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The Piseco Lake Triathlon

It is 6:30AM, and Paddy and I are busy prepping for the Piseco Lake Triathlon. Paddy remarks this would be a good sailing day. Translation — it’s windy. The wind gods were ignoring my pleas for calm waters. As we sat on the campsite picnic table – looking out over the waterfront – there was no mistaking that sound. The sound of waves lapping the shoreline – one right after another. I saw whitecaps build on the lake. I’m not sure I can do an open water swim in whitecap conditions. I’m not even sure I can do an open water swim in calm conditions… I start thinking of better ways to spend my day rather than attempt this open water swim. But, this TRI is not simply a “jane pursuit” today — I had convinced Paddy to join me as a relay team. We would be the “Team TRI — Jane and Paddy”. I would do the swim and bike — and Paddy would complete the 3rd leg in the event — the walk or jog to the finish. We are a team. I had to at least…TRY. Paddy was counting on me.

Paddy and I hop on our bicycles – for a 4 mile ride from our campsite, to the Irondequoit Inn. We could have driven the monster RV – but it didn’t seem right to move the beast once it had nestled into our campsite. The Irondequoit Inn is a bed and breakfast, that sits overlooking Piseco Lake at the northern tip. It has a tennis court, sprawling land with fabulous views, and a soft sandy beachfront. The Irondequoit Inn is hosting the start of the triathlon – the swim portion. Perhaps the water would appear less lumpy from the beachfront? I had high hopes for calm “seas”.

Paddy is happy to be done with the hilly bike ride from the campsite. He takes a rest at the top of the hill, while I head to the water to study the swim course. I’m hesitant to register for the TRI, until I have a chance to see the swim course close up. I’ve only done 3 open water swims prior to this event — and in each case I had a personal swim buddy (or buddies) near my side. Today, I would be by myself. I stare at the course. A line of buoys runs parallel to the shoreline. I make a few mental notes. I could swim to shore if I get in a panic. The winds and waves have increased. There is no denying it – the water is choppy.

One lone race official is busy prepping the swim exit chutes. I ask him a zillion questions. The little people in my head want to know many things. “Is the water over my head” I asked. “Yes – at least 10 feet” he assured me — as if I was hoping that he would say “yeah – it’s nice and deep for you”. The direction of the a quarter mile swim is out-and another quarter mile back. You follow a line of buoys into the waves and wind then turn around and swim with the wind and waves on the way back to shore.. The official assured me there would be big pontoon boats 300 yards apart for the swimmers to grab. In case you need a rest. He assured me there would be plenty of kayaks and canoes for swimmer support. It all sounded well organized. I’m still not sure I can do this — but Paddy and I decide to go and register anyway.

Paddy and I hopped back on our bikes – for a 1/2 mile ride to the Piseco Lake Airport. Registration for the TRI occurs here – at the Piseco Airport grounds. We filled out a form, handed over some moolah – and signed up as a team. There it is. In print. I would do the swim and bike, and Paddy would do the walk / jog.

The Piseco Lake Triathlon is a unique Triathlon. Not that I am worldly when it comes to triathlons – but I have done a few. Here in the Adirondacks, they do not use official “race chips” to automatically time the participants. There are no bike numbers or running bib numbers. As a matter of fact – there are no paper numbers at all. No numbers except the numbers you are body-marked with. The theory is — once you enter or exit each leg of the event – you loudly call out your number to the race official. This is how they keep track of you. I love it. Very low-tech. Very Adirondack.

As we handed the registration form to the race official, the nice lady gave me a green post-it sticky with the number C-42. This is our team number. C-42. We are instructed to take the green postit sticky marked C-42 to the body marking lady – and she will write our number on our arms and legs. Body marking is the only way for the race officials to know who you are. Paddy and I now have C-42 written all over our arms and legs. I think this means we are officially registered.

Now mind you – nobody handed us a map, or any instructions for the Piseco Lake Triathlon. Just the little green post it sticky with our number – C42. I assumed that was all we needed to know.

Paddy and I hopped back on our bicycles – and rode back to the Irondequoit Inn. There are no bike racks…no “personal space” that is marked only for you. Just find a spot on the lawn or tennis court – and leave your bike there. This is how the Piseco Lake Triathlon works. You pick a spot in the sand – any ol’ spot will do. So Paddy and I left our bikes near the tennis court fence.

