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Triathlon Across the USA: State #48 – Idaho

Triathlon Across the USA: State #48 – Idaho

Preston, Idaho; July 30, 2022 – Preston Biathlon, Triathlon and Fun Run; Preston Aquatic Center.

Our Idaho triathlon represented the many triathlons in smaller communities across this country which are managed and supported by local businesses to benefit local causes.

The Preston Triathlon was also the second of three triathlons in northwestern states during late July and early August. I completed the Donner Lake Triathlon outside Truckee, California, the previous weekend. The following weekend, we would be in Seeley Lake, Montana.

Before the Idaho Triathlon

A few days before the Idaho triathlon, we met up with our friends Steve and Lori at the Cub River Campground outside Preston. We camped in a rented Class C motorhome while our friends used theirs.

Before the Idaho triathlon, we camped at the Cub River Campground outside Preston.
On the three days before the Idaho triathlon in Preston, we camped in our rented RV at the Cub River Campground outside Preston.

On Friday afternoon, we drove the 13 miles from our RV park into Preston. We went for two purposes. First, and probably expected, was to pickup my race packet.

The second reason, to complete the triathlon swim, is one you probably did not expect. Completing the swim on the day before the bike and run legs of the triathlon was a first.

A Vibrant Community

Between the swim and packet pickup, we checked out this rural community of just over 5,000 residents.

With Preston abuzz with the excitement of Rodeo Days and the nightly parades, we found the main street lined with people shopping at the outdoor displays of local shops and sampling the treats of street vendors.

While in Preston, we also stopped for groceries. The family-owned grocery store at which we shopped impressed us with their range of products and prices. The big corporate stores in larger cities have nothing on this local store.

Sadly, many towns the size of Preston have shriveled and died over my lifetime. Joy and I spent our early years, until high school graduation, in a small town in Minnesota. We remember when towns like our hometown were as vibrant as Preston.

10th (Maybe More) Annual Biathlon and Triathlon

The Preston Triathlon is one of several running and multisport events managed by Groll Family Fitness Center (Preston, Idaho). The center offers many services, including personal training, weight loss coaching, strength training, and group classes in aerobics and yoga.

According to Chris and Jeannine Groll, this event began as a biathlon (bike-run) event “ten, maybe twelve years ago”.

Since there was not a facility for swimming in Preston in the early years, it was impossible to hold a triathlon. However, that changed three years ago with the opening of the Preston Aquatic Center and its lap pool.

Today, the Preston event includes a sprint triathlon, biathlon (bike-run involving the distances of the triathlon), and 1 mile and 5 km ‘fun runs’.

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

  • Swim: 500 yards (457 meters) – Actual: 500 yards (457 meters)
  • Bike: 14 miles (22.5 km) – Actual: 14.1 miles (22.6 km)
  • Run: 5 km (3.1 miles) – Actual: 4.8 km (3 miles)

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

“Every Child A Swimmer”

The Preston biathlon, triathlon, and running event doubled as a fundraiser for the Preston Aquatic Center (PAC). Funds from this race support the “Every Child A Swimmer” scholarship fund for underprivileged children who want to learn to swim but whose parents cannot afford lessons.

One staff member of PAC told me, “I grew up in California and learned to swim when I was old enough to walk. I want every child who wants to learn to swim to have the opportunity.”

This is an example of causes supported by local triathlons and other multisport and running events.

Swim

With only two lanes in the PAC pool, competitors swam the 500 yards on Friday (my choice) or early on Saturday, before the start of the triathlon and biathlon. Each triathlete brought someone, in my case Steve, to count their laps, record their swim time, and report the time to a PAC staff member.

The swim for the Preston Idaho triathlon was in the pool of the Preston Aquatic Center
The swim leg of the triathlon took place in the pool at the Preston Aquatic Center.

Bike

For Saturday’s bike and run legs for the triathlon and biathlon, race organizers converted the parking lot behind the Preston Aquatic Center into the transition area. Just before the race began, all competitors mounted their bike inside the transition area.

