Triathlon Across the USA: State #23 – North Dakota

Mandan, North Dakota; July 18, 2015 – Bismarck Triathlon, Harmon Lake Park.

What is it like to do a triathlon in winds gusting to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour)? Our North Dakota triathlon showed just how much wind can affect a race.

Planning the North Dakota Triathlon

How to Choose Your Next Triathlon highlights factors we typically use to select a triathlon, especially those involving overnight travel. For Joy and me, one of the keys to out-of-state triathlons has been to combine travel to the event with a visit to friends or family or a place of special interest (e.g. Savannah, Georgia – Hilton Head, South Carolina).  Sometimes, we accomplish more than one of these.

North Dakota was unique in this respect. Here’s the reason.

In 2015, North Dakota had among the fewest triathlons of any state.  On top of this, one of the three scheduled triathlons involved kayaking and mountain biking as an alternative to swimming and road biking.

I was concerned that the lone conventional sprint triathlon in North Dakota might eventually become extinct.

So, in February, we decided that this would be the year to complete the North Dakota triathlon and put behind us concerns about completing a triathlon in this state.

A Pleasant Surprise at Registration

During registration for the event, I learned I could save $2 on the fee if I shared news of the registration with my Facebook friends.  Of course, I took advantage of this. (Don’t judge.)

After sharing the post, I learned that one of my friends, Tom Lipp, had completed the Bismarck Triathlon a year earlier. 

I also learned that Tom was now training for Ironman Wisconsin. You can read about his experience training for and racing in Ironman Wisconsin here.

Getting to Bismarck for the North Dakota Triathlon

Bismarck is actually a twin city with Mandan, North Dakota, home of Harmon Park and the Bismarck Triathlon. The two cities are separated by the Missouri River with Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, on the east side of the river. Mandan is on the west side of the Missouri River.

By the way, did you know that the Missouri River is the longest river in the United States, beating out the Mississippi by 21 feet?  And, that’s before it joins the Mississippi River just north of St, Louis, Missouri.

Driving to the Bismarck-Mandan area from our Minneapolis, Minnesota area home was about as easy a trip as one can make – start the audiobook, get on Interstate 94 West, and stay on it for just under six hours past the Red River Valley and some of the flattest parts of the USA.

We left home on Friday around 10:30 am and set our GPS coordinates for Epic Sports in Bismarck, location for race packet pick-up. After collecting the packet, including the race T-shirt, we checked into the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.

We then headed downtown, taking a short detour around the North Dakota State Capital building.

North Dakota state capital building for the Bismark triathlon
The North Dakota capitol building in Bismarck.

Following a short walk around the renovated downtown area, we stopped at one of the restaurants recommended by the hotel desk clerk, Blarney Stone Pub. Dinner tonight included authentic Irish food – creamed cabbage and corned beef for Joy and fish & chips for me.

11th Annual Bismarck Triathlon

The Bismarck event included sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. There was also a sprint distance relay option in which three members of a relay team each completed one of the legs.

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

  • Swim: 0.31 mile (500 m)
  • Bike: 12.4 miles (20 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km)

The 10 am starting time for the Bismarck Triathlon was the latest of any I had raced so far. The transition area did not even open until 8:30 am, a time at which most triathlons are starting or well underway.

Because of the later start, I had been concerned about the fact that the average high temperatures during the week before the triathlon had been just under 100°F. (I am not a fan of running in extreme heat.)

Today, however, the air temperature at race time was a chilly 60°F (16°C). On top of this, the wind was howling, with an average speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km per hour) and gusts to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour).

transition area of Bismark North Dakota triathlon
Transition area of the Bismarck Triathlon in Harmon Park. The picture was taken near the beach of Harmon Lake.


It quickly became apparent to the poor souls who were assigned the job of placing the race buoys for the sprint and Olympic distances that the wind was too strong for the anchors meant to secure the buoys. The buoys simply would not stay where placed.

On top of this, the volunteers in kayaks who were to provide a rest stop along the course for swimmers needing a break during the swim leg had to spend all of their time paddling to stay near the course. With the wind today, they would not be able to provide the support for swimmers intended by the race director.

So, just before the start of the race, with the wind clearly in control, the race director shortened the swim course. Instead of the original course, he created one that ran parallel to the shore, a few yards away from it.

The revised course, reported to be 250 m by one swimmer with a GPS watch, was judged to be safe for the conditions of the day. Fortunately, everyone was safe through the swim. We completed the remaining legs of the race as planned.

Harmon Lake with triathlon buoys near Mandan North Dakota
Harmon Lake early in the morning before the wind picked up. Note the orange and yellow buoys near the other side of the lake for the sprint and Olympic distances, respectively.


For the bike leg, the numbers on my bike computer tell the story. The average speed was 14 mph (23 km/hr) while the maximum speed was 37 mph (60 km/hr).

While biking uphill, into the wind, the speed was incredibly slow at between 9 and 11 miles per hour (14-18 km/hr). For most of the ride, I avoided the aero position for fear of being blown off the road.

After the initial approximately two miles into the westerly wind, we turned. Now, the wind was from the side, making the ride even more treacherous.

Triathlon training tip – While we may be inclined to avoid inclement weather when training, we should take advantage of these opportunities, at least some of them. Training in conditions, such as rain or wind, which could be part of race day, helps to prepare for these when we eventually face them during a race. Reminds me of James 1:2-4.

The maximum speed came on the return of this out-and-back course, where we road downhill with the wind at our back.


I prefer that the run course not include a hill immediately out of transition. The legs are already struggling to adapt to running after biking.

But today I was not getting my wish. The run out of transition involved a significant hill on the same road within the park that we had just returned from the bike course. And, with the wind today, my legs were more tired after the tough bike ride.

The run was also on an out-and-back course, sharing a section of the bike route. The initial portion took us past the campground within Harmon Park where campers turned spectators cheered us on.

As with the bike, we ran into the wind for the major portion of the first half of the run. But just as with the bike leg, the wind helped us back to the finish line after the turnaround.


I ended the race with the second best time of five participants in the 60+ year Age Group in which I raced. Nothing to brag about, but no injuries.

Another state closer and nearly half way to the goal.

Race Firsts

  • First race in which strong winds forced a change in the swim course.
  • Latest start time; first race with a start time of 10 am.

Tell Us About Triathlons In Which Weather Was A Major Factor

Have you raced in inclement weather? How did it affect you personally and other racers?

Tell us about it in the Comments below.

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