Triple Threat: Triathlons provide challenge for Decatur man

By Catherine Godbey | Staff Writer

Most mornings, Conley Brannon laces up his latest Oakley sneakers — he goes through a pair every three to six months — and hits the hills of Burningtree Mountain. At 50 years old, the Decatur man credits running, which he returned to seven years ago, for keeping him healthy.

“The main reason I run is because I can’t control my weight if I don’t run. I like food too much,” Brannon said. “I’ve already got arthritis in both hips. Being active helps keep those ailments from holding me down. It doesn’t mean I don’t need ibuprofen or Tylenol, but I am able to move easier.”

After building up from 5Ks to 10Ks to marathons, Brannon started competing in triathlons in 2019. In July, he will participate in the Mosaic Mentoring of North Alabama’s 20th annual Wet Dot Triathlon.

Held at Point Mallard, the three-stage event includes a 400-meter swim, 15-kilometer (9.3 miles) bicycle leg and 5K (3.1 miles) run.

“My goal this year is to be better than what I did in 2019, which won’t be too hard,” Brannon said. “I was literally the last person out of the water in 2019. After the first leg, all I was focused on was not finishing last. I caught a handful of people on the bike and more people on the run. I didn’t finish last overall or in my age group and that was my goal.”

Preparing for the triathlon keeps Brannon, who runs or bikes almost every day, active.

“This time of year, I love the mornings. Getting up and getting moving sets the tone for the day. Late evenings are fun too,” said Brannon, who runs with the River City Runners every Tuesday night at Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing Co.

For the swim — Brannon’s least favorite of the triathlon’s three legs — he practices at the Aquadome Recreation Center and Burningtree Country Club.

“I can swim, but I’m not a competitive swimmer. All I try to do is swim as many laps as I can without stopping. Then, the next time I go, I try to add more laps,” Brannon said. “Doing triathlons is one more way to push myself.”

‘It was brutal’

For the past seven years, ever since Brannon’s wife Nikki signed up for a 5K in Priceville, Brannon has continuously challenged himself physically.

“When my wife signed up, I was like, if she’s going to do that, I’m going to do that too,” said Brannon. “I thought it would be easy because I ran in the Army Reserves. It was not easy. It was brutal. I had to work up to running a mile without stopping.”

After achieving his first goal, running a 5K without walking, Brannon set other goals — running a 10K, a half-marathon, a marathon and participating in the Delano Park 12-hour Run. During a typical year, he runs two races a month.

“Running is a slippery slope. When I started running, I had no plans of ever running a marathon. But, when I completed the 5K, I thought, why not try the 10K. My wife thought it was crazy. Slowly we built up to where we were running a marathon,” Brannon said.

Currently, his goals include running a 5K under 20 minutes, running a half-marathon under 2 hours and getting below 200 pounds — the weight he achieved while serving in the Army Reserves.

Since returning to running, Brannon, who jokingly said, “I’ve got the frame of a linebacker trying to run with people who are runners,” has dropped 50 pounds from his starting weight of 260.

Brannon attributes his new-found love of running and triathlons to his competitive nature and that mysterious runner’s high.

“Does it exist? Absolutely. It comes from the adrenaline, the pounding of your feet and the endorphins. Now, ask my wife the same question and she’ll say, ‘Absolutely not.’ But she stays active because she knows how important it is,” Brannon said.

Another senior triathlete

Along with Brannon, Angela McKenzie will compete in the 50 and older age category at the Wet Dog triathlon.

“The Wet Dog is a great beginner race. Anybody that can ride a bike, swim and run could do that because it’s such a short distance. I’m not saying it’s not hard, it’s a good little challenge for sure. Kids can do it and old people like me can do it,” McKenzie said.

Wet Dog will mark the 58-year-old Athens woman’s return to triathlons.

McKenzie, who competed in her first triathlon at 40 years old, took a break from the races after completing an Ironman, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile run, in 2016 at Panama City Beach.

“Once I crossed the finish line, I thought, that’s it, I don’t have to ever do one of those again. Now, the Wet Dog is no Iron Man, but it is a nice challenge,” said McKenzie, who started training for the Wet Dog in January.

During a typical week, she runs five days a week, logging anywhere from three to six miles on a weekday and seven to 11 miles on the weekend. She also rides her bike three times a week and swims a few days week.

“Getting outside and getting my blood pumping helps my sanity and my mental health,” McKenzie said. “When I’m exercising, I eat better. It’s kind of a full circle. It doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s important to be active. You’ve got to make it part of your day.”

Brannon and McKenzie will compete in the 20th annual Wet Dog on July 10. The race will begin at 7 a.m.