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Triathlon Across the USA: State #42 – Arkansas

Triathlon Across the USA: State #42 – Arkansas
DeGray Lake near Arkadelphis, Arkansas

Arkadelphia-Caddo Valley, Arkansas; September 13, 2020—DeGray Lake Sprint Triathlon.

The DeGray Lake Triathlon was the only race I would take part in during 2020. The government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in others in Kansas and Oklahoma I had registered for being canceled.

I had originally registered for a spring race, the Ozark Valley Triathlon in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Organizers delayed this triathlon until the fall and eventually made it a virtual-only race.

I had – and still have – no interest in a virtual race. One of my reasons for doing a triathlon in every state is to visit each one. I want to experience each state from the perspective of triathlon by swimming, biking, and running in it.

Meanwhile, the DeGray Lake Triathlon had always been scheduled for later in the year. Thanks to a relaxing of restrictions by the State of Arkansas, organizers could hold a live event.

Traveling to the DeGray Lake Triathlon in Arkansas

Our ultimate destination for this trip was a little south of Little Rock, Arkansas. Through a couple of slight detours, we visited our son and his family and our son’s in laws.

Our initial route took us through central Iowa. Here, we saw hundreds of acres of flattened corn stalks. These were reminders of the hurricane level winds which had passed through the area in mid-August. Three hours later and we were at our son’s home near Omaha, Nebraska.

That evening, Joy and I prepared for the six of us Alaskan halibut that I had caught about a month earlier. We finished the evening watching “Frozen” for the umpteenth time with our granddaughters.

The destination for the second day was our son’s in laws in a pastoral area of central Missouri. This was the second visit to their home, as we had stayed with them before the Missouri triathlon. They are the greatest hosts.

Before departing for Arkansas the next morning, Joan loaded us up with canned goods. The box she sent us off with included jars of salsa, relish, tomato sauce, and elderberry juice all from the produce of her garden.

Last Minute Preparations for the Arkansas Triathlon

By mid-afternoon, we had arrived in Arkadelphia. After checking into our hotel, we drove the few miles to the race venue for packet pickup. Here, I had my first experience with a triathlon being run under COVID-19 restrictions.

masked triathletes waiting for packet pickup during the COVID-19 pandemic
Masked triathletes awaiting packet pickup for the 2020 DeGray Lake Triathlon.

Part of the protocol for complying with state requirements was to allow triathletes to set up their transition area during packet pickup and leave their bike overnight.

A group from Teen Challenge, a faith-based nonprofit organization, secured the area. Others from this group provided support throughout the race the next day.

Next we completed our pre-race ritual of driving the course, or most of it. Joy drove while I observed the road conditions and took a few pictures. It was then time to sample the local cuisine at the Fish Net Family Restaurant.

22nd Annual DeGray Lake Triathlon

The weather on race morning was as near perfect for a triathlon as one can imagine. A light breeze created a satiny feeling to the humid, 73°F air.

While the sun was shining, it did so through a thick haze. We attributed this to smoke from forest fires still burning in California and the Pacific Northwest.

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

  • Swim: 820 yards (0.75 km) – Actual: 645 yards or 0.59 km
  • Bike: 12.4 miles (20 km) – Actual: 14.1 miles or 22,7 km
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km) – Actual: 3.8 miles or 6.1 km

(The actual distances shown above are from my Garmin Forerunner 920XT.)

Before the start, race director Bruce Dunn of All Sports Productions led with a prayer that was both thoughtful and relevant to the time. Following the playing of a recorded version of the National Anthem, the triathlon began.

Swim

The temperature of the Lake DeGray water was over 78°F. To comply with USAT rules, anyone competing for an award could not wear a wetsuit.

The swim leg began using a ‘time-trial start’. This was another part of the COVID-19 protocol for this race. About every 5 seconds, a swimmer crossed the first timing mat, starting the timer for their race, and entered the water.

One benefit of the hazy sky was a muted sun. Had the sun been shining through an unfiltered sky, we would have looked nearly directly into it when sighting during the last part of the swim. Today, however, the haze made it much easier to locate the exit and swim on course.

The swim course for the DeGray Lake triathlon started from the boat launch at the DeGray Lake Spillway Area.
The swim course for the DeGray Lake triathlon started from the boat launch at the Spillway Area.

Bike

Lake DeGray was the only flat part of this course. Both the bike and run courses involved a continuous series of rolling hills.

After a short ride from the ‘Bike Mount’ location outside the transition area, we turned onto the road within the park. The bike course stayed on this road during both the out and back portions.

