By Terri Seidel – “If I am going to do this triathlon, I need to commit to training”. Those were my words as I sat and discussed with my husband the thought about me participating in the 2016 TriZou Triathlon – my first triathlon.
Hunter Mountain, New York, June 9, 2012 – North-South Lake State Park.
The Catskill Mountains in eastern New York, home of the legendary Rip Van Winkle, provided the mix of water and hills for a challenging race in this chapter of the ‘Triathlon Across the USA’ adventure. Along the way, we enjoyed a host of new experiences and learned several lessons from this weekend with the HITS Triathlon Series.
Planning the New York Triathlon
I began to prepare the 2012 triathlon season in late 2011. To achieve the goal of completing triathlons in all 50 states by age 70, I needed to complete triathlons in the remaining 47 states within eleven seasons, an average of just over four races per season.
For the past several years, Joy and I lived in western Massachusetts approximately half time. The work situation that brought us to Massachusetts would continue for only two more years. Therefore, my goal for 2012 was to complete triathlons in the remaining New England states. With the ‘race schedule fairy’ working on my behalf, I was able to complete races in the remaining New England states and, as a bonus, this one in New York, all within the 2012 season.
Travel to the New York Triathlon
Hunter Mountain, New York is about 2-1/2 hours drive from our home in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Since the race started at 7 am, we made the trip to the race venue the day before and stayed overnight near it.
We could have left at 3 am (as on the previous weekend for the Connecticut triathlon) and made the drive in the morning. However, I was still new to competing in triathlons. I wanted to pick-up my race packet before race day and arrive at the race site on race day near the time when the transition area opened, which in this case was 5 am. Besides this, we would have missed exploring the Catskills as we did on Friday afternoon.
The Copper Kettle Motel Cottages in nearby Windham, New York provided lodging for Friday evening. While the rooms were simple, we were happy to support the young couple who purchased the cottages one year earlier.
There was another reason for traveling to Hunter the day before the race.
One week before the triathlon, I received a call from Dave Kiviat with the HITS Triathlon Series. Dave asked if he could interview me about my ‘story’.
Weeks earlier, I received an e-mail from HITS Triathlon requesting stories about those participating in the triathlon. I responded with information about the ‘one triathlon in each state by age 70’ mission. HITS management found the story interesting and decided to use it to promote the Triathlon Series.
On Friday afternoon, Joy and I first drove to the Copper Kettle, following the back roads from exit B2 on Interstate 90 in eastern New York. After settling in our room, we traveled to the race site for the interview and pre-race meeting. Dave videotaped the interview from the bluffs overlooking the Hudson River Valley at Saugerties, NY.
After picking up my race packet and attending the pre-race meeting, we headed back to our cottage with an intermediate stop for a light dinner.
While I never saw the video interview, Joy heard from a race spectator the next day that the story had been published in a local newspaper.
Race Day – June 9, 2012
On race morning, we left the Copper Kettle a little before 5 am, driving the roughly 15 miles to the North-South Lake State Park. In keeping with one pre-race ritual, we stopped at a local convenience store for coffee.
HITS Hunter Mountain Triathlon
This HITS Triathlon Series included five distances – supersprint (which HITS calls ‘open’), sprint, Olympic, half Ironman, Ironman – over two days.
Distances for the individual legs of the sprint triathlon in which I participated were:
- Swim: 750 m (0.47 mile)
- Bike: 20 km (12.4 mile)
- Run: 5 km (3.1 mile)
By the start of the sprint triathlon, the air temperature was in the lower 60’s °F (around 16-17°C). The sky was overcast, threatening rain.
Joy also volunteered at this race. Her first assignment was in the transition area during the sprint distance. As you will read below, it was good for me that she was here.
Later, she moved to the Finish Line where she presented finisher medals to those who had completed the Olympic distance race.
The 750 m (just under a half mile) swim leg of the triathlon occurred in South Lake. As this was early June in an area popular to snow skiers, the water temperature was in the lower 60’s F.
I learned one important lesson on this day. Before an open water swim, go into the water before the race to see what you will be running or walking on and swimming in. In this case, the lake bottom was covered with many sharp rocks that could have hurt my feet or resulted in a twisted ankle had I blindly run into the water and stepped on one of them. Based on what I learned before the race, I took a much more conservative approach to entering and exiting the swim.
Thanks to my wetsuit, the swim was comfortable. I did, however, have my first experience with my goggles being struck by another swimmer. As a result, my goggles filled partially with water early in the race.
During the swim leg, a light drizzle had begun to fall making the roads wet and somewhat slippery.
This was also the hilliest bike course in a race until now. Early in the course, after coming out of the park which involved a slight climb, the road became flat to slightly downhill. Of course, I was in a high gear trying to take advantage of the slope to gain some speed.
