Youngest triathlon racer sticks with hometown race

Madeline Remmen, 16, of Clinton takes a corner during the bike segment of the 2013 Whidbey Triathlon. She is tackling the swim-bike-run race again this year as one of its youngest competitors.  - Burke Hovde photo
Madeline Remmen, 16, of Clinton takes a corner during the bike segment of the 2013 Whidbey Triathlon. She is tackling the swim-bike-run race again this year as one of its youngest competitors.
— image credit: Burke Hovde photo

When Madeline Remmen first signed up for the Whidbey Triathlon five years ago, she needed a permission slip.

Not any more.

The 16-year-old Clinton girl will be one of more than 200 individual racers, plus about 20 relay teams, competing in this year’s installment of the swim-bike-run Saturday, Aug. 16 event.

At 16, she now meets the minimum age for participation, but is still one of the youngest racers. Having done the triathlon for several years now, her parents do not worry the same way they did when they watched their 11-year-old daughter slip into the rippling waters of Goss Lake, one neon-colored, swim-cap covered head bobbing among many like floating skittles.

“Now, I don’t put the duct tape on her anymore,” Madeline’s mother Amanda Remmen said, referring to how they used to track their daughter during the .5-mile swim portion of the race, marking her swim cap with a red duct tape X to see her through binoculars from shore.

The 18th annual triathlon takes racers from Goss Lake, along Saratoga Passage and through the woods of Community Park — 23.8 miles in all. At that length, it is a bit short of an official Olympic distance designation, but still a long way to travel.

“We’re not a sprint race, but we’re on the small end of distances for triathlons,” said Carrie Monforte, race coordinator and program coordinator for the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District. “That makes it accessible for less experienced people.”

Remmen first got into the triathlon as the swimmer in a relay back in 2010. She was on a swim team at the time, and her swim coach had to vouch for her to compete. Swimming is still her strong segment and the one she both looks forward to and gets nervous for.

“Being able to start out with what I like the most is great,” she said.

“The biggest jitters are right before, waiting for the swim,” she added.

From her first year to her second year racing solo, she shaved nearly 30 minutes off her time. Her secret? Really, it was no secret at all, just a matter of commitment.

“The past years, I hadn’t done the running and it killed me,” she said.

“I kind of force myself to do the running part,” she added.

Running became her training focus after last year’s triathlon. Exercising regularly, at least two days swimming and two days running and time on elliptical and treadmill machines, has catapulted her from a novelty into a potential contender to win her division — women 19 and younger.

Last year, she was one of the youngest racers in the entire field along with Logan Clark, a 15-year-old boy. According to the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District registration list, she’ll likely keep that distinction. In all, five 16-year-old girls are registered to compete this year.

But the Whidbey Triathlon is a race that draws a broad cross section of people and fitness levels. Monforte credited the natural beauty of South Whidbey Island and the distance for attracting young racers and old alike. The oldest registered racer as of Aug. 7 was 75, and he was part of a relay; the oldest individual racer was 73.

At 23.8 miles, it’s not quite a sprint, but the hills on the bike and run present a nice challenge to seasoned triathletes. The course will remain the same as previous years, said Monforte, largely because it keeps racers coming back to improve their times and because of the limited bodies of water for the swim segment.

“Around here we can’t make a lot of changes,” she said.


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