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T L VanderWert

Triathlon Across the USA: State #20 – Alaska

Triathlon Across the USA: State #20 – Alaska

Chugiak, Alaska, June 1, 2014 – Eagle River Triathlon

About 30 minutes north of the Anchorage Airport along Glenn Highway is Chugiak High School, ground zero for our Alaska triathlon, the Eagle River Sprint Triathlon. 

While race day was rainy, the following week provided spectacular views of Mt. McKinley, a surprise visit to North Pole, and close-ups of glaciers, birds, and whales in Resurrection Bay.

A Family Connection for the Alaska Triathlon

During the summer of 2012, shortly after embarking on our Triathlon Across the USA adventure, Joy and I attended a wedding of her cousin Linda’s son.  During one of the reception speeches, we learned that he and his new bride would be living in Anchorage, Alaska.  He was enlisted in the US Air Force and they would be stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for four years.

When we heard this, Joy and I looked at each other and in near unison mouthed the word ‘Alaska’.  Later that evening, we shared our idea about visiting Alaska during their tour with the newlyweds.  They agreed, probably sure that we would never follow through.

Little did they realize that we started almost immediately laying plans for the Alaska triathlon.

Fast forward two years and this young family had grown to include another member, their son.  On the Saturday before the triathlon, we were able to take the young family to lunch at Glacier Brewhouse in downtown Anchorage.

family-picture-at-Glacier-Brewhouse
The Eagle River Triathlon gave us opportunity to visit Joy’s cousin’s son, daughter-in-law, and 6-month old grandson in Anchorage.

Preparing for the Alaska Triathlon

We arrived in Anchorage a couple of days early in order to tour the city and to test out the bike that I rented for this race.   During these two days, we sampled the local cuisine (lots of seafood) of various restaurants, including Seward’s Folly Bar & Grill, Gwennies, Glacier Brewhouse, and Bridge.

We were soon reminded of the long periods of sunlight in Alaska during this time of year.  Throughout our stay, we occasionally woke at night to peek outside and realize that it was never darker than a Minnesota dusk.   Thank goodness for thick room darkening curtains.

The day before the race, we picked up the race packet at Chugiak High School.  We also picked up the Scott rental bike at Chain Reactions Cycles.  In between we met the couple whose wedding we had attended two years earlier.

Bridge-Restaurant-Anchorage-Alaska
Locals recommended that we sample the seafood at the Bridge restaurant. A good choice.

Eagle River Triathlon

I don’t think of Alaska as a hot spot for triathlon.  So, I was surprised to learn that the Eagle River Triathlon has been held every year except one (2003) since 1993, making 2014 the 21st running of the triathlon.

Headquarters for the Eagle River Triathlon was Chugiak High School.  The school is located about 25 miles northeast of downtown Anchorage just off Glenn Highway, also known as AK-1 (Alaska Highway 1).

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

  • Swim: 0.3 mile (500 m)
  • Bike: 12.4 mile (20 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)

Unique Transition Area

Somehow I missed the information on the Eagle River Triathlon’s Facebook page that race organizers did not provide racks for holding bicycles in the transition area.   Other racers brought their own means of supporting their bikes. Some of these were purchased while others were clearly homemade.

Since there was plenty of space in transition, I stood my road bike upside down.  (This would not have worked with my Trek SpeedConcept tri-bike.) 

As you can see in the picture below, other racers still gave me more space, probably fearing that my bike would tip over.

triathlon-transition-area-without-bike-racks
Racers of the Eagle River Sprint Triathlon were asked to provide their own bike stands, such as that used by the person whose bike was setup next to mine. I missed the information so was forced to improvise.

Swim

The swim leg occurred in the Chugiak High School Swimming pool.  The 500-meter swim consisted of 10 laps (20 lengths) of the 25-meter long pool, all within the same lane.  Swimmers started according to bib number with about 100 swimmers completing the swim each hour.  The result was that the entire field of triathletes was spread out over nearly four hours.