Following a ten-second countdown, we all left the transition. Our race officially began as we rode over the timing mat.

This race used a unique method for capturing our times as we crossed the timing mat. Typically, a timing chip is on a velcro strap attached to our left ankle. Some running races use a race number bib with the timing chip embedded in it.

For this race, the organizer gave each of us two plastic-encapsulated metal foils. We pinned one each on the left and right sides of our race number belt or shorts.

Timing for this race used a plastic enclosed metal foil pinned to the race number belt on each side of our waist.

The bike course left the transition area using the alley behind the aquatic center. Upon reaching the street, volunteers directed us to turn left (east) onto Oneida Street.

A Ride in the Country

We followed the road out of Preston into the country with its rolling hills. The many volunteers made it easy for us to follow the course and its many turns. Because of this, we could enjoy the sights and smells of this gorgeous farmland.

Most of the ride was between hayfields interrupted only by the occasional small farm, many containing a mix of dairy and beef cows, goats, and horses.

We witnessed hay in various stages of maturity – from being irrigated to help its growth to that already cut and being raked to speed up its drying. At one point, the spray from the irrigation rig crossed the road. The mist felt good.

Throughout the bike leg, we rode in traffic with cars and trucks. There was also the occasional farming implement we encountered during the ride. This triathlon was the first in which I met a tractor pulling a hay rake, one wide enough to leave only six to eight feet for me to pass between it and the edge of the road.

Despite the plentiful traffic, I found the drivers to be considerate. At no time did I feel unsafe.

Following a rectangular loop at the midway part of the course, we soon reconnected with Oneida Street, meeting some of the apparent late-comers to the biathlon and triathlon. As we returned to the eastern edge of Preston, we saw those taking part in the 5 km fun run. They were on the course I would be in a few minutes.

Run

The flat run course followed part of the bike course on streets leading to the eastern edge of Preston. As with the bike course, we left the transition area through the alley onto Oneida Street.

Near the edge of town, we turned left to follow a rectangular path that included three left turns. Upon reaching Oneida Street near the post office, we turned right and returned to the finish line.

The run left the transition area located behind the Preston Aquatic Center through the alley leading to East Oneida Street.

After the Idaho Triathlon

After the Preston Triathlon, Joy and I traveled with our friends Steve and Lori in our two motorhomes toward our next destination, Montana, for the Seeley Lake Triathlon.

The trip to our first stop, Dillon, Montana, initially took us past the bright green alfalfa fields around Preston. These soon gave way to bright yellow fields of canola (rapeseed) then 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.

We soon reached our destination for the next two nights, the Southside RV Park in Dillon. Our campsite, next to a small river, was the perfect spot from which to watch the life of an osprey family – dad, mom, and two young ones.

Race Firsts

  • First time doing the swim leg on the day before the bike and run legs.
  • First time using a method of timing with metal flags, one pinned to each side.
  • Being sprinkled by an irrigation system used to water a hay field was a first.

What Size Triathlon Do You Prefer?

Triathlons with many competitors are exciting. Often, we see others with whom we have raced before. On the other hand, small races are more intimate and often support important local causes.

Which do you prefer? (There is no wrong answer.)

Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #47 – California

Triathlon Across the USA: State #47 – California

Truckee, California; July 23, 2022 – Donner Lake Triathlon; West End Beach, Donner Lake.

The California triathlon was the first of three I would complete during late July and early August, while Joy and I traveled in northwestern states using a rented Class C motorhome.

Donner Lake is one of the most beautiful race venues in which I have done a sprint triathlon. It is hard to beat looking across a large, calm lake at tree-covered mountains and clear blue skies.

Planning the California Triathlon

I had not originally planned to do the California triathlon this year. However, looking at where we would be for the Idaho and Montana triathlons, doing it now, while in southern Idaho, would save a lot of travel next year.

Using one of my favorite triathlon-related websites, RunningintheUSA.com, I quickly learned about the Donner Lake Triathlon. This race would take place exactly one week before the Idaho triathlon. Another plus was it took place in an area of California, between Reno, Nevada and Lake Tahoe, of which we had fond memories from a visit nearly thirty years ago.

