GARY, S.D. - Experienced athletes can expect to be tested during The Outland Challenge triathlon on Sunday at Lake Cochrane State Park.
With two courses to choose from - olympic and sprint - the race is open to men, women and relay teams.
The olympic course features a 1.5-kilometer (0.932057-mile) swim in Lake Cochrane before shifting to a 40-kilometer (24.8548-mile) bike ride and a 10-kilometer (6.21371-mile) run.
Outland challenge competitor Steve Scott rides his bike during the 2012 race in Gary, S.D.
The sprint course includes a quarter-mile swim in Lake Cochrane, a 15.5-mile bike ride and a 4.4-mile run.
According to www.outlandchallenge.org, Lake Cochrane is billed as one of the cleanest lakes in South Dakota. Athletes will battle hilly terrain, featuring many streams, oak-covered draws and open, rolling prairie during the bike ride. The run takes place around Lake Cochrane.
"It's a challenging course because there are a lot of hills," said Luke Jensen, race director. "Most of the athletes who participate here are used to training in places that are pretty flat. This is a real challenge for them because they are used to racing on city streets in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D. Here, they have old country roads, there are oak-covered draws and lots of trees. It's something different for them."
Steve Scott, a triathlon athlete who has competed in 20 events since 2010, said he enjoys The Outland Challenge for different reasons.
"I love The Outland Challenge because of the course and because of the venue where it takes place," Scott said. "The lake and the terrain around the lake is beautiful. The lake is cool and clean, which is atypical for South Dakota at this time of the year. Usually, the lakes in this area become green and swampy, but Lake Cochrane stays clean year-round. I like the terrain with the hills, the streams and the oak draws. It's just a gorgeous venue, very difficult, but beautiful."
Scott is an employee of Duke Energies, sponsor of The Outland Challenge.
The Outland Challenge is a USA Triathlon-sanctioned event.
Scott said he exercises six days per week in training for triathlons.
"You have to train in all three functions," Scott said. "That would be swimming, biking and running. For me, I do each component twice a week. It's a healthy lifestyle. In the four years I have be doing triathlons, I have lost 30 pounds because you just burn so many calories."
There will be a mixture of first-time and returning athletes competing at Lake Cochrane State Park.
"For new athletes, we tell them to do some open-water swimming because swimming in a lake is much different than it is in a pool. That is one of the most important things, from a safety aspect," Jensen said.
"For the more-seasoned athletes, they need to get more exposure on the hills. If you have ever been around Lake Cochrane, there are a lot of hills and steep grades," Jensen added.
Scott said he would recommend first-time athletes to try the sprint course.
"(The sprint course) is a nice one to do your first triathlon because its a short sprint," Scott said. "When I say that, I mean that it has a 400-yard swim, which you rarely find on most sprint courses. A lot of the sprint courses have 600- or 700-yard swims."
Registered athletes can pick up their race packets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. today or from 6 to 7:30 a.m. Sunday at Lake Cochrane State Park.
On Sunday, the transition area will be open from 6 to 7:45 a.m. At 7:55 a.m., there will be a meeting for all athletes. The first of five races, the Men's Olympic Wave, begins at 8 a.m., followed by the Women's Olympic Wave at 8:05 a.m., the Team Sprint Wave at 8:10 a.m., the Men's Sprint Wave at 8:15 a.m. and the Women's Sprint Wave at 8:20 a.m.
Jensen said he anticipates more than 100 athletes from the local and regional levels to compete.
"There are athletes coming from Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois," Jensen said. "They are coming from all over the place."
The Canby Inn & Suites is the host hotel of The Outland Challenge Triathlon. Athletes will receive a discounted rate for staying there. Other nearby hotels include Ramada Inn, of Marshall; Holiday Inn, of Brookings, S.D; and Hampton Inn, of Brookings, S.D.
The race is supported by the help local volunteers, who have a variety of tasks throughout the event. They include bib reading and verification, aid station, finish area and timing assistants, lifeguards, swim verification, etc.
"First-timers will benefit from the excellent volunteer network," Scott said. "In this race, there are 100 athletes and about 90 volunteers to help them throughout the day. It's a staggering number of people who show up to help us make sure that we keep everybody safe."
For more information, visit www.outlandchallenge.org.