Meeker and Dittrich Dominate Inaugural 5430 Triathlon
By Adam Hodges
ISSUE #13, October/November 2001 — Altitude. Mixed with 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running. As if that combination isn’t tough enough in its own right. Add in heat. And a little wind. And did I mention heat?
On August 26th, 2001, in Boulder, at 5,430 feet above sea level, the weather can be hot and dry. And it was. Even the Boulder Reservoir looked painfully thirsty as the temperatures on the dusty roads around the half-drained lake rose well into the 90s. And in the midst of the summer heat, nearly 300 sun-drenched athletes–over 125 individuals and 50 relay teams–took on the first long-course triathlon to be staged in Boulder.
The day started off at 7:00 am as the wetsuit clad swimmers headed out on the first loop of the two lap swim. Separating each loop in the shrunken reservoir–the water level was at an unusually low level due to recent draining–was a brief run across the beach. As the individual competitors began making their way to land after the second loop, the team swimmers started their race at 8:00 am.
In the men’s competition, Dave Ross of Denver led the way to shore in 52 minutes flat. Legendary triathlete and former Boulder mainstay Scott Molina followed in 55:06. Then came Shawn Steen of Denver in 58:35, Neal Henderson of Boulder in 58:36, Robert Krause of Wilson, WY in 58:45 and Dennis Meeker of Boulder in 59:49.
The first woman out of the water was Wendy Mader of Fort Collins in 57:37 followed by Kelley Mattingly of Spokane, WA in 58:29 and Erika Leetmae of Arvada in 58:39.
According to many athletes, the hardest part of the swim wasn’t actually the swimming but rather the long run through mud up to T1. Despite the muddy status of Boulder Reservoir, relay swimmer Lea Stenorson enjoyed the two-lap format.
“Running between laps…you could hear the crowds cheering. It was cool,” said Stenorson.
And Stenorson added that the one advantage of the low water level, which left a long exposed shoreline, was the lack of boats and the calmness of the water.
Unfortunately, the shallowness of the water left many athletes scrambling over sharp rocks. According to the race medical director, Kristen McFarland, the first casualties in the medical tent were due to cuts to feet.
Once out on the bike, athletes left the confines of Boulder Reservoir and headed north along Highway 36, towards Carter Lake and the turn-around in Masonville. Cyclists were left with over half of the 112-mile bike to go at the turn-around. On the return to Boulder, detours took the athletes to Rabbit Mountain and into Lyons with the popular loops through Apple Valley to the north and Old Saint Vrain Road to the south, collectively known as the “fruit loops” by local riders.
A half dozen places back out of the reservoir, Meeker wasted no time getting down to business on the bike. Meeker was one of two athletes to break the five-hour mark for the bike leg by posting a dominating 4:49:59. The other individual under five hours was Mark Prinzel in 4:59:42. Although Meeker entered T1 with a commanding lead thanks to his decent swim and strong bike split, Prinzel entered the run with a handful of runners far ahead.
At age 41, Scott Molina, one of the famous Big Four that dominated the sport over a decade ago, showed that he still had some racing left in him. Molina raced in Ironman Brazil earlier this year and returned to his former home base of Boulder for the 5430 Triathlon. The Terminator–a nickname he earned while making his living in the sport–entered T1 in second place, just over seven minutes behind Meeker.
In the women’s race, Leslie Benson Dittrich, who exited the water ten minutes behind Mader had some work to do. Like Meeker, Dittrich put the hammer down and flew into the lead at mile 68. Dittrich entered T1 with a nice cushion over Mattingly, Mader, Barb Hurt of Boulder, and Leetmae.
As any long-course triathlete knows, the marathon finale is where the final showdown takes place. It’s where the action, and temperature, really begins to heat up. Meeker’s lead was a nice margin, but with the 90 degree plus temperatures and the lack of shade on the roads around the reservoir, the race was not yet in the bag. Twenty-six point two miles can be an eternity in those conditions, especially after a warm-up that entails a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike. And for Meeker, it was to be his first attempt at running a marathon, much like Luc Van Lierde’s inaugural Ironman performance at Hawaii. Could Meeker survive the brutal run unscathed to cap his first try at the distance with a win as Van Lierde did? And hold off the veteran Molina, an older but wiser Terminator?
