September 10, 2000 – Aurora, Colorado
By Adam Hodges
ISSUE #8, October/November 2000 – September 10th dawned cool, a hint of the coming fall, yet with the promise of another hot summer day to test triathletes. The sun, swollen like a harvest moon, crept above the bare hills east of Aurora Reservoir as three hundred triathletes and duathletes prepared for a morning of hills, wind, and sun. The triathletes faced a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run. The duathletes swapped the swim for a 5K run.
At 7:30, the first wave of triathletes dove into 70 degree water to start a slightly long swim. The first green cap from wave one exited the water in 29:45, but Nick Cady, who started in the second wave three minutes back, exited shortly thereafter in a time of 27:28. Denver’s Edward Melanson, who started way back in the fourth wave, claimed the fastest swim split of the day in 27:07. The first woman to hit land was Breckenridge triathlete Jari Kirkland, a former collegiate swimmer and X-Terra competitor competing in her first half-ironman event. Kirkland swam a time of 30:53.
Meanwhile, the duathletes started their 5K prologue to determine the pecking order going into the bike. Short distance specialist from Boulder, Andy Ames, showed his 5K talent against Wichita duathlete Vince Luebbens before entering T1. Paula Nickel, a triathlete from Fort Collins who hasn’t been spending much time in the water, separated herself from her main competitors Jennifer Arnold and Cindi Toepel.
Someone unfamiliar with the farmland near Aurora Reservoir might mistakenly assume it to be flat, an easy place to bike. Mistakenly. The exposed terrain on the plains east of Denver might lack the large elevation swings that make the vistas of the Rockies to the west so inspiring, but the high plains certainly don’t lack rolling hills. Or wind.
A strong wind blew from the southwest and pushed the cyclists out of T1 as they left the gates of Aurora Reservoir and headed east along Quincy Road. At the end of Quincy road, the cyclists turned around and were greeted with a two and a half mile stretch back to Watkins Road and their first real taste of the wind that would haunt the bike course on the return to T2.
By the turn north onto Watkins Road, Nick Cady had made his way around the rest of wave one and started hunting down the duathletes. Meanwhile, Troy Theodos, coming off a 5th overall performance at the Vineman Ironman four weeks before, searched for his legs.
The undulating terrain of Watkins road led the athletes north to I-70, which paved the way to the sunflower fields of eastern Colorado. Big chain rings and small cogs were a must along this fast stretch with an upper speed limit of 75 mph. The cyclists exited I-70 in Bennett where the temperature sign on the bank read 79 degrees. The sun was rising, though, and a treeless run awaited the cyclists.
Heading into the wind along Highway 36, Cady caught up with duathletes Ames and Luebbens. The three were separated by mere seconds until they turned south on Watkins Road to find the path back to the reservoir littered with climbs. Along Watkins Road, Luebbens hammered into the wind and broke the group. Ames suffered and thought about “riding back to the transition area and calling it a day.” Cady, who decided the day before during a training run to sign up for the race, tried to bridge the distance between Aimes and Luebbens. Meanwhile, Theodos had found his legs and began to move up on the leaders.
In the women’s race, triathletes Karen Grabau and Robin Waterwoman, and duathlete Paula Nickel waged their own battles against the course.
At T2, duathlete Luebbens showed himself first. Triathletes Cady and Theodos soon followed. On a slightly short, albeit challenging course, Theodos logged a bike split of 2:20:21, the fastest among the leaders.
Cady headed out onto the exposed run looking for a positive note on which to end his season after a disappointing DQ from Ironman Canada two weeks before. In Penticton, Cady returned to the bike-run transition to find his running gear confiscated by race officials after he was hit with a questionable center line violation (on a narrow country road with no painted “center line.”) But in Aurora, a short drive from his home in Boulder, Cady would not be denied an opportunity to suffer through the hot, dry run around the reservoir.
After returning to T2, duathlete Ames felt better and decided to give the 13.1 mile run a shot. For Ames, a quick runner, this means catching people and putting distance on those behind him. Ames caught triathlete Theodos by the run turnaround and Cady at mile ten. However, the gap between Ames and Luebbens was too great and Luebbens cruised in for the duathlon victory in a time of 4:11:56. Ames crossed the finish line second in 4:16:23. Third place in the duathlon went to Robert Schumacher in a time of 4:40:54.
In the triathlon, Cady crossed the final hills and clenched the victory in a time of 4:27:03. Edward Melanson, a 37 year old triathlete from Colorado, moved up from his starting position in the fourth wave to grab second overall in a time of 4:28:07. Troy Theodos came in third with a time of 4:31:27.
The women triathletes battled through the hot temperatures which had risen into the mid 80’s by the run. Karen Grabau won the triathlon in a stellar time of 4:49:14 followed by Robin Waterwoman who finished under the five hour mark in 4:59:38. Boulder’s Cindi Lehman finished third in 5:14:25.
Lehman considered the race to be “my redemption after a tough season. All three legs were pretty even for me today and I felt really good on the run.”
In the women’s duathlon, Paula Nickel ran to victory in 4:51:53. Nickel, a Fort Collins triathlete taking a break from swim training in order to meet her busy schedule as mom, said, “The bike was windy and never flat. Hard.”
Jennifer Arnold took second in the duathlon in 5:11:00, followed by Cindi Toepel in 5:12:49.
And the most important winner of the day was the Harvest Moon Half-Ironman. The first-year race filled a void in the Front Range. It’s timing at the beginning of September allowed many athletes to use it as a finale to a summer of racing, while area Ironman qualifiers used it as a tune-up for Kona.
Paul Rapinz from Boulder, who finished 5th overall and qualified for the Hawaii Ironman this year at Ironman USA in Lake Placid, said the day was “good training for Hawaii. The wind was punishing and the hills and heat were ideal preparation.” Rapinz, who will be racing in Kona for his second year in a row, added that race director “Darrin [Eisman] always puts on good events. It was a great day.”
And first year pro Nick Cady was happy to end his season with a win. After starting off the season and his pro career with a 10th place finish at the Wildflower Half-Ironman in May, Cady looks to focus more on short course races next year.
The Harvest Moon also saw scores of athletes competing at the distance for the first time. Winner of the women’s 20-24 age group, Jari Kirkland, found that “the swim and the bike were easy but the run was harder than I could have imagined.” Kirkland will travel to Maui in October to compete in the X-Terra World Championships.
And ultrarunner Alex Wolfe from Nederland found the toughest part of his first half-ironman to be the first three minutes of the swim. “Once I got away from the crowd and started swimming, I felt fine,” said Wolfe. Wolfe skate skis throughout the snow season and hopes to get into next year’s Ironman Canada.
“Our goal was to put on a quality, fun event while keeping entry fees low-I believe we’ve succeeded,” said Harvest Moon race director Eisman.