My First Fourteener- Mt. Bierstadt

Before the cold weather and snow comes to the high country this year, I really wanted to get out and do something quintessentially Coloradan: hike a fourteener! What’s a fourteener, you ask. Well, it’s simple, it’s mountain peak that exceeds 14,000 feet! There are 53 fourteeners in Colorado, the most, by far, in the continental US.

We wanted to start with a fourteener that was on the easier side (as far as fourteeners go), and not too far of a drive, so we decided to climb Mount Bierstadt. We decided to take the most common and easier route to the summit, starting at the Bierstadt trail head, located off of Guanella Pass road, near Georgetown, CO. It took about 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive from Denver to the trail head.

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It’s best to hit the trail early to avoid the chance of afternoon lightening that often pops up in the high country, so we got up and arrived at the trail head around 8:00 a.m. The trail head was already pretty crowded by that time, so if you are looking for some quiet solitude to hike in, Bierstadt is probably not your fourteener of choice.

Starting elevations: 11,669 feet

From the parking lot, the trail starts off downhill, which was a nice change of pace. A lot of hikes I have been on lead you up a very steep section of trail almost immediately. You hike down and across a marshy area, with small wooden foot bridges built over the swampy bits. Once you make it across the marsh, the climb begins. You wind up a series of switchbacks onto the first shoulder of the mountain. It’s then you can see the steep path to the top and all the work that still lies ahead.

And then the real hiking begins! The trail continues to be steep and a little rocky. It was slow going because of the incline, but also because of the altitude. We felt like we could never catch our breath and had to stop every 5-10 min and take a break. Most people hiking up the trail we’re doing the same thing and we ended up leap frogging with the same people almost all the way up to the summit.

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Once you reach the final ridge at about 13,800 feet, the trail more or less disappears and you have to navigate your way up the rocks and boulders to the summit (see picture above). It’s relatively easy, low level scrambling. It actually felt nice to climb this section and give my burning quads a break!

Summit Elevation: 14,065 feet

Before we knew it, we were at the summit! Which was surprisingly crowded, but awesome all the same! From the summit you can see Mount Evans and the saw tooth peaks that separate the two mountains. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can hike/scramble across the saw tooth (saw teeth?) and over to Mount Evans.

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The descent back down was a little slower than I expected as it took some concentration to navigate the rocky steep trail back down. Even then, I still managed to trip and bang my shin into a rock. I also managed to slip on a rock over the small stream crossing in the marshy area and half fall in. Overall, I was no worse for wear though!

At the bottom of the trail, I was so amazed and proud to look back at what we had just accomplished! That nice downhill at the start of course becomes an uphill on the way back. It wasn’t steep or challenging, our legs were just fried at that point. I was happy to make it back to the car and sit down.

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Mid-September ended up being a beautiful time to hike up Bierstadt. The weather was great! It was about 40 degrees when we started and sunny. The strenuous hike ensures that you stay warm on the way up. We also lucked out in that there’s wasn’t too much wind. The hike down was sunny and warm, but not hot. We also got to see some of the leaves starting to change on the drive to/from the trail head.

Overall, it was a great, but challenging hike. I hope to squeeze in one more fourteener before the winter!

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Race Report: Bear it All Triathlon

Sort of on a whim and in response to finally getting out to do some more mountain biking, Tony and I signed up for the late season Bear it All Off Road Triathlon at Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood, CO. It was our first off road triathlon (swim, mountain bike, trail run) and since Tony has been talking about wanting to get into Xtera races after he finished his Ironman this summer, I thought it would be a fun race for us to do together and get our feet wet in the off road tri world. It also helped that this race was close to home, about a 30 minute drive to the start, and has a later start time that most triathlons, at 9:00 a.m.

Pre-Race

Packet pick up was held at Runners Roost in Lakewood Friday and Saturday evening right before the race. It’s a small triathlon, with only about 100 participants, so packet pick up easy and straight forward. Details about pick up and race day logistics were sent out in a very clear, easy to understand email about a week out.

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Race Day

The park was easy to find with plenty of parking near transition and the start of the race. Transition was open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. and we showed up around 8:00 a.m., which gave us more than enough time to set up transition, get body marked, and pick up our timing chip. Being a small race, this was all very easy. I’m glad we didn’t arrive much earlier as we would have been standing around for quite a while! Bonus of this race- indoor bathrooms located at the start. Hooray!

