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Time to break into the local triathlon scene

July 24, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 395 lbs.

Last week: 393 lbs.

Start (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.

Total lost: 75 lbs.

You may recall seeing triathlon on my Active Bucket List, which I recently wrote about, and while many automatically ask me if I’m planning on losing enough weight to compete in the Ironman Lake Placid event in the future, the answer is an emphatic, “No way!”

I would settle for a mini triathlon, such as those held on Monday nights in the summer at the Lake Placid municipal beach. Luckily, I don’t have to be a swimmer, cyclist and runner right away to participate; High Peaks Cyclery lets teams compete.

So that’s what I’m training for now, the 400-yard swim leg of the mini tri on Mirror Lake. As a team-building exercise, I’ve put together a Lake Placid News team. I’ll be the swimmer, sales rep Dan Cash will be the cyclist (12 miles) and sports editor Morgan Ryan will be the runner (3 miles). We’re planning on trying the mini tri on Aug. 11, the last race of the season.

I never thought in my life I’d be involved in racing in a triathlon, even if it’s only the swim leg of a mini tri. Yet here we are, staying active in the Adirondacks. This summer, I’ve been working out at Fitness Revolution and trying to take advantage of the warm summer weather, hiking at Henry’s Woods, playing tennis at the beach courts and swimming in Mirror Lake. The more I do, the more I get hooked on those endorphins. It feels good.

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Before I tackle a new sport, I’d like to learn more about it. And so it goes with the triathlon. High Peaks Cyclery Mini Triathlon race co-directors Brian and Karen Delaney were happy enough to go over gear and tips on starting my triathlon quest. Brian, by the way, is taking the day off on Sunday and competing again in Ironman Lake Placid, and Karen sometimes races in the mini tri. Therefore, they both can speak from experience.

My first comment was, “This sounds expensive.” And triathlons can be, if you are serious about the speed and winning, but I’m only doing this for fitness and fun, which requires minimal cost. But there is a cost. The mini tri entry fee is $20 for the first race and $15 for additional races. Now I have to think about the equipment.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, ‘Speed costs. How fast do you want to go?’” Karen said. “And ‘The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.’”

You’re going to need walking or running shoes anyway, so many people already make this investment. And most people have swim trunks, maybe goggles. And you don’t need to buy a bike right away. Either borrow one or rent one from High Peaks Cyclery for a special mini tri fee of $15 for a hybrid bike and $20 for a race bike.

“The best thing to do for most people, if they live in the area, is to come down to the Mini Triathlon on Monday nights and tire kick,” Brian said. “Watch it, and go, ‘I can do the bike or I can do the run or I can do the swim.’”

The orange buoys are already in Mirror Lake, hugging the shoreline. Swim out to the third one, and turn around. That’s 400 yards.

“The cool thing is, in this community, you have an opportunity to see one race without traveling too far,” Brian said. “And you’re probably going to know someone who did the mini tri.”

So people can practice running, swimming and biking on the course. The run course starts at the beach and follows Mirror Lake Drive to the Mount Whitney Road, and there is a turnaround on the road. You can always clock the mileage in your car — 1.5 miles from the beach is the turnaround. The bike leg starts at the beach, goes up Mirror Lake Drive, takes a right on Northwood Road, a left on state Route 86, a right on River Road, a right on state Route 73, a right on Route 86 at the light on top of Mill Hill, a left on Northwood Road and a left on Mirror Lake Drive back to the beach.

“The distances, almost anybody can do,” Karen said. “Some can do it fast, and some can do it very slow. And then you use all your muscles.”

“It’s a complete workout,” Brian added.

Brian is the guy with the bullhorn at the race, and he always gives tips to the athletes while cheering them on and trying to direct traffic on the road while keeping participants safe.

“At the race, my line is always, ‘Guys, if you’re afraid of the water, get to the back.’ The fast dudes can go up front,” Brian said. “Swim. Follow them. Put your head up and look. But if you get tired, swim to the right, put your feet down and stand up for a minute. Or hang on to the paddleboard and continue.”

I’ve always been curious as to why people put themselves through the agony of triathlons.

“They probably have been a runner or a biker or potentially a swimmer, and they just get bored, so they want to do something a little more,” Brian said. “Or they want to change it up. Or maybe they’re a hiker and they want to get more fitness. Maybe their knees are starting to bother them, so now they’re going to bike a little more.”

Trying all three sports is also good cross training.

“The runners at some point can’t run too much more, so they get into biking,” Karen said.

“A good runner can be a good biker in no time,” Brian added. “But a good biker takes a lot of work to be a good runner because there’s different muscles and technique.”

“I think sometimes it’s that feeling of challenging yourself,” Karen said. “You’re a little bit out of your comfort zone, but you feel good when you’re done.”

Thirty years ago, when Brian used to race and complete the century rides (100 miles), Ironman was just getting started in the 1980s, and he looked at the mileage with awe.

