June 2011

Granite comes in all ages

Granted, most of the muscled men and women competing in the upcoming Granite Man triathlon are serious about their swim stroke. And running stride. And keeping mountain bike tires on the trail while slicing seconds off their finish time.

But beyond the boasts about breaking "CRs" (course records), tales about skidding past 90-degree turns and descriptions of skin scrapes from careening down hills in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, there is lighthearted fun.

Slow runners, families and spectators also enjoy this two-day racing series on idyllic Applegate Lake.

Granite Man race director Chad Wikander, a past race winner himself, has added a 5K scavenger hunt and other activities to the seventh annual event, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2, at Hart-Tish Park. He is expecting 300 participants and uncountable people cheering them on.

Across the country, race organizers are trying to broaden challenging triathlons to interest first-timers and bystanders, says Liz Hichens of Triathlete Magazine, based in San Diego, Calif.

"The sport is growing not because of the pros but everyday people with jobs and families taking it up as a hobby," Hitchens says while covering a California race on a sunny weekend with her toddler at her side.

Even descriptions of the grueling races make them sound inviting.

Granite Man's triathlon will have individuals and team members jumping into Applegate Lake — the spring run-off water is predicted to be 68 degrees — to swim three-quarters of mile.

Stripped out of their wetsuits, they will tackle the 13-mile mountain-bike leg going clockwise around the lake to Seattle Bar.

Then they will rack their bikes and run five miles up and down single-track trails and forest roads, and on wooden bridges over streams while retracing the fingered shoreline back to Hart-Tish Park.

Racers and relay teams in Saturday's simultaneous duathlon will skip the water part of the triathlon but still receive a T-shirt, goody bags and bragging rights at the after party.

On Sunday, a 10-mile mountain run will vault runners 1,000 feet up the Collings Mountain Trail, past abandoned mines, miner's shacks and a Sasquatch trap.

That same day, gamboling gamblers can enter the five-mile poker run in which they get a playing card at each mile marker. The best poker hand at the end wins a cash prize, which is based on the number of entrants pre-registering and paying $25.

Regardless of winning or losing, the terrain is nice to look at, says Wikander. There is the lake and surrounding trails, views of Red Butte Wilderness and national forest lands.

That this is the rare triathlon with off-road running and biking adds to Granite Man's allure to both hardcore racers and people who just want to play that weekend.

Kids 13 or younger can try their best Saturday in the timed triathlon or duathlon, or ask not be timed and race just for fun.

Either way, they won't be cruising through a wimpy splash and dash.

Young athletes will follow in the pros' wake. Kids will swim 300 yards along the shore, bike for four miles and run a mile, cheered on by crowds perched in chairs set up on the lawn on the water's edge.

"When my son Hayden was 8, he competed in Granite Man's youth race and he felt pressure to win," says Tamara Ellis of Ashland, who is an ultramarathon runner. "Afterwards, though, all the kids went out on the lake on tahitis and were using the water guns they received against each other. It was all fun and games."

On Sunday, new this year is a Youth 5K scavenger hunt that starts at 9 a.m. at Watkins campground. Prize vouchers will be set out along the path to Hart-Tish Park.

Everyone's invited to camp over, listen to music and order meals made by food vendors from locally grown ingredients.

Helping Wikander spread the word that the event isn't intimidating is Sloan Dorr, an admittedly slow but steady runner who has spent the last eight months teaching children English and running the mountains of Thailand.

In Thailand, she trained for a 50K, running circles around Buddhist temple ruins, crumbling Buddhas and meditating monks. She blogged about her experiences at http://thesolesearch.com.

Before she temporarily moved to Thailand, Dorr worked at the Rogue Valley Runners store in Ashland. She spent two or three hours running trails twice a week and cross-trained at the Ashland Family YMCA.

Last year, Dorr was Granite Man's event coordinator. Like her successor this year, Pam Downs, she helped organize the volunteers. Dorr and Amy Nagle also ran and marked the mountain run to prepare for last year's race.

Dorr then helped announce the participants as they crossed the finish line and handed out raffle prizes.

This year, she's helping remotely. While in Penang Island in Malaysia in April, she posted information on the Granite Man Oregon Facebook page.

Dorr plans to be back in time for the race but she doesn't think she will compete.

"Unless," she says, "someone needs a runner-swimmer-biker for a tri team and I'll hopefully be in good enough shape to hop in."

She pauses, then adds: "But I mostly want to enjoy a weekend in my tent at the lake."

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