Aluminum Man Triathlon tests competitors' iron will

Triathletes are a strange breed. Not only do they knowingly inflict physical and mental pain upon themselves, they enjoy doing it.

Heather Laurance of Hood River and Cary Mallon of Parkdale are two such gluttons for punishment. They recently tested their endurance and will at the 13th annual Aluminum Man Triathlon, Sept. 8 in The Dalles.

Laurance is new to triathlons, having just completed her first race, while Mallon is a relative veteran, participating in the Aluminum Man since its inception in 1988. Two types of competitors, two different reasons for entering the race.

"One of the main reasons I enter the race every year is it gives me some incentive to stay in shape year-round," said Mallon, a math teacher at Hood River Valley High School. "Plus, it's local and I like to be involved in community events."

Laurance, on the other hand, has been looking for a sport that would enhance the "runner's high" that so many runners talk about, but few outsiders understand.

She ran cross-country for HRV and has competed in a variety of distance races in the Gorge since graduating in 1994. But running alone is no longer enough to satisfy this adrenaline junkie.

"You have to know what the endorphin rush is like to understand," Laurance said. "Once you've experienced the high, it drives you."

More than 300 competitors from the Northwest and Canada -- even Hawaii -- participated in the event that offered two course distances: the Olympic Course (1K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) and the Sprint Course (half-K swim, 20K bike, 5K run).

Mallon competed on the Olympic Course and registered a time of 2:33.22 for ninth place in the 40-49 year-old men's division. He was happy with his performance and remarked how much the event has progressed.

"It's hard to compare your performance from year to year, but this year seemed to run a lot smoother overall," he said. "There was a strong group of volunteers that made the race a little classier than in the past."

Laurance, wanting to maximize her first triathalon experience, also chose the Olympic course, and clocked in with a stellar time of 2:37.58 -- good for fifth place in the 20-29 year-old women's division.

After a relatively short swim (most competitors finished in under 15 minutes), competitors then had to jump on a bike and ride through the high-desert hills of The Dalles and Dufur.

Following a 20-plus-mile ride in the hot sun, competitors still had the specter of a 10K run staring them down.

"The weirdest feeling was trying to run after getting off the bike," Laurance said. "My legs felt like two cement logs, and I still had to run a 10K. That level of exhaustion is a strange feeling for a runner.

"But I had worked so hard for so long that I had to finish," she said.

Part of the reason Laurance finished her first race so strong was her strict year-round training regiment.

"Maintaining a base level of exercise during the winter is crucial," she said. "You also have to train past what you're used to and get to know that feeling so you don't hit a wall during the race."

Laurance and Mallon each plan to enter next year's Aluminum Man, but whether these high-energy competitors are training for a triathlon or simply trying to maintain peak physical condition, both are likely to keep their engines revved year-round.

Mallon doesn't expect he will participate in any additional races between now and next September. Laurance, however, enjoyed her experience so much that she plans to participate in multiple races on the Northwest triathlon circuit next summer.

"I'm going all out next year," she said. "There are so many good people involved and I really enjoy the camaraderie."

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