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About 1,000 bikes await owners in the transition area of the Door County Triathlon, which starts at Frank E. Murphy Park south of Egg Harbor. Saturday's sprint and Sunday's half Ironman will attract more than 2,000 participants. / File by Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate
Volunteers hand out water bottles during the Door County Triathlon. / File by Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate
Volunteer medical personnel attend to runners at the Door County Triathlon. / File by Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate

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When 2,000 triathletes plunge into the waters of Green Bay for this weekend’s planned Door County Triathlon, they will leave more than shoes, supporters and, arguably, sanity on the Frank E. Murphy County Park Beach.

Also left behind, in a parking lot that doubles as the transition area between race stages, will be well over $2 million worth of bikes and other equipment. In addition to ensuring the safety of participants and spectators, triathlon organizers are responsible for securing this equipment — which can be worth thousands of dollars per participant — throughout Saturday’s sprint triathlon and Sunday’s longer half Ironman.

Equipment security

Dave Braun, a banking executive from Madison, did his first sprint triathlon in Door County in 2007, the third year the event was held. He did the sprint again in 2008, then switched to the half Ironman, competing in Door County three times in the past four years.

“Door County does a really nice job. They do really good course management.” Braun said. “I just love it.”

Braun estimated he’s spent $7,500 on the bike he plans to use on Sunday, as well as $400 to $500 on a wetsuit. He said some competitors spend as much as $12,000 on custom-made bikes, which may include wheel upgrades and devices to monitor energy output. But he also said equipment security doesn’t worry him in Door County because of the stringent security procedures in the transition area.

“Last year after I got done with the race … I didn’t have a bib and they wouldn’t let me in even though I was a participant,” Braun recalled. “I had to walk back to my car, basically, to get my bib.”

Brian Stenzel, who coordinates security in the transition area, said security at the Door County Triathlon is stricter than security at many other triathlons.

“We’ve always had it as a pretty safe area,” he said. “We thought we’d do it as a service to the athletes from the get-go.”

Some triathlons allow spectators to wander in and out of transition areas, and many have only one transition area overseer, Stenzel said. At the Door County Triathlon, Stenzel, an assistant and several volunteers monitor the transition area, clearing out participants 15 minutes before the race for a thorough inspection. Also, Stenzel and his team only allow participants into transition area — no coaches, family members or fans allowed. And, as Braun learned the hard way, they require participants to show official race identification to enter, before, during and after the race.

Stenzel and Braun said tight security in transition areas actually speeds up the race because it keeps spectators out of the triathletes’ way.

“When you’re coming in off the bike, you don’t want people standing around,” Braun said. “That’s where it can get dangerous.”

Braun added that although his post-race experience last year was frustrating, he appreciated the security.

“They’re doing their job, because I could be anyone coming in to steal a bike,” he said.

Participant safety

The Door County Triathlon has fewer participants than many triathlons and is shorter than the full Ironman race, but its organizers must make many of the same considerations for the security and medical safety as organizers of larger races do.

The longer of the two races in Door County, the half Ironman comprises a 1.2-mile swim, 56.3-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run, a grueling test of endurance for even the most experienced and well-trained triathletes. Especially during sometimes-scorching Door County summers, it is easy for athletes to become dehydrated or ill because of the heat. Injuries occur, too, often because of bike crashes or exhaustion during the run stage.

Triathlon organizers worked closely with Ministry Door County Medical Center and the Door County EMS Department to organize resources to aid ill or injured participants and spectators. In addition to the main first-aid tent in Murphy Park, first aid will be available at every water station on the course, in the transition area and at the swim exit. Medical services will be provided by Ministry Door County staff, along with local first responders.

“(Ministry Door County) is absolutely critical to the execution of events,” said Sean Ryan, the triathlon director. “Without the support of the hospital, we’d be jeopardizing people’s lives.”

Coverage of the swim stage of the race requires special preparations by race organizers to protect triathletes from potentially dangerous situations in the water. In the days leading up to the triathlon, organizers monitor water temperature and conditions. If the water is too choppy or too cold, they call off the swim stage.

During the triathlon, 20 to 30 lifeguards will be covering the site from kayaks and paddleboards. Public safety personnel will be present on personal watercraft, and members of the Green Bay dive team will be stationed on pontoon boats near the race area. Outside the race area, two Coast Guard vessels will establish a perimeter to keep motorized boats and other unwanted boat traffic away from swimmers.

This year, race organizers also purchased two personal watercraft rescue sleds that can be used to tow unresponsive swimmers to paramedics on shore. Rescuers have been training with them in the bay of Green Bay for the past several weeks, said Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Arleigh Porter.

“The swim is the most difficult leg,” said Porter, who will be stationed on a personal watercraft. “The bay is so much more challenging to swim in than the pool.”

Porter said it isn’t unusual for rescuers to assist 20 to 30 swimmers during the sprint triathlon, but far fewer during the half Ironman because those competitors tend to be in better shape.

Two other major concerns for participants are traffic and crowd control. Braun said he’s been in races where traffic was not well controlled and he had to slow down to avoid dangerous situations as a result.

“It’s always a nervous thing, when you’re coming up to an intersection and you’re in a race and you’re trying to go really hard,” he said, adding that in his experience, vehicular and spectator traffic during the Door County Triathlon has been well-controlled.

“They always have police or a sheriff there,” Braun said. “I always feel very comfortable not having to really slow down and be concerned.”

After Boston

In considering security after the Boston marathon bombings, race organizers have paid extra attention to security along the course for both participants and spectators. This year, for the first time, the Sheriff’s Department is providing a mobile command unit in Murphy Park from which responses to all emergencies will be coordinated.

“The first thing participants are going to see at the park is the incident command center,” said Lt. Jeff Farley of the Door County Sheriff’s Department. Farley said additional security steps were being taken as a result of the Boston bombings, but would not release additional information.

Ryan said no security risks are expected, but “the unit will really elevate the sense of security for organizers and participants.” He said more police would be present at Murphy Park and that event organizers “depend on a relevant flow of information from federal departments” in securing the race.

Braun said he thinks the tight security is necessary and reassuring for participants and spectators. He raced in the Crazylegs Classic run in Madison less than two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings and said the experience made him think harder about race security.

“Unfortunately, it’s the kind of world we live in,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing that they’re adding it.”

Braun added that he always feels secure when racing in Door County.

“I’m just thinking about getting my bike, getting my transition area set up, mentally thinking about the race. Thinking ‘Oh man, I gotta do this for five hours today.’”

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