We got the scoop on how to make the best of each leg of this race from locals and the 2014 Queen of the Road, and a 5-time Women’s Winner. #M22challenge
Sand, road, water, and a pinch-me-it’s-so-stunning landscape all await you during the M22 Challenge, Northern Michigan’s premier multi-discipline race in Leelanau County.
Racing up the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb, cycling on Leelanau Peninsula's scenic roads, and paddling to glory on Little Glen Lake: this unconventional triathlon is a sure-fire way to renew your love of nature, fitness, and competitive races.
We caught up with several veteran Challenge participants, including past winners, to learn tricks and tips for nailing the run, bike, and paddle portions of the race, no matter where you train.
UP FIRST: THE RUN
A fresh take on triathlons, the M22 Challenge starts with the running portion: a 2.5 mile dash, with the middle section up the dunes-- the crown jewel of the Sleep Bear National Lakeshore. 2014’s ‘King of the Dune’, winner (his time was 10:45!), Jake Flynn of Traverse City offers this advice on dominating this section of the race: “One to two times per month I try to hike [the dunes] to Lake Michigan and back. It’s such an amazing hike and a beautiful way to spend a morning. I do try to sprint the inclines. Which are brutal no matter how many times you've done them.”
If you are a city dweller, or don’t live near dunes, Jake recommends finding “the biggest, nastiest hill around you and time yourself sprinting up it. Keep your best in mind and try to better it every time. As you build strength, your time will drop. Once you feel like you can maintain a race-pace-like effort from bottom to the top, you're ready.”
Experienced Challenge participants also will tell you that it’s especially important to reign in your enthusiasm during the run. In other words: don’t go out too hard.
Jake offers this final run advice: “Don't change your strategy based on the sand. I tested bare-feet, racing flats, five fingers, and found nothing made much of an advantage. Wear normal racers as you would with any road race. The dune is a big challenge but it's over and done within a few minutes. Then it's back to trails and roads.”
READY TO RIDE
The 17-mile bike ride is Sean Kickbush’s favorite part of the M22 Challenge, and is a three-year veteran of the race. “The bike course is beautiful,” says Kickbush, 38 and from Suttons Bay. Last year, he finished the bike portion in 44:42 was third place overall. “I put my bike as close to the run finish as possible,” Sean says. “My heart rate is super high during the run so I want it back to normal as soon as possible.”
His tips for a successful ride: “If you have triathlon-specific shoes and have experience putting them on while you’re on the bike, that is typically the most efficient way to go from the run to bike. I have my shoes clipped in the bike when I grab it from the stand. I hop on my bike get it up to speed, then put my feet in the shoes while I'm moving. If you’re not comfortable with that, put on your bike shoes in the transition area and clip in when you get out of the grass. You’re only talking about a few seconds here so I would say do whatever is easiest and safest for you.”
A pro-tip from Sean: make sure not to have rocks and debris “stuck to my foot before I put my shoes on – that makes for an uncomfortable ride or having to stop and losing momentum.”
Five-time overall female winner Keri Pawielski, 38, is an experienced triathlete – this summer she is training for an August Ironman. During the Challenge, a decidedly shorter race compared to other triathlons she tackles, she generally goes hard. On the bike she “pushes it up the hills.”
“A lot of people are thinking I’m in the wrong gear, but I like to crank it. I never spin up the hill. I just want to get up to the top,” says Keri, who lives in St. Joe. “I just want to be in a pretty decent gear on the way up, and I’m pretty conservative down the hills … I really trash my quads going up Inspiration Point, but I know I’m going to be in aero the rest of the race.”
Jamie Endicott, who was named Queen of the Road in 2014 (her first M22 Challenge) with a bike finish time of 49:39, says she always goes into a race “with one ‘big’ goal.”
“It’s usually something like having a negative-split bike time or keeping good form throughout the run,” she says. “Having one goal that is entirely in your control helps everything else fall into place.
Nick Murray, who finished the paddle in 19:16 in 2013, is a whiz on the water. “The number one key is having a fast boat,” says Murray, who owns TC Surfski, a northern Michigan company that sells kayaks and paddles. “On the water, length is speed -- simple physics.”
Once you have the boat and paddle, he says, you need to learn to use both: “What most people don’t realize is that paddling is a highly technique-intensive sport, similar to swimming or cross country skiing. Paddlers with good technique will get most of their power from the larger muscles; including legs, hips, core, and lats; as opposed to traditional paddlers who use mostly shoulders and biceps.”
He offers these ideas for a strong paddle: “I recommend checking out the area where you will launch in advance, to get a sense for how shallow the water is. I know the winners try to get in their boats as soon as possible, but this is difficult if you have a fixed rudder that could drag in shallow water.”
For him, settling into a groove usually takes about a 1/3 of a mile. “The focus should be getting away from just frantically splashing at the water, and really focusing on paddling with good technique: driving with your legs, core rotation, and lats,” he says.
“I just go for it,” Nick adds. “I usually have a lot of catching up to do, so that helps, I always have a target to catch -- I would recommend just setting your sights on one person at a time and trying to get past them, then on to the next.”
We look forward to seeing returning racers, new ones, and the sense of community spirit this race evokes in athletes. Good luck to all the 2015 competing athletes!
We’d like to thank Heather Johnson Durocher (of MichiganRunnerGirl.com) for supplying the work for this blog post, Beth Price (of Beth Price Photography) for the gorgeous photography seen in this post, and to North Peak Brewing Company for being the Presenting Sponsor of the 2015 M22 Challenge. #M22challenge