Biathlon, one of the toughest Olympic sports, got a university administrator in Minnesota hooked after he tried it in his 40s.
By Jen Murphy | March 4, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET
Some people read before bed. Sean Bedard-Parker practices his rifle marksmanship. “I have targets taped to hooks on the bedroom wall,” he says. Though he shoots without ammunition, “my wife has gotten used to hearing the clicking of the trigger while she’s watching TV.”
Mr. Bedard-Parker is an avid newcomer to the sport of biathlon, which combines crosscountry skiing and rifle marksmanship.
An administrator at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Mr. Bedard-Parker, 50, tried biathlon for the first time in 2013. He was taking a cross-country skiing lesson, thinking it would be a good way to stay in shape in winter, and noticed skiers carrying rifles. John Gould, the coach of the Duluth Biathlon Club, let him try out his rifle. “I like a challenge and was hooked,” he says.
In biathlon athletes alternate skiing and shooting, competing under the pressure of the clock. There is a penalty for each missed shot, so biathletes must be speedy but accurate. Athletes shoot from prone and standing positions, which becomes extremely difficult when your heart is pounding from sprinting on skis. Biathlon’s combination of speed, stamina and precision make it one of the hardest Olympic sports.
He joined the Duluth Biathlon Club and has focused on mastering classic and skate skiing technique in the winters. He spends the off-season working on rifle skills. To carry a rifle, athletes must pass a U.S. Biathlon-sanctioned rifle-safety certification course. This winter, he has been competing in masters races.
There are varying race distances and styles. In practice last year, Mr. Bedard-Parker says his legs would hit their lactic acid threshold by loop three of a five-loop course. “My coach had to shorten my laps so I could finish practice,” he says. This year, he is able to keep up with his training group for all five laps on the 1.5-kilometer course. “I’m not right behind everyone, but at least I can see them.”
This year, he is able to keep up with his training group for all five laps on the 1.5- kilometer course. “I’m not right behind everyone, but at least I can see them.”
His goal is to compete at the Biathlon Masters International Championships in Finland and the 2020 World Winter Masters Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
Mr. Bedard-Parker trains with a biathlon club from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. “We do hold training where we put the rifle up to a target and hold the gun there for up to four minutes at a time,” he says. “It’s nearly impossible for our arms not to tremble.” The group meets Wednesdays and Fridays at 3:30 p.m., when Mr. Bedard-Parker is still at work, so he completes the group workout on his own. “I’m often out in the dark doing hill repeats on my skis,” he says.
Five days a week he spends 30 minutes, dry firing his rifle, or firing without bullets, at home. Sometimes he stands on a balance board and aims his rifle at a target. “It mimics the wobble your legs feel while trying to shoot at the end of a race.” Through the university, he has free access to personal trainers and trains twice a week at the university gym, doing Plyometrics, battle ropes and core work.
In the off-season, he will rollerski, mountain bike and run with his ski poles.
Mr. Bedard-Parker says mental preparation is just as important as physical. “If you miss your first shot it doesn’t mean anything. You cannot get emotional.” He does daily breath work exercises, trying to inhale for four seconds and exhale four seconds.
After a cup of coffee, Mr. Bedard-Parker eats a high-carb breakfast of oatmeal, pancakes or brown rice sweetened with sugar. He adds eggs on race days. He snacks throughout the day on bananas, strawberries, oranges, granola bars and trail mix and has salad for lunch. “I’m from Texas, so I love steak,” he says. He has protein for dinner, but as a side to legumes and vegetables. When he is spent after a race, “I go for something I know I’ll never refuse—chocolate in any form, protein bar, protein drink.”
Gear & Cost
“My gear closet is enormous,” Mr. Bedard-Parker says. “I’ve taken to sneaking things into the house. Except when I have to warn my wife that I’m expecting bullets in the mail.” His gear collection includes two pairs of skate skis, four pairs of classic skis. He noted that professional biathletes he watched on TV wore gloves made by German company Roeckl Sports and sent away for two pairs. His rifle is from Altius Handcrafted Firearms and he customized it with a sight and carrying harness from Larsen Biathlon, out of Norway. He estimates he goes through 150 bullets some days with his coach. He trains with a Garmin Forerunner 920XT (retail $450) and BSXinsight sleeves (retail $420), which he wears around his calves to track his lactate threshold. “I’m fanatical about tracking my data and using it to improve performance,” he says.
BREATHING TIPS FROM BIATHLON
Breathing techniques can help people control their mind and heart rate in intense situations, whether in a 5K run or a corporate presentation, says Belisa Vranich, author of “Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health.”
“The more oxygen we have circulating in our blood, the less work the heart has to do,” she says. “Most people don’t take well-oxygenated breaths. They take short, shallow breaths in stressed states. That makes the brain think you’re in danger.”
Dr. Vranich says most people breathe vertically, moving their shoulders up on an inhale, expanding their chest and pulling in their middle. “We should breathe horizontally through your back and sides, from the densest part of your lungs, which are 4 to 5 inches above the waistband. When you think you’ve finished your exhalation, squeeze your abs and then exhale more air out.”