Saturday, May 9, 2009


(Photo Banner by Erik Hull. L-R: The top 3 men Brendan O'Flanagan (3rd), Kevin O'Connor (1st) and Neil Miller (2nd); women's repeat champion Julie Hull; women's runner-up Sarah Viamonte; women's 3rd place finisher Diane Hankee.)

The month of May remains undecided about how to behave, the dying winter, sputtering but holding on like a tick, and summer beckoning with unfurling leaves and patches of blue fracturing the concrete sky. Less indecisive were the 450 or so duathletes, who, weather-be-danged, descended on Lake Elmo Regional Park  on May 9 intent on launching their 2009 multi seasons. 

Larger and more competitive than the early-season ex-urban multis, the Oakdale Duathlon, which is the first major event on the metro Twin Cities race calendar, is perceived by many as the unofficial Season Opener.

Renown among their peers for their aggressive styles of racing, Medina's Kevin O'Connor and Farmington's Julie Hull stayed close to the front in the opening 5K run, wasted no time in transition, then blasted into the lead in the early miles of the (13.5 mile) bike leg.  

Seemingly impervious to the 45 degree temps and 15 mph gusts, Kevin had a 52 second gap on course and event record holder Neil Miller, the man who out-split him by 30 seconds coming into T1. 

Hull's margin in T2 was even more substantial than O'Connor's, leading the talented, yet relatively unknown Sarah Viamonte of Minneapolis, by 2:24 and Oakdale's Diane Hankee, who was coming off an impressive win at the Cinco de Mayo Duathlon the previous weekend, by 2:29.

Viamonte, winner of the Treadman Du last fall, would make up 1:04 on Hull, whose victory made her the event's first two-time champ. Additionally, Hull now owns the 3rd and 4th fastest women's times in the eight-year history of this event. Only Darcy Franklin (2006) and two-time US Duathlete of the Year Kris Miller (2003) have posted quicker clockings. 

Hankee hung on for third. The fourth and fifth spots were earned by St. Paul's Tracie Kent and Duluth's Laura Mills respectively.

Running scared, O'Connor posted a faster split in the final 5K than the opening one. Miller was able to make up all but 15 of the seconds that separated him from O'Connor, the man who pushed him to a course record (1:04:52) here two years earlier. Last year's runner-up Brendan O'Flanagan of Oakdale, took third this time around. 

Arguably, the performance of the day for the men was turned in by 47-year-old Todd Firebaugh of Woodbury. His 1:09:37 was good for a 4th place overall finish and a 1:09 lowering of the long-standing (since 2002!) 45-49 course record, set by the highly decorated Dave Dow.

Fifth place was earned by the prolific Jesse Nelson of Red Wing. Nelson won the Falls Duathlon the previous weekend and placed 3rd  at Winter Be Gone on April 26.

Divisional records were set in the men's 19 & under category by  Stillwater's John Heinlein III, whose 1:12:48 took a 51 second bite out of Denver Rogolla's 2008 mark; the mens 45-49 group (Firebaugh); and by USAT All American duathlete Ann Rhea, 61, of Plymouth, who became the first woman over age 60 to dip under the two hour mark (1:54:08) at this event.

Coming soon: A brief profile of Oakdale Duathlon women's runner-up Sarah Viamonte.