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Race report, yodel style

The course looked simple enough -- an out-and-back on the bike and an out-and-back run across the flood control dam.

And yes, the layout of the course was simple, but the terrain, well that was a different story.

Who knew that Broome County was so hilly?

My third triathlon went in the books this holiday weekend as I competed in the Broome County Parks Tri in Whitney Park, N.Y. The event was just outside of Binghamton, serving as an opportunity to hang out with my brother and sister-in-law.

Going in, I was most concerned about my swim, as usual. The distance was half a mile -- or just over 800 meters -- and would be the farthest distance I've done. Plus, there was a chance that the reservoir water, where we would be swimming, would be too warm for a wetsuit.

Ah, but a cool front moved in and the water temperature stayed in the lower end of the 70s. I was safe.

The water was as calm as Green Lake in Orchard Park and I took full advantage of the swim warm ups, pulling my wetsuit on early and splashing around in the water. I swam out some freestyle and some breaststroke and started feeling really good.

The 150 or so participants started the event from the beach -- as in we had to run into the water. I stayed in the back and walked out into the water, took a few breaststrokes and started swimming. And I did fairly well. Around the first buoy I finally found a rhythm and started making my way to the second buoy. Swimming in a straight line though, not my strong suit. Neither is sighting. Neither is being comfortable knocking into other swimmers. So surely I was adding distance to my swim with my lateral movement in the water.

Probably about 150 meters from the second buoy I needed a rest, so I lazily breaststroked with my head above the water. One of the lifeguards in a kayak came over and asked if I was OK.

"Fine," I said. "Just need a little rest to catch my breath."

"Here. Grab on."

So he positioned himself stationary in the water and I grabbed on the front end, taking a few deep breaths. I felt fine in the water. There was zero panic. Thirty seconds later, I was back in my freestyle stroke, rounding the next buoy.

Heading back to shore there was a large yellow marker on the beach and I swam for that. I'm not sure where I was on the actual course -- I was just heading for the big yellow marker, periodically adjusting my direction as I wiggle-wormed my way across the water.

I pushed myself in the water, counting out 10 strokes then convincing myself I could do 10 more. I kept this mind game up until I looked up and knew I was close to shore when I put my legs down and started running. (In hindsight, I probably should have continued swimming in that shallow end a bit longer, but this is how you learn.)

Out of the water into transition, I hoped on my bike, took off and promptly lost my bike computer which flew off as I clipped in to my pedals heading out of the park. Actually, I was relieved it was just my bike computer. I saw something fly off my bike and was worried it was something really functional -- like part of my pedal, shoe or brake.

Out on the main road, Route 26 in Whitney Point contains several rolling hills. If you're, say, cycling in today's stage of the Tour de France, these rolling hills might hardly register a rise in your heart rate. But the steady incline, particularly when you've just gotten out of the water, felt cruel to me.

With no idea how fast I was going, I tried to keep a steady cadence on the six miles out, playing games with a few guys I kept passing, then being passed by, then passing again. At the turnaround I decided it was time to hammer the ride home. I put myself in a heavy gear and went to town.

I caught up to a small group of cyclists at the final climb and passed a few of them. Then came a downhill. My terror of the descent is slowing subsiding as I get more practice with them and learn to control my bike better. I started passing some riders on the descent but watched in horror as a girl in her 20s lost control of her bike, flipped in the air and crashed on the side of the road. A rubberneck crash nearly happened afterward as a woman in front of me slowed up unexpectedly to get the woman help.

We were a mile from the park, so I busted back and shouted to one of the traffic control volunteers that a woman crashed and looked injured a little ways back. I let out some good karma her way and returned to transition to start the run.

One of the triathletes had warned me before the race about the steep hill we had during the run, so I made sure to start conservatively while I got my land-legs back. The first half mile of the course is on a wooded path that takes you over to the park dam.

Then comes the really cruel part of the race.

After swimming half a mile and biking a hilly 12 miles you basically have to scale the side of a hill. In describing what this steep, grassy embankment was like later on, my brother interrupted me.

"Did you feel like the yodeler in the Price is Right game?"

Yes.

That's exactly what it was like. I jogged up half then settled on climbing the rest at a brisk walk.

Once at the top, you ran across the dam -- a grass path which was great on my knees and hips. Again, I went out easy until the turnaround then hoped to pick up the pace a bit.

The hill wasn't all that faster going down, since the last thing I wanted to was turn a knee or ankle. I tried to gently hop my way down the hill, like Laura Ingalls in the opening scene of Little House on the Prairie, only without the braids and milk pail.

At the bottom I was a mile away from the finish line when someone zipped past me. It was the woman who had crashed earlier on the bike, her back bruised and cut. At least she was OK though I don't know what that says about my running ability that she was able to catch and pass me.

Once the finish was in sight I picked up the pace and sprinted across the finish line.

My final time: 1:40:51.

Wow.

I was hoping to get around two hours.

It's amazing what happens when you actually swim the swim.

It took me 25 minutes to complete the swim, about 42 to finish the hilly bike and just under 30 minutes to do the run. I was slightly disappointed with my running pace, but that did include the big hill. And it was my third race in 30 days. And my second race in six days.

Granted, every tri I've done has been different distances, but in a short course tri, this was my personal best. By nearly 25 minutes.

Forget the asterisks. I'm taking that honor.

Now, I have a break from triathlon competitions until the Summer Sizzler on Grand Island Aug. 9. Unless of course I decide to do the Shoreline Triathlon at Hamlin Beach State Park on July 27.

This week's training is heavy on the cycling focus. Which is great, considering a big part of my free time will be spent on my couch, glued to the Tour de France coverage on Versus.

Maybe I can pick up a few pointers from the best in the business.

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