Triathlon Across the USA: State #49 – Montana

Seeley Lake, Montana; August 6, 2022 – YFC Seeley Lake Challenge Triathlon/Duathlon, Riverpoint Campground Day Use Area at Seeley Lake.

Seeley Lake, the location for our Montana triathlon, is about 35 miles ‘as the crow flies’ northeast of Missoula. The race here doubled as a fundraiser for the Greater Missoula chapter of Youth for Christ (YFC).

RVing With Friends Before the Montana Triathlon

After leaving Preston, Idaho, where I had just completed our Idaho triathlon, we caravaned toward Montana. Driving our rented motorhome, Joy and I followed our friends, Steve and Lori, in their motorhome.

Over the course of the next four hours, we went from the bright green alfalfa fields around Preston to fields of grain and canola (rapeseed) with their bright yellow flowers. These eventually gave way to massive fields of potatoes with their vibrant purple flowers.

A short stretch of lava fields reminiscent of the big island of Hawaii led to more potatoes and corn. It wasn’t long before we were driving past grassy areas with grazing cattle. A little further and we were in mountains covered with thick growths of evergreens.

Besides the diversity of crops and terrain, we saw people engaged in a wide range of recreational activities. These included fly-fishing and fishing from a boat; skiing, tubing, and wake boarding; hiking; kayaking and just lazily floating down the river on a tube; swimming; and biking on roads and trails.

We passed by fields of hay and straw, grains, corn, potatoes, and evergreen trees. There were vast fields of yellow canola flower, purple potato flowers, and bright green alfalfa.

On our way to our campground outside Kalispell, from where we would make a day trip to Glacier National Park and Hungry Horse Dam, we traveled along the east side of Flathead Lake. From here, we couldn’t miss seeing the smoke cloud and occasional flames that peaked through it of the Elmo wildfire.

After two nights around Kalispell, we moved to our last stop before the Montana triathlon, Salmon Lake State Park, a few miles south of Seeley Lake.

scenes from northwestern Montana before the Seeley Lake triathlon
God’s diverse creation was on display in northwestern Montana. These pictures are from Glacier National Park (top row) and Salmon Lake State Park, south of Seeley Lake (bottom row).

15th Annual YFC Seeley Lake Challenge Triathlon/Duathlon

The first YFC Seeley Lake Challenge Triathlon and Duathlon was held in 2006. The first race resulted from a senior project by Holly Friede. Holly’s brother suffered from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and she sought a way to raise money for the cure of this disease.

According to race director Cheryl Thompson, they kept the event going after this first year. Cheryl and her team have held it every year except for 2007 and 2017. In those two years, the Jocko Lakes and Rice Ridge fires forced them to cancel it.

Several Race Options for the Adults and a Kids’ Triathlon

This race included two sprint triathlon options with either a 300 yards or 600 yards swim. There was also a sprint distance duathlon (run-bike-run), and a kids’ triathlon with about 35 participants.

Organizers allowed participants in the sprint triathlon to compete as an individual or as part of a relay team.

The advertised distances for the individual legs of the sprint triathlon in which I competed were:

  • Swim: 600 yards (0.34 miles or 549 m) – Actual: 725 yards (0.4 miles or 663 m)
  • Bike: 10 miles (16 km) – Actual: 10.4 miles (16.7 km)
  • Run: 3.3 miles (5.3 km) – Actual: 3 miles (4.8 km)

Actual distances for the swim and run are from my Garmin Forerunner 920XT. The distance of the bike leg is from my bike computer.

Getting to the Montana Triathlon Venue of Race Day

Joy and I packed up the motorhome and left the Salmon Lake State Park campground at 6:30 am. With the race starting at 9 am, we could sleep a little later.

Cheryl and her team had converted the parking lot of the Riverpoint Day Use Area into the triathlon’s transition area. Because of this, there was no parking at the race site.

Instead, they arranged for parking at Pyramid Mountain Lumber, about two miles away from the transition area. A shuttle bus transported athletes and spectators to and from the race site.

An option for athletes was for a family member or friend to drop them, their bike, and other gear at Riverpoint Campground, a few hundred yards from the triathlon’s transition area. Then, the driver, in our case, Joy, drove to the parking area back along Boy Scout Road and returned via the shuttle.

A Chilly Morning

Forty-five minutes before the start of the adult races, the air temperature was 51°F.

The combination of air temperature and 4,000 feet elevation made easy the decision to wear a wetsuit for the swim. About twenty minutes before the start of the triathlon, I put on the wetsuit and went for the customary warm-up swim to both boost my heart rate and checkout the lake bottom and water conditions.

Seeley Lake on the morning of the triathlon
Seeley Lake on race morning.

Just before the start of the race, Haley Yarborough, journalist for the Seeley Lake Pathfinder newspaper, asked to speak with me, and later Joy, about our Triathlon Across the USA story. The resulting article appeared online on August 11, 2022.

