Before the Omaha Triathlon starts, hundreds of flashlights puncture the black sky. It's not quite dawn, but the athletes are readying their bikes, lacing their running shoes and reaching for their swim caps. The athletes exchange nervous glances and encouraging smiles.
It's the same every year, said Steve Vacha, and it keeps him coming back.
“It's a little community,” he said. “You don't really know each other really well, but there's a camaraderie there that's pretty special.”
Sunday will mark his fourth time competing in the Omaha Triathlon as well as the event's four-year anniversary.
Roughly 600 adults are registered for the swimming, cycling and running race. The event offers both Olympic and sprint distances. The sprint distance is half the distance as the Olympic course.
This year, the triathlon is a qualifier for the Age Group National Championship in Milwaukee, Wis. on Aug. 10. Omaha's race director Alan Kohll said the Age Group National Championship is for amateur competitors. Those who finish in the top third of their age group this weekend will qualify.
The race starts at 6 a.m. in the water. Cycling follows, then running.
“A triathlon is unique,” Kohll said. “It's different than a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon race. A lot more thought goes into competing.”
The course at Lake Cunningham in Omaha remains unchanged. The cycling portion of the event is scenic, Kohll said, but the running route is challenging. There are hills, and runners are exposed to the sun, if it's out. “That's why we start early,” he explained.
Kohll added that, “As people get older, they find this is the kind of sport they can keep up with for a long time because two of the three sports are low-impact.”
That's what appealed to Vacha. “I started to realize there were different parts of my body I could exercise...I was overusing some joints and muscles and not using some at all,” the 58-year-old said.
He invested in a new bike – “That was like learning how to fly on the ground,” he laughed – and incorporated swimming to his exercise routine to train for the event. It balanced his running workouts, he said.
This year Vacha will compete with his three daughters, his son-in-law and his niece. Vacha of Omaha won his age group in 2012. He plans to do it again this weekend.
Though Vacha will participate as an individual, there will also be 24 teams competing in the Omaha Triathlon. Each person completes one or two events. Those who are not strong runners can compete in the aqua bike race, which includes only swimming and cycling.
There is a kids event, too, on Saturday for those between the ages of six and 14. About 150 are signed up. Those between the ages of 15 and 17 can compete in the Youth Super Sprint distance on Sunday.
For more information on the Omaha Triathlon, click here.
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