More than just a race report …

(by Matt Backmann)
Door County Half Iron July 20, 2014


The easiest thing to say about my preparation for the middle of the 2014 season is that it was lacking. I had not regained the drive from 2013 and I understood by this point that 2014 would be a down year. It started late winter and early spring when I noticed that there was a lack of desire to get to the pool, ride on the trainer, and run. I would skip workouts for days and had weeks of training that were strength and flexibility based. I was fine with this at the time and hoped that once the weather got nicer I would find that motivation.

June saw my worst performance in a race, not just a 70.3 race, but any race of any kind. I gave up that day at Liberty and was a little disgusted with myself and my mental state of mind. After that point I started to get a little bit more on track. The long rides outside were beginning to feel like a required activity mental and brought me some peace in my weeks. The long runs were not so devilish anymore, and the swimming was coming around as I found the lakes more agreeable.

I still knew that my hours week to week of training were lower than the prior year but I was finding better consistency than the beginning of the season. I headed off to Green Bay and Door County for the race with no delusions of improving my time only managing it to the best of my ability and capability. I made a point after Liberty to include some race-day prep workouts. Everything was timed and done for several days leading up to the workout to try and figure out what was causing me the most issues on race day.

The Thursday before the race Brandi and I went to Whitefish Dunes State Park, probably my second favorite beach in the world and I got the opportunity to swim in the lake with 2-3 foot swells and waves. It was not a required activity, as the Bay of Green Bay is generally a little calmer (and warmer) but the 53º water temperature and the waves gave me confidence going in that big body of water for a race. We also ran from the parking lot to “the hill” at the race site. The next day I went for a bike ride on the trail in Green Bay and logged some good miles making certain that the bike was prepped for action.


Pancakes were on the menu again for Friday night. Something I took from David on our trip down to Square Lake in 2013 and since that was likely my best 70.3ish distance race up to that time I decided to continue with the tradition. Saturday evening’s dinner was Salmon and Rice, something that I felt confident in. Sunday morning I had my usual oatmeal, very plain, and brought a piece of peanut butter bread and banana to have at the transition area.

I prepped my area as usual and withdrew to have a nice swim warm up. I had a mental time of around 5:15 as being a best case scenario based on being honest with myself about my training and preparation.


Swim -> 36:25 21/90 in age group

I felt really good about the swim. The course is a big rectangle, the entire first portion of the course I was next to another person in my age group and we were almost stroke for stroke with each other. It made it like a game as our swim strokes were so very closely timed. At the first turn buoy I was on the inside and could pick a better line. I did need to negotiate another swimmer from a prior wave as were were beginning to take in the back marker at that point. Nothing too stressful, just a hand on the hip to gentle slide them out of the way. take the short leg up the rectangle and back down the other side. Constantly passing people from prior waves and needing to weave in and out of bodies. I am certain that this added a little distance to the swim but it is the case with that many athletes heading out before me.

T1 -> 57 seconds 2/90 in age group.

Wetsuit strippers are kinda fun! And i love my quick transition times. I don’t fumble and look for things and I think it speaks to being prepared in transition and not having extra clutter around the transition spot.

I also enjoy the flying mount that I have learned as I can generally save several seconds over those that fiddle around at the mount line.

Bike -> 2:38:35 21.2 ave, 33/90 in age group.

The bike ride was relatively uneventful. I did have a stomach cramp for the entire ride that would come and go but it never felt like it hampered by desire to pedal or my ability to bike. The goal was to stay within my training. Bike specific training and speed work was one of the areas that I lacked this year. I could tell that my cycling legs did not have great strength and I knew that I would not be best served by over taxing my legs on some of the hills. I brought along two water bottles and planned to drink at least some water at each aid station and dump the rest on my body to help stay cool.

I don’t know what else to say about the bike other than I rode with what felt like consistent power. I passed a bunch of people and a few passed me.

T2 -> 2:29 53/90

Everything went fine, I just need to stop to use the restroom

Run -> 1:58:37 9:03 31/90

The run started off as planned, maybe a little fast. The first mile was a 7:18, which was probably too fast. From there the plan was to take a Gu at miles 3, 6, 9, and maybe 11.5 (depending on aid stations). From there that mile splits started getting slower and slower until I reached the top of “the bluff”. There was a fair amount of walking and dealing with a gut issue that I just cannot seem to figure out in a race. around mile 10 I stopped to use the restroom again and my splits returned to the 8:05-8:30 range. Finally I was able to run!

Made my way down the hill and into the finish chute to clock a 5:17:05 32/90 in the age group and a welcome return to a “decent” race.

The next two weeks… I took a day off of training and headed back to Park Rapids on Tuesday. Got home just in time for the time trial and that was a good thing. I did not run again until the following Monday as I felt drained and wanted to just focus a bit on biking and swimming.

Northwoods week,

The call came around 9:30 on Thursday morning, my father was not well. The last words I remember my mother saying was “dad would want you to do your race”. She said this not knowing what would happen over the next 8 hours. I left for Green Bay but was two hours too late to see my father one last time. He passed away at 5:05pm on Thursday August 7th. I spent the rest of the weekend in Green Bay, helping my Mother, Brothers, and Sister with the loss.