I look around at the other bikes, and note some very serious athletes here. Some bikes were equipped with $5000 bike wheels on top of fancy $5000 bike frames. These bikers must know how to ride in nearly “off road” conditions on a race bike. I had already opted NOT to use Ms. Madone for this event. Why? Not because I’m mad at Ms Madone for becoming a noodle during my last 2 triathlons. Not because we’ve had words. Instead, the roads around Piseco lake seem more like a dirt trail, rather than smooth pavement. Huge potholes, gravel and lots of road dugouts. The old Trek jalopy (i.e. Mr. Huffy Puffy) with the big fat wheels will be my bike of choice today. Mr. Huffy won’t be anywhere near as fast as Ms. Madone – but he is much better equipped to handle the terrain.

Riding Mr. Huffy simplifies the equipment needs too. No special clip on shoes are required, I can just wear my running sneakers. Paddy is busy holding on to a coffee mug, my swim goggles and swim cap, smoking a pre-Triathlon cigarette and proudly displaying his body marks – C42. This is his way of getting psyched up. We head down to the beach. Other triathletes have gathered and it is becoming quite a crowd.

Other swimmers are commenting on the lake conditions. Most of the chatter revolves around how “choppy” the lake is. The winds have picked up, and I’m having many self doubts. The little people in my head are chatting nonstop about how rough the water has become. It’s time to tone down the little people. I look at the pontoon boats who are now in position along the swim course. I discuss strategy with my team – Paddy. “I think I can make it between pontoon boats – so I just have to swim from boat to boat.” Plus,, there are lots of support boats swarming around. “I think I can do this” I finally said to Paddy. “I think I can do this”. Paddy nods in agreement. He hopes the swim starts soon so he doesn’t have to listen to my incessant anxiety over the open water swim.

The official with the megaphone announces it is time to get in the water. We all get in the water at once. A big crowd lurches forward. There are no swim waves, no organization of swimmers….just everyone gets in the water at the same time. Of course I linger back. Way back. If I stayed any further back – I would be standing on shore. Every other swimmer is far ahead of me. The whistle blows….and the bodies surge forward into the water. It is pretty shallow at the start – so we get to walk along ways in the water before we need to start swimming. There is no turning back now.I am the very last swimmer into the water by a long shot, and I’m hoping that all of the support boats take notice. My message is keep a close eye on me OK? I start swimming. So far so good. No panic, I’m just breathing and getting into a rhythm. I make it to the first pontoon boat no problem – and consider continuing on to the next pontoon boat without stopping. On second thought it is a bit of a distance to the 2nd pontoon boat. I stop for a moment and catch my breath.It is a LOT harder than I thought. That is, swimming into a headwind, and waves.

Due to the curve in the shoreline, the further out into the lake I swam, the the bigger the waves. I’m doing my best to stay on top of the waves – but it isn’t working too well. The waves run close together, and they are breaking over me. I just need to get to the next pontoon boat. That’s my only thought. I am actually passing other swimmers. Pretty rare for me – and I only hope that the support boats are still paying attention.I arrived at the 2nd pontoon boat – and now I’m breathing hard. Not because I’m panicked, but it is VERY hard swimming in these conditions. Head wind, and waves crashing over your face – unrelenting. This makes my swimming pool practice sessions seem like easy-peasy. But it’s time to let go of the pontoon boat, and head for the next one. A particularly big wave crashes over me and I suck down a bunch of Piseco Lake. For a moment, I panicked. I called out loudly for help. And immediately flipped on my back to try to relax. Get a grip Jane. I don’t need help….I can do this. The big people in my head are in charge of the little people now – and I can do this. I did the back stroke for awhile and this was much easier. Somehow, I made it to the last outbound pontoon boat.

I meet up with a fellow triathlete swimmer – who is clinging on to the final pontoon boat. “Are you ok?” he asks. “Yeah” I reply. “Just need to catch my breath”. He responds – “Come on darlin – you and I will do this together”. At that point, we exchanged names. Meet Hank. My new swim buddy. Hank leads the way to the final orange buoy, and I follow obediently. Hank yells out to one of the support boats — “keep a close eye on us ok?”. Hank encourages me to keep swimming. Suddenly – I was no longer alone. Along with another pokey swimmer in our proximity (Joe) and a lady who was too tired to tell us her name….we had become a uniquely bonded swim team of 4. The final 4 swimmers in the Piseco Lake Triathlon who are in the water longer than anyone else, and pretty damned determined to complete the swim. From this point – until we reached the shoreline, we would be looking out for each other.