All of a sudden, the road made a sharp right turn with a steep hill in front of us. As I shifted the chain from the large to the small ring, the chain came off and became jammed between the small ring and frame.
I dismounted as soon as I was able to unclip my shoes. The chain was not moving so I flipped the bike upside down and found that the chain was being held in place by an adjusting screw. I grabbed the chain, maneuvered it around the screw, and pulled it loose. In the process, the chain cut the tips of the index and middle fingers on my right hand. Not serious but they would hurt later.
After a short time the chain was on and I was back on the road. As a result of flipping my bike over, I lost all of the Gatorade in the water bottle between my aero bars. Fortunately, the weather was cool and I did not need the liquid.
In retrospect, I guess that I lost about one minute so this was not a catastrophe. However, I had learned several lessons.
With the recent pain in my right knee, my chiropractor had recommended that I avoid weight bearing exercises. I had been only swimming.
While swimming is great exercise for general fitness, it does little for the specific requirements of running. The run was the most difficult of this year’s races, requiring a combination of running and walking. Near the end of the race, the muscles above the front of the right knee felt as if they were going to cramp. Fortunately they did not.
One other lesson that I learned was that it is good to have someone looking out for you. Early in the run, a woman commented about her wet shoes as she passed me. Odd, I thought. My shoes did not feel wet. Since I run without socks, I was sure that I would have known if my shoes were wet.
After the race, I found out why my shoes were not wet. My dear wife, who was volunteering around the transition area, had thoughtfully covered my shoes when the drizzle began.
Even today, I cover my running shoes with a towel in the transition area if there is the slightest appearance of rain.
I completed the course in 1:38:45, fast enough for a first place in my age group.
However, I need to qualify this. The HITS Triathlon Series gives awards for each year of age, based on the age of the person on January 1st of that year. This meant that I raced as a 58 year old (even though I was now 59). Despite the problems on the bike and run, I was the fastest 58 year old.
- Interview about my story – to do a triathlon in each state (done as a promotional video for HITS Triathlon Series).
- First triathlon in which there was a light rain.
- This was the first triathlon in which I had a mechanical problem with my bicycle – the chain came off during downshifting while climbing a steep hill.
- First triathlon in which I received a plaque for a first place finish.
Other Lessons from the New York Triathlon
- I now carry extra liquid, particularly on hot race days. Losing all of the liquid when I stopped to reinstall the bike chain taught me to be prepared.
- Get business cards or at least e-mail addresses of fellow participants of each triathlon. I have met such great people, many whom I would like to stay in contact with in the future.
- A jammed chain can happen “to the best of us”. The picture below is a scanned image of an article from the June 12, 2012 issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The article describes the experience of an Olympic cyclist who lost her chance at a medal when her chain jammed on a hill climb (sound familiar?) and she had to dismount in order to reinstall the chain.
Back Home from the New York Triathlon
The return trip followed the same route used on the way to the race location. We did make one extra stop to enjoy Kaaterskill Falls.
In traveling around the USA, we often combine travel to and from the triathlon with side trips to waterfalls and other parts of God’s creation.
The HITS event was well organized and well run. Joy and I left convinced that we should include other triathlons in the HITS series in our schedule. Our current plan is to make our California triathlon the one that HITS holds in Palm Springs late each year.
The only question is ‘In which year?’.
Yankton, South Dakota; September 4, 2011—Triple V Triathlon, Lewis & Clark Recreation Area
Historians have recorded Julius Caesar proclaiming “Veni, Vidi, Vici” following his swift and decisive victory at the Battle of Zela in 47 BC. This same Latin phrase, which literally means “I came, I saw, I conquered”, was the theme for the Triple V Triathlon.
What does this have to do with triathlon?
You’ll see as you read the story of the triathlon in the second state in the Triathlon Across the USA adventure.
Planning the South Dakota Triathlon
Having set the goal of completing triathlons in all 50 states by the time I reached age 70—I was 58, I knew that I needed to get on with it and complete races in other states. Fifty states in 12 years meant that I needed to complete triathlons in over three states per year. Said another way, I needed to complete triathlons in at least three states this year.
South Dakota is one state bordering my home state of Minnesota. It also sits between Minnesota and Nebraska, home of our son, Ben.
Joy has family in Rapid City, South Dakota, near Mt. Rushmore. However, I could not find any triathlons in Rapid City scheduled for this year on an open weekend.
As luck would have it, I received an e-mail from All Sports Central advertising the Triple V Triathlon being held in Yankton, South Dakota on Sunday of the Labor Day weekend in 2011. We had no plans for that weekend so on June 27, 2011, I registered for the triathlon for State #2.
