Rockin’ & Shockin’: The Pine Hill Arms Triathlon Edition

Rockin’: Saturday lunchtime, I participate in my first ever triathlon, sponsored by the Pine Hill Arms near Belleayre Mountain.
Shockin’: There’s absolutely no way I should be taking part after my recent injury and concussion. I’m a long way below full strength, and if the neurologist finds out, he will surely kill me… Though that might be against his Hippocratic oath.
Rockin’: Look, it’s only 2.5 miles of skiing, 6.5 miles of biking (though they claim 10) and 3.5 miles of running (though they claim 3). How hard can it be?
Shockin’: Ha, ha, ha. Take a drive out to Belleayre Mountain some time and see for yourself. It’s a ski mountain. The village is called Pine Hill. There is no such thing as a flat surface as far as the eye can see. Except the half-mile ridge at the top of Belleayre through which we have to cross-country ski to start the race. That part is flat.
Rockin’: Rather than rely on my inexpensive and bulky hybrid, I’ve borrowed a road bike for the race that once belonged to Lance Armstrong’s trainer. (So I was told.)
Shockin’: It still comes with two flat tires, no screws for the toe clips, the brakes need realigning, it requires a complete different posture of riding, and it doesn’t have the lower gears that get you up a mountain like a hybrid bike does. Oh, and I only get hold of it a couple of days before the race, when I wanted to rest up.
Rockin’: I get everything fixed on the bike the day before the race.
Shockin’: This requires riding the bike the day before the race.
Rockin’: Saturday is a beautiful sunny morning. Perfect for spring skiing.
Shockin’: We’ve had 24 hours of rain and warm weather. The snow has turned to slush.

The ridge at the top of Belleayre, photo taken after the Valentine’s Day storm… It was soft snow and slush come March 24.

Rockin’: I line up confidently in the front row of the men’s race, alongside the favorites.
Shockin’: They push off the start line before the race director counts down to zero. So that’s how you take the lead in a triathlon!
Rockin’: The half-mile cross-country doesn’t seem too tough and I quite enjoy giving it my all.
Shockin’: So why have ten people already pulled ahead of me?
Rockin’: The run down the mountain requires the old-fashioned basic ski posture: crouched down, pointed forward, skis together, no turns, completely succumbing to gravity.
Shockin’: The slush exerts its own gravity. Near the bottom of the mountain, we almost have to get off our skis and walk. It’s somewhat comical.

I don’t know what to say about this posture other than that we’d pretty much come to a standstill in the slush. Leaning forward wasn’t working.

Rockin’: The first half-mile on the bike is pure downhill out of Belleayre Mountain.
Shockin’: The next half-mile is the exact opposite: a ludicrously steep uphill the far side of Route 28. I rode it earlier in the week on the hybrid and figured I could pedal the whole thing. The road bike doesn’t have such low gears though, and I jump off before the crest and walk the bike.
Rockin’: Later in the evening, watching a race video, I see that people who started and finished ahead of me also jumped off and pushed their bikes.
Shockin’: The laces from my new running shoes get caught in the gears. Twice.
Rockin’: There’s a two-mile downhill that doesn’t require the excruciating exertion on the quads from constant pedaling.
Shockin’: It has a precipitous gradient, perilous gravel, and constant turns. I take wide corners and ride the brakes. Others come past me at what looks like 30mph.
Rockin’: After going through Pine Hill Village, the course turns back around and up towards Belleayre. It’s a 1.3 mile steady, slow, hard incline. Very hard. I somehow avoid the temptation to walk the bike again.
Shockin’: I feel my heart beating faster than during any sprint, and my head is throbbing. Hard. Knowing more than I would like to about aneurisms, it briefly occurs to me that my head might actually be exploding. But there isn’t room inside my brain for more than one thought at a time right now so I look down at the road beneath my feet and promise not to look up again until I feel the gradient ease up.
Rockin’: The gradient eases up as we crest Route 28. Only another half-mile to go. I realize this might actually be a fun bike run if I was just out having some Saturday afternoon exercise. But I’m not, I’m in a race and I’m pushing way harder than I’m used to.
Shockin’: Coming up and into the Belleayre parking lot, I aggressively push to pass the cyclist in front of me. This is pure stupidity and takes what little I had left in me. I have to jump off the bike and walk it. Everyone in the car park can see me doing so. The cyclist I’ve just overtaken slowly overtakes me again. I’m sure there’s tactics to riding a route like this, and I obviously don’t know them.

Coming in on the bike, I don’t look so bad. Not from a distance.

Rockin’: Last year I did a biathlon that involved 14 miles on the bike, and when I jumped off for the last two miles of running, I felt strong in my legs.
Shockin’: That was a different course, with only two miles of hills. My wife later says she’s never seen me run so slow as I do out of the car park for the last leg of the race.
Rockin’: As per the bike race, the first half-mile is downhill.
Shockin’: I feel like I’m barely jogging. It’s actually painful. And that’s not even taking into account the sore tendon
Rockin’: As we turn onto Route 28 and the 1.3 back miles downhill towards Pine Hill, cyclists are still coming uphill against me. I must be doing alright after all.
Shockin’: There doesn’t seem to be anybody near enough ahead of me to inspire a chase.
Rockin’: I overtake a few people anyway. And then a few more. Truth is, I’m a runner, not a cyclist, and I’m finishing on home ground, so to speak.
Shockin’: The Pine Hill Arms added another half-mile to the run this year. It’s an uphill and downhill off the side of the village such as you wouldn’t even like to drive, let alone run.
Rockin’: At the bottom of this very steep downhill, the kind that gives you shin splints if you go too fast, I can see the finish line.
Shockin’: The race goes past the finish line, out of the village, down Route 28, back into the village from beneath and up to the finish line. Emphasis on the word up.
Rockin’: I find a kick in the last hundred yards uphill and finish the race with a smile on my face. My time is a couple of seconds under the 75-minute mark I’d unofficially set myself.
Shockin’: The leaders do this race in just under an hour. I finish exactly half-way down the mens’ group.

It’s hard to describe how sore my legs felt as I set off running.

Rockin’: When all is said and done, the bike ride took less than 35 minutes.
Shockin’: That was the hardest 35-minute work-out I’ve ever undertaken.
Rockin’: There are bagels, fruit and water at the finish line. I realize I’ve barely sipped water since the race started and re-hyrdrate.
Shockin’: Some of the faster triathletes head inside the Pine Hill Arms, order themselves a beer, and start talking about tomorrow morning’s race in Prospect Park. Brooklyn. That’s hardcore.
Rockin’: A shuttle bus comes to take us back to the mountain.
Shockin’: By the time it drops us at the lower lodge, where our bikes and skis are boots and bags are scattered around, it’s raining hard. So much for the lovely spring day. I’m in running gear and my body temperature has dropped since the race finished. I’m cold and wet, I have no idea where my family is, and my car is at the upper lodge.
Rockin’: I get organized, get to the car, get dressed, get my gear, get home, find my family there, turn back around with Posie and attend the annual post-race dinner. The food is surprisingly good and so is the company. Oh, and the Keegan’s Hurricane Kitty tastes damn good, too.
Shockin’: The rain is coming down very very hard. Last week’s massive snow fall has been almost completely washed away. I think ski season is now over.
Rockin’: That’s probably just as well. I wake up feeling like I’ve been run over by several large buses. I need some time off.
Shockin’: Only twelve months till next year’s Triathlon.