In each of his first three tries as an individual in the U.S. Bank Pole Pedal Paddle, Matt Briggs held the lead coming off the nordic ski leg at Mount Bachelor. But each time, the remainder of the six-leg race has been his undoing.
“I’m pretty good friends with Marshall and Andrew,” Briggs, 29 and of Bend, said earlier this week, referring to past PPP men’s champions Marshall Greene and Andrew Boone. “When I first did it they both beat me, and they said you know, it’s a pretty tough race to get right. It might look easy because you can beat us in skiing, but you have to put the whole thing together. And I said, well, I’m going to keep doing this thing until I beat you both. So that’s always my goal, is to try and beat those guys and finish first.”
Briggs, who was the runner-up in 2016, will not get the chance to best the defending champ Boone, who will not be competing as an individual this year. But all of the other elite men who finished in the top six at last year’s race are back for another go, as is Greene, a six-time PPP winner who last won in 2014 but did not compete as an individual last year due to a broken right foot. Briggs said he hopes an increased focus on cycling and running will allow him to come out ahead of all of them in Saturday’s 41st PPP.
“I almost feel like I have a coach for each discipline at this point,” Briggs said. “I have my ski coach that coaches me in the winter, J.D. (Downing from) XC Oregon. My boss (at Picky Bars), Jesse Thomas, he won two years ago and he’s a super triathlete, so he’s sort of giving me some good advice about the bike-to-run section.
“My girlfriend (Mel Lawrence) is coaching me in running. She’s a professional runner, and a faster runner than I am, and that’s been kind of fun because she is putting me through workouts that I would never do otherwise. Just more speed workout, and less going out on the course and hammering to see how fast I can go. I just need a kayaker for a brother or something like that, and them I’m set.”
And then there is another challenge standing between Briggs and his first Pole Pedal Paddle title: new blood. Akeo Maifeld-Carucci, a 24-year-old nordic skier who moved to Bend nearly a year ago to train with the Bend Endurance Academy, decided several months ago to enter the elite race as a fun way to stay motivated during springtime cross-training.
“Akeo’s a lot like me a couple of years ago,” Briggs said. “I’ve raced nordic with him, and he’s faster than I am. He’s a really good skier. I haven’t been doing it full time for a number of years, and even if I was he would still probably beat me. But this is his first time doing (the PPP). It’s a hard race to put together the first time around. For me, the real shock was finding out how fast most of these guys are on the bike, on the kayak. I must have lost four or five minutes on the bike my first year, that’s not a gap you’re going to make up. They’re pretty good at all of it. He’ll be interesting to race with, for sure, because he’s a really talented athlete and super fit, but it’s his first time.”
Maifeld-Carucci said many of the nordic skiers he met during the winter encouraged him to try out the Pole Pedal Paddle, which will be his first multisport event.
“Even at the (Great) Nordeen (cross-country ski race), they were like you did so well here, are you going to do the PPP?” Maifeld-Carucci said. “(They would say) ‘You want to do it? I have a friend, we can probably find you a bike.’ And then someone else was like, you have to work on a boat. That will be a tough one, but we’ll try and find you something. That was really helpful and fun. At this point, now that we’re close (to the race), that’s what I’m excited about. There are so many people who have come together to help me get here and be able to do this race. There is so much equipment involved, and the transitions and everything. There are so many people helping me. A lot of it is coming from the BEA community, but also the outside nordic community coming to support me, and it will be fun to represent them.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Jason Adams, 38 and of Bend, who will be competing in his 16th straight PPP. Mike Condon, 30 and of Bend, is racing for the 13th time. He has competed as an individual or on a team each year since graduating high school, including 2009, when he skipped his college graduation ceremonies at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh in favor of the race.
“The paddling is probably my best leg, and cross-country skiing is right there, but for the most part I’m good at everything, I’m not great at anything,” Adams explained. “The sport fits me well, because you can be really good at one or two things, but if you can’t hold it together on the other three it doesn’t work out so well.”
Adams said he makes an effort to use his arms for power during the cross-country ski leg, pedal with his hamstrings during the bike leg and let his quads do the work during the 5-mile run and final 800-meter sprint.
“You’re using your heart and lungs the whole time, but you have the ability to balance the load throughout the race,” Adams explained. “I’m getting older, and I have to be a little wiser out there, making the most of what I’ve got as far as training.”
PPP racers have slightly different approaches to training for the six-part race based on their own strengths, time commitments and personal preferences. But Condon might have the simplest strategy: Take a look at the weather and choose to train in the event best suited to the day’s weather.
“I like doing the Pole Pedal Paddle because it’s really fun putting together all these different events and different aspects of Central Oregon,” Condon said. “So when I’m doing my training I’m really trying to focus on making it fun. And so if the weather is really nice and warm, I’m out on the bike or the kayak. If we’re getting feet of snow, then I’m going to be up skiing. I try to balance it around the weather a little bit.”
And as far as goals, Condon said his is the same as just about everyone who races in the PPP, elite division or not: winning one of the mugs awarded to the top three finishers in each category.
“It’s hard to tell with some of the new people who are in the race from year to year, but my goal is to try and come home with a mug,” Condon said. “So we’ll see how it goes.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0305, email@example.com