Bike

On race morning, the temperature was just under 50ºF (10ºC).  By the time I had completed the swim and headed out onto the bike course, a light drizzle had begun to fall.  The combined temperature and rain made the ride chilly, bordering on just plain cold.

The course left the transition area in the Chugiak High School parking lot, turned north following Birchwood Lane to the first turnaround.  From here, we returned on the same route past the transition area to a second turnaround about two and one-half miles past the school.  From the second turnaround, we rode back to transition.

I had used a rented bicycle in a previous triathlon, the Hilton Head Sprint Triathlon.  However, the bike rented for the Alaska triathlon did not fit me nearly as well.  The time to complete this leg of the triathlon showed it.

The lesson? Next time I rent a bike, I will pay closer attention to the fit.

Run

The run course followed a single loop, out-and-back course.  The course followed a paved trail that left the transition area, passed under Glenn Highway, and then turned left to follow another paved trail that paralleled the highway.  Upon reaching the halfway mark, we turned around and returned to the red inflatable Finish Line (shown behind me in the picture below).

triathlon-run
Heading out of transition for the run at the Eagle River Triathlon. There was no worry about becoming overheated on this day.

A Small World Story from the Alaska Triathlon

While chatting with other triathletes before the race, Joy and I struck up a conversation with a young lady and her parents.  We learned that while she and her husband were living in Fairbanks, her parents were from Hutchinson, Minnesota, a rural community about 1-1/2 hours drive west of our home, also in Minnesota. That was interesting.

However, as we continued talking with the young lady, we learned that she had not only grown up in Hutchinson but that she had also swam in high school with our daughter-in-law.  Now that made the world seem just a little smaller.

Here we were more than 3,000 miles from home. We not only met, but raced in a triathlon with, a person who had swam with our daughter-in-law. 

Besides, this young lady represented Minnesota well. She was the first overall female finisher for the Eagle River Triathlon.

Results

Finishing third in the Male 60-64 age group earned me a ceramic plague.  You can see it listed third in “5 Unique Triathlon Medals; They are No Longer Just Metal”.

Exploring Alaska

Joy and I took the next week to put on a bunch of miles in the rental car, first driving to Fairbanks.  Enroute, we spent one night in Talkeetna from where we took an air tour of Mt. McKinley and surrounding mountains and glaciers, and one night at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge.

Mount-McKinley-and-Resurrection-Bay
After the triathlon, we traveled to Fairbanks staying in Talkeetna and at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge along the way (upper two pictures). It was then on to Seward and Resurrection Bay (lower picture). The tail of a whale is visible near the center of the lower picture.

After a quick tour of Fairbanks and North Pole, we returned back to Anchorage and onto Seward for two days.  On one of these days, we joined Kenai Fjord Tours Aichik of Resurrection Bay for whale watching and glacier viewing.

Race Firsts

  • There were no common bike racks in the transition area, a triathlon-first for me.
  • First race in which I was #1 in both T1 and T2 time for my age group.
  • First race in which the swim start was spread over several hours.

Have You Done a Triathlon in Alaska?

Have you done a triathlon in Alaska? If so, let us here about it in the comments below.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #35 – Iowa

Triathlon Across the USA: State #35 – Iowa
Waverly Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center in Waverly, Iowa.

Waverly, Iowa, May 5, 2018 – TriByKnight Sprint Triathlon

 

It had been 27 years since we last spent time with our friends, Paul and Susan.  In the summer of 1991, Paul, Susan, and their three children had traveled from their home in Algona, Iowa to join our family in Minnesota as volunteers for the International Special Olympics being held in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area.  This was the same weekend that we met Fred Savage and Olympic gymnasts Nadia Comăneci and Bart Conner.  But, I digress.

With our kids now grown, Joy and Susan had been trying to find a way for the four of us to get together.    An opportunity emerged in early March when we learned about the TriByKnight triathlon in Waverly, Iowa.

A check of schedules showed that all of us were available.  Our first weekend in May was going to involve triathlon and friends.

 

Snow in late April?

