The 2014 Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon combined all of the most exciting New England outdoor activities into one event. This was my first multi-sport event and I am hooked on the adventure, the challenge and the great feeling that comes from the support of friends and family.
The third annual Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon took place on April 5, 2014. The course features a 4.2 mile road/ trail run, 20 miles of road cycling, 5 miles of whitewater kayaking, 1.82 miles of obstacles followed by a hill climb to the summit of Berkshire East and a ski descent to the finish line. Racers could take on the course relay style as a Tartan Team of 5 or a Tam-O-Shanter Team of 2. Those who wanted the ultimate challenge could do it solo as a Highlander Brave Heart Laddie/ Lassie. All of this takes places in the beautiful countryside of Charlemont, MA and proceeds help benefit the Charlemont Trails System. I love this race because it is organized by people who are passionate about the event as well as the region and it has a sort of low key feel to it without compromising safety or fun.
A few months ago my friend, Jeb, and I challenged each other to do this race solo. We figured it was the perfect challenge since we both love all 5 events in the race. Until now Jeb had beaten me at every competition we ever entered, except for an eating contest, and I was determined to change that. We both signed up as Highlanders and the competition was on!
I put in 5 months of training before the race but I still did not know what to expect or if I was ready. I headed to Charlemont early in the morning before the race. The weather forecast showed the potential for clouds, rain, sun and temperatures between 30-45 degrees so anything could happen. I wasn’t sure how to make the logistics work but I had my dad and girlfriend with me as my support crew and I knew we would figure it out.
We got to the starting line 3 hours before the race. This gave us plenty of time to spot my kayak, bike, and ski gear. I also worked through my gear strategy with my support crew.
Before long the 130+ racers gathered in the base lodge at Berkshire East for the pre-race meeting. Then we lined up at the starting line at the base of a snowy ski slope.
The cowbell was rung and we were off!
The run went across the muddy Berkshire East parking lot onto a paved road and into Charlemont. We quickly turned onto Riddell road where we were treated to roller-coaster like pitches. The running route climbs over 1,000 feet and most of that happens in the first 2 miles. Before long the pavement disappeared and we were running on a jeep trail that continued to climb with patches of snow, ice and mud. My feet regularly broke through the ice into ankle deep pools of mud. This is where I had to accept that my feet where going to get wet and muddy and they were going to stay that way for a long time.
All of a sudden the sound of bagpipes filled the air. The course made a turn into an open field with a beautiful view of the valley and Berkshire East. We had reached the top of the run and the bagpiper only added to the joy. We traversed the field onto more muddy and snowy trails that descended towards the Warfield House and Zoar Outdoor where the bike transition would take place.
The jeep road into Zoar Outdoor had a lot of switchbacks so we could hear the cheer of the crowd and the clinging of cowbells for a while before we reached the end of the run. My girlfriend was waiting at the beginning of the transition area to tell me where my dad, who was holding my bike, was. This definitely saved me a few seconds and I needed all the time I could get since Jeb was right behind me.
I found my dad holding my bike and gear; I got ready to ride and was off as fast as possible thanks to a push from dad.
The bike route made 3.5 loops on a mostly flat course before it headed toward the kayak put in on Zoar Road. My legs were burning from the run and I did my best to eat something and to hydrate while riding the first loop. The skies were threatening rain and the road was extremely sandy so I rode carefully.
My dad and girlfriend were parked on the side of the road, a few miles into the course, to cheer me on; did I mention that my support crew was awesome? As I made the second loop they were still there and they let me know that Jeb was just over a minute behind me. This gave me the motivation to push harder. I rode as fast as possible as I approached the kayak leg. Jeb is a much faster paddler than me so I needed every second I could get.
The kayak transition takes places at Zoar Picnic Area which was covered in ice, fog and full of people getting ready to paddle. My dad was standing in the transition area with my kayak gear in his hands. I handed him my bike and put on all my paddling gear. He ran with me to the river’s edge to help me get my boat in the water. I could hear my heart beating as I started paddling downriver; I had not paddled in a few years and I had never paddled after running and biking!
The kayak leg was 5 miles of class 1 and 2 rapids. The water was ice cold but the rapids were straightforward and the water was high enough to get over most of the rocks. Even though I had neoprene gloves on I eventually could barely feel my hands that were soaked in freezing water. This part of the race felt like it took forever and I got passed by a few boats. I knew Jeb was right behind me, and definitely catching up, but I could not see him as I approached the end of the kayak leg.
I had to use my teeth to take off my kayaking gloves since my hands were too cold to do it. As my hands were freed of the freezing gloves it felt like they were being placed in an oven; next time I am bringing thicker gloves! Thankfully my girlfriend offered me her gloves which brought my hands back to life.
I handed my kayak gear to my dad and headed out for the 1.8 mile obstacle course leg just as a rain shower moved in. The obstacle leg was built by the organizers of the Bone Frog Challenge; a Navy Seal inspired obstacle race coming to Berkshire East on May 17. The obstacles included traversing over snow mounds, walking through freezing water, traversing balance beams and jumping over fire. We even got to take a ride in the tubing park. The mountain proved to be the hardest obstacle when we had to climb halfway up one of the slopes; my legs were pretty spent at this point. This is when I saw Jeb headed the wrong way. I yelled to him and found out he had banged his knee on an obstacle and was dropping out. I felt bad for him but he told me to keep going so that is what I did.
The last leg of the race was a hike up Berkshire East’s Competition slope, while carrying ski gear, followed by a ski descent to the finish line. Once again my dad was at the transition area with my gear at the ready. Competition is a wide, steep and long ski slope. It plays tricks on the mind since no matter how many steps one takes it doesn’t feel like you are getting anywhere. Some people tried to run up the slope only to be brought to a slow walk within a few yards. The only way to climb is one step and one breath at a time. I looked down at my feet and just kept moving. My legs were screaming and I could not have felt happier to reach the top of the climb.
My socks had been subjected to mud, sweat and water for several hours at this point so I took the time to put on a dry pair. Getting into my ski boots was not easy but I forced my feet in because I sure did not want to walk down! The click of my boots into my skis was a joyous sound; the finish line was one ski run away!
I slowly skied down the slope, making sure not to miss any gates, and the sound of the crowd in the finish area got louder with each turn. The snow was surprisingly nice with spring conditions. Suddenly the finish line came into view and I skied across it! I had finished the Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon in three hours and fifty one minutes which gave me 8th place out of the 16 people who did it solo in my category. This was fine with me; just finishing was all the reward I wanted.
I found and thanked my dad and girlfriend; none of this was possible without them. I also found Jeb to make sure he was ok. It was a bummer that injury knocked him out of the race but it seemed like he would be ok after some rest. I guess this means we will need to face off against each other again next year.
The Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon is physically challenging, mentally draining and a whole lot of fun! I could not had done any of it without the support of my dad and girlfriend who always had my gear ready in the right place so I am very thankful for them. Hopefully I will see you at the starting line next year!