Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Shawnee Mission Triathlon event review

July 14, 2013 saw the 29th annual Shawnee Mission Triathlon go off without a catch at Shawnee Mission Park, in Shawnee, Kansas. The weather around Kansas City decided to give a much needed respite from blazing temperatures to kick off in the 60’s with clear skies and sun at the finish line.

A much anticipated, but seldom mentioned implementation of a time trial swim start greeted experienced and beginner triathletes. Starting at the swim wave times, 2 triathletes were released into the wild every 3 to 5 seconds. This was aimed at reducing the body contact and ease the concerns of new swimmers about the brutality of mass swim starts.

Overall the new swim start method for the SM Triathlon was a success with racers calmly sending off into the water and start times not affected adversely.

The SM Triathlon hosted two distances. The Long Course is a .62 mile (1000 meter) swim, 18 mile bike (4 laps) and a 4.5 mile run. The swim is an out and back course with a standing water start. The bike course is 4 laps of the main park road providing a rolling venue.

The Short Course run distance has been upgraded to encompass the redesign of the trail system. The swim is a .31 mile (500 meter) swim, 9 mile bike (2 laps), and now a 3.2 mile run. The swim is an out and back course with a standing water start. The bike course is 2 laps of the main park road providing a rolling venue.

After the morning dew evaporated and the last triathlete was across the line, your favorite Endurance Sports Examiner writer toed the line. Below is what we thought about the 2013 Shawnee Mission Triathlon.

The Price
If triathletes got in for early bird pricing, they only paid $70 to race. Waiting until the last minute shot the price up to $90. Overall this is in line with most local triathlons around Kansas City. Some are a little less expensive with early bird, but not by much.

Packet Pickup
Packet pickup was moved away from the remote Shawnee location of years past to Elite Cycles on Friday. This location was more central to most racers and offered the opportunity to purchase last minute gear for athletes. with two chances to get your packet and race day pickup, athlete should not have had an issue.

The race bag was full of race information and some flyers and coupons. Overall the drawstring bag was good quality, and the tech tee shirt was quality as well. The only outstanding issue was the overuse of the same design and logo from year to year for the event shirt. The colors are the only real change while little effort is invested in art and design of the shirt.

Web Site / Instructions / Course Info
The website was easy to navigate and direct in getting runners to registration. Through the PDF of the event program, runners could see the course layout. Times, location, parking directions and timing of the days events were all published on the site.

Event organizers worked well with email to distribute race information and updates. It wasn’t overkill. One issue was the use of the time trial start for the swim. While it may not have impacted most racers, it was not published anywhere that we could find that swim start would be changed to time trial with two swimmers heading out every 3 to 5 seconds. While it was overall a success, there was little heads up to the general public.

Location / Parking / Access
Parking to the event was located over a mile from the transition area. Athletes that did not want to ride their bikes got a nice warmup walk to transition. Spectators could catch a ride on the buses if needed until 6:40 before the event started.

The race itself is all within Shawnee Mission Park. The park was closed and no vehicular traffic was allowed in the park. This is nice for athletes not having to contend with cars driving on the course.

There were 10 to 15 port-a-potties for the event. The location was moved further away from transition and figuring out how to exit transition security without encountering resistance caused some issues. The lines remained somewhat short and wait time was not as much of an issue as the fact when racers swam to the swim beach start area, they no longer had access to the port-a-potties. It’s been that way for the life of the event, so it’s nothing new.

The Actual Course
Sections of the bike course have been recently paved, but there are significant portions of the bike course that are in serious need of paving. Some downhill sections where terminal speeds are reached could be considered safety issues.

If athletes don’t have their gear strapped down well, they also might lose it on the “dam road” that’s been ship sealed and full of cracks and potholes.

The run course is on the road and trail system. The trails have been paved and rerouted and were in great shape.

Race Day Instructions
The announcer kept in constant contact with racers and spectators. The speakers were appropriately turned up and facing the athletes and start area so you could hear and understand the directions from most anywhere around the start area.

Finish Line
The finish line had a finish banner erected on a steel frame with a timing clock counting the minutes to the finish line.

Directly after the finish line, food, drinks, free samples, chocolate milk and a lot more awaited finishers. It was a very convenient and low stress finish area to relax.

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Finishers also were awarded a medal upon crossing the finish line. Recent events have upped the game with larger medals and better hook and support methods to the strap. Eventually JCPRD should consider a better design.

Overall Impressions
The Shawnee Mission Triathlon has been around for 29 years. They have the event down to a science, but have not made leaps and bounds to improve the event beyond making it run smoothly. It is run by Johnson County, which is a government entity and isn’t exactly out for huge profits. The venue is capped at 700 athletes, and any more over that and the course would be too crowded and unsafe.

Speaking of unsafe, athletes on a local multisport team were observed drafting and illegally passing on the bike leg of the race. Riders were also observed wearing headphones and listening to smart phones on their arms while biking, which is prohibited. Another instance was observed where a golf cart driven by an event volunteer was driven in front of athletes riding on the course, causing a near miss. Event organizers should take a serious look at how to enforce rules and ensure bike safety on the course.

The last issue of note was the addition of security. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, organizers felt the need to perform bag checks and lock down the transition area. Searches and more security is understandable, but the law enforcement on site took their job a little too seriously at times. Athletes were constantly approached when minding their own business and shaken down as to why they are in transition and what they are doing. Some officials seem to not mind when non-athletes were in transition and some didn’t take kindly to those trying to get out to the port-a-potties. Next year, hopefully officials are all on the same page.

The event itself is run well, and most all athletes had a great time and no issues. They could use fine tuning and some more marketing effort, but it serves its purpose.
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