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Granite Man tests endurance

More than 200 competitors will gather at Applegate Lake Saturday and Sunday to battle the elements in a widely expanded version of Granite Man weekend.

After a popular 2008 weekend, three new trail-running races have been added, bringing to seven the number of opportunities athletes will have to run, mountain bike and swim.

"It's a beautiful setting, and there are no other triathlons in this area with a mountain-bike leg," says Krista Peterson, Granite Man race director. Athletes from as far away as Seattle and Arizona have signed up for the triathlon.

Peterson has her work cut out for her. Although the start times are staggered, all four trail races begin at the Hart-Tish parking area Saturday morning, and by 9:30 all will be in progress. On Sunday morning, bicyclists in the triathlon, bike-run duathlon and mountain bike race will all be riding the Applegate Lake loop trail simultaneously — though starts are staggered to prevent congestion.

These complicated logistics are simplified by a fancy timing system.

Each competitor will wear a credit-card shaped plastic transceiver on their ankle. For the trail races, mats will be set up at the start/finish line. Technology in the tag will talk to gizmos in the mats and broadcast the start and finish times to a computer. For the multisport races, additional mats will be set up at the transition areas to keep track of swim, bike and run times, as well as the time spent transitioning from one segment to the next. An on-site laptop computer stores the data and displays the real-time results on a video screen.

The time-keeping system is the brainchild of former race director Chuck Neely.

"I started as a triathlete and runner myself, from the marathon down to the 5K. I saw there was room for improvement in the experience, especially in race management," says Neely, who grew up in Grants Pass and now lives in the Portland area.

As a project manager for the Siemens Corporation for 20 years, Neely has found a way to blend his passion with his profession. In 2002, he started his race timing company, Rogue Multisport.

"Last year we did 16 races. This year we're doing 66, including some in Northern California, Alaska and Montana. I just finished the Boulder-Boulder 10K race in Colorado with 53,000 participants. We set up an electronic kiosk there with six laptops networked via Wi-Fi and hooked up to 16-inch monitors with a keypad so people could enter their race numbers. You type in your bib number and up pops your time, finishing place, and pace," Neely explains.

For many competitors, fancy timing is only one of the attractions at Granite Man.

"I like the fact that it's local, it offers a challenge to people who haven't done a duathlon before. It's flat, not much elevation (change), it's not technical: no big rocks," says Melyssa Glatte, winner of the 2008 women's duathlon. Participants in that race bicycle 13 miles then run 5 miles to complete one loop around Applegate Lake.

The 40-year-old Central Point woman finds this multi-sport challenge fits her outdoor lifestyle. Glatte was a rafting guide on the Rogue River for 15 years and enjoys skiing.

"Mountain biking is a lot like skiing moguls. You've got to be looking three steps ahead, never take your eyes off the trail," Glatte says.

With all the mountain bikers on a single-track trail, proper racing etiquette is important for safety.

"If anyone behind you says 'ready to pass,' you have to get off the trail. Sometimes it can be a mile before you can find a place to get off your bike (safely). The same (etiquette applies) for trail running," Glatte explains.

For trail runners, the 11-mile mountain run on the Da-ku-be-te-de and Collings Mountain trails is an opportunity to score points in the USATF Oregon Mountain Running Series, which includes the Ashland Hill Climb.

This year, a starter 5K race has been added on the Grouse Loop Trail. Other new trail races include a 30K (18.6-mile) loop around Applegate Lake, and a two-loop, 60K ultramarathon. The scenery and the gently rolling topography appeal to many ultra runners.

"I've run around the lake 20 times since the New Year. There are a lot of ins and outs and ups and downs that make it interesting running," says Ben Benjamin.

This 61-year-old Ashland runner has completed 13 100-mile races in his career, as well as numerous shorter ultramarathons. His race schedule for 2009 includes two 100-milers, a 62-miler and a 50-miler.

He'll run the 60K at Granite Man. "I use these shorter races as training for my 100 milers," he said.

Benjamin's advice to fellow ultrarunners for this course is simple.

"Try not to miss all the beauty that's out there. Start out slow — wait until the second loop before opening up and adding speed. With 36 miles, you'll feel it. Just enjoy the view, the terrain, the company," he adds.

Daniel Newberry is a runner and freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org.

Juliana Nowlan, the female winner of last year's Granite Man Triathlon, is shown climbing out of Applegate Lake after her swim leg. - Andy Atkinson