a little more normal food wise. Breakfast of oatmeal before heading up to Square Lake to watch Lisa in the relay short course. We got there just in time to see her head out on the bike. We hung around transition and watched people go by… There is some amazing action at bike out/in, and not all of it good. We met up with Sandi and headed back to Stillwater to enjoy the day. Our pre-race “workout” came after lunch (club house sandwich) and the trek up the stairs in downtown Stillwater. I don’t know how high it climbs but it does get the legs and heart moving!

Here is a view from the top..

Image 1

After our stay in Stillwater it was back to the house to prep for an early dinner and restful night. Sandi and I jumped into the river to cool off, it was so refreshing even though the water clarity was not the greatest. We sat and watched more boats go by, guessing at the cost, and marveling at the amount of traffic on the water. After a short bike ride to make certain everything was functioning it was dinner, Salmon and pasta. David and I settled down and watched Tommy Boy before finding the ladies out on the dock. Bed time was 9:00 and out I went.

Race day: 3:53 am I woke up, 7 minutes before the first alarm was set. Should be a good sign when I can sleep well before a race. Had another breakfast of oatmeal with homemade granola and it was time to load up and head to Square Lake. David, Sandi, and myself arrived at 6:00 am and claimed our spots in transition. With only 170 racers it was easy to find a spot that was out of the way, at the end of a rack, and easy to find. I wandered down to packet pickup but they were not ready.


The plan was for a 34:00 minute swim, 21.0mph on the bike and a 1:45 half marathon. If all went well I felt capable of 4:57:xx. In general, I wanted sub 5:00:00 anything below that would be a huge success and fulfill one of my goals for the year.

The swim: Seeded myself with a straight shot out to the far turn buoy. The start was a little congested but I swam with wide elbows and got some room. Made my two laps and caught a lot of people from the previous two waves. I did start to burp up my gel at a couple of moments on the swim so I dialed it back a little bit to keep everything down.

35:41 for the swim at a measured distance of 1.25 miles. Not great but definitely acceptable. 1:37.32/100 yards. 1:41 outside of the goal.


T1: Rather routine. I reminded myself to stay calm and not rush. Use the transition as a timeout and gather myself. I headed for bike out and did a semi-good flying mount.

Bike: Control, control, you must learn control! ~ Yoda

My goal was to bike at a pace that was consistent and manageable. I did not want to concern myself with what others were doing around me. I told myself not to race people up the hills but maintain steady power, just below being able to feel the pressure in my legs. The one area I allowed a little push was preparing for the big decent with the 90° turn. I want to see the corner and pick my own line. Both times down the hill I lead a couple of people and maintained my control. I also used this decent to stretch out a little bit as I was dealing with some discomfort in my back.

I was amazed how some people rode the hills. Powering up the first 1/4 only to sputter out and allow me to catch and pass them at the halfway point. Spinning circles in my easiest gear was just enough to make me work for the bigger climbs on the day. The hydration and nutrition plan was fluid every 5 miles, one bottle per lap (20 ounces) and one gel every 10 miles. The plan seemed to work out well as I never felt dry or out of energy.

1800 feet of climbing over 54.32 miles. 2:38:14 or 20.5 (20.7 on the watch)mph. 4:xx outside of the goal.


T2: Shouting at people wandering transition is never fun. I have a hard enough time keeping within myself after the bike that I don’t need to bark at people chillin’ in my transition spot. It only cost me a couple of seconds and did not require any hip checks! The guy that drafted me the last two miles up to transition out sprinted me to beat me into T2 (not that I tried) was interesting and let me know that my mind was in the right place for the run. On with the shoes, grabbed a couple of gels, hat, race belt, and started a trot to run out.

The Run: And really, this is where I wanted the race to start. I invested a lot of time to my run in the off-season. After Square Lake last year where I walked a large amount I did not want to walk as much this year. I’ve had glimpses of goodness on the run this season but not at this distance. I also knew that I had an 1:35:xx half marathon from Fargo this spring so the goal was to be within 10 (10%) minutes of that time. I started off at a slower than normal pace for the first mile. I also had my auto-lap turned off so I would only have the total pace for the run, not the per mile pace. I feel this was a good idea as it can be a little discouraging looking at the per mile pace falling which would breed further doubt. 7:30ish for the first mile and it looked like that held for the first 7 miles.

Image 10

The first two miles of the course are brutal. Big long hills that tax the legs going up and coming down. I kept the cadence high, feet low and concentrated on keeping as much stress out of my legs as possible. I saw people ahead of me and worked on that gap. I took water at every aid station and dumped ice in the top as it was available. The ice helped calm a muscle ache that developed shortly after the start of the run. This may have been a direct result of the back discomfort on the bike. Numb the pain was the plan and it worked well. The first gel was consumed at mile three and the last was planned for either mile seven or eight depending.

One thing I noted this year was that I saw the leader heading back a lot later than last year. I counted back and saw David third or fourth on the road and was happy for him. I knew that he was right there, where he should be. Made the turn around and counted myself 17th on the road. Felt really good but starting to get low on energy.

The run back to the turn at mile 10ish was the most difficult. The pain in the abs became a little overwhelming. I negotiated with myself a thirty second walk break to stretch it out a bit and jab some ice into the muscle. It got better and hopefully saved a little time overall. I made my way to the turn and knew that it was going to be a mentally and physically difficult to keep progressing back to the finish line but I kept making progress. At mile 10 the average pace had dropped to 7:50 with the walking of a couple aid stations and the negotiated 30 second walk. I did allow myself to do a little math in my head and figured I had to keep it under a 8:00/mile average pace to break 5:00.

The last three miles were a blur. I passed two more people, got passed by one. I crested the last hill on the course with 5 minutes to get in the gate and make it to the finish line. I figured it was close to .75 miles but had no idea. In the gate, down the hill, tore up my quads on the final push and saw the fabulous Headwaters Tri support crew and sprinted down the finisher chute. I stopped the watch as I crossed the line and it said 4:59. I had no idea of the seconds but was relieved and ecstatic that it said under the goal time.

Image 9

1:43:31, 7:58/mile. With the 500 feet of elevation

4:59:58 for the total time. 16th overall, 5th in the 35-39 age group. I really cut it close but in reality I was happy as I could be because I did accomplish the main goal for the race which was to RUN the run. It was also a 27:08 improvement over last year where I was 74th overall. All three legs were an improvement by significant amounts. 1:45ish on the swim. 11 minutes on the bike, and 14 minutes on the run.

Looking spent… and I was!

Image 7





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s