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Braving Brierman on a chilly October day

I

rose early on the morning of October 5 and wrapped myself in fleece, wondering whose bright idea it was to do a triathlon in October.

The temperature was in the low-40s, my breath crystallizing with each exhalation as my husband and I made our way through the pitch-black darkness of Greenbrier State Park to check in, collect our race swag, don timing chips and peel off multiple layers of clothing to get body marked. I shivered as I set up my transition area and remained huddled in my fleece until it was time to wade into the lake.

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That's right, you read it correctly. It was merely 10 degrees above freezing and yet 85 neoprene-clad triathletes were poised to willingly go for a swim in the 42-acre man-made Greenbrier Lake.

The Brierman Triathlon, a Piranha Sports event, made its debut in 2008. The event featured a sprint and a 50-mile "Half Lite" race. After a three-year run, the sparsely attended event disappeared for a few years while several loyal participants worked to bring it back.

When Piranha Sports announced the return of Brierman in 2014 after a three-year hiatus, we decided to give the sprint race a try. It would be our sixth and final triathlon of the year — something short, sweet and local to wrap up the season. However, with the exception of the breathtaking venue and mellow swim, there is nothing short or sweet about Brierman.

The balmy, 65-degree water was a welcome relief from the chilly air. The calm, placid lake and the short, .45-mile distance made for a pleasant swim. For the first time ever, the swim was my strongest leg of the race and out of 30 women, I was third out of the water. Things became much less pleasant after that.

Though I put toe covers on my shoes and took extra time in transition to pull on gloves, arm warmers and a jacket, it was no match for riding a bike for 21 miles, soaking wet, with temperatures in the mid-40s. Even the relentlessly hilly course, featuring a challenging 1.5-mile climb over South Mountain, couldn't prevent my limbs from shaking and my feet from going numb. I felt like I had blocks of cement in my shoes for the first half of the 2.75-mile run.

But despite the brutal conditions on a course that is "claimed by past participants as the toughest triathlon in all of Maryland," I won my division and snagged my first-ever Top Five finish. I would definitely consider racing Brierman again in 2015. Unfortunately, the fate of the race is uncertain.

Though the sprint race was held as planned this year, the Half Lite was cancelled due to too few participants. Post-race, one of the directors shared that many athletes are "fearful" of Brierman's challenging course.

Indeed, I know several Ironman triathletes who are too intimidated by the extreme climbing at Savageman to attempt that race. And this year, despite more than 140 participants registered for the Brierman Sprint, only 85 showed up. The rest probably chose to stay snuggled up in their warm beds rather than brave Brierman.

Sherri Leimkuhler is the Times' fitness writer. Her column appears every other Sunday. Reach her at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.

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