Triathlon Across the USA: State #33 – Alabama

Triathlon Across the USA: State #33 – Alabama

Montgomery, Alabama; April 29, 2017—Baptist Health Capital Of Dreams Tri, Riverfront Park.

How can I describe my Alabama triathlon? Here is one way.

I jumped off a paddleboat in the middle of the Alabama River and, after swimming back to the dock, hopped on my bike for a ride in the country. I then ran around the Alabama State Capitol.

Just when I was wondering if I had experienced all the ‘race firsts’, I competed in the Capital of Dreams Triathlon in Montgomery, Alabama.

Planning for the Alabama Triathlon

Joy and I made a 10-day vacation to the south out of the trip to compete in the Tupelo, Mississippi and Montgomery, Alabama sprint triathlons on back-to-back weekends, the proverbial “killing of two birds with one stone”. You can read more about how we arrived at this decision in the post about the Mississippi triathlon.

Travel to the Triathlon

Following the Tupelo Sprint Triathlon the previous weekend, Joy and I headed to the Gulf Shores area of Alabama and western panhandle of Florida for some rest and relaxation. As part of this, we walked the white sugar sand beaches of the coast and watched beach volleyball.

On Thursday afternoon of that week, we made our way north to Montgomery, Alabama. Enroute, we traveled through mile-after-mile of green forests with the occasional cluster of flowering magnolias. We spent Friday exploring the historic sites of Montgomery, picking up the triathlon packet, and preparing for Saturday’s race.

5th Capital of Dreams Triathlon

The 2017 Capital of Dreams Triathlon, managed by Team Magic, was the fifth time this race had been held. The triathlon’s name comes from Montgomery’s description as the Capital of Dreams.

The name is fitting. First, Montgomery is the capital of the state of Alabama. It was also the 10-year home of Pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King, one of the most important leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, is famous for his 1963 “I have a dream” speech.

The transition area for the Alabama triathlon was in the historic Union Train Shed at Riverfront Park.
The transition area for the Alabama triathlon was in the historic Union Train Shed at Riverfront Park.

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

  • Swim: 0.25 mile (400 m)
  • Bike: 12.4 mile (20 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)

The Capital of Dreams Triathlon got underway at around 7am with all racers gathering at the dock in Riverfront Park. Here, race director Therese Bynum shared pre-race instructions and safety tips.

Just before beginning the race, racers and spectators sang ‘Happy Birthday to You’ for those celebrating their birthday that day. We followed this by singing the National Anthem.

Swim

We then boarded the Harriott II paddleboat for a roughly quarter mile ride up the Alabama River where we would start the swim.

Once the boat had reached its destination for this trip and stopped, swimmers, one-by-one, started their race by jumping into the river as Therese called ‘Go’.

Once the previous swimmer surfaced and was on their way, Therese signaled the next racer to jump in.

Harriott 2 paddleboat
After taking us up river the distance of the swim (0.25 mile for the sprint distance), we jumped off the side of the Harriott II paddleboat and swam back to the dock.

Therese reported that the water temperature at race time was 72ºF (22ºC) making the race ‘wetsuit legal’ according to USAT rules. While I would have been comfortable without a wetsuit at this temperature, I used a wetsuit for its added buoyancy.

A wetsuit makes it easier for the swimmer’s legs to stay more or less parallel to the surface of the water, rather than dip down slightly. The reduced drag provided by the wetsuit helps to save the leg muscles by avoiding the need to kick in order to keep the legs at the surface of the water.

Swimming in the Alabama River

Aside from a couple of small branches in the water which caught in between my fingers, the water was free of debris. Despite looking for one, I never saw a snake. According to the locals, the snakes were probably nearby at the beginning of the swim. However, with the commotion we were making, they chose not to hang around.

About three quarters of the way through the swim, my swim cap popped off my head. I stuffed it into the front of my wetsuit and finished without the cap. 

This was not the first time I had lost my swim cap during the open water swim portion of a triathlon. The first time was during the swim in the Missouri River at the South Dakota triathlon. However, that time, I kept the cap in one hand while continuing to swim.

Upon reaching the dock, I climbed out of the river using a metal ladder similar to that used in swimming pools. From here, I made my way to the transition area along a concrete walkway and stairway.

Bike

The out-and-back bike course was relatively flat, with only a few small hills. My bike computer showed an average speed of 20.6 mph.

There were an incredible number of volunteers on the bike course to protect the racers. I am sure that there was at least one volunteer at every intersection.

The drivers with whom we shared the road were also courteous. At one intersection, a lady driver who was signaling a left turn that would cross the bike lane, stopped and waited with a smile on her face for me to pass before making the turn.

Her thoughtfulness was typical of what we found throughout our stay in Montgomery.

Run

By the time I got onto the run course, the temperature was around 80ºF. It was also quite humid by my standards.

For reasons I do not fully understand, I needed to combine running and walking. I also took advantage of every aid station for Powerade or water.

It was at this triathlon that I learned a new way to cool down, or at least feel cooler.

While I was drinking a Powerade at one of the early aid stations, a volunteer asked if I wanted some water to help cool down. I nodded yes.

I expected him to pour the water over my head. However, to my surprise, the cold water hit my upper back and ran down the back of my triathlon suit. The water cooled all the way down, instantly making me a fan of this method.

Having water poured down the back seems better than having it poured on one’s head. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I asked a volunteer at an aid station later in the run to repeat the process.

No Rest for the Weary

One more memory from this triathlon came through another volunteer. This one, a woman who looked to be about my age, was directing traffic on the run course.

About two-thirds of the way through the course, I came upon an intersection with a car waiting patiently to cross in front of me.

From at least three car lengths from the intersection, I yelled to the woman to let the car pass. My exact words were, “Let them go. I could use a break right now.”

Without hesitation, she answered, “I know you could, but I’m not going to be giving you one. C’mon through.”  

I thanked her and passed through. I couldn’t help but smile. 

“A cheerful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22)

The run course took us past Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (left), where Dr. Martin Luther King preached from 1954 to 1960, and around the Alabama State Capital (upper and lower right).
The run course took us past Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (left), where Dr. Martin Luther King preached from 1954 to 1960, and around the Alabama State Capitol (upper and lower right).

Inspiration from Other Seniors at the Alabama Triathlon

I am often humbled by the stories of other senior triathletes. While I was finishing the Alabama triathlon, Joy was meeting other racers to learn of their experiences with the sport.

She met one man who had completed more than 150 triathlons since the early days of the sport. Another man, who started triathlon later in life, had finished over 100 triathlons, including 27 races in a single year.

Yet another had started triathlon after the death of his wife. He told Joy that triathlon had given him a new focus and the opportunity to meet new people.

Triathlon is a tremendous sport for maintaining physical fitness. The three sports work different parts of the body. Besides, research has shown that regular exercise benefits mental health and slow aging of both body and brain.

It has also been good for keeping me humble, grateful, and aware of the amazing people who participate in the sport.

Race Firsts

  • First transition area in a covered area,.the historic Union Station Train Shed.
  • This was my first triathlon in which the race started from the deck of a paddleboat.
  • The triathlon run past a state capitol was another first.
The historic Union Station Train Shed (location of the triathlon transition area) with Alabama River (location for the swim) in the background.
The historic Union Station Train Shed, location of the triathlon transition area. To the left is the Alabama River where the triathlon swim took place.

It’s Your Turn

What has been one of the most memorable experiences in your triathlon journey?

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