Annette MacNiven was heading toward a mountain bike triathlon in New Hampshire the other day with a light heart, for she knew she’d already won the regional championship in the 55-to-59-year-old age division, for the sixth or seventh year in a row.
“The last 10 years I’ve been doing these off-road triathlons,” she said. “They’re going to be in the Olympics for the first time in 2016.”
Recently, in the International Triathlon Union’s World Cross championships in the Appalachian foothills outside Birmingham, Ala., MacNiven exceeded her expectations, defeating a Californian and a Tennessean whom she had never beaten before, on the way to a runner-up finish, her best ever.
“I used to be 30 minutes behind these girls, so I was very happy.” One of those whom she left in the dust was Barbara Peterson, a many-time national and world champion.
“When I got there, and checked out the names, it looked like I was headed for fourth, and I didn’t want to be fourth!” MacNiven said, adding that it was the first time she’d met her rivals on “an East Coast type of course with a roller-coaster single-track bike leg with rocks and roots rather than the straight up, straight down kind you find in the mountains of Utah, say.”
On such mountain bike courses, she said, “you use very light gears, not the heavy ones, and you develop good leg speed . . . you’re not grinding gears. Finally, I got them on my turf.”
MacNiven’s husband, Tom, with whom she travels to races in an Airstream trailer, saw the fire in his wife’s eyes at various way stations along the Olympic-distance course, which comprised a .93-mile lake swim, an 18-mile mountain bike leg, and a 6.2-mile trail run.
She liked the technical challenges mountain bike courses presented, MacNiven said. “I like it too that they’re all so different, and while you might hit a root, I’d rather that that happen than be hit by a car.”
Leading into the world championships, MacNiven won her age group in two mountain bike triathlons, one of which was in Louisiana, on a course very similar to the one in Alabama. Not only did she top her age group in the Louisiana race, but she placed third over all. Also, the fact that East Hampton’s winter had been mild had been a great help in preparing her for the race season, which is to end soon.
“I trained outside all winter — I’d just head out my backdoor and ride the trails in Bridgehampton. I didn’t have to go all the way out to Montauk.”
The year before, because of all the snow, which forced her to remain inside, “I didn’t feel in racing shape when I went to the world championships in Spain. This time I was in shape and confident.”
MacNiven has been a personal trainer here since 1998. She also works with the girls in the I-Tri program, coaches masters and Hurricane swimmers at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter, and works out with John Conner’s running group at East Hampton High’s track on Monday and Wednesday evenings. “I haven’t been on a track in 10 years,” she said. “I want to keep it up, even if I have to do it alone, but it’s so much better to train with others.”
Masters swimmers, she added, in answer to a question, could avail themselves of the Y’s pool not only at 6 a.m., but also on certain days of the week at 9:30 a.m. and at 7:30 p.m.
Having grown up in New Mexico, “I was always a runner — I was in my first national cross-country championship when I was 9 years old. I’ll never be a great swimmer, but I’m good enough. It’s taken me 20 years to change from a runner’s physique with tight ankles and heavy legs to a triathlon physique.”
When it comes to triathloning, “I’m good at everything, though I’m not great at one thing.”
“The Xterra Worlds are in October, but I can’t go. I.T.U.’s world championships will be in the Netherlands next July. . . . I’m hoping for another mild winter.”