This column first appeared on Cycotherapy, a newsletter on Substack.
LOUDONVILLE — I finished a race on Sept. 9, and, for a brief moment, experienced the elation of being in the lead. Happiness, however, is fleeting — especially when your legs and body cannot physically keep up.
I can see how being in the lead of a race is motivating, though. The urge to maintain the lead is strong. But urgency cannot be the only force at work. Preparation through training is what sets apart the podium finishers with the mere finishers.
It was the Mohican Triathlon, organized by Ryan O’Dell’s Ohio Mountain Bike Championship series. It’s a reintroduction of sorts to the early days when triathlons were popular around here. Back when Shannon Kurek put on races at Pleasant Hill Lake and people doing the swimming portion had to be rescued. Oh, the good ole days. Back when race directors didn’t have to worry about their snowflake participants filing lawsuits or — worse! — leaving a bad review.
The Mohican Triathlon, with its kayaking, mountain biking and running, shouldn’t be called a triathlon. That’s at least coming from a friend, who, albeit, didn’t know the first-ever recorded triathlon in Paris involved canoes. (And, really, the name is adequate.)
It is, I concede, an odd event. At least around here. Elsewhere, a quick Google search revealed, these types of events are common. There’s the Lost Loon Triathlon in Tennessee, Morgan’s Little Miami Triathlon, the Chippewa Triathlon in Minnesota, the West Penn Trail Triathlon … the list goes on.
But the event’s strangeness, and, thus, appeal, isn’t its novelty. It’s the distances. Six miles of kayaking; 5.6 miles of mountain biking; 6.6 miles of trail running. As a mountain biker, my initial thought was “hm. Interesting. The least amount of miles is during the cycling portion of the race.”
Nearly all other triathlons feature long cycling portions with proportionally shorter running and swimming/paddling legs.
O’Dell’s goal, however, was to make the event accessible, and finishable. (I know, that’s not a word.) Something for everybody. He included solo, duo and relay categories, making it an event that, for example, families could accomplish together. For the first year, there were a half dozen duo teams, one trio and 19 solo finishers.
O’Dell said he’d add a female solo category next year — which I think is a great idea. (This year, there were four female solo competitors and one who participated in a duo team.)
And everyone finished, including O’Dell’s son.
Justin, 10, finished the Mohican Triathlon as a solo competitor with a time of 4:20:06.
It became the day’s mantra, a playful-yet-serious objective of sorts, early — when everyone was on the bus to get to the first leg of the day. One of the competitors, a man from Cleveland, said loud enough for everyone to hear “Man, I just hope I finish before the 10 year-old.”
The same guy said something similar as we all sat in our kayaks for about 20 minutes before the start. I have two things to say here:
1.) 20-ish minutes is a long time to wait around for a race to start. In the future, let’s make that wait like, 5 minutes.
2.) In this first year, when there weren’t many competitors, it worked. It was time to spend psyching ourselves up or to get to know some of the other competitors. The time floating on the Mohican River lent to the “family-friendly” atmosphere for which O’Dell intended. But if more than 50 people sign up next year, this might become a bit hairy and logistically difficult to manage.
Oh, and maybe there are three things.
3.) Justin, you’re a rockstar dude. Keep up the hard work. And for the two people who did finish behind Justin: you’re awesome, too.
Yeah, racing is a competition against everyone else. But it’s more about, first, making the decision to participate. And then it’s about annihilating the urge to end the pain prematurely — it’s about finishing the race. And you did just that. In a society where “screen time” is an actual thing that is tracked, yeah: I’d call your finish of this particular screenless activity a triumph.
OK, back to the recap.
I hung on to fourth position during the kayak leg. I was surprised, honestly. It was the first time I’d been in a kayak since 2021 — and before that, since 2019, the year I sold my kayak. And it was the first time I’d raced one.
Six miles doesn’t sound long, but it’s long. Your shoulders and arms, heck, even your quads and core, are working hard. There were times the river’s current seemed to swallow me up briefly, and that felt nice. But my inexperience often meant being spit out of the current with the nose of the kayak spinning askew. It meant working extra hard to get back on course, and expending valuable energy.
I did manage to hold onto third place for a time on the river. That is, until, I came to a near halt on a very shallow portion due, again, to my inexperience in navigating kayaks on rivers. That brief moment suspended in non-movement meant someone passed me.
To my surprise, however, I earned second place upon jumping onto my mountain bike. It’s a weird sensation, physically, to transition from an upper-body workout to a lower-body effort. It took about a mile of pedaling to get into a flow. Regretfully, during that first mile of transition, a fellow racer passed me — putting me in third.
I held onto third heading into the trail run. I knew this part would put me in a world of hurt, and I noticed my effort slowly fading from trying to catch the leaders to just barely maintaining my position. Looking at my Garmin watch became a habit during the run. With each glance, I hoped the six miles would magically appear without having memory of actually finishing it.
The hardest part of the run was the part I had to walk, no — crawl — up the side of a hill. It was so steep there was an actual ladder in one section to climb. And then, at the top of the hill, I finally gave in to an insidious need to pee. Walking and then slowing to a stop to pee led to my losing two places.
I finished fifth out of 19.
Though I’d much rather write “I finished first,” or even second or third, I’m happy with the fact this was my best result since I’ve started participating in endurance events. I’ve finished in the top 10 in other mountain biking events, but this was the first top five finish. I guess that’s pretty cool.
Maybe seeing my name in the top five will serve as motivation to prepare a little more in the future so I’m not just a finisher. But finishing is just as noble.
All in all, the Mohican Triathlon is a good event. Challenging. Fun. A little strange. (But again, that’s part of the appeal.)
I look forward to seeing it grow.