106 West Triathlon – Inaugural Race September 10, 2016

The last race of my triathlon season was surely something to take my breath away. For the first time ever, the town of Dillon, Colorado allowed racers to swim in Lake Dillon for the inaugural 106 West Triathlon, the highest triathlon in the world (that’s what they say on the website). Due to the fact that Lake Dillon serves as a source of Denver drinking water, and the lake never reaches a temperature above 60-ish degrees, concerns over water contamination and hypothermia for swimmers has prevented an event of this kind from ever occurring.

I was drawn to this race for a few reasons. One, I felt privileged to have such easy access to a race that would be a challenge to anyone who entered. The bike course throws concern for speed out the window with a 10 mile climb to Montezuma at nearly 10,300 feet, with a rolling run around 9,000 feet to test your oxygen deprived muscles. I knew there were people from all over the country who would want a shot at the thin air. Two, I wanted to be one of the first racers to swim in the chilly waters of Lake Dillon, which I knew would be invigorating. The biggest reason, however, was the fact that I wanted to be challenged to breathe. For my mom, with lung cancer, a lot of things that I take for granted are no longer a luxury for her. From time to time we run together, and it just seems that it takes everything for her to just breathe. She gets dizzy, loses the ability to speak, and her lungs are fighting for every breath. What a blessing it is that I don’t have to think about breathing. I think for me, it was incredibly symbolic to race in a place where lack of oxygen would limit my performance, and to push through despite the challenge.

Race morning arrived and as I ate my bagel with PB and coffee, I noted the temperature outside. 35 degrees at 7 am. Ugh. How was I supposed to jump in a freezing cold lake?? The walk to the race venue was chilly, and my hands were getting stiff as I set up my transition. I completed a warm up run and then shimmied into my wetsuit to stay warm until the sun would rise.

Trying to stay warm in my wetsuit
My dad let me borrow his neoprene swim cap, as water temps were in the 50s and I knew that keeping my head toasty would be important for the bike. I think I could have lived without, but no loss in taking extra precautions right? As I swam to the start buoy, the frigid water started to sneak in. I prepared myself and pulled at the neck of my wetsuit to let some water in to increase my mobility. My breath was stolen by how cold the water was. Cold cold cold cold! Let’s get moving!! The horn blew and I took off fast. I was so cold and wanted to get blood pumping to my arms and legs, which were already going a bit numb. Within 100 meters, I had calmed down a bit and managed to get into a rhythm. As far as swims go, the water was quite brisk, to put it lightly. But the hardest obstacle was actually figuring out where I was supposed to swim! The spotting buoys were white, and with the sun’s glare on the water’s surface, they were nearly impossible to see. I’ve never stopped so many times to get my bearings, and I finally resolved to just trust that the swimmers in front of me knew where they were going. Even so, we got off track several times and had to look and make sure we got to the right point on shore.

Isn't my swim cap (complete with chinstrap) so flattering? :P
Slipping up the dock ramp
Getting to transition involved a run up a dock ramp that had been covered in foam pads to keep us from getting splinters. The foam pads were slippery once wet, and I feel like I almost fell a couple times trying to climb it, which I’m sure was humorous to my parents! I finally got to my bike and proceeded to put on socks and gloves, which isn’t the norm for me, but it was still quite chilly outside and I knew my hands and feet would lose feeling without them! What a struggle, putting gloves on wet hands… but I managed to get out onto the bike before what I thought was most of the women.
I started pumping my legs as fast as I could to get my quads warm. I was still freezing from the swim and didn’t want to risk cramping up. Having ridden the bike course once before, I knew that the climb to Montezuma would be soon and if my legs were still cold by then, I would likely suffer trying to crank up the hill. I kept focus on fast cadence, low resistance. I played leapfrog with a girl from CU in the first 3 miles and managed to drop her. A couple of CU boys passed me, and I kept them in sight for a little while, but focused on racing my own race and being very in tune with my perceived effort. Going too hard on this bike would kill my ability to run successfully, so I kept my competitive side (relatively) in check.
Later guyz, I'm out to climb to 10.3k feet! 

