After a 20-mile run, a 50-mile bike race and an 8.5-mile row down a frigid river, Mark Lange crossed the finish line looking as if he'd been left in the wash cycle a few hours too long.
"I haven't had this much fun since I fell down the stairs," said the 20-year-old from Alexandria after winning the Oxford Thanksgiving Triathlon yesterday.
The triathlon attracted 47 competitors from a dozen states. Eleven of them competed in all three events with no rest. The others competed as members of relay teams. Considering the miserably wet and cold conditions and the lack of prizes or publicity, it seemed like a crowded field.
"I'm really impressed that there are this many crazy people," said Tracy Lea, a 29-year-old Easton woman who handled rowing chores for her team.
The triathlon was born in the 1970s as a logical, or illogical, depending upon your perspective, extension of the marathon boom. There are now an estimated 50,000 people who compete in the grueling, threefold competitions. The granddaddy of triathlons is the Iron Man Triathlon held each summer in Hawaii. That consists of a 26.2-mile run, a 112-mile bike ride and a 2.4-mile swim.
"We had to substitute a rowing event for the swim because of the time of year," said Fletcher Hanks, a 65-year-old former town office holder who organized two previous Oxford triathlons.
Lynn Brooks of Baltimore was the only woman expected to compete yesterday. But she chose to race in, and win, a triathlon in Italy last week.
Woody Bedell, a Richmond insurance consultant, was the prerace favorite. Bedell finished third in this summer's Oxford triathlon and has competed in the Iron Man the past two years.
"We looked at the list of competitors and didn't see anybody he knew," said Joyce Bedell, as her husband was taking an early lead in the running event. At the end of the run, Bedell was six minutes ahead of his closest competitor. He increased the lead to 11 minutes by the end of the bike ride.
"You don't have to worry about anybody catching you," said 9-year-old Traes Bedell as his father traded in a 10-speed bicycle for a racing shell with nine-foot oars.
By the time Lange climbed into his own boat, Bedell was a full mile up the Tred Avon river. But impressive as was the lead, it was not nearly enough to beat Lange, who rowed for T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria and now competes for Dartmouth College, where he is a third-year student.Lange passed Bedell before the two had reached the three-mile mark.
Bedell had practiced only four weeks with a shell and paid the penalty. While Lange's vessel had cut a straight path through the drizzle, Bedell veered from side to side in search of a stroke. With less than two miles remaining, he was passed by Bill Brooks, a 40-year-old banker in Salisbury, Md.
"I just couldn't get it," said Bedell while his wife and son offered congratulations mixed with condolences. "It was a little frustrating."