The initial ride involved a climb that felt much steeper than the picture below indicates.

I made it through the first hill, though my heart was pounding. I caught my breath while on the flatter section across the dam.

As I started to climb the second hill a little past the dam, I downshifted and the chain came off. It became jammed between the frame and sprocket. The bike stopped almost instantly.

Unable to unclip my shoes from the pedals, I promptly fell over to my left. I scuffed my left knee and jammed my left ring finger.

Another casualty was my pride. As typical, several racers paused as they passed to ask if I needed help. I didn’t but was grateful for the support.

Limping through the bike leg

I got the chain back on. However, being on a modest hill, I could not mount my bike and clip my shoes into the pedals. I have never practiced this.

I walked the bike up the hill until reaching a flat enough section on which I could get on the bike and clip my shoes into the pedals.

Immediately, I noticed the chain would jump back or ahead one gear every one to two revolutions of the pedal. I was at a loss for what to do. Finding no solution, I kept riding, though slower than I should have. The clicking sound distracted me. I was also concerned the chain would come off again.

On the other hand, I was grateful for being able to finish the race.

pictures from along the bike course of the DeGray Lake Arkansas triathlon
Scenes from along the bike course of the DeGray Lake Triathlon in Arkansas. Clockwise from the upper left: (1) The first part of the course was a modest hill that got our hearts pumping, (2) followed by a short flat stretch before crossing the DeGray Lake Dam. (3) Woods provided the scenery for much of the rest of the course. (4) However, in the last mile, we again crossed over the dam, this time looking onto the hydroelectric power plant.

After the race, I learned that both the chain and derailleur were damaged, presumably in the crash. A few days after returning home, a technician at Maple Grove Cycling repaired the derailleur and installed a new chain.

Run

By the time I got to the run leg, the temperature had risen ten degrees to 81°F. It was still humid, though not different from conditions I had been training in over the summer.

Scene from the run course on the road from AR-7 to the Lake DeGray Spillway Dam Area
The T-shaped out and-back run course for the DeGray Lake Triathlon was on the road between the DeGray Lake Spillway Area and AR-7, the highway that travels along the eastern edge of DeGray Lake.

The T-shaped out-and-back course took place on roads within the DeGray Lake Recreation Area. With the time trial start, maintaining physical distance between racers was easy.

Or was it because I was near the rear of the pack?

A Variation on a Basic Triathlon Axiom

Most beginner triathletes know you should never put into practice anything for the first time on race day.

I learned an important corollary to this truth in the Arkansas triathlon: “Do nothing on race day that you have not done during the final weeks of training for the race”.

I had not ridden my triathlon bike on hills similar to those of the race course during the last several months before this race. Even though the bike had been recently tuned and ridden on the trainer, it was not race-ready.

After the DeGray Lake Triathlon

After the race, Joy and I visited historic Hot Springs. From there, we headed north through the Ozark Mountains. We continued through Kansas City and Des Moines back to Minneapolis.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon race during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This was the first triathlon with a new Trek SpeedConcept frame.
  • First triathlon for which I body marked myself using tattoos provided by the race organizer and a felt-tip marker. This was yet another part of the COVID protocol for this race.
  • Because of government restrictions, this was the first of my triathlons that Joy did not attend as a spectator. However, she visited the race venue with me during packet pickup the day before the race. (Truthfully, I think she enjoyed sleeping in.)

Have You Had a Bike Malfunction During a Triathlon?

Has your bike malfunctioned during a triathlon?

Have you done any triathlons in Arkansas? Which? What was your experience?

Triathlon Across the USA: State #15 – Maryland

Triathlon Across the USA: State #15 – Maryland

Flintstone, Maryland; June 1, 2013—Rocky Gap Triathlon

Our Maryland triathlon took us to the northwest corner of Maryland, about two miles south of the border with Pennsylvania. We had been to the urban areas of eastern Maryland before. However, this part of Maryland, in which rugged tree-covered mountains seemed to wrap their arms around us, was like another state.

Traveling to the Maryland Triathlon

We left our house in Chicopee, Massachusetts on Friday morning heading in a southwesterly direction. The roughly 450-mile drive took us through Connecticut, past New York City, and through the Pennsylvania towns of Allentown, Harrisburg, and Hershey.

Before driving into Cumberland, Maryland, we stopped at Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland’s Allegany County. During this quick visit I checked out portions of the swim, bike, and run courses.

We then headed to the Cumberland YMCA to pickup the race packet. While managed by Tri Columbia, this triathlon doubled as a fundraiser for the Cumberland YMCA.