The Swim

The swim was 2, 500m laps, with a short beach run in between, for a total of 1000m. This was the first two lap course I’ve completed and I actually really appreciated the opportunity to get out of the water for a few seconds in between laps! The water was approximately 65 degrees, so a little on the chilly side, so I was glad I had my wet suit. I struggled through the first lap as I had a bit of cold water panic at the start and swallowed a TON of air. I couldn’t find a good rhythm to get back on track. Then, on the short beach run between laps I took my time, burped up a bunch of air, and finally caught my breath, which really helped me have a much better second lap! The course is well marked with easy to spot buoys and the sun wasn’t too much of an issue.

The Bike

Out of the water and onto the bike course! The bike course is 11 miles long, not too technical (good for beginners), though there are some challenging spots. There are multiple short, steep climbs located throughout the course, and 2 long, steady climbs (that I ended up hiking my bike up most of the way). Most of the course loops through a single track mountain bike course around the park with a few breaks of pavement or double track here and there. While not very technical, it was definitely still a little rocky (and thorny!) and difficult to pass other racers. I got stuck behind a few athletes that were not very comfortable descending a few times and it was a little frustrating, especially after I had just pushed my bike up a big hill- I wanted to rock the descent I had just earned. I also realize that this is kind of a result of being not a strong swimmer and a strong biker- I tend to get out of the water late behind a lot of people and want to make up the time on the bike, which wasn’t really possible here. Due to the rocks and thorny bushes on the trail, I would definitely recommend having a spare tire and a pump with you!

There is a water bottle exchange station located half way through (5.5 miles) into the bike course. Since this was available, I just planned to have one water bottle on my bike that I would drink and then exchange for a full bottle at the aid station. This ended up being a poor plan as there wasn’t too many smooth spots to reach down and grab the bottle out of it’s cage to hydrate. As a result, I definitely ended up dehydrated coming off the bike. Next time I would wear my hydration pack on my back instead.

Overall, the bike course was a little more challenging that I thought it was going to be (those climbs!), and I burned my quads pretty good getting through it, but it was definitely tons of fun!

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The Run

The run was a 4 mile, relatively flat course. The first 2 miles of the course were a nice gentle run through some shaded woods along a creek. The last 2 brought you up a small climb or two and out onto the sunny field area with relatively little shade. There were 3 aid stations located along the run, so I didn’t bring any hydration with me and was relatively OK. In general, the run course great, even if I hit a wall and my legs started to give out about half way through. My quads were cooked from that bike ride! I ran the first 2 miles straight through and ended up taking some walk breaks on the back half of the course.

The last 30 m of or so of the run course loops you back into (you read that correctly!) the lake for a knee high (or shin high for our taller friends) run through the water! You have the option to run through or take your shoes off and swim. I opted to run. It was tiring, especially at the end of the race, but the cold water felt amazing on my legs! Then it was up the beach and across the finish line!

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Overall

Overall, this was a really great race! For being a small event, it was exceptionally well-run. It was the perfect event to try something new and go off road. I hope to do the race again next year and see if I can beat my time on the same course!

At the finish you are greeted with one of the best post race meals ever: PANCAKES! Flippin Flapjacks was at the finish line serving up all the pancakes, sausage and OJ you care to eat!

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I managed to finish third in my age group (out of only 4 people, but I’m still counting it!) and won a “top three” mason jar that I will certainly be drinking beer out of for years to come!

Race Report: Ragnar Colorado

I’m definitely a little behind in my posting, but I wanted to share a race report from Ragnar Colorado- August 8-9, 2014.

For those of you not familiar with the Ragnar Relay Series:

You and 11 of your craziest friends pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time. Each participant runs three times, with each leg ranging between 3-8 miles and varying in difficulty. While one person is running, the rest of your teammates are on support duty in your race vehicles. Teams require 2 vehicles (Runners 1-6 in van 1 and 7 -12 in van 2) Van 1’s runners will cover the first six legs. As each runner begins, the crew in the vehicle can drive ahead, cheer their runner on and meet them at the exchange point to pick them up and drop off the next runner. After the first 6 legs, van 2 picks up the slack and starts putting in the miles.

My team was called “Catchin’ a Buzz” and I ended up in Van 1, position 4, which means I had leg 4 (10.4 miles, very hard), leg 16 (5.9 miles, hard) and leg 28 (2 miles, easy). I’m going to talk about each of my specific legs, and then the race experience overall.

