Let Your Next Race “Call You” and Don’t Be Afraid to Answer, Thank You Alamosa

For me, in 2021, perhaps the memories of Alamosa in 2020 became my beacon of clarity or at least my landing place to compete again. In 1932 Amelia Earhart landed in Alamosa because it was the last clear place she saw after she flew into a dust storm in Eastern Colorado and she needed to land. 

Maybe I needed to compete. Maybe she needed some fuel and something to eat. Maybe it’s kinda the same thing. 

It had been almost four years since I raced and many more years than that since I felt competitive.  But like Amelia Earhart in 1932, I found Alamosa, or should I say Alamosa found me. 

It started in 2020 at the Last Call Triathlon when Darrin Eisman of Racing Underground told me he had one more triathlon to time, in Alamosa. I cocked my head a bit sideways, pursed my lips and couldn’t wait to google this triathlon I had never heard of. “Alamosa? A triathlon at the end of October? At 7,500 feet of elevation? Wait what” 

I wanted a road trip with my daughter, we were Covid exhausted and the bigger plan was to take her to the nearby Sand Dunes and the Royal Gorge. 

Like last year, I took the 303 Trailer, affectionally named Snoopy, and arrived at the Splashland pool on the outskirts of town. Built in 1955, this pool exists because the original owners were drilling for oil and found a river of hot water deep in the earth. Adjacent to the pool is the Jones Family Farm, one of Colorado’s Centennial farms, farmed by the same family for over a 100 years. It was a Jones, who helped Amelia who landed across the road. 

Maybe it was me hoping for a connection or maybe it was all this rich history combined with such an unusual setting for a triathlon at an unusual time of year that drew me back in 2021. I feel at a crossroads in my racing and physical life. At 56, with some mild racing success in my late 40’s and early 50’s I am still somewhat fit. But not nearly like four years ago. I’m not “skinny fat” as they say, I have added a few pounds, but nothing I can’t lose.  But as time went by, racing became a bigger juggernaut of fear than I care to admit. 

Local Relay team

I didn’t want to be slow, or feel lame. I had forgotten that racing is about the effort and not the result. That what matters most in age group endurance events is trying. I was afraid to be vulnerable. 

With my road and gravel bikes stolen a few weeks ago, I re-discovered my mountain and triathlon bikes. Each offers new freedoms and invigorating rides. On my triathlon bike, once up to speed and laying down in my aero bars, I feel a sense of “badassery” of going fast. It feels good. 

I knew if I continued to let race after race go by and not jump in, at some point I never would race again. I outwardly told myself that was okay.  But inwardly I know that without being vulnerable and pushing oneself, sedentary choices will eventually erode fitness and at 56, it becomes hard to get back into shape.

coming into T2

But here it was Fall with the season winding down. I got a call from race director Michael Bush asking me if I was going to race. Michael had a tough year battling through a severe bout of Covid. I could feel his hope I would race and experience what I had witnessed in 2020. He drew me in with just his will to recover and put on his race and even participate with his buddies as part of a relay. It sparked me to sign up. 

In 2020 when I met Michael, he was so nice and grateful for me being there to share this race with “the world.” As it turns out, the Splashland Triathlon is part of the Southwest Triathlon Series with other races in Gunnison, Montrose and Los Alamos (NM). 

During 2021 we (303 Endurance) communicated with each race director, showcased an athlete from each town and it became apparent there is a vibrant, albeit spread out triathlon community along Highway 50 and south.

Julie Burdick

Many people do all of the races. Says Julie Burdick, who lives in Montrose and won her age group in Alamosa, “What I love most about doing the series is having that next event to look forward to, keeping on with the training, seeing the people I’ve met in triathlon again at the next event, encouraging each other and sharing our stories of races and training.”

The vibe is chill. The course is simple, short and fast. It’s fun to camp at the pool. With less than a hundred participants, it feels like field day back in elementary school. Everyone just walks out to the road, Michael counts down and off we went running through the Jones farm and back after 5 kilometers. The bike had us speed past the Earhart marker, make a U-turn five miles out and come back to a nice 85 degree pool for a 450 yard swim. At first I was nervous the pool would be too hot, but after running and biking at 30 degrees, it felt amazing. Yes it is in opposite order of most triathlons. 

I set two goals for this race. To not stop on the run and to remain in my aero bars for the entire ride. It was part way in I noticed a competitor that looked about my age wearing a Cinch racing kit. I figured he was probably from the front range and as he passed me on the run I just wanted to stay in contention. I lost sight of him but still hoped to catch him on the bike. With about a mile left on the run, he needed a bathroom break apparently and passed me again just before riding. With the gap closer, I caught him halfway on the bike and kept the lead for the rest of the race. 

The mouse and cat of racing someone else felt good. I had forgotten that feeling and it sparked a youthfulness I had missed more than I realized. Racing definitely fuels the youth of our spirit. 

The organic grocery store in Crestone

Alamosa and the whole San Luis Valley is a contrast of hard living with extreme nature pulling at your best self shadowed in the immense beauty of the Sangre De Christo mountains. It speaks to your soul and spirit of life.  In fact just north of Splashland, nestled on the West Slope is the town of Crestone. It is home to over a dozen national spiritual centers. Many people seeking a simple, grounded existence carve out a life rooted in nature. It is well worth the 13 mile side trip and has some great camping nearby and a couple of good restaurants and quaint shops. 

Like Amelia Earhart presumably, she recalled this place that opened to her sky when all else was shrouded in clouds. For me, it offered a haven of pursuance that nurtured my racing soul and let it feed on the cold, crisp air and bask in the joy of all that raced while exploring some new places and meeting new people. 

