August 17, 2013 11:10:48 PM
A little bit helped carry Donna Mellott to her goal Saturday morning.
After finishing third last year in the inaugural Possum Town Triathlon in Columbus, Mellott returned to Lowndes County with one goal in mind: Finish in less than 90 minutes.
Aided by an overcast start and cool temperatures to start the day, Mellott improved in all three phases of the event to edge Michela Patterson, of Columbus, to win the women's overall title with a time of 1 hour, 28 minutes, 7 seconds.
Mellott, who has been competing in triathlons since 1997, finished the 600-yard swim in 13 minutes, 7 seconds, the 17-mile bike ride in 44:26, and the 3.3-mile run in 28:27 to help her make up more than four minutes from last year's times, not counting the time she took in the transition areas in between parts of the race.
"It helped that it was cooler and overcast, and I have been trying to work my swim a little more," Mellott said.
Mellott, 50, competes in triathlons a year. She said the improvement of 1:44 in the swim from last year helped put her in position to realize her goal, even though she said she read that competitors likely don't win a triathlon on the first event, but it can influence the position.
Mellott backed up her improved swim time in her strongest event, cycling. She laughed when she related what a friend -- Paul Kaufmann -- told her the thing she does right in the swim is "move forward."
Mellott, whose mother and father live in Columbus, said she pushed through getting hammered on the bike and the pain in her legs. The victory was satisfying because she started in slot 108 based on where she registered for the event. She said she has been competing in triathlons for 16 years before getting "distracted in other directions." She said her goal was to hold on when she got off the bike.
"I usually do get passed back on the run," Mellott said. "Often it is the guys who I passed on the bike are the ones who pass me back on the run."
Mellott's closest competitor was Patterson, 28, of Columbus. Patterson did the running portion as part of the team of Jennie Graham and Audrey Goff. The team placed seventh with a time of 1:42.20. She said she had so much fun that she wanted to do it again, this time as an individual.
Patterson, the mother of two girls, has always been a runner and said she wanted the challenge of competing in a sprint triathlon. She feels she has just gotten her body back and that she enjoyed being pushed in a new direction by trying to do the swim, the bike ride, and the run.
Patterson said the reaction and enjoyment she saw all of the participants have at the inaugural Possum Town Triathlon spurred her to pursue the idea of competing as an individual this year.
Patterson credited Dave Taylor, who saw her working out at The Fitness Factor in Columbus and encouraged her to "mix up" her workout. She said Taylor lent her a bike and pushed her to get involved. She said he has motivated her since January to test herself in the sprint triathlon.
"I had done cross training a little bit," Patterson said. "All I had ever done was mountain biking, so road biking was all new to me. Swimming, I am a little bit comfortable with, but never in open water, so that was a whole new world."
Patterson swam in a swimming pool to train. She swam in open water once with Taylor providing guidance to prepare for the race.
On Saturday, Patterson wanted to compete against herself and see how she was going to do the first time she put everything together.
"The swim, I was all over the place," Patterson said. "The bike went really strong and that transition between the cycling and the running is a hard one. The run, it took me about seven minutes. I got my legs back and I was like, 'All right I can do this.' "
Patterson's time of 25:13 in her run (8:08 pace) last year was the best of any competitor on the relay teams. This year, Patterson completed the running portion in 24:26, a pace of 7:53 that early allowed her to take second in a time of 1:30:52.
Mellott's time of 44:26 in the cycling portion allowed her to pass Patterson and make up more than four minutes (Patterson's time was 48:53) that helped her finish first.
Patterson said she felt good when she passed Mellott in the run. She thought Mellott was the only female ahead of her at that point.
"She is amazing," Patterson said. "I can only hope to be as physically fit and amazing as she at age 50. I can be happy she is the one who beat me."
Patterson said she was trying to juggle the transition times and time differences based from the staggered starts in her head to figure out what she needed to do to catch Mellott. Despite the strong finish, Patterson couldn't quite make up the difference.
"I knew she started behind me, but when you're in it it is so much math, so I was thinking, 'I am going to do the best I can do and that is all I can ask for,' " said Patterson, who plans to return next year. "I feel great. I feel awesome. I couldn't be happier."
Mellott said she was crunching the numbers in her head while she ran to see how her time compared to Patterson's. She said she isn't that quick adding and subtracting, but she Patterson was in sight for the last part of the race, which helped her believe she would have enough of a time cushion to hold on.
The competitors started based on the order they enrolled. There was a five-second staggered start between competitors entering the water. Chip timing kept track of the athletes' splits as they crossed each transition stage.
Mellott's time wasn't good enough to eclipse Larkin Rollins' time of 1:24:38 in the inaugural event. Rollins didn't compete this year.
Race organizers Brad and Melissa Atkins thanked the sponsors, led by the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau and Baptist Memorial Hospital, and all of the volunteers and support staff personnel for making the event a success.
Other sponsors were: Columbus Anesthesia Associates, Mississippi Steel Processing, Boardtown Bike, The Bridge Group, Burkhalter, Waukaway Water, Evangel Church, Galloway-Chandler-McKinney Insurance, The Fitness Factor, Gastroenterology Associates of Columbus, Golden Triangle Running and Cycling Club, Heart and Sole Cycle and Fitness, Max Muscle, Gentiva, Clark Beverage Group, Wesley Platt MetLife, Rod Ray Attorney, Golden Triangle Maintenance Services LLC, PJ's BBQ, Snap It Sports, Road ID, and Hammer Nutrition.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.