For now, you can read the story about this race and our interview with Haley here.

Swim

The triathlon began with what is called a ‘time trial start’.

Before the start of the race, participants lined up in single file within the transition area. Every five seconds, a racer was told to ‘Go’ by the person running the timing system.

When my turn came, I crossed the timing mat and jogged the roughly 50 yards along a walking trail through the woods to the water’s edge.

Before the start, I had put my goggles on. However, they quickly fogged, making it dangerous to wear them while navigating the trail and dodging its rocks and tree roots.

Instead, I kept my goggles off and dipped them into the water upon entering it. I slipped my goggles on as I waded into the water deep enough to begin my swim.

Before I knew it, I was swimming the first turn buoy.

The trapezoidal shaped swim course involved two left turns. The first leg of the course was out a little less than 200 yards toward the southeast. After a left turn, I swam about 350 yards parallel to the beach before making the second and last left turn. It was then about 220 yards back to shore and the dirt trail leading from the beach to the transition area.

Entering the swim at the Seeley Lake triathlon
Racers started the race, one at a time, at five-second intervals by jogging from the transition area to the beach and into Seeley Lake for the swim leg. For this race, swim caps and wetsuits were optional. The gradual slope to the beach required me to walk about twenty yards before the water was deep enough for a freestyle swim. It was during this time that I put on my goggles.
Picture used by permission of Haley Yarborough, Seeley Lake Pathfinder.

Bike

It took me a little longer than normal to get onto my bike. The sand from the beach and dirt from the trail to the transition area needed to be wiped off my feel before I put on my socks and shoes.

By now the temperature was approaching 60°F. With the sun shining and little to no breeze, I left the bike jacket in the transition area.

The bike course left the Riverpoint Campground area, turning right onto Boy Scout Road and away from the town of Seeley Lake.

Evergreen trees were on either side of us throughout most of the ride. One exception was as we crossed over the river on Boy Scout Road.

Another exception was near the bike turnaround, where there was a marshy area on both sides of the road. After turning around and heading up the hill immediately before and after the turnaround, I looked to my left to see that a horse in the pasture next to the road appeared to be racing me.

I kept pace with him, though am not sure if he was racing or just pacing me.

scenes from the bike course at the Seeley Lake triathlon
Scenes from the YFC Seeley Lake Triathlon/Duathlon bike course. Counter clockwise from the upper left: (1) Road out of the transition area leading to Boy Scout Rd.; (2) Crossing the bridge on Boy Scout Rd.; (3, 4) The entire course featured rolling hills through the forest of evergreen in the Lolo National Forest.

Run

Except for the first few hundred yards, the run was on a trail about two feet wide. There was also a short section of gravel road through the woods of the Lolo National Forest. Not used to trail running, I found the run interesting in that I needed to stay focused on the terrain with its small hills and valleys.

After about two miles, I apparently lost my focus. Passing through an area with a small depression in front of a tree root, the toe of my right shoe caught on the leading edge of the root. I stumbled forward, trying to regain my balance. However, before I knew it, I was diving left arm first into the ground.

The overall spongy surface of the ground helped by powdery silt in that area of the trail resulted in nothing more than a dime-sized scrape on my left knee and dirt on my legs, hands, and left forearm. 

While finishing the run, I apparently wiped my hand across my face. After seeing me covered with dirt as I crossed the finish line, Joy ran into the transition area to see if I was injured.

Cheryl promptly evicted her from the area after I assured Joy that I was fine, just dirty.

After the Seeley Lake, Montana Triathlon

The YFC Seeley Lake Triathlon was the last of three races during this trip to the northwestern part of the USA. I had now completed triathlons in 49 states.

From here, we traveled with our friends in our respective motorhomes to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where we stayed for two nights. The next Monday afternoon, we returned the rented motorhome to its owner in Logan, Utah.

After transferring our bikes and personal items from the motorhome to our van, we started our journey back to Florida. This included a two-night stop at our son and his family’s new home in Wardsville, Missouri.

Race Firsts

  • First time falling during the run.
  • Starting from within the transition area was another first.
  • First time racing (or was it keeping pace with?) a horse during the bike leg.

How About Trail Running?

Have you had experience running on a forest trail during a triathlon? Had you trained for it? How was it different from running on a paved course? Share your Comments below.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #46 – Kansas

Goddard, Kansas; June 26, 2022 – Mudwater Triathlon & Duathlon, Lake Afton Park.

What a difference a day can make in race conditions. Saturday’s race in Oklahoma featured sunshine and high temperatures with lots of humidity. We would have welcomed a breeze.

Today, the skies were overcast following a good old-fashioned midwestern thunderstorm, complete with thunder and lightning. The air temperature was in the low 60s °F. Winds around 30 mph made for an interesting, if not sometimes frightening, bike ride.

