Reader Athlete: Groomer and Duathlete Extraordinaire

Name: Keith Woodward  Age: 67 Lives in: Moscow

Family: Significant Other, Patricia Driscoll; rescue dog, Simon

Occupation: Groomer at Craftsbury Outdoor Center Primary sport: Duathlon

Most people know Keith Woodward as the groomer and trail keeper at Craftsbury Outdoor Center but there is another side to him that people may not be so familiar with. This past summer Woodward finished first in his age group at the ITU World Duathlon Championship for the second straight year. He has also been inducted into the Mount Washington Road Race Hall of Fame and in 2012, USA Triathlon named him its Grand Master Duathlete of the Year.

What was it like to win your age group for the second straight year at the Duathlon World Championship in Germany?

I had a target on my back from finishing first the previous year so it was especially rewarding to earn the respect of my fellow competitors, both international racers and Americans. In 2013 I won the Worlds in Ottawa in the standard duathlon [a 20K run, 40K bike and a 5K run]. The next two years the weather was really hot and I finished fourth and the last two years I raced the draft legal sprint length (a 5.5K run, a 19.9K bike, and a 2.5K run, where drafting is allowed on the bike leg) and finished first each time. I was really happy with my finish this year and also humbled since on that day I was the best in the world.

How did you become an athlete?

I started running when I was in high school in Newbury, Vt., when I realized my Little League dreams of playing for the Boston Red Sox weren’t going to happen. I was a catcher and I didn’t have much of an arm. I was actually a bit of an anomaly when I started running and people would recognize me because I was the only one running on the road. I ran cross-country at Keene State and was an All-American. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I always enjoyed it.

Is it true that you did your first marathon in 1971 with virtually no preparation?

A friend of mine and I had started a track club at Vermont Tech with the goal of racing against local high schools but then the guy who was in charge got put on academic probation. I heard about the Rouses Point to Plattsburgh marathon after I’d been running for three weeks and I guess I had another three weeks to prepare. I did it in a pair of blue flats that were like Keds but I finished in 3:32. Marathon running was still in its infancy here and another guy ran in hiking boots and wool socks. The following year I wore basketball sneakers and I did better. I’ve done 13 marathons but I never finished in a time that I thought I was capable of running. My last marathon was in Philly in 1983 and I thought I’d take a short break but I haven’t gone back to it. I’ve done some half marathons and this year we’re going to do the Chickamauga in Tennessee in November as part of a vacation.

In 2012 you had a week when you won three silver medals in seven days. Can you tell us about that?

The first one was my breakthrough race for the standard duathlon at the World Championships in France. I had been racing since 2008 and my highest placement before then was sixth so I was very happy. The next race was the USA Track and Field’s 2012 USA Masters 5K Road Championships. I had a silver and my team (the GMAA 60+ team) finished second by less than a second in a photo finish. I guess I didn’t think it was that much of a big deal because one was a team medal but honestly, getting second as a team was more fun than finishing second as an individual.

How did you get to be inducted into the Mt. Washington Road Race Hall of Fame?

At one point I had the record for the most times running the race with either 36 or 37. I finished first in my age class several times. I’ve been overtaken because I missed some of the last few years thanks to racing duathlons. That was only the second year they had the Hall of Fame so it was a real honor to be nominated. I went back last year and finished second in my age group even though I didn’t have a particularly strong race.

Tell us about how you train.

I’ve been cutting back on running to just three days a week at most and I try to bike at least four days. This year we had such a wet, cold spring that it was harder to get into the biking routine but it didn’t hurt me that much in the Worlds because of the draft legal rules (meaning I could legally draft off other cyclists). If I run 20 miles a week it’s a big week. I average maybe 120 miles a week on the bike in the summer. I even did a little bit of fatbiking last year. I confess that I have really poor eating habits. Working at Craftsbury I get breakfast and lunch and that’s where I get my salad and vegetables. Otherwise, I eat a lot of pasta.

How long have you been the groomer at Craftsbury?