Travel to the South Dakota Triathlon
Our trip to South Dakota started with a detour to take our granddaughter Valerie to her home in Hutchinson, MN. She had spent the previous week with us. Her school was resuming the next Tuesday, the day after Labor Day.
After dropping off Valerie, we wound our way through the flat, green, and just-plain-beautiful southwestern Minnesota countryside. We passed through an area where hundreds of wind turbines captured energy from the wind as it passed unhindered by any hills. We were certain that we had never been to this area before.
By mid-afternoon, we were in Yankton and checked into our hotel, the Best Western Kelly Inn. Our son arrived shortly thereafter.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Yankton and the race venue, eventually picking up the race packet. We ate an early dinner and headed to bed, knowing that 4:30 am would come quickly.
The Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, ground-zero for the South Dakota triathlon, was six miles west of Yankton. The lake, created by Gavins Point Dam, is actually on the Missouri River. The dividing line between the states of South Dakota and Nebraska more or less follows the center of the river.
Triple V Triathlon
The course essentially consisted of the standard distances of each leg–0.25 mile (400 m) swim, 14.3 miles (23 km) bike, and 3.1 miles (5 km) run. Weather was perfect for a triathlon—sunny and around 60ºF (16ºC) with a light breeze.
The 0.25 mile (400 m) swim started at the boat launch of the marina. The course was simple – straight out to an orange buoy, around the buoy, and back.
The bottom of most Minnesota lakes is a mixture of mud and sand, with the occasional weed. Traction is never a problem.
In contrast, the bottom of the Missouri River, at least in this area, was clay. The bottom was slippery, glare-ice slippery, making it difficult to walk in the water without falling. The answer was to swim in to shore as far as possible, a practice I have adopted for all open water swims.
This was also the first triathlon in which I wore a wetsuit, one I had purchased two weeks earlier. My swim cap slipped off my head about the 3/4ths of the way through the swim. I carried the cap in my right hand through the rest of the swim; it is important to never leave garbage or gear along the course.
The transition area was a short distance from the boat launch. The 14.3-mile bike course left the marina through a parking lot and onto South Dakota Highway 52 eastward toward Yankton. After a short distance on Highway 52, the course took a right turn over Gavins Point Dam and into Nebraska.
The course followed the river into the south end of Yankton, crossing back over the Missouri River, winding through a residential area of Yankton, past the hospital, and back onto Highway 52 westward toward the marina and transition area.
While there were a few hills on Highway 52, the course was generally quite flat. It was also fast with an average speed of nearly 21 miles per hour (33 km per hour).
During the last half of the course, I repeatedly traded positions with a guy bearing the number 40 (his age) written in black marker on his left calf. He passed me, then I passed him. This went on for several miles. In the end, he beat me into the transition area.
After the triathlon, the 40-year-old guy came up to me and confessed: “When I saw your age, I told myself that there was no way that I was going to let you beat me.” I was flattered to have been viewed as serious competition by a person nearly 20 years my junior.
The 3.1 miles (5 km) out and back course followed a running path along the Missouri River.
I was happy with my time for this course (1:19:45). However, I was not so pleased with my place within my age group of 50-59. I ended up in 7th place of 14 within my age group, compared to 3rd place in the Maple Grove Triathlon two weekends earlier. Among all men, I finished 38th of 85.
This was a fast race. I had raced with other 50-year-olds who were much faster than me.
This was not the last time that I would be humbled.
- First triathlon outside Minnesota
- First triathlon attended by our son, Ben
- Initiation of a wetsuit purchased for the open water swim
- First triathlon open water swim in a river (Missouri River)
- First triathlon in which my swim cap came off during the swim.
- The bike course was split between South Dakota and Nebraska making it my first triathlon in which I crossed state lines. To be clear, this race did NOT count as the Nebraska triathlon , which would be state #29.
The return trip provided the ideal opportunity to visit Joy’s cousin, Tom, in Watson, Minnesota, also known as “The Goose Capital of the World”.
After a dinner of New York strip steak, spinach salad with bleu cheese, and mashed potatoes, the typical meal with cousin Tom, we returned home.
At the beginning of this post, I asked what the phrase “Veni, Vidi, Vici” has to do with triathlon.
The Triple V Triathlon was a quick and definitive personal victory. First, it was an important step toward Joy’s and my goal of completing a triathlon in each state by age 70. Secondly, I finished a sprint triathlon in a time I never imagined one year earlier, before starting the training for my first race.
Two states down – 48 to go.
Columbia, Missouri, May 1, 2016 – University of Missouri – Columbia (also known as “Mizzou”)
TriZou Triathlon at the University of Missouri Columbia was my Missouri triathlon and 28th state in the ‘Triathlon Across the USA’ adventure. Read on to learn of my experiences and lessons from the ‘Show Me State’.