The Thrill and Novelty of Unusual Races

One of my favorite weekends of the year is the second one in June because that’s the weekend of the Chippewa Canoe Triathlon. This was the fifth year that my friend, Sara, and I have done the race, and it was a pretty good year. The race course always changes a bit every year, but it’s always just shy of 50 miles long: 14 miles canoe (including 2 of portages), about 27 miles of biking on every type of surface, and about 5 miles of running (or often walking, in my case).

Of course, I don’t have a lot of photos because I’m too busy running the race! But this video does capture the craziness of the beginning of the race where we start in Cass Lake and are funneled into a channel that runs under a bridge. After that initial excitement, things slow down for the next several hours.

As it happens, my race was pretty solid this year. Sara and I had improved our canoe time by about 9 minutes, even though we had a pretty irritating headwind much of the time. My bike was solid, but I walked the run because I was pretty tired and my back was super tight from the canoeing. Meanwhile, Sara had an amazing race. She caught up with me in the last half mile or so and we ran in together and tied for second place. It was the perfect finish!


I was interviewed for a local TV segment and was asked why I liked the race. My off-the-cuff answer was a bit awkward, but I was able to identify the three reasons I like this race—and the races that I do in general:

It’s different. I was voted most unique in my high school class, and I’m forever drawn to things that are just a little unusual and give me a good dose of novelty. When I first heard about this race and the canoe-for-swim substitution, I was sold. (It also helped that I couldn’t confidently swim at the time.)

It’s hard. The race has a time limit of 9.5 hours. Much of the race is in the middle of the woods, and I’ve probably gone close to an hour at times without seeing another person or knowing where I was relative to a major roadway or landmark. Often I’m too exhausted to run at the end, but everyone else is so exhausted and slow that I don’t get passed by many people.

It’s small-town and mellow. Yes, a 50-mile, 6+ hour slog through muck and mire is mellow in some ways… exactly because it’s so hard. There’s a relatively small (less than 300) group of people doing the race and we’re all in the same metaphorical boat, pushing ourselves. And the volunteers too, who are so nice even though I think they have the harder day standing out in the bugs and blazing sun, offering water to anyone who happens to pass by.

Every year after the race, I ask Sara if we’re going to do it again next year. It’s already on next year’s calendar.

5 thoughts on “The Thrill and Novelty of Unusual Races

  1. Did you see that you are IN the canoe video at the end when he shows a clip of the transition to bike??? I think I even caught a glimpse of my blue shirt!


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