“And I would go, ‘How in God’s name is somebody going to run 26 miles after doing a 112-mile bike ride?’” Brian said. “Then you put it in perspective. You say, ‘I know I can swim 2.5 miles, so that race is over. Now I’m going to bike 100 miles, and that ride is over. And then I’m going to run 26 miles.’ So you have to think of it as segments.”

With the Ironman run, there are so many aid stations that people can just jog to one and walk through it.

“The walk is probably 100 yards of aid station,” Brian said. “And then you get your fuel, and you jog to the next one. It’s an all-day feed zone.”

But the pain. Why put yourself through the pain?

“Yeah, they’re going to put some pain in for sure,” Brian said. “It’s always going to be painful, whatever you’re doing, whether you’re baking a cake or making pancakes. You’re going to burn the griddle once in a while. So pain’s inevitable, but that’s OK. You get through it.”

What you need

“The beauty of swimming is all you need really is a pair of goggles and a swimsuit,” Brian said.

Brian recommends people start swimming in a pool, as it helps them get more comfortable.

“Open-water swimming for some is a challenge because they think there are creatures,” Brian said, “but there’s no creatures that are going to hurt you in the water, especially in Mirror Lake or even Lake Placid. So you’re going to have a comfortable swim.”

Swimmers need to look up and see where they’re going, take a few strokes, and look up again. They need to know how to do the crawl or freestyle stroke, maybe the breast stroke.

“You need to know how to swim,” Brian said.

Some people use wetsuits, and some people don’t.

“I never wear a wetsuit,” Brian said. “I hate wetsuits, except for races when I want to go faster in.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” Karen added. “Some people really like and need a wetsuit because they help give you more flotation and keep you warmer. And it’s sleeker. Good swimmers will shave their hair, so wetsuits really do help you swim faster.”

Wetsuits range between $200 and $600. Goggles are $15 to $50. Caps, which are mandatory at the mini tri for safety purposes, are $5-$20 but free for Monday night participants.

“If you ever go down, they can spot you better,” Karen said.

The bike sounds expensive, and it is certainly an investment if you’re going to be doing this on a regular basis. It’s ideal to have a rod bike, but hybrids will work as well.

“The road bike is usually minimum of 700 dollars, but it’s nice to spend a thousand dollars,” Brian said. “And what you’re paying for is reliability, things that work. It’s all right if you’re riding once in a while. Then that $700 bike lasts a long time, and the gears work well. But when you get that thousand-dollar bike, that’s designed to be out ridden every day. You’re riding three or four times a week, and everything seems to work and shift better. So it’s worth it to spend a touch more.”

Road bikes can cost thousands of dollars depending on how serious the athlete is about his racing.

“Even hybrid bikes can work for the triathlon,” Karen said. “Mountain bikes, you’re going to be 20 percent slower. ... Hybrid bikes probably would be 10 percent slower, but at least they have the same wheel size, and they have higher pressure.”

Hybrids start around $300. Helmets start around $40. You don’t need a bike shoe, but if you want one, the shoes are $100 a pair and the special pedals for the shoes are about $100.

What about clothing? Most people are wearing a triathlon type of short. You can swim, bike and run with them, and they start around $40

“It’s a bike short with a little less pad, a pad that you can get wet without getting too heavy,” Karen said.

It’s a good idea to have a jersey with a pocket.

“Sometimes you want to put a little something in your pocket, a little energy, a little gel,” Karen said. “For long races, people put Advil in it, a banana.”

In the longer races, such as Ironman Lake Placid, people change clothes between the bike and the run. Changing rooms are available. But many people wear the same clothes for the bike and the run.

“And they usually don’t wear socks,” Karen said. “They’re too much of a challenge to get on after your wet feet.”

While it’s a challenge to put them on, some triathletes choose to wear socks for comfort during the bike and run.

There are also one-piece triathlon suits and two-piece suits with a sleeveless shirt and shorts.

Some people use the same shoe for biking and running. Others use a bike shoe and then change into a running shoe.

“There are specific running shoes for triathlon also for the real avid triathletes that are almost waterproof,” Karen said. “I mean the water can drain through them because you’re wetter. And often while you’re running, you’re going to pour water over yourself. On hot races, they have hoses out, and so the water can run through the shoes.”

And there are special shoe laces that stretch so people can pull the shoes on without spending the extra time tying them.

It seems there is a lot to learn in order to break into the triathlon scene. It’s probably good to take it one step at a time and build upon my experiences. I think a short swim in Mirror Lake is a perfect way to dive into the sport so I can check it off my Active Bucket List.

The problem is I may like it so much I’d want to do more. An Ironman, maybe? No, I don’t think so.


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Blog Photos

Roy Holzer, of Wilmington, competes in a recent High Peaks Cyclery Mini Triathlon. (News photo — Andy Flynn)