Before the Kansas Triathlon

Joy and I traveled around 150 miles northwest to the Wichita, Kansas, area following the Tulsa Triathlon the day before the Kansas triathlon. The roughly three-hour trip took us on county and state highways through thousands of acres of prairie, much used for grazing cattle and horses while hosting oil derricks and wind turbines.

a scene from northeastern Oklahoma on the way to the Kansas triathlon.
The drive from the Oklahoma triathlon to the location of the Kansas triathlon took us through vast prairies. The small blacks spots in the field are cattle grazing on the lush crop of grass. Also included are oil derricks and wind turbines.

Previewing the Race Venue for the Mudwater Triathlon

After the Oklahoma triathlon, we drove to Wichita. We went directly to the hotel I had reserved for the night, primarily because I wanted to shower after the race earlier that day. After checking in and before showering, we grabbed lunch at a local, family-owned restaurant featuring Mexican food.

Going back to the hotel after lunch, we found it desperately in need of upgrading and repair. We canceled the reservation and left the hotel.

Hoping for accommodations closer to Lake Afton Park, we headed toward Lake Afton Park for packet pickup. We did not see a single hotel.

About Lake Afton Park

Lake Afton Park is a 720-acre recreational area about 20 miles southwest of Wichita, Kansas. A 258-acre man-made lake, Lake Afton, is within the park. Surrounding the lake are several camping areas, many of which were occupied on the Sunday morning of the Mudwater Triathlon.

The route from our original hotel took us within a mile west of Goddard, Kansas, and onto MacArthur Road, east of the park. Most of the bike course for the sprint triathlon was on MacArthur Road, although west of where we had driven to reach the Lake Afton Park.

Since we had driven a few miles on MacArthur Road from the east on the way to pickup the race packet, we did not drive further west. The road with its rolling hills (yes, these fit my definition of rolling) was in excellent condition, even at several bridges.

While picking up the race packet, I asked the race director about hotels in the area. After they pointed us in the right direction, Joy used her phone to find one of our favorites, a Holiday Inn Express & Suites. Fortunately, the hotel had a room available.

After dinner at the nearby Texas Roadhouse, I checked my bike tires’ pressure and setout my gear and hydration for the next morning. It was early to bed after a long day.

16th Annual Mudwater Triathlon & Duathlon

The Mudwater Triathlon, Aquabike, and Duathlon are put on by the Kansas River Valley Triathlon Club.

This event included four races:

  • Sprint distance triathlon
  • Olympic distance triathlon
  • Duathlon (run-bike-run) involving the distances for the sprint triathlon
  • Aquabike (swim-bike) involving the distances for the Olympic triathlon.

The advertised distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon in which I competed were:

  • Swim: 750 m (820 yards) – Actual: 821 m (898 yards or 0.5 mile)
  • Bike: 25 km (15.5 miles) – Actual: 25 km (15.5 miles)
  • Run: 5 km (3.1 miles) – Actual: 5 km (3.1 miles)

Actual distances shown are from my Garmin Forerunner 920XT.

What’s In a Name?

What is with the name ‘Mudwater’? It doesn’t sound very appealing. This may be why part of the registration form was to answer the question ‘Do you think the event name should be changed?’

Nevertheless, they had my attention with the name. During packet pickup, I asked one of the race organizers about the name. His answer was as follows.

Initially, the race had been called the Lake Afton Triathlon & Duathlon. However, after a practice swim in the lake, one member of the triathlon club told the organizers they should rename the event to Mudwater because of the cloudiness of the water. The organizers agreed, and the name stuck.

For what it’s worth, this lake is no more cloudy, no more muddy than most other lakes, natural or manmade, in which I have swum. Water clarity is apparently also typical of other lakes in Kansas.

The water of Lake Afton was also no more cloudy than Birch Lake used for the open water swim at the Oklahoma triathlon the day before.

Race Morning

Joy and I had already decided during dinner the previous evening that she would stay in the hotel and get extra rest for the drive back to Minnesota after the triathlon. The hotel was on the route between Lake Afton and the interstate highway leading to our next evening’s stop at Joy’s sister Sheryl’s place.

As I woke, I thought I heard rain drops and thunder in the distance.

After getting dressed for the race, I went downstairs to leave for Lake Afton Park. Sure enough, it was raining.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hotel staff had set out the breakfast a little earlier than scheduled. So, before leaving, I had a light breakfast of banana, blueberry muffin, orange juice, and coffee.

The rain continued during the drive to Lake Afton Park. Rather than let up as my phone’s weather app had forecast, the rain came down harder. I could see lightning. The thunder was much closer. It also seemed cooler.

Nevertheless, I racked my bike, taking advantage of my usual early arrival to get what I considered a desirable spot in the transition area. However, I waited to put out my helmet and running shoes.

Delayed Start of the Kansas Triathlon

The race start time came and went while heavy rain continued. Then, thirty to forty-five minutes after the original start time, the rain appeared to stop.

