Small Town, Big Fitness

James Lawrence Luling Dry Tri Starting Line Luling Dry Tri Starting Line

Nestled along the San Marcos River and home to the annual Watermelon Thump is the small town of Luling, Texas. Once known as the "Toughest Town in Texas," Luling is also known for its mouth-watering BBQ, Texas' first inland paddling trail, and the annual "Luling Dry Tri," a triathlon that includes running, cycling, and paddling stages.

Luling, Texas - Small Town, Big Fitness

Nestled along the San Marcos River and home to the annual Watermelon Thump is the small town of Luling, Texas.  Once known as the "Toughest Town in Texas," Luling is also known for its mouth-watering BBQ, Texas' first inland paddling trail, and the annual "Luling Dry Tri," a triathlon that includes running, cycling, and paddling stages.

The Luling Dry Tri, which serves as a fundraiser for the community, exemplifies a community coming together and pursuing a life of health and fitness.

Veteran triathlete David Sing competed in the most recent Luling Dry Tri and shared his experience with GoFamz!:

"Short run, long kayak!"

The email from my buddy Karl was short, “Dry Tri” in the subject line and a link to the race website in the body of the message. I clicked the link and read about the race, a bike-run-kayak event in the nearby town of Luling, TX. “Looks good” I replied, “short run, long kayak! “

Karl and I have been doing triathlons since the 1980’s. We’ve completed over 400 races between us, from the smallest sprint tri’s to the Hawaii Ironman. In the last few years, I’ve tried to do more races that break the usual swim-bike-run mold, and the Luling Dry Tri, with a 12 mile bike, 3.24 mile run, and 6 mile paddle, looked perfect. I especially like doing the smaller community sponsored races, where an entire town gets together to hold the event as a local fund raiser, a far cry from the mega-sized corporate events which now dominate the triathlon scene.

Race Day

Early Sunday morning, September 8th, we drive into Luling for the race. We drop the boats at the run-paddle transition area a few miles outside of town, and drive back into town to drop our cars near the finish at the Zedler Mill park. Then we bike up to the start area in downtown Luling with the rest of our race gear. The start line is outside the large covered “Watermelon Thump” pavilion which also serves as the bike-run transition area. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, so the shade in the transition area will be appreciated as the run out to the river is going to be hot. 

Luling Dry Tri - Courtesy James Lawrence

The Ride

The atmosphere is electric as the race start nears. The crowd cheers as the National Anthem is played, and then everyone helps count down the last few seconds to the bike start. It’s a bit unusual for a triathlon to start with the bike, mainly due to concerns about drafting and safety, so I’m a bit worried when the gun sounds. We head out and within a minute Karl and I are part of a small group at the front, with a few riders attempting to break free. They are reeled back to the group within seconds. Eventually I attack over a small rise a few miles out of town, and manage to escape of the pack. Karl hangs back, nobody crosses the gap, and I settle into a sustainable race pace.

Eventually I’m able to get out of sight of the chasing group. As we head back into town there is a couple-hundred-yard stretch of rough road, which makes for some shaky moments for me, and as I later find, gives Karl to a flat tire dropping him out of second place on the bike. 

The Run

The announcer calls out my name as I hop off the bike, first into transition. With a quick change of shoes I’m out on the run, with my trademark "chicken hat" complete with red comb and yellow bill. Triathletes can be way too serious about the sport; the chicken hat is my way of trying to lighten things up.  

A little more than half way on the run two other runners pass me, but I keep them in sight as we enter the second transition area at the river.

Luling Dry Tri - Courtesy James Lawrence

The River

I grab the bow of my kayak and a volunteer helps me at the stern as we hustle down the river. My boat is a downriver racing kayak, much faster than a recreational sit on top kayak, but a bit slower than the high performance boats which some other racers have. However, it is more stable in the water. Within a mile I’m able to pass the two kayaks in front of me and begin to consider the possibility that I could pull off an overall win. Reality arrives a couple miles later when a fast stroking paddler passes me like I’m standing still. There are a few real canoe racers in the field, and eventually two more of them pass me before the finish. 

The Reward

After a little over an hour on the river I can hear the announcer and see the finish on the end of a boat ramp. My legs are wobbly as I get out of the boat, drag it out of the water, and trot through the finish chute. My overall time is about two hours and three minutes, 4th overall and about ten minutes behind the winner. The top three guys are all veterans of events like the 200+ mile Texas Water Safari, so there is no shame in getting passed on the river. I know I gave it all I had. Karl comes in about twenty minutes later, 9th solo finisher, paddling a heavy recreational kayak. 

Now the best part of any event: post-race guilt-free eating and drinking. The festivities are held at the historic Zedler Mill, with a BBQ plate lunch and drinks, all served up by volunteers and benefiting various groups such as the Fire and Police departments and Luling HS Cross Country team. My wife, who cycled down from Austin, joins me and there lots of kids and families, as we sit together retelling race stories. There is some good natured ribbing between the Fire and Police department participants at the awards ceremony.  We thank the volunteers, get our picture taken with the Chief of Police, and eventually pack up the kayaks to take them home.

It was a fun event, smoothly run with great community support. We’re looking forward to next year’s edition of the Luling Dry Tri!

For more information about the Luling Dry and to register for the next event, visit the Luling Dry Tri website.

David Sing

David Sing, shown on the right side in this photo, has been competing in triathlon for over 25 years. He is a 20+ time USA Triathlon All-American, and has competed in 4 International Triathlon Union world championships and the Hawaii Ironman World Championship. His current interest in multi-sport competition is with non-conventional events such as the "Luling Dry Tri" which is a bike-run-paddle event.

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