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A USA-T Nationals with an “Uphill Swim”; and then Two More Nats. at the Same Town

By Dr. Steve Jonas | June 26, 2021, 11:46 a.m. (ET)

Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 69, 2021/06)  

Tuscaloosa, Al is a College Town, actually an ALL-CAPS college town.  It is the home of the University of Alabama, so much so that that the local bus line is named with a play on the nickname for the school’s teams, The Crimson Tide (you may have heard of it[!]).  The bus line’s name? The Crimson Ride.  As is often the case with USA-T Nationals, two were held there on consecutive years, 2009 and 2010.  I was privileged to go both years.  It was in the 2009 USAT Olympic-distance Nationals that the “uphill swim” of this column’s title was held.  Of course, we did not actually swim uphill.  It’s just that for many of us, it sure felt as if we were.

Tuscaloosa, named after a local Indian chief named Tuskaloosa, sits on the Black Warrior River.  For the whole of its length upstream from Tuscaloosa the river is controlled by a series of locks and dams that combine to produce everything from electric power to reliable irrigation for the farms that line its length.  At times of heavy rains, the dams have to be opened to speed up the flow downriver, to avoid flooding of the adjacent farmland.  And that is just what was happening at the time of the race in August, 2009.

The course for the 1.2-mile swim was rectangular: a short downstream leg, then a turn to the right (for the swim had started on the Eastern shore [left-hand side] of the river) to swim across to the other side, then another turn for the long upstream leg with a final turn to the right to get back to the Eastern shore and the swim exit.  For the slow swimmers like me it seemed to take quite a while, particularly on the upstream leg.  But it was calm and warm in the water, so I was quite comfortable.  I was pretty much by myself as I usually am in such situations, but I did feel that I was moving right along.  I did not discover how wrong I was about that, and that I had actually been swimming “uphill,” in fact I was swimming against a pretty steady current against me for that long upstream leg, until I got out of the water.

Running up (and it was up) the path to the transition area I glanced at my watch and thought it said 62 minutes for the swim-leg.  “Not bad for me,” for the distance, I thought.  But then, just as I got to transition, my good friend Dr. Don Ardell, perennial age-group champion, arrived there, getting off the bike!!  Don is fast, but not that fast.  He could not have done the swim and the bike in 62 minutes-plus.  I took another look at my watch.  I had actually been in the water for 122 minutes!!  That was a long time for a .9-mile swim even for me.  Indeed, functionally I had been “swimming up hill.”  The rest of the race was more normal.  The bike was “roly-poly,” and the run did have a couple of fairly step hills in it, but those legs were reasonably doable.  And I did finish, in close to 6 hours.

Well, the overall experience of the race and the town for the 2009 Nats. was so appealing that I came back the next year (Sept., 2010) not only for the Olympic Age-Group Nationals, but also for the Sprint, run on the second day.  No “uphill swims” this time, just warm, flat calm ones, with the two “roly-poly” bike rides and runs, which for the Sprint eliminated the worst of the hills.  I did finish both, for the Olympic coming in in over an hour less time than I had the year before, while for the Sprint, my time was even a bit less than half that.  It was a splendid weekend.

The icing on the cake of the “doubling” weekend was to get a little trophy, awarded to everyone who had finished both the Olympic and the Sprint.  It’s a little, flat, triangle in black plastic, 3 inches on each edge.  On one side it has the Olympic distances, on the other those for the Sprint.  And on each side, it says “I did the double.”  This is one of the (not-too-many) trophies that I have from racing at Nationals.  It has had a place of honor on my desk ever since I brought it home from Tuscaloosa, a bit over 10 years ago.  What great memories to be reminded of on a regular basis --- starting with that “uphill” swim!


This series of thoughts and recommendations about multi-sport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at and

Steve’s most recent multisport book is Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at and

His first book on multi-sport racing, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Steve has been racing tri’s and du’s since 1983.  At the end of his 36th season in the sport, 2018, he had done a total of 256 races.  He did not race in 2019 due to his own illness (from which he fully recovered), nor in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  For a variety of reasons (none health-related), he will not be racing in 2021.