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Kiddie Bikes and Clown Feet: An spectator's perspective on EX-treme winter triathlons 

Off To the RacesI was totally baited. All I had to do was either keep commuting on my bike in the winter (which I did

click to enlarge Off To the Races
  • Off To the Races
Off To the RacesI was totally baited. 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.) I skate ski a bit and feel race-worthy in the winter.

Well, I broke down and bought an $800 Volvo this winter, so Mr. Smith the bike commuter became Mr. Smith, the guy with four pairs of skis in the car who went through headlamp batteries like a (insert simile here).

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 more frequently, "how fast do I have to run to set a personal record for sliding across the hardwood floor."

In other words, 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:

1) It turns out that running in the snow is at best a crapshoot, 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.

2) On the other hand, biking in the snow is may be, 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...

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.

4) I'm just perplexed. 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, 165 square inches in contact with the snow. 165 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.

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.

6) Neanderthals. Suckers.

7) Carrying a bike for an hour because the snow is too soft to ride. Maybe you should just show up with a really small bike.

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 'Clown feet.'"

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.

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

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


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