Training leading to the Iowa triathlon had been confined to the indoors – pool, stationary bike, and treadmill – thanks to the extended 2017-18 winter .  In fact, exactly three weeks before the TriByKnight sprint triathlon, twenty two inches of snow fell at our Minnesota home.

snow-in-April

Three weeks before the triathlon in Waverly, Iowa we received 22 inches of snow at our Minneapolis area home. Needless to say, there was little opportunity for outdoor training before the triathlon.

While the weather warmed and the snow quickly began to disappear, it was difficult to get outside for training.  In fact, the first opportunity for an outdoor bike ride was less than one week before the race.

Needless to say, I approached the race with some question marks.

 

Visiting Waverly for the Iowa Triathlon

We left home around 1:30pm on Friday, May 4th for the 3-hour drive to Waverly.   By the time we arrived, we were able to proceed directly to pick up the race packet at Thompson Shoes, one of the sponsors of the triathlon.

With this important task complete and our stomachs rumbling, we decided to walk next door to the East Bremer Diner and sample the local cuisine.   After an awesome prime rib dinner complete with the signature East Bremer Diner salad dressings, we headed out for a drive along the bike course for the next day’s triathlon.

scenes from downtown Waverly

Packet pickup was at Thompson Shoes (left), across the street from the Waverly Chamber of Commerce (upper right) and next door to the East Bremer Diner (lower right).

 

Joy and I like to checkout the course before the race whenever possible.  The main goal of this pre-race exercise is to identify road conditions for the bike leg.  In particular, we look for potholes and cracks in the road that could pose trouble, if not avoided.

After checking into our hotel, I finished preparing for the next morning by:

  • applying the race number to the bike and race number belt,
  • preparing drinks for before and during the race, and
  • inflating the bike tires.

 

7th Annual TriByKnight Sprint Triathlon

The TriByKnight sprint triathlon was held on the Wartburg College campus, home to the Wartburg Knights.   The event was also managed by the college.

Wartburg Knights footfall field scoreboard for the Iowa triathlon

Wartburg Knights scoreboard on race day. The City of Waverly was among the many sponsors of the TriByKnight triathlon.

 

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

  • Swim: 300 yard (274 m)
  • Bike: 15 mile (24 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)

We could not have asked for a more perfect day.  Clear skies.  Light breeze.  Mild temperature.  While on the ride, I looked down at my bike computer which showed the temperature to be 77°F (25°C).

 

Swim

The Schuldt Natatorium, location for the swim leg, includes a six-lane, 25 yard long pool.  Prior to the race, swimmers lined up according to the estimated swim time.  Following the singing of the national anthem, the first triathlete was sent on his way.  The remaining nearly 200 racers started at approximately 5 second intervals.

We swam down and back in each lane (except for the last lane) to make up the 300 yards.  After swimming back in each lane, we ducked under the lane divider and repeated the down and back excursion in the next lane.

After completing the ‘down’ portion of the sixth lane, we turned and swam approximately halfway to the starting end, then turned about 45 degrees to the left, and swam across an area of the pool designated for water sports (e.g. volleyball, water polo).  We exited the pool walking up several steps.

From here, we headed out the building to the fitness center and pool parking lot which had been converted into the transition area for the TriByKnight triathlon.

 

Bike

The bike course was a 15 mile loop on paved roads in the country north of Waverly.  The ride involved a continuous series of rolling hills.  While the hills were not extreme, they were still challenging considering that I had ridden outside for the first time this year less than a week earlier.

During the first two miles, the combination of cars, trucks, bikes, and hills created a slow down for some of the bikers.   While I never had to slow down because of a car or truck, several of bikes in front of me did bringing back memories of the Texas triathlon.

Near the halfway mark of the bike course, we passed through the small town of Bremer (see picture below).  About a mile outside of Bremer, we passed by a farm with three antique threshing machines sitting in a grassy field.  While there was no indication of the owner trying to sell them, I did note that he had a plot of land for sale.

scenes from the TriByKnight bike course

The bike course took us on rolling hills north of Waverly, through the very small town of Bremer, and past some retired threshing machines.