Alamosa called me, I didn’t call it, but sure glad I answered. 

Looking for New Triathlon Adventures? Southwest Triathlon Series–Gunnison, Montrose, Alamosa and Los Alamos

By Bill Plock

Deep in the heart of Colorado, in cities on or south of Highway 50, you can find a series of sprint triathlons that will keep you racing until the end of October. Each of these triathlons offer a pool swim and unparalleled scenery in a small town atmosphere. Each has their own twists and nuances. For example the Alamosa Triathlon finishes with comfortable swim in the hot springs pool. But its on October 17th, so at almost 8,000 feet the warmer than usual water might feel wonderful.

These triathlons feature some of the highest elevations of any triathlon in the United States and Los Alamos is the longest continually running triathlon in the country!

Each race will have about 250 participants, they are professionally timed and will have BASE nutrition on course. The fun thing is each race will have dry camping options so if you want to pull in with your RV or trailer the night before with the family, maybe the whole family would like to race–or at least watch. Each race has a kid race and is very family oriented.

Last year we covered the Alamosa triathlon and became familiar with the vibe that no doubt will be in place in each of these venues. Here is a link to the story from last fall. https://303triathlon.com/a-lot-more-than-meets-the-eye-at-tri-in-alamosa-cool-tie-to-amelia-earhart-and-farm-that-built-pool/

Unfortunately this year because of some regulations at the lab in Los Alamos that triathlon will be virtual and is going on from July 1-24. If you care to learn more or register go here: https://losalamostri.itsyourrace.com/event.aspx?id=8755

The Gunnison Triathlon takes place August 28th and features a beautiful ride north of town towards Ohio Pass. For more information you can go here and register: https://gunnisonhightri.itsyourrace.com/event.aspx?id=7343

Next in the Series is the Black Canyon Triathlon taking place in Montrose on October 2nd. Says race director Kevin Davis, “The Black Canyon Triathlon is the primary fundraiser for the Montrose Recreation Foundation. Funds are used to promote and expand recreational opportunities within the Montrose community. This includes activity scholarships for both youth and older adults that qualify based on financial need. These scholarships are used to participate in sports, recreation activities, swimming lessons, and for access to the Montrose Community Recreation Center and Field House”

For more information and to register go here: http://bctri.com

The last race in the series takes place in Alamosa on October 17th. Registration information for this race is pending but you can register for the entire series here: https://greatsouthwesttriathlonseries.itsyourrace.com/register/

So if you want to try something new, or see a part of Colorado you haven’t seen, at least in while, check out these races or do them all!

A Lot More Than Meets the Eye at Tri in Alamosa–Cool Tie to Amelia Earhart and Farm That Built Pool

By Bill Plock

All races have a history, but the Splashland Triathlon in Alamosa, Colorado wouldn’t even be around if not for a few interventions of fate. It also has a connection to aviation legend, Amelia Mary Earhart—not to be confused with 9news personality, also a pilot, Amelia Rose Earhart. 

Lloyd “Butch” Jones Jr.–his dad greeted Amelia

In 1932 Amelia landed in the meadow next to the bike course that eventually passes through the Jones farm. Lloyd Jones greeted Amelia when she landed unannounced and helped her with accommodations and “guarded” her plane while she re-supplied in Alamosa. Somewhere presumably at the bottom of the Pacific ocean, Amelia’s plane rests with Leroy’s name and “Alamosa Colorado” autographed on it. But the farm hardly acts as just a backdrop for the race. 

The pool hosting the swim is filled by natural hot springs from a well on the farm.  This farm has been in the same family for over a 100 years. It’s now divided among the grandchildren of the original owners. Decades ago, they were drilling for oil and at about 2,500 feet down, instead of oil, they hit hot water. Long story sort of short, they made a pool.

Fast forward a few decades and a few refurbishments later to about 10 years ago when the race director Mike Bush couldn’t walk. He was confined to a wheelchair by a mysterious virus that crippled him. Mike grew up in Grand Junction and coincidently was offered a running scholarship at Adams State University (located in Alamosa) but decided to go to college in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado. His wife is from Alamosa however, and they ended up moving there. Mike frequented the pool he now manages when he was unable to walk and found the warm water quite soothing from his ailment. 

Mike Bush in Yellow

Over time he regained his mobility and through a series of coincidences became manager of the hot springs pool. He wanted to improve access for people with disabilities. When he lived in Greeley he became fond of triathlons. So he decided to start one in Alamosa to raise money for equipment to make the pool more accessible. 

50 yard Hot Springs Pool

The Splashland Triathlon is part of the Southwestern Colorado Triathlon Series with races in Gunnison, Montrose and Los Alamos (NM). Because of COVID only the one in Alamosa happened this year. 

The Jones Farm and bike course

This race is unique in many ways with its high elevation of 7,500 feet, adjacency to the Sand Dunes, having the bike and run cut through a historic farm and its finish with a 400 yard swim in a warm pool.  With the race always in mid-october it’s often pretty chilly at the 9am start, so Mike decided to end the race with a swim in the 86 degree water. 

The finish line

Alamosa, in the heart of the San Luis Valley, is a great place to start many adventures with the Sangre Di Cristo Mountains to the East, the San Juan Mountains to the West, the Collegiate range to the North or as a getaway to the “Land of Enchantment,” a.k.a New Mexico, just to the South. 

Normally 303Triathlon is in Kona during mid-October, so we had to visit the Sand Dunes to get some barefoot in the sand feeling!