BELLINGHAM -- The top two men and the leading woman all felt like grand champions in the annual Lake Padden Triathlon, and understandably so.
Bellingham newcomer David Larpenteur, who'll be 30 in July, won his second consecutive title in dynamic style, taking the honors by more than four minutes over Stuart Ayling of Lake Tapps on Saturday, June 28.
Bellingham's Marti Riemer, 45, acknowledged the happiness of chalking up her eighth first-female finish honor in nine Padden triathlons while overcoming a nerve injury in her shoulder to beat all but 11 of the men.
Even so, not many athletes in the capped out 325-competitor field could have expressed more sheer joy than Ayling, 38, who came in appearing so fit he looked just like the muscular all-state level high school football star and wrestler he was two decades ago.
"Absolutely!" the affable Ayling said with a gleam in his eyes when asked if he was pleased with second place in what he said was his fifth Padden triathlon.
"I've improved my place and time every year," said Ayling, who savored the memorable feat since he said swimming would have been the last sport he would have ever chosen in his days at Renton's Hazen High. "I'm definitely in better shape now. I guess next year, I'll have to expect to get first!"
Indeed, Ayling's time of 12 minutes, 39 seconds for the leadoff leg - the half-mile swim in still but warm Padden waters - was by far the worst of the first five finishers, but he didn't let that bother him.
Larpenteur, was simply unbeatable. He got off to the best start in the swim leg among the top few finishers, clocking a blistering 10:28 for third best overall swim on the way to a final time of 1 hour, 35 minutes and 11 seconds thanks to an outstanding last leg.
Larpenteur was so dominant that he received plenty of cheers while leaving no doubt who would win following the first half of the 5.2-mile run. He led by three minutes and 14 seconds at that point and finished the trail running leg in 30:21 - the best of all the competitors.
His time for the 21-mile road bike leg was 53.01, second overall behind Ayling's momentum-building 52:54. Larpenteur was a fitting champion, since no other competitor placed in the first three overall in each of the three legs.
"I just moved back to Bellingham in January," said Larpenteur, a Western Washington University graduate who majored in exercise science and now works in massage at Natural Way Chiropractic. "I was living in Spokane when I won the race last year."
Larpenteur, a former steeplechase competitor who also loves to run half marathons, thus served notice that, like Riemer on the women's side, he may hold a stranglehold on the triathlon, especially since he's so young. Saturday's victory was his third in four Padden triathlons.
Larpenteur was 2 minutes and 13 seconds slower than last year's winning finish.
"I had a really good race last year," said Larpenteur, who advised young triathlon competitors not to get discouraged. "I think I was something like 60th or 70th in my first triathlon (on Whidbey Island) eight years ago."
Is he getting better?
"I would like to think so," Larpenteur said. "They say you peak at 35, in your mid-30s, in the triathlon."
The showers had broken by race time, but Larpenteur was nonetheless cautious.
"I took the downhill (on the cycling leg) a little slower (than last year). There was oil on the road, and I'm not sure how good my tires would be in (wake of) the rain. But I was solid overall, so I'm happy."
Ayling is nothing if not flexible in athletics, so he may be able to improve enough to give Larpenteur stronger competition. A much-honored lineman in high school football, he started for two years at defensive back for Whittier College, then transferred to the University of Washington and played club rugby on the way to graduation.
"This is by far the best triathlon I've done," Ayling said. "It's pretty rare for anyone to be good at all three legs. When I first swam (in pools), I couldn't do a lap without hanging on to the wall. Otherwise, I would sink like a rock. Now I'm a better swimmer than the average Joe (especially for half a mile), but I'm still not very good at swimming for a triathlete."
Riemer's 12th place overall finish was remarkable - she was 28th overall last year - especially since she had no competed in a triathlon since last September.
"I swam only four times (all at Lake Padden) since then," said Riemer, who wanted to protect her shoulder and whose struggles with the swimming leg have been well known.
Riemer, though, noted she would not have met her husband and triathlon coach, Harvey Varga, had she not encountered so much frustration as a swimmer.
"I asked Harvey if he would coach me in swimming," Riemer said with a smile. "It was love at first swim."
Riemer's mental toughness and determination - her younger background includes participation in national and world triathlon competition - showed in her 12:28 swim time. Of the first 30 finishers, fully half had swim legs slower than Riemer.
"I'm very pleased. My shoulder didn't hurt," said the 45-year-old mother of two children. "Today, I just wanted to make sure I had fun. And I had so much fun."
If Riemer's shoulder cooperates, she plans to shoot for a high place in the 45-49 masters division at the nationals at Milwaukee in August.
Aside from the break in the weather, the Padden triathlon produced its usual quota of fellowship, laughs and friendly talk not far from the finish line. The event lived up to its reputation as one of the most family friendly days on the Bellingham outdoor calendar.