Syracuse Online

Summer Biathlon

A New Experinece

Published June 9, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The entry form for this 5K race advised competitors to run at a comfortable pace the first loop of about a mile, walk the last 50 meters or so to catch a breath, lie down, get up, walk again, run another loop, walk, stand, walk, and run another loop to the finish. My kind of race, I thought. Besides, it took place at nearby Pratts Falls Park in Pompey.

The 16th annual Syracuse Summer Biathlon combined rifle marksmanship with running. Each break from running required the competitor to shoot five rounds from a .22 rifle at a target located 50 meters away. The first five rounds were fired in a lying prone position, and the second set of five rounds in a standing offhand position. For every target that we hit, our 5K race was reduced by 100 meters. A perfect score would make it a 4K race.

I convinced my family to join me in this adventure. As novices, we used the rifles issued by the organizers. I banked on my superior rifle skills to try to beat my son once more at a footrace. The targets were metal disks the size of a CD. I could hit them with relative ease in my youth, but I had never shot with my chest heaving at 150 beats per minute.

The day started with a mandatory biathlon and rifle safety clinic. A videotape of the 2001 National Biathlon Championship at the same facility put us in the mood. The instructor informed us that New York State had never had a shooting accident during a biathlon, and urged us to keep it that way. The clinic was followed by shooting practice at the range.

To reduce congestion at the range, the race adopted a staggered start sending off one runner every minute. I ran the first loop comfortably, and reached the range among a pack of several runners. I waited a minute for my turn to shoot, and received a corresponding time credit. I lied down and had a steady aim at the first target, but the rifle misfired and upset my concentration. I hit three out five targets, and therefore ran two 100-meter penalty loops.

The second loop felt a bit harder. I reached the range alone, and proceeded to shoot from a standing position. I hit the first target, but missed the rest. My penalty consisted of four loops, making my race add up to 4.6 K. I crossed the finish line slower than my predicted time, but set a personal record nevertheless, and won fourth place in my age group.

For the record, Katie Wittenberg won the women's 4K match division with a time of 23:24, and Joseph Iwan won the men's 6K match in 31:21. Ann Brewer won the women's 4K sport division in 25:49 and Eric Felter then men's 4K sports division in 25:34. Kim Tran, a teen-age girl, was the only athlete to hit all ten targets. On average, women shot slightly better than men. Incidentally, men and women compete against each other in Olympic rifle competition.

Pratts Falls Park will also host the New England Summer Biathlon Championship on the second weekend in September. The competition will feature a elite and novice divisions. I plan to return in the hope of improving on this weekend's performance.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at