1 mile skied, 5 miles biked and 36.2 miles run in 2013 races
Race: X-Trifecta Winter Triathlon
Place: Macungie, PA
Miles from home: 2837 miles
Weather: 40s-50s; bright sunshine
The X (that's what I am calling it for this recap) is a triathlon different than virtually every other race out there. Starting off with a ski or snowboard portion, athletes then take on a technical (pay attention to that word) mountain bike course, followed by a trail run following much of that same course. It would behoove you to actually have skied before in your life but even more so to have done some mountain biking before taking this event on. I had done neither. Ever.
To be honest, my focus for the last few months was on a few other events, more specifically getting myself ready for a running across of Panama which got postponed. The challenging Fuego Y Agua 25k in Nicaragua left me barely enough time to recover and start to run well again before the X popped up. I knew the skiing portion would be tough and my theory was that rather than try to take a couple of lessons, it might be best to just throw myself into it and hope to make it down the hill upright. With just 3/4 of a mile, mostly downhill, how difficult could it be? Stop laughing.
Getting to the event locale with plenty of time, I realized that while a typical triathlon requires a great deal more planning than a simple footrace, one of this nature takes even more. In addition, as the slopes of Bear Creek Mountain Resort loomed behind us, it was more than a little humbling to see 3 year olds swooshing down hills I know I would easily faceplanted upon if I tried. But before long, all the gear was in its appropriate place and it was time to put the skis on for the first time - you know, about five minutes before hurtling down a hill.
Jessica and I were seeded in the same wave of skiers and we slid across the 20 feet of snow to the chairlift to begin the ride to the top. This was interesting to say the least. Once on the lift, we only later learned that we had not put down the safety bar to keep us from falling out. Someone might have wanted to tell us that. As we rode to the top, we watched the people going down, jokingly saying this was going to be our ski lesson. I hoped in that brief ride I would be able to glean some semblance of wisdom to keep me upright.
After this less than auspicious start I would have to say I was a bit nervous. I was also letting all the people who expressed concern about torn ACLs, broken legs and everything else involved with skiing get into my head., I just wanted to get down the hill in tact. I did not care how slow it happened as long as it did so safely. When the gun went off and we went thee first 5 feet before negotiating a turn (which I did so with no fall) I was quite pleased. We went about a hundred yards or so before the next big turn which I made about halfway around before hitting the ground. Back on my feet, I was able to click my one errant ski back on before heading back down again. I would find I would go far too fast for my comfort and dragging my ski poles did little to slow me. "Form a pie!" is what I know skiers are yelling at their screen right now, but believe me, I tried. But I made it a few hundred yards again before hitting the snow. But just like last time, I was back up and going within seconds.
Up ahead I could see the transition area. What shocked me was the very steep (to me) downhill before it. I think negotiating this really got into my head and half way down the hill I plowed out again. As I tried desperately to get my ski back onto my foot, some of the skiers from the wave behind me came barreling down. I can only express eternal thankfulness that they were all far better skiers than I as they all deftly avoided me standing in the middle of the slope. However, regardless of how hard I tried, I could not get the ski to click back on. Over and over I tried to get my boot to catch the binding.
Along with pure ignorance about all things skiing was not knowing what to wear. I had donned a GoLite jacket with Zensah compression gear on underneath thinking that the combination would be fine. On a beautiful sunny day it turned out to be perfect for the ski. But for everything else I knew I had to shed a layer. Unfortunately, getting the dang ski boots off was another story. Finally, I had my Karhu Flow 3 Trail shoes on, my winter gear off and I was ready to take on the mountain bike.
I had watched all of the videos the race directors had made for the bike course on YouTube. Let me say it did not prepare me for what was in store. The easiest way for me to put this is to qualify it. The bike course for the X is the course for the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals. After the race, speaking to some very accomplished riders, including the one who would traverse the entire course in just over 44 minutes (!) he told me this was the hardest course on the east coast. In hindsight that makes you feel very good about your troubles. Not knowing this prior, however, makes you feel like an uncoordinated frog in danger of impaling yourself on your bike or losing valuable manparts to bike stem.
After barely going a mile and seeing some people coming back in various stages of distress to call it a day, I turned the bike into a cautious exercise in advancing as safely as possible. Today was not my day to be a hero. The bike I had rented, however, was an absolute godsend. I do not even want to know the retail value for this gem but without a doubt it saved me on many occasions. Also, luckily for me, I did not get a flat or a slipped chain or anything else that I saw multiple riders have along the way. In addition, I would say a good 10-15% of the course was so difficult or potentially dangerous that the only thing one could do was hop off and push the bike. I lost zero sleep over the fact that I did not "ride" the whole bike portion.
As we went up and down, switch backing back and forth, climbing roots and rocks and branches, I just was hoping to arrive with no broken bones. Even cresting the mountain, passing right behind where we started the ski, gave us little relief. The downhill portion was even more dangerous and root-filled. We would go through a portion of trail that left me white knuckled with fear with hand cramps from riding the brakes only to see a sign that said "Caution! Technical Trail Ahead". Um, what the heck was what we just did?!
As the miles ticked by, I was so happy that I was surviving. I was only hoping to geet to the run with some semblance of energy left. While I might not be a good cyclist, I was at least in better cardiovascular shape than most of the people as was evidenced by my passing virtually anyone up a hill.
When the transition area came in sight, to say I was a happy camper might win understatement of the year.
This transition took all of ten seconds. I ran into the area, racked my bike, dropped my helmet and ran out. Bam.
I grabbed a much needed bottle of water and was cheered on by my friend Doug who had made the trip up from Philly with his son to say hi. It was a great feeling to have someone cheering me on when I felt like I was last in the race. I downed the entire bottle of water and realized how parched I was. I knew the run would go over virtually the same bike portion we had just been on earlier and was morbidly curious to see how much faster I could run it than bike it. Suffice it to say, it is a lot faster. Before long I was passing athletes left and right, making up great time, I had one runner who I would curiously distance myself form greatly on a straight away only to have him in my hip pocket whenever we finished a serious of switchbacks. I couldn't figure out how he was doing that and didn't want to think he was cutting the course, so I just looked ahead and pushed harder.
About halfway through the run, passing another runner, my toe caught on a root and down I went. But if anything, I am skilled faller and with a slide, twist and hop, I was back running. The runner I passed told me that he went to reach down to help me up (showing the true camaraderie of competitors) before realizing I had already rolled and started running again. Up the ski slope we went for the final time. Cresting the mountain, I hoped for smooth running surface to the finish. I mostly got that.
I knew there was an award given to the fastest competitor for each leg of the tri and while I had failed miserably at the first and maybe held middle ground in the second, I wanted to see what I had in me. Finishing the snowy run, I ran up a parking lot entrance, around a tennis court and passed two more guys. the finish line lie ahead and I released the throttle. I almost took out the bear mascot for the lounger who was angling for a high-five before I finished. AFTER the finishline, bear. After.
At the end, I was chatting with two other competitors and as it turns out the three of us, Topher (on the bike with an awesome set of facial hair), Ty (on the skis, also a '98 Penn State grad - small world!) and myself were the fastest for each leg. When they called us up to get the awards we laughed at the circumstances of how we were standing right next to each other.
Serious congratulations to anyone who conquered this race. I have now had two races in a row where finishing in and of itself is a serious badge of honor. I also ache in places I did not even know I had.
So I have that going for me, which is nice.