Cracking the Ice

A very happy Hump Day to everyone!

Triathlon in Reno is a pretty big deal. OK, yea, we aren’t a gigantic city of 2 million people, nor are we Boulder, Colorado, where every pro athlete and their mother goes to train, but Reno is already the #1 city in the U.S. for runners per capita (Vegas also makes a strong showing), so you know something great is going on here…

When people think of triathlon in Reno, two names immediately bubble up to the surface. Scott Young and Matt Balzer have planted their flags in Reno and have had an exponential influence on the community as whole. Coaching, business owners, pro athletes – these guys have done it all – and you can’t run in the tri circle without crossing paths with them :-) There is, of course, a list of dozens of other athletes who are up and coming (Brandon Nied! Justin Rossi!) who are going to make a huge splash on this city as well, leaving plenty of athletic talent to be found on every mountain peak and running path.

Every April, our friends over the hill at TBF Racing host the ICE Breaker Triathlon, a melting-pot for the regional athletes just exiting hibernation, and who have dusted off their carbon steeds, cleaned their wetsuits, and are ready for a blistering clip through beautiful Granite Bay. It’s nice having a course that I’m 90% familiar with, with slight alterations coming based on weather and course conditions…

I have always considered triathlon to be a solo sport, and it is on the surface. No one else is on the rope for your performance, nor does anyone else have to live with your decisions, but for the first time in 11 seasons of racing, I actually felt like this was a team event. Everyone from Reno was out there absolutely CRUSHING it on Saturday. Podiums were weighed down with Wolf Pack fans left and right, friends and teammates were placing in the tops of their age groups, and at the end of the day, it was an awesome place to be with training partners and partakers of the outdoors. It’s been a long time since I’ve shared that kind of communal joy at a race, but out there, under a perfect sky with the slightest spring breeze flowing through the transition area, it was a wonderful day to be alive and an even better one to be out there getting in some quality work.

I made a few mistakes at this venue during XTERRA Real, so I appreciated the chance to get back here and have my revenge, and especially relished the fact that the bike would be on the road instead of trail. I got in a 1.5 mile run to warm up and get the sweat flowing, and then spent 20 minutes in the frigid lake coming to terms with the imminent surge through the water. One of the worst things (for me) in a race is being caught off guard by how cold the water is, bringing with it shivers, taught muscles, and the inability to breathe calmly. The swim is my time to press my strongest advantage, and a proper warm up is absolutely crucial for success. I nailed it for this go-round!

It was nice chatting with some familiar faces at the swim start, and then it was time to get going. We all plunged into the calm lake and headed out for our half mile swim. The pack thinned very quickly, and soon I was cruising on the heels of the top five swimmers as the race headed for the first turn buoy. I jetted around the first buoy and through two competitors, and then it was just Matt Balzer (Sierra Endurance Sports’ fearless leader) and I, cruising through the next 400 yards. I nipped him by one second at the exit of the swim, with much elation and joy, and then he passed me on his way into transition and we were off onto the bike!

The course was drastically shortened due to crazy rain/flooding in the past months in the area, and to the surprise of the athletes that day, they hacked nearly three miles off the course. Secretly, I don’t think anyone really missed it… all I know is that I felt fantastic out on the road! My indoor watt-crushing with TrainerRoad had really paid off, and I felt fresh and powerful. My favorite part of short(er) course racing is that you can see where your competition is at the turnaround. Mr. Balzer remained a solid 45 seconds – 1 minute ahead of me, and I kept a watchful eye on the three guys chasing me. At the end of the first lap, I really brought the hammer out, and took off after 1st place , leaving a noticeably increasing gap behind the gentlemen trying to run me down.

We came zooming back into transition, and I was still feeling great and ready to pull out the off-road guns as I trailed by 1:12. I’d never been in hot pursuit so close to the race leader at this point (exiting T2) except once, and certainly not to someone Matt’s caliber, so I swore to myself that I would leave it all out on the course, and break the 26 minute four miler time that had plagued me for years. I have really come to embrace running this year, and trail running in particular has been a freaking riot in my Altra Superior’s.

We blasted out of transition into the first muddy and water-soaked part of the forest, making quick time to polish off the first mile. This was when I caught my first glimpse of the leader, and dug deep to chop that distance by as much as possible, catching a glance at my watch for the mile split around 6:00. The only other time I saw Matt was at the far end of the parking lot, but about 20 seconds closer than the previous time I saw him. Unfortunately, there was only about a mile and a half to go. I was really hoping for a huge hill climb around mile three, but the course varied, and I finally came streaking across the finish line only 35 seconds behind Matt with a time of 1:07:09 (for a slightly shorter than normal sprint tri). What a freaking day!

It was a blast to chase after such an elite athlete, but what was truly eye-opening was that my jubilation over my own race quickly turned into excitement for others as my buddy and training partner Matt “the Rocket” Freeman came blistering to the finish with a rock-solid 3rd place, and the fastest run of the day, and teammates Phil and Nate were close behind. So many great athletes from Reno were in wonderful form that day, and to see the people who I knew well, and those that I didn’t, find as much joy from that race as I did was really, really fun.

Final results for ICE Breaker Triathlon 2017.

Next stop: Escape From Prison Hill and the Downtown River Run :D

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  1. Hurray for you, Russell. You’re still the champ in our eyes. You don’t have to be the first-place tri-athlete to earn that.

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