Not being sure if the rain was truly finished, I placed everything I needed to keep dry for the race – shoes, socks, glasses, towel, and now, a biking jacket – into two plastic grocery bags. A few minutes before the transition area closed and the pre-race meeting began, I set the two bags next to my bike with the open ends facing the ground.

Fortunately, once the rain stopped, it did not restart, so everything remained dry for the race.

The race started at a little before 8:15 am, about one hour late.

Rain delayed the start of the Kansas triathlon.
Start of the Mudwater Triathlon was delayed by one hour because of thunder, lightning, and rain.

Swim

According to my bike computer, the air temperature just before the race’s start was 64°F. Now, with the rain passing, wind from the northeast was whipping up waves on Lake Afton.

I became chilled while standing around in a triathlon suit, waiting for the race to begin. Unfortunately, there was no option for a wetsuit given the 86°F water temperature measured during the late afternoon before the race.

All swimmers got into the water behind the start line far enough into the lake to be chest to neck deep. While waiting for the race to begin, I noticed many of the campers lined up along the lake shore parallel to the swim course. I am sure I heard one of them say, “What are those crazy people doing?”

First to start were competitors in the Olympic distance triathlon and aquabike. Five minutes later, the air horn sounded for competitors of the sprint triathlon to begin their swim.

The course was down and back, with both halves parallel to the lake shore.

As the rain continued to pass through the area, the northeast winds picked up, creating a choppiness that made the second half of the swim into the wind particularly challenging. I – and other triathletes I spoke with after the race – consumed more than the typical amount of water during the swim, both up my nose and into my mouth.

During the second half of the swim, near the exit, I was reminded of the many comical things which happen during a triathlon. Today, the smile came courtesy of a triathlete who had moved close enough to the shore to walk, instead of swim, alongside me.

Bike

The air temperature, not counting the wind chill, was still around 65°F at the beginning of the bike leg. Being chilled from the swim and by the cool, windy jog to the transition area, I donned a bike jacket.

Putting the jacket on before biking and taking it off before the run cost me some time in both transitions, but it was worth it. The temperature was still 66°F at the end of the bike with 30 mph crosswinds.

The wind was noticeable on the out and back course, all on MacArthur Road past the farms of southern Kansas. At one point, I heard a racer who had made the turnaround shout to another racer, probably a friend, to be careful on the way back.

I understood what he was referring to once I made the turnaround and was heading into the wind. Now, I was facing both a headwind and a crosswind that seemed as if it would blow me off the road. Memories of the North Dakota triathlon.

Since I had not ridden my triathlon bike under these conditions recently, I was not comfortable riding in the aero position today. My bike time suffered.

Run

The 5k run was a loop within the park, including a small section through a camping area. With trees surrounding the park, the wind we faced on the water and the open road during the bike leg was now only a cool, comfortable, and gentle breeze.

The Mudwater Triathlon run course was exceptionally flat and on roads within one of several camping areas of the park.

After the Kansas Triathlon

While waiting for the awards ceremony, the race organizers treated us to hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, cookies, and drinks. While enjoying the extra calories, I chatted with the race staff and other senior triathletes.

The latter included Buck, with whom I had raced in the Tulsa Triathlon the day before. I also met the winner of the 70+ age group, a member of the Kansas River Valley Triathlon Club and Kona Ironman finisher.

A Message from the Race Director

A few days after the triathlon, I received an email from race director Alan Farrington. It included the following commentary on this memorable triathlon:

“Today’s weather was unique to say the least. In my 15 years of directing Mudwater, I haven’t seen anything quite like it. We’ve had a rain delay once before, had to cancel the swim once due to algae, and have had to activate a heat contingency plan, but we haven’t had the rain, followed by 30 mph winds, and temperatures as cool as they were for late June; all within the race time span. Everyone’s gotta have one of those races to talk about for years to come. Maybe today was the one :-)”

Race Firsts

  • First time during the swim in which I saw another triathlete walking (in the water) beside me along the course.
  • Most windy bike ride.

What Advice Do You Have For Doing A Triathlon In Wind?

In the Comments below, tell us about one of your triathlons that included high wind.

Triathlon For a Healthy Brain – Pat & Joan Hogan’s Story

The physical exercise that accompanies endurance sports like triathlon supports a healthy brain. Just as our muscles adapt to the stress of weight training to become stronger, our brain adapts to new challenges.

Most of us are familiar with some benefits of what Dr. Patrick Hogan calls “challenging exercise”. For example, we know that exercise promotes cardiovascular health.

However, did you know that there is a 45% decrease in incidence of Alzheimer’s dementia in those who do an adequate duration and intensity of exercise consistently into older age? Neither did I until I spoke with Dr. Pat and Joan Hogan.

Add to this the psychological benefits of social interaction and improved thoughts of gratitude, confidence, and hope that accompany triathlon training and who shouldn’t want to get involved.

