---- — By Cindy O. Herman
For The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG -- "Quit making pathetic excuses" and do this, says Mark Alexander on his website for Tri, Tri Again, the looping triathlon he created on his wooded, hillside property.
Tri, Tri Again? It's much like the XTERRA triathlon in West Virginia that Alexander and his wife, Julie, participated in a few years ago. That inspired him to create a similar experience on his property. Only problem: he's limited to 115 acres -- not enough room for the typical, miles-long triathlon. His solution: loop it.
"Trail run, mountain bike, lake swim -- repeat," the website says, and that's what Tri, Tri Again athletes do. About two-and-a-quarter miles of running, two-and-a-quarter of biking and 150 yards of swimming -- as many times as you can in three hours.
"The most that top athletes do is five loops," Alexander said. "About 25 miles of run-bike-swim."
He started the looping triathlon with the help of dozens of friends and volunteers nearly seven years ago. With chainsaws and weed-wackers they cleared trails that are now partially kept open by the deer and bears that roam there -- when humans aren't racing by, gasping for breath.
"It's all about abusing their bodies to help others," Alexander said with a wide grin, explaining that he donated profits from the first Tri, Tri Again to the mission fund of his church, First Lutheran, in Mifflinburg. Since then he's donated to WGRC, a contemporary Christian radio station, and last year, to Kelsey's Dream, which helps children with cancer, and the Mike Hobbins Recovery Fund, for a local man who lost his sight in a hunting accident.
"I tell (participants) at the beginning of the race, it might be rough for three hours," Alexander said, "but it pales in comparison to losing your eyesight or being a child and losing your life to cancer."
And it is a grueling race. It was named "one of the top unique triathlons in the country" by active.com.
"It's the only repeated one that I know of," Alexander said, adding that first-timers like to try it out to see how they like triathlons. Participants can do one loop and quit, take a rest, or keep going the entire three hours.
"Honestly, a handful of people over the years have done Ironman and XTERRA and they say this is no easier at all. It's still three hours of torture," Alexander said. "It's mentally challenging to keep going (after completing a loop). That's the thing I hear from top athletes."
The event started in 2008 with 38 participants and has grown each year, with athletes from as far as New York, Indiana and Louisiana. Alexander anticipates about 70 to 75 this year. Last year's champs are returning to try to reclaim their triangle-shaped trophies, which Alexander makes himself with walnut and cherry from his property.
Both Dynamic Wings and Papa John's Pizza, in Shamokin Dam, donate food. "They're very generous," Alexander said.
Several local businesses donate money, and 20 to 25 volunteers help with timing, snacks, registration and all the tasks needed to make a successful triathlon that raises between $1,000 and $2,000 for good causes and gives participants a unique, fun challenge.
"They get a T-shirt, and they're celebrating," Alexander said, "and they're triathletes."
For more information, visit blacktopisthedevil.com.
n Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Contact her at Cindyherman1@yahoo.com or on Twitter @CindyOHerman.