Sunday, January 8, 2012

Craftsbury Winter Triathlon

I was bummed when Gunstock cancelled their winter triathlon coming up in a couple weeks. The whole New England Winter Triathlon series seems to have died. There are no events scheduled at Weston or Wachusett either. I figured that I dabble in running and skiing, so why not try some of these events to get my fix on?

Then while perusing the web for events to hit this winter, I saw that Craftsbury Outdoor Center was hosting a low-key triathlon this weekend. I didn't really plan my week around this, but I just had to do it. This would be a perfect event to gain exposure to this sport. The price was right, only $5!

This tri is a 4k run, 7.8k bike and 5.2k ski. The run and bike are on one course, the ski on another. The bike is taken two laps around the same course we run. Studs and spikes were recommended for bike and shoes respectively. Hmmm, that could only mean the skiing was going to suck.

I brought my new snow bike (with no studs) and a hardtail with studs just in case they got snow overnight. Then I could pick best bike. I also brought Yaktrax for my street running sneakers. For skis, I brought my rock skis, which were just ground and hotboxed, so they were in pretty good shape.

Since this event was listed just days before Craftsbury held it and not promoted, only around 20 people showed up. A few looked pretty serious. For bikes, it looked like most people "brought what ya got." Winter beaters. Many had studs at least. The few people I talked to had never done a winter tri. I had plenty of time to warm up on skis and the bike. The signage on the maze of trails was very hard to follow. I thought surely I would botch this up. It was not a closed course, so no tape was placed across any wrong-ways.

Transition area

Studs most definitely seemed the way to go. The natural cover was a conformal coating of crud. It varied from ice, patches of dirt, ruts in ice from when mountain bikers rode it when it was warm, and chunky snow in open fields. I was pretty sure I would have to shoulder my bike in one section once it got chewed up. My greatest fear was rolling an ankle. I did not bring my braces. I decided the Yaktrax's were too much. I felt they made my ankles more prone to rolling on uneven ice, and nobody else was wearing them.

Ski course. Blip on left was like Mt Weston but steeper I think.

Lining up, I could tell there were some serious runners in the group. We took off. I never felt so pathetic in my life. In a minute, I was gasping and falling off toward the back of the pack. I knew my fitness has dwindled significantly over the last three months. I haven't done any intensity work since early October. The weight I put on didn't help either. I estimated this thing would take anywhere from 45min to an hour. I paced accordingly. Surely enough, I started reeling runners back in. First highschool girls, then others. There were some pretty big rollers out on the course. Double digit grade stuff. At least they were icy, so I could make some time back on the bike. What would my legs feel like after a tenderizing run?

The run took me about 18 minutes.  I came into transition, donned a helmet and hopped on. I put flat pedals on my bike with toe straps. This approach sucked, as the pedal structure and tread pattern on my running shoes were not compatible with each other. I could not get my feet in. I had to reach down to each foot to work the strap around my foot. Two guys I fought hard to pass in the run now passed me back on the bike in my fumbling.

The first lap around on the bike I was a bit tentative. After 20 runners and unknown number of bikers went through the field, it was too squirrelly to ride. Running in snow, uphill, with a 27lb bike sucks. Especially just after running.  Fortunately, the rest of the course was icy and favored power. It didn't take long to drop the two guys shadowing me and to start seeing more riders. The chunky field got a nice path beat down in it too, so it was easily rideable on the second lap.  By the end of the bike leg, I had put nice time on all but one competitor.

The two bike laps took about 27 minutes.  By now, about 45 minutes into the race, I was was feeling pretty wrecked. I entered transition again, pulled shoes off, then put ski boots on. I felt cramping twinges doing this. This transition took forever, probably over a minute. The Velcro on my two poles were stuck together. Then I got the left and right hands wrong. More bobbling on the course. Surprised half the field didn't pass me again. I cleared the transition area just as the next closest guy behind me was coming in. I wondered if he was a competent skier? I hadn't skied any of the ski course, so I had no idea what was in store.

In short, the ski course was spectacular. It was all machine made snow, deep base, and a super fast sugar granular. It was the kind of stuff you dream about. We did two 2.5km laps. I was very apprehensive at first, scrubbing speed around blind-turn descents, not knowing what lurked around the bend. The second time around, it was no holds barred. Well, almost. I still scrubbed speed on one turn. My nearest rivals never caught me. I came into the finish in 1:02:57, in second place, about 4min back.

First time I wore HR strap in years. Pretty consistent for an
hour, I'd say. Highest peaks were hit on skis.

That was the most fun I had in long time. Where else can you do a running race, mountain bike race and a ski race all on the same day? I believe the guy that beat me is Sheldon Miller. He used his cross bike! Sheldon is local and no doubt has home turf advantage. I probably gave 2min up to him in the run alone, although I don't think he was the fastest runner.

A lot of lessons learned here. Better transition organization is needed. Tangled ski poles should not have happened.  Toe clips suck with running shoes. I might consider swapping shoes in transition and riding SPDs. I believe Sheldon swapped shoes. I should have previewed the ski course too. My second lap was 20sec faster even though I was imploding.

After the race, I skied five more laps around the race course. The few other trails open looked in pretty rough shape, as they were natural snow cover only. Just the 2.5km race loop had machine made snow. The course turned out to be well marked and my initial fears were unfounded.

Run/bike course on right, ski on left.

The good folks at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center say they may schedule a couple more of these this winter and more widely promote them. This first taste of winter multi-sport was nice with just a handful of people there. I can only imagine what it would be like with hundred or more going off at once. It takes me about three hours to drive up there, but I would go again, especially if they get some real snow so I can ski the rest of the trails.

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