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High Praise for the Hy Vee 5150 US Championship

September 7, 2011

I think every triathlete has a bucket list of triathlons that they would like to do, I am adding the Hy Vee Triathlon to every triathletes list. I know Des Moines, IA over Labor Day Weekend is not every one’s idea of a tourist destination, but if you want great competition, electric atmosphere, unbelievable volunteers, great swag and the opportunity to watch the professional athletes compete for the largest purse in the sport- Des Moines is your place!

I live in Saint Augustine, FL and decided to drive to Des Moines (1280 miles). It was a long trip and we had no idea whether an Olympic race would be worth it or not, but we decided to go since it is one of the few races I have qualified to go to ( Along the way, we decided to go stop in St Louis and before driving the remainder of the way to Des Moines and see the famed St Louis Arch.

Once we reached our destination (6 pm) on Friday night we checked into our hotel, the Embassy Suites ( It was not the host hotel, but we quickly realized that this was definitely the best place to be and seemed to be in the middle of the downtown area. The hotel overlooked the start for the pro race and their transition area. It was very reasonably priced (we paid $99.00 per night) and we found out Saturday morning that this price included a breakfast buffet of all buffets (cooked to order omelets, pancakes, bacon, eggs, waffles then had a buffet line of fruits, yogurts, biscuits, cereal, hash browns, oatmeal, and offered coffee, juices, sodas, water) and a “Manager’s Reception” each night with complimentary adult beverages.

We went over to the Expo because we thought the last mandatory briefing that night was at 6:30, but it turned out to be at 6:00. Since we missed the briefing, we walked around the Expo for a while and realized this was one of the largest Expo’s I had seen (larger than St. Anthony’s, Washington DC, Ironman L’ville, and NOLA 70.3, Augusta 70.3, FL 70.3, RI 70.3). After perusing the Expo for a while we went back to the hotel and saw that the parking lot across from our hotel was preparing for a concert which included a local opening band and the Gin Blossoms put on by Michelob Ultra ( The concert was free for everyone and was attended by about 1500-2000 people.

After sleeping in (24 hours on the road will make you do that) we went down and had the incredible aforementioned breakfast buffet and sat at the table next to Greg and Laura Bennett and at the table behind us was Matt Reed, Cameron Dye, and Chris McCormack and other pros eating at that time included; Pip Taylor, Sarah Haskins, Miranda Carfree, Ben Collins, Emma Moffit and Hunter Kemper. We found out that the Embassy Suites was the host hotel for the pro athletes (probably because they could roll out of bed and be at the swim start, HA).

After breakfast went back to the Expo, went to the mandatory race briefing and then went to packet pickup. Once through the process of signing waivers etc, athletes went to get their numbers and race bags. These were the nicest bags I have received and was a full backpack for easy toting. You also received an exclusive Hy Vee cycling jersey, hat or visor, Ironman Sunglasses (, Hy vee bicycle seat cover (which we needed since it rained Sat Night), Myoplex bars and protein drinks (, 5 hour energy drinks- which we used on the home home to stay awake (, Lava magazine ( and a host of other samples.

Since it was raining when we left the expo, we decided to eat and wait to check my bike in at T1. We ate at this Sports bar and restaurant off Locust Ave (cannot remember the name) but the food was really good and packed for the opening week of college football. After that we went down to Gray’s Lake (swim start for the 5150 US Championship and the Hy Vee Triathlon) and racked my bike. This was a huge transition area (over 3,000 participants) which was divided for the US Championship race and the triathlon race. The buoys were already set up so we could see the swim, but with the water temperature at 83 degrees on Saturday didn’t seem likely that the race would be wetsuit legal. I racked my bike and was happy that the rack bars were high enough to allow me to easily get my bike off the rack – I usually have trouble because of my seat height on my frame ( I am 6’6). We talked to a few people that were competing in their first tri and told them what I tell everyone, “enjoy the moment and don’t concern yourself with times, just crossing the finish line”.

We proceeded to eat at a great restaurant called “Spaghetti Works” ( which was packed out with triathletes looking to carb load the night before the race. After eating we walked to “sculpture park” in the midst of the downtown area. Upon coming back, I saw a cop writing me a ticket. Apparently, in the midst of the pouring rain I had parked in a no parking zone, guess I should have realized there was a catch when the spot in front of the restaurant went unfilled in a rainstorm… With the great hospitality we received he was actually nice enough to tear the ticket up after I plead my case. That didn’t help me on the way home when I got a speeding ticket in Missouri. F$#@ that state- HA I am sure it is nice, but left a bad taste in my mouth and being only 130 miles into our drive home.