Leg 4

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Leg 4 start

 

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Running up Swam Mountain!

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Truckin along around mile 7 of my first leg!

Leg 4 was by far, the hardest of my 3 legs. While I think there is definitely something to be said about front loading the difficulty of your legs, this one totally burned my quads for the remainder of my 2 legs. The run started out at 9,000′ elevation, with a lovely 400 foot climb up swam mountain in the first 2 miles. Then it was a very fast downhill back down to Dillon Reservoir, and then around the reservoir on a paved path. The biggest frustration of this leg was that the “1 mile left” sign was definitely in the wrong spot. I thought I only had one mile left, so I pushed and found that is was actually closer to 2.5 left. This leg is difficult because of the elevation, and also because there is no van support for the first 6 miles or so. Beautiful views though!

 

 

Leg 16

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Handoff after finishing my second leg

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Night Van!

Leg 16 was my 2nd leg, and I ran it entirely in the dark. The leg itself was not too challenging; 5.9 mi of gentle hills along the shoulder of a road. What made this leg hard was that my quads were so dead from my last run! It was also a little eerie to be running along the road, out in the mountains, in the middle of the night, but it was also one of the most peaceful runs I’ve ever had. It was just me, the sound of my footsteps, the moonlight, and the light from my headlamp. While it felt relatively remote, it was not nearly as remote as some of van 2’s legs, which took runners through Glenwood canyon on the bike path in the middle of the night! Many of the teams, including ours, decorated the vans with lights, which made them easy to spot while running through the dark, and made the run feel a little less isolated as they drove by. Our van was rocking some fabulous Christmas lights!!

Leg 28

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Staring my last leg!

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Finishing!

My last leg was a merciful 2 easy miles through Carbondale, CO, which was a good thing as my legs were absolutely cooked. I was having trouble getting in and out of our van (which my team took the opportunity to playfully tease me about). The last run was flat and fast and in the interest of finishing quickly and trying to make up a minute or two for my team, I booked it. I finished in just over 16 min, which is fast for me. I haven’t run any consecutive miles in under 8:30 since I moved to Colorado, and on top of that, my legs were obviously suffering. But I ran as hard as I could, finished, handed off the bracelet, then proceeded to double over next to the trail and dry heave. I took a few deep breaths and started to head to the van, then bent over again, coughing and heaving, sure I was going to vomit everywhere. Mercifully, I didn’t throw up, but it was good evidence that I had pushed myself well beyond my comfort zone. Even though I felt awful, I was smiling with pride!

Overall Experience

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Our sexy poses!

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Van 1 rocks!

I have to admit, I was a little nervous going into this race as it was my first Ragnar and I only knew one other person in my van! I wasn’t sure that spending 30+ hours in a van with smelly strangers (I was smelly too!) was going to be something I enjoyed. However, it ended up being one of the best, most fun experiences I’ve ever had, and certainly the top running event I’ve ever done! Our van bonded almost instantly and stayed friendly and supportive throughout the entire I event. We all got out whenever we had the opportunity to cheer on our runners, which makes such a big difference, both for the runner, and just getting along as a team. I really do believe that the people I shared the van with absolutely made the experience! They were so friendly, outgoing, and positive! I left feeling like I had made 4 new best friends (since I already knew one of them).

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Hanging out in the van!

The course, in general, was absolutely beautiful- lots of mountain views and fresh air. It is challenging because there are legs at very high altitude- I believe everyone ran at least one above 8,000 feet, with the highest leg topping out at just over 10,000 feet! Also, some legs, especially the very last ones in van 2, are VERY hilly. From what my other team members told me (who have done multiple Ragnar Relays around the country), the Colorado course also has relatively limited options for supporting your runners, in comparison with other courses. On average, we could only pull over twice (or so) on most legs to cheer on the runner. Sometimes only once, and sometimes not at all. Even though it was early August and still summertime, the weather was definitely very chilly at night and in the early morning. There was even a pile of snow at the start at Copper Mountain! I was glad I brought lots of layers.

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Our whole team (minus 1) at a night exchange

Lessons Learned

A couple of take aways from my first Ragnar Experience-

1. Bring food, but don’t bring a ton of food. My friend and I brought more food than we needed, especially since after the 2nd leg, my stomach was so confused I could barely eat any real food. Definitely bring some snacks- pretzels, peanut butter, bananas, fruit snacks, but don’t feel like you have to bring every meal with you. We stopped at a brewery for lunch on Friday and most of the major exchanges have food you can buy that serves as a fundraiser for the local community.

