Header Image - Inspiration for Triathletes Over 50

Category Archives

43 Articles

Triathlon Across the USA: State #38-Tennessee

Triathlon Across the USA: State #38-Tennessee

Huntingdon, Tennessee, September 15, 2018 – Dixie Triathlon, Carroll County 1000 Acre Recreation Area


Travel to the Tennessee Triathlon

Joy and I used the week between the Hocking Hills Sprint Triathlon (Logan, Ohio) and the Tennessee triathlon to visit the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter and to camp at Big Bone Lick State Park, all in northern Kentucky.

Meanwhile, my search for a hotel near the location of the Dixie Triathlon the next weekend had turned up nothing.  The few hotels in the communities around Huntingdon were full on Friday night.

As we entered Tennessee on Thursday afternoon, we stopped at one of the first visitor’s centers.  The goal was to gather information about camping sites near the race venue.  One of the closest options near Huntingdon was Natchez Trace State Park, around 45 minutes drive from the Carroll County Recreation Area.

While checking out campgrounds within Natchez Trace State Park, we stumbled upon Pin Oak Lodge.  The lodge provided a clean and comfortable air-conditioned room (it was hot and humid outside), a restaurant, and a swimming pool, all among pine trees and with the view of a lake in the background.


Inaugural Dixie Triathlon

This was the first time for the Dixie Triathlon.  The event had been the dream of a local triathlete, Dr. Volker Winkler.  Unfortunately, Dr. Winkler was not able to see his dream come true as he died unexpectedly earlier in the year.

However, in his honor, Carroll County officials and residents poured their hearts into making this event a success.  McKenzie Medical Center, the clinic that Dr. Winkler helped found, served as the title sponsor of the race.  The Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center in Huntingdon was the presenting sponsor.


Filled to Capacity

The number and enthusiasm of volunteers supporting the athletes spoke volumes about the commitment of the community to the triathlon.  The personal notes from Huntingdon Middle School students in the race packets and the hand-made signs along the race course added to the welcoming feeling.

On top of this, all participants received handcrafted ceramic finisher medals produced in the Dixie Performing Art Center’s Mudslingers Pottery Studio awards.

Every one of the 300 spots in the race was filled, despite this being the Dixie Triathlon’s first year.


Carroll County, Tennessee residents put their hearts into welcoming triathletes to the inaugural Dixie Triathlon. Clockwise from the upper left: Note from Bella S. in my race packet (upper left); Pre-race meeting of volunteers (upper right); One of many signs around the transition area and along the race course (lower right); Handcrafted age group award and finisher medal (lower left).


The Dixie Triathlon, managed by Above The Fold Events & Sport Promotions, Franklin, Tennessee, included both sprint and Olympic distances.  There was also an option to compete in the sprint distance as a relay team.

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

  • Swim: 0.31 mile (500 m)
  • Bike: 16 mile (25.7 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km)


Transition Area Setup

The transition area was set up in a grassy area in front of the lake and next to the boat ramp and dock.  Positions were selected on a ‘first come, first served’ basis with all sprint racers on the side of the main aisle closest to the lake.

Since I was among the first people to arrive at the race (we arrived before the opening of the transition area at 5:45 am, though were not the first), I had a good position, one bike position off the main aisle.

In setting up my transition area, I did what I have always done for a quick transition – set my helmet upside down centered on the aerobars.  Clear safety glasses were set inside the helmet, lenses facing downward and bows standing upward.

Checking back sometime later, I found the helmet lying on the ground.  Now, however, my glasses were in two pieces – the lenses and the frame.

I could not see anything to suggest that the glasses were broken.  However, without my reading glasses (‘cheaters’), I couldn’t see any possibility of putting the two pieces back together.  Fortunately, Joy found the solution and reassembled the two pieces.