 

A few miles later with the longest hill of the course behind us, we were back on Waverly streets.  This final section included a wooden pedestrian bridge crossing the Cedar River.  A few more blocks and we were at the dismount line and transition area.

 

Run

The 5k run leg was three loops of a course on streets within the Wartburg campus and about a half lap on the asphalt track of Walston-Hoover Stadium.  After the first two laps, we left the track and made our way to the starting point for the run and another loop of the course.

The final loop led to the finish line on the track at the 50-yard line of the football field.

finish line of TriByKnight triathlon

The finish line of the TriByKnight sprint triathlon was near the 50-yard line of the Walston-Hoover Stadium on the campus of Wartburg College.

 

Taking the Long Way Home

As often as we can, we combine travel to a triathlon and visits with family and friends.  More often than not, we choose the location so that we can accomplish both goals.

This time was no different.  Following the triathlon, we traveled north and west to Clear Lake, Iowa.  Following a quick lunch, we headed on to Algona, Iowa to visit friends, Paul and Susan.

While we had passed through Clear Lake many times on past trips between Minneapolis and Des Moines, Iowa, this time Clear Lake had a special meaning.

About six months earlier, Joy’s book club had read “Stars Over Clear Lake” by Loretta Ellsworth.  This historical fiction novel describes events around the World War II German POW Camp in Algona, Iowa.

At the end of the book, Joy had learned of a museum memorializing the Camp and the area residents who had served in the war effort.  So, while in Algona, we jumped on the opportunity to visit the museum.

 

A Stop in Algona

The docent, Glenn, added to the various displays by sharing some heartwarming and inspiring stories from interviews of area residents.  Some of these he had personally conducted.  At least one of these stories was included in “Common Valor”, a book to which Paul and Susan’s daughter Leah had been a contributor and that we now own.

Following the museum visit, Paul and Susan showed us Algona, of which they are rightfully proud.  We finished the day with good food and a late night of catching up.  After attending church with Paul and Susan the next morning, we headed toward home.

Since US Highway 169 passes through Algona and within a few miles of our home, we took the opportunity to return along this route.  We made a short stop in Blue Earth, Minnesota to visit with Sherryl and Penny, Joy’s sister and niece.

 

Race First’s

  • First time racing in the 65-69 Age Group
  • First race with a portion of the bike course on a wooden pedestrian bridge over Cedar River.
  • First with bike course that passed through a second town (Bremer, Iowa).

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Exploring the USA Through Triathlon

Exploring the USA Through Triathlon

Triathlon Across the USA

After completing my first triathlon in 2011, my wife, Joy, and I looked at each other and said ‘Why not?”.

After the first triathlon, I was hooked. At that moment, we decided to combine our love for road trips with my interest in triathlon. We call this “Triathlon Across the USA”.

In this quest, our goal is to visit and for me to complete a triathlon in all 50 states. It has been more rewarding than we imagined.

This adventure has already taken us to many out-of-the-way parts of the United States. These are places we would probably never have visited.  For example, many people who live in Oregon don’t know about Sweet Home.  We have eaten, slept, and raced there.

It has also provided opportunity to visit family and friends, several who have since passed away.

Through these travels, we have met people across the triathlon community with a connection to family members.  We have met people hundreds of, even more than a thousand, miles from home who have friends or family near our Minnesota home.

In one case, the race director of a triathlon in a southern state had run near our house while visiting in-laws in Minnesota. We also met a young lady in Alaska who was on her Minnesota high school swim team with our daughter-in-law.

Diverse Experiences With More To Come

These travels have provided a diversity of triathlon experiences – differing terrain, race courses, weather, race types, and scenery. There have been plenty of opportunities to deal with the unexpected.

I have learned something new in each race. These are included in the ‘Race Firsts’ in each post. I have also learned more of the geography of the United States.

This journey is still in progress.  We have not yet completed triathlons in all states. 

