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Triathlon Across the USA: State #15 – Maryland

Triathlon Across the USA: State #15 – Maryland

Flintstone, Maryland; June 1, 2013—Rocky Gap Triathlon

Our Maryland triathlon took us to the northwest corner of Maryland, about two miles south of the border with Pennsylvania. We had been to the urban areas of eastern Maryland before. However, this part of Maryland, in which rugged tree-covered mountains seemed to wrap their arms around us, was like another state.

Traveling to the Maryland Triathlon

We left our house in Chicopee, Massachusetts on Friday morning heading in a southwesterly direction. The roughly 450-mile drive took us through Connecticut, past New York City, and through the Pennsylvania towns of Allentown, Harrisburg, and Hershey.

Before driving into Cumberland, Maryland, we stopped at Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland’s Allegany County. During this quick visit I checked out portions of the swim, bike, and run courses.

We then headed to the Cumberland YMCA to pickup the race packet. While managed by Tri Columbia, this triathlon doubled as a fundraiser for the Cumberland YMCA.

After dinner at Henny’s Bar & Grill near our hotel, we turned in for the night, ready for a pre-dawn departure to compete in the Maryland triathlon.

26th Annual Rocky Gap Triathlon

The sun shone brightly as participants of the sprint and International distance triathlons gathered at the park.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were slightly shorter than normal:

  • Swim: 0.25 mile (400 m)
  • Bike: 8 mile (12.9 km)
  • Run: 2.5 mile (4 km)

Swim

The swim portion of the race took place in 243-acre Lake Habeeb. The lake lies in the shadow of Evitt’s Mountain, named for one of the first European settlers in Allegany County.

The water temperature was around 72° F, making the race ‘wetsuit legal’. Swimmers started in four waves (groups), with the sprint men being in the first wave.

The sprint course was triangular shaped. From the beach, we swam diagonally toward an orange buoy. After turning at this buoy, we returned to shore, swimming perpendicular to the beach.

Rocky Gap State Park
Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland. Lake Habeeb was the location for the open water swim portion of the Rocky Gap Sprint Triathlon.

Bike

The bike course left the park through a quick ride up a short, gradual hill that exits the park. At the first intersection, the course turned left and followed the rolling Pleasant Valley Road with a gradual rise of 150 feet (45 meters) over the 4-mile distance to the halfway mark of the course.

At the half-way point, we turned around to return to the transition area with the ride in this direction being mostly downhill.

Run

The 2.5-mile, out-and-back run course began by passing the Rocky Gap Casino Resort on Old Hancock Road Northeast. At a little over a halfway into the ‘out’ portion of the run, we turned right onto Lakeside Loop Trail/Gorge Road Northeast heading toward Rocky Gap Dam.

Reaching the dam meant that we had nearly reached the turnaround point, which was a little over halfway across the dam. From here, it was back to the Finish Line along the same route. The only difference was that during the last few hundred yards (meters), we sprinted on a grassy path.

During the last mile, it surprised me to watch as a man with a 70-something number written on his right calf passed me.  (For those of you who have taken part in a few triathlons, chances are that in at least one of those, you will have had your age marked on one of your calves.)

Learning From the More Experienced, No Matter Their Age

I am not comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger. However, I have found it easier to start a discussion with a fellow triathlete. The shared interest in the sport and our mutual desire to see others succeed at it, especially at the amateur level, is clear.

During the cool-down after the race, I met the 70-something man who had passed me on the run, James Chapman.  Being both impressed by his overall ability and curious to learn how to improve my running ability, I struck up a conversation with Jim about his training program. More specifically, I asked him how I should train to run faster.

During the conversation, Jim also shared information about his fueling approach. I recorded his comments about fueling in What I Learned About Race Fueling at the Rocky Gap Triathlon.

Triathlon run training for faster seniors

Jim summarized his run training program as follows:

  • Start with a couple of months of 3 to 5 mile easy runs three times per week. This will build a base level of fitness.
  • After the initial phase, introduce hill repeats. Hill repeats are done after a 20-minute warm-up run. Start with 3-5 repeats of 10-20 seconds running up a moderately (5-10% grade) steep hill during one of the weekly runs. Over several weeks, gradually (to avoid injury) increase the duration to 1 minute. End the session with an easy one mile cool down run.
    • NOTE: Hill repeats is an excellent candidate for a treadmill since you can precisely control the grade and pace.
  • A third key to faster running is intervals. Jim’s coach had him “doing 30 second to 3 minute pickups where you gradually run at race pace (not as fast as you can go – that leads to injury).” Jim said “My favorite interval session is a one mile repeat where I run one mile at race pace and then either jog or walk for 2 minutes and then do two more repeats. After the last repeat, run an easy one mile to cool down.”