I started working at Craftsbury when Russell Spring first bought the place in 1976. I grew up on a farm in East Corinth and when we sold it, I kept some of the machinery. Before coming to Craftsbury I did some haying and odd jobs and worked for a carpenter in Stowe for a few years. I came up and coached two one-week running camps in the summer of 1976 or 77 and I loved it. I came back for at least two or three more years and then at one point they started the Elderhostel which is now called the Road Scholar program and I came and washed dishes for a month. They needed someone to help with the grooming and they only had one beat up snow machine. I was supposed to work three hours a day for room and board but sometimes it was up to 80 hours a week. At that time, the biggest events were the high school races. There weren’t many guests so I was basically grooming for the staff.

That’s changed, hasn’t it?

It’s amazing. We didn’t even have a tractor; we just weed-whacked the trails and we had one beat up alpine groomer. Today we have three Pisten Bully grooming machines, four snow machines, four tractors and riding lawn mowers. We have access to three full-sized excavators and one mini excavator. Doing trail work is easy now.

Do you get to enjoy those trails?

I used to be competitive, both in biathlon and regular Nordic ski racing. I’d go to National and World Masters’ Championships and usually get the silver in the Worlds and be part of the gold medal team for the relays, but I haven’t been to Worlds since 2008. The last few winters, my training and desire to ski has waned a little. Ever since we put in snowmaking, I’ve been skiing less. Once I’m out there I enjoy it. World Masters are in Norway this year and I have it tentatively on the calendar. Hopefully I can get in shape before then.

What other sports are you doing?

I’ve actually been doing more snowshoe racing and I went to Nationals for that this year. Conditions were a lot better than one year when the Worlds were in Syracuse and we raced on ice and mud which actually was really fun. Snowshoeing is easier than skiing because you don’t have to worry about wax. I don’t ski race that much because there aren’t that many citizen races although we have one here at Craftsbury on Tuesday nights. Nordic ski racing isn’t that much of a vibrant sport anymore because many college racers stop when they graduate. The Stowe Derby was always my favorite event but lately it’s been getting cancelled due to bad weather. Hopefully it will make a comeback.

What do you enjoy about grooming?

It’s rewarding to see people reap the benefits of my work. I notice it more in the summer when people are riding the mountain bike trails. There used to be nobody in the parking lot at 5 p.m. except the overnight guests but now it’s full. It’s fun to see.

What is it like to be able to watch the elite athletes at Craftsbury?

We almost take it for granted because you get to know them so well that they become just regular people. It’s interesting to see their training methods.  I wish I’d known 20 years ago what I know now. I never had a coach and I ran too much and didn’t rest enough when I was starting out. I’m learning a lot from the elite athletes but it’s a totally different world now with all the testing and technology. It’s almost too scientific. I have a Garmin, as well as a power meter for my bike and I hardly ever use them. I just go by feel.

Anyone been really helpful?

Co-worker Sheldon Miller has helped me with strategy, technique and training tips for cycling. I’m hoping to get some running tips from Craftsbury’s new running coach, Heidi Caldwell.  She was the second place finisher at this year’s Mount Washington Hill Climb.

What are you excited about for the upcoming season at Craftsbury? 

This is going to be a great year. We’ve got our season opener in early December and the Eastern Cup later in the month and then we’ve got the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships in January. That will be the biggest event we’ve ever held here so we need to hope for good early season snow. 

What is the key to winning, in your 60s?

For me the hardest part is getting out the door and trying to be consistent. I can’t do the hard intervals I did even ten years ago. I just try to do a little bit at a time and I’ve started going to the weight room to do strength work so that I can keep racing. As long as you can be competitive, it’s worth the effort to get out the door and put in the hard work. I’ve competed for a long time and it’s the only thing I know how to do. 

Featured Photo Caption: Keith Woodward, laying out trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, where he’s helped tend trails since 1976. Photo courtesy Keith Woodward.

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with her partner Bryan and two cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”