Meeker flew through T2 and by the time Molina started the run, he was nearly ten minutes down. Molina headed out to face an old nemesis–not Meeker, but the heat. And he wasn’t alone. The brutal heat on the mentally and physically challenging marathon course would shake up the standings and present challenges to every athlete pounding the dirt of the three loop run.
On the first loop, Meeker passed the 10K mark near Monarch and 55th Street still with a commanding lead. With twenty miles left to run, he looked to be running in control.
Fourteen minutes later, Molina passed the same point appearing a bit more tired and sun-baked than the leader. A minute later, Romauld Lepers ran by looking strong and on the hunt for Molina. Six and a half minutes later, Henderson appeared, running controlled in the hot weather. A hard charging Mark Prinzel, whose specialty is fast marathons, followed a half-minute after.
A half-mile up the road, the terrain begins to undulate. By 6.5 miles, Prinzel moved ahead of Henderson with eyes set on his next prey.
By mile 8, Lepers overtook Molina. Lepers led the duo with Molina sticking to the shoulder of the Frenchman.
The athletes entered the main gates of Boulder Reservoir and at 8.7 miles they passed the staging area of the race, finish chute beckoning–but two more loops were required before each athlete would be eligible for crossing the line.
By 12.5 miles, Molina regained his position in second place. The heat lowered its boom on Lepers, who fell off the pace and struggled in third before eventually dropping out. Meanwhile, Prinzel, on a mission, had Lepers in his sights and was fast approaching.
In an effort to prevent being carried off to the medical tent and with hopes of simply making it to the finish line, Henderson had completely switched gears from race mode to stay-cool mode.
In the women’s race, Dittrich continued to build upon her lead unchallenged.
Late into the run, the lead Meeker had off the bike plus the addition of time due to a strong run would prove more than adequate. At 9:14:47, Meeker broke the finishing tape as the winner of the first 5430 Triathlon-his first marathon and first iron-distance race under his belt.
“The run was brutal–hot and dry,” said Meeker, relieved to be done with the race.
Meeker was quick to acknowledge that his effort would have been impossible without the plentiful aid on the course.
“The support from the volunteers was incredible,” said Meeker.
Meeker, who began racing triathlons six years ago, was grateful to his swim coach, Monica Caplin, for helping him get to his current state of fitness. A manager at Christy Sports in Boulder, Meeker has a wait-and-see attitude about what races he will place on his future schedule.
“Right now, I’ll just take it as it comes,” said Meeker.
Meanwhile, out on the course, Prinzel was still motoring. In his mind, everybody but Meeker was catchable. At 9:33:28, Prinzel crossed the finish in second, having passed Molina on the final lap of the run.
Molina crossed just over a minute later in 9:34:39 for third.
Then came Tim Troha of Boulder in fourth with a time of 10:12:35.
The next athlete to cross the line was the women’s overall winner, Leslie Benson Dittrich in 10:45:08. Dittrich, married to legendary German triathlete Wolfgang Dittrich, capped a rough three weeks with her victory.
Three weeks prior, she had a rough time at Ironman Switzerland in Zurich. Following that Ironman performance, she competed in a short course race, then returned to her home in Boulder. The 37-year old professional triathlete took solace in her performance at the 5430 Triathlon.
“Winning is always good,” she said.
Ready for a rest, she added, “I’m glad it’s over. I’m going to take some time off. It’s been three really ballistic weeks for me.”
Local athletes Kevin Edwards of Boulder and Brian Hunter of Nederland were the next to finish, posting times of 10:45:38 and 10:53:23, respectively.
Edwards, who opted to do the 5430 Triathlon instead of traveling to Ironman Canada, praised the idea of being able to roll out of bed at home and compete in the event.
“Having course familiarity is nice,” he added.
Hunter, who cartwheeled across the line-not once, but twice-was visibly pleased with the quality of the first year event and credited the hot weather with his strong performance.
“The hot run helped me,” he said. “Lots of people died on the first lap.”
Hunter used his experience in nine previous Ironmans to get to the finish line.
The second place woman, Kelly Mattingly, finished in 11:02. Originally from Spokane, WA, Mattingly is a student at Montana State in Bozeman. She spent the summer working and training in Aspen, which helped her adequately prepare for the elevation in Boulder and her first iron-distance race.
Finishing third in the women’s race was Wendy Mader of Fort Collins in 11:26:06, followed by Barb Hurt in fourth with a time of 11:42:30. Erika Leetmae rounded out the top five with her 11:56:18 performance.