I remember seeing in Dad’s eyes the sense of pride in what I had chosen as my leisure activity. I remembered the first time he saw me race in Green Bay 2012 and in 2013 when he walked into Murphy Park to watch me finish. Eyes glistening with pride as I ran down the finish chute. It was only for a brief number of seconds that he would see me but he made the effort to get there despite the hills, walking, standing, and difficulty he had getting to that spot that day. In 2014, he was not able to come, he had been put on oxygen a week prior and was starting to show signs of weakness. I miss him. I missed seeing him at Door County in 2014, and I hoped that he would have found a way down that hill one more time.

Brandi and I headed back to Park Rapids on Sunday and on Monday I completed the Northwoods triathlon course. My mind was not into the race but I remembered my mother’s words… “Dad would want you to do your race”. So I did.

The rest of the week was spent contemplating what had all happened, I tried to get some immediate projects done at work, and whether or not to race in Duluth. Knowing that we would spend the next weekend in Green Bay with the memorial service I did fit in some workouts in but the drive was most definitely gone.

Back and forth for a week and a half until I received a call from our hotel asking if we would confirm our registration for Saturday night. I made the choice, with the help of Brandi and my mother, finish what you started.

Between Door County and SuperiorMan I had logged 20.5 hours of training in five weeks. The vast majority of that was in the two weeks immediately following Door County. Needless to say I tempered my expectations; however, I knew that I would be rested, physically, not mentally though.


Superiorman, Duluth, MN, August 24, 2014

SuperiorMan Pre-Race

I still had my Pancakes on Friday Night. I ate and ate and was completely full. That is were the normal prep ended. Saturday lunch we stopped at a cafe in Grand Rapids and had a tasty little turkey sandwich. It was one of the better sandwiches I have had, and I eat a lot of sandwiches!

We got to Duluth and went to the DECC to check-in, find my spot in transition and drop off the bike. I don’t know if my mind was 100% committed to racing at this point but I was in a city that I enjoy and was putting forth the effort. After bike check-in we walked to the harbor / bay and took a look at the swim exit. The wind had already picked up and was out of the North-Northwest. We walked over the bay lift bridge to Canal Park and headed off to find dinner. Our dinner stop was Canal Park Brewery. Brandi and I discovered it on our trip through Duluth on August 10th. We had stopped just for a beer at that time while we waited to rendezvous with her parents and our kids.

This trip was a beer flight of Greedy Bastard (Black IPA), Nut Hatchet (Brown), Stoned Surf (IPA), and Wetsuit Malfunction (Wit). I had half a pretzel, big pretzel, and a half a beer can chicken with wild rice and a taste of everyone else’s dish, I washed it down with a regular sized Stoned Surf.


Up at 3:45, had some leftover Blueberry Bread/cake, ok it was more cake than bread, a banana, and a couple ounces of dark chocolate. Got everyone else up and shuffled them off to the car for the 25 minute drive into Duluth. I did stop at the local McDonalds for a cup of coffee.

At the DECC by a little before 5:00am and I had plenty of time to get the rest of my transition area setup. I was in wave 2 and even though they said the transition area was closing at 6:30 it was not really enforced from what I could see. Taped my 6 gu’s to the top tube and put my rice cake in the bento box. I also put a momento of my father into the bento box (his money clip that he had forever). He was going to ride with me today.

I ate one rice cake I was waiting to get out of transition. Just after 6:00 (I think) they announced that the swim course was going to be shortened due to the weather. There were 3 foot rollers coming into the canal and it was dangerous to anchor the boat in the harbor for us to jump off. They left the boat moored to the dock and removed the back leg of the swim course. WE still had to go out there, it was safe enough for that, but the massive boat could not. Oh well, it might be the first time in my racing career I was disappointed with a shortened swim. The swim was always my area of concern. As I was putting on my wetsuit 15 minutes before my wave started it ripped! a small 2” rip in the shoulder. At least two positives were going to come out of this race… I would have a new wetsuit before next race season and Brandi was going to walk over the Canal Park Brewery and get me a “Wetsuit Malfunction” t-shirt and growler. Too bad they were sold out of both!

No time goals, no delusions, just finish what you started.

The Race

Swim -> 26:27 shortened to .95 mi as recorded by my watch 73/239 Overall

Onto the boat I went in the “Fast” wave. At the time it would have been the correct wave and who knows, it may still have been. I attempted to seed myself toward the front of the time trial start as they wanted the fastest to go last. However, everyone else had the same idea as me. I jump off in the last third of those on the boat.

There were two bad portions of the swim, the first was within the first 150 yards as the wave one people were attempting to crossover the course to the exit and the wave two athletes were trying to get into the loop. Someone crawled over the top of my legs, later revealed to be Headwaters’ own Ryan Rogers! The rest of that area was relatively low stress but there was a fair amount of time spotting other people and trying to not cause a collision.