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Team 30 at exchange 30!

2. Plan not to sleep. I am not someone who sleeps easily in places that are not a bed and/or couch. We ended up getting into town really late on Thursday due to some delayed flights and then up early on Friday morning to start. Our van then had the opportunity to sleep a little bit Friday afternoon on an indoor soccer field, which was ok. After we all completed our second legs, we had the opportunity to sleep in a dark gym at a local high school, however, the floor was too hard and there was too much noise from people coming and going to sleep much. I would recommend ear plugs and an eye mask.

3. Bring one of those stick roller massage things- or make sure someone in your van has one. Seriously, it should be mandatory along with the tail lights and reflective vests!

Overall, Ragnar Colorado was a wonderful experience that I would recommend to anyone- an experienced runner, or a newbie, and everyone in between! I feel like it actually renewed my love and motivation for running, which has been lacking for a while. In short, I <3 Ragnar Colorado!

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Official Team Finisher Pic

Spectator Report: 2014 Ironman Canada in Whister, BC

20140501_151259Over the weekend I had the distinct pleasure (and challenge) of shepherding my partner through his very first full 140.6 distance triathlon at the 2014 Ironman Canada course in beautiful Whistler, BC.

While it was meant to be a vacation for both of us, it was obviously not so relaxing for him, and not nearly as relaxing for me as I thought it was going to be, though it was really valuable to be able to see first hand the preparation for the race, as well as all of the check in and race day logistics. But be warned- supporting your athlete, especially a first time 140.6-er is nearly a full time, all day activity in itself, both prior, during, AND after the race. There’s check in, gear bags to pack, check, re-check and drop off, shuttling your athlete and their bike here and there, last minute nutrition and other items to pick up, final workouts to get in, eating, eating and more eating, and lots of stress and panic calming to be done.

Even though I tend to think Ironman brand races are SUPER EXPENSIVE- you certainly get what you pay for- the race course is well designed and well supported, and everything ran extremely smoothly all weekend.

I’ll talk about the race from a spectator’s perspective and a little bit about the course from the racer’s perspective based on my observations and my partner’s comments.

Pre-Race Check In

The center 20140502_064328of the entire weekend is the village in Whistler, and the pre-race check in and race expo (along with the finish) are all at the Olympic park in the village. Check in was easy and speedy, and Tony was super excited to see the awesome race bag (a really nice backpack with the race logo on the back) that he got at check in. We learned that finisher’s shirts (along with hats and medals) are given out after you cross the finish line. The race briefing was
equally well organized and executed, though I wish they had mentioned that athletes were allowed to get into the water during bike check on Saturday, as there were no swim practice details or times listed on any of the other schedules. As a result, we showed up to bike check on Saturday in normal clothes when had we known, we would have brought Tony’s wet suit with us so he could get in the water for a few minutes.

An important detail to note- T1 and T2 are in different locations. To check your bike in at T1 at the swim start/finish, and to get there on race day, you had to either walk, bike, or take a shuttle. On Saturday, all are welcome on the shuttle, but on race day, athletes only, so I had to walk the 1.8 miles or so down to the swims start (which wasn’t bad at all).

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The Swim is located at Rainbow Beach in Alta lake. The water temperature on race morning was a not so bad 66 degrees, which was initially warmer than the air, and the waters were very calm, almost20140502_064321 glassy. The beach is relatively small, so it is difficult to get a good spot to watch from (especially for shorter people, like me), so arrive early and steak out your claim, or be ready and willing to wade into thewater. This was the first time I have ever seen a 20140502_081211mass start in action and it was definitely impressive! Tony said that even though he hung back a little from the main rush, he still ended up getting jostled a bit on the swim.

The Bike

We knew the bike course had a reputation of being difficult, but as we drove a good portion of the course the day before the race, I was surprised at some of the very intense hills on the course, along with the very high volume of climbing, which includes a very uphill 20+ final miles of the ride back into T2. It’s definitely a course where you really need to pace yourself and be conscious of how much energy you are expending. There were a small, but sizeable percentage of folks on road bikes and a lot of compact gearing. A great bonus of the course is that the roads are closed to outside traffi20140502_082405c (which includes the closure of a major highway) and the bike course takes athletes by the village after about the first third or so, so while I couldn’t drive out anywhere to cheer him on, I still had the opportunity to sit by the side of the road, cheer people on, and see Tony go by once on the bike.

