Main image for Cayuga Lake Triathlon 2017 Time to Read: ~8 min

I raced my second Intermediate (Olympic) triathlon on August 6. I’m lucky that it’s very close to my house, but I’m afraid the proximity also made it easier to be more blasé and less prepared than I was last year. I had raced the Cayuga Trails 50 on June 3 and just returned from Mountain Running Camp on August 1, so this was definitely not a “goal race.”


I had a mixture of adequate and inadequate training under my belt. For biking and running, I’d been following the last 4 weeks of the plan I used last year. I biked between 60 and 100 miles per week, and averaged 18 miles of running per week.

In stark contrast, I swam a half mile in the lake on July 16. That was it. No other swimming, not even in a pool. Shower time doesn’t count toward the triathlon, folks. I was going to be crashing this swim with one swim under my belt. Adding insult to injury, that swim was awful.

I admit, it was toying with my head.

Volunteering, Night Before

So many Wegmans bags!

So many Wegmans bags!

We signed up as a family to help out at packet pick-up on Saturday. We organized and folded t-shirts before registration opened. A steady stream of athletes passed our table between noon and 3p. We opened Wegmans bags, stuffed flyers inside, folded more t-shirts, greeted each registrant and confirmed their t-shirt size before sending them on their way to pick up their transition area bracelet and timing chip. Tara Masters called me near the end of our volunteer shift to tell me that someone hit my car in the parking lot! This added a certain amount of stress to the morning, despite the damage being minor. It was a local 19 year-old using her parent’s car, and she didn’t seem to care a bit that she’d hit me while parking. I took down her information in case I wanted to follow up and thanked Tara for having my back! Friends and neighbors have each other’s backs! Our volunteering done, we headed home and had leftover pasta for dinner. We each retreated to our rooms to do our own thing and pack everything we needed for the triathlon. We’d be heading to NYC for a few days right after the triathlon, but our packing attention was squarely focused on the race.


With the kids, pre-race

With the kids, pre-race

We adults woke at our normal time of 5a to enjoy coffee and do some final preparations. I pumped our bike tires, loaded bikes in the cars and took care of Snowball. We can only take 2 bikes per car since we don’t have a carrier that handles more. There was still no time to pack for NYC! We got the kids up and Amy made delicious breakfast sandwiches for everyone. Since my wave started at 8:20, I opted to eat my sandwich my customary 2 hours prior, just before we headed out the door for the short drive to the park. We snagged some decent parking spots not too far from the transition area. After volunteers wrote our race numbers and ages all over our bodies, we headed to transition and all independently got our bikes and gear racked and organized. Amy and I were near each other, but the kids were in separate areas since Elizabeth was doing the relay with Jessica and Xander was in the youth division.

Amy’s race started at 8a, and the water temperature was colder than she would have liked at 69.8 degrees. I was also hesitant, but mostly because of my total lack of swim preparation. I was relishing getting in, since the air temperature was about 55. The lake would feel like a bath! I half-jokingly shared with Simon Prosser that I was going to find a quiet place to throw up, and then saw Shane Eversfield and Adrian Western and told them the same thing. I headed to transition, shimmied into my wetsuit and grabbed my goggles and swim cap. Back at the lakeshore, I saw Michele Mitrani, who was racing her first triathlon. We are in a play-reading group together, and I unloaded my insecurities on her, too. I told her I was “not going to die” and she thought I was trying to provide inspiration to her that she was not going to die. I clarified quickly that no, I was talking about myself. I was SO nervous! We took a quick photo of ourselves after (like a mantra) telling ourselves that everything was going to be okay. Time marches on, and I needed to get ready to swim.

There was doubt in prior weeks if we’d even be able to have the swim. There were harmful algae blooms (HABs) in Cayuga Lake, and the swimming area at Taughannock had been closed several times. The race directors warned us that skipping the swim was a possibility, and they'd make a decision the morning of the race. As luck would have it, we were swimming! I walked into the shallow area marked off for warming up and eased into a few strokes in waist-deep water. A few waves of panic washed over me. Stand up. Breathe. Try a few more easy strokes. Breathe. A few more. I felt myself calming down. The warm water (compared to the air) and lack of major waves helped me immensely. They called our group to the corral.


I lined up to the far left of the swim wave where it’d be lighter traffic. Ironically, one of my Strava friends who I’ve not yet met in person, Bruno Salcedo, was standing right next to me. It was nice to meet him in person, since we’d met his wife Dayana Kibilds at packet pick-up. The countdown to the start was swift. We were off! I pulled hard for a minute to keep ahead of the fray, since there were several courses of swimmers lined up behind me. My dislike of being run over and kicked motivated me to start strong. I was careful to not go out too hard, and my main goal was to no stray too far to the left and have to make up the distance. I stopped a few times on the outbound leg to check my direction. The leg was otherwise uneventful and I found myself rounding the buoy at the far end of the course.

The current was slightly in my favor for the return leg, and I hugged the buoy line on my right. I even ran into it once, the coarse rope becoming temporarily tangled with my leg. I passed a few swimmers in my group here too, providing me with motivation. I encountered a pod of my swim wave in front of me, so I veered to the left to get around them. It was shortly after this that I found a real rhythm, practicing the things I learned in Total Immersion swim training, breathing bilaterally and being genuinely relaxed. I dare say I was enjoying myself!

Swim, done!

Swim, done!