I rounded the final orange buoy in the outbound direction. Hallelulah. We can now turn around and head back. Finally we are swimming WITH the waves and the wind – and it is SOOO much nicer. Our team of 4 – swam from pontoon boat to pontoon boat – together. Here is how it went down. We would all decide we were “ready” to depart from one pontoon boat – and swim to the next. Usually I was the first to arrive at a pontoon boat (go figure that?!)….and I wasted no time locating the swim ladder to hang onto – and catch my breath. Technically, I was feeling pretty good at this point, but I wasn’t going to leave my new friends behind. “Hank – over here – I’ve got a swim ladder with your name on it”, and Hank would always replay “Jane – you’re the best, I’ll be rite there”. Then I would yell – “How are you doing Joe” – and he would check in as well. After a few seconds of rest at the pontoon boat – Hank would ask if we are ready to keep going…and despite how tired any of us felt – we always replied “ yeah – lets do it”.

This scene repeated itself from one pontoon boat to the next….and finally Hank yelled out to me “Jane – you can stop swimming now – we can stand up”. Music to my ears and sure enough I could stand. Our little team of 4 had made it – and we were bonded through the remainder of the TRI. We were smiling now, with high-fives all around. It was an incredibly satisfying moment standing on the beach….having conquered the high winds and waves.Paddy patiently waits for me to wipe the sand off my feet – and stuff my bare feet into my sneakers. Paddy’s turn is soon coming. We trot up the hill together from the beach…to the tennis court – where Mr. Huffy Puffy is waiting. I hop on, only to discover that the seat position is set for someone with a height of Michael Jordan. I never realized Paddy was so tall? This won’t work – I can’t reach the pedals. I hop off…and spend a few minutes adjusting the seat height. Off I go.

Since I am at, or nearly at dead last – I wonder if I’ll see any bikers at all. Especially riding on Mr. Huffy. Three miles later – my wish came true. I see a biker who is body marked. A fellow triathlete. I realize I’m riding Mr. Huffy – who is a magnitude of 10 times slower than Ms. Madone – but I can’t resist chasing a bicycle. Even on Mr. Huffy. Mr. Huffy and I quickly pass the first biker…and I begin thinking there are more cyclists ahead. Soon I pass a group of 5….then more and more appear. Mr. Huffy and I are super excited to be back with a pack of athletes – and not at the end. I’m guessing that I passed between 30-40 bikers. The vibe is tremendous along the bike route. Piseco Lake residents are out cheering us on – and there are race organizers everywhere – all busy writing down your number as you go past. I’m not really sure if I’m supposto – but I yell out “C42” every time I see someone “official”. In case they need to know. As I near the turn to head back to the Irondequoit Inn – the road becomes a buzz with race officials and volunteers yelling out frantically to the cyclists – to “go to your right”.

Hmmm…this can’t be correct – as I know that my next turn to get back to the Irondequoit Inn (where Paddy is patiently waiting) is to go to my left. Maybe I have to go around some little road for more mileage?  Nope. We are herded into a parking lot at at the Piseco Lake Elementary school. I notice well over 100 bikes just laying about across a field. What’s going on here? Then I see a sign – pointing to the exit for the runners. What? I’m nowhere near the Irondequoit Inn – and Paddy is waiting for me to hand off the invisible “wand” so that he can be the 3rd leg of the triathlon. Nobody told us that the bikers would NOT be returning to the Irondequoit Inn where we started the swim. Instead – we have to start the run leg from a completely different location.Back at the Irondequoit, Paddy is becoming the information hot line for triathlon spectators. “When will the athletes be returning here” – peeps would ask Paddy. “Soon….the bikers will come back here – and then the runners will take off” – Paddy confidently advised. Tho it sure is strange, Paddy thought — “surely ONE biker should have returned by now”. But, Paddy patiently waits – and tells others to do the same. “They’re coming” he insists.I drop my bike like all others (at any ol spot in the field) at the Piseco Elementary school, whip off my helmet…and start running. This is crazy. What if I had ridden Ms. Madone with my special clip on bike shoes. I would not have been able to run (or walk) in these. What about Paddy? He is waiting for me back at the Irondequoit Inn! I assumed that the transition area was back where we started???

