On Saturday, May 4, more than a hundred triathletes will gather at Farley Field House for the Polar Bear Triathlon. An annual event, the triathlon attracts both experienced athletes and newcomers to the sport. Head Swim Coach Brad Burnham helped design the race 17 years ago. Claire Wolff ’21 began competing in triathlons as a child and has brought her experience to college races. Diana Grandas ’20 is a newcomer to the triathlon world. The Polar Bear Triathlon will be her first competition.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Bowdoin Orient: What is the history of this event?
Coach Brad Burnham: Way back in 2002, a swimmer had this idea that he wanted to put together a triathlon on campus. He, [several swimmers and I] set up the entire course and got permission from facilities and the police. It was mostly a student race and then began to grow … It’s [still] growing with small improvements.
Q: What does the course look like?
Burnham: You swim in the pool—[since] we have a big pool it’s easy to throw in a few hundred athletes over the course of a few hours—and you swim 525 yards. [Then the competitors] run out the back door to a transition area and ride through town down Harpswell Road, cutting across to come back [to campus] on Pleasant Hill Road. That’s a good 12-mile loop. And then they run through the trails, so that keeps [the race] on campus.
Q: What is the composition of the racers? Are they mostly students?
Burnham: I would say it’s probably 25 percent students now. It attracts [students] from Bates and Colby. Last year Dartmouth sent a huge group. It’s a good early-season race or race for first-time triathletes just to see if they can do one because it’s a pretty easy, flat course.
Q: What prompted you to try triathlon?
Diana Grandas ’20 (in an email message): Last year I had two friends competing, and I went and watched them at the 2018 triathlon. In particular, it was one friend’s first triathlon, and when she finished she immediately told me I should do it this year. I don’t play any sports at Bowdoin, but I grew up playing tennis competitively and have been active my whole life, so this triathlon seemed like a great event for me to work towards.
Q: How did you begin your triathlon training, and what motivated you throughout the school year?
Grandas: In September, I just happened to mention to my friend that I wanted to do the triathlon, and she coincidentally wanted to as well. Next thing you know, we are training two to three times a week together for the rest of the year. Having a consistent training schedule with a friend has been the key factor in keeping up with training and progress.
Q: This race caters to both experienced and beginner triathletes. Why is it particularly appealing for newcomers to the sport?
Claire Wolff ’21: The [Polar Bear] triathlon is a shorter one, so it’s easier for beginners. It’s easier to comprehend in some ways. It’s about an hour to an hour and a half, which is much shorter than an Ironman which can run four hours or more. It’s good for experienced triathletes to do it as a tune-up, but it’s also good for people who have never done the sport to try it out.
Q: What is a “tune-up event”?
Wolff: A tune-up event is a chance to see how your winter training went and figure out what feels good and what doesn’t, as well as what you need to work on. It’s a good jumping-off point for a season.
Q: What does one do to prepare for this kind of race?
Wolff: For a lot of people doing this race, especially because Maine is cold, it would be common to hear, “Okay, I haven’t spent that much time outside biking, maybe also not that much time outside running where your muscles can move.” It would just be a question of how much have I been building up since the end of the winter, and how much more do I have to build?
Q: What are you most excited for regarding the race?
Grandas: I’m most excited to be in a competitive setting again and to perform well in the race, knowing that my training has paid off. I’m also excited that friends from campus will easily be able to come watch the event and cheer us on.