Monday, August 5, 2013

Try This Tri

It was relatively chilly at 6 a.m. on Sunday, August 4, when we pulled into Taughannock Falls State Park for my latest adventure, the Cayuga Lake Intermediate Triathlon. I had done the sprint distance of this race in 2011 and remember it fondly. As I build up to my A race, Big George 70.3 on Sept. 1, I wanted to use the Olympic distance to test my fitness level.

Windy conditions affected the first two legs--the swim and the bike--but I told myself, "That's no excuse; it's windy for everyone." So I mustered my will and made it through the chop, even after the aggressive, female-only swim start sent my heart rate sky high until I found a lane and could start swimming instead of flailing. (Note to self: do not start swimming in the middle of the pack--off to the side would be much calmer and you can get into a groove that much quicker.)

The run, which let me down two weeks earlier at Lake Delta, returned to me with a vengeance. I'm still running above a 9-minute mile but yesterday I actually felt like I was running. My hamstring let me do my thing, and I let loose. My inner runner girl kicked in and I spent 6 miles passing people. What a relief.

Overall, I finished 3/10 in my age group (a surprise), 41/77 among women and 179/236 overall. Ithaca has a healthy community of triathletes, and I am happy that I was able to keep up. . .somewhat.

There are many reasons to recommend this race. Here are some:

1. They provide bleachers to the spectators. I have never been to another race that offers a place for supporters to sit while they wait for their athlete to cross the finish line.

2. The race T-shirt is made of recycled plastic bottles. And it fits properly. I have countless shirts that are size small, but they are unisex small so they look like a box. These, however, fit perfectly and they're stylish too.

3. The swim announcer was just a hoot, putting us at ease as we started our race. And his buddy who "played" the trumpet signaling that each swim wave had to assemble (like at the beginning of a horse race)--he was another hoot and a real anxiety reliever.

4. While the bike is difficult, a portion of those 24 miles goes along a road adjacent to Cayuga Lake. Spectacular houses dot the lakeshore, and on many of their porches sat supportive spectators, cheering us along. It helped me forget the hills, temporarily.

5. If you race the sprint distance, you get to cap off your feat with a run to Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, plunging 215 feet. If you race the intermediate, your run distance is doubled and you're lucky to run to the falls twice. That tumbling, picturesque water could be a huge distraction, and I commented to the two volunteers at the turnaround that they had the prettiest spot in the entire race. So, if you need to take a walk break, this would be a perfect place to do so. As an aside, my sister was married at the spot below.

6. Another advantage to the run is that athletes tramp on grass (next to the lake and then Taughannock Creek) before linking to the hiking trail leading to and from those falls. Absolutely no roads. Sailboats and kayaks dot the water. It's just incredibly scenic (and safe).

7. Assigned spaces in the transition area. This saves so much pre-race anxiety and rushing around because you're trying to secure a "better" spot in the most optimal location than your fellow competitors. No one is elbowing out the person next to you for more space. It's so much calmer, and makes for less stress on race day. And if you're running a little late getting to the race venue, it's OK.

8. Impressive volunteer support and inspiring spectators. Coming back in from the bike on Route 96, I got a huge rush from the strangers lining both sides of the road cheering, ringing cowbells and holding signs. (And that's another thing--this race handed out cowbells!) It's such a great feeling, and provides much needed motivation before your final leg (ha ha), the run. The water stops on the run course each had a theme--I remember pirates and then a Motown tent near the falls, decorated with actual vinyl 45 records and women wearing poodle skirts (imagine hauling all that water, gatorade, decorations, etc., more than a mile up the hiking trail). If volunteers make that much of an effort for several hundred athletes, the least we athletes can do is thank them, several times.

9. Good, plentiful food afterwards. The Wegmans boxed lunches provided a healthy coda, with choices from roast beef, turkey and veggie. Whereas some races run low on water, this one had plenty. Part of the reason, as I observed it, was that the volunteers controlled who could grab what. No race number: No boxed lunch. It was that simple. And the table loaded with cut up fruit--perfect. While we didn't wait in the long line for ice cream, a free cone after a race hits the spot.

10. Awards as individual as Ithaca, and as this race. Those who placed 1 to 3 in the women's age groups received handmade necklaces; just a nice touch. I don't know what the men received, but I'm sure it was just as special.

I heartily recommend this race. It sells out rather quickly, so be sure to pay attention to the Ithaca Triathlon Club's website for updates. It'll be tough to find a prettier spot for a triathlon in all of upstate New York than this one and if you have time afterwards, a visit to Ithaca yields all sorts of delights.

I intend to return next year; will I see you there?