For Jim, there are two other components of an effective run training program:

Stretching: For Jim, it is critical to stretch the Achilles tendon and calves after every workout, including after swimming. I can echo the importance of stretching after every workout, whether swim, bike, or run.

Related post: Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout

Strength training: Jim’s major exercises for strengthening the legs and hips are (1) step ups, (2) body squats, and (3) one leg squats.

Related post: Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

After the Maryland Triathlon

Since I was racing the next day in the Independence Triathlon in Pennsylvania, Joy and I started our northeasterly journey toward Quakertown – after a shower and change of clothes, that is.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon during which a portion of the run course was on a dam.

Have You Done a Triathlon in Maryland?

Tell us about the race or races you have done in Maryland.

What have you learned from other triathletes during or after a race?

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Triathlon Across the USA: State #11 – Florida

Triathlon Across the USA: State #11 – Florida
Crabby Bills Restaurant across the street from Clearwater Beach.

Clearwater, Florida; November 11, 2012—TriRock Clearwater Triathlon

Joy and I used the timing of this triathlon to schedule a Florida vacation of a little over a week. The trip, in honor of our 39th wedding anniversary, provided opportunity to spend time with friends (Lyle & Diane in Deerfield Beach; Don & Sue in The Villages) and relax at the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach, one of our few romantic getaways.

Getting to the Florida Triathlon

We flew with my bike from Minnesota to West Palm Beach, Florida on Friday, November 2nd. Following a short drive south, we reached the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach, our base for a weekend visit with friends in nearby Deerfield Beach. 

On Monday morning, we drove to The Villages, about one hour northwest of Orlando, where we spent the night with friends Don and Sue in the house they had rented.  The next morning, we moved to a house in The Villages we had rented for four nights as part of a get-to-know-the-area package. 

Through the rest of the week, I ran and cycled with a group of 60- and 70-year-olds. Joy and I also played golf with Don and Sue, took in a movie, went dancing every night, shopped, ate out, etc. In short, we had a blast.

On Saturday, we drove from The Villages to Clearwater Beach, the venue for the triathlon the next day.  Before picking up the race packet, we enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch at Crabby Bill’s situated directly across the street from Pier 60, location of the transition area. After picking up the race packet and before driving to our hotel, we walked around the expo that was part of the triathlon.

1st TriRock Clearwater Triathlon

About 150 male and female triathletes from thirty-two states and five countries met for the inaugural TriRock Clearwater Triathlon on what was a near-perfect morning for a triathlon.  Skies were blue with a few wispy clouds. The air temperature was comfortable, though cool, especially with a light breeze coming off the water.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.34 mile (550 m)
  • Bike: 13.4 mile (21 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
The swim for the Florida triathlon was in the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico at Clearwater Beach.  The exit for the swim was near the pier shown in the picture.  Source: commons.wikimedia.org
The swim leg of the Florida triathlon was in the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico at Clearwater Beach. The exit for the swim was near the pier shown in the picture. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Swim

The water in the Gulf of Mexico was unexpectedly cold, around 65ºF. This meant that according to USA Triathlon rules, wetsuits were not only allowed but encouraged.

Swimmers started in waves based on age groups. The water was calm, making for a comfortable swim once I absorbed the initial shock of the cold water.  Upon exiting the water, we ran to the grassy transition area across the beach with its mixture of sand and small shells.

Bike

The distinctive feature of this race’s bicycle leg was the ride up and over three bridges spanning inner coastal portions of water.  The climb up and ride down from these bridges led to a challenging and, occasionally, fast (over 30 miles per hour) ride.

The first part of the bike leg of the TriRock Clearwater Triathlon took us across Clearwater Bay on the Memorial Causeway. Source: commons.wikimedia.org.

When not on a bridge, we snaked our way through neighborhoods in Clearwater, Belleair Beach, and Clearwater Beach, finishing the ride on Gulf Boulevard and Coronado Drive.

Run

The initial section of the run was along the causeway (bridge) that was also part of the bike course. On the way to the turnaround, we passed the first of several bands providing live music along the run course, another of the signature features of this race.