20140502_091406A testament to how difficult this bike course is- the pro male lead came in almost 20 minutes ahead of second place off the bike. Tony (who came out of the water on the swim way later than most) ended up making the bike cut off by a slim 3 minutes or so. When I was having trouble locating him on the run course close to the cut off, a volunteer suggested I got check transition to see if he had racked his bike and I arrived at transition just in time to see him come in. I was relieved to see him and surprised at all of the run gear bags that had yet to be retrieved. There were a lot of people who didn’t make the bike cut off or DNFed out on the course.

20140502_082356So, if this is a race you are considering, make sure you really, really train hard (and hilly) on the bike!

The Run

20140502_182023The run course is awesome for spectators as it loops twice through Whistler village and the surrounding paths and it does so in a way that it’s relatively easy to jump from point to point to follow your runner. I got to see Tony about 8 separate times on the run. Or there were plenty of folks camped out in a shady spot for most of the day. One thing is for certain, there are a lot of people spread throughout the course to cheer you on during the run! Even as the day wore on and it got dark, I was amazed at how many people were still out and about! Tony said there were even people on floating docks out on the lake, grilling, partying, and cheering people on.

The run course itself is relatively flat with aid stations at every 1.2 miles or so and a nice mixture of sun and shade. It’s mostly paved with a short stretch of packed gravel on each loop.

The Finish

I have never witnessed the finish line at an Ironman 140.6 event, but I was not disappointed. I told Tony afterwards that I would actually not want to finish super early in the day, as the finish line only attracts more and more people and gets more and more exciting as the day goes on. When I went to the finish line to see Tony, it was like a big dance party with everyone jumping and waving and music blasting. The atmosphere was simply electric. Athletes I had watched out on the course, many with faces clearly in a lot of pain, were finally smiling as they came down the final chute and across the finish line. I cried as I got to hear those awesome words, “Tony Barkey! You are AN IRONMAN!”

Overall

Overall, as one athlete featured in the official race video said, the Whistler course is epic. It’s big and beautiful and as long as you are a strong cyclist, an awesome place to race a 140.6. Some folks said they had a little trouble with the altitude, but for Tony and I coming from Denver, that wasn’t so much of an issue. There were also lots of cool things to do in Whistler- we rode the Peak to Peak gondola,and  I went for an awesome trail run. There’s lots of hiking and mountain biking opportunities, which may not appeal to the athletes racing, but to those tagging along. If you stay in the village (we rented a place through airbnb), it’s great for spectators because you can run back to your place to eat, or nap, or both while your athlete is out on course.

Not that I did that.

Shhhhh, don’t tell Tony I took a nap while he was out on the bike!

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At Whistler Mountain Summit! About the same elevation I did my last tri in Steamboat!

Post Race Break- Hiking in Breckenridge and Hanging out in Austin

After my recent 70.3, naturally my workout schedule dropped off for a week or two, which I was lucky enough to have coincide with a quick trip to Breckenridge to visit a meeting space for my office, as well as a long weekend in Austin to celebrate the wedding of two of my friends!

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Unlike the last time I was in Breckenridge actually running a meeting, I got to take a deep breath, look around, and actually enjoy things! I was pleasantly surprised at the cool weather (there’s still snow up at the top of some of the peaks!), especially as we were having a particularly hot week in Denver.

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The morning before our site visit, I had the chance to take an hour and go hike on a trail (I think it was called, “warrior’s way”) and enjoy the stunning scenery and peaceful forest paths I missed last time around. I hiked my way up the mountain, until I knew I had to turn around or risk being late for meeting, and then ran most of the way down.

The trail was mostly great for what I like to call, “starter trail running” (I mostly do road running, but I’d like to get more on the trail!) because the path was wide and the ground was soft, until I get near the bottom and everything narrowed a bit and I had to slow down to a walk to navigate so steep areas with roots. 20140709_100447

I ended up slipping a few times, but luckily the ground was nice a soft, so I didn’t mind the landing on my butt so much, and no one was around to see me fall, so my pride was spared.

After returning from Breckenridge, I packed my suitcase and headed to Austin, TX! I have several friends who went to school at UT, so I’ve heard a lot about Austin, but had never had the opportunity to visit before. Luckily, two of my friends were having their wedding in Austin and I was invited to be a bridesmaid, so it was the perfect opportunity. I also got to show off my triathlete tan lines on my back, shoulders and chest in my bridesmaids dress (oops)!

