Duluth’s Josh Blankenheim has often been the top men’s amateur racer at the Brewhouse Triathlon, only to finish behind a professional racer or two.
Such was the case a year ago when Blankenheim finished second to Island Lake course-record holder David Thompson.
This year, the 37-year-old Blankenheim found himself all alone out in front Sunday with no one — amateur or professional — in sight to win the 31st edition of the Brewhouse Triathlon at Island Lake Reservoir.
Blankenheim made the 1.5-kilometer swim to and from the beach at the Island Lake Recreation Area, the 40K bike ride down Rice Lake, Emerson, Fish Lake and Taft roads and the 10K run north along Rice Lake Road in 2 hours, 23 seconds to beat runner-up Jame Croteau, 21, of La Crosse, Wis. by just under two minutes.
Elaine Nelson, 38, of Duluth was the top female finisher with a time of 2:12:32. She beat second-place Kayla Kjellman, 25, of Thunder Bay by just over six and a half minutes for her third Brewhouse title.
“Wins are always special,” Blankenheim said. “I was happy to swim strong and stay up near the front and have a good, strong bike to put some distance between the rest of the guys. I had a decent lead on the run so I was comfortable with that. It felt pretty good.”
Blankenheim finished the course last year in 1:58:09 — just over four minutes off Thompson’s course record — doing the swim in 20:15, the bike in 1:00:21 and run in 36:04. This year, he did the swim in 21:18, the bike in 59:19 and run in 38:14.
Blankenheim said he took over the lead Sunday during the bike ride around the 8-mile marker and from there, it was just him and the pace motorcycle the rest of the way.
“Running is my strong suit so usually if there is a lead there, I’m comfortable that I’m not going to give it up to somebody,” Blankenheim said.
Hot off a win at the Buzz Ryan Triathlon two weeks ago at Island Lake, Nelson also took over the women’s lead on the cycling portion, but not until after the turnaround back to the Island Lake Recreation Area. She did the swim in 24:20, the bike in 1:05:37 and run in 39:47.
While running is Nelson’s strength — she ran track and cross country at the University of Minnesota — on Sunday she had a particularly strong swim, which she said set her up for taking the lead on the bike.
“The more you swim, the more you are used to it,” Nelson said. “Part of it is just getting used to being in a pack of people and getting kicked around a little bit. The sighting, you have to look up and make sure you are swimming in a straight line, otherwise you zigzag and you don’t get extra bonus points (for the extra distance). It costs you a lot of seconds, actually.”
Nelson won her first Brewhouse Triathlon back in 2012 when the event was held at Pike Lake. Her most recent title was in 2014 — the second year at Island Lake — with a time of 2:12:06.
She finished third in 2015 in 2:16:34, then took last year off for the birth of her second child. Nelson now has a son who is almost four and a 10-month old daughter, and the two kids have helped her discover a secret training method for triathlons.
“There has been times I’ve taken them out on the double chariot if I go for a bike ride,” Nelson said. “It is kind of fun to go from a double chariot on a cyclocross bike to a time trial bike. You feel so much faster, so much faster. You feel like you’re just flying. It’s kind of fun for that.”
31st Brewhouse Triathlon
•Sunday at Island Lake
•1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run
1. Josh Blankenheim, 2:00:23; 2. Jake Croteau, 2:02:19; 3. Jeff Mettler, 2:03:13; 4. Phil Brown, 2:09:30; 5. Andy Hardt, 2:10:13; 6. Anthony McDill, 2:10:48; 7. Louis Hughes, 2:11:10; 8. Doug Thiessen, 2:11:36; 9. Jaysun Pyatt, 2:11:57; 10. Spencer Syvertson, 2:13:50.
1. Elaine Nelson, 2:12:32; 2. Kayla Kjellman, 2:19:06; 3. Tiffany Kari, 2:22:34; 4. Mali Gaber, 2:24:21; 5. Sarah Guillot, 2:24:50; 6. Melanie Rabino, 2:27.18; 7. Hannah Mitchell, 2:28:08; 8. Alyson Welch, 2:30:10; 9. Maisy Waech, 2:33:47; 10. Libby Bent, 2:22:57.