June Lake Triathlon Recap

So my blog is still broken, and I haven’t figured out how to fix it yet, sadly. Instead of pouting about it any more, I decided I should just start writing and get it going again.

I’ve done a bunch of fun things this spring and summer, but I’ll start out with my most recent adventure – the June Lake Triathlon. Read below for my long race recap – spoiler alert – I won my age group!

June Lake Triathlon Recap //

This was the 10th year of the June Lake Triathlon, an amazing race put on in one of my favorite underrated, Eastern Sierra towns, June Lake. To start with, this is a small race with a hometown feel, but very well organized and fun to do. The race even reserves an entire Forest Service campground entirely for racers, volunteers and their families. Oh Ridge Campground is directly connected to the start/finish area, so it’s super convenient. I ended up staying there, and for $30 a night it was a great deal.

Greyson and I drove down from Truckee on Friday afternoon, of course stopping at Whoa Nellie Deli for the best gas station food in California. Packet pick up was at June Mountain resort from 2-6 pm with a participant meeting at 5 pm (late packet pickup was offered at the start). I grabbed my stuff, got checked in and headed to our campsite to set up before returning for the participant meeting. I’m glad that I went to the participant meeting, as Alana the race director went over the courses in detail, so I learned about the turns I’d be taking. After the meeting, Greyson and I tried to find dinner. We were hoping for pizza, but the pizza place in town was closed. Note: June Lake is a small town, so dining options are limited. We had brought a bunch of food to make ourselves at the campsite, but there are also a ton of restaurants in Mammoth Lakes, not too far of a drive away.

June Lake Vista
All photos by Greyson Howard

Race Details:
The June Lake Triathlon has a sprint, olympic, and half iron distances, as well as an aquabike, relay divisions and a kids race. I did the sprint distance which was a 400 meter swim, 8 mile bike ride, and 2.25 mile run. The starts for all of the events were pretty staggered, with the half iron/aqua bike starting at 7:00 am, olympic starting at 8:00 am, and the sprint starting at 9:00 am. Transition was open all day, so you could get your bike and run gear set up whenever worked for you. While camping onsite had a ton of advantages, it did come with an early wake-up call, as the announcements for the half iron started at 6 am. I’d woken up with the sun at 5:30, but if you were hoping to take advantage of the later start time to sleep in, you might not be able to.

I ate a bagel with peanut butter and a banana and drank my coffee fairly early; killing time by reorganizing my gear into one bag that I could bike the ~1/2 mile to the start with. I got into my tri shorts and sports bra, applied sunscreen and shimmied into my wetsuit, for one last thing to carry. I rode down to the transition area a little after 8, and it was definitely a weird feeling to ride a bike in a wetsuit!

Transition was really well organized with plenty of volunteers directing everyone where to go. I got my transition area set up, got body marked and headed for the beach for a quick warm up swim. I was thinking of trying different, tinted goggles in the race (always the best idea to try something new!), and I wanted to make sure they were ok, in addition to warming up. Luckily, the goggles were perfect but the water was cold! I swam around until I felt pretty used to it, then retreated to the beach to wait for the start.

June Lake Triathlon Swim

11:53 (400 meters, includes long run up to transition, my Garmin time was ~10:30)
2/10 age group, 50/133 overall

The men went first at 9:05, and it was soon time for the women and relay swimmers. We waded out to to the start between to inflatable buoys. Swim is usually my strongest leg by far, so despite being not in the best swim shape, I placed myself towards the front. Once the swim started, I worried it was a mistake, since this was the hardest open water swim of my life. It was COLD, choppy and at higher altitude than I am used to. I’m usually fine swimming freestyle for the entire swim, just lifting my head out to sight, but after I breathed in some water early on, I had to breast stroke for awhile until I caught my breath. I ended up breast stroking a few more times throughout the swim, but I eventually calmed down enough to start picking off the slower men and the women who went out too hard. I ended up 17th out of 60+ women, so my start towards the front wasn’t so bad.

The swim is just a few right turns around buoys, but, weirdly after the last buoy, the water is shallow enough to stand and a lot of people were walking through thigh deep water for a loooong way in. I stood up to catch my breath, but quickly remembered that walking through water is not at all efficient, so I did a modified dolphin dive/swim a few strokes/stand/dive again strategy until my hands were dragging on the ground. I passed a few people on the way in this way!