The map below shows the states for which I have completed triathlons. The stories on this site include those from each of these states.

Lord willing, we will continue this journey to the end.  Please join us.

Terry & Joy VanderWert

Maple Grove, Minnesota

“I press on to reach the end of the race.” Philippians 3:14

 

Finding a State in the “Triathlon Across the USA”

Below the picture you will find a list of the states of the USA.  If the state name contains a link, I have completed a triathlon and its story. 

Triathlon across the usa map as of September 2020
Our triathlon journey has taken us to most of the states of the United States.

Please note the region names and grouping of states below follows the standard used by the US Census Bureau. I didn’t just make them up.

Northeast

States of the Northeast USA
Northeast USA

Midwest

States of the Midwest USA
Midwest USA

South

States of the Southern USA
Southern USA

West

states of the Western USA
Western USA

What Is Your Favorite State?

I am often asked this question. It is really impossible to answer. Each of our experiences has been so different. However, that may not be your story.

What is your favorite state for triathlon?

Let us know in the Comments section below.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #17 – Colorado

Triathlon Across the USA: State #17 – Colorado

Englewood, Colorado, September 8, 2013 – Inverness Triathlon

Adding Colorado to the 2013 Triathlon Season

We decided that 2013 was the year to share my love for triathlon with my parents.  Since they were living in the south Denver suburb of Parker, it was a matter of finding Colorado triathlons that fit our schedule.  We decided on the one closest to Parker.

As long as we were making the trip, Joy and I decided to add a few days and a couple of extra stops to check in on family in South Dakota and Nebraska and to visit friends in Colorado Springs.

An Indirect Route to the Colorado Triathlon

The path from Minneapolis to Denver was anything but direct.  We started the six-day, six-state trip on Wednesday morning by heading to Rapid City, South Dakota for a visit with Joy’s aunt Evelyn.

The next day, we reached our friends Steve and Lori in Colorado Springs for a visit with them.  Then, on Friday, we made the hour and a half drive from Colorado Springs to my parent’s house in Parker.

Terry with parents at IHOP before the Colorado triathlon
Enjoying ice cream and good conversation with my parents. Photo courtesy of Joy.

Last Minute Equipment Problem

While on a short bike ride around my parent’s neighborhood on Friday afternoon, I noticed that the seat kept sliding down, not just a little but almost a foot within a few blocks.  While I could still ride the bike, it took more effort to keep moving at a normal pace than it did with the seat at its correct height.

Not wanting to over tighten (over torque) the seat post clamp and risk cracking the carbon fiber frame of the Trek SpeedConcept 7.5, I called the Trek bike shop in Parker for ideas on how to solve the problem.

We agreed that I would bring the bike into the shop on Saturday.

The people working at bike shops are among the most generous I know.  The guys at the Parker store of Treads (the local Trek dealer at the time) were no exception.

They spent several hours trying to solve the mystery of the sinking seat.  Much of the time was spent with the bike on a trainer so I could test ride the bike after they implemented what they believed would be a fix for the problem.

The final solution appeared to be applying a grit filled, sticky/greasy substance to the seat post.  This material was designed to create additional friction between the seat post and clamp to keep the post from moving.

In the end, they did not ask for anything.  I decided to purchase a tube of the grit filled material in case I needed more in the future.

When I left the bike shop, I was convinced hey had solved the problem. I headed into the race confident in my equipment.

Inverness Triathlon

The Inverness Triathlon, held at the Colorado Athletic Club in Englewood, included individual and relay sprint triathlon and aqua-bike events.

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

  • Swim: 0.3 mile (574 yd or 525 m)
  • Bike: 12 mile (19.3 km)
  • Run: 3 mile (4.8 km)

The aqua-bike race was available for those who did not want to or were unable to run the three mile distance of the triathlon.  For example, one of the guys who swam in the same group as me competed in the aqua-bike.  He explained that he chose this event because of a chronic knee problem that prevented him from running.

