Tough Contender | Outside Features | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Tough Contender 

Pole Pedal Paddle race tips from longtime competitor Lauri Powers

Smiling uncontrollably at Riverbend Park, the paddle leg put-in for the U.S. Bank Pole Pedal Paddle, Lauri Powers lays out her hand-crafted clay chalices. Only the top three finishers in each class of the multi-sport race earn a chalice, but unlike some winners, Powers says: "My mugs aren't displayed, they are my daily drinkers."

Powers, a specialist for the High Desert Education Service District, insists she is part of the "common folk" contingency in the grueling race, and not a professional athlete. "This is why I love the PPP. No matter what your athletic background, the whole race is really accessible to all athletes," she says. "Many participants win mugs. And they all look the same no matter the category."

Since 1992, Powers has competed in Bend's most cherished multi-sport race more than 15 times. The race starts at Mount Bachelor with alpine ski and Nordic ski stretches, then on to cycling and running legs, a paddle on the Deschutes River, and a sprint to the finish. With so many sports in one race, she says there are many variables and it's not always an elite athlete who wins the PPP.

Ahead of this year's race, Powers shared the insider tips and tricks that have given her a competitive edge over the years.  

Picking a Partner

The PPP can be run as a single, double or as a team. Powers prefers the double, because with the single experience, it's many sports with many pieces of gear, making for a logistical nightmare. On a team, meanwhile, you might only get to run one leg of the race, and she believes you might miss out on some of the experience, particularly the topographic and ecologic transitions from mountain to river.

If you do go the team route, Powers suggests teams be well-rounded. Not a runner herself, she has consistently raced with strong runners including Rebound physical therapist Chris Vergona. Only after many course trails and placing second together did they win the overall female pairs three years ago.

Pivotal Points

Where is the course won and lost? "Technically, skate skiing and paddling can be tough," Powers explains. "Many people can ride a bike downhill or jog, but skate skiing and paddling a kayak are pivotal."

One of Powers' favorite memories of the race is competing in a duo with her brother from Wyoming. She says he massively underestimated the paddle leg, as many teams do, and as a result lost a healthy lead. "My first year I paddled in a $200 GI Joe Kiwi Kayak and competitors just flew by me on the water."

Plan for Pandemonium

The PPP is essentially a Central Oregon-specific pentathlon. With numbers, gear, teammates and other variables, much can go wrong. Last year, Powers' partner forgot her skate skis. Instead of throwing in the proverbial towel, they scavenged a pair last minute.

Another year her incredibly experienced class-five paddler counterpart overturned his vessel and swam at the start of the water leg. "It can be crowded and there can be lots of gear to put on and manage. You just never know," she admits.

Ultimately, Powers says the hallmark trophy mugs are fantastic, but seeing synergy amid chaos is the true reward. "Chris and I always have so much fun together; we are competitive, but we are also a calamity of errors and we just laugh our way through the competition."

Upcoming training for key legs of the PPP course:

Paddle leg: Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe offers boat rentals and race course clinics taught by Hank Hill, May 10 & 17 (6-8pm) and May 13 (2-4pm). Learn strategies to work with currents and eddies and a chance to see how your boat performs pre-race. Call 541-317—9407 or go to for details.

Nordic and alpine leg: Mt. Bachelor offers a chance to ski on the actual PPP race course. The wave start pre-race May 6 will test skiers' skills and fitness, with a couple weeks left to improve. Call 1-800-829-2442 for registration and details. 2017 U.S. Bank Pole Pedal Paddle Saturday, May 20. Register at

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