T1: 2:37

Other than a sandy run up, T1 was fairly uneventful. I decided to wear mid-calf Smartwool socks for the bike and run, since the run was on a trail that is usually overgrown. It was hard to get my tall socks on my wet and sandy feet. I attempted to use my towel to de-sand them, but wasn’t too successful. I threw on my shirt with number pinned on, new road helmet (which was purchased earlier this week), sunglasses and I was off! I had bought road bike gloves earlier that week and tried them out, but decided at the last minute not to bother. I figured that I could handle 8 miles with no gloves and didn’t want to deal with getting them on and off.

June Lake Triathlon Bike

30:51 (8 miles, ~800 feet of elevation gain – I forgot to turn my garmin on when I started.)
2/10 age group, 60/133 overall

Bike Course via Strava
Bike Course via Strava

The most important thing about this bike ride is that it is gorgeous! Now, I live in a beautiful place, but I was struck over and over how beautiful this course was. The route is open to traffic everywhere except the very first section, but all intersections are controlled so you don’t have to stop. I saw barely any cars on my whole route, and I felt very safe the whole way. June Lake is a small, tourist town and it seemed like half the town was volunteering, so there wasn’t a ton of on course cheering, but the few people who were out were very encouraging.

Bike Elevation via Strava
Bike Elevation via Strava

My strategy for the bike was to go out hard, and keep going as hard as I could. The elevation on the course seemed pretty doable and I was expecting the run to suck no matter what, so I wasn’t too worried about saving my legs. The bike leg starts with a short climb that feels steeper than it actually is on cold legs. It settles into nice easy rollers with fun downhills for the first half of the course. A little past mile four the real climb starts. This climb was definitely a challenge (especially with my bike NOT set up for climbing), but very doable. It helped that there were short downhill sections in the larger climb to give my legs a break. I was climbing really well, and having lots of fun passing some men on the climbs and trying to get far enough ahead that they couldn’t catch up on the downhills where their larger mass gave them an advantage. I managed to drink about half a bottle of Tailwind on the bike, which is better than I usually do.

Unfortunately, I dropped my chain and got super tangled on the steepest section of the climb! I lost <40 seconds fixing the chain and all of my momentum. I also got re-passed by a bunch of people I had shot ahead of earlier on the climb. Eventually, I got back up to speed and was able to re-pass a few people before the descent back to transition.

Again, pretty uneventful. The race packet had recommended trail shoes for the race as it was almost entirely on a sandy, steep trail. My newish trail shoes (Saloman Mission XR Trail) had given my shins some issues when I first started wearing them, but they were feeling comfortable by the time the race came around, and I was so glad I wore a trail shoe. Also, the speed laces style lacing scheme made them easy to slip on quickly. I switched my helmet for a hat, drank some Tailwind, and I was off.

June Lake Triathlon Run

27:52 (2.25 miles, ~359 feet elevation gain)
2/10 age group, 72/133 overall

The run is hard. Really, really hard. Like up there with Ragnar for the hardest trail runs I’ve ever done, and it was only 2.25 miles. I started getting nervous when I saw that the women’s winning run times in previous years were around the 20 minute mark. While I would love to run 2.25 miles in under 20 minutes in a triathlon, I recognize that this is a pretty slow pace for the winners to run. I looked more closely at the course description and realized that the run involved a LOT of uphill. Luckily, it also involved a lot of downhill, but, depending on how technical the course is and how coordinated you are, downhills in trail races might not gain you a lot of speed.

Run Course via Strava
Run Course via Strava

I mainly trained on the flat road along Donner Lake, but I did throw in a couple of uphill runs to practice. I was mainly training using the run/walk method of running for 90 seconds, walking for 30 seconds and repeating. This tends to work well for me, as I am terrible at pacing myself. Once I saw the course profile and description, I decided that I was just going to walk the uphills, run the downhills and do 90/30 on the flats. This strategy worked really well for me.