Improved brain function is an important reason Pat and Joan Hogan have continued in triathlon into their 70s. It is also why they plan to continue to train and compete in the sport as long as possible.

Who Are Pat and Joan Hogan?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Pat and Joan, first through email and later over the phone, as they sought to connect with Craig Cross, another senior triathlete whose story appears here.

Dr. Patrick (Pat), DO, and Joan Hogan, RD, are part of the Puget Sound Neurology and Integrative Headache Center in Tacoma, Washington. Their practice is focused on treating movement disorders, migraines, and pain from other sources.

Dr. Hogan, Director of the Center, has spent much of his career treating neurological disorders such as Parkinsons and Dystonias. In fact, the National Parkinson’s Foundation has granted his Parkinson’s treatment program national recognition as a Center of Excellence. 

Joan has been a Registered Dietician for over 30 years. Her specialty within the practice is testing and therapy for delayed food and food additive hypersensitivity. For many individuals, food sensitivity is a source of pain, disease, and discomfort.

Joan has also written a book titled “Nutrition for the Ailing Brain: Your Guide for Parkinson’s Disease and Other Neurological Disorders“.

Both Pat and Joan are active triathletes, having completed various distance triathlons, including half and full Ironman races.

Over 70 Years Combined Competing in Triathlon

The Hogans put into practice in their own lives what they prescribe for their patients – challenging exercise, a healthy diet, and quality sleep. Pat and Joan have a combined experience in endurance training, particularly triathlon, of over 70 years.

Pat completed his first triathlon in 1984 while serving in the Army as a neurologist at Tripler Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. After completing the Honolulu Marathon, a friend introduced him to triathlon.

Since he enjoyed swimming, biking, and running, Pat chose as his first triathlon an Olympic distance race in Hawaii. He has never looked back.

Joan’s experience is almost as long as Pat’s. She completed her first triathlon, an indoor race, in 1987. Like Pat, she combined her love for swimming, biking, and running as individual sports to take the leap to doing a triathlon.

While she was comfortable in a pool, swimming in the open water, especially in cold water, was another thing. After completing one triathlon involving an open water swim in cold water without a wetsuit, she hit pause on the sport for a while.

However, once Pat and Joan began training together, Pat convinced her to get a wetsuit. This addressed the cold water part of the challenge.

Demonstrating one benefit of training with a partner, Pat also helped Joan “slay the dragon” of her anxiety with the open water.

They completed their first triathlon together about 20 years ago in Ft. Louis, Washington.

Pat and Joan Hogan's 'wall of pain'. They train for and compete in triathlons to support a healthy brain and a healthy heart.
With over 70 combined years in the sport of triathlon, Pat and Joan Hogan have collected many awards and medals.

What is the Relationship Between Exercise and Brain Health?

Much of the benefit of triathlon training, such as improved endurance, improved coordination, and improved speed, occurs through changes in the brain that are then transmitted to the muscles.

According to Pat, a program of challenging physical exercise, such as triathlon training, activates the chemical irisin that is released into the brain. Irisin stimulates Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which leads to formation of new brain cells. It also produces new connections within the brain. While BDNF naturally decreases with age and stress, it increases with exercise.

These new brain cells and synaptic connections improve brain function and prevent diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.   

Thankfully, the areas of the brain most prone to atrophy, the hippocampus and frontal cortex, are the parts most improved by exercise since exercise-produced BDNF is most concentrated in these areas of the brain.

In humans, robust effects of exercise have been most clearly demonstrated in aging populations, where sustained exercise participation enhances learning and memory, improves executive function, counteracts age-related and disease-related mental decline, and protects against age-related atrophy in brain areas crucial for higher cognitive processes.

Carl W. Cotman, Nicole C. Berchtold and Lori-Ann Christie, Exercise Builds Brain Health: Key Roles of Growth Factor Cascades and Inflammation, Trends in Neurosciences, 30(9):464-72, October 2007.

The Hogan’s Approach to Triathlon Training

The Hogan’s take a holistic view of their triathlon training. Undoubtedly, this comes from melding their professions with the sport.

Their training includes, of course, the physical components related to endurance swimming, biking, and running and to strength training. However, equally important in their training are nutrition and rest.

While many consider nutrition and rest as ‘nice to have’ but not necessarily that important for the overall preparation for a triathlon, these two give equal importance to each of these components

Physical Training

Pat and Joan are self-coached, doing some combination of swimming, biking, and running on six of seven days per week. Today, their training is based on an intermediate Ironman 70.3 program for those over age 50 from TrainingPeaks.

A typical week involves three open water swims in the lake next to their house in Gig Harbor, Washington. A bike or a run, some which take advantage of the hills near their house, often follow these swims. There are also days for the longer, slower run with a few hill repeats added for excitement.

Besides their long bike ride on the weekends, Pat bikes the 18 miles to and from work one day each week.

