Friday, May 3, 2013

Winter Triathlons. My first newspaper publication...

This was originally posted in the local Local, Arts, and Entertainment weekly, The Source weekly.  It's an article about my observations on the 2008 USA Triathlon National Winter Triathlon Championships, presented by Bend Bike N Sport.  (I get that wrong in my essay, which a commenter notes at the original Source).  The original article is HERE. The Source is a great local paper.  The only differences are that I've blogged in some pictures, and added probably 154 words, as the original column had to be 800 words.  I think it flows better this way, but I'd like to improve my writing so that I can get my point across, AND get in a few jokes (or statements that I think fit the category).

March 26, 2008.
by Luke Smith

EX-Treme Winter Triathlons

A trek flying V Bike. Sick
Off To the Races. I was totally baited. For bike and running fitness, all I had to do was either keep commuting on my bike in the winter (which I did for three and a half years) or train a bit in a spin class (somewhat less likely), or run a bit in the snow. (How hard could that be? I coach high school cross-country and track). The cross country skiing would be easiest: I skate ski a bit and feel race-worthy in the winter.

Well, that went out the window.  A spin class sounds like a hamster wheel, and running in the snow sounds like, well, running in the snow. Also, I broke down and bought an $800 Volvo this winter, so Mr. Smith the bike commuter became Mr. Smith, the guy with a roof box box full of skis, and a ready willingness to stop playing daily bike tag with cars.

And Mr. Run All The Time developed a foot ache best described as the "sissy foot" that precluded any running other than down to the mailbox, or over to the coffeehouse, or most frequently, "how fast do I have to run to set a personal record for sliding across the hardwood floor."

In other words, I was so ill prepared,  I had no reason not to enter.

So why, why, why DIDN'T a guy who will - with basically no talent, no ability, and lots of gear - race anyone, anywhere, anytime for anything (shopping carts, milk drinking name it) enter a winter triathlon called the XTERRA American Championships?

Well, here are my reasons, all reinforced by actually skiing on the day of the race, and observing the race itself:

running in snowObservation 1) It turns out that running in the snow is at best a crap-shoot, and most likely a disaster. It seemed questionable as to whether or not snow would support my 180 lb frame, so it was great to see the race leader, and various other (lighter) competitors float across the snow - on the first lap. It was less wonderful to see somewhat less light runners, and other victims, plunge painfully into knee-deep crevasses on the second lap as the snow became chewed up.

Observation 2) On the other hand.. no, on the SAME hand, biking in the snow is, at best, a disaster. Are you gambling on Mother Nature's grace to provide a firm surface for a 25-pound mountain bike topped by a 180-pound hairless ape? Alas, mountain bikes are not the ideal tool for riding upon snow. In fact...

Observation 3) There are other tools for snow. Around 1000 years ago, someone realized that if you strapped a couple of long sticks to your feet, you could shuffle along in only relative misery, and occasional bliss, on snow. SKIS! Brilliant. Here's a thought: It's a race on snow - USE SNOW TOOLS.

Observation 4) I'm an ameteur maths nerd.  Here's some bad math, but it approximates the challenges. A bike puts about 16 square inches in contact with the snow, if you let the air out of the tire. - A shoe puts maybe 30 square inches in contact with the snow. A snowshoe, or ski, puts oh, conservatively, 145 square inches in contact with the snow. 145 square inches! I'm a history teacher - not a math teacher - but it seems there's a difference there. Now stack a couple hundred pounds of racer on top and do the math. (Side note, snow is often soft; stilts would make poor snow tools).

Observation 5) Over time, living in cold climates man has created a series of tools to deal with snow and ice. Ice Skates. Snowshoes. Skis. And clowns. (Their massive feet may indicate an inherent evolutionary predisposition towards snow sports). Luckily for the XTERRA crowd, I am relieved to know that logic need no longer rule my life. It turns out my Huffy and my Keds are ACTUALLY BETTER SNOW TOOLS THAN THE FAMED TOOLS OF THE NEANDERTHALS, NORWEGIANS, AND ESKIMOS

THIS is what i want to carry
morrison-luke-smith-skateObservation 6) Neanderthals. Are. Extinct. Suckers. Maybe skiing led to their extinction as over wearing of spandex led to frequent mockery by more developed Homo Sapiens, and an inability to get dates.

Observation 7) Carrying a bike for an hour because the snow is too soft to ride sounds like hell on earth. Maybe you should just show up with a really small bike. A clown bike.  Or a wheely bike.

Observation 8) I suspect that the event may be corporate driven. (Maybe that's because it's the XTERRA American Championships).  Somehow Nissan has decided that winter sports needed improving. I'd have loved to be at that meeting:...  "Well, our marketing department has decided that a bike race is sexier than skiing."... "And it seems like our RedBull test group keeps calling snow shoe-ers 'Clowns " (Note: I was totally wrong on this.  It was sponsored by the now out of business Bend-Bike-n-Sport, a great business I purchased two bikes from. Sloppy reportage).

Observation 9) Amazingly, the sponsors desire Olympic status. While the XTERRA winter-tri may or may not have the gravitas of curling, I believe that the race would come to be dominated by light people with big feet, who would simply purchase the smallest child's bike they can find (if you're just pushing the bike, why not just carry it). Imagine Jockeys with enormous feet each carrying the world's smallest bike on a strap around their back. Swifter, Higher, Stronger indeed.

Observation 10) I think it's important to note the awe I have for the athleticism and perseverance of all the finishers. Some younger entrants were ones I'd coached, many of the amateurs I knew, and all I admire. I'm just saying...

Editor's note: Morrison Luke Smith is a local high school teacher and coach who recently attended the Xterra Winter Triathlon in Bend.

(c) MorrisonLukeSmith