Earlier this week, Weston failed to come through for me. I hate ski racing on hard, rutted terrain and bailed out of racing. I much prefer a slow slog at Weston, where power trumps technique. It's funny how dramatically snow conditions sort Nordic skiers out. Some excel on the fast icy stuff, where I flail and go nowhere. Others, like myself, fare much better in soft or wet conditions, where weakness in technique imposes much less severe penalty.
On Saturday, Weston held a winter triathlon - run, bike and ski all on snow. The ski course was exactly the same as Tuesday Night Worlds and was beautifully groomed before the race. Good control and speed. Neither advantage nor disadvantage for me. The run/bike course was very firm crust. I brought both my 29er hardtail and fat bike. The fat bike was clearly not going to be needed, and I wondered if I shouldn't have brought my winter bike with 26" studded tires.
Upon arrival, I discovered my helmet was still at home. Son of a bitch! When I go to Weston, I'm not thinking helmet, even though I had two bikes in the car. Asking many competitors and event organizer, nobody had a spare helmet. The event organizer said he lived close by and would send his girlfriend home to grab a helmet. Maybe I would get to race after all. My friend Brett was coming to spectate, so I caught him just before he left the house to bring his helmet too, just in case. Even a triathlon, all on snow, requires a helmet. I'm pretty sure I go faster on skis at Weston than I do on a bike... Anyway, I was grateful busy people were willing to help me out.
While setting up in the transition area, the band of snow I left home in moved into Weston. It was above freezing, so this was only going to make the course slower. I was fine with that. I anticipated new, wet snow and waxed and structured accordingly. My race skis were slightly faster than my rock skis.
Taking a lap around the run/bike course on my 29er, I learned there was some real mountain biking in the loop. It dropped down by the river on a snowshoe trail with some steep off-camber turns and snow you could easily punch through. I suspected there would be carnage in the woods. Just hoped it wouldn't be me. It took a serious dig to climb back out of there. The rest of the course was mostly crispy firm snow that even my worn Racing Ralph front tire hooked up fairly well on. There were only a couple icy bits to beware of. Several others did bring studded tires or shoes, some wore Yaktrax. I brought some but felt they'd be a net hindrance. This decision resulted in a pretty nasty spill...
We were doing two run laps and three bike laps at about 2km per lap. Lining up at 8am, it started snowing earnestly. There were only about 20 of us. I was a little disappointed more didn't join, given so many skiers cross train by running and cycling, and so many cyclists cross train by skiing and running. By hard core skier standards, I only dabble in skiing, maybe 50 hours a season. But I likes me a good hour of suffering, especially when it is compounded by three modes of punishment.
The start. I'm in blue CSU kit in back.
Heading out on the run, I started at the back to survey the competition. Like all runs, 90% take off like it is a 400m sprint. At least I hoped that's what was going on. I knew only a few people there, so I thought dang, this is going to be hard. My friend Arvid and Darcy (I think) led out for a ways. I kept my pace, and about 1km in, I started to pull away from the pack. A sense of relief began to settle in.
The run and bike loops differ slightly along the river, in that the run did not go down into the woods. But it did drop steeply behind the hill affectionately known as "Mt Weston." The falling snow masked a nasty icy bit near the top of the drop. I found it. I hip slammed before the first neuron even registered what was going on. I think I slid all the way to the bottom faster than had I stayed upright. It sure did hurt. My reaction was don't give up the lead, get up and assess the damage later, then look back to see if anybody saw it. My knee was throbbing mightily too. At least I didn't bounce my head off the ice. That was my first header ever since I started running.
I'll spare you the ice rash on my hip...
Coming through transition, I had a pretty decent gap. I knew exactly what to do for lap two, and the pace I set for lap one would be just about right. I knew where not to run down that hill.
Nobody was in sight when I came into transition for the bike segment. I practiced getting out of running shoes and into MTB shoes the night before. I got it down to 14 seconds. I thought changing shoes was better than trying to ride with flat pedals. Contrary to skeptics, I do generate power on my up-strokes. I felt I could more than make up that 14 seconds with improved power using clipless pedals. The only problem was I practiced in my warm kitchen with bare fingers. Now I had thick wet gloves on and I couldn't get the stupid helmet buckled or my shoes latched. The transition took over 30 seconds. Lesson learned. Practice in real-world conditions.
The legs felt a little noodly when I first got on the bike. Paul Curley was there, and I wasn't sure how far back he was on the run and thought he could be a threat on the bike. I quickly found my groove though and started drilling it. The woods was treacherous at speed. I had clean lines to choose on the first lap and got through unscathed.
Fitting that it snow hard for a winter triathlon, right?
Second and third bike laps I began to build a sizable lead. Brett was hollering time gaps in minutes out to me. I thought he was just being nice. I didn't think that was possible. Each lap through the woods I saw more full body imprints in the snow where riders dumped. Arvid was one of those unfortunate ones. I managed to clean all three laps through the woods section. I had a solid 17 minute ride at just below VOmax. Did I say I love suffering like that?
Coming into transition for the final ski leg, all the gear looked the same. It was buried under new snow. I think it snowed about 2" in 30 minutes. Again, in practice I got the bike to ski transition down to 24sec, but in the real world, it took a minute and a half! Could not get the helmet off, then my boots totally packed up with wet snow and refused to go into the bindings. Later I learned I was one of the fastest through transition. Practice no doubt helped anyway.
Brett was telling me I could take it easy on the ski. Yeah, right. Mark Jacobson was there, who finishes well ahead of me on Tuesday nights. I saw he had some kind of bike mechanical, so I didn't know how far back he was. I wasn't taking chances. The new snow was very slow and wet. My skis did ok. It was a full-on power slog, which suited me fine for this event. It's nice to bring upper body into the picture after torturing the legs for 30 minutes, but the legs were so noodly by this point they barely supported me. I had the ski course to myself, laying fresh tracks in the new snow. That's a Weston experience you don't get very often.
I finished in 51:08 minutes with 8 minute lead. Pretty much dominated each discipline. The 4k run was covered at a 6:35 pace, pretty sporty considering it was on snow and ice and I took a tumble. My friend Arvid was second fastest in the run, only 38sec back. The bike segment is where I put my best effort in. This 6k segment was covered in 17:42min, nearly 2 minutes faster than my closest rival, Paul Curley, who I knew would do well in these conditions. Bike timing does include run-to-bike transition time. There were no separate mats to record transition times. I grew my lead by exactly 3min on the ski segment. Additional important factors come into play in the ski segment, such as ski preparation and the more involved bike-to-ski transition. While pedigree of mountain bike would not have mattered much in this event, ski preparation was important. Not everybody has the expertise or required equipment to wax their skis. It doesn't matter, you can still have a blast, and if you aren't fussing over your skis, you probably aren't obsessed with results anyway. Events of this duration fall in my sweet spot, where suffering is maximized, risk of cramping or bonking is nil, and optimal endorphin response is realized.
It would have been great if a few more people participated. Maybe the entry fee was a bit much for some. I need folks like Rob Hult or Alex Jospe to chase around. The event was pretty well organized and the courses were very well marked. The ski course was freshly minted corduroy, a rare Weston treat. A little more space in the transition area would have been nice, as well as posting course maps before the event. I would love to do a series of winter tri's each year. I hope Jason and Will bring this event back next year. Maybe a series? Thanks guys!