Talk about nervous! Do you remember how all of us felt as we entered the spring of 2021?
Would the public health situation genuinely improve? Would our local communities embrace the return of events of up to 700 people? And…how do we get our fitness back after a year of closed gyms and pools — and even those warnings about running outside without a mask?
For the team at New England Endurance Events, these questions led to even more serious introspection. We desperately wanted to hold safe events — not just to protect our organization’s reputation but, far more importantly, out of an overriding need to meet that trust which our athletes give to us. In a sport like triathlon, there are no “customers.” You are our friends, our partners, our comrades in a lifestyle that only those of us inside this unique hobby understand. To be able to sleep at night, we needed for you to be as safe as possible.
As the season approached, we were heartened to find our permitting authorities to be understanding, engaged and thoughtful in discussing the steps we could take to hold our events. It would have been very easy for them to simply say, “No, not this year” once again. But every official at each entity worked with us to enact policies and procedures to protect our participants, staff and volunteers — even as the local health metrics continued to fluctuate during the year. We must also point out that the sport’s governing body, USA Triathlon, was enormously helpful in formalizing medical-professional-approved procedures, as well as by adjusting some of those pesky rules (such as allowing an athlete to pick up race packets for other athletes, which was a big hit at our drive-through packet pickups!).
So, much to our delight, it was on to the races!
Hyannis 1 Triathlon: A light rain met arriving racers and persisted off-and-on during the morning. It didn’t dampen the enthusiasm one bit: everyone was just so thrilled to finally be able to race again. A new swim course was very well received: Olympic-distance athletes were able to swim a single loop. This race was the designated Massachusetts State Championships for both Age Group and High School; and it was wonderful to see the beaming faces of the teens as they raced against kids from across the state. We think our sport has quite a future.
Falmouth Triathlon: It was a perfect summer’s day, reminding all of us how breathtakingly beautiful is this part of the world. This was the our largest field of the year, and everyone stayed respectful of the procedures and social distancing measures. Athletes swam a third of a mile in calm waters, then hit their bikes for a ride out to the majestic Nobska lighthouse on a cliff overlooking Martha’s Vineyard — passing through the campus of the famed Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute along the way. The 5k run on Surf Drive and the Shining Sea bike path never lost sight of the sparkling coastal waters.
Sea to Summit Triathlon: Outside of an elite international ITU event, it’s rare to see 100 men and women, all in peak physical condition, milling about a transition area. So forgive us for staring with awe as this past year’s Sea to Summit participants prepared at 4 am on that special morning in late July. They showed us all how amazing they are at SBR. After a swift 1.5-mile swim in Maine’s tidal waters, the athletes embarked on a 94-mile bike into New Hampshire, dismounting at the foot of Mt. Washington. As veteran S2S’ers know, the mountain makes up the rules, and on this day 40 mph winds coupled with a 40 degree temperature added up to a well-below-freezing wind chill and a necessary re-routing of the run course for athlete and staff safety. However, the ample main dining hall of Wildcat Ski Lodge provided more than enough social distancing room for the much-anticipated — and much enjoyed — post-race turkey dinner and awards ceremony.
Hyannis 2 Triathlon: What a blast for all! A record crowd of athletes descended on Craigville Beach, and conditions could not have been better. We must thank the neighboring Craigville Beach Association for allowing us to begin the swim at their beach, which allowed us to “stretch out” the Olympic course to keep swimmers close to shore, so lifeguards could better assist a swimmer if need be. Turns out, no such need, but still it was a feature that we hope to maintain in the years to come. We had a number of first-timers at the race — people who had been training all summer with the objective of completing a triathlon by themselves — and the NEEE staff was so pleased to be part of their day.
Wellfleet Sprint Triathlon: When the town of Wellfleet suggested we switch the date of this event from early June to late September as a precautionary measure for public safety, we knew it would be an inconvenience for many of our athletes — but their understanding and enthusiasm was greatly appreciated. As veteran Cape Codders know, the temperature of our kettle ponds holds quite steady during the fall, and sure enough the water temp on race day was in the 70s. This is one of those races which shows the range of triathlon experience: while the “serious” triathletes completed the course in about an hour, the “casual” triathletes needed two or more. Yet they were the ones smiling the most! We hope they continue to evolve as endurance athletes and continue in this sport.
SOS Cape Cod Triathlon: This race was a “fairly difficult” qualifier for the “ultra-difficult” SOS Triathlon in upstate New York. Like Sea to Summit, the event draws participants from far and wide — including, this year, former Ironman World Champion Leanda Cave. Racers started out with a 30-mile bike from Wellfleet to Truro to Provincetown and back to Truro, then they hit the trails of the Cape Cod National Seashore for nine miles of technical running and two miles of swimming — broken up into seven legs. Each participant had a support crew member who assisted at various points along the way. A couple of late-morning rain showers served to cool off the runners and muddy-up those new trail running shoes!
