As with many silent sports athletes, I have a tough time determining which activity or activities to accomplish each day. Because of this, one of my favorite events of all time was the Winter Triathlon, which sadly “folded” in the Midwest a few years back.
But don’t fret…it’s being resurrected in Superior, Wisconsin, March 4, 2018! The Stride, Ride, Glide (SRG) Tri was initially created by yours truly while working for Hennepin Parks in 2002 and was held at Elm Creek Park in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
Initial motivation for creating the SRG was to have an additional event resembling the popular Pole, Pedal, Pant (PPP) Tri, which had been in existence since 1989 at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik, Minnesota. A championship for the best of both events was formed.
What exactly is a winter tri?
It’s a real event! The first International Triathlon Union (ITU) Winter Triathlon World Championships were first held in Mals, Italy, in 1997, and has since gained attraction since, with thousands of athletes participating in the sport.
According to the ITU, the accurate definition of a winter triathlon is “a multisport event involving the continuous and sequential completion of running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing – all on snow.” The ITU also points out that a winter triathlon is not only ideal for all triathletes looking to keep up their training in the winter, but also affords a great opportunity for winter sport enthusiasts to cross over into triathlon!
John Filander, former winter sports director at Giant’s Ridge, was one of two originators of this unique event in Minnesota. In 1989-90, it was decided that a 10k ski on the challenging hilly Silver Trail, followed by 10k mountain bike and then finishing up with just a mere 5k run would be appropriate, since they thought runners would be out of shape at that time of year.
“The first years everyone did it all, but it became more popular to have two-three person teams and that brought in more people,” said Filander. “The event was never that big, with a max of maybe 225-250. The best athletes were always the cross-country skiers because they could fake a 6-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run, but to do well you had to really ‘give er’ for the Silver 10k.”
The SRG is a 5k run, 10k bike and then a 10k ski – which differs in order from the PPP. People spread out nicely during the 5k run and can still feel their feet, unlike running after biking. Mass start ski races have always been a challenge for me, another reason for the order.
Why the tri now?
When I see a need or a problem, I like to remedy it instead of complaining. The city of Superior has some of the most incredible, yet undiscovered Nordic Ski trails in the Twin Ports area. The assortment of terrain, vast quantity of K’s, along with the five-day-a-week grooming and fantastically wide trails are an amazing secret. The one thing they are severely lacking is respectable equipment.
After observing the dedicated groomers going around and around on narrow, archaic equipment for years, I finally approached the new and much improved director of parks, Linda Cadotte, asking if I could volunteer to put this event on for them with all the funds going towards new grooming equipment. One short gathering and a week later plans were finalized.
Proper attire for a winter tri?
Costumes are great, wetsuits optional! Dressing like an onion is preferable, so you can tweak clothing effortlessly during transitions. Hand and toe heaters are truly lovely if you don’t have or prefer to skip the extra time necessary for shoe coverings while biking and appreciate being able to use your hands while transitioning.
A crucial part of cold-weather training comes when you stop because your heat production slows and sweaty clothes can rapidly become frozen garments. Get out of the cold as soon as you can. If there’s any risk of delay, take off any wet clothes and change into dry ones, and make sure you have an extra layer to put on.
Warmskin, which is a barrier to the cold, will help prevent frostbite in any exposed areas, which may change as your events do. The Lungplus, which is a small, mouth-worn heater, will help you stay comfy during the transitions by warming your lungs without fogging up your glasses or getting your face wet.
Equipment: shoes, a bike and ski
In the “old days” before trail shoes were all the rage, we just donned plain running shoes. If you want to get exceedingly elaborate, try some waterproof shoes in a material such as Gore-Tex. For bonus luxury, make sure you have ethylene-vinyl acetate EVA foam insoles to retain more padding strength as compared to regular polyurethane soles.
Countless individuals believe that you need a fat bike to journey through the snow – heck no! When we did the PPP, folks even used skinny tires, as fat bikes were not even developed then! Use a tire with spikes, lower pressure, whatever you want…it just can’t have a motor other than the human kind. Deep snow means pushing or carrying the two-wheeler!