Once the climb to Montezuma started, I felt great. I was warm, and there were hardly any racers around me. I took the time to relax a little bit, enjoy the views of the creek and changing trees, and climb at a steady pace. About a mile from the top, I got passed by a super ripped chick in a pink kit. She was hauling up the road, never sitting in the saddle. I thought “whoa, okay bye”, but realized this was also the first girl I had seen since the CU girl at mile 3. I also had not yet seen any racers coming back from the turnaround. I probably had only a few seconds of thinking this before I saw a leader’s vehicle coming back my way, with a CU boy following fast behind. I watched the rest of the men behind him hammer down the hill, and finally the ripped chick in the pink kit. This was just below the turnaround. “HOLY SH#% I’m the second girl!!!” This realization filled me with excitement; I had never been in contention for an overall podium, but I still needed to keep my efforts in check. I told myself, “If you want a shot at podium, don’t go too hard. You’ve already done the climb, now let your bike do the work for the descent, and save yourself for the run.” I hit the turnaround and shifted my focus back to high cadence for the last 14 miles. I held high speed into transition, where my parents and friends screamed loudly for me.

I hit the run excited but nervous. I knew that I was second woman, and my dad confirmed this by shouting it at me in the first quarter mile. I also knew that running was my weakest leg, and if I was to have any shot, it would be to hold back and hope I had something in the tank at the end. If anything, I knew that as long as I kept running I could podium in my age group.
The run course was probably not all that challenging looking back, it had some rolling hills that were small and wound through the yellow aspen trees. Factor in that we were up at 9,000 feet with limited oxygen and that we had just completed a bike leg with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain, it was a little brutal.

A cool picture taken of me by 303 Triathlon, before the pain fully set in! 
The first mile seemed to take forever, and I knew that the rest of the run would be similar. My hamstrings were tight, my right quad was on the verge of cramping, and each breath was labored. This is exactly what I wanted when I signed up, right? I just wanted to keep running. No matter what, I refused to walk and had my heart set on running the entire race. When I hit the turnaround, I kept my eye out for women behind me who might catch me. About a half mile behind, I saw one, two, three women who had a strong pace much faster than mine. I didn’t know if I could hold on to my place, but I focused on continuing to run. Around mile 4, two of the girls passed me. I kept running. About a half mile from the finish, the third girl passed me.

Running into the finish
I was 5th woman coming towards the end. I gave it my all to the finish, and bent over to catch my breath as they handed me an enormous belt buckle. I can’t thank my parents enough for screaming and cheering me on, and for taking care of me while I recovered. I also can’t thank Beth Esterl and her son Dave, long supporters of both me and my mom, who showed up to cheer for me as well. I really pushed hard thanks to the support of my family and friends.

What a race! I was utterly spent, but beyond happy. I had never placed so highly overall, and I was over the moon to have claimed my age group for the second time this season. My swim and bike were strong, and my run was not great, but what else is new? One day I’ll nail that run! Above all, it was such a privilege to experience such a scenic and historic race. All of the other racers were so encouraging, and all of the police officers kept the intersections incredibly safe as they cheered me on with cowbells. In true Colorado western style, I was given a cowboy hat and belt buckle along with a bottle of wine and Newton Running gift card for winning my age group. I’ll be taste testing that wine with a celebratory steak soon!
My wonderful, loving, amazing parents!! 

To everyone who has supported me this season, THANK YOU!!! It’s been a long ride (training since February), and I did what I set out to do, which was to gain strength in the sprint and Olympic distances. I’m so proud of my improvements and thoroughly enjoyed all of the training and friends I’ve made along the way. While I’m much relieved and excited for a break from the intensity, I already can’t wait for my next biggest challenge, Ironman Boulder!! 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running! 

Racing for Epic Experience this year has been rewarding and humbling. Your support has provided more than enough money to send a cancer survivor to a life-changing camp. I really do feel like I’ve made an impact; even though it may not seem like much, Epic really does change lives. Thank you everyone so much for following me in this journey; feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments. If you still want to donate, the link is in the upper right of my blog!

Thanks for reading, and happy racing!!


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