For twenty-one years, this race has been a staple – if not the cornerstone – of the Kansas City multisport scene. Sure, the Baptist race is older, as is the Tinman out in Topeka, but year in and year out the Shawnee Mission Triathlon is voted the city’s most favorite and always draws a sell-out crowd and a pro or two who want to see what all the hype is about. It truly is a great venue for a triathlon, with one of the best – and toughest – bike and run courses anywhere. This year was no different.
I have the advantage (perhaps) of getting a “preview” of this race each year, because the Kansas City Corporate Challenge triathlon is held in June each year and is run on the identical course as the short course. Because of my nagging Achilles and near-complete lack of run training, I opted for the short case, which decision continues to draw jeers. Best of all, though, Dave and Tiffany from Team WMS were also racing, Dave in the short with me, Tiff not surprisingly going long. Dave and Tiff were primarily here to get some training and race experience, just enjoy the day. Because I have had some pretty decent sprint results this year and because I had made some mistakes at the Corporate Challenge race just a month prior (still took 13th place), I wanted to test myself and see how fast I could race this course. Going into race day, I had three primary focuses: (a) hydration, as it would be 90 degrees and very humid, as usual; (b) transitions; and (c) the bike. The first one’s easy, but often overlooked. Lot’s of water and salt the two days before the race. The second one sounds like a silly thing to focus on, but in a 50-minute race with such long transitions, those in-between-event minutes are crucial. And we all know that even the studs often meander through the TA. Plus, the 30-39 men this year were all stuck in the far corner of the bike racks, farthest away from the swim exit and the bike entrance/exit.
As for the bike, this course takes a lot of strategy. It’s not one of those sit-in-your-aerobars-and-pound-away courses. It’s a 4.5-mile loop with four decent climbs and one long climb that starts at 7% grade or so and then continues on up for another 1/3 of a mile. Knowing that I can’t go up with the climbers in the field, I focused on the descents. Most of the descents have turns in them, so you hear a lot of brakes being applied in this race. My goal was to get up the hills as best as possible and then hammer the descents so as to get a head start on the next hill. So, I swapped out my 12-25 for an 11-23, knowing that I can get to 42 or 43 mph on the descents with an 11, but only 37 or 38 mph in my 12. And because the course is only 9 miles long, I decided to try riding a bigger gear at 65 rpm instead of my usual 85-95 rpm cadence. If I screw up the run, so be it. That was the plan.
As usual, the race sold out early and was at its capacity of 750 racers. Race morning was beautiful, but the temperature started to move up rapidly as the sun rose above the hills. As for the pros, only one showed up this year. But the lack of quantity was more than compensated by the amount of quality. Sheila Taormina, although injured and officially “retired,” is the reigning world champion and three-time Olympian (with a gold medal to boot). Because of a nagging injury, she participated in the team competition, and did the swim. She was in the first heat, one hour before Dave and I were scheduled to go. As we watched Sheila destroy the field, I overheard one spectator say, “Of course she’s doing the swim, that’s where she won her gold medal,” to which his neighbor responded oh so eloquently, “dude, she’s the reigning triathlon world champ, she could ride at 28 mph and then run 5:30’s off the bike.” Regardless, the team competition was not much of a competition – at least not in the water. It was not surprising seeing her come out of the water first after the 1,000 meter swim in 12:30. What was surprising is that she bea