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LAKES COUNTRY TRIATHLON: Minnetonka man wins first attempt at Baxter event

Brett Lovaas rushes out of Whipple Lake in Baxter after completing the swimming 1 / 2
Christel Kippenhan sprints to the finish line at the Lakes Country Triathlon. Ki2 / 2

BAXTER — Brett Lovaas of Minnetonka was the overall winner with a time of 1:15.43 in the Lakes Country Triathlon on Sunday at Whipple Lake.

The 37-year-old finished first in the one-half swim, came off the 17.3-mile biking leg in the No. 2 spot and was the third-fastest participant in the 3.9-mile run.

Lovaas, 37, has been competing in triathlons for more than 25 years. He has completed 225 triathlons in his career, but made his way to the Brainerd lakes area for the first time this year, thanks to some help from friend and fellow competitor Mike Waataja.

“Mike has been asking me for years to run up here with him and I thought this is the year to try it,” said Lovaas. “I was glad I did. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Not only did Lovaas get the motivation to participate in the event from Waataja, he also received an extra bonus of a friendly competition to push him in the areas where he’s not as strong, like biking.

“I’ve been swimming competitively since I was 9 so that was the easiest leg of the race for me but I was scared biking,” Lovaas said. “I knew (Waataja) would be right behind me breathing down my neck.”

Even though his favorite leg of the triathlon was over in the first 10 minutes, Lovaas still found plenty of enjoyment on the rest of the course.

“I knew I would have to work hard on the run,” he said. “It was a great run though.

“This is an excellent location. I always study the course a little bit because it’s easy to zone out and get off course, but there were great volunteers out here today, clearly marked signs, and cheering sections so I stayed pretty focused.”

While he trains hard all year round, the Lakes Country Triathlon marked the end of the 2012 racing season for Lovaas and he couldn’t have been happier about that.

“It just felt like a nice, relaxing day at the lake,” he said. “Next year I’ll bring my kids.”

Finishing No. 1 for females, and 24th overall, was Christel Kippenhan of Bemidji, with a time of 1:27.26.

Kippenhan, 47, who has competed in the Lakes Country Triathlon the past four years, was the top female finisher in 2009. She was feeling confident about the race, knowing that Michelle Andres, winner of the last two triathlons, was competing in the co-ed relay Sunday.

“You never know who’s going to show up or how you’re going to do on any race day,” Kippenhan said, “but if Michelle Andres shows up, you know she’s winning.”

A long-time marathon runner, Kippenhan completed Grandma’s marathon in Duluth and finally felt like it was time to add swimming and biking to her routine.

“I had had it with running and swimming is a big part of my background so it made sense to start doing triathlons,” said Kippenhan. “It kind of snowballed from there and now I do at least seven triathlons per year.”

Andres, who chose to run in the co-ed relay event with her son Westin for “Team Swim,” finished second with a time of 1:28.25.

Gerrit Garberich of Brainerd had the fastest run time, completing the 3.90-mile leg in 23:03.