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Monday, February 15, 2010

Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon, 2/13/10

The Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon (, affectionately known by all who compete as simply "the Quad," has quickly become one of my favorite races. Hosted just off Route 66 by the neat, small town of Grants, New Mexico, the Quad combines summer and winter sports in a challenging uphill/downhill format.

The race starts in Grants, which is located on a valley floor in Southwest desert country. Rolling out on road bikes, racers cruise up a paved road that climbs gradually and then quite steeply to the termination of tarmac at 13 miles. Here, they quickly drop their bikes, change into running shoes, and continue climbing a dirt road for almost six miles. At the second transition, winter sports begin with a change to uphill skiing, which is followed by snowshoeing. By the time athletes reach the summit of Mt. Taylor, which at 11,300' is almost 5,000' above the starting line, they have covered 21 miles. The race is halfway over.

From the summit, the downhill begins. Snowshoeing is followed by downhill skiing, running, and then road biking, all following the same course in reverse. Elite men hope to break four hours, and some racers take up to nine hours to finish.

I won the Quad in 2009, and returned this year hoping to repeat. The competition was strong as last year's second place finisher, Eli Torgeson, was joined by James Kovacs, who finished third last year, and Eric "Sully" Sullivan, a former adventure racing teammate of mine. Sully and I know each other's strengths and weaknesses very well, and we both expected a close race. Scott Nydam, a very competitive professional road bike racer, was also present.

UPHILL BIKE: After an easy start in which the peloton hung together for a few miles, six riders, including all of the above, pulled away. Riding into the wind, whoever led the bunch pulled a heavy workload. The headwind kept the pace relatively slow, and we remained a tight bunch until the final mile, where Nydam seemlessly cruised away off the front. Watching a rider of that caliber in his element was a pleasure. He had a one-minute lead going into the transition area, but the race was still anyone's game.

UPHILL RUN: After a quick transition, Eli and I headed out nearly together. Nydam was in sight up the road, and we passed him after a few minutes. Eli looked very smooth and strong. I, on the other hand, was plagued by a worrisome achilles cramp. After about 42 minutes of running, Eli hit the transition to skiing about 30 seconds ahead of me.

UPHILL SKI: A quick transition gave me the lead heading into the ski, and I skinned out with Eli on my heels. We stayed together for much of the ski, but I slowly worked away from him and headed out on snowshoes just before he finished the ski.

UPHILL SNOWSHOE: After about ten minutes of uphill hammering, I hit the "Top of the World" alone, but a few competitors were in site on the final ascent. Looking back into the valley, I saw Grants far below and knew that I would really have to let loose all the way down to hold on for the win.

DOWNHILL SNOWSHOE: The descent begins with a very steep pitch, and I let loose from the beginning. I hit the ski transition alone.

DOWNHILL SKI: Most competitors at the Quad use cross country skis, which are light and fast on the way up but incredibly shaky on the descent. Sully, James, and I opted for randonee gear, which is slightly heavier but super-fast on the way down. I knew I would make some time on most competitors on the downhill ski, but I also figured Sully, who's a superb downhill skier, would gain on me. Newly waxed and sharpened, my skis flew down the hill, but I was definitely hurting as my quads shook while I hung in a tuck.

DOWNHILL RUN: Knowing that Sully would probably gain on me on the final biking section, I had to let it rip on the dowhill run. I was able to hold well under six minutes per mile and put in the fastest split before hitting the final transition feeling relatively good.

DOWNHILL BIKE: With 13 miles to the finish, I hopped on and descended very quickly behind my police car escort. With eight miles to go, the road leveled out. I bent over the aero bars and hammered hard. Thankfully, the legendary headwind we usually face in the final few miles was a little bit weaker than usual. Glancing back, I saw no one coming...but Sully was still in my mind. I crossed the line in first place at 3:49, three minutes faster than last year. Sully finished just over 30 seconds later; he was coming in hot indeed!

The Quad is a well-run, superb race. A mob of enthusiastic volunteers produce flawless transitions, and being part of the event is a pleasure. Thanks to all who support the competition!

Up next is a 12-hour randonee ski race at Sunlight Mountain Resort in two weeks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tennessee Pass Winter Triathlon, 1/30/10

Every once in awhile, I toe the line at a small, local race knowing that I had better finish on the podium because if I do not something has gone very wrong. The 2010 Tennessee Pass Winter Triathlon may have been a small, local race, but the field's pedigree eliminated a guaranteed podium spot for just about anyone.

Organized by the legendary Bruce Kelly of Pedal Power Bike Shop, the race involves snowshoeing 5k, snowbiking 10k (riding a mountain bike on snow-covered nordic skiing trails), and skate skiing 8k. Lining up against Jay Henry and Mike Kloser, both fresh off podium finishes at the Winter Triathlon National Championships, plus uber-athlete Josiah Middaugh, who says he's coming off a knee injury but is always extremely strong in any competition, I knew I had my work cut out for me. All three of these guys live in Vail, and I knew they would probably have an edge on me on skate skis, so my strategy was to gain a few minutes on the snowshoe and then try to hold on for dear life.

Two miles into the snowshoe, Josiah and I (seemed to me that his knee was working just fine) had a decent lead when we hit a lengthy stretch of knee-deep powder. Forced to trudge slowly to break trail, we were caught by the field--my strategy was foiled! Josiah and I broke away again before the finish of the leg, but were only able to gain a few seconds. The primary competitors hit the bike section close together and headed out.

As Kloser passed me on a shaky downhill, I discovered that my relative inexperience with biking on snow was making me tentative, and I crashed. He was out of sight.

On the ski, Middaugh, Henry, and Kloser continued to hammer, finishing in that order. It was a great early season win for Josiah, considering the strong competition and two knee surgeries for him in November.

Finishing fourth, I had a fun time and got in a great workout; perfect training for the Mt. Taylor Quadrathon in Grants, NM on February 13th.