I returned the glasses to the helmet still in the transition area.  However, this time, I left the helmet and glasses sitting on the ground next to the front bike tire.  Just before the beginning of the race, when the transition area was ready to be closed, I put the helmet with glasses back onto the aero-bars.


Triathlon tip: During the setup of transition, plan for items in your personal space to be moved.  Just before the close of transition, reinspect the area and reposition any of the items that have been moved.


Pre-race Ceremony

After race director Joe Fleenor reviewed key points of the race course, we all joined Carroll County mayor, Joseph Butler, in a prayer thanking God for the beauty of His creation and asking for the safety of the participants.  Katie Hodges, Miss Dixie Performing Arts Center, concluded the pre-race ceremony with the singing of the national anthem.



The water temperature was over 81°F so, according to USAT rules, wetsuits were not allowed.


Beach and three buoys on the rectangular swim course of the sprint distance of the Tennessee Triathlon.  The dock from which the swim began and which is next to the exit is located to the left of the picture.


I have learned the hard way to always check the bottom of the lake before the race.  Lake bottoms vary considerably – some are rocky, some are muddy, and some are slippery.  Today, we were swimming in a lake with an uneven, clay bottom that made walking into and out of the water tricky.


Wave Starts

Participants started in waves by distance, age groups, and gender.  All of the Olympic distance groups started first.   As the first of the Olympic triathletes completed their swim, the male sprint distance racers started according to their age groups.  I started in the group of males aged 50 and over.  The group included twenty-six (26) participants.

About a minute and a half before the start of our wave, we walked onto the dock and jumped into the water facing the first yellow buoy.  The water was deep enough that I never touched bottom upon jumping in.

The rectangular shape of the sprint distance swim course involved three left turns.  The first two turns were around yellow buoys shown in the picture above. About 75 yards after making the last left turn, the one around the lone orange buoy, we reached the exit.

The steep drop-off of the bottom meant that we could swim within a few feet of shore before touching bottom, one already determined to be uneven and slippery.  Thankfully, volunteers stationed at the exit helped racers with their footing as they left the water.


Triathlon tip: In open water swims, it is helpful to swim as close to the exit as possible, especially when the bottom is difficult to walk on.



The mount location for the bike was also unique in that it sloped downward in two directions at the same time – away from the transition area and downward toward the lake.   After riding out of the mount area, there was a short flat section of road during which I slipped my feet into the bike shoes.

The bike course continued out of the Carroll County 1000 Acre Recreation Area through a small hill onto the road leading into the area.  The continuous series of hills took us along country roads past wooded areas and fields of soybeans and cotton (pictured).  We passed through the center of Huntingdon, past the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center and the Carroll County Courthouse.   From there we were back on another series of paved country roads.


The ‘Surprise’

The ‘surprise’ for the sprint competitors mentioned by race director Joe Fleenor during the opening announcements was as feared – a hill of the grade and length that required walking the bike up the last portion of the hill.

During the walk, I commiserated with a man of similar age who walked along with me.  He informed me that he had known what was coming because he had had the opportunity to ride the course during training.

We reminded each other that triathlon is, at least for us, a hobby.


Time Wasters

Two events made my time on the bike course longer than necessary.  The first was my chain coming off the gears as I downshifted in advance of a steep hill.

Reinstalling the chain required first flipping the bike upside down.  In this position, I could free the chain that had become wedged between the frame and gear.  With the chain loose, it was a simple matter of flipping the bike right side up and resetting the chain on both sets of gears.

It seemed too risky re-clipping my shoes into the pedals while going uphill.  I turned the bike around, coasting downhill while clipping my shoes into the pedals. I made a U-turn to rejoin the race during a break in the flow of bikers.

The second cause of wasted time was misreading a sign containing an arrow marking the bike course.  Thinking that I had continued onto the course for the Olympic distance, I turned around.  Immediately, a volunteer yelled out for me to turn back around and make a right turn at the next intersection.


A rare flat section of the bike course passed fields of soybeans and cotton.



