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Wilmington pentathlon adapting to conditions

April 3, 2012
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - An unlucky year weather-wise has made planning difficult for a new race scheduled in Wilmington on Saturday, April 14, but the organizers of the Rites of Spring Pentathlon are still hoping to hold the first-time event.

Long-time endurance athlete Charlie Cowan of Lake Placid is race director of the Rites of Spring Pentathlon. He said a lack of snow won't hamper the five-leg competition, but a low number of racers could cause it to be canceled.

"We want to have this as an annual event. We want to have this as an annual event for perpetuity," said Cowan, who has competed in numerous Ironman races including the World Championships. "We are going to get this race going, whether it's this year or next."

Article Photos

Charlie Cowan of Lake Placid paddles the Saranac River near Saranac Lake during a snowstorm last year on April 5. Cowan, who is the race director for the Rites of Spring Pentathlon, was training for the Inferno Pentathlon in New Hampshire.
LPN file photo by Mike Lynch

The registration deadline for the race, which includes skiing, running, paddling and biking, is this Saturday, and organizers need at least five teams competing to get it off the ground this year. Athletes can enter the event on teams or as individuals.

Cowan said the goal of the Rites of Spring Pentathlon is to get people back outdoors after the winter season while raising money for the Lake Placid Outing Club, which will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from entry fees, which have been lowered in an attempt to draw more competitors.

Cowan said his inspiration to establish this pentathlon arose from his visits to similar spring-time races including the popular Inferno held on New Hampshire's Mount Washington and the Mad River Quadathlon in Vermont.

The Rites of Spring Pentathlon legs will all be held in the town of Wilmington. Plans were to start the race at 7 a.m. with a 5-kilometer cross-ski on Whiteface Mountain ending at the mid-station lodge, but that has already been changed to a running leg because there is little or no snow on the course. The next stage could also be changed and that decision will be made later this week when Cowan and fellow organizers take a look at snow conditions on Whiteface's trails. The second leg is a planned boot pack up the mountain followed by an alpine ski descent, but that could become a mountain bike ride down the proposed course.

The third leg will be a 10k road/trail run to the dam in Wilmington, where competitors will then take to the AuSable River for a 6k paddle that features Class II waters. After paddling, athletes will then embark on a 32k bike ride to the finish line near the entrance to the Whiteface Mountain ski center.

Cowan said the Rites of Spring Pentathlon was scheduled to fit between the Vermont and Mount Washington races in an effort to draw competitors from those races. The Mad River event has traditionally been held on the first weekend in April, but the ski leg has been dropped, and next year, it will be contested in May. Cowan said that could pave the way for the Wilmington event to be held earlier when snow conditions will be better at Whiteface Mountain for both the cross-country and alpine legs.

"It's been a nightmare year for skiing," Cowan said. "I think the lack of snow has hurt registration, but you never know what the weather will bring this time of year. We could still have two feet of snow fall on Whiteface before the race. I think next year, we will hold the race earlier."

Lake Placid's Jen Ledger is also helping organize the race. She said the unpredictable weather conditions could actually add more interest to the event.

"At this time of year, you have to be ready for anything," Ledger said. "Depending on the snow, you might need to come with two bikes - a road bike or a mountain bike with fat tires and spikes. I think that adds a fun element to this race."

Setting the entry fee amount may have been one of the most challenging parts of establishing the Rites of Spring Pentathlon. Teams will consist of either five or six members, depending on whether the paddle leg is done in a one- or two-person canoe or kayak. The entry fee for each team member is $50, while individuals will pay $75 for the entire race. Along with paying to compete, participants will receive a T-shirt, maple syrup and some food.

Cowan said the Inferno on Mount Washington typically draws hundreds of competitions and has a $750 entry fee. He also noted that similar spring-time races also draw big crowds annually at sites out west including the states of Washington and Oregon.

"Entry fees were an issue," Cowan said. "We really wanted to find some middle ground. Our whole reason for establishing the Rites of Spring Pentathlon is to benefit the Lake Placid Outing Club. Basically, grants have dried up over the years, and we feel the outing club is very important for area youth.

"The entry fees probably are a little high, but we're not trying to gouge everybody," Cowan added. "We're just trying to raise some funds with a fun event. We could have held a golf tournament, but there are so many of those. The Rites of Spring is my idea of a benefit golf tournament."

Organizers of the race will make the determination whether or not the race will be held this year after registration closes on Saturday. For more information or to register, visit



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