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.
View from my campsite
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.
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.
The transition area- with the nasty sun glare over the reservoir
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.
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.
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.
More of transition
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.
A view of the river near my campsite
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!