The temperature at the start of the race was 72°F with a relative humidity of 89%.  By the time I hit the run course, the temperature was in the high 80s°F.

The combination of temperature, humidity, and hills made this also one of the toughest runs.  Senior triathlete and personal trainer, Jeanne Minder, told me that I had not trained enough in these conditions of heat, humidity, hills, etc.   Another lesson to take from this race.


After the Race

Eavesdropping on conversations while re-hydrating after the race, I was comforted to hear from other seasoned triathletes from the southeast part of the USA say that this was ‘the’ or ‘one of the’ hilliest bike courses of a triathlon.  Of course, I also overheard one guy say that people from ‘eastern Tennessee would not even consider this course to be hilly’.

The race committee provided a generous and diverse table of foods – pizza, donuts, bananas, oranges, and chips – and soft drinks and water for participants to re-hydrate and recover.


Elvis, one of the triathlon participants, with the Giraffe.


Our Next Destination

Before the Georgia triathlon the next weekend, we headed toward The Villages, Florida for a week with friends, Don & Sue.  This would also be the end of the trip for the stuffed giraffe which had hitchhiked a ride in the back of our van.  The giraffe would take up residence in central Florida with her owner, Debby P.


Race First’s

  • First time participating in an inaugural triathlon.
  • First time riding past cotton fields.
  • First time losing time on the bike course because of misreading a course marker.

You may also be interested in these posts


Triathlon Across the USA: State #23-North Dakota

Triathlon Across the USA: State #23-North Dakota

Harmon Lake Park, Mandan, North Dakota, July 18, 2015 – Bismarck Triathlon

What is it like to do a triathlon in winds gusting to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour)? The 2015 Bismarck Triathlon showed us just how much wind can influence a race.


Planning the North Dakota Triathlon

How to Choose Your Next Triathlon highlights factors we typically consider in selecting a triathlon, especially those involving overnight travel.  For Joy and me, one of the keys to out-of-state triathlons has been to combine travel to the event with a visit to friends or family or a place of special interest (e.g. Savannah, Georgia – Hilton Head, South Carolina).  Sometimes, we manage to accomplish more than one of these.

North Dakota was unique in this respect.  Here’s the reason.

In 2015, North Dakota had among the fewest triathlons of any state.  On top of this, one of the three scheduled triathlons involved kayaking and mountain biking as an alternative to swimming and road biking.

Frankly, I was concerned that the one conventional sprint triathlon in North Dakota might eventually become extinct.

So, in February, we decided that this would be the year to complete the North Dakota triathlon and put behind us concerns about completing a triathlon in this state.


A Pleasant Surprise at Registration

During registration for the event, I learned that I could save $2 on the fee if I shared news of the registration with my Facebook friends.  Of course, I took advantage of this.

After sharing the post, I learned that one of my friends, Tom Lipp, had completed the Bismarck Triathlon the prior year.  I also learned that Tom was now training for Ironman Wisconsin.

You can read about his experience training for and racing in Ironman Wisconsin here.


Getting to Bismarck

Bismarck is actually a twin city with Mandan, North Dakota, home of Harmon Park and the Bismarck Triathlon.  The two cities are separated by the Missouri River with Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, on the east side of the river.  Mandan is on the west side of the Missouri River.

By the way, did you know that the Missouri River is the longest river in the United States, beating out the Mississippi by 21 feet?  And, that’s before it joins the Mississippi River just north of St, Louis, Missouri.

Driving to the Bismarck-Mandan area from our Minneapolis, Minnesota area home was about as easy a trip as one can make – start the audiobook, get on Interstate 94 West, and stay on it for just under six hours past the Red River Valley and some of the flattest parts of the USA.

We left home on Friday around 10:30 am and set our GPS coordinates for Epic Sports in Bismarck, location for race packet pick-up.  After collecting the packet, including the race T-shirt, we checked into the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.

