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ITU Winter Triathlon Championships Report from Canmore, AB

ITU Winter Triathlon Championships, Canmore, Alberta, March 16, 2002
Weather -19C and windy.
Distance 5.4km run (2 loops) 10km mountain bike (5 loops), 10.8 km ski (4 loops).

We (Sheila Kealey/John Lewis) are just back from Calgary and Canmore, where we had a great visit with Mike & Leanne Yohemas Hayes, and competed in an ITU World Cup winter triathlon race – a curious combination of running, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing.

Overall, the trip was great, Mike and Leanne were terrific hosts (they even got bikes for us!), the weather freezing, Canmore was beautiful, and the race was TOUGH! This winter triathlon format is popular in Europe (where the other “World” cup races have taken place), and there’s a serious effort underway to make this an Olympic sport. It’s so specialized that some athletes were riding the mountain bike section in ski boots drilled with bike cleats!

The Europeans dominated this incredibly hilly course, capturing the top 5 spots in the men’s race, and had 4 women in the top 5 in the woman’s event. Competitors were a combination of winter triathlon specialists, Ironman athletes (e.g., Christophe Mauch – 4th in Hawaii), Nat. team cross-country skiers (e.g., Phil Villeneuve, Shayla Swanson), mountain bikers, adventure racers, and summer triathletes.

Read on if you want to find out how Sheila, Mike, and John tackled the challenging course, cheered on by Leanne (until she froze up and had to go inside to thaw out).

If you think summer triathlons have a lot of gear, think about replacing the swim with cross-country skiing (wax testing, etc) and figuring out how to dress for the three sports in freezing temperatures!

The run was a big question mark for me since I ripped my calf in half this summer, so I was pleasantly surprised comfortably finishing the roller coaster course in 4th, with the current world champ in my sight.

Onto Leanne’s great little mountain bike, it didn’t take me long to realize that my distant cycling training on the road didn’t translate to mountain biking. The course was more steep ups & downs, and my quads just screamed during every hill. I didn’t make it up most of the hills and had to run up with my bike (or walk up in later laps). I did have a great opportunity to admire so many of my talented competitors as they zoomed past and stayed on their bikes or hopped on and off with such agility . . .quite inspiring. I almost wanted to applaud!

Finally -- the ski! Unfortunately the bike took so much out of me, that it was basically survival to the finish, with two spectacular face plants during my last lap. I guess I was also bonky (the technical course, frozen hands, and overwhelmed brain didn’t allow me to eat) since I devoured a volunteer’s donut at the finish (I really don’t like donuts, and would never think of eating the volunteers food!). I ended up seventh, and third Canadian. Probably the hardest race I’ve ever done. Full results and pics (one of me on the run) are at"

There’s something to be said about sports specific training, especially when it comes to something as unfamiliar as the Canmore winter triathlon. I’ve been skiing alot this year, running is going well, but trying to convert a lazy ride to work into mountain bike racing is another story. Add in some totally fast euros and you’ve got a recipe for disaster for me (Mike).

The run was innocuous - the course was a two lap effort on hardpack snow with constant ups and downs. I didn’t finish last (very close), but I was a couple minutes behind the main pack by the time I hit transition.

Onto the bike and a five-lap course which I didn’t have a chance to pre-ride. Again, constant ups and downs were the order of the day and I quickly realized that I was in trouble.

The bike to ski transition was, well, long. I was too cold to tie the laces on my ski boots, so I just tucked them into the cuff and did up the straps. 5 minutes later I was skiing. The ski course 4 laps of flats, nasty hills, and technical downhills. By lap one, I was in survival mode. My calves were cramping up after every hill, and my quads weren’t helping much. On the last lap, I managed to pick off a few people to move up to 13th place overall (ie. not last). Only 18 minutes back.

Since the organizers decided to dilute the race distances for the age-groupers at the last minute, turning it into an entirely different race (well sort of), I volunteered to give it a go since both Mike and Sheila were mixing it up in the elite races. You’ve already (hills) heard (hills) about (hills) the (hills) course (hills), but the age-groupers did only 1 run loop (instead of two) and 4 bike loops (instead of 5), with the ski being the same.

For me, the run was fine – just what you might expect of running on a hilly snowy course. But the bike was a big question mark...we hadn’t a clue what the course was like…Was it hard-packed? Deep powder? How hilly? My questions were answered pretty quickly with a nicely packed speedy downhill at the start of the bike loop – that’s a clue though, the ups were about to start. I managed to ride most of the ups the first lap, but by the next lap the course was getting pretty chewed and the bit of cyclocross that I’ve done in the past came in handy – read: lots of hike-a-bike! And of course, the corners were getting more interesting and avoiding huge divots (and their accompanying riders) on the downhills made for more excitement. A bit of winter bike training might have helped the quads out a bit though, so by the time I was onto the ski (again up and down, no flats), the shot-glasses of Gatorade at the aid stations just weren’t cutting it anymore…I did make it to the end though! without resorting to donut poaching.

All in all, despite the curious combination of events and whether or not it is the “true” winter triathlon, I think we all agree that it was a blast, and it would be really cool to do it again with a bit more preparation. Cheers!

Sheila Kealey

Visit the ITU Web SIte for results, a race report and photos.

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