Race day forecasts were all over the board. Some sites called for severe storms all morning with an 80 percent chance. Some called for only a 10 percent chance. Some sites saw storms coming in over night and moving out around 6 A.M., just in time to get the pros in the water and on the way. Not to mention, this portion of Kansas has experienced significant snowfall in early spring and below normal temperatures, so athletes were very nervous as to how cold the water was going to be.
Triathletes, fear not. Mother Nature was a triathlete fan on June 9th and rain came and ended by 4 A.M., roads dried by the time the pros made it our of T1, winds stayed around 10 to 12 mph, water temperature was at 70 degrees and air temperatures stayed below 80 for much of the day. As far as triathlon weather goes in Kansas, it does not get any better.
Your favorite EverymanTri.com writer toed the line for the 5th time of the 6 year history for HIM KS. From my experiences (feel free to check out my personal recap HERE to your computer screen, here is what we thought about the 2013 IM 70.3 Kansas Triathlon.
Pricing for WTC Ironman Half’s are pretty standard. It can range from early bird pricing of $200 to $275 the week of the race. Obviously the sooner you can sign up the better. But, if you live in the area where travel expenses are not really an issue and you’re unsure about your schedule, waiting a few months to sign up won’t break the bank.
Also, the HIM KS has never sold out. Numbers have fluctuated around 1500 +/- 100 athletes for the 6 years it’s existed. There’s really no worry about not having a spot if you wait until the last minute. That being said, there’s no telling what WTC might do to bring in more numbers or what good conditions such as 2013 will do for good word of mouth to increase numbers.
Checking in consists of getting your timing chip, race number stickers, athlete bracelet and signing your life away if you get hurt. It also consists of dropping your bike off at least the day before the race. Usually.
With severe weather on approach, the RD opted to allow race day bike check in. This allowed athletes to rest easy that their bike would stay safe and dry with them instead of leaving it overnight in T1. Not to mention the hassle of lugging the bike around to check in and dropping it off, walking another half mile to T1 from check in. It was nice to see the human side of the organizers and realize that the rules are there for guidelines and common sense can alter the runs when required.
What wasn’t fun was the wait in line. No one wants to get sunburned the day before the race, but if you didn’t bring sunscreen and went early afternoon on Saturday, you would have had 45 minutes to an hour to sit out in the sun. Past HIM KS check ins never took this long. It must have been cosmic fate that brought hundreds to check in at the exact same time.
Web Site / Instructions / Course Info
The WTC is pretty standardized when it comes to the sites. They get the course maps out early and post all of the rules well ahead of the race. Athlete guides were sent out around 2 weeks out for athletes to mull over and ask questions.
The email frequency was somewhat low considering the length and magnitude of the race. Most athletes had to wonder to the Facebook page for questions and answers. The reassuring part was that for the most part, admins were quick with answers to most posts on Facebook. Many athletes had answers within a few days to their questions. The down side is to using Facebook as your means of communication is people having to sift through comments and posts to get to the answers. Race day bike drop off was posted on Facebook only and started as word of mouth and later verified by admins. It would have been more comforting to get an official email with that change so athletes were not sweating having their bikes ready on Friday or Saturday.
For anything standard about the race, the website was pretty informative and reliable. Wave starts, schedule and athlete info was all there at your fingertips. They just had to be aware of the Facebook page to get timely news and changes.
Location / Parking / Access
Clinton Lake is a Kansas State Park. The entrance is usually a toll entrance, which causes a backup at check-in arrival and race day arrival. Now, they do not charge for those, but you still have to stop at the gate and state why you are there. Race day triathletes just drive through, but it’s a narrow entrance and a few turns to get back to the main road. It causes a little bit of traffic delays if you’re not ready for it.
Parking was allowed right next to the IM village area instead of a half mile away as in years past for check in. It would have been nice to know before parking, but what are you going to do? Race day, everyone was directed to park in the same parking loop as in years past. It was a huge grass field and with rain the night before, it was a little muddy after hundreds of cars drove over it to park. It’s nothing anyone can control and there is no nearby location for paved parking, so it is what it is.
The real issue is how long it takes to walk from parking to T2, and then T2 to T1. With a two transition race, triathletes had to be prepared to split transition gear into the right combo to get the right gear in the right place. So, athletes lugged everything from parking to T2, which was maybe a half mile. Then, they lugged T1 gear from T2, which was maybe another half mile. In the end, people are racing 70.3 miles, so walking 1 to 2 miles is only an issue for arrival logistics and timing to allow to get ready before T1 closes.
Spectators also needed to be in the park by 6:30 A.M. before they closed off car access for bikers to exit the park. In reality cars were still coming in as bikers were riding out, so it’s just a matter of time allotment to get from parking (the same area as athlete parking) to spectator areas.
Swim start and T1 are the best draws for spectating and the T2 and the run course offered up to 8 chances to see athletes running around. As far as spectating goes, the run course at HIM KS doesn’t get much better. Campsites line the run and allow people to set up shop and watch people suffer. It’s not easy to get in, get your crew and gear into place, but once you are there, the run course is a bonanza of spectation.
