‘Tri’ it on snow: Sierra Sun shooter finds new niche in Winter Triathlon Nationals
Last weekend I competed in my first winter triathlon. Before you get chills, the race fortunately did not include swimming in ice-cold water.
The cold-weather version of the summer sport features running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing ” all on snow. It’s perfect for those who aren’t so hot on swimming, or have a Nordic skiing background.
The event ” the 2009 USA Triathlon Winter Triathlon Nationals at Mount Bachelor, Ore. ” featured a lineup of elite and amateur athletes from multiple sports backgrounds, many of whom were competing in a winter triathlon for the first time.
A field of more than 50 racers came from as far as Alaska and Maine to compete. Racers included XTERRA pro Brian Smith, Nordic Olympian Rebecca Dussault, mountain bike legend Ned Overend and local favorites Carl Decker and Sarah Max.
The course, carefully crafted by race director Bill Warburton, was designed to be challenging for the expert but still fun for the beginner.
The race began with a mass-start 5K run on groomed ski trails.
It wouldn’t have been too hard had the weather not been 38 degrees that day, causing runners to posthole every other step.
The run led racers up to a transition area where we mounted mountain bikes and headed out on a two-loop 8K ” also on groomed trails.
To prepare for snow, I used a knobby tire with very low air pressure (around 12 PSI). The trails soon rutted with tire tracks because of quickly warming weather, which posed another challenge to simply stay on the bike.
Low gears, high cadence and good reaction seemed to work best.
Everyone seemed to take a couple spills. But no worries ” the landing was soft … and wet.
Nearing the end of my second loop, I was fourth behind Dussault, XTERRA pro Lisa Isom and the 2008 winter tri champ, Heather Best.
After the bike I slipped into my ski boots, already attached to my skate skis, grabbed my poles and headed out to the final leg. The trails led us down the twists and turns of a downhill, and, unlike the bike and run, the ski trails were packed and fast.
The downhill was great for recovery but also reminded racers of what they’d have to come back up.
I moved up to second place and did my best to keep it that way on the two-lap, 9K course.
I knew my chances of catching Rebecca were slim, but I could get caught by faster skier. As the finish line neared, I peeked over my shoulder and saw no other competitors. I felt confident I had secured second. But soon that confidence waned.
With 200 yards to go, I took a wrong turn and found myself skating another loop of the course. My heart sank once I realized I’d made a big mistake and ruined my chances of a podium finish.
Confused, tired and defeated, I headed back to where I’d made my turn; my swimming upstream confused other racers still on their second lap.
Eventually, righting myself back on the trail, I went in the direction of the sign-posted finish ” duh! ” and crossed the finish line, still in second, still distraught by my mishap, but thrilled. I had found a sport custom-made for me.
Dussault, from Gunnison, Colo., won the women’s race with a time of 1:05:39, and Heather Best of Fairbanks, Alaska, placed third with a time of 1:15:43. Brian Smith of Gunnison, Colo., won the men’s race with a time of 59:03, and was followed by Mike Kloser of Vail, Colo., with a time of 1:02:15 and Carl Decker of Bend, Ore., with a time of 1:03:24.
The top three racers won cash prizes and an opportunity to compete for the United States in the ITU Winter Triathlon World Championships next month in Austria.
Now the next challenge ” finding an airline that charges less to ship my bike than to ship me.
” Emma Garrard is a photographer for the Sierra Sun and member of the USA Triathlon trade team and team Inov-8 trail running. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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