September 8, 2001
By Darrin Eisman
ISSUE #13, October/November 2001 – Saturday, September 8th was a race director’s nightmare. Just 24 hours before the start of the second edition of the Harvest Moon Triathlon, the foothills west of Denver were covered in 8 inches of snow. Meanwhile the Aurora Reservoir just east of town was getting hit with wave after wave of cold heavy rains. The forecast called for clear skies on race day, but these were the same weathermen who are wrong 9 times out of 10.
As shivering volunteers scrambled to set up the course and stock the aid stations for Sunday’s race, the rain continued to fall. Things did not look good, which may explain why more than 10 percent of the 400 athletes registered for the sold-out race requested refunds after suddenly becoming "injured" in the last few days before the event.
Well, the weathermen were right on this one – Sunday morning dawned cold and dry, but the weather gods had one last trick up their sleeve. High winds the night before had obliterated the swim course, and left buoys scattered all across the reservoir on race morning.
Attempts to reposition the large orange buoys proved futile, as the winds on the lake were strong enough to drag the 60 pound anchors some 100 to 200 meters in just 5 minutes time. With a water temperature in the 80 foot deep lake at just 58 degrees, race organizers decided that it would be too dangerous to have 400 swimmers chasing the moving buoys all over the lake.
The decision was made shortly before the start to move the swim to the marina area, where the buoys would be sheltered from the wind. As a bonus, the water was approximately 10-12 degrees warmer in the 15 foot deep cove, however it also meant shortening the course to approximately 800-1000 meters which drew cheers from most of the athletes assembled. In fact, with the air temperature still in the thirties, many of them were wearing their race sweatshirts right up to the start.
As the athletes charged up the beach following the abbreviated swim, the first order of business was to grab a warm jacket for the 56 mile bike loop.
Their shivers were short lived, however, as the rolling hills of the first 15 miles were enough to warm up even the coldest rider. By the time the racers hit the flat farmlands in the middle of the bike course, the day had turned beautiful, (although it was still quite windy) and this must have been what Cameron Widoff was waiting for.
Widoff charged into the lead half-way through the bike course making the most of this Ironman tune-up race. As he made the deceptively long final climb to the transition area, he had 3:27 on Buffalo Springs Lake 1/2 Ironman winner Michael Lovato and another 17 seconds on defending champion Nick Cady.
Like Cady and Lovato, Boulder’s Sara Tarkington finished the bike several minutes down on the leaders. Amanda Gillam, and Argentinean Barbara Buenohora looked untouchable, but the 20 year old Tarkington was easily the fastest pure runner in the field.
The Harvest Moon run course follows the asphalt path that twists and rolls around the lake – a route totally closed to vehicles with aid stations at each mile staffed by enthusiastic volunteers from the Eaglecrest High School track and cross country teams. Perhaps it was their cheers that pushed Widoff to a stellar 1:16:40 run split.
"The view was absolutely incredible, especially out on the dam," Widoff remarked after the race. On a day that was remarkably clear, "I could see from Pikes Peak to the south all the way to Longs – it was so amazing that I almost stopped out on the dam just to look. I had to tell myself that I was in a race, and keep running."
For his efforts, Widoff took home the $150 first place prize, while the Texan, Lovato, struggled through a difficult high altitude run to take second place and $125. The returning champion Cady earned $100 for his third place finish.
For Tarkington, 13.1 miles was plenty of time to make up the deficit on the early leaders. Her 1:32:02 run split was faster than many of the top men in the field, and gave her a comfortable 1 minute cushion over second place Buenohora. Maryland’s Amanda Gillam put together an impressive high altitude performance to take third place.
In the accompanying duathlon, it was a great day for the out-of-staters, as Kansas’ Hector Rios and Arizona’s Katie Blackett led from the first step of the opening 5K run. Both continued to expand their leads on the 56 mile bike course, cheered on by the Bennett High School Junior Class who were manning the aid stations to raise money for their prom.
Both athletes ran uncontested over the final 13.1 mile run to take home the $100 first place prize and set new course records in the process with Rios timed in 4:07:35 and Blackett in 4:30:51.
2000 duathlon winner Vince Leubbers, also of Kansas, recovered from a summer-long injury just weeks before the race, but still managed to take second place, albeit 10 minutes slower than his time from last year, while Golden’s Rob Gilbert, who raced the tri in 2000, took third place in the du this time around.
On the women’s side, Ann Marie Welch, of Boulder, took second place with Vickie Leubbers, of Kansas, grabbing the third place cash.
Following the race, each finisher took home a custom race medal and all participants were treated to an awesome post-race bar-b-que in the brand new pavilion at the Aurora Reservoir. Age group award winners received Hind jackets, watches, and gift certificates from Excel Sports in Boulder, while the club championship trophy went to the Boulder Triathlon Club.