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.
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.
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.
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.
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.