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Athletes prepare for grueling trip

LUVERNE -- Spending all of four hours together prior to the 26th annual Border to Border Triathlon, team Easy Day will have a chance to spend a lot of quality time together.

"It sounded like a good thing at the time," team member Greg Hayes said. "We haven't really trained much, and we've spent all of four hours together, so we're just going to go out and do it and have fun with it."

If grueling biking, running, and canoeing is Hayes' idea of fun, he'll have plenty of opportunity over the next four days.

The Border to Border Triathlon will start in Luverne at 6 a.m. today and conclude Friday at Crane Lake.

Today, the athletes will bike 217 miles to St. Cloud, followed by 213 miles to Mountain Iron the following day. On Thursday, they will get off their bikes and will run 50 miles to Cook. Finally, Friday morning, the teams will canoe from Timbuktu Landing on Lake Vermillion to Crane Lake on the border of Canada.

"The first day is 220 miles, so that will probably take us eight hours," Easy Day team member Mike Dahl said. "The second day will be about the same if the heat doesn't get to us. The 50 mile run will probably take us about six hours. And it will be about 10 hours on the canoe the last day."

With temperatures reaching the 90s on Monday, and with no relief in sight, the athletes will have to deal with more than just the long rides.

"We will hydrate and hydrate and hydrate; that's all we're doing is just drinking massive amounts of water," Hayes said. "That's the only way you can do it. Today was supposed to be the cool day, so tomorrow and the next couple of days are going to be tough, but we can put people in the air conditioning and rotate them faster."

Race director Gaylen Morse said it seems the heat is always a factor during this event.

"We're really used to it. For the biking, it's not that bad, because they are out there creating their own breeze," Morse said. "Plus, the warm weather keeps you loose, so you can pedal better. Then once we get up to Mountain Iron and head north to Cook, even if it's hot, it's never as bad up there as it is down here."

The race is timed each day, and the cumulative time will be added at the end to determine the winner. However, the race is meant for the two-person teams, so whoever finishes first in the two-person class will be deemed the winner.

Morse said that often the four-person teams will finish first because of the ability to switch off more often.

For team Easy Day, the strategy has already been planned out.

"On the bike, we are basically doing 10-mile sprints, but it depends on hills, so we'll change miles if we need to," Hayes said. "We have some stronger bikers, so we'll focus on their strengths. On the run, we'll do half mile sprints, and on the canoe, that's one of the things we have to figure out."

Hayes said the secret is to use the team's strengths in its favor.

"We focus on what we're strong at," Hayes said. "A couple of us are stronger in the running, so we'll focus on that. Others are stronger in the bike, and we're all pretty much even in the canoe."

While this is Border to Border's 26th year, the event is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The first year had only a handful of participants, so Morse said they aren't counting the first year in the history.

Since the first year, participation has increased dramatically. The event has had as many as 140 athletes, but this year, 59 competitors will make the trip. A total of 19 teams will make the journey, but only 11 are starting in Luverne. The other eight will start in Kettle River and take a shorter competition.

The short version of the race is just 90 miles on the bike, 30 miles of running and 30 miles of canoeing.

Team Easy Day will compete in the full 500 mile event, and Dahl said he likes their chances.

"(Our chances are) just as good as anybody else's," he said. "With the heat like this, who knows, it could be anybody's race."

Hayes agrees that a lot of factors could determine the outcome of the race.

"We could have our best biker cramp, and one of the three of us would have to pick up the pace," Hayes said. "Or we could all have two really good days."

For the winners, there is no parade or national spotlight, just the sense of accomplishment.

"They get their name on the trophy," Morse said. "There are no big prizes; it's just to say 'I did it.'"

Hayes, a firefighter in the western part of the Twin Cities, said he likes the competition.

"I like to push myself, and I like to challenge myself," Hayes said. "A lot of people don't try to push their limits as to what they can and can't do, and that's part of why I'm also working in the fire service -- I like the challenge."

Dahl, who is married with two kids and works nine-to-five with a mortgage company, enjoys being around the rest of the team.

"It's the comrade. We all have the same interests and hopefully the same talents, and we'll just go out and have fun," Dahl said.