About one-mile into the run, we turned around and headed back in the direction of the park. At the roundabout across from the transition area, we continued on the completely flat running path along South Gulfview Boulevard, the street running parallel to Clearwater Beach. Here we encountered the next series of bands.

Following a second turnaround, we headed toward the finish line.

Results

Who says that ‘old people’ don’t take these races seriously? Maybe young people, but not those of us racing in the higher age groups.

This race again showed the competitiveness of older triathletes. The race for the second, third, and fourth places for the Males 55-59 Age Group was close; only 19 seconds separated the second and fourth place finishers.

I finished third in my age group, 8 seconds behind the second-place finisher and 11 seconds ahead of the fourth place finisher.

After the Florida Triathlon

Before traveling back to Minnesota, we made one more overnight stop in The Villages. With this visit, we could see our friends once more, enjoy more dancing at Lake Sumter Landing, and pack my bike for the airline ride home.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon performed with a vacation to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
  • First triathlon with the swim portion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What type swim do you prefer? ocean? lake? pool? Why?

Have you combined a race and vacation? If so, what has been your favorite?

Please share your comments below.

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Triathlon Across the USA: State #21 – Michigan

Triathlon Across the USA: State #21 – Michigan
Ski resort near Ironwood, Michigan during the summer.

Iron Mountain, Michigan, June 29, 2014 – Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon, Lake Antoine County Park

Thanks to an 1835-36 dispute over a narrow strip of land in what is now northern Ohio, our trip to the Michigan triathlon was much shorter than it could have been.

Before you leave, let me explain.

The dispute, known as the Toledo War, led to the eventual granting of the Upper Peninsula, or UP, to Michigan instead of Wisconsin. The result? We could race on the western side of Lake Michigan while still being in the state of Michigan, most of which is on the eastern side.

Getting to the Michigan Triathlon

Since we were traveling to northern Michigan for the triathlon, we decided to visit Joy’s cousin, Linda and her husband, Tom outside Ironwood, Michigan. We arrived late Friday afternoon following a leisurely drive along the southern end of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.

After breakfast in Ironwood the next morning, Tom and Linda took us to some of their favorites sites. This included the Copper Peak ski flying jump and Black River Harbor where we were chased by swarms of black flies just as had been predicted.

Later that morning, we made the journey to Iron Mountain, continuing to soak in the laid back feeling of the area. After a late lunch and a drive through this town of a little over 7,000 residents, we checked into our hotel. Before picking up the race packet at Lake Antoine Park later in the afternoon, we drove the bike course, one of our typical pre-race rituals.

4th Annual UP Northwoods Triathlon

About 70 triathletes gathered at Lake Antoine Park for the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Sprint Triathlon.

Distances for the individual legs of this sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.31 mile (500 m)
  • Bike: 17 mile (27 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
Ready for the swim with wetsuit in the cool waters of Lake Antoine at the Michigan triathlon.
After a short swim to check out the bottom of Lake Antoine and warm to the chilly water, I was ready for the triathlon to begin. The light mist before the race brought out umbrellas by some spectators.

Swim

The 500 meter swim for this triathlon occurred in Lake Antoine, a clean, shallow lake with silty bottom perfect for the park, campground, and cabins that surround it. The water was also cool enough to make me glad to be wearing a wetsuit.

I was assigned to the first wave of ten swimmers. With a great start, I found myself alone and apparently leading the wave.

The previous months of swim training were paying off. I was entering a whole new level in my triathlon racing and could even see myself first out of the water.

About that time, I was awaken from my dream. A young lady on a stand-up paddleboard yelled down to inform me that I was off-course. Instead of keeping ‘the buoys on my left’, I was swimming on the left side of the buoys. Now back in the real world, I re-joined the wave realizing that I was not in the lead. 

One good thing about triathlon is that it keeps one humble.

Bike

Fortunately, the light rain had stopped by the time I came out of the water. The roads were essentially dry as we headed onto the bike course.

We exited the park to the left following Lake Antoine along its southern edge, eventually merging onto Lake Antoine Road.

At the split, where Lake Antoine Road turns into the park, we continued straight, onto Upper Pine Creek Drive and the first hills of the course.

An example of the rolling hills on the bike course at the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon, our Michigan triathlon.
The bike course at the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon was full of rolling hills lined by trees and the occasional deer. Picture courtesy of Northwoods YMCA.

Somewhere within the next 2-3 miles, I experienced another ‘Race First’ – braking for a couple of deer crossing the road in front of me. I was never close enough to collide with the curious, young animals. However, that could have changed had they been spooked and decided to return to their original side of the road. Better safe than sorry.

