The Black Hills, a Triathlon, Bike Ride and Buffalo

By Bill Plock

Is there anything better for triathletes or cyclists than a road trip triathlon or the promise of new roads and trails?

Well in 2020, yes any triathlon or bike adventure is wonderful, but there is something special about loading up the car and busting a move to somewhere new to swim or explore different roads and soak in the air somewhere new. 

About six hours northeast of Denver, the Black Hills rise mysteriously from barren plains and grasslands immediately resembling the mountains here in Colorado–at the least the front range. In my opinion, the very underrated or under-recognized Black Hills remind me of Colorado back in the 70’s. A time when Glenwood Canyon was still a two lane highway, and when you had to go over Loveland pass to get to Summit county. Yes I’m dating myself, but I do miss the open roads and uncrowded trails.

In these times, people from around the country are flocking to the mountains in record numbers both in Colorado and South Dakota. The hills known for buffalo and Presidents are alive and well. I can just hear Julie Andrews walking through the grasslands now singing at the top of her lungs. I can see the buffalo turning their heads in a “what the hell is she doing look” as turkeys scatter for cover and antelope prance away.

 Real Estate is selling fast here as people move from the coasts to work on line and as their kids learn at their side in coffee shops and other places. There are very few masks in South Dakota and people congregate in shops and restaurants like they did before March. Agree or disagree, that’s just the way it is here.

I can remember my very first triathlon 12 years ago. Wow, time has flown. It was in Steamboat and not only was the adventure in doing a triathlon, but also in adding a bit of a road trip. There was a group of us and we even got fun henna tattoos to “psych” up for the trip. We rented a house and made a long weekend of it. 

I was heading to the Black Hills for a family reunion and it just so happened to be the same weekend as the Wildlife Loop triathlon in Custer State Park. I took the 303 Trailer and decided to check it out. The story this past weekend, for me at least, wasn’t the race but the feel of it. 

It started with texting race director Brandon Zelfer and asking him if I could park near transition, but that I was getting in late and wanted to make sure it was cool. He wrote back, “there should be plenty of room, no worries.” Thinking there might be a “village” and gates and cones I just didn’t know what to expect. Clearly he wasn’t too worried about it and for good reason as I would find out.

I rolled in about 10:30—finally. Stockade Lake, is DARK. I found the “beach” area and you would hardly know there was going to be a triathlon in the morning. The bike racks were up but that was about it. 

The water was lit by the stars and the tranquility of it struck me. I parked overlooking the lake back up the main road a few hundred yards. Settling in and wondering what the area will look like upon sunrise I heard a truck peel off towards the lake. Soon, giggles and splashing followed and I knew a group of teens from town were frolicking in the water. I remembered some glory days of my own with my friends and loved the nostalgic feeling. The event was starting to feel a bit magical, or at least different. 

In the morning, with a little fog rising off the lake athletes began to trickle in. With the sunrise came a spectacular view. We were only at 5,300 feet of elevation but it felt more like the triathlon was set somewhere much higher, like maybe in Evergreen or Steamboat.

It turns out about 175 athletes competed in either the Olympic or Long Distance (half Iron) race. This course was tough with a very hilly one or two loop bike course and run. The bike course took riders on a scenic loop through Custer State Park—appropriately named the Wildlife Loop. 

Local triathlete, Kirsten McCay who won her age group and loves this triathlon said, “My favorite things about this race are the challenging but scenic bike course, the laid back atmosphere, no time limit for the course so everyone can finish, and the cash prizes for the top 3 overall men and women.” $800, $400 and $300 are given to the overall winners—not bad! 

During the race a couple of buffalo decided to graze along the road providing the most unique backdrop I had ever seen. Then a few miles down the road, a herd of wild sheep meandered around, antelope appeared and deer were all over. Turkeys roam the Black Hills as do the 1,400 Buffalo.

