Saturday, September 5, 2015

Spring Lake Triathlon 2015 - swim/run/bike course preview


This September I will do the Spring Lake Triathlon for the first time, after hearing lots of good things about it from friends since I moved to Austin four years ago. This event is a fundraiser for the San Marcos Rotary Club, and is one of only two events in which people are allowed to swim in Spring Lake, an environmentally protected spring-fed lake that usually is traversed only by glass-bottom boats. This year, 2015, the course is different due to construction between Spring Lake and the usual bike course. The race director has solved this problem by changing the format to a swim to run to bike event - I'm not even sure what to call this! Overall I think this order of events will favor strong cyclists over strong runners, so I'm eager to try it.
Spring Lake and its glass bottom boats
The swim is 500m in Spring Lake. The spring water is about 68 degrees, which in Texas is considered icy cold. Some folks will wear wetsuits. I'm going to brave it without one, so I'll be prepared for a sharp intake of breath when I first get in, and maybe a little difficulty breathing easily for the first minute of the swim. Should be good to go after that. I find that goose bumps on my arms give me excellent feel for the water! Spring Lake has some other interesting quirks besides the cold temperature - the reason the glass bottom boats are a hit is because the water is crystal clear, allowing viewers to see the towering aquatic plants growing up toward the surface AND abundant fish. I don't know about you, but most triathletes don't really want to see water plants reaching up toward them and giant fish. I haven't swum in anything like these conditions, so I'm really not sure how I will respond.
No black line to follow here!

Swimmers will encounter a grassy exit area that leads to a decomposed granite trail leading to the T1 parking lot where their shoes will be waiting. I am hoping that the race director will have carpet down on the trail for my tender feet. I will have to decide if I want to carry my cap and goggles with me on the run or come back for them later.
The run begins on asphalt, and is mostly uphill for the first mile as it winds upward into the neighborhood above the spring. About 1.33 miles in, it enters the Spring Lake Preserve. Since what goes up must come down, this gravel section starts with a nice downhill.
I did not preview the park section of the run course, but imagine that there is a bit of shade available. Overall having the run second in the morning should mean somewhat lower temperatures, which will be welcome. After winding through the park, the run course finishes on Lime Kiln Rd, which is flat or downhill on this section, and then winds around the parking lot of the Travis Elementary School to T2.

The bike course begins on Post Road, heading north. In general north = more uphill than downhill and south = more headwind on this bike course. Post Rd. starts out as very smooth asphalt with a marked bike lane. I'm assuming this bike lane will be swept ahead of the race, but was a bit junky during my preview ride. The first 1.25 miles are very nice, with just two manhole covers to watch out for just after the brightly painted apartment complex. As the road leaves town, the surface changes over to chip seal, but there continues to be shoulder the full distance (3 miles to the turn around). Riders will pass a few "road closed ahead" warning signs - presumably due to May flooding of the Blanco River - but the turnaround is well before this point (went a bit farther to see where the road was closed, but not far enough to see any damage). There is a hill near mile 3. I'm not certain if this hill is included in the course or if the turnaround will come before it.
Riders will not go far enough on Post Rd to see THIS sign.
On the way back into town, there is a section of new asphalt that provides a nice ride for a little while, and then the good asphalt picks up again after mile 5. Just before the course takes a right turn onto Lime Kiln Rd., be on the look out for a rough patch near a chainlink fence. This patch may be in better shape by race day, but as of now, if you're not an amazing bike handler who can skirt it on the right and avoid hitting the curb, I recommend moving left into the traffic lane (after checking for cars behind you of course!) where the surface is packed down rather than loose with large gravel.

The course takes a 90 degree right turn onto Lime Kiln Rd right after the Texaco station (watch for traffic!).

Lime Kiln Rd is all chip seal, so expect a bumpy ride. There aren't many holes, and no large cracks. There's a bit more traffic here than on Post Rd, at least close to town, so stay vigilant. As you get close to the Spring Lake Preserve trail head where the run course emptied out onto this same road, you'll notice a very large "shoulder" to your right, but don't be fooled! It's really a very badly paved parking lot for the trailhead, and you will not want to ride on it unless you brought a knobby-tire bike. Stick close to the white line, and stay aware of your surroundings. Like Post Rd, this road is rolling but generally uphill on the way out. Watch for a "crashed" rocket and Big Foot on the right between miles 9 and 10.
When you see a sign for the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, the beginning of the loop that serves as the turnaround is getting close.
You will want to be prepared for a hard right turn just before the loop starts. I want to say very clearly that you MUST SLOW DOWN FOR THIS TURN. I suspect there will be volunteers there to remind you, and you will see the big yellow road signs with black right turn arrows in front of as well. There will be fellow riders coming the other way, and if you swing wide, you run the risk of colliding head-on with someone. Do NOT trick yourself into thinking you can take this corner at 15-20 mph. (And remember when you are heading back down around this corner to watch for idiots on the way up who might kill you!)
Just after the sharp turn is an uphill, so you might want to back off by a couple gears as you slow down into the turn, and then get out of the saddle for the uphill. It's not particularly steep or long (not as hard as the hill on Blue Bluff from Lindell near Decker Lake), but it's nice to know it's there. After the hill you go straight ahead to start the loop, and make three 90 degree left turns to complete the loop. When you get back to the start of the loop there is a stop sign. This time you'll want to turn right instead of left to head back to town.
The pavement is pretty bumpy heading back to the finish line, but there are more downhills than uphills. You will have to decide how much bumpiness you are willing to take as you speed down to the finish. I may choose to coast some of the faster sections slightly out of the saddle vs. pushing my speed hard. When you are close to the finish, you will see the train tracks ahead of you. If the finish line is near bike out, then you will turn right on Post. Rd and then right again to come back to the school parking lot to finish. Remember that you will need to safely dismount your bike to run across the finish, so don't forget to slow down instead of sprinting!
Please visit the Spring Lake Triathlon official website for maps of the course and a link to registration. I hope you enjoy the race and found this preview of the 2015 bike course helpful!