Saturday, May 23, 2009


For more than a quarter-century Pam and Daryl Stevens have nurtured the Apple Duathlon, building it into a truly superior run-bike-run. Apple's new director, Brandon Testa, vowed to perpetuate the legacy. And he and his committee made good on that pledge. All that has defined The Apple for so many years--great courses, terrific event management and volunteer support, JMS Timing, abundant post event amenities, great tech-shirts, unique awards, profuse giveaways and amazing competition--was in place.

And speaking of amazing competition, some contend that The Apple is the competitive 400-person multi in America. Interesting idea; one that's hard to affirm, but just as difficult to deny. What do you think? Whatever your answer may be, you must agree, if you're were in Sartell on May 23 or for any of the prior nine editions of the race, that, size-be-danged, the Apple Duathlon is truly a major league event.

Race day was clear and breezy. Temps were in the comfortable racing zone.

Honorary Minnesotan Marnie Walth of Bismarck, ND, and Duluth's Marlo McGaver have truly imprinted this event. Walth, a perennial podium finisher here, was victorious in 2001. Crosby was going for her 4th win in as many starts. Could these trends continue when six pros and a deeper-than-ever assemblage of amateur talent were on hand?  

The opening 5K was brisk with Chicago pro Heidi Sarna leading the way. Marlo and du pioneer Anne Preisig of Falmouth, Massachusetts hung close, as did decorated out-of-staters Kristin Wrede (IL), Rachel Chambers (FL) and Kathryn Kasischke (CA). The undertrained Walth was back in 8th place, more than a minute behind Sarna and McGaver.

Undertrained perhaps, but well-rested, Walth saddled-up and began to pick off the women in front of her.

The last woman to pass was Marlo, though Marnie assumed that there were others up ahead. In the end, it would be Walth, not McGaver, whose cycling skills are legendary, who'd post the fastest women's bike split of the day.

Marlo and Marnie exchanged leads, neither allowing the other to truly get away. Marlo entered T2 with a 14-second advantage. Nineteen minutes later sher crossed the finish line, officially recording her fourth consecutive Apple victory. Assuming that a visiting pro or two had finished ahead of Marlo and herself, Marnie was pleasantly surprised to learn that she was the runner-up. 

Is "pleasantly surprised" the correct verbage to describe how you felt when you learned that you finished 2nd?

"SHOCKED is more like it," Marnie explained via email. She went on to describe her race.

"When we started the run I felt like I was at the back of the pack. I had passed some ladies right away on the bike, but had no idea that Marlo and I were in front. I assumed that there were at least two or three ladies so far ahead that I simply couldn't see them. I didn't learn that I was in second place until I saw my husband Shayne in the middle of the second run."

(Shayne was spectating, keeping tabs on his wife's position.) 

As a USAT 40-year-old--Marnie will turn forty later this year--were you hoping to break the masters record? 

"Yes, I knew what Jan's record was and I figured I had a shot at it. But I assumed that it would be Ann that would break it, not me." 

"Jan" is Jan Guenther, who set the masters CR - 1:37:56- in 2004. "Ann" is Ann Preisig, 41, who was the 2008 US Elite National Duathlon Champ. 

Marnie managed to lower Guenther's mark by a healthy 2:08.  Marnie, did you know that you out-split Marlo on the bike? 

", I didn't know my bike time was faster than Marlo's. That really puts things into perspective. I feel fast now."

Rounding out the women's top 5 on May 23rd were Kathryn Kasischke, Kristin Wrede and Rachel Chambers. Minnesotans Jeanne Fleck and Kortney Haag took the next two spots. And 50-year-old Jan Guenther placed 10th, absolutely destroying the 50-54W course record.

David Thompson came into this year's Apple as the US Elite National Duathlon Champion, thanks to his decisive win--his third, no less--at Powerman Alabama back on April 19. As if he needed to remind his competition that he is the premier male duathlete in America today, David showed no mercy once he mounted his trusty Litespeed.  Coloradan Justin Hurd, who is best known for his long-course tri prowess, gave chase while the rest of the elite pack receded but admitted later that "He just flew by me...I was just trying to stay a minute off his pace. I kept him in my sight but...he was just too fast for me." (Quote excerpted from

Thompson's victory, his 5th at The Apple, gave him 50 for his career. That's right! 50! Remember, this guy didn't become a multisporter until 2000.

Emerging star Josh Merrick (CO) took third, followed by two-time runner-up at Elite Nationals, Ryan Guilano (IL) and mercurial Minnesotan Matthew Payne.

(Photos by Erik Hull: R -Todd Firebaugh en route to breaking his own 45-49 CR at Apple Du. L - Marnie Walth out-rides  an ultra-strong women's field.)

