The Extra Mile

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— Burning thighs, grueling red faces and scaly chapped lips will be the fashionable look next weekend when endurance athletes gear up for the 10th Annual Pentathlon.

With a cap of 250 participants, race director Christina Freeman said the Pentathlon Organizing Committee feels it has nailed the perfect course. No changes from last year's course will be necessary.

"We're willing to let it go, but we need good quality courses and transitions," Freeman said.

For those who want to go the extra mile, or the extra 12 miles, the standard course offers the same five stages as the short course: alpine skiing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, mountain biking and running.

After running up and racing down the face of Howelsen Hill, the snowshoe section will take participants to Howelsen Meadows. Cross-country skiers will traverse either one or three laps on an intermediate/expert lower mountain course on groomed tracks. Skiers may choose either classic or skate-skiing style. Racers then bike along River Road for an out-and-back course, finishing with a road foot race on the Yampa River Core Trail.

For the past two years, the short course has been an option for individuals. For those wanting to compete in teams, the standard, or longer, course is mandatory.

Bob Dapper, who helped create the course 10 years ago, said the committee wanted to have fun with events that were typical of Steamboat. He said over the years, the course hasn't changed dramatically.

"The interesting thing is the sense of accomplishment. It's great to see people cheering in the transition areas," Dapper said.

A detailed age and gender division has been broken down to fit all categories of people. Besides dividing males and females, age divisions are separated as follows: under 19, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50 plus. There are no minimum or maximum age limits.

Last year, only three teams beat the top individual, Mike Kloser of Vail, overall winner for the last four years. For Kloser, the standard course took just under two hours, while the average time is about two-and-a-quarter to two-and-a-half hours. For the short course, participants usually are running back to the transition area in one-and-a-half hours.

"The toughest is running up the face of Howelsen Hill," Freeman said, adding that skiers will ride the chairlift up to drop off their skis in a marked area before the race begins.

Kloser, a former mountain-bike racer for 12 years, said because he hasn't been racing, training for the biking portion of the pentathlon is necessary. But because he considers himself a well-rounded athlete, he's confident he'll defend his title for the fifth year in a row.

"I was fortunate to be successful. I've kind of gotten hooked on it," Kloser said.

At 41, Kloser said racing mountain bikes against 22-year-olds was becoming more of a challenge than he wanted. Although he does compete in many events throughout the year, it was his time to move on from racing, he said.

Kloser's secret: getting a lead as early on as possible and pacing himself at certain times in the race.

"Yeah, you suffer a little, but either the competition isn't tough enough or you're not prepared," Kloser said, if one doesn't suffer enough or struggles too much.

Individual participants don't need to bother with transition areas like those in teams. For instance, after running up Howelsen Hill and skiing down, team members will meet at the transition area, handing off a baton while the next member heads off for the miles of snowshoeing. After snowshoeing, whoever is cross-country skiing needs to meet the racer at the transition area, and the race continues.

Kloser said the transition area for switching gear is an "equipment nightmare." Although the weather has been gracious in the last few years, Kloser said changing for each transition and getting ready to start the next event can be a pain.

Freeman said the number of individuals is increasing every year, but the number of teams participating is doubling. Last year, 70 individuals and 44 teams participated.

"There are some very competitive teams," Freeman said. "Some come out in costume with different themes."

Whether participants want to be clowns or a gang of cowboys and indians, they all will get to dive into the free lunch from Ore House, Chart House and Mazzola's after sweating and burning those calories away. The registration fee includes the race, a T-shirt and lunch.

While volunteers are recruited to help set up lunch, keep time during the race and observe the finish line, court marshals also will make sure participants are passing check points.

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