Triathlon Across the USA: State #29–Nebraska: Senior Triathletes Inspire

Triathlon Across the USA: State #29–Nebraska: Senior Triathletes Inspire
Omaha, Nebraska, August 13-14, 2016 – The USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships provided opportunity to race with some of the best senior (and younger) triathletes in the USA while completing a triathlon in the state of Nebraska, the 29th of the ‘Triathlon Across the USA’ adventure.

Planning

I had planned to make Nebraska one of the later states in the Across the USA adventure since our son Ben, daughter-in-law Lindsey, and two granddaughters live in Omaha.  Omaha and surrounding cities offer plenty of choices of triathlons from which to choose so there was plenty of time. However, when Lindsey reported that Omaha would be hosting the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, we decided to do this race realizing that it would also provide opportunity to race with top triathletes.   I was not disappointed.  

Age Group National Championships

The USA Triathlon (USAT) Age Group National Championships races occurred over two days.  The Olympic distance race with more than 2,170 participants was held on Saturday while the Sprint distance race was held on Sunday.  All participants of the Olympic distance race had qualified to participate in this race through their top 10% place in races earlier in the year. The 1,250 participants of the Sprint race was the greatest number of any of the races in which I have participated.   It also contained the largest number of participants in my age group (61) and largest swim wave start (160) of the triathlons in which I have competed.
triathlon participants

Number of participants by age group in the Sprint (upper) and Olympic (lower) distances of the Age Group National Championships.

  The number of participants in the Sprint and Olympic distances by age group pictured in the graphs above shows the importance of seniors to these numbers. Only slightly less than half (42%) of the participants in the Sprint distance were Senior Triathletes (age 50 and over).    Even for the longer, Olympic distance, more than a third (36%) of the participants represented the Senior Triathletes community.  

Sprint Distance Race Day – August 14, 2016

Before the start of the race, a number of participants and spectators gathered for a pre-race scripture (John 4:23-24), short message, and prayer led by a representative of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).   This was another first. Weather at the start of my swim wave (7:44am) was 69ºF with 85% relative humidity and no wind.  By the end, the temperature was still 74ºF with 74% humidity and no wind. So, while it was cool, it was also very humid which made it feel warmer and more difficult to remain cool.
Fellowship Christian Athletes

FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) flag in front of Carter Lake prior to the start of the first swim wave at the 2016 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship Sprint Triathlon.

 

Sprint Triathlon

Distances for the individual legs of the Sprint triathlon were:
  • Swim: 750 m (0.47 mile)
  • Bike: 20 km (12.4 mile)
  • Run: 5 km (3.1 mile)
While walking to the swim start, I noticed a guy asking to be body marked on his chest.  I did not pay much attention to the details.  However, upon lining up for the swim start, I was able to read the marking,   This person, Russ Jones (age 61), participated in what is recorded as the first triathlon in San Diego in 1974.  Noted on his chest was the $1 entry fee. He announced that he was racing ‘retro’, that is, in shorts (no shirt) using his Raleigh bike with two gear shift levers on the down post.  

Swim

All triathletes in my swim wave – for this race, all males 60 years and older – started together in the water.  The swim was in Carter Lake which had a water temperature of 82ºF.  This water temperature was well above the maximum of 78ºF for which USAT rules allow use of a wetsuit. The plan was for all of the swimmers to start from a position of having one hand on a floating dock.  However, with the large number of participants in this age group (160), the group extended well past the end of the dock. Despite the number of swimmers, I was impressed by the calm.  Those who have done an open water swim in a triathlon have most likely experienced the chaos of other swimmers bumping into or trying to swim over top them. There was none of this, except the occasional finger tip touch of my foot by a swimmer drafting from me.  

Bike

The bike course was essentially flat, having only a couple of small and short hills, making this a relatively fast course.  The race organizers did a great job of providing comfortable surfaces on which to run between the transition area and points of bike mount/dismount. Sure enough, less than one mile into the bike course, Russ Jones and his beautiful, baby blue 1970’s Raleigh passed me (and my carbon fiber, tri-bike).  After I passed Russ once, he passed me again and I never saw him again until I met him on the run course. There was only one issue, that of a bumpy area within transition that caused a few participants to trip.  (I was aware of these having walked the path from transition to bike mount/dismount on Saturday – remember to check out the paths in transition before the race.)  

Run

The run was flat with plenty of encouragement from a the musician who serenaded us with guitar and song, a cheerleading squad, probably from a local high school or college – they all looked so young – at the turnaround area, and many other volunteers along the course.  

Post-race

With race over, it was time to cool down.  While resting my legs in an ice bath after the race, I met a Senior Triathlete from Michigan who was in his second year of triathlon.  He shared how triathlon, more specifically triathlon training, had helped him to lose 50 pounds after he had stopped running following an Achilles tendon issue a few years earlier. I also saw Jim Chapman who I had met a few years earlier at the Rocky Gap Triathlon in Maryland.  By the way, Jim qualified for the ITU World Championships in his age group (75-79) as did Ralph Ward who I had met at the Rage Triathlon in Boulder City, Nevada earlier in the year.  

Race First’s

  • First with Garmin 920XT.
  • First triathlon in which we stayed with one of our children.
  • First USAT National Championship triathlon.
  • First triathlon with a pre-race prayer.
 

Takeaways

This event provided another opportunity to meet great people, broaden my experience in competing in triathlon, and share time with family.   It also so clearly showed the strength and size of the Senior Triathletes community and that people today are so fit well into their senior years. I was passed by more than one 70+ year old on the bike and run.  (This was also probably true in the swim, though I was unable to see their age marking on their calf during the swim.) Thinking about this experience on the drive back home, I remembered that on my 50th birthday, I had run three miles on the track at the local health club.  Why?  To prove to myself that I was not ‘old’. Today, this seems crazy since at age 63, I regularly run much further. Then, not so long ago, I had set the goal of completing a triathlon in each state by age 70.  Why?  At age 58, age 70 seemed reasonable since I was certain that at age 70 my triathlon career would be over. In the meantime, I have learned that 70 is far from the end.  There are plenty of guys and gals competing – very well I might add – far into their 70’s and 80’s. I am continuously adjusting my perception and definition of ‘old age’. Congratulations to all the Senior Triathletes for participating in this event.  I hope to see you again soon.  Thanks for inspiring and challenging me. Also, thanks to USA Triathlon for a well organized and well run triathlon weekend.  

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