After dinner at Henny’s Bar & Grill near our hotel, we turned in for the night, ready for a pre-dawn departure to compete in the Maryland triathlon.

26th Annual Rocky Gap Triathlon

The sun shone brightly as participants of the sprint and International distance triathlons gathered at the park.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were slightly shorter than normal:

  • Swim: 0.25 mile (400 m)
  • Bike: 8 mile (12.9 km)
  • Run: 2.5 mile (4 km)

Swim

The swim portion of the race took place in 243-acre Lake Habeeb. The lake lies in the shadow of Evitt’s Mountain, named for one of the first European settlers in Allegany County.

The water temperature was around 72° F, making the race ‘wetsuit legal’. Swimmers started in four waves (groups), with the sprint men being in the first wave.

The sprint course was triangular shaped. From the beach, we swam diagonally toward an orange buoy. After turning at this buoy, we returned to shore, swimming perpendicular to the beach.

Rocky Gap State Park
Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland. Lake Habeeb was the location for the open water swim portion of the Rocky Gap Sprint Triathlon.

Bike

The bike course left the park through a quick ride up a short, gradual hill that exits the park. At the first intersection, the course turned left and followed the rolling Pleasant Valley Road with a gradual rise of 150 feet (45 meters) over the 4-mile distance to the halfway mark of the course.

At the half-way point, we turned around to return to the transition area with the ride in this direction being mostly downhill.

Run

The 2.5-mile, out-and-back run course began by passing the Rocky Gap Casino Resort on Old Hancock Road Northeast. At a little over a halfway into the ‘out’ portion of the run, we turned right onto Lakeside Loop Trail/Gorge Road Northeast heading toward Rocky Gap Dam.

Reaching the dam meant that we had nearly reached the turnaround point, which was a little over halfway across the dam. From here, it was back to the Finish Line along the same route. The only difference was that during the last few hundred yards (meters), we sprinted on a grassy path.

During the last mile, it surprised me to watch as a man with a 70-something number written on his right calf passed me.  (For those of you who have taken part in a few triathlons, chances are that in at least one of those, you will have had your age marked on one of your calves.)

Learning From the More Experienced, No Matter Their Age

I am not comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger. However, I have found it easier to start a discussion with a fellow triathlete. The shared interest in the sport and our mutual desire to see others succeed at it, especially at the amateur level, is clear.

During the cool-down after the race, I met the 70-something man who had passed me on the run, James Chapman.  Being both impressed by his overall ability and curious to learn how to improve my running ability, I struck up a conversation with Jim about his training program. More specifically, I asked him how I should train to run faster.

During the conversation, Jim also shared information about his fueling approach. I recorded his comments about fueling in What I Learned About Race Fueling at the Rocky Gap Triathlon.

Triathlon run training for faster seniors

Jim summarized his run training program as follows:

  • Start with a couple of months of 3 to 5 mile easy runs three times per week. This will build a base level of fitness.
  • After the initial phase, introduce hill repeats. Hill repeats are done after a 20-minute warm-up run. Start with 3-5 repeats of 10-20 seconds running up a moderately (5-10% grade) steep hill during one of the weekly runs. Over several weeks, gradually (to avoid injury) increase the duration to 1 minute. End the session with an easy one mile cool down run.
    • NOTE: Hill repeats is an excellent candidate for a treadmill since you can precisely control the grade and pace.
  • A third key to faster running is intervals. Jim’s coach had him “doing 30 second to 3 minute pickups where you gradually run at race pace (not as fast as you can go – that leads to injury).” Jim said “My favorite interval session is a one mile repeat where I run one mile at race pace and then either jog or walk for 2 minutes and then do two more repeats. After the last repeat, run an easy one mile to cool down.”

For Jim, there are two other components of an effective run training program:

Stretching: For Jim, it is critical to stretch the Achilles tendon and calves after every workout, including after swimming. I can echo the importance of stretching after every workout, whether swim, bike, or run.

Related post: Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout

Strength training: Jim’s major exercises for strengthening the legs and hips are (1) step ups, (2) body squats, and (3) one leg squats.

Related post: Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

After the Maryland Triathlon

Since I was racing the next day in the Independence Triathlon in Pennsylvania, Joy and I started our northeasterly journey toward Quakertown – after a shower and change of clothes, that is.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon during which a portion of the run course was on a dam.

Have You Done a Triathlon in Maryland?

Tell us about the race or races you have done in Maryland.

What have you learned from other triathletes during or after a race?

