What do you say when someone asks you to do a triathlon in Colorado at 10,000 feet, in September, with a swim in a lake with average water temps of 50º, the ride being up a steep mountain road, and just as bad, down an extremely curvy mountain road. The run, well the run would be uphill too, of course.
You say HELL YES! Why wouldn’t you? Especially since the prize for finishing this crazy race is a cowboy hat and a belt buckle!
All sarcasm aside, it is seldom you get to be the first at doing something, much less something that has been 9 years in the making. With all those things packed together in such a beautiful package that is Dillon, Colorado, it was relatively easy to opt in for this race. As it were, Tony Cowden, Jason Pegg, and Joshua Andrews registered for the inaugural 106 West Triathlon in Dillon, Colorado on September 10, 2016.
Before we get to race day, a little background and history leading up to it… it has been a long year.
My training for a triathlon is usually minimal. In 2012, I signed up, trained for and then completed the half iron distance Beach2Battleship race in 3 weeks. Disclaimer: I have always trained some level of endurance. So I was not going into a half iron race on a background of never having completed an endurance event before. It had been a long while though, and I had never participated in an endurance event, especially not a triathlon, that long prior to the 2012 B2B. In 2014, I completed the full distance Beach2Battleship Triathlon. The training we did for it was very minimal; at least compared to the volume the typical triathlete completes while training for such an event. My max distances of 6 miles of running and 20 miles on the bike are what most tri guys and gals do for much, much shorted races. My swim training began only two weeks before the race. I swam 800 meters everyday until the day of the race. Talk about a lazy triathlete! Please keep in mind I was lifting and doing CrossFit style workouts also. I do not enjoy triathlons or endurance enough to make them my sole focus.
I prefer to mix things up and train for strength, CrossFit and endurance concurrently. So many say you cannot do well in more than one fitness discipline. I not only disagree, but have the experiences to show otherwise. In the past 3-4 years, Tony and I have worked hard to develop the principles and methods we use to build our training programs. The basics Tony outlined in the article: “END|Strength Part 1: The Basics and Who the Hell is Doing This Stuff”
Just after the 2012 Half Iron Distance Beach2Battleship Triathlon, I participated in a figure competition only two weeks later. I won the open division in my height class. With the 2014 Full Iron Distance Beach2Battleship Triathlon, I competed and won my weight class in a powerlifting meet one week prior to the triathlon. In that time period I also competed in numerous CrossFit events, including a few Games Regionals and in 2013, The CrossFit Games.
This past year of training and events have been a continuation of the last few years of concurrent work. On January 30, 2016, I completed The Southern Tour 50K. In Holly Springs, NC, the 50k was my first ultra trail race. I finished 2nd place overall female. After the 50k, I shifted my focus to powerlifting and obtaining an elite total. Four months later, on June 4th, I obtained that elite total with a 260lbs squat, 165lbs bench, and a 300lb deadlift in the 123lbs class. This total qualified me for the XPC meet at the Arnold in March 2017.
After the powerlifting meet in June of this year, I decided to really put some effort into my endurance training. Realizing completing a triathlon at 10,000ft would be a real challenge, I wanted to put more effort on swimming and cycling going into it. I have reached the summit of quite a few Colorado 14ers (14 thousand foot mountains) and I know elevation can be a real ass kicker.
So how does one train for a race at 10,000ft when they live at sea level? How do you simulate training in 30+% less available oxygen? How do you simulate swimming in 50Âº degree water? How do you replicate riding mountain grades on your bike? The simply is no way to simulate any of these things. Altitude masks do nothing to replicate the physiological effects of elevation, so the reality was, the race was just going to suck. Completing it was the goal, not setting any PRs for a half distance race.
I actually decided to focus on my weakest event of the triathlon, swimming. I began swimming seriously in early June. As a confidence and training race, I completed the Carolina Beach Double Sprint Triathlon in late June. I got to cat call Tony Cowden as I ran up behind him and screamed “Big Boy, I’m gonna catch you, and “Sugarbutt, wait for me!”, much to the surprise of the volunteers and police officers on the course. I realized during this triathlon that I must start swimming more to gain the confidence I would need for the Colorado race. I began swimming at two or three times a week for at least 800m or more. In late July, I signed up for the Escape to the Mountains sprint tri in Blue Ridge, Georgia. This would be my first lake swim (since 2009) and boy was it a different entity than salt water swims. I felt like a ton of bricks and the water was so warm I overheated a bit. I REALLY do not like to swim, my main goal during triathlons, and all swims frankly, is to not drown.
My training for the remainder of the summer consisted of two of three open water swims per week at 800-1200 meters, a fast ride, two runs and one long brick session, typically on Saturdays. The especially warm summer in North Carolina offered stifling heat and humidity to train in. It was challenging, to say the least.
Fast forward to September 1st, two Thursdays before the Colorado race. Hurricane Hermine was “bearing down” on Wilmington, NC and I was supposed to fly to Colorado. I decide to switch my flight to that day and make arrangements to get to the airport in the evening. We board the flight after a slight delay with weather in Charlotte and sit on the tarmac for about an hour. They then cancel the flight and book me on the 4:00pm the next day. Knowing it is not likely anyone will be flying out of Wilmington the next day, I make the decision to drive to Denver with Tony.. I am so glad I did. I got to see Kansas in its entirety for the lovely, eventful drive of about 10 hours through that state!
