The 2020 Race Recap
If you’re a race enthusiast like Andrew, 2020 was the race season that almost wasn’t. Not that I’m a huge fan of racing myself, but I occasionally partake in a 5k or virtual triathlon and duathlon if Andrew “accidentally” signs me up. The one thing I do enjoy about race season (other than the nice weather) is that we get to travel to places we haven’t visited in years or have never been to. In 2020, I found Andrew an off-road triathlon (and myself a 5k) in PA and a cross race up in CT – which gave us a chance to visit 14 breweries between the two races. Race photos at the bottom!
What can only be described as probably my worst idea ever, I actually signed myself up for the Steelman “Off Road Endurance Festival” 5k. The 5k that didn’t look too terrible on a map was certainly a lot tougher in person. Have you ever looked at the Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA and said to yourself “Yes. I would like to run up that.”? Let’s just say the run portion of my 5k run was limited to the ‘down’ the mountain part. Also, I got beat by two children under 12 and their mother who was clearly pregnant.
If an average sprint distance triathlon doesn’t sound appealing to you, Steelman Racing has the aptly titled “Off Road Endurance Festival Triathlon” for those craving another race in the late September. This mountain biking triathlon was sold as an “entry level mountain bike experience” and cross bikes were welcome to attend because the terrain “is not that rigorous”; Andrew doesn’t have a mountain bike – yet. How exactly did that pan out? Well not so well for Andrew and his cross bike.
The Swim: Despite being a beautiful, albeit cold morning, most of the field was wearing wetsuits; a practice that I mostly refuse unless the water temperature is absolutely frigid. I don’t have anything against wetsuits, I just prefer to race unassisted when I can. The swim start was odd due to covid as it was a single participant run-start into the water with individuals being released every 15 seconds. It was two laps around a tiny duck pond, and the lake was super weedy.
Transition 1: After exiting the swim, it was no less than a quarter mile, uphill run to transition. I’ve had far transitions before, but this one certainly takes the “why are you so far away and up a hill” cake. It was so far that the Race Director actually recommended transition shoes for swim exit – and everyone agreed.
Bike: The perception that I had, thanks to a conversation with the Race Director prior to signing up, was that this course was a good entry level mountain bike race with mostly gravel trails and it was cross bike safe. That perception quickly evaporated at the very first, deep rut, rocky, rooty, stumpy hill climb. With the exception of the superstar athletes, most of the field was dismounting and pushing their bikes up several technical, steep, muddy and long climbs. The course was not just one painful climb, but was a series of switchbacks. To top it off, the course was two laps of pure pain and somehow only 8 miles total.
In addition to the miserable climbs, I popped both my front and rear tires on a small ascent in the woods after fording a small creek. Luckily I did switch to tubeless last season and the gu quickly sealed the breaches. Not only is this course not entry level, but it certainly is not cross/gravel bike friendly. I wouldn’t even recommend hardtails on this course – full suspension required.
Transition 2: I’ve got several minor cuts, bumps, bruises and an overall disheveled look after the second lap slowly rolling into transition.
Run: This triathlon was unusual because the fun-run 5k went off first; which means I got to witness first hand Melissa enjoy her 5k and knew what to expect for the most part. However as I did not take training seriously in 2020, I too was slaughtered by Bear Creek Mountain. After two bike climbs/walks/cross carries up the mountain, I was already exhausted by the time the 5k began the ascent and I too did more than my fair share of walking.
Do I recommend the race to off road athletes? Absolutely. The race was challenging, the trails were fun, and the field was super friendly before, during and at the finish line. Am I doing the race in 2021? Only if I can get my hands on a mountain bike because my butt was seriously bruised; I looked like a child on the receiving end of a nuns switch.
The Cross Race
I didn’t take my triathlon training seriously in 2020, and by default that means I took cross training even less seriously; I got a few rides in, did some technical training, practiced bunny hops. However, I never got my endurance to where it needed to be for the extreme course that was Newtown Cyclocross.
The course itself was a series of false flats, very few straight aways (only 1 of which was down hill), and one short but extremely steep hill climb. This race takes place at a National Guard armory, with a horse stable, so the sand pit was extremely large even by cross sandpit standards. Immediately after exiting the sand you run into the double plank hurdles and I was unable to get enough speed to bunny hop them and even during the few hours we spent there, we only saw a handful of participants attempt the hops; even fewer succeeded. I wouldn’t consider the course too technical, but the laps were certainly difficult and my Garmin had my heart rates in zones 4 and 5 for practically all of the 40 minutes; there were very few parts of the race to catch your breath.
Overall I finished 14th out of 19 so clearly I was not in shape for this cross race. But I didn’t get lapped, which in the world of amateur/weekend warrior cross, I count as a win. However, I would also like to point out that I still got smoked by both the Mens + Womens Junior racers (ages 16 and under). These kids are die-hards and I’m super impressed by their skills.