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Dartmouth Triathletes Learning On the Job

  • Dartmouth College triathlon team members Carly Tymm, Sonia Rowley, Adam Gleck and Evan Wetzel look to see what Katie Clayton, the team's co-captain, writes down for the night's workout at the Dartmouth Alumni Gym pool in Hanover, N.H., on May 15, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College triathlon team member Carly Tymm swims laps during practice at Alumni Gym pool in Hanover, N.H., on May 15, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College triathlon team member Fiona Bowen laughs with a teammate during practice at Alumni Gym pool in Hanover, N.H., on May 15, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hanover — The Dartmouth College club triathlon team culminated its spring season with stellar results in Maine recently, sweeping the women’s podium and championing several other categories on May 5 at the Polar Bear Triathlon hosted by Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

In a sprint race featuring a 525-yard pool swim, an 11.5-mile bike loop and a 3-mile run with on- and off-road sections, senior co-captain Katie Clayton won the overall women’s division in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 58.8 seconds. Teammates Sonia Rowley (1:03:36.8) and Amelia Ockert (1:04:19.1) weren’t far behind as Dartmouth went on to capture 12 of the top 13 spots in the women’s 20-24 age group as well as two of the top three in the women’s 19-and-under, led by freshman age group winner Claudia Durbin (1:07:43.3).

The men’s side was led by junior Evan Wetzel, who was third overall in 56:06.6 and led a Dartmouth podium sweep in the 20-24 division.

The Polar Bear Invitational featured primarily Dartmouth and Bowdoin students, with some independent competitors sprinkled in. It’s smaller than the team’s usual spring target race, the New England Season Opener triathlon in Hopkinton, Mass; the team eschewed that meet this year because it coincides with this weekend’s Green Key spring festival events.

Still, the dominant performance in Brunswick was an example of how well a robust training schedule has paid off for a 5-year-old, student run club that drew more than 50 athletes this year.

The program is guided by volunteer coaches Jeff Reed, a Dartmouth alumnus and former Hanover High boys lacrosse coach, and Hanover-based endurance trainer Jim Anderson. They help design programs team members administer themselves in group training sessions that take place 5-6 times per week on and around campus.

“They’re not what you would call a casual group — they’re really into it,” said Anderson, who won the men’s 50-54 division in Maine. “To sweep the podium like that, 1-2-3, it shows how much their skills have developed.”

Progress is ongoing for Dartmouth club triathletes, many of whom had never previously competed in such events. Most have experience in at least one of the three disciplines — running and/or swimming especially — but may need significant work on the others.

Athletes say the club emphasizes welcoming beginners, creating an inclusive culture.

“I was an OK runner and decent cyclist, but a terrible swimmer,” said men’s co-captain Tucker Evans, a junior who placed sixth in his age group at Bowdoin. “I’ve gone from barely being able to swim 50 meters to being fairly comfortable going 800. It’s not easy when something is so new, but this is a unique group because it’s so supportive.

“With some of the other clubs (at Dartmouth), they’re still welcoming, but it can be hard socially if you’re not already good at whatever the activity is. With this group, at least one sport is new for almost everybody and I think that helps create a positive training environment.”

The endurance demands of triathlon can be punishing, attracting a unique type of athlete to the team, women’s co-captain Emma Sklarin said.

“You could say it’s a niche sport. We’re all kind of scrappy,” she said. “We like to work hard and push our bodies.”

The most fundamental training work within the club is required toward cycling, of which many members are the least experienced competitively. For the newest cyclists, a lot of time is spent simply developing comfort in turns, traveling downhill or using one hand to drink water while riding.

Other learning points on the bikes include protocol for riding in a pace line — being vocal about braking or slowing, pointing out potholes or bumps, using arm signals when turning — as well as general maintenance such as changing flats.

“We have bike handling workshops multiple times a term with our coaches and ride around in parking lots to work on skills,” Clayton said. “More experienced riders work on skills like flying dismounts, so they aren’t always geared toward beginners.”

Many members join “goal groups” specializing in specific race formats, ranging from the sprint distances found at Polar Bear to Olympic (0.93-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, 6.2-mile run), half Ironman (1.2 swim, 56 bike, 13.1 run) and Ironman (2.4/112/26.2). Those with a half Ironman or Ironman focus might have longer spin workouts than the sprint and Olympic groups, for example.

“Having goal groups has helped with the structure of workouts,” Clayton said. “In the past we might have had Ironman (athletes) doing the same workout and sprints, so it makes sense to break it up.”

Regardless of individual focus, the team’s athletes are unified in many ways. A group of 21 traveled to Florida during spring break in March to participate in the Great Clermont Triathlon, which included sprint and half Ironman races on one day and an Olympic distance race the next. About half of those who traveled competed on each day while lodging together.

“That was an amazing bonding experience for us, renting a house and making meals together,” senior Fiona Bowen said. “A lot of people said we were crazy for running a triathlon during spring break instead of just relaxing, but it was one of the coolest things I’ve done since I got to Dartmouth.”

For some soon-to-be graduates in the program, their days running triathlons likely will conclude. Others, such as Clayton and Sklarin, will join coach Reed at the ITU World Triathlon amateur championships in September in Australia after qualifying last year at age group Nationals.

Clayton, a New York State native, plans to compete in Ironman Lake Placid next year and remain involved in the sport after starting a Ph.D political science program in fall 2019 at Stanford University.

“What’s great about triathlon is that it’s such a lifetime sport,” she said. “I’m sure the California weather will be even more conducive to training than Hanover is, as much as I love training year-round in the Upper Valley.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.