If you decide to try this triathlon, be sure to save time to explore the Black Hills. There are numerous towns to visit and you will meet some amazingly friendly and welcoming people. There is an awesome bike trail, the Mickelson trail that threads a 100 miles through the Black Hills from Edgemont to Deadwood. It’s an old railroad bed with gradual elevation changes on smooth dirt and crush gravel. It’s very smooth and almost doable on a road bike, but something with a bit wider tires will be more comfortable. It’s a big deal and draws cyclists of all sorts. There are numerous cabins and small “resorts” that cater to people who want make it a multiple day outing.

check out this website for trail info and lodging for riders:

You will ride by the Crazy Horse Sculpture and In Hill City there is an old steam train that winds to the base of Mt. Rushmore and the town of Keystone. You could depart the trail and race it on your bike on a parallel road—I think most people would beat the train. Or spend the night in Hill City, lock your bike and take a relaxing train ride.  

All in all, check out the Black Hills for an adventure, triathlon or not, but keep it secret! 

Lookout Mountain Triathlon, a Record Broken and Good Day to Race

The Lookout Mountain triathlon last weekend had many side stories, like most any race of any kind. With COVID and safety protocols and procedures, athletes were really racing themselves more than ever with the swim start of splitting a lane with another athlete and only 12 people on deck at a time really spreading the race out. There were minimal athletes on the road and trail passing each other. Transition was roomy and very little overlap took place. 

Sophie Linn

Four athletes over the age of 80 completed this hilly race at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Also finishing was world ranked Australian ITU triathlete and former standout in track and field at the University of Michigan, 25 year old Sophie Linn. She shattered the women’s course record and finished second overall. She crushed the swim completing the 550 yards in 6:34. Coming in second to Sophie was Lakewood born and familiar finisher around here, Kirsten McCay, 48 years old and mother of a 2 year old. Jake Bamforth was the overall winner. 

Kirsten McCay (on right)

About 25 cadets from Air Force joined in the fun and overall the atmosphere was electric and vibrant despite athletes leaving the scene pretty much right when they finished. 

Ironman Blues and Emerging from a Dark Place to Tackle Haute Route

By Bill Plock

Do you have the Ironman “blues”? Do they happen or even exist? I’ve decided the blues are a result of losing a very predictable slice of life in the form of calculated training replaced by general life with full unpredictability. Now we are left with a void of something known transformed into the unknown and the anxiousness that happens. Is it that??

Each race, each event teaches us something. For me, Ironman Boulder came with a few surprises and one dark moment that almost resulted in a DNF next to my name. An unusually relaxed and well navigated swim led to a good start on the ride. But then the wheels fell off.

About 65 miles in, I just wanted to lay down and sleep. I kept looking at each shady spot on the side of the road like it was the most amazing bed to ever greet my eyes. I became obsessed. I slowly crawled into a dark space of quit and craving sleep. Just quit. Go away. Be quiet. Rest for another day. The bike is where I usually do my best. My legs wouldn’t push, my heart began to slow. My speed dropped.

Then my guardian angel, and as it turns out, a baby was born to her only 7 days after, saved my race.


303’s long time ambassador and Kona qualifier Kirsten Smith, obviously quite pregnant, stood on 65th just north of Nelson road. She greeted me with a cheer and uncharacteristically I stopped to say hi. Just an excuse to stop, I was looking for any excuse. She crossed the road and grabbed my shoulders felt my gritty hot skin caked in salt but with no moisture at all and told me to get going—emphatically! I think she wanted to slap me noticing I had a bottle and a half of water on my bike that could’ve been used to douse my body. The next aid station wasn’t that far so why have so much water? She urged me to continue and use that water. She shook me from delirium and onwards I went. I clipped in and continued, head pounding and feeling frustrated but so thankful for Kirsten’s intervention.

This is where the dry air deceives you. I was hydrated, but with humidity of less than 10% and 96 degree heat with a hot wind blowing in our faces, our sweat immediately evaporated starving our bodies of any way to cool naturally. I decided to stop in the shade and took all that water and drenched myself. Then I started to ride. I started to cool and feel more normal. The next aid station, an oasis only a couple of miles ahead greeted me. I loaded up, drenched myself more and continued on regaining my normal pace. I had done it, I crawled out of the hole and knew, even if I had to walk, my day would finish hearing Mike Reilly proclaiming my name as an Ironman.