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IMG_20140712_115722I got out to see the wonderful, shady and surprisingly cool (ugh Texas is so hot and humid!) bike/run path along the river, running right through the heart of the city. I was surprised to see a TON of kayaks out on the river, and runners, walkers, and bikers alike on the crowded (but not unpleasantly so) path. Austin was more active than I thought!

After my river walk, I made my way to Barton Springs, which is a natural cold spring pool with an average temperature year round of 68-70 degrees. When I first waded in, the water definitely felt chilly, but after dunking my head under and swimming around for a few minutes, it felt lovely. I spent a good portion of the afternoon alternating between dipping in and aimlessly floating aroundthe cool pool, then getting out and drying off and warming up under the hot Texas mid-day sun. Rinse. Repeat.

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After my fabulous week of trips/vacations and relatively little exercise, it’s time to get back to business. I’m running on a team for the Colorado Ragnar Relay in August and my run game definitely needs some work!

Race Report: Tri The Boat- Steamboat Springs 70.3

Over the weekend I participated in my second ever 70.3 triathlon- the Tri the Boat 70.3 in Steamboat Springs, CO. While it was unfortunately not the best of race days for me, I wanted to give an overview of the race course and logistics before really getting into how I felt about my particular experience.

To give a little of background, this was the inaugural race for Tri the Boat, so it was definitely on the small and modest side. Nearly 250 individuals started and finished the triathlon, 71 completing the Olympic course and 176 finishing the half-Ironman. In my age group, Females 25-29, there were only 9 athletes.

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View from my campsite

Pre-Race

Packet pick up was scheduled for the day before (Saturday) at a local cycle shop in Steamboat Springs (there was race day packet pickup as well). Nothing fancy, no race expo or anything like that, just a tent with a line of athletes waiting to grab their stuff. In addition to a nice technical T-Shirt, we also got to pick out a pair of Merino Wool socks. Because the water temperature was forecast to be in the low 60s, they had some cold water swimming gear (neoprene caps, booties, full sleeve wet suits) on sale at packet pick up.

There was open water swimming time scheduled for 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on Saturday morning but since I drove up from Denver in the morning, I missed the open water swim time. If I were doing this course again, I would plan to drive up Friday night to be able to spend the day on Saturday in open swim and checking out other areas of the course.

There is no bike racking the day prior to the race.

Race Morning

After a rather restless night camping the night before, due to not one, but TWO visits to my neighbor’s campsite by a black bear, I woke up the morning and drove about 30 minutes from Steamboat down to the Stagecoach reservoir. It was an easy drive with little to no traffic waiting to park.

Transition is set up in a very long, single file line along a road in the state park. It is completely open, no one checking you or your gear in and out, and spectators and family members are wandering freely around among the gear. While I’m not particularly paranoid about people stealing my stuff, after all, there is always plenty of more high end bikes and gear around than anything I’m rocking, I still didn’t particularly appreciate the fact that transition was SO unregulated.

I set up my transition area and went to get in line for my timing chip, which went quickly. The lines for the bathrooms were short to start but relatively long near the race start as there were only 5 bathrooms for all 250 athletes and the small number of spectators.

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The transition area- with the nasty sun glare over the reservoir

 

The Swim

The swim was an in-water start in the Stagecoach reservoir, which ended up being a chilly 62 degrees on race morning. The air temperature at the start of the race was only about 50 degrees or so, so I stayed in my warm ups as long as possible before putting on my wetsuit about 15 minutes prior to my start time. I also waded in to about waste deep and splashed the cold water on my arms, neck, and head to try and get used to the cold temperature. It helped a little, but it was still rather shocking once I got in. The 5 minute wait from when they sent my wave to wait in the water to the starting air horn felt like an eternity of cold!

While most people around me swam in full sleeve wet suits, I only have a sleeveless one and did not particularly feel like purchasing or renting another. Prior to the start people kept remarking that I was going to be cold, but I shrugged it off. There’s wasn’t much I could do about it at that point anyway! While it was certainly cold getting into the water, my wet suit is rather snug and doesn’t allow for a ton of water to flow through, so after the first few minutes of warming up, my body felt perfectly comfortable. My arms felt warm through the entire swim. I swam with two swim caps, which kept my head nice and toasty, though I would definitely add ear plugs if I swim at that temperature again. Occasionally, after lifting my head to site, the water would drain from my ears and new, cold water would rush in, which was a little painful. Initially, the cold water did cause me to panic a little and gave me a constricted feeling in my chest, so I started swimming by breathing on every stroke to try and calm down and feel like I was getting enough air. Eventually, I was able to settle into my every third stroke pattern.