The aqua-bike included the swim and bike distances of the triathlon with only short walk or jog to the finish line from the transition area.

Later, while chatting before the race, he told me that, from his perspective, the bike course for this race was ‘quite flat’.  When we later met on the course, I shared with him that flat from the perspective of a Minnesotan is clearly different from that of one from Colorado.

Swim

The triathlon began with the slowest swimmers (those who reported the longest expected swim times) starting first.  Five swimmers occupied each lane and started about 10 seconds apart from each other. This is commonly referred to as a ‘time trial start’.

There was also one lane for the fastest swimmers, those who expected to swim the 525 m in 7 minutes 30 seconds or less.

Since I was in neither camp – neither among the slowest nor the fastest, I waited and eventually found a group of five other swimmers who expected to complete the swim in a similar time as me.

The swim involved 21 lengths of the 25 m pool, all within the same lane shared by the five swimmers.  The odd number of lengths meant that we exited the pool at the end of the swim leg at the end opposite from that at which we entered the pool.

From the exit of the pool, it was a short walk/jog to the transition area just outside the pool area.

Bike

The bike course took us through a business area in the south Denver suburb of Englewood. The course had the feel of a labyrinth of side streets lined with modern office buildings and the occasional green space.  The altitude was between 5,720 and 5,900 ft – a little over one mile high.

The bike course was a bit hillier than typical venues, though not especially difficult.  After a 120 foot descent over the first 2-1/2 miles, the course ascended 180 feet over the next 8 miles.

Late in the bike leg, it became clear that the gritty material applied to the seat post at the bike shop the day before was not doing its job.  In fact, by the time I finished the bike leg, the seat post had dropped about a foot.  At least it had taken longer for this to happen than it had on Friday.

While the bike was still working fine, I was not generating the same amount of power with each stroke of the pedal as with the seat at the correct height.  The result: it was taking longer to get through the course.

What should I have done differently? The guys at the bike shop in Parker had done everything that they knew to do.

In hindsight, I should have taken the bike for a ride a week before leaving home for Colorado. This would have at least provided more time to diagnose and solve the problem.

Another lesson learned.

Triathlon Lesson: A triathlon is a microcosm of life.  The unexpected often occurs during a race.  It is best to accept whatever comes along and learn from it.

St. Paul to the Romans (Romans 5:3-4)

Run

The run was partially on a combined walking and running trail and partially on city sidewalks, all behind the fitness center.  Even though the run course was relatively flat, my run was actually a mix of running and walking.

I expected the run to be a challenge with the difference in altitude between my Minnesota home and Colorado.   Running near my parent’s home during several previous visits had taught me that running at the higher altitude was more difficult.

Results

Despite the challenges with the bike and run legs of this race, I ended up finishing 50th of 200 overall and second within my 60-64 year men’s age group.  For me, that was respectable.

Receiving award at Inverness Triathlon, Englewood, Colorado triathlon.
Receiving the award for a second place age group finish at the Inverness Triathlon, Englewood, Colorado.

Reflections on the Colorado Triathlon

Other than for the swimming portion, triathlon is not much of a spectator sport.  Nevertheless, my parents stayed for the entire race and even seemed to enjoy all of the activity around the event.

We were glad that we made the trip.  This weekend was among the last times that we spent time with my parents. Within a few years, both had passed away.

After the award’s ceremony, we headed back to Minneapolis with an overnight stop in Omaha, Nebraska to see our son Ben, daughter-in-law Lindsey, and granddaughter Mari (Anna Joy was not yet born).   More precious time with family.

Fixing the Bike Seat

A week or so after returning home, I took the bike into my local bike shop, Maple Grove Cycling .  After explaining the problem, I learned that Trek had very recently announced a recall of the seat post clamp.   A Maple Grove Cycling technician installed the new and improved clamp.

I no longer needed the grit-filled material for the seat post.

Race Firsts

  • First race at over one mile altitude
  • First triathlon involving a problem that affected the bike fit
  • This was the first (and only) triathlon attended by my parents
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