My day at the “Mini-Mussel” Triathlon

July 16, 2008 · Print This Article

Seneca Lake State Park, Geneva, NY

By Sue Atwood

Ooh, ooh that smell
Can’t you smell that smell?

Lynyrd Skynyrd, “That Smell”


Let me start by saying that the Musselman has a lot going for it. It has super organization, great volunteers, and good courses. But that smell! I am not one who is usually bothered by natural odors. I actually like the smell of skunk. I can pick up all sorts of animal waste and not think twice about it. I can ride by a farm where liquid manure has been spread and almost enjoy the odor. It just doesn’t bother me (man-made perfume, though – that’s a different story!) I had been warned that the smell at this triathlon was pretty objectionable, but I just didn’t think it would be that bad. Was I ever wrong. It hit me when I first got out of the car at the park and it didn’t go away (of course, we got away from it when we were on the bike course and you didn’t notice it when swimming, but still!) There was lots of time spent setting up and waiting so it did get a little tiresome. But enough of the bad and on with the good!

Fellow Bella Janet (who is mostly responsible for getting me into triathlons), had participated at this venue previously. She decided not to race this year, instead volunteering to help with the running of the race. We were able to carpool together, which made the drive so much more enjoyable for me, considering we left well before daybreak. We drove through substantial fog, but as the morning progressed, the fog started lifting. At one point, as we crested a hill overlooking a valley, I thought the fog below took on the appearance of a lake. Janet (being of Swedish descent) thought it looked like snow. Of course, my camera was stashed in a bag in the trunk, so I wasn’t able to snap a photo. I doubt that the effect would have been the same, at least that’s what I’m telling myself to make me feel better!

Janet and I stayed together through registration which was held off site and which went very smoothly. Upon arriving at the park, she departed to fulfill her volunteer duties and I got my gear set up in transition in record time. Once set up, I made my way to the body marking, where Janet was ready with the permanent marker. We were numbered in five places! Janet included some smiley faces along with the numbers and they drew a couple of comments from fellow athletes. It’s always good for morale!

I had lots and lots of time to debate with myself whether I wanted to wear my wet suit or not. The lake temperature was reported to be 72 degrees, so I didn’t really need it for warmth. It does help with flotation, though, and since I’m not a good swimmer (in fact, I’m a terrible swimmer,) I ultimately decided to wear it. I managed to get a good warm up swim just before the start, something that I need to do to get into the rhythm of breathing and calm my butterflies. Seneca Lake is the second longest of the Finger Lakes(38 miles) but greatest in volume. It is 618 feet deep at its deepest point and has a mean depth of 291 feet. It rarely freezes in the winter. It has waves! Bigger waves than I have ever swum in before. I realized the wet suit was helping me to roll with the waves. I mentally congratulated myself for making a good decision for once.

There was a short pre-race meeting, and then it was time for the first of five waves of swimmers. My wave was the third to start. Once again, I saw Janet as she was helping give a hand to the athletes as we were stepping off the dock into the water. It was good to see her smiling face and her calm demeanor further quelled the uneasiness in my stomach. We quickly waded to deeper water, waited just a couple of minutes and then we were off. Within minutes I had gotten swiped in the face by a wave just as I was breathing in. Uh oh. It was similar to the feeling you have when you get the wind knocked out of you. But I was in the water. I wanted to yell for help from the kayakers, but I couldn’t get any words out of my mouth. I also couldn’t raise my hand, because I was busy treading water to stay afloat. Thankfully, my wet suit helped keep me buoyant enough that I was able to cough and sputter and finally get my breath. The entire episode seemed like an eternity, but probably was 1-2 minutes at most. I was able to get back into the rhythm of swimming and managed to make it out of the water in pretty decent shape. As I was running toward the transition area, I heard Janet running beside me, shouting encouragement and reminding me to remember to drink on the bike leg.

My transition to the bike was uneventful but the first couple of miles of the bike leg were very crowded. The first several miles of the bike course are a gradual climb and we had a pretty stiff headwind to boot. It took a lot of mental effort to keep fighting into the wind, but I hoped the tailwind at the far end of the course would make up for it (it did.) About half-way into the course, we turned west and after another mile or two, crested a hill with a beautiful view overlooking the lake. I felt so completely happy and lucky that I am able to participate in something which brings me tremendous joy. It was about this time that I passed three women standing on the side of the course cheering wildly. They each had on grass skirts and I wondered for a minute if our own crazy Bella LiLynn was there. I gave them a good “woo-hooo” as I went by and felt completely stoked!

It seemed I had a pretty clumsy dismount from the bike – probably should practice that a little more. I did hear Janet in the background, again shouting encouragement, but this time I didn’t see her. My transition into running gear went very smoothly and before I knew it I was out on the run course. It was in full sunshine and hot! Did I say hot? I love the heat, but it was hot even by my standards. I had trouble keeping my breathing deep and even. I settled into a pace I figured I could maintain to the end. Lo and behold, I started to feel better and was able to pick up the pace a little for the last mile.

The finish area was lined with spectators for quite a while, which really helped make the last few yards painless. Next thing I knew, I was handed a cowbell with a special mini-mussel finisher paint scheme and a bottle of water, which I desperately needed (even though I *had* remembered to drink on the bike leg!) Janet and I reconnected and after a short rest, we headed out onto the bike course for a little cool-down lap. We returned with plenty of time to change clothes and get to the start of the men’s elite race. My biggest disappointment of the day came when I discovered that the battery in my camera was dead. No photos. Oh well, there’s always next year. It was pretty neat to hear the athletes’ accomplishments introduced over the PA as they made their way down the dock into the water. When the start gun went off, my overwhelming impression was astonishment at how fast they swam! As they neared the completion of their swim, we walked to their transition area so we could watch them. Since none of them wore wet suits, and their bike shoes are already clipped into their pedals, all they had to do was throw down their goggles and swim caps, put on their bike helmet and run to the bike mount line. Our original intention was to watch the start of the women’s race and the end of the men’s race, but by this time both Janet and I were feeling pretty tired and we still had to drive home. We made our way back to the car, loaded up our gear and we were on our way.

Did I mention that it was hot? We stopped a few miles down the road at a donut shop where Janet got an iced coffee and I decided on a strawberry-banana smoothie. I had never had a smoothie from this particular chain before. It was awful! I don’t have the most discerning taste buds, but this was on the verge of being un-drinkable. What a disappointment. All-in-all, I was pretty happy with the results – 8th in my age group. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but hey, that’s all the more incentive to get out and train!

This fabulous post was written by one of our awesome bella volunteers ~ To change this standard text, you have to enter some information about your self in the Dashboard -> Users -> Your Profile box.


Got something to say?