Visiting the Race Venue on Friday Afternoon

Ground zero for the Donner Lake Triathlon was West End Beach, a few miles west of downtown Truckee. The drive to and from West End Beach on Donner Pass Road doubled as a preview of the bike course. It was on this road that we would ride during the bike leg of the triathlon.

We arrived at a little before 5pm, the time at which packet pickup opened. Since there were many people at the beach on this Friday afternoon, the parking lot was nearly full. Besides, there were no spaces large enough to fit the motorhome.

We eventually found a grassy area that would fit the motorhome at the far end of the parking lot, away from the paved area.

We wondered out loud if we might park at the beach. It was convenient for sure.

However, by now, it was too late to call anyone at the Parks & Rec department. Oh well, at least we had our original plan.

Our Plan for RV Parking

After picking up my race packet, including the prized t-shirt, we started for the free RV parking location in downtown Truckee. It was here we planned to spend the night.

Before we had left Florida in May, I had looked for campgrounds around Donner Lake. The closest camping option was within Donner Memorial State Park, about three miles from West End Beach. However, there was no availability. The nearest commercial RV parks were 25 miles or more away.

An internet search uncovered an option for free overnight parking in downtown Truckee near the train station. I had verified this with a person from the California Welcome Center in Truckee months earlier. I was confident in my plan.

Dealing With the Unexpected

As triathletes, we learn to be prepared for the unexpected. Seldom, if ever, do things go exactly as planned, in our training or racing.

We arrived at the appointed address. To my surprise, there was no sign at that address showing RV parking that was either free or overnight. On the contrary, every other parking space in the lot had a sign posting that there could be no parking between 10 pm and 5 am.

By now it was approaching 6 pm on a Friday evening. The Welcome Center was closed so they could be of no help in resolving our problem.

As we were debating what to do, a train came through. As the engineer honked the train’s horn, I am sure I saw out of the “corner of my eye” Joy jump three inches off the seat. She promptly decided about this place announcing, “We can’t sleep here tonight.”

A New Plan

Before leaving, however, Joy called the local police department to ask about the possibility of parking downtown or even at West End Beach. A dispatcher took the call.

Within a few minutes, Joy received a call from a police officer. While he was uncertain about parking at the beach, he promised we would not be ticketed. He told Joy that, in the worst case, they would ask us to leave.

After being refused an overnight spot by a couple of businesses on the road back to West End Beach, we took our chances and parked in the area we had occupied during packet pickup.

We parked as far as practical away from the beach entrance and paved parking area and settled in for what we hoped would be undisturbed sleep before this triathlon.

Thankfully, our prayer for a restful sleep was answered.

for the California triathlon, we camped in a rented motorhome next to the start and end location for the race.
Our camping spot on the evening before the Donner Lake Triathlon was within view of the swim course and only a few minutes from the transition area. Thanks to the Truckee Parks & Rec Department for granting us a good night’s sleep in this gorgeous park.

40th Annual Donner Lake Triathlon

At 40, the Donner Lake Triathlon is the longest running triathlon in which I have competed. It is also one of several open water swimming, mountain biking, running, and triathlon events managed by Big Blue Adventure (Tahoe City, California).

This race was part of a two-day event that included the sprint triathlon and kids triathlon on Saturday. Adult triathletes raced in age group, Clydesdale/Athena, or relay categories.

On Sunday, the Olympic and half Ironman triathlons were held along with aquabike, duathlon, and three distances of open water swim competitions.

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

  • Swim: 0.25 miles (440 yards or 400 meters) – Actual (not including distance from the water to the transition area): 0.28 miles (500 yards or 457 meters)
  • Bike: 6 miles (10 km) – Actual: 6.5 miles (10.5 km)
  • Run: 2 miles (3.2 km) – Actual: 1.9 miles (3 km)

Actual distances shown are from my Garmin Forerunner 920XT.

