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Sunday, March 2, 2003 -- McHenry, MD
The Inaugural Wisp Winter Triathlon (iPO Event Id#: 5496)
Story and photos by Don Parks

[Details] [Coverage]

Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5]

Triathlon Start
It all seemed innocent enough at the start
I have witnessed and participated in many interesting forms of "triathlons", including some that tout themselves as "mountain" triathlons. After catching up with the Inaugural Wisp Winter Triathlon, I'm really starting to wonder where the line is drawn between "triathlon" and "adventure race". However you want to classify this event, it is certainly one-of-a-kind.

The ominous weather that ushered in the morning should have served as a warning to the many eager participants. The misting rain and fog, combined with all the remains of the brutal winter storms that blanketed Garrett County, Maryland, made last minute course changes necessary.

It started innocently enough with a road run, that was initially slated to be a trail run. But all the trails were covered with a foot or more of wet and heavy snow.

Once returning from the out-and-back run, it was time for the first transition. This is where the Wisp Winter Triathlon begins to get interesting. You see, each time you return to the transition area, it is time to grab yourself a nice big inner tube.

Race Pic
Running up the hill, tube in tow
The centralized transition area was located just below the Bear Claw Snow Tubing Park. Between each leg of this four event (or five, if you include tubing) triathlon, you had to grab a tube, hike it up the tubing hill, then take an exhilarating ride "snow tubing" back down.

The next challenge was a cross country ski. For the more experienced skiers, this would be a good chance to make up some ground. For the less experienced, and a surprising number of first-timers, this would be a rude introduction to cross country ski racing. It may look easy, but it takes a bit of practice to gain the coordinated and efficient movements that send long skinny skies swiftly across the snow.

With varying degrees of difficulty, the racers made their way back to the transition area, and another trip up and down the tubing hill. Then it was on to the mountain bikes.

Due to the fact that there were no trails available for riding a mountain bike (unless you're only going downhill as they did the day before at Wisp), the course was again changed to a road ride. But this was no road ride that warranted a "road" bike. A cyclocross bike, maybe.

Race Pic
Learning the balancing act of XC skiing
First you had to negotiate the treacherously muddy and icy access road to get to the pavement. Once on the blacktop, it was wet and dirty from the rain, melting snow, and remnants of a long winter of plowing and salting.

Add in the fact that the out-and-back ride consisted of a nice long climb out, and a menacing downhill back, not to mention the run back up the afore mentioned access road at the end, and the bike ride was worthy of its mountain status. It was also evident on the mud covered faces of the returning racers.

And what was waiting when they did return? You guessed it, one last trip up and down the tubing hill. And while the trips up the tubing hill may have been getting slower, there was now stopping gravity during the screaming slide back down.

Then it was time for one last event, a run on the cross country ski course. This may well have been the most cruel event of them all. At first, some of the novice XC skiers may have welcomed the absence of skis, but they soon learned better.

Race Pic
Heading out for a "Mtn Bike" ride
Running in the type of heavy snow that covered the course is an exercise in futility. When you walk along your feet may not sink too deep into the snow. But when you begin the effort of running, your feet start sinking deeper and deeper with each step. Luckily the course had sections of hard pack, but trying to develop a consistent running pace was impossible. As some consolation for those that trailed the leaders, they had the benefit of broken trail.

In the end it was nothing sort of a challenge that every competitor could feel proud to have completed. And as Dave Scott once said, "If you set a goal for yourself and are able to achieve it, you have won your race. Your goal can be to come in first, to improve your performance, or just finish the race."

Getting in out of the elements and enjoying plenty of post race food and refreshments was just the ticket after finishing the final run. It was also time to hand out some well earned awards and begin talk on how the event can be even bigger and better for next year. Whatever you want to call it, triathlon, adventure race, or just pure insanity, it reminds me of something I was told that Abraham Lincoln once said, "For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like."

For more race information and results, visit The Triathlantic Association on the web.