Triathlon Across the USA: State #11 – Florida

Triathlon Across the USA: State #11 – Florida
Crabby Bills Restaurant across the street from Clearwater Beach.

Clearwater, Florida; November 11, 2012—TriRock Clearwater Triathlon

Joy and I used the timing of this triathlon to schedule a Florida vacation of a little over a week. The trip, in honor of our 39th wedding anniversary, provided opportunity to spend time with friends (Lyle & Diane in Deerfield Beach; Don & Sue in The Villages) and relax at the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach, one of our few romantic getaways.

Getting to the Florida Triathlon

We flew with my bike from Minnesota to West Palm Beach, Florida on Friday, November 2nd. Following a short drive south, we reached the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach, our base for a weekend visit with friends in nearby Deerfield Beach. 

On Monday morning, we drove to The Villages, about one hour northwest of Orlando, where we spent the night with friends Don and Sue in the house they had rented.  The next morning, we moved to a house in The Villages we had rented for four nights as part of a get-to-know-the-area package. 

Through the rest of the week, I ran and cycled with a group of 60- and 70-year-olds. Joy and I also played golf with Don and Sue, took in a movie, went dancing every night, shopped, ate out, etc. In short, we had a blast.

On Saturday, we drove from The Villages to Clearwater Beach, the venue for the triathlon the next day.  Before picking up the race packet, we enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch at Crabby Bill’s situated directly across the street from Pier 60, location of the transition area. After picking up the race packet and before driving to our hotel, we walked around the expo that was part of the triathlon.

1st TriRock Clearwater Triathlon

About 150 male and female triathletes from thirty-two states and five countries met for the inaugural TriRock Clearwater Triathlon on what was a near-perfect morning for a triathlon.  Skies were blue with a few wispy clouds. The air temperature was comfortable, though cool, especially with a light breeze coming off the water.

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

  • Swim: 0.34 mile (550 m)
  • Bike: 13.4 mile (21 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
The swim for the Florida triathlon was in the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico at Clearwater Beach.  The exit for the swim was near the pier shown in the picture.  Source: commons.wikimedia.org
The swim leg of the Florida triathlon was in the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico at Clearwater Beach. The exit for the swim was near the pier shown in the picture. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Swim

The water in the Gulf of Mexico was unexpectedly cold, around 65ºF. This meant that according to USA Triathlon rules, wetsuits were not only allowed but encouraged.

Swimmers started in waves based on age groups. The water was calm, making for a comfortable swim once I absorbed the initial shock of the cold water.  Upon exiting the water, we ran to the grassy transition area across the beach with its mixture of sand and small shells.

Bike

The distinctive feature of this race’s bicycle leg was the ride up and over three bridges spanning inner coastal portions of water.  The climb up and ride down from these bridges led to a challenging and, occasionally, fast (over 30 miles per hour) ride.

The first part of the bike leg of the TriRock Clearwater Triathlon took us across Clearwater Bay on the Memorial Causeway. Source: commons.wikimedia.org.

When not on a bridge, we snaked our way through neighborhoods in Clearwater, Belleair Beach, and Clearwater Beach, finishing the ride on Gulf Boulevard and Coronado Drive.

Run

The initial section of the run was along the causeway (bridge) that was also part of the bike course. On the way to the turnaround, we passed the first of several bands providing live music along the run course, another of the signature features of this race.

About one-mile into the run, we turned around and headed back in the direction of the park. At the roundabout across from the transition area, we continued on the completely flat running path along South Gulfview Boulevard, the street running parallel to Clearwater Beach. Here we encountered the next series of bands.

Following a second turnaround, we headed toward the finish line.

Results

Who says that ‘old people’ don’t take these races seriously? Maybe young people, but not those of us racing in the higher age groups.

This race again showed the competitiveness of older triathletes. The race for the second, third, and fourth places for the Males 55-59 Age Group was close; only 19 seconds separated the second and fourth place finishers.

I finished third in my age group, 8 seconds behind the second-place finisher and 11 seconds ahead of the fourth place finisher.

After the Florida Triathlon

Before traveling back to Minnesota, we made one more overnight stop in The Villages. With this visit, we could see our friends once more, enjoy more dancing at Lake Sumter Landing, and pack my bike for the airline ride home.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon performed with a vacation to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
  • First triathlon with the swim portion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What type swim do you prefer? ocean? lake? pool? Why?

Have you combined a race and vacation? If so, what has been your favorite?

Please share your comments below.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #21 – Michigan

Triathlon Across the USA: State #21 – Michigan
Ski resort near Ironwood, Michigan during the summer.