“I borrowed a mountain bike usually and may have used my cross bike once,” said Debbie Bocnuk of Aurora, Minnesota, who participated in the PPP at least four times. “Fat bikes weren’t around. They might work pretty well and change the whole aspect of the race. Biking in the snow was the goofy part that gave the event the ‘fun’ idea, but with fat bikes and so much winter biking now, I am thinking it would be more competitive. The biking might be the key event for a winning time.”
Any style of Nordic skiing is permissible. Unless you are a native of Finland, skate skis would give you maximum efficiency unless gobs of fresh snow have descended upon the trail.
Transitioning in the winter is an entirely different animal! Frozen fingers pose a whole newfangled challenge. Take a stab at untying your shoes and putting on your ski boots without sensation in your digits.
One year it was so frigid that I sported a hat beneath my helmet, but neglected to fine-tune the strap to fit over it without choking myself. Memories of frantically attempting to unearth another human close enough to lend a hand still haunt me.
The more serious competitors don their helmets throughout the entire event to shave time off during transitions.
Seasoned winter tri competitor, Michael Koppy of Duluth, Minnesota, participated in the PPP at least six times along with completing the SRG in 2002. His advice is to have a rug to sit on in the transition area. Koppy also suggests practicing the transitions as part of your training plan.
Bocnuk’s advice is, “Find a spot, set it up for quick change for each transition and remember the spot.”
“Back of the Packer’s” such as me, take pleasure in having dry gear waiting for us in the transition zone. A plastic tote guarantees such conditions and offers an easy tidy method of transport.
Fun is typically the objective during a winter tri; however, if you are serious and desire to train, the ITU has various helpful common sense tips.
First, “Long endurance is fine, but speed work and high-intensity interval training comes with risks. The cold may make it difficult for your muscles to warm up effectively, plus it can make connective tissues more brittle and prevent muscles from relaxing fully. There can also be reduced synovial fluid (lubrication) in the joints. All these factors can potentially increase the risk of injury during intense workouts at maximum effort.”
In addition, they advocate, “When cycling or running, you might also consider changing your route to account for wind direction. Wind chill can increase your perception of cold by more than 2 degrees for every 1 mph. Aim to ride or run so that you start into the wind and come back with it at your back, so you avoid the wind hitting your sweaty face and body as you begin to fatigue or slow down. It’s also a good idea to try and train more during the middle of the day when it’s warmer and easier for drivers to see you (and easier for you to watch the ground for snow, ice or puddles).”
Challenges of a winter tri
In contrast to the summer tri, wind and arctic temperatures, along with varying snow conditions come into play in the winter. My experiences taking part in the PPP include a ski course one year with a mere narrow band of white snow down the heart of the trail and green grass dotting the fringes.
An image that is eternally imbedded in my head is the unfortunate young chap who attempted to pass me on the downhill without realizing that he would soon be encountering ski-halting grass. If memory serves me accurately, I believe the result was him walking out a tad bloody with damaged skis.
Other experiences include wind chills nearing the -50 degree range with gale force winds gusting so ferociously, merely hanging onto the poles while traversing the golf course segment of the trail was a challenge!
Mother Nature chose to grant us with a glacial cold, snowless day for the inaugural SRG in 2002, forcing a change to run, bike, run.
More on the SRG
If you choose to support the devoted groomers of the Superior Municipal Forest and partake in the SRG challenge, here is what you can look forward to: a 5k on-foot leg, bearing left out of the yellow trail parking lot that takes place exclusively on a very flat, dirt, somewhat-snow-covered-closed-to-traffic road. The biking route will be a 10k assortment of hills and flats on a snowy groomed dirt road. The finale consists of 10k of skiing, traversing a route groomed for skate with Birkie-style hills on one side and flat-as-a-pancake terrain on the other.
Do you think you can complete the challenge in less than three hours? If so, now you have an-end-of winter goal! I reckon if I could finish in 1:30 to 2:30, anyone can do it in fewer than three. Teams and individuals are both welcome, with the race being capped at 100 entrants.
Develop a new passion. The 2018 ITU Winter Triathlon World Championships have been awarded to Cheile Gradistei, Romania, and will be held in January 2018. Go Tri it!
To find out more information, find us on Facebook (Stride, Ride, Glide Tri). There is also a link to registration on the Facebook page (https://www.zapevent.com/reg/event/13297).
Hope to see you March 4 in Superior!