Port-a-potties It’s safe to say that any triathlete wants more port-a-potties. The T1 area had around 12 to 15 lined up and towards the start of the waves, athletes were looking at 15 to 20 minutes of standing in line. Again, it was a matter of being organized and proper time management to get that last minute pit-stop.
There were 15 or so around T2, but once you left T2 for the swim start, those weren’t an option before the race.
The Actual Course The course has been pretty standard since 2009. The swim is all within Clinton Lake. Normally in this marina area for the swim, the morning breeze does have an affect on the water turbulence to create some light waves on a normal day. It won’t be as smooth as glass, but 5 times out of 6, it’s very swim-able.
The bike course is out in the Kansas countryside south of Clinton Lake. It covers roads of other local shorter triathlons, so the locals know those roads, hills and winds well. Normally there is a strong northern breeze that makes stretches of this bike leg painful. If you were lucky enough to race this year, the wind was relatively quiet and not a real issue. The talk is also always about the hills. Racers will see over 1500 feet of elevation gain over the ride, so be ready. The only other item for the bike that sticks out is the stretch on road 1023 where ship seal dictates riders stay in the middle of the lanes to stay on smooth road. This causes issues with passing and safety when slower riders don’t stay to the right and force faster riders to pass on the wrong side or having to cross the center line to pass.
The run course, as mentioned before, is all within the campground area by the marina. There is only one major hill that is ran twice and otherwise flat as a pancake. Spectators have access to hoses and sprinklers, helping out with the heat and trees provide a small respite here and there while suffering on the course. The pavement is relatively good condition without many potholes and cracks for tripping hazards. Aid stations were spaced out to catch people coming and going and at least every 1 to 1.5 miles, triathletes had access to water, sports drinks, gels, chomps, oranges, bananas, cola and ice. There was no shortage of runner support on the course. Another note worth mentioning is the support of the volunteers. People that don’t get paid, but for whatever reason come out and offer support and encouragement. They had fun with their jobs and always eager to help any athletes. HIM KS dug up great volunteer support and that makes a huge difference after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles.
The announcer kept in constant contact with racers and spectators. The speakers were appropriately turned up and facing the athletes and start area so you could hear and understand the directions from most anywhere around the start area.
When they announced that as long as you make the bike cut-off back into the state park, you would be allowed to run the course no matter how long it took you and they would not drag you off for missing the finish cutoff, it set in that at least someone cares. In the day and age when dollars drive the ship, it was nice to hear a little informal vindication that organizers do care, a little bit.
Gone was the yellow-brick-road that’s synonymous with Kansas and the Wizard of Oz. Maybe it got lost in storage or had hosted its last race in 2012, but whatever the reason, some athletes were left wondering what happened to it. The official web site for HIM KS even boasts the yellow brick road, but it was nowhere to be seen. They also had around 5 to 6 Dorothy's and no more cowardly lions. There were some Good Witches and Bad Witches, but maybe times are tight and the costume budget got cut for a full Oz regimen?
They did have the usual finisher’s chute with a finish arch, cold water and medals. There was no rush to get finishers out of the immediate finish line area and they allowed everyone to cool off, take finish line pictures and leisurely exit to the spectator area. It was well handled and low pressure after busting your ass for a couple of hours.
Somewhat of a let down was the lack of post-race athlete amenities aside from food. Large events like HIM KS provide post-race massage and an assortment of food options. They hosted the standard fare of local bike shops and product vendors, but there was very little in the way of free athlete activities.
But, don’t misunderstand. They do host an athlete tent where famished finishers can choose from oranges, bananas, chocolate milk, chips, pulled pork sandwiches, PB&J sandwiches, water, pop and sports drinks. The sandwiches were warm and the drinks were cold. It was an improvement from last year where they only had pulled pork that was more akin to chopped up luke warm shredded car tires. It was nasty. This year was better.
The only real finisher tent issue was space. With around 1400 triathletes, the tent got full in a hurry.
After racing HIM KS 5 times and HIM Boulder once and countless other triathlons, 70.3 Kansas has the nuts and bolts tightened down. The event will go as planned and it’s planned and executed well. There’s no real grey area when it comes to the instructions and order of business. Where they may fall down is relying on informal services like Facebook for formal race announcements. Weeding through Facebook posts to find out event changes isn’t acceptable. They need to go back and look at how they will distribute information and changes about the race. Some people may not know that when Ryan Robinson or Tom Ziebert posts on the FB page, that they are race officials and not some schmoe off the street posting erroneous information.
For people looking for a destination event, they may not think of Kansas for a half Ironman. But think again. Lawrence , Kansas, is home to the University of Kansas and a great college town. What’s better is that the HIM KS event is after class lets out, so visitors are not inundated with partying college students. It has a lot to offer aside from the race as far as tourism, shopping and eating. It’s a hidden gem out in the plains. The race itself attracts the likes of Craig Alexander and Hines Ward, but lacks the media circus that seems to follow them.
It’s a real race for real triathletes. It may lack some of the luster and bows, but it’ll do in a pinch.
Ryan Falkenrath is a married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. He writes the blog falkeetriathlon.blogspot.com, Endurance Sports Examiner and runs the Man Vs Triathlon project while participating in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans (soon to be Ironman distance in 2013). Contact Ryan at: email@example.com or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan.