After taking 12th in his first pentathlon attempt last year, Scott Kempers was hoping for a top-10 finish Saturday.
Much to his own surprise, the Steamboat Springs anesthesiologist passed his last opponent about one-third of a mile from the finish line to win the 14th annual Steamboat Penthathlon.
"I just kept getting stronger through the race," he said afterward, holding a toddler in each arm. "I crashed on my skate skis, but I was strong in the bike and stronger in the run."
To be specific, Kempers crashed on his skate skis not during the cross-country skiing portion of the event, but during the downhill ski that follows a sprint to the top of Howelsen Hill to make up the first leg of the event. After running up Howelsen Hill in telemark boots last year, he and a few friends thought skate skiing boots would be quicker -- but that also would require navigating the steep downhill on skinny skis.
"I practiced it and was able to make it down the mountain, but I wasn't amped up with all the other racers then," he said.
After crashing during the first leg of the contest, Kempers picked himself up and perservered with the 2.5-mile snowshoe, four-mile cross-country ski, 12-mile bike ride and five-mile run that round out the Steamboat Pentathlon. He knew biking and running were his strongest phases, but with all the commotion, he didn't know how badly his crash had hurt his position during the early legs.
"I knew I'd done well on the bike, and as I came into the bike-run transition, my wife said I was in third place, and I was thrilled," he said. "I got about a mile into the run and saw the second-place guy, and I thought I could catch him. Actually, I was running hard so the next two guys wouldn't catch me because I knew they were strong runners."
With about a mile left in the run, now firmly in second place, Kempers saw leader Barkley Robinson in front of him. Holding a steady pace, he bore down and ultimately passed Robinson with about one-third mile left to cross the finish line in first in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 54 seconds.
Robinson, who led much of the way, suffered from leg cramps in the run but held on to finish second about a minute behind Kempers.
In the dynamic duo category, final results again far surpassed expectations.
"We were just trying to not place last," said Tor Christopherson, half of the winning Make Way for Science team, which finished in 1:51:31.
Christopherson, a 23-year-old biology major from Colorado Mountain College who dressed in a costume reminscent of a B-movie pimp, did the downhill, cross-country ski and biking legs of the event. His teammate, 22-year-old physics major Max Stevens did the snowshoe race and run.
In the women's long-course event, good timing helped 42-year-old Nancy Hendrickson of Park City, Utah, win the pentathlon on her first try, with a time of 2:22:05. Hendrickson has wanted to compete in the pentalthon in previous years, but scheduling conflicts always prevented it. This year, however, her son qualified to jump in this weekend's Junior Olympics, so the family could make the trip to Howelsen Hill together.
Hendrickson, who is a competitive long-distance trail runner, admitted to taking a skate-skiing clinic to prepare for the pentathlon.
"The snowshoe was hard, and so was the skate ski just because I'm such an unbalanced mess on those, but the run and the bike were good," she said.
As always, the Steamboat Pentathlon attracted athletes ranging from the elite to the why-not varieties with training methods to match.
Thirty athletes from the Bolder Boulder Training Club, led by Scott Fliegalman, cross-trained together to prepare for the competition. Fliegalman, who finished third overall in the short-course race, did the pentathlon on his own a few years ago, realized it worked very well into the type of winter cross-training his club does, and has been bringing up a group ever since. He praised Christina Freeman of the Steamboat Springs Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department for working hard to make sure the race accommodated its out-of-town contestants.
At the other end of the training spectrum were Steamboat housemates and Stanford University alumni Joey Carucci, 22; Nick Kanaan, 22; and Jonathan Reinemund, 23; who each completed in the short-course event (downhill ski, 1.5-mile snowshoe, 2.25-mile cross-country ski, 7.4-mile bike and 2-mile run) after Kanaan signed them up on a whim.
"We've never snowshoed except once up to Fish Creek Falls, and I cross-country skied once. We just got our bikes today," Kanaan said. "We were totally unprepared."
But that didn't matter. Kaanan said he saw a poster advertising the pentathlon and signed himself and his roommates up on the closing date for entries.
"He knews we have three kind of laid-back guys and he knew if he put our money in, we'd do it," Reinemund said. "The cross-country skiing was the funnest thing I've done this winter, maybe because of the snow we've had."
Reinemund, who is training for the Paris Marathon, was glad the running leg was last.
Carucci, who borrowed a tiny and missnamed "Red Giant" bike from Reinemund's 11-year-old sister, was just glad to see the end of the biking leg -- and the downhill leg, and the showshoe leg, and the cross-country leg, all of which were similarly hampered by less-than-ideal, last-minute equipment.
Nonetheless, while waiting for Carucci at the finish, Reinemund and Kanaan agreed the experience was good enough to repeat, if they ever find themselves in Steamboat during pentathlon weekend again.
Other winners included, in the individual short-course race, Greg Long in the men's division at 1:17:37 and Eve Stephansz in the women's division at 1:23:57.
Altogether, 126 individuals and 47 teams competed, making for a record total of 274 participants in the annual event, Freeman said.