* A great race story by Jacob Laxen on


* MATTHEW PAYNE's continuing ascent..  Matt is unquestionably the fastest rising new star on the Minnesota multi scene. He's received a large amount of laudatory cyber ink on this site, and has deserved every byte. He placed 5th overall at Apple in the 2nd fastest amateur time--1:24:34--in course history (this route has been used since 2004).  Only the phenomenal Peter Skorseth has gone faster--1:23:56 in 2005.

Matt, tell us about your experience at Apple, and how it compares to your record setting efforts at Chain of Lakes and Albert Lea?

"Apple was a tough race right from the start.  The pace that the lead group set on the opening 5K was absolutely insane and I knew from about 1/4 mile in that I had no prayer of hanging on with them.  Plan B was to forget about them, run the opening 5K at my own pace, then ride hard and try to recover as many places as possible prior to the closing run.

"As far as comparing Apple to my previous races this year, it's tough.  All 3 races were very hard efforts and I don't think I left time out on the course at any of them.  The main difference is that Chain of Lakes and Land Between the Lakes were basically time trial type efforts, whereas Apple was competitive from start to finish.  Against a field that strong, if you let off the gas for a second, you're going to get passed.

"At the end of the day, though, I was able to finish in front of quite a few guys that were beating me consistently last season, and that's always satisfying and, of course, gives me a great deal of confidence going into the the rest of this season."

TODD FIREBAUGH may be the best 45-49 male duathlete in America right now. His performances at Apple and Oakdale have been astonishing. A podium spot at ITU Duathlon Worlds could be in Todd's future? 

Todd, what are your competitive goals for the 2009 season?

"I came in with two goals in mind: (1) qualify for the Du Short-Course Worlds and (2) race well at the Rhode Island 70.3." (We'll deal with Todd's quest for a Kona slot in a later post.)

Are you looking forward to Du Worlds? And have you competed at Worlds before?

"I’m on course for the du championships and look forward to preparing myself for that late September race.  I tasted the USAT worlds for the first time last year in Italy.  I used my qualifying slot as a good reason: to take my wife to Europe.  I didn’t really think I’d be contending.  Rather than trekking around Italy with my bike case, I decided to rent from a shop in Rimini.  Once I got there and the competitive juices started flowing, I was bummed that I didn’t have my weapon of choice.  As it was, I raced well on my Cinelli road bike (sans aero bars) and finished 6th (out of 90) in my age group – 52 seconds out of 3rd place." 

Sounds like you're glad you went?

"The experience was tremendous.  We developed some great friendships with Troy and Darcy Vargas and Derick and Brenda Podratz (and loved Italy!). And, I realized that I could compete at a high level.  Until then, I’d really only viewed duathlons as good practice for the upcoming tri season."

Your early-season results suggest that your training is going well.

"Thus far in ’09 I've felt particularly strong on the bike.  My run is not as sharp as it needs to be.  I’ve had some lower back issues that only affect me when I run, which has hampered the quality of my run training. Fortunately, the combination of ibuprofen, hot and icy, and, most importantly, adrenaline, has blunted the pain on race day.  I’ll need to improve my run to compete well at Worlds – (a) the first run is a10k vs. a 5k and (b) I’m expecting a more competitive field with the U.S. location."

Todd, you are a tremendous duathlete. You beat a great group of guys in Sartell.

"I really like the way the duathlon sets up for me competitively – it’s fun to race.  I know there will be a number of guys who will blast the first run beyond what I can do.  I feel if I can keep them in my sights, I’ll have a pretty good chance of catching them on the bike – the key is catching them early enough to build enough margin to stave them off on the last run.  At Apple, my buddy Troy Vargas, who is having a monster season, led our wave out on the run – followed in short order by Jim Kelly and Tom Krenz, who are fierce competitors and a few others I didn’t know (I later spent some time with Shane Thread, who finished third in my age group – he’s from my hometown of Evansville, IN).  I caught Jim and Tom on the bike shortly after the first turn into the wind.  Jim battled for several miles -- we went back and forth two or three times.  I built a gap turning into the hills where I saw Troy for the first time.  After the first hill dips into a second climb, I caught him.  With about 15 miles to go, I was in first, and knew it was my race to win or lose (I was racing the wave vs. the age group).  It was great to get the tailwind on the backstretch of the bike, but I knew it would be helping everyone.  I felt good off the bike, but also knew I had a target on my back on the run.  It’s a great group of competitors and a great group of people – and I know I have to keep improving if I’m going to win in the future." 

Are you the best 45-49 male duathlete in America right now?

I think the world’s will determine that.  I was ranked 9th last year based on Apple and Rimini.  And I recognize a number of the great duathletes from the U.S. didn’t make the trip to Italy, so we’ll see what I can do head-to-head.  As I said, I believe I need to improve my run.  I also know that Peter Skorseth could step out of retirement tomorrow and dominate if he so chose.  I started late and just want to keep getting better and compete at new levels." 

Stay healthy and keep rockin'.