Include Strength Training for Endurance and Balance

Strength training is important for all triathletes. However, the Hogans have learned first-hand that it becomes even more important as we age.

Joan commented, “I can no longer just go out for a run. I have learned through various people, including physical therapists, that I need to spend the first 20-30 minutes doing exercises to strengthen my hips, hamstrings, and core muscles. Otherwise, ‘things’ breakdown.”

Related Post: Better Balance Makes A Stronger Triathlete

Cross Training for Both Endurance and Brain Health

“To improve the brain, we must continually challenge it. That’s why exercise that requires skilled coordination provides greater brain stimulation,” says Pat Hogan.

“That the brain changes as we challenge it is called neuroplasticity. However, if you do the same thing over and over again, the brain does not have a reason to adapt.”

This is one reason that triathlon, with its three technical sports, along with strength training, supports a healthy brain.

It is even better for our brain health when we combine triathlon training with activities outside endurance sports. Examples include ballroom dancing, music, learning a new language, and golf. (It encouraged me to learn that my brain can also benefit from practicing and playing golf with its challenges.)

Ballroom dancing provides diversity in motion and valuable exercise for their brains. Plus, it’s great fun for Pat and Joan and many couples.

Nutrition for the Senior Triathlete

Led by Joan’s passion for nutrition and brain health, the Hogan’s follow a vegetarian diet. This choice was initially based on environmental and animal welfare concerns. Nutrition was a third reason for choosing to follow this diet.

According to Joan, “No matter what type of diet you choose, your diet must it be high in plants, seven or eight servings of vegetables per day.”

She emphasized it is critical that seniors get enough protein in their diet to offset the trend toward muscle loss with age. The amounts of protein she recommends for seniors are greater than that for the average population.

  • women: at least 30 grams three times per day (plus 50% per meal more while training for an Ironman distance race).
  • men: at least 40 grams three times per day (plus 50% per meal more while training for an Ironman distance race)

Joan recommends consuming some of the protein before exercise, even if only half of that for a complete meal. “A half a banana with a slab of peanut butter or a protein smoothie before exercising is great.”

Here is an interesting point. According to recent research, it may even be more important for women than men to consume carbohydrates and protein before exercise..

Plant-Based Protein

According to Joan, the amounts of protein recommended for senior triathletes are available from plant-based sources. Her ‘go-to’ sources include organic soy (tofu, tempeh, and edamame), seitan (made from wheat gluten), peas, nuts, nut butters, and various beans. The Hogans sometimes supplement plant sources with whey, eggs (from their chickens), and cheese.

She also mentioned that a serving of pasta from chickpeas, black beans, and lentils is high in protein. “One serving of these contains the protein in a piece of meat.”

Joan warns it is more difficult, though not impossible, for those on a vegan diet to get the recommended amounts of protein. “It takes a lot of work to get the required amounts of protein.”

Related Post: What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition

The Healing Process Called Sleep

During sleep, our cerebral lymphatic system clears out from the brain, toxins and unused proteins generated during the waking hours. In the process, neurotransmitters in the brain are regenerated.

Interestingly, this regeneration only works during sleep, making it an important reason to get enough quality sleep each day.

Cutting sleep short prevents the healing from fully occurring. Complete healing is especially necessary for seniors because we already have a lower ‘neuronal reserve’ on which to rely as we age.

According to Pat and Joan, getting at least eight hours of sleep each day is so important that if you have to choose between sleeping and doing the workout, choose sleep. Don’t cut your sleep short because the benefits of your training will suffer from doing a workout without being adequately rested.

Related Post: Rest and Recovery: Why It’s Important for Senior Triathletes

Start Now and Never Stop!

If you are not doing a challenging exercise, start. That is the impassioned advice from the Hogan’s.

Don’t Wait . . .

“Our brain has a natural trajectory toward loss of balance and slowness of thought, if not actual dementia. The brain requires the medication of exercise to present this from happening. We call this medication Doesital (a term coined by Pat) and with diet, it is Doesital forte.

“Some say they will start later or take a break. We are all paddling upstream on a river, away from waterfalls. Once you go over the waterfalls, you can not go back up. We can avoid this irreversible fall with persistent exercise.”

And, Don’t Stop

Pat and Joan are committed to continuing in the sport of triathlon as long as they can, despite aging bodies.

Some think of our body as a machine with parts that require periodic replacement. However, this is not a correct view, according to Pat.

“Our bodies are much better than machines. Our joints are bio-mechanical, not simply mechanical, which means they adapt to stress and become stronger with use.”

Joan added, “Most problems that result in pain with exercise can be fixed without surgery.”

The author of “Runners Are Less At Risk Of Knee Arthritis Than Sedentary Populations” cites a 2018 paper which concludes:

“veteran marathon runners studied were actually around 50% less likely to develop knee arthritis than the non-runner comparison group.”