The most difficult part of the swim was the fact that there were only buoys far out into the reservoir just before and then marking the turn around points, and the sun glare made them difficult to site on the way out.

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Stagecoach Reservoir

 

The Bike

The bike course was an out and back loop (for the Olympic distance race) times 2 for the half iron race. Initially, the description in the packet was a little confusing as the turn around for the half iron athletes was located 1 mile past the turn around for the Olympic course, but it was very clearly marked on site. However, it did mostly seem like athletes were on the honor system, as while there were volunteers manning the aid stations at both turn around points, it didn’t look like anyone was actually checking or marking down which athletes turned around where.

The half iron course was described as having 2,000+ of climbing, though I heard several people remark that it was mostly, “rolling hills.” The hills did roll, but generally not enough to get you up the next hill. The course out was definitely more uphill work and there was more downhill on the way back, but almost nowhere to enjoy a long downhill cruise or even a few minutes of just flat. As I heard another athlete pulling into transition lament to her spectator, “There was just never a break!”

While the course was challenging, overall, I really enjoyed it. Some of the hills were short and steep, but there was no climbs that I felt completely overwhelmed by. I got in a few good, short downhill cruises and hit 42 mph at one point. Because this was such a small race, the bike course was very spread out and I only passed a few people and had only a few people pass me. The course was open to traffic, though it was generally very light. However, I did get passed closely by cars in a few spots because some of the course was a 2 lane road with no shoulder. I also had to stop at the turn around point my second time around because a car failed to follow volunteer instructions and stop while I went around a cone. It was a good thing I was paying attention (and the volunteers clearly signaled to me) or I would have been nailed.

The hardest thing about the bike course: absolutely no shade and only one set of bathrooms at one aid station.

The Run

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had a particularly hard run day due to the worst nausea I have ever experienced in a race, so it is hard for me to fairly evaluate the run course, but I will try.

The run course was a one loop course, mostly on a loose gravel path around the reservoir, with ABSOLUTELY NO SHADE ANYWHERE EVER. It was also another case of “rolling hills,” with almost no spot of just flat ground. Again, in the pre-race packet it was a little confusing in the explanation as the Olympic Run and the Half Iron run leave from opposite ends of transition, but it was clearly pointed out before the start of the swim in the morning.

The pros: I definitely enjoyed the fact that the race was mostly on gravel trail, especially since I have been dealing with a nasty shin splint this season. The constant rolling hills up and down where definitely challenging, though I’m sure it makes for a way more interesting course than just running on a flat road straight ahead. The view of the reservoir around the course was certainly stunning and there were aid stations located approximately every mile and a half.

The cons: It was definitely much hillier than I expected. The no-shade was also particularly challenging as it was an unseasonably hot day- with a high around 85 and the sun at the high altitude being particularly intense. Despite putting on sun screen 3 times that day (before the swim, before the bike, AND before the run), I still ended up with some very nasty sunburn. The aid stations were at an okay distance apart, but there were NO bathrooms on the run course. I REPEAT, NO BATHROOMS ON THE RUN COURSE. This was particularly unhelpful as I was experiencing some, ahem, gastric distress. I saw a guy in from of me stop and pee behind a bush. Seriously, why were there no bathrooms?

Because it is such a small race and the athletes ended up relatively spread out, and there are NO SPECTATORS ANYWHERE BUT TRANSITION IF YOU ARE LUCKY, the run course felt particularly lonely. For those who like to run in nice, quiet conditions that give you lots of time for self reflection (which I like to do in training), it may be an ideal situation. Because I was really struggling that day, I found the quiet and lack of other people to be particularly mentally draining and a little soul crushing. I was lucky enough to be joined on my walk by another competitor and we were able to keep each other company for most of the course.

Besides being a lonely course, I felt the lack of people (athletes and volunteers) for long stretches to be a little concerning safety-wise. There were times when I was really not feeling well and I kept thinking that if not for my walking partner, If I passed out, it would be a REALLY long time before someone found me. The only patrol I saw was a teenage boy on a four wheeler who drove by once early on in the run, that I think was with the race, but not really sure.