After another mile or two, this road made a right angle turn. We were now on an even more hilly portion (see the picture above). We turned onto US Highway 2, traveling on its shoulder for 1-2 miles before exiting onto Lake Antoine Road. From here, we headed back to the transition area.

Run

A portion of the ‘out-and-back’ run course included roads within the campground of Lake Antoine Park. Several campers enjoyed their morning coffee while cheering on the triathletes.

The run eventually exited the park to the south following the same road around Lake Antoine we had biked earlier. At the midpoint of the 5 km run, we turned around and returned to the finish line along the same path.

After the Michigan Triathlon

We had plans for dinner at our Minnesota home with family that evening so left almost immediately after the race. Following a shower at the hotel, we set out on our six-hour trip home.

Race First’s

  • First race during which I braked for deer crossing the road.
  • This was the first race during which I wore my race number belt under the wetsuit. This saved me a few seconds in transition since I did not need to put the race number belt on before climbing onto the bike.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What has been a lesson for triathlon training or racing that you recently learned?

Have you encountered any animals (like deer in this story) during a triathlon?

Please share your comments below.

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Triathlon Across the USA: State #26 – Washington

Triathlon Across the USA: State #26 – Washington

Bremerton, Washington, September 13, 2015 – Tri Turtle Tri, Wildcat Lake County Park

With yesterday’s race in Oregon, I had completed triathlons in half of the states of the USA.  Today, I would start the second half with the triathlon in the state of Washington.

A Short Trip to the Washington Triathlon

After the awards ceremony for the Best in the West Triathlon, Joy and I pointed our van to Wildcat Lake Park, a county park outside Bremerton, Washington.  Our goal was to reach the park in time for packet pickup for the next day’s race.

We reached the park, which is located within 10 miles of the eastern edge of the Olympic National Park, with time to spare and collected the race packet. 

Meet the Race Director

There is no doubt in my mind that Lisa Ballou is the reason for the longevity of Tri Turtle Tri.  She is organized and among the most enthusiastic of race directors I have met.  Lisa’s email signature – ‘Lisa B, your Tri Turtle’ – gives you a sense of her fun-loving personality. 

Her frequent communications before and after the race encouraged both experienced and first-time triathletes.  For example, take a look at her description of the swim course from an email sent a few days before the event: 

“The ½ mile SWIM will travel in a clockwise triangle. Volunteers will be positioned on surfboards about every 100 yards along the course. Swimmers can stop and rest at these markers, if necessary. In addition, there will be swim volunteers in the water with flotation noodles to aid swimmers needing personal assistance.”

After a single sentence description of the race course, Lisa dedicated the remaining space to encouraging those less-than-confident swimmers. I know that if I were concerned about the swim, I would feel a whole lot more comfortable knowing that the water was filled with people ready, willing, and able to help me complete this first leg of the triathlon.

Another Triathlon Doubling as a Fundraiser

2015 was also the 10th year that Tri Turtle Tri donated part of its proceeds to local fitness and wellness programs, which included a free community wide “Family Fun Run” to encourage families to greater fitness.

This was the also the third year that Tri Turtle Tri, through Tri Turtle Wellness, had awarded a college scholarship to a Klahowya secondary school graduate.  The scholarship was based on the student’s essay describing how the Kitsap Tri Babe motto, “The miracle is not that I finished, the miracle is that I began,” was relevant to their life.  

Race director Lisa Ballou with two of the members of the Klahowya Secondary School cross country team she had coached. The young man on Lisa’s left completed the triathlon while the one on the right served as a race volunteer.  The picture is courtesy of Lisa Ballou.

10th Annual Tri Turtle Tri SprintPlus Triathlon

About 400 participants gathered on this drizzly morning at Wildcat Park to swim, bike, and run in and around Wildcat Lake.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned triathlon were slightly longer than those of the typical sprint triathlon, hence the name ‘SprintPlus’:

  • Swim: 0.5 mile (800 m)
  • Bike: 15.6 mile (25.1 km)
  • Run: 3.4 mile (5.5 km)

Swim

The temperature of the water in Wildcat Lake today was below 78⁰F meaning that according to USA Triathlon rules wetsuits could be worn for the swim.  The cool drizzle made the wetsuit even more desirable.

The half mile (800 m) swim followed a clockwise triangular path with two right turns before exiting the lake.

