Triathlon: For McClave, a good swim leads to a good win

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Rod McClave of New York City took the lead in the swim and held it to the finish line.


It was not even 6:30 a.m. yet, and one could already feel the heat and humidity of the day rising with the sun.

Not that triathlete Rod McClave was complaining. For one thing, McClave grew up in New Orleans, “so this to me is almost winter weather.”

It was only a week and a half ago when McClave raced in New Orleans in weather conditions that were just a tad more demanding than what he encountered in Southold on Sunday morning for the Mighty North Fork Triathlon. “It was a hundred degrees and 95 percent humidity at like 7 o’clock in the morning, so this was lovely,” he said.

That day in New Orleans, McClave suffered heat stroke and dehydration. Then, just six days later, while competing in a swimming race in Oregon, he had hypothermia with an 88-degree body temperature. Heat stroke, dehydration and hypothermia, all within a span of six days. “I was a mess,” he said.

Such is the life of a triathlete.

Of the three phases of the Mighty North Fork Triathlon, the opening 500-meter swim in Peconic Bay would seem to have the least impact, with an eight-mile bike ride and a three-and-a-half-mile run following it. Not for McClave, though.

McClave, an expert swimmer, would have preferred a longer swim on Sunday morning, but he sure made the time he spent in the water count. One might even be tempted to say that McClave won the 14th annual triathlon before he even emerged from the water.

The 38-year-old New York City man built up a sizable lead in the swim, which took him 6 minutes 14 seconds — 1:29 faster than the next athlete to hit the beach, Caryn Stellmach of Waterbury, Conn. From the time he picked up his bike for the second stage of the race, McClave didn’t see any competitors behind him the rest of the way as he triumphed in a time of 49:30. He completed the course 1:50 before the runner-up, Shawn Fitzgerald of Cutchogue.

“This was good for me psychologically because I was feeling pretty down,” said McClave, referring to his recent travails in New Orleans and Oregon. “It’s ups and downs.”

McClave hasn’t allowed asthma to prevent him from competing in his 11th year in triathlon. He had been a swimmer for 17 years, so it’s no surprise what his strength is in the triathlon.

Just the day before, McClave had won a five-kilometer swimming race in Amagansett. He said his shoulders were tired, but it didn’t show. Thanks to his impressive swim in which he pulled away from the pack on Sunday, he was able to build himself an insurmountable lead.

McClave said he looked back a couple of times to make sure that his position wasn’t threatened. “You never know,” he said.

Still, being the leading cyclist or runner carries a burden of its own. “There’s only two places to go if you’re in first place: stay there or go down,” said McClave.

But McClave had no reason to worry. He posted the fifth-fastest time on the bike (18:08) and the fourth-fastest time in the run (23:10) to stay well ahead of the competition.

Fitzgerald said, “I never saw him.”

It was a good showing for Cutchogue. Another resident of the hamlet, Ken Robins, was fourth in 53:18, behind third-place Jim MacWhinnie of Southampton (52:24).

Then again, New York City didn’t have a bad day, either. Fran Roberts was the second Big Apple resident to place among the top five with a time of 54:31.

Richard Nebiosini of Port Jefferson Station (55:33), John Nicolini of Massapequa Park (56:25), Alexander Pokorny of Rocky Point (57:37), Lance Homan of Medford (57:41) and Walter Sullivan of East Quogue (57:48) rounded out the top 10 in the men’s race.

Meanwhile, Jenn Place of New York City may have earned herself a new nickname: “First.” As in first place.

For the third time in five years, Place, 38, captured the women’s title, clocking a time of 53:11. Her nearest challenger was Natalie Penny of Bayville, who was timed in 54:56.

Place had to deal with a different sort of pressure. After she won in last year’s Mighty North Fork Triathlon, she gave her winner’s medal to her oldest niece, Brianna. At the time, she promised Brianna’s younger sister, Kaitlyn, her medal this year if she won again.

“You can’t let a 3-year-old down,” she said.

This is a home race for Place, whose parents live in Southold, where she spends much of her summer, running the course and training at Orient State Park. “This is my home,” she said.

That is one reason why she chose to defend her North Fork title rather than compete in the New York City Triathlon, which was also held on Sunday.

Place turned in a steady performance. Among all competitors, she was the seventh one to finish the swim in 8:16, the eighth to complete the bike ride in 18:30, and the 10th to finish the run in 24:00.

As was the case with McClave, Place used a strong swim to help her to an early lead and victory.

“I’ve been working really hard on my swim over the winter, and I guess it’s paid off,” she said. “In a race this short, you really want to just get ahead as quickly as possible and then just hold it. That was my strategy for the day.”

Patti Thorp of Boston was third in 55:12. Following her were: Michelle Fountain of Sayville (57:00), Kelly Pickard of Oyster Bay (57:10), Vicki Edwards of Mattituck (58:20), Ivy Croteau of Southold (58:39), Mara Weinraub of New York City (58:47), Stellmach (59:22) and Michelle Homan of Medford (1:01:28).

A loud round of applause greeted Arthur Dodd, 67, of Long Beach, when he became the final athlete to cross the finish line in 1:57:21.

The race director, Reuben Kline, said the event stopped accepting registrations from athletes in January, the earliest it ever has, after some 500 had signed up. Because of logistical reasons, he said, that is the capacity for the triathlon.

“It closes out every year, and it has for a long time,” Kline said. “It’s just a great event.”

No one has to convince McClave of that. A newcomer to the Mighty North Fork Triathlon, McClave said he was introduced to the sport through small races such as this. “This is the kind of racing that I started with and I really appreciate the most,” he said. “It was great. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get into in these smaller races, and this one was terrific.”

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