Saturday, May 2, 2009


"I'm still grinning," Jen Lenarz bubbled in a phone interview ten hours after she obliterated the women's course record at the 8th edition of the Chain of Lakes Triathlon in Alexandria on May 2. Propelled by the briskest women's bike and run splits of the day,  Jen covered the 600-13-2.8 course in 1:04:29, bettering Lynette Bacon's 2007 CR by a chunky 1:36.

"I felt good and strong the whole way through," she effervesced, still abuzz with lingering endorphins. "It was a good day. I was having fun."

It was a good day according the Tri Minnesota Series founder/adminstrator/timer Brad Pickle. (Chain of Lakes is the TMS's annual kick-off event.) "We had the best conditions in the history of the race. It was clear and sunny and not too cold or windy." 

But hospitable weather played only a small roll in Lenarz's elevated performance, taking a back seat to preparation. Her diligent off-season training had gone very well and her strength and fitness levels are satisfyingly high.  "I've always had to work hard to get where I am in life," said the former collegiate hurdler who is now a Dakota County Deputy Sheriff, "it's so great to see it when it finally pays off, like today."

Jen Lenarz dabbled in triathlon in 1999 and 2000. She returned to the lifestyle with renewed enthusiasm in 2005 and raced well enough to receive a "Most Improved" nomination. Her results since then have been solid, but perhaps her performance in Alexandria on May 2 suggests that she's ready to take her place among the very best multisportswomen in the region. "Hopefully it is a preview of good things to come."

Lenarz's next race will be at the super-competitive Manitou Sprint Triathlon on June 14. Her best prior performance there was a 9th in 2006.

Finishing 2nd in the COLT women's race was cyclist/triathlete Julia Mairs of Minneapolis, whose 1:06:57 puts her in the fleet company of Lenarz, Bacon, Cathy Lee and Kristen Weaver, those who have managed to beat 1:07 in this race. Third place on May 2 went to Angie Mracek of Rosemount. Last season Angie turned in top 5 efforts at COLT, Lake Marian and Lake Minnewaska.

The men's course record at COLT fell even harder than the women's, dropping from 56:34, set by Nick Langer in 2004, to 53:44. The man who put together this amazing effort on May 2 was introspective aerospace engineer from Columbia Heights, Matthew Payne

2008 was Payne's first full season of tri-racing and his results were almost impressive enough to warrant a Most Improved nomination.  

Matt, are you ready to compete alongside Minnesota's best this year? Becoming wistful, he admitted that he had imagined himself "hanging with top guys like Curt Wood and Brian Bich..." then shifted gears, seemingly embarrassed by what he perceived as his own presumptuousness. "I'm not there yet." He then slipped back into wistful mode: "but I'm sure trying to get there."

But maybe you're good enough right now, Matt? After all, you just won COLT in a time that Curt, Brian and Co. would be proud of. And your bike split was quite David Thompson-ish. You're there, dude! "You're crazy," Payne replied , then became glassy-eyed. "But maybe I am," he said quietly, as if only to himself. He immediately dismissed the thought and announced, "I'm not trying to beat anyone in particular. My goal is just to go as fast as I can go."

Later in an email, Payne had this to say: "While it's one thing to put up a fast time at an early season, low-key, low-pressure event, it's another thing entirely to line up next to the top talent around here and actually race with them (which I still have yet to actually do since I was racing AG, not Elite, last year)."

Payne hasn't been in the sport long enough to determine a distance preference. He loves short races, because " I like to go fast" and "Minnesota has the greatest sprint course races in the country." He has also dabbled in Olympic distance racing and some longer stuff. "I've done two halves and cracking the top 10 at Pigman last year was very exciting for me." 

He's even looking beyond the 70.3 distance. Slipping back into wistful mode, he pondered "like everyone, I want to go to Kona and do that [Ironman] thing..." 

Rounding out the men's top 3 on that beautiful May 2 in Alexandria were 28-year-old Micah Turman (57:10) and Ross Weinzierl (57:16), 22, both of Minneapolis.