I made two mistakes on race morning that caused me to waste time on the swim, even if only a few seconds.  First, I had not identified the swim exit on the race course map.  I also missed the portion of the pre-race meeting during which Lisa pointed out where swimmers were to exit

As a result, during the final leg of the triangular-shaped course, I set a trajectory toward the area where we had entered the lake, instead of toward the actual exit which was 10 to 20 yards left of the start.

Triathlon tip: Take time before the race to learn the course as much as possible.  This should involve learning where to exit the swim typically by identifying a marker near the exit.

From the exit of the water, we climbed a steep hill on our way to the transition area.  Upon reaching flatter ground, the remaining jog to the transition area involved dodging, and occasionally stepping on, sharp rocks protruding from the ground.

Bike

The 15.6 mile (25.1 km), out-and-back bike course took us on local roads, initially west of Wildcat County Park.  At about half way toward the turnaround, the course shifted to a southwesterly direction.  Sparse traffic allowed us to enjoy the evergreen trees, deciduous shrubs, and ground cover that was only occasionally interrupted by an access for a home or small business. 

A short distance before turning around, we exited the main road onto one that looped around to rejoin it about a half-mile southwest of where we had left it.  While the scenery still included stands of tall, straight pines, this area reminded me a lot of the northern part of my home state of Minnesota with its splotches of bogs and wetlands within the forests.

We then rejoined the main road for our return to the transition area.  At this point, we were within 3 miles of Hood Canal, a fjord that makes up part of Puget Sound.

A Hilly Ride

Even though the course featured an elevation gain of between 750 and just under 900 feet (230 to 275 m), depending upon the map used, I really did not recall it being that hilly.

There were two, actually three, reasons for the hilliness going unnoticed.  First, except for the sizeable hill at the beginning and end of the course, most of the course consisted of modest rolling hills.

Secondly, while we were riding on major traffic ways for the area, there was so little vehicle traffic on this Sunday morning, that we could enjoy the forests and wetlands along the course.

Finally, and most importantly, I was distracted by concern about my tires going flat.  As the drizzle continued throughout the race, more water collected on the road.  Hearing a hissing sound brought back the unpleasant memories of a similar sound, the one I heard during the Rhode Island triathlon in the minutes before I crashed as a result of a flat tire. 

Focused on the sound and remembering the pain of the crash, I became increasingly convinced that one of my tires was losing air.  With mist collecting on my glasses, it was impossible to get even a quick, clear glance at the tires to see if they were becoming flat.

When I could no longer stand not knowing if a crash was imminent, I stopped along the edge of the road.  After dismounting, I inspected each tire by pressing them firmly between my index finger and thumb.  Thankfully, I learned that all of my suspicions had been wrong.  Both tires were fully inflated, even if dripping wet.

I relaxed and finished the bike leg.

Run

The 3.4 mile (5.5 km) run left the transition area toward the entrance to the park for a counterclockwise run along roads which had been cut through the woods surrounding Wildcat Lake.  The tree-lined run course followed the left side of the local road, traveling against the negligible Sunday morning traffic. The course included a continuous series of hills, most gradual but several quite challenging.  At the top of the last hill, the course made a left turn for a final sprint to the finish line.

Race T-Shirt

For most triathlons, the t-shirt is provided during packet pickup either the day before or day of the race.  Tri Turtle Tri was different in that the t-shirt was presented only to finishers after they crossed the finish line.

Another unique feature of the t-shirt was that it included the participant’s names.  My name was the top one printed on the iconic turtle’s right flipper.

collage showing logo on t-shirt for Tri Turtle Tri and closeup of area with individual participant names
Logo from the 2015 Tri Turtle Tri finishers t-shirt (left) and the portion around the right flipper containing the names of some of the finishers, of which mine was listed at the top (right).

After the Race

Following the race, Joy and I went back to the hotel for a quick shower and to finish packing for the next leg of our trip.  The first stop was at Anthony’s HomePort and Oyster Bar in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines for a scrumptious seafood lunch with Joy’s cousin Karyn and her son.

We finished lunch around mid-afternoon and made a short trek to nearby Kent where we would stay the night before resuming our journey home the next day. 

The return included stops in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Bismarck, North Dakota; Watson, Minnesota to visit Joy’s cousin Tom; and Hector, Minnesota to visit our eldest granddaughter.

Race First’s

  • First time for three races in one week.
  • This was the first time that my name was printed on the race shirt.
  • First race for which the T-shirt was presented after crossing the finish line only to those who completed the race.

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