Back in 1985 I did my first triathlon. It was hard, it was fun, but life got busy and I didn’t give myself the opportunity to do another one until the late 1990’s when I got the itch again. The triathlon that called me out of hibernation was the CATS triathlon at Lake Beaverfork in Conway. Over the years I competed in the race several times, my daughter once did it as part of a relay and we’ve covered it a few times as Arkansas Outside. In all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better day for a triathlon.
When athletes arrive at the lake it’s usually still dark, but there is a lot of activity. It can be chaotic as cars are parked by volunteers from the local scout troop and law enforcement officers take their place along the roads. Competitors nervously set up their transition areas. The veteran racers usually look as if they are cool as cucumbers, but we know many still get the race jitters. Is the bike in the right gear for the start…towel to sit on…towel to dry off with…water…nutrition…running shoes…do I need socks…wait…did I check the air in the tires, the inventory list in the competitor’s head is long…and suddenly sunrise arrives.
The air was crisp and the skies were fairly clear without a hint of wind. The toughest part of the swim would be the start, heading straight into that beautiful sunrise. It would be a little tough to see the buoys and stay on track but once the turn was made swimmers would be able to see their line pretty easily.
Once out of the water, competitors made the quick transition to the bike. One of the great things about triathlons is how the different events play into equalizing the field. Personally, I usually do well on the swim, hold my own on the bike and totally fall apart on the run. It’s interesting to watch folks come out of the water and jump on non-competitive bikes far ahead of some who are not strong swimmers but jump on state-of-the-art triathlon bikes and then have to play catch up.
The cycling section heads north from the lake on a course that has been used for years and includes a couple of good climbs on the far end before turning and heading back to the transition. A quick dismount, change of shoes and maybe some nutrition and competitors are out on the run which heads south of the lake on a course that was modified a few years ago. This route is an out and back also but includes a little more off-road running than in the past but is not technical at all as it just runs in mowed grass past the park ball field. The final leg finishes by doing a lap around the transition area before heading into the finish line.
This event has a lot going on as there are several races happening at once. The 1500 meter swim, the duathlon, the CATS sprint triathlon and the Toad Suck Olympic distance triathlon. To add to the confusion, the triathlon starts in 3 waves making it near impossible to tell who is in the lead of which race. The good part is that it keeps the event moving along and participants get to run together, moderate and slower racers in the sprint are finishing along with the top performers in the Olympic distance.
DLT Multisport had everything under control with chip timing to help sort things out. The grills were going at the finshline along with a festive atmosphere. If you haven’t competed in or been a spectator at the CATS/Toad Suck Triathlons you owe it to yourself to be there next year. These races are part of the Windstream Triathlon Series, the next race in the series will be on October 5, in Heber Springs. Maybe it will be cold enough to wear wetsuits for that one.
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