GutCheck Adventure Triathlon: Even though it was October, it could have been Labor Day Weekend given the mild weather on this, the last of NEEE’s 2021 races. Some of you may remember the GutCheck in its original incarnation as a very difficult sprint triathlon. But this 2021 event was the second of a new format: one where racers don’t know the course until minutes before the start, and they must run, bike, swim (or paddle) their way through 12 checkpoints. Finishing times ranged from 100 minutes to 3 hours. In discussing GutCheck with many of our athletes at other races, the difficulty has been in convincing them to try something at season’s end that’s a bit out of their comfort zones. Yet everyone we have talked to after crossing the finish line has said this is one of the — if not the — most fun endurance races they have ever experienced. We hope the word continues to spread for 2022!
Random Bits from a Season Past:
- We welcomed two assistant race directors to our team this year. Lori Gilmore and Dawn Varnum brought more than just energy and enthusiasm…they quickly became essential. Be sure to say hello to them at the registration desk next season! And we added a swim coordinator: Scott Brown. He is now in a competition with Geof Newton for the title of calmest person on our crew.
- Did you like our pre-race zoom athlete meetings? Born of necessity during this season of precautionary health measures, we found that athletes actually prefer them. They could learn all about the race a week ahead of time, watching from the comfort of home. We wondered how long each meeting would take, but it turned out it didn’t really matter — anyone could click off whenever they wished. We will continue these meetings in 2022 and will follow a similar format: info crucial to all athletes first; then info for newcomers to the race; followed by info for beginners. And we’ll never leave a question unanswered!
- Like many of you, we feel it’s important to have charity partners for each of our events, and in addition to NEEE’s contributions our athletes also come up big-time with additional donations to worthy causes. In 2022 these organizations received from $4000-$10,000: United Way of Cape Cod’s Covid Relief Fund, Public Radio Station WOMR. These organizations received $500-$3500: Dreamday of Cape Cod, Outer Cape Health Services, Cape Cod Athletic Club. These organizations received $100-$450: Cape Cod Cycling Club, Cape Cod Rowing Club, Riptide Youth Running Club, Cape Cod Foundation, Craigville Beach Association, United Way of York County. Additionally, as a thanks to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for allowing us to use their campus for the Falmouth Triathlon, we donated three bicycles (at right) to the bike-sharing program for use by their staff and interns.
- 3 NEEE staff members received open-water lifeguard certifications this year. They’re not in the water at every event (we rely on certified guards from the surrounding area for many of the races) but as a race organization we feel it’s important our on-site team knows as much as they can about best practices for racer safety. With 2 existing certified guards on staff, we’re now up to 5, and expect to add more in 2022. A big thanks to Trish Cundiff of Aquasafe Swimming for whipping us into shape!
- For the first time in memory, both the overall male and female winners at a Cape Cod triathlon race reside on the Cape! It happened at July’s Falmouth Triathlon, when Seamus Woods and Lindsey Dibona took the top honors. We also noted with pride that both are members of the Cape Cod Triathlon Team, which co-race-director Andy Scherding founded in 2003!
- The Bullock family is something else; watch out for them in years to come. Fourteen-year-old Ava finished 6th overall at Hyannis 1 (winning the state high school championships), then 5th overall at Falmouth, and then won it all at Hyannis 2 (at right)! Little sister Eleanor, at just 11, wanted to do her first triathlon, and won her 45-person newcomer group at Hyannis 2! She then decided to race Wellfleet Sprint and finished 3rd overall! Yes, you read that right: 14 and 11 years old!
- One of our most skilled race coordinators, John Gorvin, celebrated his 25th year at the Hyannis Tri and Falmouth Tri. John is our bike course chief, but of course he does so much more…thanks for your dedication, John, and for putting up with the mosquitos when you were stationed by that swamp for three hours this past September.
- We believe NEEE’s oldest triathlete is Lucy Duffy, who completed her first race with us 15 years ago and retired from the sport in 2019. Now about to turn 89, Lucy lives in Chapel Hill, NC. Andy and Kathleen had a chance to visit with her last month (at right)!
- With great, great sadness we learned of the passing of Falmouth Beach Superintendent Bruce Mogardo, just two months after this past season’s Falmouth Triathlon. Bruce was a strong advocate of the 25-year-old event and lent invaluable counsel to the race directors. We will miss him deeply.
- And finally, a huge thanks to our terrific team at New England Endurance Events. There are a half-dozen key people, all with other day jobs, who still spend significant amounts of time year-round helping to put our events together. Add to that the dozens of people who work with us as day-before and day-of staffers, and the many, many dozens of volunteers, and with their help we are able to deliver what you see on race day: hopefully, a thrilling and fulfilling endurance experience. Thanks to all of you, our athletes, who keep us smiling and wanting to do it all over again next year!