I’m calling this a “race review” rather than a “race report”, because it was the first time that this event was run, and most people who read this won’t care about how my race went, but rather things that I learned from doing this race.
This is the world’s highest triathlon, starting at over 9000ft with a 1.2 mile swim in Lake Dillon, a beautiful lake just a stone’s throw away from the Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas. After the swim, it’s a tough 56 mile bike ride that starts off flat, then climbs up Montezuma Road to 10,200ft before returning to Dillon for a second lap. The run is mostly flat, on a bike path around the gorgeous lake. The race starts late (9:15am) which is AWESOME. It’s so great to not have to get up super early.
Due to the elevation, tough bike course, and potential for bad weather, there were many questions in the lead up to this race:
- How cold will the swim be?
- Given the high elevation, what’s a good pacing strategy for the swim?
- Is a road bike or tri bike better?
- What clothing is required?
Water temp: The water was cold. I’m guessing in the 50s (F). If you’ve done Oceanside, it was a bit colder than that. If you’ve done Couer d’Alene, it was almost as cold as that. We were allowed to wear booties and gloves but I chose not to, and I was fine. If the race was longer, I would probably wear them. I also did not wear a neoprene cap, but it probably would have been a good idea, certainly no downside in doing so.
Swim Pacing: I deliberately tired to start slowly, but it was still too fast. I had watched the earlier waves come out the water, and everyone looked drunk. At the first turnaround, I experienced a strange sensation that I’ve never had before. I got very dizzy and felt like I was going to black out. At that point I was in the front pack in the wave, about 100 meters in front of the main pack, so I just stopped, then did breaststroke for a while until I felt better. I started swimming again, but much slower than before. It’s a 2-lap swim, and at the end of the first lap the main pack had caught an overtaken me. I just let them go, mainly because I didn’t feel like dying that day. By the end of the swim, my main thought was how happy I was that it was not an Ironman.
Road vs Tri bike: I brought both bikes with me, but I did not pre-ride the course. Basically, the course is flat and rolling up until Keystone. Then you climb and descend Montezuma Rd. I ended up choosing a tri bike, and I was fine on that. If you’re a terrible bike handler you may wish to choose a road bike. I don’t think a road bike would’ve been much slower for me. The main thought was that the road bike might enable me to descend faster, but I did test the descent the following day on my road bike and it was slower than my tri bike.
Here is a video I shot of the descent. You can see it starts a bit technical, and the road surface is not great. But nothing super bad.
The one amazing thing about this race was the road closure. We had 3 lanes for the bike, 2 full lanes and a shoulder, plus an empty lane between bikes and cars. And Montezuma was 100% closed to traffic. So probably the safest bike course I’ve ever raced on.
Pacing wise, I couldn’t ride very hard. To my legs it felt easier than Ironman effort. My power meter wasn’t working so I don’t know for sure, but based on feel it was easier than IM and I would estimate I rode around 220 watts (Ironman I ride about 240, half ironman usually about 260). Every time I rode harder than that, I’d feel a bit dizzy and disoriented (presumably the altitude). But it was a fun course and a pleasure to ride.
On the run, I had another weird sensation. Every time I ran faster than 8:00 / mile I would be super out of breath. In comparison, I’d have to run close to 6:00 / mile at sea level to be breathing the same way. It’s weird because your legs are ok, your breathing is just crazy. But I just slowed down and enjoyed the run – it’s so beautiful and what a pleasure to be able to run with that scenery!
What I’d do differently:
- Well, it probably wasn’t a good idea to spend the week before at sea level in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort!
- We were very lucky with the weather. I would have been totally unprepared if it was cold. I had no gloves or jacket. I would definitely pack winter gloves and an extra warm top, and if it was cold I’d change into that in T1. I’d also pack a warm skullcap to wear under my helmet. At a minimum, these warm clothes and gloves would be nice to have in the morning before the race, even if the weather is good.
Will I be back next year? Of course if the schedule allows! What a great race and superbly organized. But if you’re coming from sea level, be prepared to dial back your effort and enjoy the day!