Iron Mountain, Michigan; June 29, 2014—Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon, Lake Antoine County Park

Thanks to an 1835-36 dispute over a narrow strip of land in what is now northern Ohio, our trip to the Michigan triathlon was much shorter than it could have been.

Before you leave, let me explain.

The dispute, known as the Toledo War, led to the eventual granting of the Upper Peninsula, or UP, to Michigan instead of Wisconsin.

The result? We could race on the western side of Lake Michigan while still being in the state of Michigan, most of which is on the eastern side.

Getting to the Michigan Triathlon

Since we were traveling to northern Michigan for the triathlon, we decided to visit Joy’s cousin, Linda and her husband, Tom, outside Ironwood, Michigan. We arrived late Friday afternoon following a leisurely drive along the southern end of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.

After breakfast in Ironwood the next morning, Tom and Linda took us to some of their favorites sites. This included the Copper Peak ski flying jump and Black River Harbor, where, as forecast, swarms of black flies chased us.

Later that morning, we made the journey to Iron Mountain, continuing to soak in the laid back feeling of the area.

After a late lunch and a drive through this town of a little over 7,000 residents, we checked into our hotel. Before picking up the race packet at Lake Antoine Park later in the afternoon, we drove the bike course, one of our typical pre-race rituals.

4th Annual UP Northwoods Triathlon

About 70 triathletes gathered at Lake Antoine Park for the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Sprint Triathlon.

Distances for the individual legs of this sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.31 mile (500 m)
  • Bike: 17 mile (27 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
Ready for the swim with wetsuit in the cool waters of Lake Antoine at the Michigan triathlon.
After a short swim to check out the bottom of Lake Antoine and warm to the chilly water, I was ready for the triathlon to begin. The light mist before the race brought out umbrellas by some spectators.

Swim

The 500 meter swim for this triathlon occurred in Lake Antoine, a clean, shallow lake with a silty bottom perfect for the park, campground, and cabins that surround it. The water was also cool enough to make me glad to be wearing a wetsuit.

I was assigned to the first wave of ten swimmers. With a fast start, I found myself alone and apparently leading the wave.

The previous months of swim training were paying off. I was entering a whole new level in my triathlon racing and could even see myself first out of the water.

About that time, a young lady on a stand-up paddleboard woke me from my dream. She yelled down to tell me I was off-course. Instead of keeping ‘the buoys on my left’, I was swimming on the left side of the buoys.

Now back in the real-world, I rejoined the wave realizing that I was not in the lead. 

One good thing about triathlon is that it keeps one humble.

Bike

Fortunately, the light rain had stopped by the time I came out of the water. The roads were essentially dry as we headed onto the bike course.

We exited the park to the left following Lake Antoine along its southern edge, eventually merging onto Lake Antoine Road.

At the split, where Lake Antoine Road turns into the park, we continued straight, onto Upper Pine Creek Drive and the first hills of the course.

An example of the rolling hills on the bike course at the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon, our Michigan triathlon.
The bike course at the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon was full of rolling hills lined by trees and the occasional deer. Picture courtesy of Northwoods YMCA.

Somewhere within the next 2-3 miles, I experienced another ‘Race First’ – braking for a couple of deer crossing the road in front of me.

I was never close enough to collide with the curious, young animals. However, that could have changed had they been spooked and decided to return to their original side of the road. Better safe than sorry.

After another mile or two, this road made a right angle turn. We were now on an even more hilly portion (see the picture above). We turned onto US Highway 2, traveling on its shoulder for 1-2 miles before exiting onto Lake Antoine Road. From here, we headed back to the transition area.

Run

A portion of the ‘out-and-back’ run course included roads within the campground of Lake Antoine Park. Several campers enjoyed their morning coffee while cheering on the triathletes.

The run eventually exited the park to the south following the same road around Lake Antoine we had biked earlier. At the midpoint of the 5 km run, we turned around and returned to the finish line along the same path.

After the Michigan Triathlon

We had plans for dinner at our Minnesota home with family that evening so left almost immediately after the race. Following a shower at the hotel, we set out on our six-hour trip home.

Race First’s

  • First race in which I braked for deer crossing the road.
  • I wore my race number belt under my wetsuit for the first time in this race. This saved me a few seconds in transition since I did not need to put the race number belt on before climbing onto the bike.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What has been a lesson for triathlon training or racing that you recently learned?

Have you encountered any animals (like deer in this story) during a triathlon?

Please share your comments below.

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