The alarm sounded at 3:30 am. I ask myself every morning why I do I sport that forces me up so early, but then quickly get into race mode and prepared for what I hoped would be a great day. Race morning breakfast: Bagel with peanut butter, Honey Stinger waffle (, bottle of G2 (, and a Gatorade Prime ( Then filled my drink bottle- Profile Design aero water bottle ( with my favorite caloric drink during a race – Carbo Pro 1200 ( During an Olympic distance race I will burn about 2500-3000 calories and during the race will consume about 400-500 calories, coupled with my breakfast this will give me plenty of energy to sustain myself throughout the race. I put all of the calories in the water bottle and consume them on the bike. Since the high of the day was only in the 70’s I didn’t have to worry about getting dehydrated.

I arrived at the race site and to my surprise the swim was wetsuit legal. To my dismay, I had left my wetsuit in the hotel figuring there was no possible way that the water temperature could dip 8 degrees in one night, BUT alas it was a miracle and the temp registered 75 degrees. Being that most everyone else came prepared, I was behind the eight ball before the race started. The race start had plenty of porta potties and coffee for racers and spectators since it was 50 degrees out. I needed to stay warm since I live in Florida and forgot what 50 felt like. I was clothed in a t-shirt and shorts. How dumb was that?

I was the 6th wave to go, the swim went well (slower than I anticipated and lots of time to be made up from the faster swimmers). The hardest thing about the swim was when we made the turn to come back the sun was directly in your face and you could barely see the buoys. I had tinted goggles and couldn’t really see, I feel bad for anyone with clear lenses lenses – Mental note, for WHEN you do this race. I exited the water and had to run around to the south end of transition area and then back through to the north end where the 5150 racks were. Had a good transition and was out on the bike.

I was figuring that the bike was going to be flat since we were in the Midwest, but ALAS wrong again. There were a few climbs that you felt- the first one coming about mile 2 that lasted about a mile. The second came about mile 14 and lasted about 1.5 miles. The first climb I tried to climb in the big chain ring and push a larger gear then realized this was not the best tactic so in the second long climb went to the small chain ring and kept my cadence around 90-95. The course was windy, probably about 20 mph which also helped and hurt. There were a few straightaways where you could hammer and I hit 30-31 on the flats but the hills evened out the course. I averaged 22 mph over the course (wanted to do 24). The elite division had a few that averaged 26 and I thought to myself how in the hell did they do that? Their “hammer” must be larger than mine on the bike. (They also averaged 5:20’s on the run so I will chalk it up to they are just incredible athletes). The course was fair and the good thing about it was with the hills they had the 25 miles flew by because you weren’t just tucked in your aeros (which I prefer being from FL)- remember hills are a relative term from my point of view because of where I live.

I came back to transition and racked my bike, again everything was very well marked and there were tons of volunteers cheering and guiding you to the correct position. I quickly changed my shoes and was off. The run was a point to point run and flat the entire way – until about .3 miles to the finish where you faced a short burst of a hill just to let you know it’s there. I ran relatively well (7:00) was hoping to do around 6:45’s but apparently my legs didn’t. Funny note, I got off the bike and ran down another member of my division within the first 1/2 mile. I turn to him and said, “way to hammer the bike, I couldn’t keep up”, he turns to me and says, “F#$@, you’re a runner!” The course was well marked and again locals and volunteers were out in the masses cheering you on. The city embraces this race unlike any other and I thought Ironman Augusta had good support- sorry, Des Moines does it better!

The race finishes with a little climb and then you take a left and run through about 200 yards of grandstands on the right hand side and athletes and spectators on the left. It is a finish unlike any other I have experienced. The announcers did a great job announcing each competitor as they crossed and there was already a hearty crowd in the grandstands when I finished around 9:15 am. (These crowds only grew throughout the day and reached capacity for the pro men which finished about 6:00 pm. After crossing the line there was plenty of food and drink for recovery, plenty of massage tables and a very accessible gear pick up area for your post race clothes that you dropped off at the start and they brought to the finish. I was lucky enough to finish high enough to be part of the awards ceremony ( top five in each age group). For amateurs, the prizes were incredible. These awards were part of each division (5th– $100 gift card to OrbeaOrca (, 4th– $200 gift card to OrbeaOrca, 3rd place- set of Dura Ace pedals (, 2nd place- Timex Ironman GPS watch ( and 1st place- $650 gift card to OrbeaOrca). Top three finishers also received medals commemorating each athlete’s accomplishment. A great thank you to the sponsors of the prizes for all athletes.

Thirty minutes after the 5150 Championship waves went off the Hy Vee Triathlon began (triathlon that individuals could just sign up for and not have to qualify). This race was filled with over 2000 participants and is an incredible venue for individuals looking to be part of a first class event with the excitement of a championship. Individuals of all skill levels competed and by 10 am, one of the streets adjacent to Locust (main street where individuals ran up and then turned around to head towards the Capital) closed down and a local band set up and played all afternoon and a farmer’s market with different food options opened. Hy Vee employees gave out small bells to help cheer on individuals on the last leg of their race. By the time the last triathlon participant crossed the line there must have been about 5000 people near the finish line cheering and recuperating from the race. There was also a jumbo screen set up in the parking lot near the Embassy Suites showing individuals as they cross the finish line. The Hy Vee races had television cameras in multiple areas recording the excitement and will be hopefully shown as part of the pro races shown on NBC later in the year.

