Second annual Bertram Blast is a sunny success

Competitors came from near and far to test their athleticism at the second annual Bertram Blast Triathlon, Duathlon, and Trail Run this past Saturday at Bertram Regional Park. More than 120 athletes completed the triathlon, which included a one third mile swim, a six-mile mountain bike course, and a three-mile trail run. (Times staff photos by Clay Sawatzke)
Competitors came from near and far to test their athleticism at the second annual Bertram Blast Triathlon, Duathlon, and Trail Run this past Saturday at Bertram Regional Park. More than 120 athletes completed the triathlon, which included a one third mile swim, a six-mile mountain bike course, and a three-mile trail run. (Times staff photos by Clay Sawatzke)

Beautiful, sunny skies, and a picture-perfect backdrop made for a memorable 2017 Bertram Blast Triathlon this past weekend.

A step up in turnout, as well as competition level, certainly didn’t hurt.

Nearly 200 athletes showed up from around the state, country, and even continent to compete in the state’s only fully off-road triathlon Saturday, with Jonathan Balabuck besting them all. The 37-year old from Thunder Bay, Ontario came across the line in a record-setting time of 57:27, nearly a minute ahead of second-place. Balabuck’s time was a more than a four-minute improvement on last year’s winning time, and he was one of four people to blow by that inaugural year record on Saturday.

Jonathan Balabuck was the first competitor across the finish line during Saturday’s race, smashing last year’s course record with a time of 57:27. Balabuck came down from Thunder Bay, Ontario for the race.
Jonathan Balabuck was the first competitor across the finish line during Saturday’s race, smashing last year’s course record with a time of 57:27. Balabuck came down from Thunder Bay, Ontario for the race.

According to Minnesota Tri News, Balabuck’s win was hardly an anomaly. The Canadian has been coming down to Minnesota for the last 15 years to compete, and Minnesota Tri News lists wins that include the Buffalo Olympic (2011), Brewhouse (2011, 2009), and Chisago Half (2006).

The second-place finisher was Brooks Grossinger (58:24), with Joel Lafrance (58:40) coming in third. Last year’s winner, Anthony Hirschman, a 37-year old from Plymouth, finished fourth with a time of 1:01:31, Hirschman finished 21 seconds ahead of his winning pace from 2016.

The women’s triathlon was won by Emily Muellner, who finished with a time of 1:08:17. The 24-year-old from Minneapolis lowered the women’s record by more than four minutes from 2016. Nancy Whillock finished second in the female category, with Jennifer Neuman coming in third.

Brett Oden, creator and director of the Bertram Blast, said it was a treat to see a number of elite athletes show up for the second-ever Bertram Tri. “We had a lot more competitive field this year,” said Oden. “I think we’ll see more and more elite athletes sign up next year [too].”

Tara Pink was the female champion in the duathlon event Saturday, finishing the bike and run combo in 1:04:04.
Tara Pink was the female champion in the duathlon event Saturday, finishing the bike and run combo in 1:04:04.

But Oden is quick to acknowledge that this event is about much more than just the elite athletes. Recreational athletes traveled from all over as well on Saturday to compete and to enjoy one of the most natural settings in the metro area.

“We’re always going to stay grounded in that it’s an event for local families,” said Oden.

The family aspect was apparent at the race course, as kids raced around the playground during the competition and the beach opened to families and participants alike who were looking for a cool-down swim. Plus there were the two giant T-Rexes moseying around the course and through the spectator area.

It’s all part of an effort to continue to grow the numbers at the triathlon, and just as importantly, the number of people that get to experience the still relatively new Bertram Regional Park.

Oden was more than pleased with the growth the event saw from year one to year two. In 2016, 81 people finished the triathlon. That number jumped all the way up to 106 this year. And according to Oden, overall participants went from near 150 to almost 200.

“That’s pretty good at a time when a lot of races are shrinking in size,” he said, adding that he believes the race will have even more momentum for next year after getting such beautiful weather on Saturday.

A storm passed just north prior to race time Saturday, leaving behind sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70s.

Playful T-Rexes were on hand Saturday to interact with fans and competitors alike near the course.
Playful T-Rexes were on hand Saturday to interact with fans and competitors alike near the course.

“It maybe got a little bit warm [toward the end], but it’s July so people expect that,” said Oden. “Most of the race is in the shade and in the woods.”

The immediate feedback from Saturday was fantastic, per the race director.

“Everybody loved it,” he said. “People were thrilled with it.”

It wasn’t just the race that impressed people, but the park as well.

The triathlon was created with the idea that it would bring people to Bertram, get them to fall in love, and keep them coming back to use the space for exercise, recreation, and family fun. So far, so good.

Oden said several people told him after Saturday’s race that they would be making trips back to Bertram, both to train and to use the beach.

“It’s really great to see a lot of people excited about it,” he said.

The beauty of the park goes hand-in-hand with the fully off-road course to help bring people from a wide region. There were 16 total athletes from Monticello, counting the triathlon, duathlon and trail run, to lead the way. But the next highest totals came from a range of places, including 12 from Plymouth, 10 from Maple Grove, nine from Minneapolis, and six from Thunder Bay. Competitors also came from both North and South Dakota to experience the race.

A scenic off-road course is one of the many things that is attracting athletes to the Bertram Blast Triathlon, which just completed its second annual event this past Saturday at Bertram Regional Park. The event is the only fully off-road triathlon in Minnesota.
A scenic off-road course is one of the many things that is attracting athletes to the Bertram Blast Triathlon, which just completed its second annual event this past Saturday at Bertram Regional Park. The event is the only fully off-road triathlon in Minnesota.

“It kind of speaks to the fact that we’re the first and only off-road tri in the state of Minnesota,” said Oden. “And it’s great that it’s kind of putting the park on the map for people outside of Wright County.”

Other winners from Saturday’s event included 12-year-old Sean Pickle of St. Cloud. Pickle turned in a time of 23:54 to win the three-mile trail run. Dane Ramsay of St. Michael was the duathlon winner, coming across the line with a time of 55:42.

Five Monticelloans finished the triathlon, led by David Herro. The 23-year-old finished in 37th place overall with a time of 1:19:44. Other Monticello finishers were Heather Arbanella (1:30:31), Brent Nygaard (1:35:11), Terri Miller (1:37:31), and Shannon Reagan (1:56:37).

Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]