Olympic Distance Triathlon – Trinona Race Review – subtitle: I FREAKING DID IT!

by Amy  - June 14, 2011

My first Olympic distance Triathlon

I am so proud of myself for completing Trinona – my first olympic distance tri.

Trinona the race

 I have finished my first International distance triathlon. What does that mean? It means it’s 1.5k swim, 40k bike with hills and 10k run.

They call this “The Biggest Little Race” you can find more pics taken by somebody else here.

Acclimation to the cooler climate
It is a bit cooler in Minnesota than my tropical home in Miami. There wasn’t much of a way for me to prepare for the climate other than mentally. The water was going to be cold. We arrived on Thursday and Friday the first order of business was to try out the wetsuits and try out the water temp. Even though my brother lives in Minnesota I think he was as nervous as I was about the cooler water and we’re both new to wetsuits.

We headed out to Prior Lake. It was 53 degrees outside and grey and cloudy and ummmm raining. EEEEK.

Trinona Triathlon
Looks like a great day for a swim, eh? It’s hard to see but there is steam coming up from the water because it was actually warmer than the air. Also out of sight but off to the right is a fisherman who most likely thought we were insane. He might have a better picture of us. If I was him I would have taken a picture of the crazies out swimming.

But we were on a mission. We slithered into our neoprene outfits. I took a pick of my bro squeezing into his but I will *not* put it here. It is only for the scrapbook. With a lot of laughter we took the plunge. The water was actually warmer than the air but it was flipping cold. This is also when I learned that my lungs were still in Miami. I could not catch my breath. There could be a few reasons for this. It might have been my reaction to the cold water, it could be from the travel, there is a 700 foot altitude difference maybe it was that and it could have just been a little panic from all the new stuff. Anyway I was a little concerned about my inability to breathe but other than that it was good.

Olympic Distance Tri Trinona Triathlon
Can you tell we’re both cold and nervous?

Later that day we headed to a variety of bike shops. First to pick up my brother’s bike at his local bike shop. Next we headed to Gear West for my rental. Sadly I did not take any pictures of this store but it is like triathlete heaven. There were hundreds of road bikes and tri bikes out for perusal. There was a gigantic clothing section, swim gear. It was awesome. It was so awesome I sent my kids and husband off to McDonalds for lunch so my bro and I could just meander while they got my bike set up.

Trinona Triathlon

Back to how awesome this store is. They did not have their standard girlie rental available this weekend so they found one for me. It was very nice and very cool of them. They put my seat and my pedals on and threw me on the trainer. We made a few adjustments and we were all set. Here again after about 90 seconds I was completely winded. A little embarrassing in the coolest bike store I’ve ever been in but what’s a girl to do?


The bike was in great shape. It performed flawlessly and they were a dream to work with. I cannot recommend them enough.

Acclimation to the hillier landscape
We don’t have hills in Florida Miami. So, I went into this knowing I was undertrained for the terrain. To get my feet wet my bro took me out on a 10 mile rolling hills ride the day before the race. Not ideal from a taper perspective but it was really great. Such a beautiful route. So nice to be out in the country for a ride. Plus I got comfy on the rental bike and had some confidence with the hills.

Road Trip – Packet Pick up and other stuff
We loaded up the cars and headed South. Dairy Queen stop on the way down and we were there.

Trinona Triathlon
My brother is always looking at the camera 😉

Checked in to the hotel and back out to pick up the packets. Winona is not a big town.

Winona Minnesota Home of Trinona
Isn’t this a required photo on a road trip?
Welcome Trinona Triathlon Participants

Packet pick up was in a bank which seemed weird when we read about it but actually was fine. It’s a big bank so there was plenty of space. People were really nice. Other reviews I had read about this race  were that it was very well organized. This turned out to be true with one small exception which I’ll tackle in a bit.

They even had a little expo in the parking lot which was cute. I had wanted to pick up a bike jersey but the only ones they had were from the year before and so I passed on it. If they had been there at the finish I would have bought one.

Different from other races I’ve done we picked up our timing chips at packet pick up. That’s right – multiple chips. One for our leg and one for the bike which was totally for the race within the race which is just the trip up Garvin Heights road. They bill this as the Battle for the Bluff. I knew I wasn’t going to win but I was up for the challenge. I had no idea what to do with this chip and forced my brother to a last minute trip to Target to get additional supplies including zip ties to put it on my handlebars which was the wrong thing to do and I had to undo it the next morning. OOOPS.

Trinona Triathlon

Race Day
Triathlons start early. This is a fact of racing. But in Minnesota they start much later than Florida so I got to sleep in a bit. My loving but snoring husband bunked up with our daughter so I actually got some sleep.  Even though we didn’t start until after 8 am transition closed at 7 so we were at the race by 6:15. Still that beats the 5:30 check in out on Key Biscayne.

