Senior Triathlete Wins Women’s Division of National Winter Triathlon

by Terry VanderWert

Senior triathlete Jan Guenther was the winner of the women’s division in the first USAT-sanctioned National Winter Triathlon Championship held January 31, 2016 in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.  The senior triathlete men also turned in credible performances to well represent the senior triathlete community.

St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, January 31, 2016 – King Boreas Winter Triathlon, Phalen Golf Course.

 

My Introduction to Winter Triathlon

I have been reading a lot about triathlon since I first got involved in the sport five years ago.  Yet, it was only two weeks before the National Winter Triathlon Championship in St. Paul, near my current residence, that I had even heard of it. I later learned that this was, in fact, the first USAT sanctioned National Winter Triathlon. Organizers are hoping to make this an annual event in St. Paul.

I was familiar with the many indoor triathlons during the winter and even some ‘off the beaten path’ winter triathlons. However, I had never heard of the National Championship USAT sponsored, outdoor event in the north of the USA.

My curiosity got the better of me so I decided to check out their website.  Here is the description from the website:

“The King Boreas Winter Triathlon is new to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and is proud to be host of the 2016 Winter Triathlon National Championships from USA Triathlon! King Boreas Winter Triathlon will take place on Sunday, January 31st starting at 10am at Phalen Golf Course in St. Paul.  The address is 1615 Phalen Drive East, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55106.  Nestled in St. Paul’s East side, the venue is 20 minutes from our International Airport, 5 minutes from the…” http://www.kingboreaswintertri.com/

 

My First Experience as a Triathlon Volunteer

Reading on, I saw the request for volunteers with the promise of “an awesome winter hat, swag items and beer tickets”.  I couldn’t pass up that offer.

Between the swag and the opportunity to check out a winter triathlon, I registered as a volunteer for the race, eventually being assigned to the Run Course.

2016 National Winter Triathlon volunteers hat and badge

2016 National Winter Triathlon volunteers hat and badge.

Triathlon Course

The King Boreas Winter Triathlon was held at the Lake Phalen Public Golf Course during the annual St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Since the course was entirely outdoors consisting of the following three legs. 

Run: 5 km (3.1 mile)

Bike: 17 km (10.5 mile)

Cross-country ski: 7.5 km (4.7 mile)

 

Run

The run consisted of a 3.1 mile loop around Lake PhalenThe run course occasionally took place on the running trail, but for the most part the run was on packed snow with some challenging short hills.

 

Bike 

The bike leg consisted of five laps of a 2.1-mile loop consisting of many twists, turns, flyovers. In fact, the bike course was the product of a 4-year-old’s drawing of a race course transposed (by an adult) into the actual race course.

The path consisted mainly of a mix of packed snow, bare ice, and a mix of snow and vegetation from creek beds.  Since the course was slippery, race organizers strongly recommended that racers use a fat tire bike or ‘fat bike’.

Fat bikes were almost necessary for the snow-packed bike course at the USA National Winter Triathlon Championships.

 

Some racers even added studs to their tires for extra traction. However, according to one of the racers with whom I spoke later, the studs turned out to be unnecessary and actually a slight detriment since the temperature at race time was around freezing, having warmed considerably from the minus Fahrenheit temperatures of a few days earlier.

There were also racers with mountain bikes and even a few, some quite competitive, who used their road bikes. Mind you, the latter with the road bikes where young, strong, and fell more than once.

 

Cross-country ski

The ski leg was two loops of a twisty, windy trail on the Lake Phalen Golf Course. In Minnesota, it is quite common for golf courses to double as cross country ski courses during the winter.  Race organizers described the course as “a grinder of a course; no long climbs but constantly undulating and forcing changes in technique”.   Both classic-style skis and skate skis were used.

Jan Guenther on ski leg 2016 Winter Triathlon-1

Senior triathlete Jan Guenther beginning the second loop of the ski course at the 2016 King Boreas Winter Triathlon Championship, January 31, 2016.

 

Here is What I Learned

  • Triathlon is an excellent sport for supporting very worthy causes. Prior to the race, I spoke with Roland Peckman of Team RWB, where RWB stands for Red White Blue. Not only did Team RWB provide a significant number of race volunteers, but they were there to share the invitation to all – veterans and non-veterans (like me) – to join them at physical activities and social events around the city. Team RWB’s mission is to help veterans reintegrate into society by providing them a variety of no cost opportunities to meet others who share their military experience or at least want to support those who have served our country in the military.
Team RWB logo

Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

 

Know the Course

  • It is each racer’s responsibility to know the course – It was interesting to attend a triathlon as a spectator/volunteer, as opposed to as a racer. Watching the race reinforced the importance of each race participant knowing the course. Here are two examples of NOT knowing the course that I saw:
    • First, one racer who was unaware that there were five loops to completing that bike leg, exited after two laps, cutting in front of another racer who was fully aware of the course and crashing into him. Through absolutely no fault of his own, the biker who was in the right was knocked down by the ignorant racer.   The racer who was on the receiving end of unprepared biker’s bike had his chain come off which cost him several seconds and received a nasty bruise on his ankle.
    • A second example is that another racer crossed the finish line after only one loop of the ski course, rather than the two loops part of the course. Once he realized his mistake, he re-entered the course to complete the final loop. However, this error disqualified him from a competing finish.

 

Training Advice for Seniors

  • From some senior triathletes with whom I spoke, here is advice for those of us who either are participating in or plan to participate in triathlon:
    • While mental strength is one of the benefits for seniors who take part in the sport of triathlon, this mental strength can also work against us.  Remember to build core strength, learn to rest, and “learn to back down when you need to avoid over-training and being injured”.
    • The winter format – run, bike, and ski – is particularly taxing on the legs and the quads and glutes as compared to the more conventional swim, bike, run format.
    • If you have never done a triathlon, you can most likely find a format that will fit you. Marv W’s advise (age 64) is “plow in and do it; the worst that can happen is being last and even then nobody cares if you are last.”

 

Senior Triathletes Turn In Impressive Performances

The senior triathletes (those 50 and over) did well in representing us.  For the 2016 race, the fastest female was a senior triathlete, Jan Guenther, age 56.   And, three of the top 10 racers and six of the top 20 racers were senior triathletes.

 

March 2018 Update

Note: Jan Guenther once again won the female division in the 2018 USAT Winter Triathlon.  This time, the order of events was reversed to cross-country ski, bike, and run.  Read about the 2018 Winter Triathlon here.

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