- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

WINDSOR, Colo. (AP) - There’s a surprising amount of traffic on Highway 257 at 5:45 a.m., but just off the road, down at Pelican Lakes, it seems the only thing awake besides the carp jumping out of the water is the Greeley Triathlon Club.

They meet here at this time every Friday, even on mornings like this, when the forecast threatens rain, the dreary gray clouds obscure the Colorado sunrise and a light mist hangs above the calm waters.

At 6 a.m., they’re in the lake. They’re training for different things - Ironmans, national championships. Most of them say they came to triathlons by accident, but with the help of the club they’ve come to love it.

About a dozen people are here, and the club has maybe 40 total members. One of them, Cindy Dallow, said they’re “small but mighty.” Indeed, they’ve won two triathlon club national championships, in 2004 and 2016, reported the Greeley Tribune (https://bit.ly/2aQh6O0).

Their strength lies in their camaraderie and their depth of good athletes, who even if they aren’t the fastest have impeccable endurance. The club includes a qualifier for the Ironman world championships, Jim Fuller, and Eileen Croissant, who is a national champion for her age group.

Croissant is the club’s oldest member, at 76. She has 50 years on the youngest, Cory Stephens. Compared to the rest of the club, Stephens in a neophyte. He’s completing his second season, and like most people in the group stumbled upon the sport that’s become his passion.

After a friend of Stephens’ signed up for a Spartan race, she inspired him to get into racing even though she didn’t end up competing. He said he’d never swam before he started competing in triathlons, but now that’s what he’s best at.

The swim is the first segment of a triathlon. It’s the biggest adrenaline rush. As Stephens put on his wetsuit in the lakeside gazebo the club launches from, he said the beginning of a triathlon looks nothing like the tranquil lake he’s about to jump into.

“If anybody’s afraid of anything, they’re afraid of the swim,” he said.

When the gun goes off, people just go in a mad dash. The lake turns into a crazy mass of limbs, and sometimes the water’s so cold you can’t breathe. Not everyone is ready for that, for the open water, for so many people. Swimmers will grab onto each other, drag each other down.

But Stephens is a natural. He gets into the lake well after everyone else, but he catches up with the group by the time they get out. Though he’s new to the sport, he dived into it headfirst despite the sometimes-prohibitive costs of doing so.

Joe Gregg, another member of the club, said that when he started doing triathlons, he thought they’d be cheap and easy. All you need are swimming trunks, a bike and running shoes, right?

“Ask my wife how many expensive swimming suits, bikes, running shoes I’ve bought,” he said.

The triathlon is an extremely specialized sport, with swimming, biking and running gear unlike any other. Triathlon wetsuits have thinner rubber at the shoulders, or no arms at all, because traditional wetsuits restrict the wearer’s range of motion.

The bikes are optimized for aerodynamics. They have almost vertical crossbars, and on many the seat tube rises higher than the unique handlebars, called aerobars. Aerobars lay parallel with the rider’s arms, and have elbow pads on which the triathlete can rest.

This design, besides aerodynamics, allows riders to pedal with minimal strain on their leg muscles for the run immediately after the bike. Even triathlon running shoes are specialized, many of them with elastic laces so they can be slipped on as quickly as possible. Transition time in between stages counts toward triathletes’ total time, so any second spent tying shoes is costly.

The price of all that equipment, though, can be a barrier to entry. Top-shelf gear for every stage can cost thousands of dollars. Registration rates for USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body in this country, dipped slightly in 2014 after growing rapidly in every year since 2000, when triathlon became an Olympic sport.

The first recorded running of a triathlon was in 1920 in the French newspaper L’Auto, which reported on an event called Les Trois Sports. It featured a 1.9-mile run, a 7.5-mile bike and a swim across the river Marne.

The San Diego Track Club devised triathlon’s modern incarnation in 1974. The first race, at Mission Bay, had 46 participants. Now USA Triathlon has more than 470,000 members, and along the way many of them formulated the improvements that made triathlon equipment so specialized.

And that’s a big part of what made the sport more expensive. USAT is trying to open triathlons up to more people by offering youth races that require only a swimsuit and running shoes, Lindsay Wyskowski, USAT’s communications manager, said. Next week’s national championships will have a beginner-friendly wave for people who don’t want to race with specialty equipment.

Members of the Greeley club help each other out by pointing out deals on eBay and Craigslist, and by loaning each other equipment. Gregg said the club’s camaraderie was instrumental in getting him into the sport.

Now he’s paying it forward. As the club climbs out of Pelican Lakes, Gregg encourages a newer team member, Patricia Grajeda-Babb, who’s about to do her first Ironman.

“Don’t push the swim,” he said, telling her to pace herself.

Grajeda-Babb is one of the club’s stronger swimmers. It was her first sport, and she tried a sprint triathlon on a whim. She raced the thing on a cruiser bike, but she won. Ahead of her Ironman, though, she’s worried about what she can’t control.

“The people pick you up,” Gregg continued, talking about the cheering crowds during the running segment, when your leg muscles are the weakest and lactic acid buildup makes your thighs burn.

This spirit of cooperation is evident even in a short time with the club, like when Dallow beamingly introduces Croissant as the “76-year-old national champion” and gives her a big hug.

“There’s a learning curve,” Dallow said, “But it’s not bad once you get into it.”

Triathlon is a solitary sport, but training in groups is more fun and more productive. The club doesn’t have a coach. They just coach each other, push each other, physically and mentally.

Dallow, Stephens and others changed into their biking gear as soon as they got out of the pool. They’re “bricking,” mirroring their training with a real triathlon. Their route will take them out of Pelican Lakes to Crossroads Boulevard. Afterward, they’ll go their separate ways, to their respective jobs.

Gregg and Croissant will go to the Olympic-distance triathlon national championships in Omaha. Dallow and Grajeda-Babb will do Ironmans.

The group will run the Bell’s Running program together, and a few days later they’ll be back at Pelican Lakes.

Until then, they say goodbye to their friends and ride off into the morning.


Information from: The Tribune of Greeley, Co, https://greeleytribune.com

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