We then headed downtown, taking a short detour around the North Dakota State Capital building along the way.


The North Dakota capitol building in Bismarck.


Following a short walk around the renovated downtown area, we stopped at one of the restaurants recommended by the hotel desk clerk, Blarney Stone Pub.  Dinner tonight consisted of authentic Irish food – creamed cabbage and corned beef for Joy and fish & chips for me.


11th Annual Bismarck Triathlon

The Bismarck event included sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.  There was also a sprint distance relay option in which three members of a relay team each completed one of the legs.

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

  • Swim: 0.31 mile (500 m)
  • Bike: 12.4 miles (20 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km)

The 10 am starting time for the Bismarck Triathlon was the latest of any I have raced so far.  The transition area did not even open until 8:30 am, a time at which most triathlons are starting or already underway.

Because of the later start, I had been concerned about the fact that the average high temperatures during the week before the triathlon had been just under 100°F.  (I am not a fan of running in extreme heat.)

Today, however, the air temperature at race time was a chilly 60°F (16°C).  On top of this, the wind was howling, with an average speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km per hour) and gusts to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour).


Transition area of the Bismarck Triathlon in Harmon Park. The picture was taken near the beach of Harmon Lake.



It quickly became apparent to the poor souls who were assigned the job of placing the race buoys for the sprint and Olympic distances that the wind was too much for the anchors meant to secure the buoys in place.  The buoys simply would not stay where they were placed.

On top of this, the volunteers in kayaks who were supposed to provide a rest stop along the course for swimmers needing a break during the swim leg had to spend all of their time paddling to trying to stay near the course.  With the wind today, it was not possible for them to provide the support for swimmers that race organizers intended.

So, just before the start of the race, with the wind clearly in control, the race director decided to shorten the swim course, creating one that ran parallel to the shore a few yards away from it.

The revised course, reported to be 250 m by one swimmer with a GPS watch, was judged to be safe for the conditions of the day.  Fortunately, everyone was safe through the swim and the remaining legs of the race were completed as planned.


Harmon Lake early in the morning before the wind picked up. Note the orange and yellow buoys near the other side of the lake for the sprint and Olympic distances respectively.



For the bike leg, the numbers on my bike computer tell the story.  The average speed was 14 mph (23 km/hr) while the maximum speed was 37 mph (60 km/hr).

While biking uphill, into the wind, the speed was incredibly slow at between 9 and 11 miles per hour (14-18 km/hr).  For most of the ride, I avoided the aero position for fear of being blown off the road.

After the initial approximately two miles into the westerly wind, we turned.  Now, the wind was from the side making the ride even more treacherous.


Triathlon training tip – While we may be inclined to avoid inclement weather when training, we should take advantage of these opportunities, at least some of them.  Training in conditions, such as rain or wind, which could be experienced on race day, helps to prepare for these when we eventually face them during a race.  Reminds me of James 1:2-4.


The maximum speed came on the return of this out-and-back course where we road downhill with the wind at our back.



I prefer that the run course not include a hill immediately out of transition.  The legs are already struggling to adapt to running after biking.

But today I was not getting my wish.  The run out of transition involved a significant hill on the same road within the park that we had just returned from the bike course.  And, with the wind today, my legs were more tired after the tough bike ride.

The run was also on an out-and-back course, sharing a section of the bike route.  The initial portion took us past the campground within Harmon Park where campers turned spectators cheered us on.

As with the bike, we ran into the wind for the major portion of the first half of the run.  But just as with the bike leg, the wind helped us back to the finish line after the turnaround.



I ended the race with the second best time of five participants in the 60+ year Age Group in which I raced.   Nothing to brag about, but no injuries.

Another state closer to the goal.


Race First’s

  • First race in which strong winds forced a change in the swim course.
  • Latest start time; first race with a start time of 10 am.

You may also be interested in these posts


Enjoy this post? Please spread the word :)