Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gold Nugget Triathlon, Anchorage, AK -- Race Review

Weather threatened this year's GNT.
Plan for anything! 

I have long held an impression of the Gold Nugget Triathlon as an easy beginner race – sort of a walk-a-thon of triathlons.  And, partly because of this, my sister, Saree, did not have too difficult of a time talking me into signing up for the race with her and our sister, Paige.  The decision to enter really hinged on whether or not the three of us thought we could each learn to swim in time, but it didn’t occur to me until quite a number of months into training that the entire event (not just the swimming) was worthy of respect and attention.

Swimming was the most intimidating for me, even
though I'd spent all winter learning to swim.
The GNT is billed as an everywoman’s triathlon.  The organizers put major emphasis on the rules of this event that make it achievable for anyone willing to put forth the effort:  there are swim lanes for fast, medium, and slow swimmers, you can stop and rest during your laps, you can swim any stroke or combinations of strokes you wish, you can choose whichever type of bike you wish to ride, and you can walk or run the final leg.  These rules, along with the fact that the event is only for women – no men may participate – make it extremely accessible for women of all ages, fitness abilities, and experience levels.  Yet, the tri is still a stretch – none of the event distances are walks in the park (swim 500 yards, bike 12 miles, run 4 miles), thus racers of all levels can set challenging personal goals.  For beginner athletes, finishing may be the goal.  For the more experienced, setting personal records may be the driver.

The bottom line of this article is that I highly recommend participation in the GNT for women who either have never entered a race before or for those who are seasoned racers, but are interested in diversifying their fitness and sports repertoire.
Here’s why.

Winter conditions in Alaska can be a major disincentive to stay or get fit.  It’s dark, cold, icy, and slushy.  You cannot bike outdoors (unless you have an ultra fat-tire bike).  Running outside takes effort.  I found last winter that having the GNT on my calendar for mid-May date was powerful motivation for hitting the gym, pool, and getting myself bundled up to work out even if the weather was less than ideal.

Running is an excellent year-round sport that can be done indoors and outdoors.  Many people own treadmills and can get their workouts completed at home in front of the television.  Yet, it’s one of the most high impact activities you can do.  Over time, the constant pounding can cause chronic injuries to back, hips, knees and feet.  Adding cycling and swimming into the mix is an excellent and challenging way to break up the monotony of running and bring low-impact cardio into your life.  I found several different triathlon training regimens which called for a couple of running days, a couple of swim days, and a couple of cycling days.  While this type of combo-training will not maximize your speed for any one of the sports, I’m willing to bet overall fitness, strength, and health is improved.  Additionally, I found that my interest level in all three sports remained high all through the winter because I was not so intensely focused on a single activity.

T1 transition (swim to bike) takes the
longest and warrants some planning.
If you’re a veteran competitive runner or cyclist, you’ve already bought into the thrill of crossing the finish line and besting your own personal record.  Just triple that and you’ll start to get a sense of the rush you get in a triathlon.  You actually cross three finish lines:  swim, bike AND run.  Add to that the bedlam of stripping off and throwing on clothes and gear at each transition and you begin to achieve the fun-quotient of childhood birthday party games.
Of course, you could get all of this by participating in any triathlon – there are a number of them throughout Alaska during the summer months (including the upcoming Eagle River Tri), but the GNT is the stellar event.  It’s huge (1500 racers).  It’s all women.  The course is beautiful.  The organizers are expert.  The volunteers are superbly helpful and supportive.  If you’re going to choose one tri to do next year, make it the Gold Nugget.

My sisters and I started together and
were glad we did!
Additional Details:
If you are planning to do the GNT, here are a few words of advice:
  • Train.
  • Practice “circle swimming” with friends before the race – it is not a big deal, but is helpful to have done it.
  • Plan out your transitions.
  • Don’t worry about the organizers losing your running shoes at T2.
  • Start with your friends.

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