The race directors kept announcing the water temp at 72 but they were fibbing because the USAT official reported that the temp was 68. Yowzer that’s not warm.

I went in for a pre-race dip. It was chilly. I mean it stung on my arms and hands. My brother passed on the pre-race warm up dip.

Pre-Trinona Triathlon Freakout
Yup I’m wearing a sweatshirt because I’m shivering. I feel short looking at this picture 🙂

I had pre-race jitters but once I got started I was fine. 

Beware of Lake Monsters
The lake has weeds. There had been an announcement earlier that they had mowed the lake. They clearly did not get them all because I could have impersonated a sea monster with weeds in my hands, in my goggles – everywhere. It was ridonculous! But on the plus side I was breathing easily and after rounding the first buoy the water temp wasn’t bad. I did my mod spin turns at both buoys and passed people both times which is fun. I was feeling great on the swim. This was a very big deal for me because when we signed up for this race I couldn’t have done this distance so I was very proud of myself coming out of the water.


Trinona Swim map
Looks long doesn’t it? If you look up close there are swimmers approaching the first buoy. They took this with a little remote control airplane which is neat-o.

The transitions for this race were weird. I had to go in and run around the whole thing to get to my rack and then find my way out. This could definitely be improved in future years. Also this is one spot where marks on the road were not helpful. Signs would be better. Huge inflatable arches like multirace uses here in Florida is much better.

Oh Minnesota … she’s not a flat state
The first part of the bike was billed as rolling hills. But I would like to say that it seemed steep in a lot of places to me. But it was fun. I was taking it easy leading up to the monster so whatever. I did see a horse on the course which is definitely something new.

Trinona Triathlon Horse on the Course, of course.
This is something I’ve never seen on a course in Miami.

We had driven the monster hill the day before. The name of this hill is Garvin Heights road. Look it up. It’s ranked by Bicycling Magazine as one of the top 100 climbs in the US.  It’s so scary. 1.1 miles of an average 9.5% grade. Ohhhhh you cannot imagine how steep that is unless you ride it yourself. What’s worse the entry is after a sharp turn so you start the climb without momentum. When I rounded the turn I was with about 6 other cyclists and the sound was all clunk clunk clunk of gears shifting. No lie I was in the granny gear within 30 feet of the base of this hill.

I could not find a photo of the steep incline but I believe it’s a 578 foot ascent over 1.1 miles. To compare this my local hill the William Powell Bridge is a 78 foot ascent over about one third of a mile.

You go over a timing mat first thing and then their are volunteers about every quarter of the way. At each point they lie to you and tell you you’re almost to the top. Don’t believe them. I passed somebody just before the halfway point. When the volunteer told me I was half way I was so excited I hit the curb and toppled over. AACK. Good thing I didn’t know anybody there because that would be awkward. It took me a good 2-3 minutes to get going again. Clipping back into the pedals going uphill was not elegant, not seamless, in fact I think the volunteer was a little concerned that I was crazy but he left me alone and I got going again. The upside of this little rest was that my heart rate was practically back to resting. Once I was going again I passed the person I had passed before (that’s always fun) and made it up the whole hill. I may never have been more proud of myself for any other single racing achievement.

Apparently there were water bottles to be picked up at the top. I didn’t notice. I was too busy hooting and hollering in my excitement that I made it up.  Thank you to the residents out cheering … One guy yelled, “you’re in God’s country now!” He may have been drinking beer with his Wheaties. But it is really pretty up there.

So, this giant hill is followed by a brief downhill and flat and then a gentle incline for about 5 miles. Totally nuts. The views are spectacular, lots of cows and horses. The occasional cow poop smell which was a new one for me on the bike.

Because what goes up must come down there is an amazing steep downhill later in the course. I am not a great cyclist in fact I may not even be good. I might, to be honest, be a bad cyclist. I cannot climb quickly and I’m chicken little on the downhill. Every muscle in my body tensed up on the downhill and I was passed by many braver souls as I slowly (30mph) and trying not to pee myself made it down the hill. It was a very cool experience actually.

The rest of the bike was uneventful. I saw my family coming into transition and that was AWESOME.

Trinona Triathlon
Do I look speedy?
Trinona Triathlon
I was not last from the bike but I was close. That guy you see behind me is probably just jogging to get his bike to go home 🙂

Run Mommy Run!
The run was an out and back around the lake. Flat blissfully flat. I saw baby ducks and Canada geese on the route. Super enthusiastic volunteers. Special props to the kid who was so excited to be giving out Gu because he was cute.  I passed lots of people on the run. I didn’t have my watch on so I was guessing but I did concentrate on keeping my cadence up as high as I could go without running out of gas. I only walked for water at the first water stop and then the turn around. The only negative was that there is no timing check mat at the turn around and I’m pretty sure that at least one person I passed turned around early. I’m not working for a medal but I think this is a pretty big deal that is easy to fix.

