My Journey into the Winter Triathlon World Championships

Dec. 12, 2018, 3:05 p.m. (ET)

I will chronicle my path into how I opened the door to a spot on Team USA for the Winter Triathlon in Asiago, Italy February 2019.

It all started 11 Months ago as I was thinking, now for the 3rd year in a row how would I create an opportunity to compete as a winter triathlete in Southern California for a race in Minnesota.  It wouldn’t be easy, but it would sure worth it.  Having been selected as a USA Triathlon Ambassador it has now given me the opportunity to reach a more broad based cross section of triathletes.  Sharing my story might even give someone the idea to sign up for a triathlon that didn’t find swimming to be their favorite sport. With the winter triathlon format being run, bike, ski it opens the door for other multisport athletes to participate in our sport. Traveling to Minneapolis in January by myself in the dead of winter wasn’t high on the list for me.  I needed a partner, someone who would take a risk and have some fun at the same time.  There was really only one option the guy I spend all my time training with Kevin Elmore.  We had traveled to many National and International events together over the years so naturally it would be a great fit.  I presented the Idea about the winter triathlon to Kevin in its unique multisport format which was run, bike & cross-country ski to be done in the frozen tundra of St. Paul Minnesota.  Naturally Kevin was curious as was I because neither of us knew the first thing about winter triathlon much less how to cross country ski.

We were faced with several challenges in order to prepare for the national qualifying event that was essentially six weeks out from the day we decided to make a go of it.  We would be able to carry our triathlon season fitness into January with a few changes to our routine.  We needed to find some snow and that was not going to happen anywhere near our residences in Southern California. We needed to rent cross country skis, fat tire mountain bikes, attain some cold weather training gear, plan a training trip in addition to a trip to Minnesota to the event itself.  These components added some anxiety to the excitement of the preparation for the training and eventually the race. 

We searched and researched thoroughly, winter clothing, snow cross running shoes, beanies, leggings, wind proof base layers, gloves that provided warmth and dexterity etc.  Next, we then had to find a location where we could take a cross country ski lessons and rent some fat tire mountain bikes.  Our local southern California mountains had not received enough snow for that to be a training location.  Salt Lake City, UT seemed the likely option.  We were able to secure ski lessons at Solitude Nordic Center in Big Cottonwood Canyon.  Day one was going to be cross country lessons and day two would be a mock triathlon. So, the travel plans were made and off we went. 

On January 12, day one, we received our fitting, gathered our gear for the group lesson and headed out back to the ski park.  The ski park is basically a flat course with lots of turns, this was really going to challenge me no doubt!  A Nordic ski set up, is a toe mounted binding and very narrow skis and long polls.  Cross country skiing is just as much arms and upper body as it is legs, so being a strong swimmer and still in fairly good shape I felt ready to proceed.  The basics of forward progress and maintaining momentum were explained to us by our instructor.  Mastering the timing and coordination of the movements were about as foreign to me as learning to line dance.  There were lots of embarrassing moments for me falling down and trying to get back up looking like a one-legged flamingo in the process.  The lesson lasted one hour then we were on our own, we spent roughly four hours that day getting comfortable with balance, timing and coordination. 

On day two, we drove about an hour from Salt Lake City to Park City.  We were able to locate a place to rent the fat tire mountain bikes, cross country skis and it provided a venue for us to ski and complete our practice triathlon.  We proceeded to gear up and prepare for our adventure at 7000’ feet of elevation in 27 degree weather.  We found a trail adjacent to the bike rental shop that provided us with a great place to run and ride our bikes. We stepped out and did a 5K run, some ice made this run a little dicey at times, but we prevailed. That experience took about 30 minutes. Then it was time to mount our bikes for a challenging ride on some single track bike trails.  Riding in the snow presents its own set of challenges, varied terrain, different snow depths and surfaces.  We spent roughly 2 hours finding our way around the mountain enjoying the views and challenges that were presented to us on the bike.  We were a bit anxious with this ride not really knowing how these bikes would handle in snow and ice out on the trails.  Mission accomplished, and it was now time to rent our skis and complete the triathlon.  But by this we had burned some calories and were in need of some food.  We belled up to a local pub for a nice blackened salmon sandwich for lunch, hydration and some needed rest.

After lunch we proceeded to White Pine Touring Nordic Center in Park City to rent our skis and complete leg number three of our triathlon.  The Nordic ski course was set up on a location that is a golf course in the summer.  It had some twists, turns and hills that presented some new challenges, trying to turn on skis with no edges. We covered a distance of 3.26 Kilometers in 45 minutes, elapsed time of 1:05:40 not bad for a couple amateurs!  We felt proud, tired and accomplished all at the same time.  Beginner level preparation for accomplished Age Group Triathletes, but it’s the best we could do, so we are now ready for The National Age Group Winter Triathlon Championships in Minnesota.  I was encouraged at this point that I would be able to share this experience with my fellow USA Triathlon Ambassadors, family, friends with the adventure it rewarded me with.

Fast forward 2 weeks and it’s game on at Nationals. We arrive in Minnesota on Thursday January 25th and gather our ski’s from REI and our Bikes from Now Bikes & Fitness.  On Friday we search out the race venue and set out to attempt a course familiarization session.  The race director said it was not going to be a challenging course but it tested out limits with some steep sweeping downhills and uphill’s.  So we both felt confident that at least we will be able to complete the course and the race in its entirety on Saturday.  We covered the entire course which ended up being 7.19 Kilometers. 

Now its off to packet pick-up, no problem, pre-race meal, check, final preparations back at the hotel room and off to bed for a sound nights rest.  Fortunately, the triathlon did not start until 9:00 am. We packed the car and off to the race venue to set up transition and figure out how to stay warm and warmed up before the race.  The race consisted of a 5K run, 17K bike and a 7K cross country ski.  We are super excited to have an opportunity to challenge ourselves for a spot on Team USA for Winter Triathlon.

A mass start ensues with the run being the first event in the triathlon a 5K loop around Lake Phalen, mostly flat with a couple short climbs.  Headed into T1 where I will add one layer a windbreaker jacket to keep the wind chill off my body while riding the bike.  The bike course also went around the lake 3 times with a short extension through the park to get the 17K.  Despite a couple spills in some deep snow I survived the bike segment without incident. Now the segment we were all kind of dreading, the skiing. Now it was time to couple finesse with speed of which I had neither.  I got off to a slow start and as one might expect and would be passed by many more proficient skiers along the way.  Based on the fact that this was my fourth time on cross country skis I did fairly well staying upright and moving forward.  By the time I covered 19.3 miles and 2:12:42 later I was done and grinning ear to ear as I crossed the finish line.  I had accomplished my goal of successfully completing a Winter Triathlon.  The journey was sensational because along the way I had challenged myself to do things I’d never done before, met new friends and been to places I’d not seen before. 

I was excited to finish 4th out of 8 athletes in the 55 to 59 AG and secured a spot on Team USA.  I’m pleased to say that I am currently training for the Winter World Championships in Asiago, Italy held on February 10th, 2019.  Always set goals and believe in your dreams.  It may not always be easy but it was sure worth it..