The author of this article also cited a paper published in the European Journal of Physiology which documents lower inflammation in knee joint fluid and blood serum following a 30 minute run.

Tips to Avoid Stopping

The Hogans have learned to be consistent with their training – exercise, diet, and rest. Here are tips they offer to help avoid quitting, especially when our body may initially seem to argue against exercising.

1. Make exercise a habit, part of your daily routine

When you have made something a habit, an unconscious part of your life, motivation is no longer required.

How do you make exercise a habit? Pat and Joan say that at the beginning it helps to “embrace some short-term discomfort as a means to longer term comfort”.

2. Train with a partner

The Hogans have the benefit of being each other’s spouse and training partner. They are able to better encourage each other because they understand one another’s schedules and the current demands upon them.

However, there are many other options for supporting senior triathletes on their journey, including Our Community on SeniorTriathletes.com, local triathlon clubs, and live and virtual coaches.

Let us know if you can use some help to find a support group for your triathlon journey.

Triathlon supports a healthy brain.
Pat and Joan Hogan after Ironman Salem. Having your spouse as your training partner for an Ironman distance triathlon solves a few of the challenges of committing to this training program.

3. Add some incentive by signing up for races

Paying the registration fee for a triathlon adds a new level of incentive to prepare for a triathlon. Most of us want to show up to the race knowing we have done what we could to complete the race, earn the t-shirt and finisher medal, and celebrate with other triathletes and our family and friends, even if they are watching from the sidelines – for now.

Final Remarks

Having seen the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and/or poor diet in their practice, Pat and Joan Hogan are on a crusade to convince those over age 50 to get into a habit of combining challenging physical exercise with an appropriate diet and quality sleep – for their body and their brain.

A little, short-term discomfort during exercise leads to a more comfortable life physically and a clearer mind. Besides, the training improves our thoughts of gratitude, confidence, positive attitude, hope, and inspiration that expand to all aspects of our daily life. 

Further Reading Related to Brain Health

Following are sources of additional information about the relationship between “challenging exercise” and brain health provided by Pat Hogan.

Books

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey MD and Eric Hagerman.

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel.

Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement by Katy Bowman.

Articles

How Exercise Benefits Brain Health by Vernon Williams, MD; US News & World Report.

4 Key Features of a “Sports Brain” by Vernon Williams, MD

Have Questions or Thoughts for Pat and Joan?

Share your questions and comments in the Comments section below.

Affiliate Disclosure

Triathlon Across the USA: State #45 – Oklahoma

Barnsdall, Oklahoma; June 25, 2022 – Tulsa Sprint Triathlon, Twin Coves Beach at Birch Lake.

Our Oklahoma triathlon introduced us to the diversity of vegetation and terrain in the northeastern part of this state. I will also fondly remember the unique spectators along and on the bike course.

Planning the Oklahoma Triathlon

The date Joy and I had set for completing the ‘Triathlon Across the USA’ goal was in sight. In fact, I had committed to reaching it within the next year. I had six states in which to complete triathlons.

Meanwhile, a wedding and high school graduation meant we would return to Minnesota for at least two weeks in late May 2022. Late in 2021, I looked for triathlons that would fit into the next summer’s schedule.

The first two states on the itinerary were Oklahoma and Kansas, two states on back-to-back days at the end of June. Then, after a couple of weeks back in Minnesota, we would head west for the three remaining states in the west – California, Idaho, and Montana.

To avoid a price increase at the end of 2021, I registered for the Tulsa Tri on December 21st.

Previewing the Oklahoma Triathlon Course

A few months after committing to the Oklahoma triathlon, we learned that our son and his family would move from their home in Omaha, Nebraska, to a neighboring state. Their timing matched ours. They planned to leave Nebraska on the day of the Oklahoma triathlon.

We joined them for ten days prior to their move to help them pack and load the rented U-Haul truck. While this time was not exactly restful, it kept us active. It also helped develop some muscles not typically used as strenuously in my triathlon training.

By the Thursday evening before the Oklahoma triathlon, we had packed the truck with everything except one bed. A neighbor helped our son pack this after we left.

Since we would drive south from Omaha to the race venue on Friday afternoon and the pre-race packet pickup location was another 45 miles south of here, I opted to delay picking up the race packet until the morning of the triathlon.

Instead, we visited Twin Coves Beach and Birch Lake late Friday afternoon, the day before the race, to (1) make sure we knew the way to the park the next morning and (2) drive the bike course. We did the latter to check out the condition of the roads and check into memory sections of the course of which to be especially mindful.

The hills I saw while driving the bike course on Friday afternoon left an impression. In fact, some of these appeared in my dreams that night. Not exactly a nightmare, but close.

Oklahoma Triathlon Venue

The Tulsa Triathlon took place at Twin Coves Beach on Birch Lake about one and one-half miles outside Barnsdall, Oklahoma.

The man-made lake formed in 1977 when the US Army Corps of Engineers completed a dam on Birch Creek a short distance before it joined another small river, Bird Creek.

