Pentathlon returns to Steamboat today for 20th anniversary |

Pentathlon returns to Steamboat today for 20th anniversary

Registration closed for 20th annual event in downtown Steamboat

Steamboat Pentathlon short course competitor Bryan Babcock, of Boulder, takes a breather after sprinting to the finish line in March 2010 at Howelsen Hill.
Courtesy Photo

— Steamboat Springs’ Barkley Robinson has proven himself one of the town’s top athletes. He moved to Steamboat after a stint on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, has reigned as one of the city’s best cyclists, both on mountain and road bikes, for years and is nearly as accomplished on cross-country skis.

Running, though, isn’t high on his list of things to do.

“I’m not built to be a runner,” he said with a laugh. “It just hurts me.”

So what does it say about the Steamboat Pentathlon — a multi-sport test that requires running in some form for about 50 percent of its grueling length — that Robinson, of all people, is enthusiastic, excited and eager to compete again?

“It’s a cool, great local event,” said Robinson, the defending men’s champ. “The runners, the bikers, the skiers and everyone get together. It’s not a biker’s race or a runner’s race. It’s just a neat, fun race.”

It’s a popular local event that’s returning at 10 a.m. Saturday to the base of Howelsen Hill for its 20th anniversary with a field considerably larger than it’s recently seen. Nearly 260 competitors have registered.

The pentathlon is an endurance challenge. The standard course starts with a climb 400 feet up the face of Howelsen Hill, then a quick ski or snowboard back down to the transition area, set up on the softball fields next to Howelsen Hill Lodge.

A 2.5-mile snowshoe is next, followed by four miles of cross-country skiing, a 12-mile mountain bike trip and five miles of running.

A short course also is available that cuts the race nearly in half.

A wide variety of contestants are expected to tackle the event, some as individuals like Robinson but many in groups as small as two and as large as five.

“We have kids as young as 6 years old doing the race and people over 60 doing it,” race director and city sports coordinator Kate Warnke said. “We have a couple people from Utah and definitely a handful of people from other states and the Denver area. It’s a great community event, though. It’s a race for everybody.”

Success doesn’t come fast, Robinson explained, thinking bigger than just the two hours it takes top competitors to finish.

He should know. After years of top-five finishes, Robinson finally won the demanding event last year. Understanding the appeal is simple, he explained.

He pointed to the crowd and the atmosphere, an experience that will be enhanced this year with a post-race party featuring live music and starting at 2 p.m. at Sweetwater Grill.

Success, though, is far from simple.

“It takes time to learn how to pace yourself and what equipment works well on the run up and the ski down and on the bike,” he said. “On the first try, people are always getting confused on equipment. It’s a lot to take on.”

His first tip to want-to-be challengers: pick the right equipment, none of which should include ski boots to climb the race’s initial pitch.

“You’d be surprised how many people try that,” he explained. “Find yourself a nice set of old rear-entry boots as you can jump in them quick, then put them in your pentathlon closet for next year.”

Fast or slow, though, the pentathlon will again prove popular for both contestants and spectators, Warnke predicted.

“It’s just a great time for everybody,” she said. “It’s fun to take part, and it’s fun to watch.”

—To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail

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