Swim

With a water temperature in the high 60s °F, the race was definitely wetsuit legal according to USAT rules. However, I wore a wetsuit not so much because of the water temperature but because of the 41°F air temperature.

Swim start for the wave of oldest female and male triathletes at the Donner Lake Triathlon.
Start of the third wave of swimmers at the Donner Lake Sprint Triathlon. I am the tall guy in the back of the pack, to the left of the person taking a picture with their cellphone. Picture courtesy of Lefrak Photography.

Swimmers left the beach in three waves at five-minute intervals. The third and final wave included men over 50 and women over 40. I intentionally started near the back of the group because I expected that at this elevation (6,000 feet), I would have a slower swim pace.

The rectangular swim course included two left turns before exiting the water at a bright yellow ‘Swim Out’ arch not far from where we had slept the night before.

Sure enough, about halfway through the swim, my breathing became labored. There was even a moment during which I thought about stopping to tread water.

Now, I was even happier that I had listened to other triathletes before the race, as they explained they would wear a wetsuit because of the added buoyancy.

I slowed my pace. As expected, my breathing returned to normal, and I finished the swim without issue. However, this experience was a major reason I started the post on Planning for a Triathlon at Higher Altitude.

The Best Seat in the House

I didn’t mention earlier that our camping spot for the night gave us a clear view of the swim course from the back window of the RV. Rather than dragging Joy out of bed before the crack of dawn for the opening of the transition area, I let her sleep.

By the time the race started, she was awake and watched the swim from the comfort of our bed. In fact, she was close enough to the swim exit to watch me leave Donner Lake.

Bike

From the transition area, we walked our bikes about 50 yards to the bike mount spot on the side of Donner Lake Road. After mounting our bike, we rode in the bike lane for the little over three miles to the entrance of Donner Lake Memorial Park. Here there was a cone in the middle of the road and volunteer directing triathletes to make the 180° turn.

The bike course for this triathlon fit my definition of ‘flat and fast’. I would have enjoyed an even longer ride because of the good condition of the road, gentle, rolling hills, and perfect weather.

The bike leg of the Donner Lake Triathlon was in the bike lane of Donner Pass Road between West End Beach and Donner Memorial State Park.
The bike leg of the Donner Lake Triathlon was in the bike lane of Donner Pass Road between West End Beach and Donner Memorial State Park.

Run

The out-and-back run course left West End Beach in the opposite direction from the bike course. The entire course was on South Shore Drive, a road through a neighborhood with houses on one side of the street backed up to Donner Lake.

Unlike the bike course, the run course included a series of relatively short hills. Residents of this neighborhood lined both sides of the road to cheer on the runners. Or did they want to know what this crazy bunch of people were doing?

After the turnaround midway through the run, we headed back to the transition area. However, a short distance from where we had entered the run course, volunteers directed us off the road. We crossed through a narrow ditch and across a grassy area while sprinting to the finish line.

Crossing the finish line at my California triathlon, the Donner Lake Sprint Triathlon.
Crossing the finish line at the Donner Lake Triathlon outside Truckee, California. Picture courtesy of Lefrak Photography.

After the Donner Lake Triathlon in California

Following the awards ceremony at which I received a glass with the Donner Lake Triathlon logo etched into it, we started our journey toward the location of the next triathlon, Preston, Idaho. After a week of long days of driving, we followed a much more leisurely timeline. We now had five days to travel the distance we had previously covered in 1-1/2 days.

Race Firsts for the California Triathlon

  • First triathlon at which we camped at the location of the race.
  • Longest running triathlon in which I have competed.

What Has Been Your Most Beautiful Race Venue?

Where was the most beautiful setting of a triathlon in which you have taken part? Let us know in the Comments below.

Special Acknowledgement

A special thank you to Harry Lefrak, Lefrak Photography, for allowing me to include his photos in this post.

Please visit his website at http://www.lefrakphotography.com/. Scroll through a gallery of gorgeous photos of endurance racing in the beautiful Lake Tahoe-Donner Lake area.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #49 – Montana

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

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.

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