Peasantman winner is a peasantwoman

John Christensen
The overall full (Steel) distance winner, Rachel Beckmann (right) finished well ahead of her nearest male competitor, Genaro Fernandez of Rochester, left. With them is one of the event founders, Chris Grelek.

The inaugural Peasantman Steel Distance Triathlon series went off without a hitch Aug. 18, and in keeping with breaking down barriers of presumption, the winner was, without any sort of handicapping or accommodation for the "weaker sex," a woman.

Rachel Beckmann, 30, of Alexandria, Va., was the very first Peasantman Champion with a finish time of 11 hours, 30 minutes, and 48 seconds; almost half an hour ahead of her nearest (male) competitor, Genaro Fernandez, 34, of Rochester, with 11:59:03. Beckmann crossed the line beaming with pleasure, despite her ordeal, and described the race as "A hard course, but lots of fun."

The first in the half distance was Philip Nesbitt of Churchville with 4:55:54, and second was Dan Giblin of Rochester with 4:56:35. Penn Yan native Paul Soper placed ninth with 5:20:37

The idea for Peasantman (along with its name) was first conceived in 2003 by Joe McMahon of Rochester. He and two of his friends, Chris Greklek and Steve Anderson, all veteran triatheletes, brainstormed plans for several years, however it wasn't until 2011 that they were able to make things happen.

"Penn Yan was chosen for many reasons. It's located in one of the most beautiful parts of wine country in New York State, right in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. It has an ideal, picturesque lake for this type of swim event, and scenic country roads for bicycling and running. It's centrally located between some of the bigger cities in upstate New York. But mostly, the village of Penn Yan has been very cooperative and receptive to the idea, and we are proud to partner with them on this exciting adventure," says McMahon. He specifically thanked Mayor Bob Church, Village Clerk Mary Ann Martin, and Police Chief Mark Hulse for being "incredibly helpful and supportive."

Officially sanctioned by USA Triathlon and based at Penn Yan's Indian Pines Park on beautiful Keuka Lake, racers could choose from the full distance (144.6 miles), the half (72.3), the half relay, or the new half or full aqua/bike intended for those who can no longer distance run because of damaged joints.

More than 20 full Steel distance participants assembled on the beach at 6:45 a.m. and the race commenced promptly at 7 a.m., with the contestants swimming into a strong headwind on a cool, overcast morning, but with a 77 degree water temperature. The hundreds of half distance and half relay racers started at 7:30. The strongest competitors are called "Sub Twelves" for their ability to complete the course under 12 hours, and the timing stops at just one minute past the 17 hour mark, the last racers completing the course with flashlights lighting their way.

The new 'Steel' distance of Peasantman was conceived to be slightly longer than traditional "Ironman" distances, according to the race organizers, to prove "Peasants are stronger. Peasants are fully capable. And Peasants are out to prove their superiority." The swim and run haven't changed; the extra distance is on the bike course, but with only an extra minute to finish. "No longer will you be closed out at the stroke of midnight. Peasants have until 12:01."

"Our plan is for this to be the everyman's race, not just for the physical and financial elite," says McMahon. Greklek points out that other full triathalons are cost prohibitive to most people without a six-figure income. "By the time you figure in travel and accommodations, some of those races can set you back more than $3,000."

McMahon overcame significant personal struggles to see Peasantman become a reality. Just days before the race, his father suffered a severe stroke and has been in intensive care since. His father has been his biggest cheerleader, and all McMahon's family insisted he see the race through. In a remarkable moment, immediately after the starting horn, one of the race volunteers told McMahon his father had just been released from ICU.

"I was all in on this from the time the first participant put his entry fee down," says McMahon, who had less than an hours sleep in the two days before the race. "There was no way I wasn't going to be here. Had my father died, my family said he would have wanted them to postpone the funeral."

The participants have told McMahon how much they appreciated the concept of the Peasantman, and how much they enjoyed the day, which turned sunny and warm by mid morning. The peasant theme also lightened the atmosphere. Spectators were encouraged to dress as medieval peasants, but the athletes kept to their normal race gear. The "King of the Finger Lakes" was on hand and "Queen" Mary Ann Martin of Penn Yan knighted the first finishers of the half distance with medallions.

With their applications, racers were asked to choose an organization from a list of six charities to which they donate a portion of their race fee: the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Semper-Fi Fund, ASPCA, American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society. McMahon says that next year, local Yates County charities will be added to that list.

McMahon, Grelek, and Anderson all say Peasantman couldn't have gone better, and report many of the participants have already committed to the race next year. "Of course we'll be back," says McMahon, "and Peasantman will always be in Penn Yan. We have to – they rhyme!"