Have you ever had one of those dreams where your legs don’t work? You try to run but you can't because it feels as if someone strapped fifty pound weights to each foot. And the worst part is that it always happens at the most inopportune times, like when you are getting chased down by sasquatch or a biting goat. If you have experienced this, you know how terrifying this can. Well, last weekend my dreams became a reality.
This spring when i found out I would be heading to Bend, OR for a training camp in May I immediately looked up when the Pole Pedal Paddle (PPP) was. The PPP is a race that consists of six different legs; alpine ski/snowboard, cross-country ski, bike, run, canoe/kayak/SUP, and a sprint to the finish. I first heard about the race from two of my college teammates who were from Bend. They talked of this majestic race where thousands of people flock to Mt. Bachelor in the morning only to race their way back to the city of Bend utilizing their own human power. It sounded awesome to me and I wanted to give it a try. Thankfully, the race was scheduled for just two days after the conclusion of the camp with my team. It was destiny. I knew this was my chance to finally take part in this legendary race.
Now, due to the fact that there are five different events the race can be a bit of a logistical nightmare. On top of that, I am from Wisconsin and I was flying to Oregon. So when I first debated doing the race I quickly prayed about it and God replied, “I got you man!”
So I could write an entire blog post about the different ways God used so many different people to help me find equipment for the race. It was awesome to see time and time again everything I needed for the race provided for. Without the help of so many, I would not have been able to participate in this years PPP. A huge thanks goes out to Dr. Hodgert and Carolyn for housing me, killer alpine skis, a surfski, a stylish aero helmet, as well as mountains for advice as seasoned veterans. A huge thanks also to Brian and Dr. Widmer for getting a fast bike underneath me and to my teammate Max for helping fit the bike for me, as well as loaning me his training skis to race on. A thanks to Rik for a wicked nice paddle and Jonah for the ride up the mountain on race morning. To everyone else that helped out in some way, thanks for helping me get equipped for this years PPP.
From the time our team camp ended Thursday morning until race time Saturday morning, my hands were full with race prep. The rest of the day on Thursday, I ran around Bend getting everything I needed and setting up my equipment. Friday was full of testing and getting dialed in. While testing on Friday, I could feel the fatigued from the previous two and half weeks of training. I tried to minimize my activity on Friday to maximize recovery for the race, but when it comes to PPP-prep, there’s a lot to do. By Friday evening I finally felt I was organized enought to avoid any major hiccups during the race and tried to get some sleep before the morning.
On race morning I woke up, ate some breakfast, and chugged a cup of strong coffee hoping the caffeine would give me the burst of energy I needed. The weather was shaping up to be perfect, blue bird skies and temps predicted to hit the mid-70’s. With the snow fast and sun shining, it was a skiers paradise.
As soon as the race started, I could tell the other competitors weren’t messing around. The race starts with a 50 meter uphill sprint where you stepped into your alpine skis and bomb down the hill. By the time I got to my alpine skis, there were already 4-5 guys taking off down the hill. I stepped in as fast as I could and pushed off only to see the top guys taking off on their nordic skis by the time I got to the exchange. I hopped out of my alpine boots and onto my nordic skis and took off. I passed 3-4 guys right after the transition and saw the top guys about 20-25 seconds ahead of me. The start of the nordic course is almost all downhill and so I figured I’d put in a surge and try and catch them. However, they both had fast skis and
even after putting in some full on sprints the gap didn’t close but increased by a second or two. On top of that, the combination of adrenaline from the alpine run, accumulated fatigue from my training camp, and a few surges on skis at 6500 feet and I was already maxed out. I had the quick thought I need to keep my pace in check or I’m gonna die. By the end of the cross country ski leg, I pushed into second place, just a few seconds down to first. On the bike, I closed the gap to the guy in front of me, but the past champion Marshall Greene closed the gap to me and never looked back, taking the lead into the running leg.
On the bike is when I really noticed that I just did not have the snap to have a great race. I knew if I wanted any chance I was gonna have to be smart and use my energy wisely. I didn’t have the energy in the legs to waste any of it, so concentrated on staying aero and getting the most with every revolution of the pedals. By the time we got off the bikes for the run, Marshall had put into me. During the run, I ran most of the 5 mile route with another PPP legend, Matt Briggs. By the time we hit the paddle portion, we had whittled Marshall's lead down to about 45 seconds. I quickly threw on my life jacket, hopped in my boat, and started paddling.
Due to the nature of paddling, Marshall’s 45 second lead didn’t look quite as big on the water. I could see him ahead of me and slowly started to close the gap. By the second turn around, about ¾ of the way through the paddling leg, I had the lead down to about 15 seconds. As we neared the beach for the last exchange, I started thinking about my strategy for the final 800 meter sprint. There would be about a 4-5 second gap I would have to close to take the victory. I figured I made up almost a minute and a half in the 5 mile run, I can do 5 seconds in the final 800 meters.
As soon as I hit the beach I jumped out of my boat after Marshall, but I felt like my legs stayed in the boat. I almost fell flat on my face as I felt like I had just stepped into freshly poured concrete, my legs weighing a hundred pounds each. I could see Marshall right ahead of me, but my legs were barely working. With each step my quads twitched, only a step away from completely cramping up. I dug down as deep as I could and slowly started to reel him back in.
As I was running, slowly reeling Marshall in, I knew I was already at terminal velocity. My legs were zapped of all ATP and I was barely sluffing along. Now I have never been much of a sprinter to begin with. My thought was if I could just pass him, make it look like I wasn’t totally dead and put another second or two on him by the finish, it may be enough. So I pushed past him, burning fuel that was no longer there. As we rounded the corner and the finish line came into view, we both gave it all we had. Unfortunately for me, Marshall had more of a sprint left in his legs and surged past me for the victory. I stumbled across the finish line and hung my head in defeat with my hands resting on my knees.
As I stood there trying to catch my breath, I was definitely disappointed I just missed the victory, but was also surprised I managed to be as close as I did. Going into the day, I knew I was not well rested and ready to race, but had to make due with what I had.
As I shook hands with Marshall and the other competitors as they crossed the line I was just happy to be part of such an awesome event. The PPP in Bend has something special and to experience it first hand was a real treat. It was awesome to meet so many awesome people and to see the entire city come together to put on a world class event. Managing thousands of athletes with gear for five different events is not easy, but somehow the
Bend PPP race organizers figured out a way to make it possible. Hats off to all the organizers and volunteers that make this special event possible.
So to close out this post I am going to talk about being the darkhorse. The PPP is like the Birkie of Bend. It’s a huge deal and on the Friday before the race the local paper has elite race predictions. Due to the fact that I am just a kid from Appleton, WI I was nowhere to be found in the article for good reason. Thankfully, this put no expectations on me except the ones I placed on myself. Right after we crossed the finish line, a woman came running up to Marshall and I and was ecstatic saying, “Oh my gosh, that was so exciting! I’m the race director, Molly, that was so exciting, oh my that was…” then looking at me asked, “Wait, who are you!?!?!” Out of breath I just shrugged and just said, “Paul.”
Pushing to the finish with whatever energy I could find
Finally catching my breath at the finish
Getting interviewed by the local news station after the race