Run Elevation via Strava

The sprint run starts on a narrow, sandy trail through some bushes. I immediately got some stickers in my socks, but they didn’t bug me too much throughout the race. After a short flat section (where I made myself stick to 90/30 pacing), the course turns up a trail offshoot for a steep ~0.25 mile climb. This section isn’t too sandy or technical, but you still need to pay attention to your feet. There’s an aid station at the top of this dog leg, and I tried to drink some water before running back down. Almost immediately after getting to the bottom, you are sent up a hot, steep, loose, long sandy climb of ~0.5 miles. I saw a couple of people trying to run it, but they weren’t going much faster than the rest of us power hiking and they looked like they were tiring themselves out. After a few false summits, you are finally at the top. You pop out on a paved road (the only paved segment of the sprint run) and run downhill for awhile. It’s nice to run downhill at this point, but I was already dreading the the return. We made a tiny loop on the dirt and ended up back on the road. The run uphill on the road wasn’t as bad as I was worried, but I walked it anyway to conserve energy. When I got back on the trails, I felt like I was on the home stretch!

I felt comfortable running the downhills, especially in my shoes so I just let my legs go as fast as they could. I knew there wouldn’t be too much of the race left once I hit the bottom, so I wasn’t worried about tiring my quads too much. I felt like I was sprinting down the hill, but, according to my garmin, my top speed was only 8:00 minute/mile! At the bottom, I was back on the flat, sandy narrow trail where I could see the finish line, which looked so far away. I really wanted to go back to my run/walk method, but there was a race photographer up ahead, so I kept running. Once I passed him, the finish line seemed much closer so I kept it at a run. At first, I planned to not push myself that hard, and I let a girl pass me pretty close to the finish line. My competitive nature kicked in and I sped up to a “sprint” through the soft sand. I caught her right before the finish line and ended up beating her by 15/100s of a second!

June Lake Triathlon Finish

1/19 age group, 59/133 overall

I got my participant medal (which was an awesome, handmade ceramic medal – definitely the coolest race swag I’ve ever gotten!), and basically collapsed in a chair at the finish line while a volunteer tried to find my timing chip under my tall sock. Greyson was trying to talk to me at this point, but all wanted to do was sit down. After I felt like I could stand, I dazedly wandered off with Greyson in search of food. The free lunch for racers was also really good – homemade potato salad, bbq chicken, hardboiled eggs, bean salad, fresh fruit and ice cold lemonade. I flopped down on the beach and picked at the delicious food while Greyson got me a beer. Mammoth Brewing Company had a booth at the race with $5 delicious IPA!

We ate, drank and hung around in the sun, watching racers finish and relaxing on the gorgeous beach, looking up at the beautiful mountains. I didn’t expect at all to place, but I wanted to hang around and watch some of the award ceremony and see what my official finishing time was. When the sprint awards ceremony started, I told Greyson to stay put, and wandered over to the results posting. I found my name and felt a shock when I saw that I was first in my age group! The announcer had almost gotten to the 30-34 division so I frantically waved Greyson over. When the announcer called my name, I climbed up on to the “podium” (actually those steps you use for box jumps/step ups in conditioning class). After our photo session, the announcer called up the male winners in our age division and crammed us all on the podium. I fell off once and stepping back onto the tall step felt almost as hard as any part of the triathlon! The age group winners all got handmade ceramic dishes, and I got a gorgeous cup with mountain outlines on it – way cooler than a typical plaque!

June Lake Triathlon Podium

Participating in the June Lake Triathlon was an amazing experience. It’s a fun, challenging race, well organized, with great swag, and it’s in a beautiful location close to Mammoth, Mono Lake and Yosemite. Plus, all the racers got a $1 beer at June Lake Brewery afterward. If you’re looking for a triathlon to add to your calendar next year, I highly recommend June Lake Triathlon!

Gear Details
Swim: Garmin Forerunner 910 XT (exact), Canari Tri Shorts (similar), Moving Comfort Rebound Racer (exact), Speedo Tinted Goggles, (similar).
Bike: Late 90’s Cannondale Road Bike much improved by a Fizik women’s specific saddle (similar), Specialized Women’s Sierra Helmet (exact), Shimano Women’s Mountain Bike Shoes (similar), Smartwool hiking socks (exact)
Run: Saloman Woman’s Mission XR (exact), Auburn Mini Triathlon participant hat

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

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