One of my favorite events to watch in the Winter Olympics is the biathlon, a race that involves the power, speed, and endurance of cross-country skiing with the precision, accuracy, and calm of marksmanship. Depending on the particular competition, any missed shots result in extra distance or time added to the contestant’s total skiing distance or time, and the contestant with shortest total time wins.
I’m not sure about anyone else, but I get pretty pumped up and overconfident about my athletic abilities while watching the Olympics. Ski jump? “I could do that!” Haha! Uh…no. Okay, I might be able to do curling (very poorly), which has a low risk of death and looks easy, but in actuality, also requires a high level of skill and training. But seriously, it’s hard not to get excited about sport in general while watching the Olympics. It’s a truly amazing display of elite athletic ability and competition.
In any case, back in February, while reading more about Olympic biathlon, I happened to discover that Pennsylvania (PA) has a Biathlon Club and holds four summer biathlon events each year. I was immediately interested. Summer biathlon?! What’s that? Well, obviously, there is no snow here in the summer in PA, so instead of cross-country skiing, there is cross-country running. (I later found out that the PA Summer Biathlon series was originally developed as a way to encourage US interest in winter biathlon.)
After checking out the PA Summer Biathlon schedule, my spouse, son, a friend, and I signed up for one of their events, which happened to be this past Saturday in Nescopek, PA. As the weekend approached, the weather forecast was not looking good. They were calling for heavy rain the few days before the race and on race day morning. Disappointing, but a
little lot rain was not going to stop me. I’ve run in poor weather conditions before, and was ready for the challenge.
This biathlon was set up as follows:
1 mile run
25 m shoot in prone (5 shots)
1 mile run
25 m shoot in standing (5 shots)
1 mile run
The run was an out-and-back course, mostly flat, through a corn field, and there was a 70 m penalty lap for each shot missed before heading back out for the next mile loop.
No experience is necessary, but if you’ve never participated in biathlon, you must attend the beginner’s clinic which is held immediately before the race. We all went to the clinic which was really helpful and informative. We learned about the rules and history of biathlon, how to use a .22 caliber biathlon rifle, and then had a chance to practice 5 shots in prone and 5 shots in standing (with individual supervision/training). I surprised myself, never having handled a rifle before, and made 4/5 in prone and 2/5 in standing (during practice). Just before the event, we had a brief pre-race meeting and then got started. They sent people off in sets of 1 or 2 on the minute. We wore biathlon bib tanks over our race clothes, and it had the number which told you when you started. I had number 7 and so I started in the 7th wave.
To start, we ran a mile on the well marked, out and back course. The course conditions were very poor…uneven footing, flooded, with deep, unavoidable puddles that seemed to get bigger and deeper on each lap. To add to the challenge, I had to stop and tie each of my shoes again during the first mile (despite double knotting them beforehand). But honestly, I LOVED it! Well, I probably would have overall enjoyed myself more if it were sunny and 65°F, but the ridiculousness of the hard rain and mud brought back a lot of fun memories of college cross country. Also, since it was an out and back course that we did three times, we all got to see all the other competitors several times, which added to the enjoyment. There was really no way to run super fast through the course, although the overall winner, a local, very experienced woman biathlon competitor, managed close to a 6:30 pace to win the entire event.
After the first mile, you head to the range. There is a walk zone where you must stop running as you enter the range. The range marshals then direct you to a lane where you set up and shoot. If no lanes are open when you get there (which didn’t happen to me), they will give you a time deduction for the time you spend waiting. Anyway, for my prone shots, I only made 2/5 this time. My rifle jammed on my 3rd shot and I had to raise my hand and ask for help. It took a minute or two, and they couldn’t fix it, so they changed out my rifle. Supposedly, they deducted time for that, but I’m not sure how much or exactly how they figured it out. I suspect it was a loose estimation. Honestly, though, I wasn’t really too concerned about that since it was my first time competing, and it was pouring rain. Anyway, since I missed 3 shots, and I had to do 3 penalty laps and then head back out in the mud for another mile.
After my second mile, I headed back to the range. For my standing shots, I only made 1/5. No problems with the rifle, but it was a lot to remember to how set up in the ideal position, and it’s harder to control your shot when you are still breathing relatively hard. Four more penalty laps…..
I then headed out for the last mile. At this point, each of my “lightweight” Topo Fly-Lite 2 trainers weighed about 5 lbs each. But who cares?!?!? It was such fun! Classic cross-country style running!!! At least I finished my run before the sideways, torrential rain came down. Other competitors were not so lucky.
In any case, we all won awards. I took 1st place Masters Female and my spouse, son, and friend, all won their age group. Oh, and for each shot you miss during the event, you get a ticket to put in a raffle. And we all won raffle prizes too! In fact, everyone won a prize! Yay!
Aside from the rain, the only real bad part was the bathroom. It was a true outhouse, and not exactly clean. But overall, super fun!!!! We all enjoyed ourselves a lot. There are several more events this summer, and I’m already signed up for another one in July.
Hope you enjoyed this race report!
Disclaimer: I do not own a rifle or any other type of firearm, and I am very much in support of stricter gun control laws. My interest in biathlon was to experience the combined sport aspect of running and marksmanship.