I’m confident I now have more confidence when adversity strikes. Now I have Haute Route in three days with its daunting week long, 523 miles and 52,000 feet of ascension staring me in the face. The ride starts in Boulder, heads to Winter Park, then to Avon, off to Breckenridge with a final stage riding up Pikes Peak.

Seven days of early starts, possible cold rain, steep roads, and who knows what else will greet us. I’m hoping my “dig out” from Ironman’s pain cave will push me through any difficulties and hopefully I won’t need a guardian angel, but if so, I hope there is one somewhere. Kirsten is a little busy being a first time mom, with all kinds of unpredictability!



We at 303 send her our best wishes of course and I’ll sprinkle those with an amazing amount of gratitude I’ll never forget!

Onwards….and upwards! Stay tuned for daily coverage of the Haute route and a course preview in the next couple of days

2017 Harvest Moon Long Course Tri Race Recap – What a Difference a Year Makes!


By Kirsten McCay

Wow! What a difference one year makes. The Without Limits/5430 Sports Harvest Moon Long Course Triathlon was a completely different race than it was one year ago. If you saw any pics or read any race recaps from last year (2016) you’ll have seen bikes blown down in transition, the slip and slide blowing away, and white caps in the reservoir. The wind was insane last year.

This year, however, the temperatures and weather were pretty much perfect. It was slightly chilly in the morning but about 15 minutes into the race the sun popped out from behind the clouds, warmed up the air, and then went back behind the clouds, staying there for most of the rest of the day.

Photo by Susan McNamee

These conditions made for PRs by almost every single athlete that I talked to who did the race last year. I know the race companies and race director have nothing to do with the weather, but it was a pretty perfect day and both newbies and experienced athletes both agreed that this year’s race was one of the best ever in the 18 years since the race started.

The race this year had 8 waves, including a first-timers wave which helps introduce newbies to the sport and ease them into a less intimidating and less aggressive swim start. They are also recognized for their accomplishment as there is an entire category of awards just for the first-timer. This is a positive way to introduce new triathletes into the sport. I love that Without Limits has this option in all of their races!

The swim this year was ideal. The water was calm and the buoys were easy to spot as the sun stayed mostly tucked behind the clouds. I don’t wear a Garmin, so I personally don’t know the actual distance of the swim, but I heard from several athletes after the race that the swim with a little bit short of the 2,000 m standard for the long course distance. Most measured it at about 1500 m.

Photo by Bill Plock

The bike course was also very easy thanks to partly cloudy skies, cooler temperatures, and very little wind on the course. The course is one of the fastest in Boulder, so for triathletes looking to ride a high mph average, this is a great course to test your speed on your bike. It’s also a perfect course for beginners who are doing their first half ironman distance triathlon, as the ride will leave your legs feeling a little fresher than many courses out there of the same distance.

We were also very fortunate on the run course as the temperature stayed in the low 70s. And the run being on hard-packed dirt was more gentle on the joints and muscles of the legs so again, a little easier for first timers, beginners, and those athletes wanting to test their speed. I also heard later in the day that the run course was about a half mile shorter than the standard 13.1 miles.

I spoke with 2 women after the race who used this as their first triathlon at this distance, and both were extremely happy with their experience. This race is small enough to make everyone feel included and a part of the community, but competitive enough to push even the most experienced athlete. I had a girl who I thought was in my age group blow by me on the 2nd lap of the run. I picked up my pace to try to stay with her, but couldn’t keep up. It ended up she was in the age group below me (phew) but that push helped me get to the finish line more quickly and took my mind of my hurting legs for a while!

There were a record number of Aqua-bikers at the race and this is the only Colorado race that includes a long course duathlon as an option!

There were 116 women, 218 men, 19 duathletes, 79 aqua bikers, and 17 relays who finished the race this year.

This was my 6th year racing the Harvest Moon Triathlon. I love that it’s in Boulder now and I love what Without Limits has done with the race. I will DEFINITELY be back next year! Hope to see you there!

Women’s Wednesday: Overcoming Obstacles – 303’s Kirsten McCay’s journey from disordered eating to the Kona World Championships

303Triathlon is super proud of Kirsten McCay

She has overcome a lot in her life, and is now reaping the reward of the Big Island.

Kirsten McCay from Big to Little on Vimeo.