Watching trianthletes swim, bike and run can wear a body out

July 27, 1997

A few weeks ago I was out at Hagerstown Junior College, when a staff member at the gym asked me if I'd be interested in the Hawk "triathlon," a euphemism for torture which took place last Sunday.

It sounded intriguing.

The Hawk Triathlon is a triad of grueling sports, including a half-mile swim, a 22-mile bike race and a 6.2-mile run. This wasn't anything I wanted to contract to lightly.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wished to become involved. Finally, I set my jaw, called up the college and said "Yes, I'm ready to make the commitment: Our intern will do it."


Interns at The Herald-Mail, as anywhere, subject themselves to untold quantities of insult and abuse. But I believe sending Karen Masterson into the agonizing, athletic fray in the name of a good sports story was the crowning jewel of cruel exploitation. Either that, or the time we sent one of our interns to interview Beverly Byron.

Karen gallantly accepted the challenge and carried it to completion in fine form. I would have joined in the swim/bike/run myself but I'm quite spiritual and like to preserve the Sabbath for pursuits less inclined to lead directly to heart attacks.

But I agreed to superintend and to loan my wheeled nemesis Thumbscrew to Karen, who was lacking a bike.

Not only did Karen perform ably, but the bicycle did too - which sort of annoyed me. When I'm riding it, Thumbscrew is always cooking up little experiments (like throwing a pedal bearing or clamping a brake shoe against a rim) to see how they will go and how I will react. Apparently though, the bike knew this was business and wished to show off.

While on the subject, you always hear plenty about the glorious athletes and their glorious machines. But I think one of the great, untold stories of these triathlons is that of the support staff. Julie, Ron and myself had to know exactly where to put the bike so it would be ready when Karen emerged from the lake, we had to spread out the snacks and water bottles just so and remember to cheer.

When she returned from the bicycle ride, fatigued as I was from all this organizing, I held the bike and took photos of her changing into her running shoes. A lesser man would have wanted to rest.

On completion, everyone commented on how well HJC ran the triathlon and how pretty the course was, from the lake at Greenbrier State Park over rolling hills to Smithsburg and back.

And these people were serious. I can say flat out and without reservation, the warm-ups these people did would have killed me. They're out there pedaling and running around like Satan himself was inches back and gaining - and the event hasn't even started yet.

The more athleticism I saw, the more inadequate I felt.

Here were women half my age. Here were men twice my age. And all of them could have buried me with no more though or effort than Humphrey Bogart grinding out the butt of a Chesterfield in some Moroccan sand dune.

I stood behind a tree.

Every so often I'd peek out to see another sculpted human go in the lake, out of the lake, on the bike, up the hill, down the hill, off the bike, off with the cleats, on with the Nikes, off on the trail, up on the mountain, down off the mountain, back on the trail, across the finish line and under the hospitality tent where the contestant would take a sip or two of water and begin discussing the course in a calm and detached way that gave no clue as to the morning's exertion.

They weren't even out of breath. They didn't need to be. I was out of breath for them. I sat down and spat out a peach pit.

I was exhausted. People who say this job is easy have no idea what I go through.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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