Despite the confusion…I had my cell phone with me. I called Paddy and simultaneously started to run toward the Piseco Airport. I’m breathing pretty hard cuz I just biked Mr. Huffy into the ground and passed 40 bikers to give us a shot of not being last – and Paddy can’t understand a word of what I’m saying. I keep repeating myself. “I don’t know what’s going on – but they had us start the run from a completely different spot” I panted. “You have to leave the Irondequiot Inn now…and walk past the airport until you see me” I instructed Paddy – who was every bit as clueless about this transition from the bike to run – as I. “Just start walking…and we’ll meet up in the middle”.Paddy trots like a bat-outta-hell…and is walking with big long strides. Beads of sweat form at his forehead….and his t-shirt is beginning to resemble a sponge. Neither of us know what the heck just happened to the transition area…but for some reason – in the Adirondacks, a triathlon means there are 3 separate locations where you can end up. The lady forgot to write this on the green postit sticky with C-42. The first location is at the lake (Irondequoit Inn). The second location is as the Piseco Elementary School – where you ditch your bike anywhere….and start running toward the 3rd location – the Piseco Airport. Oh my.

My swim buddy Hank (who I passed on the bike) – had caught up to me on the run. We shared more high-5s and cheered each other on. We will probably never see each other again – but I can assure you we are tri-buddies for life. I wasn’t planning on running today – and my focus was finding my teammate Paddy – so that he could have his glory moment. And there he is….in his unmistakable orange t shirt. Hustling his butt to complete the 3rd leg in our team relay. I must say, I have never seen Paddy walk this fast. There was a genuine giddyup in his stride, and he was sweating bullets.

As we made our way along Old Piseco Road toward the Piseco Airport – finally a large group of race organizers were in sight – marking the finish line. “What do you think Paddy – should we run in the last 20 feet together” I asked. “How much is 20 feet” Paddy inquired, clearly tired, yet determined to make a good finish. As we got closer – the triathletes who had already finished – were actively cheering in those of us yet to reach the finale. “Come on Paddy – lets run it in”….and with my prodding, the peer pressure of the cheering crowd – and the excitement of the moment — there was no stopping Paddy. He jogged across that finish line – as we held hands high for a spectacular moment for Team C42.

Paddy had done it. He completed his first triathlon relay event – and he was clearly diggin’ the endorphins. We headed straight to the food tent – and discovered they were serving homemade ice cream. I absolutely love this triathlon. Ok – there was a bit of confusion over multiple transition areas – but that can be long forgotten with some homemade ice cream.

It is now our turn to be supportive spectators. We wait, watch and cheer on the remaining triathletes as they cross over the finish line. Paddy and I – team C42 were FAR from last place…and we spent the next 45 minutes cheering peep after peep. Our triathlon day is not over yet – there is more exercise on the agenda. It’s time to retrieve our equipment – which by now is spread in 2 separate locations. I opt to head back to the Elementary School and grab Mr. Huffy. It will be a 3 mile walk…but I’ll get there eventually. Paddy heads back to the Irondequoit Inn – for another mile of walking – to grab Ms. Madone. We agree to reconvene at the Irondequoit Inn.

Fortunately for me, a fellow triathlete driving her pickup truck along Old Piseco Road — offers to give me a ride. How delightful. I found Mr. Huffy lying in the field at the Piseco Elementary School– right where I left him – and rode him back to meet up with Paddy. Here we traded bikes. I was reunited with Ms. Madone – and Paddy is back with Mr. Huffy. Paddy and I road our bikes along the remaining 4 hilly miles back to the campsite.

The day was classic Adirondack magic. We are in the heart of the beautiful, tranquil Adirondack Park, where the temperatures are in the upper 70’s and the vibe is fantastic. Paddy completes his first EVER relay triathlon. He did it. He hustled. And finished strong. And if the TRI athletics weren’t enuf, he rides his bike on hilly Adirondack miles – just to show up at the event.

That new giddyup in his step….lasted the rest of the weekend. Rock on Paddy. As for me, there were 4 people who had to be pulled from the water that day. 4 people who did NOT complete the swim. And I wasn’t one of them.

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