Another dislike I had about the run course was that at one point, after crossing a damn at the far side of the reservoir, you went passed an aid station and the course sent you on a short trip down a nasty hill (the worst on the course) and then back up. When my walking partner and I finished the race later, he had several friends waiting for him who admitted that the volunteers at the aid station forgot to direct them down that part of the course, so they had skipped it all together. Considering what a low point that had been for me in the race, struggling back up that hill, it was a little disheartening to hear and frustrating that the course was not more clearly marked.

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More of transition

The Finish

Admittedly, but the time I got to the finish, there were only 7 athletes left on the course behind me and most people had long since finished and gone, but it was so disheartening to cross the line to be greeted only by a few volunteers in the middle of packing everything up, who handed me a medal and pointed me in the direction of a cooler of cool (not even cold) Gatorade and water. There wasn’t really even any post race food left at that point, not that I would have been able to stomach any of it anyway.

My walking buddy was lucky- there were a few friends there to greet him, who had already packed up his things in transition and driven over to pick him up. Having no spectators with me, I was not so lucky. It was about a half mile walk along the highway back to the transition area, which they had already started to break down and absolutely NO ONE was watching. Located along a public road with traffic readily driving by, I was panicked when I walked along and initially didn’t spot my bike. It wasn’t hard, since there wasn’t many left. Turns out it had just been knocked over, whether bumped by someone or what, the stand was askew and it was laying on the ground.

I had already been close to tears on the long trek back to get my stuff (and then walk it further to my car), and the sight of my lonely bike laying dumped over cause me to sob as I hurriedly shoved the remainder of my stuff in my transition bag and hobbled to my car.

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A view of the river near my campsite

Overall

Overall, I really enjoyed the swim and the bike course. For those two legs, i enjoyed the small race atmosphere and the beautiful scenery. The loneliness on a difficult run course on a bad day would make me think twice about doing the race again. Also, I know it was the inaugural event so there are bound to be a few hiccups here and there, but the race support, though the volunteers that were there were amazing and friendly and encouraging and ALL AROUND AWESOME, felt a little sparse.

I would recommend the race only to those who have trained at altitude (Stagecoach State Park is at about 7200′ and the bike course goes up to 7800′) and feel comfortable and/or prefer the more quiet, serene, spread out kind of races. Though who knows- Steamboat is such a beautiful area, I could certainly see this growing into a larger event in the future!

 

Over the handlebars and through the woods- it’s downhilll mountain biking we go!

One week out from race day and a couple of mostly pain free short runs later (those shin splints are relenting!) and it’s time to take it easy and rest up for this weekend. Time to kick back and chill in the hot tub right? right? Wrong.

I had the amazing opportunity to go downhill mountain biking at Winter Park early this week and despite my visions of flying over the handle bars and injuring myself before my big race this weekend, I rolled the dice and went with it. While I did fly over the handle bars once (oops!), I did not get hurt, though my upper body ended up a little more sore than I was expecting. But the experience was soooo worth it!

I have to admit, I went in very skeptical to start. I have done some cross country mountain biking, but I didn’t really think downhill was going to be my thing. Admittedly, going into our lesson, I was terrified. But our instructor was AMAZING. He took things slow and really emphasized how to control the bike and go at your own pace. If you’ve never been downhill mountain biking before- be sure to take the time to take an intro lesson. It gives you the skills to go where you want when you want, and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable! Also, wear all of the safety gear! I would have been injured going over the handlebars if not for the pads and full faced helmet I was rocking, which was particularly useful when I landed face first in the dirt and the bike came down on top of me.

It was still definitely scary, but by the end of the first run, I was excited to go up and do it again! Before I knew it, I was whizzing around those tight switchbacks and over rocks and tree roots and wooden platforms. Ok, whizzing a little slowly, but making my way around none the less!

While I wouldn’t necessarily make downhill mountain biking a weekly part of my training regime for triathlon, I do think it was very helpful. Apparently, I used muscles in my upper body I was unaware I even had! It also takes a surprising amount of core strength and glut/quad strength to hold the standing position on the bike. It also helped me feel more confident in my bike handling skills in general. Obviously, handling a road bike is different, but it helped me really pay attention to my body position, and look ahead to plan my moves well in advance. I hope to eventually transition into some off road (Xterra) triathlons in the future!

I may never be a total downhill guru, but it’s something I definitely want to do again! Plus, all that gear makes me feel like a total badass!

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