With various hardwood trees, shrubs, prairie grasses, and wildflowers covering the terrain around the lake, it was easy to see why the area is a popular year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

8th Annual Tulsa Triathlon

The Tulsa Triathlon is one of several running and multisport events managed by the Tulsa Area Triathlon Club.

The sprint triathlon was part of a two-day event which included:

  • Saturday: Sprint triathlon, with options to race individually or as part of a team. Following the adult triathlon, there was a kid’s triathlon.
  • Sunday: Olympic and half-iron triathlons and aquabike races with the swim-bike distances of the Olympic and half-iron triathlon.

The advertised distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 500 m (550 yards) – Actual: 538 m (588 yards)
  • Bike: 12 miles (19 km) – Actual: 12.6 miles (20 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km) – Actual: 3. miles (5 km)

Actual distances shown above are from my Garmin Forerunner 920XT.

A Steamy Morning

I knew it was going to be a sweaty race as I stepped outside our hotel on race morning. Even at 5 am, the temperature and humidity were enough for me to perspire while simply stowing our overnight luggage in the van.

We left the hotel around 5:15 am to make the roughly 30-minute drive from Bartlesville to Barnsdall and Twin Coves Beach. Our goal was to reach Birch Lake in time for me to pickup my race packet at 6 am, setup my transition area, and get settled for the race set to begin at 7:10 am.

Swim

The water temperature in Birch Lake this morning was 85°F. This was significant since the race followed USAT rules. According to USAT rules, no one could wear a wetsuit during the swim.

The rule as written on the USAT website is:

  • 4.4 Wet suits. Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit.” Source: USA Triathlon.

About ten minutes before the race began, I went for a short, warmup swim to jumpstart my heart rate.

Another goal of the swim was to learn about the lake bottom. I wanted to know if I would walk or run into the water on rocks. Or would the bottom be slippery or covered with weeds?

I learned that the bottom of Birch Lake was smooth, composed of soft clay, not slippery, and with no noticeable weeds. While the water was cloudy, it provided for a comfortable swim.

The triathlon began when a portion of the 156 swimmers, the so-called ‘first wave’, started their swim on this triangular course marked by two orange buoys.

Birch Lake at Twin Coves Beach, location for the swim during the Tulsa Triathlon.

Bike

One of the first things I noticed after mounting my bike was the temperature reported on my bike computer – 84°F. (By the end of the bike leg, around 50 minutes later, the temperature was 99°F.)

This course could well be the most hilly course of any I have biked during a triathlon. I had not expected this in Oklahoma. Fortunately, my bike was in great shape.

While riding this course, I learned that some people’s definition of rolling hills differ greatly from mine. Yes, these hills ‘rolled’ in that the course had a sinusoidal pattern, up then down. What made this different from normal rolling hills was their amplitude. My speed throughout the bike leg reflected the hilliness.

A Different Profile of Spectators

In many triathlons, residents along the bike path sit in lawn chairs and cheer on the racers. Today, there were no human spectators. However, there was a multitude of other spectators – a pair of horses who looked as if they were trying to figure what was happening. There were also the less interested but attentive cattle and goats keeping their eyes on racers, without actually cheering them on.

Near mile nine of the ride, as I was coming down a hill before a right-angle turn, a small turtle raced into the road. Apparently, it saw me coming as it reached the middle of the road. He froze, pulled in his head and legs, and lay still as I passed him.

Run

The run course left the transition area near Birch Lake on a paved service road. Within the first mile, the initial road joined the main one leading to the park entrance.

With the temperature now approaching 100°F, my run actually alternated between running on flat and downhill sections of the course and walking on the upside of the hills.

After reaching the park entrance and stopping for a drink of water, I followed the course to the right for a short distance needed for the 5k distance. We turned around and returned in the direction of the finish line, this time making a short loop through one of the camping areas within the park.

After leaving the camping area, the finish line was a few hundred yards away – downhill.

After the Oklahoma Triathlon

By the time I crossed the finish line, I was a sweaty, dripping mess.

Joy graciously volunteered to drive for the three-hour trip to Wichita for the Mudwater Triathlon the next morning.

While we were eager to get started on our journey, I first took advantage of a generous supply of water, sports drinks, and fruit to start rehydrating.

I looked for a shower facility or a place in which to change clothes. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any. So, I spread a towel on the van’s passenger seat and stayed in my triathlon suit for the ride.

After experiencing the hills of northeastern Oklahoma during the Tulsa Tri, it was time to see the vast prairies, wind farms, oil derricks, and grazing cattle, also part of this state.

Race Firsts from the Oklahoma Triathlon

  • First triathlon in which I wore prescription glasses on the bike.
  • USAT rules prohibited wetsuits, another first.

Unique Spectators

Tell us in the Comments below about the most unique spectators you have had during a triathlon.

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