The Pro Championship began at 1:30 when then women started followed by the men at 4:00 pm. The great part of this day was that athletes got to watch the pros race which usually does not happen during a race, they usually go off in the morning and you usually do not see them unless they are lapping you on the course (which I had happen to me in Louisville and Augusta when Laura Bennett blew past me on the run making me feel like I was wearing concrete boots not running shoes). Thirty women and thirty men participated in the race which had a different venue than the course that the other races competed on which made it VERY spectator friendly. The swim course was in the river behind the Embassy Suites and was a unique three lap course in an amphitheater style forum. There were bridges and grass berms surrounding the river which was enclosed by thousands of people cramming to get a glimpse of these amazing athletes. The wind was howling by the afternoon and you could see the strong current in the river which posed problems for many of the swimmers (heck even Andy Potts got tangled up in one of the buoys). Before the race started I thought the average pro swimmer would lose substantial time in the current of the river. One the three loops were completed in the river, athletes got out and began a four loop course on the bike through downtown Des Moines.

The great thing about this was that there were plenty of opportunities to see the pros hammering away on the flats of downtown (except for one hill at the end of each loop). After the bike, the pros set out on a four loop course on the run, each time running through the grandstands which were full of spectators. This race had the largest pro purse I have ever seen (over $500,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs. This also included a $5150 (note the amount) bonus for each lap led (3 swim, 4 bike, 4 run). If an athlete went wire to wire they would receive an additional $56,000 in addition to their purse. (this did not happen in either race).

In the women’s pro race Haskins seemed like she was going to hold her lead on the run through the finish, but a charging Norden and Carfree cut into the lead each lap and on the final 2.5K Haskins was caught first by Norden who had a great run followed by Carfree who absolutely blistered the run course and finished second to Norden. Carfree was well back after the swim, but if had about 1.5K more in the race would have taken over the lead but just ran out of pavement. She showed why she is an Ironman Champion and I look forward to seeing her and Wellington battle it out in Kona this year.

The men’s race didn’t have the exciting four man sprint as it did in 2010, but the performance by Greg Bennett allowed him to finish first by about 30 seconds. The only athlete who was making up time on Bennett was Hunter Kemper who showed a Carfree’esque run and just ran out of real estate. Matt “Boom-Boom” Reed looked strong throughout and would have battled Greg Bennett for the overall title but succumbed to cramping in the second lap and could not keep the pace that Bennett had (although he can run with him on most days). The leader off the bike was Ben Collins but was also caught by Bennett when he appeared to have a foot injury on the run but toughed out a solid run.

Overall, we walked about 8 miles going from start to finish of both races and around the streets cheering on all athletes. This is what the event was about; great competition and seeing individuals becoming triathletes by finishing the course. The city of Des Moines was an incredible host, everyone was so friendly, the food was amazing, volunteers were second to none and the event set up was first class. I absolutely loved being able to watch the pros race.

After the pro races concluded we still had time to make it back to the Embassy Suites and enjoy their complimentary “Manager’s Reception” which included beer, wine, and mixed drinks each night from 5:30-7:30. We thought we deserved a celebratory drink and ended up meeting some nice individuals who had competed as well. That is the great thing about triathlon, you share experiences with these strangers who quickly become friends. They understand the sacrifices you make to train, the dedication it takes to compete and the feeling when you cross the finish line. Triathlon is not just a sport, it is a way of life and I encourage everyone to “tri” a race at some point. Whether it be on your bucket list of things to do or a sport which you once looked at as unattainable. The pros are amazing athletes, but so was the 75 year old I saw competing this past weekend. Throughout this blog I will continuously reiterate the excitement of the sport and the camaraderie that goes along with the finishing something so inspirational.

Again, a BIG Thank you to the the volunteers of the Hy Vee and the event sponsors who were a huge part of the success of the event and what it will be for years to come!

Hy Vee (

PepsiCo (

Frito Lay (

Tropicana (

Gatorade (

Dole (

Kellogg (

Unilever (

JM Smucker Company (

Sara Lee (

Kraft Foods (

ConAgra Foods (

Dannon (

Farmland (

General Mills (

Old Orchard

MillerCoors (

Hallmark (

21st Century Healthcare

Diamond Foods (

Schwann’s Consumer Foods (

Land O’ Frost (

E & J Gallo Winery (

Bar-S Food Company (

Brawny (

Horizon Organic (

Finisher Pix (

Additional Sponsors: Marriott Des Moines, Embassy Suites Des Moines, Michelob Ultra, Snapple, Gillette, Smirnoff, Principal Financial Group, Stemmitt, Tyson, Scheels, Iowa Health, Star 102.5, Kemps

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