Thud. I stopped to see what I’d run into. It was the prow of one of the kayaks there to keep us safe. In my head I thought, “What the f$#k?” Thinking the kayak was too far in the course and had accidentally hit me. Nope. The kayaker had zoomed into my path to intercept me, and she kindly advised “You’re off course.” So much for my Zen-like state. I apologized and swam a tangent back toward the buoy line. I was quite far to the left, and in a few minutes had made some progress getting back toward the main group of swimmers. The rest of this leg was uneventful, but I couldn’t help cursing myself for adding distance to the part of this race I like the least. There are no extra points in triathlon for adding to your distance! A huge thank you to the volunteers, especially those that make sure we don’t add too much distance to our race!


Transitioning to the bike was smooth and fast, though I was very winded. I awkwardly got my wetsuit off and slipped on my bike shoes (I’d been training without socks). Helmet on. Sunglasses on. Did I remember everything? Transition can be such a fog. I jogged my bike out to the road and struggled to maintain my balance as I got on. I heard Tara Masters say some encouraging words, but I felt dizzy enough that I would have been a convincing drunk on a Friday night. Transitioning is so hard, and when your heart is beating fast, appearing lucid can be tough. I was mostly recovered and ready to ride hard after a few minutes of moving my legs and taking a few sips of Tailwind from my bottle. I strongly pedaled north across the bridge to make my way up Route 89.

Starting the ride

Starting the ride

I shouted words of encouragement as I passed Amy on the northbound leg. There are some nice downward-sloping stretches here, and I barreled into Sheldrake at a satisfying clip. Once on the Sheldrake flats, I enjoyed the views of the lake to my right while plenty of homeowners cheered with cowbells from their properties on the left. A quick climb out of Sheldrake brought me back to 89 and the southbound leg. I focused on turnover, since there are some obnoxious stretches of almost imperceptible climbing. Soon I was able to enjoy the speed of the final descent into the park. The road is closed here and several of the bikers around me were challenging me to go faster and faster. I hit just over 40 MPH as the road leveled out and the park entrance loomed on the left. The volunteers implored us to slow down, dismount, and enter transition once more.


Another quick transition. Bike shoes off. Running socks and shoes on. I traded my helmet and sunglasses for a handheld of Tailwind and my Brooks “Run Happy” hat. My legs seemed to transition well from biking to running, but my stomach was feeling rather off. It felt kind of like a bowling ball rolling around where my stomach should have been. As I approached the entrance to the base trail to Taughannock Falls, I had the presence of mind to jump into one of the port-a-potties that are always at the parking lot there. A helpful runner yelled “This way!” thinking I was going off course. I quickly started running again after my brief pit stop, remarking to several spectators, “God, that felt good.” It did, but I still had that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.

As I usually do, I found a few pacers among the runners to try to keep up with. One seemed a particularly good choice, but it turns out he was 45 years old (based on the number on his calf) and was on his second loop. As he turned toward the finish line, the ever-colorful Joel Cisne beckoned me enthusiastically to start my second loop. I headed out on the course for a second time. My stomach was starting to improve but was not yet ideal. I thought along this stretch about the word “endurance.” To endure. When you endure something, it’s not usually a pleasant thing. I endured a colonoscopy. I endured the obligatory ceremony. I endured the 2-hour company mandated HR meeting. I endured the remainder of the run. As I came into the home stretch toward the finish line (actually, before making the final turn) I found reserves I did not know I had. My stomach issues were now gone and I literally sprinted the final hundred yards. Where the hell did that come from? I could have had a far stronger run had I found those reserves sooner. Maybe a mile sooner? Two? No time to backseat drive (and no point, really) now that I was done. I worked on catching my breath and spotted Jon Shaff in the distance. The guy giving the pre-race instructions had a bit about hugging a volunteer when we were done. A big sweaty hug. I knew Jon could handle it, so I gave him the biggest, sweatiest hug I could muster and thanked him for helping out.




I wandered up the finish chute near Joel Cisne and watched runners approaching the end of the race. Next up was Elizabeth, who finished her relay. Then Amy, who finished her second intermediate triathlon. Finally Xander, who finished the youth distance. All of them looked strong. All four Dawsons had crossed the finish line. We’d all run different races, but had a wonderful shared experience to carry us through the rest of the summer!

4 Dawsons: 4 Finishers!

4 Dawsons: 4 Finishers!

After some post-race Wegmans lunch (so good) and Ithaca Beer (so, so good), we headed home to quickly unpack our triathlon gear and pack up our travel gear. We had planned a trip to New York City for Monday and Tuesday. We headed out the door at 2 p.m. for the 5-hour drive to the city, sharing stories back and forth along the way about this year’s Cayuga Lake Triathlon.

Cayuga Lake Olympic Triathlon: By the Numbers

The swim killed me this year. Probably due to getting off course, but without a GPS track I can't know how much farther it was! Lack of swim training definitely factored in. Transition times were solid, but I could have transitioned to running a few seconds faster. Bike time was really consistent with last year. Running was clearly a strong suit for me this year, having come off a huge race earlier in the season.

9/17 age group M40-44
52/136 male
63/213 overall

Compared to Other Years: Olympic Distance

(2:07 per 100)
(19.55 avg mph)
(7:42 per mile)
(2:19 per 100)
(19.74 avg mph)
(7:25 per mile)
(2:24 per 100)
(19.47 avg mph)
(8:00 per mile)
(2:06 per 100)
(19.5 avg mph)
(8:17 per mile)

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