The second area of concern was on the back side of the loop from the 3 foot rollers, not being able to see the turn buoy most of the time, the water crashing over my head and forcing partial or missed breathes, and the cold water coming in from the lake it was a challenge. Also, I had my first brush with getting kicked on the swim. The bodies were moving around in the water so much it was near impossible to pick a straight line. At one point a foot came out of nowhere to just skim my nose. If his toenails would have been 1/8” longer I would have had a cut!

Out of the water and up the nifty little ramp and off on my trot to transition.

T1 -> 2:19 had to be in the top 10% of the day as there are a lot in the 3:00-5:00 range

I did stop once out of the swim exit and in an open area and completely took off my wetsuit. With over a 200 yard run to my spot it might have been a struggle to get it off once dry.

Nothing else out of the ordinary happened.

Bike -> 2:41:44 20.8 56/239

On the way out of transition I heard Jerry MacNiel say, “number 11, Matt Backmann… Matt won the Lakes to Pines Triathlon this year.” and then I was off. The bike course is rather odd. The first five miles are spent weaving in and out of streets in Duluth Downtown and the Lakewalk, in an attempt to get the milage up. There is no rhythm to be gained and not settling in on the aerobats. Once out on London Road there are no more turns until Two Harbors; however, London Road is in need of repair on the shoulder and Highway 35 is not that much better. Total time up to Two Harbors was 1:34 for 27 miles. The way back from Two Harbors was 1:07. The wind and the hills on the way up that made it slow was also the thing that made it so much fun on the way back. I caught Rich around mile 45, he had started the wave prior to me, and it was not easy to spot him… Seriously, we need to get him some Headwaters stuff. I had two Gu’s on the way up to Two Harbor, My Peanut butter and jelly rice cake after the turn in Two Harbors, and two more gu’s on the way back to Duluth.

The way back to Duluth was spent passing people from the prior wave and not getting too overconfident or complacent because of the speed. I didn’t need a watch to tell me that I was moving fast.

T2 -> 1:22 another fast transition time

Even though I had to fix one of my shoes it was still a fairly quick and successful transition.

Run -> 1:52:19 8:35/mile 82/ 239

First mile started off at a 7:36/mile. More within reason to where I want to start my runs at given my current ability. someday I want them to be faster, but for right now, this is about right. I felt good on my feet. Nothing hurt, no weird gut issues, and no perceived stress (outside of the normal racing stress). I plugged along through miles 2 and onto three before I took my first walking aid station to get some Gu in me and water. I took some water at every aid station but for the most part, a lot of it went over my shoulder and onto my back.

The run course is a loop around Canal park (flat) up onto the Lakewalk (slight and relatively shallow hills), down to the DECC area for a long out and back on a lonely road (flat), then back to Canal Park, Lakewalk, before finishing in the park next to the DECC / Aquarium.

Miles 3-9 were in that 8:15 to 8:30 range. The slight hills on the Lakewalk are sneaky in that they don’t look that big but it wasn’t something I could take at a normal stride in the second half of the run. Miles 10, 11, and 12 were in the 9:00 -9:30 range as I was struggling with the Lakewalk hills. Mile 13 down the last hill toward the finish was back into a 8:39/mile. The best part is, aside from the aid stations, I ran the whole thing. My gut did not protest, and there were no concerns. The biggest issue on the run felt like a lack of fitness. I may have been a little short on my nutrition at the end but at the time it felt like a less is more sort of race. I had three Gu’s on the run and that felt like just enough.

Overall -> 5:04:09 54/239 and considering the swim was about 10 minutes short, I’m not opposed with this time.


I walked out of the finish area to find Brandi, Noelle, and the offspring and waited for Rich to come in. He was gaining on me during the run and I knew it wouldn’t be long. After Rich was done we moved back to the finish area and found Ryan and chatted for a bit. I felt a little anti-social and all I wanted was the Salamini Mommy from Northern Waters Smokehaus, a shower, and get all my stuff back into the car. At that point I was mentally done.

I learned a lot about myself over the past month. I learned where Triathlon ranks in my life and I learned that it is important to me but that there are other things in life that definitely take precedence over triathlon. I also learned that even if I am having an off year, I can still enjoy the sport for what it gives back to me. For training 1600 less miles, 180 less hours this season I still accomplished something that I didn’t think possible 4 seasons ago when I started triathlon. I got to cross the finish line as a race winner, and as part of that, I got to have someone announce over a loud speaker that I was a winner of a race. Something that did not happen last year, despite the heavy leaves of training.

It has been a journey, one that I hope to continue; however, for now, in this moment. I am giving the running and swimming a break. How long it lasts, I don’t know. However, I will know when the time is right to get back after it. I want to ride my bike for the next few months and enjoy fall in Minnesota. I want to get outside more in the winter and enjoy everything that the winter season has to offer.

I had every intent this year to expand to a full Ironman in 2015. That is still up in the air at this point; however, if registration day falls on one of those days when I am ready to prepare for that commitment then I will sign up. What will my triathlon season look like next year? I don’t know, but whatever it is, it will be what it will be.

Thank you for reading, I know it has been long…


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