We made the 26 hour drive to Denver without a hitch. We proceeded to Dillon/Silverthorne on September 4th and that day immersed ourselves in our first lake swim at elevation in freezing, breathtakingly cold water. We struggling a little, but our dog, Charley, seemed to enjoy our suffering immensely as he swam circles around us the entire time. The next day we had our first bike ride in the mountains of Colorado. The first three miles were a steep uphill climb out of Dillon. During this ascent, Josh Andrews had a mechanical issue that kept him from shifting into lower gears, he wound up throwing up his breakfast and coffee halfway up and got a flat on the way back, so he got one heck of a training ride in. We returned to the start safely and made plans to take our bikes to a local bike shop to have some repairs and maintenance done. On Wednesday evening, Jason Pegg joined our motley crew and on Thursday we went on our second ride and Jason’s first. Josh again had some gear issues and Jason got buzzed by a truck and fell over. On Friday, we got Jason in his wetsuit, or as he called it a “squat suit with a closed bench shirt”, and went on our second lake swim. All went well and we got dinner and began prepping our gear for the race.
Finally, race day.
I did not sleep well the night before the race. I was loathing being cold and about not making the time cap for the swim which would mean being disqualified and removed from the race. I got up, ate some oatmeal and fruit, had a coffee and readied myself for the race. We arrive around 8:00am and begin setting up our stations. People were even admiring my $5 WalMart pink polka dot race slippers which I told everyone were there to keep my feet warm during my swim and keep me aerodynamic on the bike. I was a little sad that I would have to discard them because they kept my feet so warm and cozy while we waited for the race start.
9:40am – Take off awesome race slippers and don swim cap and goggles.
9:42am – Wade up to knees in slightly cold water
9:43am – Proceed to swim start where my eyes become the widest they have ever been (insert Asian joke here), when I burp my wetsuit and the icy cold water infiltrates my suit.
9:55am – Grab my first safety kayak to catch my breath
10:05am – Grab my second kayak to catch my breath
10:15am – Grab my third and last kayak to catch my breath
10:19am – Start swimming through buoys to begin my second lap of the swim when I am told I will most likely not make the time cap for the half if I continue. The race official suggests I should go ashore and complete the quarter instead. (I didn’t know this was an option so I was relieved I would at least be able to bike and run)
10:22am – Go ashore and rip wetsuit off, take a full deep breath and stumble on wobbly knees into the transition area, the cold water throws off your equilibrium.
10:30am – Start the bike ride. Relieved to be on solid ground. Warmer than I expected so continue without long sleeved shirt, hat or gloves.
11:10am – Begin the longest ascent EVER, 5 mile climb to Montezuma, CO.
11:25am – Female racer on the other side of the road descending at a high rate of speed passes by me, when I hear a thud and about 20 seconds of screeching sounds of metal on pavement. Since I am going so slow uphill, I turn around and call out to see if she is OK. She confirms that she is indeed alive, conscious and extremely pissed but otherwise, alright. I continue up. Only because if I stop I will start rolling downhill.
11:30am – Legs are burning, lungs are burning, as the climb continues getting steeper. Note while going a lightning fast speed of 5 mph, the stream beside the road is a beautiful, turquoise blue. I wonder if I’m delirious at this point because it is absolutely gorgeous. Snap out of my reverie and continue trying to get up this God awful ascent.
11:45am – Reach the top of the ascent and turn around. Begin my 5 mile descent. Bye, Felicia.
12:30pm – Return to the transition and begin the run.
12:40pm – Right foot falls completely numb.
1:00pm – Volunteers hear me complaining. They tell me I was the dummy that signed up and paid to race.
1:10pm – Reach the turnaround point of the run. Young volunteers compliment my muscles and tell me I am in awesome shape. “Look at those traps”, one of them calls after me. “I yell back, yeah, but I gotta cart all these muscles up and down these hills. Big girl running”. They laugh, clearly they don’t understand my plight. Millennials…
1:30pm – Round the corner from the trees and can see the finish line, 1.5 miles out.
1:45pm – Start the run up the steep hill to the finish line. 100 merters felt like an eternity!
1:47pm – Finish and awarded my race Belt Buckle!!
2:20pm – Jason Pegg checks the half distance standings and sees that I am the first finisher of the half at a time of 4:04. I guess they didn’t change my distance. Ha.
2:40pm – Wish I would have gotten a screenshot showing me as #1 for the half.
4:30pm – Reunited with my pink polka dot slippers at the gear tent!! #win
5:00pm – Wendy’s single cheese plain with fries and wait for Sugarbutt to come around the corner and finish the half.
All in all an enjoyable race. It did suck as badly as I thought it might but that was part of the draw, along with the cowboy hat and belt buckle. Some ask me why I continue to do triathlons when I hate swimming so much. People that know me well, know that I hate when I am not good at something. The fear and anxieties the water gives me are the reasons I do it. I will push myself through the discomfort and fear to reach my goals. Determination is one of my redeeming qualities. Hard headedness is my one flaw..(everyone has to have one).
Nothing worth accomplishing comes easily.
Melissa Hoff is a successful dentist and business woman. She is a CrossFit Games athlete and an IronMan Triathlete. In addition to CrossFit and Triathlon, Melissa has competed and won in figure, powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, and countless other endurance events. She is a leader in the END|Stength hybrid movement, as displayed in her recent accomplishments in endurance and strength. Melissa is Comp|EDGE Performance’s lead nutrition coach and is available for personalized programming and coaching. Read all of her articles here.