Trinona Triathlon
I hope the race photographer got a better pic but that little pink blur is my daughter running out to me to finish with me. I loved this!

Highlight of the run was finishing with my daughter. Totally cool. Also they put the finishing tape up between racers and that’s awesome. Since I don’t know that I’ll ever win a race that was a great feeling.

Team Hammerheads making an appearance in Minnesota!
Trinona Triathlon
This is not a great picture of my sister-in-law but she is the person you want on your support staff. I would not have done nearly as much this year without her. She taught me that my chances of doing the race go way up if I actually register. She was there at the start and all the way through the race. She’s really amazing.

My goal was to finish with a smile. Which I did. I have not felt this type of accomplishment since my first marathon finish. It’s a great feeling. 

In all seriousness I had checked the results from last year before the race and there was a possibility that I could be last. I am not trying to be dramatic but the times seemed really fast.  In the end I wasn’t last. A whole 5 people finished after me on the bike and 16 people finished after me overall. Sort of. Most of those were guys who started earlier so they may not have finished “after” me even though their total time was slower.

Swim    30:51
T1           4:32
Bike   1:49:27
King of the Bluff 14:31
T2            2:27
Run     1:00:56
Total   3:28:10

I’m very proud. But then again the winner Dave Thompson finished in 1:52 he’s fast. The first female was 2:17:42 also very fast.

Feedback for the Race Director
Yup Dave this is for you. You put on a great race. It is a beautiful course. You have fantastic swag. I love my medal. I love the bragging rights that come with riding up Garvin Heights. If I lived in Minnesota I’d want to do this race every year.

I think that this is the 3rd year of Trinona and I will not be surprised if it becomes a must do for Minnesota multisport athletes. Sort of how the 7 mile bridge run is a must run if you live in Florida. In fact I think you’re well on your way to making it a destination event like escape from Alcatraz. Although Winona may lack the appeal of San Francisco the Garvin Heights hill is a big draw.

But, you can really improve your pre-race communication to the racers. I’m all for Facebook and Twitter but seriously please email me details like hotel blocks, packet pick up location, and starting waves. This is especially important for people like me who are coming from out of town because the beautiful and rural location meant that I had practically no mobile phone service once I got to Winona. Looking up my starting wave (which was posted at pick up but not in the bag a handout in the bag would be perfect) was a 45 minute process that included figuring out the wifi in the hotel. Even though I know I have to be there way before my wave I like to go to “sleep” knowing the exact moment I will dive in.

Next, I cannot for the life of me figure out why you start the age-group international distance racers after the sprint racers. I’m sure you have your reasons.  But from one back of the pack racer can I please say that I prefer to go first. Here are my reasons. Having to wait almost 2 and a half hours from when I arrived to start was a drag. I practically needed to bring an additional meal. The second reason is that if the longer distance started first those of us that are in the back of the pack would not be all alone at the end of the course. I seriously made my husband swear that he wouldn’t leave until I finished. To finish and see that transition is almost empty is demoralizing. Since the International Distance should be the signature event I would think you’d want those finishers (even the slow ones) to get a great finish feeling.

Lastly, please take the proceeds from this year and buy some signs – big signs. I was actually concerned that that I would get lost on the course. That was not a realistic fear because you marked the course with spray paint on the road and put volunteers at every turn and crossing. But, you’re a big time race now. You have invested in your custom printed medal ribbon. Spring for some real signs for Bike Mount, Bike Dismount, Bike In, Bike Out, Run Out,  and perhaps most importantly Dip or Bump on the Bike route. I cannot speak for other cyclists but I’m not totally focused on words on the pavement when cycling. Except going up Garvin Heights at 4mph then they were easy to read.

None of this is a huge deal. But I feel like they are easy fixes. There was great support along the course. The volunteers were great. There was plenty of water. You didn’t run out of shirts or medals – all in all my complaints are simple stuff.

You can see all of my race reports here.


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Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created amysaysso.com.

  • Nice review. I have lived in Winona for 15 years and it’s fun to read a visitor’s perspective. I imagine that Winona is one of the best places in the country to be a cyclist; at least if you like the hills. I ride up Garvin Heights routinely, along with the scores of other hills in the area; it’s truly a great place. Thanks for the perspective. I see you are about to do an Iron Man – awesome. Good Luck!

    • Hey thanks! Kind of a kick to see somebody read a post from so long ago. Thanks for the well wishes on my upcoming race. Where Garvin Heights was a big hill for me IM France has 6000 feet of climbing (including one 500 meter climb at 12%. So I’m going to need a lot of good luck and good wishes.

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