Gunstock Winter Triathlon Race Report
For some reason all the weirdest winter events I do end up being at Gunstock. First a Ski-O, then an "F1 race," now a "Winter Triathlon." No event is to bizarre for the crazy Russians at Gunstock.
This year's Jay Winter Challenge was canceled, so I jumped at the chance to get my snowbikeracing on elsewhere, even if it meant running a 5k. The fact that the third leg ended with xc skiing was just icing on the cake -- I would've cut a hole in a lake and gone swimming if it meant I could race a bike on snow.
I was briefly concerned about the 5k because I don't run at all, but wait, I did do a 5k already this fall! Sure I spread it over two days and did it with a bike on my back, but the important thing was that I did it. And running in five inches of mud is actually a lot like running on snow, so I should be set.
Believe it or not 50+ people showed up to this thing, most importantly my buddy Justin. I don't run, he doesn't ski, so we had a long debate at dinner about how much time he'd need to take out of me on the run to win; somehow we never even considered (or he was nice enough not to mention) that he wrecked me at Jay Winter Challenge last year AND had new snowcat rims AND actual gears on his snowbike now. Needless to say after taking 2:30 out of me on the run he took almost that much on the bike leg as well! But would it be enough...?
The race started with fifty idiots in seven degree temps running across a field onto some ski trails. My goal on the run was "don't kill yourself" and it was hard to keep that plan in action as a good 30 people were immediately ahead of me and pulling away while I could hear Linnea chatting it up with the competition right behind me. Fortunately it only took about five minutes of running before my legs reached a low boil and my thoughts turned to how soon I could end this nonsense.
There's a reason I don't run, it's too boring for an ADHD/internet generation kid like me, so when we started heading down the steepest hill on the run loop I decided to take my running to the EXTREME and let it fly. It was totally cool, I would definitely like to see lift-served downhill snow running as the NEXT BIG THING, I think kids would dig it and companies like K2 could start selling knee cartilage instead of skis. On an undoubtedly related note, my shin muscles are so sore today, but I can't stop poking them, argh!
After an incredibly long 5k (30 minutes, but it was on snow, with hills, so even the fast people took 24...) I hit the transition, er T1 and grabbed my bike. We did a bunch of practice footwear transitions in the hotel room the night before, and as cheesy as that sounds it was totally worth it. I was outta there in just over a minute, rocking the 'cross mount and off for three laps of the run course.
Because it was so cold the snowbiking was easier than most snowbiking, so at least it started out firm. Two laps of people running tore it up and bit, and three laps of people attempting to ride it tore it up further -- by the end it was well into technical-snow-bike-ride territory and I was very happy I had switched to the 2.5's.
The majority of racers were not exactly Jay Winter Challenge Vets, so while they were lacking PTSD they were also missing the experience to run fat fat fat tires, with low low low pressure. The biggest obstacle in the deepening snow pits on the course was the perpetually toppling other riders, who were finding out the hard way how fast forward progress can end in snow. At one point I was descending quite briskly through a crowd of people and one of the walkers cheered for me -- while I was thinking about how great I was, someone toppled, and then someone veered, and then I swerved -- straight off the trail, jackknifing the wheel in the ski track, over the bars, into the cold, powder-filled ditch. The cheering stopped. Like I said -- things come apart pretty fast when you're riding on snow.
Linnea did me one better by having basically the same scenario play out, except instead of swerving she rode straight into the fallen rider's back and endo'ed over him. I still think that Sven Nys -- or even Thom P -- woulda just given that guy's face a little front wheel tap and then hopped him. Now that's PRO.
catastrophic bike legs I somehow had risen to 10th overall entering the ski.
For some perspective on how much the bike leg spread the field out -- if you ran at 145% of the fastest run leg, you would have been the 50th-fastest runner, only beating 8 people. If you biked at 145% of the fastest bike leg, you would have had the 19th fastest split.
The transition to skiing blew my little mind. I am ostensibly a skier, but after an hour of hard biking and running my legs were shot. The first ten minutes of the ski leg were quite possibly the clumsiest, slowest skate racing I've done since I was ten. On the steepest hill, I didn't even diagonal V, I just walked up it in a herringbone.
My suffering was significantly eased when I saw Justin ahead of me near the end of lap one -- even though he'd crushed me by nearly a minute a mile on the run, and another 1:30 on the bike, he can't ski worth beans and I had taken back four minutes in only three K of skiing. Much like Ski Orienteering -- if you're a mediocre xc skier who's sick of getting smoked by juniors, you should really do a winter triathlon.
I met up with Justin going into the downhill past where it turned out a news crew was filming, and our frozen expressions ruined many a dinner across Central New Hampshire that evening.
Relieved at passing Justin, and with the bike-specific lactic slowly fading away, I started to get into this whole skiing thing a bit more. I picked up the pace and was rewarded by seeing two more skiers up the next hill -- and a cramp in my calf on every single push off. I climbed the entire stupid hill with my calf twinging every stride, it was bizarre, after a while it started to feel like there was a marble stuck in my race suit. Man, I can't even write about it without having to rub my leg. Anyway, if you want to really hurt for 7k, try racing a bike first.
Despite my whining I was an actual ski racer on a course full of triathletes, so I kept picking guys off who had smoked me on the first two legs, I even got the legendary Alec Petro (Jay Winter Challenge Champion, 2009 Iditabike Entrant) on the final climb to hit the finish line in fifth overall, with the third-fastest ski time.
Justin was just a few minutes behind in 9th, and before I could warm up Linnea was done as well, 16th overall and second woman. All in all it was a huge success, both for us and for everyone else -- I was really impressed at how many people had a terrible time trying to ride in the snow, only to get on skis they could barely use, and still crossed the line ready to do another winter triathlon.