Getting Active at Altitude with Team 3xFast
April 21, 2010 (Estes Park, CO) – As I ran along a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park with a group of ten triathletes from Team 3xFast, we were led by the energetic Terry Chiplin. Chiplin, a 56-year old runner and British expat who still looks as fit as a 26-year old, introduced us to a method of group running he calls “sheep-dogging.” This is where the faster runners go ahead for a few minutes, turn around and run back past the slower runners before reconstituting the group. In this way, a group run can progress more or less en masse even with runners moving at different paces.
As we moved through the alpine meadows of Moraine Park, Chiplin seemed to be covering the most ground as he jetted up ahead to give directions on what fork in the trail to take next, and then sped back to the end of the group before corralling everyone together again. Chiplin is the owner of Active at Altitude, a residential retreat for athletes near Estes Park, and he is every bit the embodiment of his retreat’s name. In addition to organizing training camps at his lodge, Chiplin is also a coach for the Bolder Boulder’s training club and the race director of the Estes Park Marathon.
On this particular spring day, I had gone to Active at Altitude to run with the Loveland based triathlon club, Team 3xFast. The team was in the middle of a weekend training camp where they could focus on training for two and a half days without the distractions of work and chores around home.
For most of the triathletes on the team, their weekend training camp began Friday afternoon around 2:00 pm when they left Loveland on their bikes. They rode about 35 miles up to Chiplin’s lodge perched in the Roosevelt National Forest. Given that Loveland sits at just below 5,000-feet and Active at Altitude at around 7,800-feet, the ride provided ample climbing for the first training session of the weekend. Once they arrived and got settled (a support van had carried the items they would need for the weekend) the team did an evening four-mile run around Lake Estes before calling it a day.
The team’s training schedule for the remainder of the weekend included a yoga session and an hour trail run Saturday morning with an optional swim in the afternoon; then yoga and another trail run Sunday morning before biking home to Loveland in the afternoon. The mostly downhill return ride on Sunday allowed the tired athletes to reap the rewards for the climbing they had done two days earlier to get to the camp.
But this training camp was certainly not all about sweat and lung-busting workouts at altitude. Interspersed among the physical training sessions were the equally important motivational and mental training sessions. When I arrived at the lodge before the Saturday morning trail run, Chiplin was leading the team in a discussion of goal setting principles. Additional sessions on training theory were scheduled later in the day. And, of course, the final yet crucial component of the training camp was camaraderie and fun, as the athletes shared meals and bonded as a team.
Many of the members of Team 3xFast are new to multisport, and their reasons for getting involved are as varied as their athletic backgrounds. Kristi Leonard was a miler in college where she posted her best running times. Triathlon has given her a new challenge with opportunities for continued improvement.
Dwayne Windisch played softball before he began his foray into multisport, which started with a four-mile road race—the Fort Collins Turkey Trot. He gradually increased the distances of running races he entered, and then added mountain biking to the mix to compete in the fat tire division of the Mile High Duathlon Series. Due to his consistency, he won the fat tire division title in 2006, which spurred him to buy a triathlon bike. Now Ironman Arizona is on his racing schedule for 2010.
For Erin Crisson, triathlon represented a way to be active outside after she had her second child. With no prior background in endurance events, she was bored at the gym as she tried to get back into shape after her pregnancy. That’s when a friend convinced her to do the Greeley Triathlon. She was hooked and went on to do the Danskin and Tri-Babes triathlons last summer as well.
When Crisson walked into Nick and Nadia Sullivan’s triathlon store in Loveland to find out about more races, she wasn’t planning on joining their triathlon team. She didn’t think someone so new to the sport would be ‘team material.’ But then Nick Sullivan explained to her the mission of Team 3xFast: “to promote healthy lifestyles through the sport of triathlon” with a focus on fun and team spirit. And Crisson realized she had found a perfect opportunity to learn more about her newfound sport.
The Sullivans opened their triathlon store in April of 2007 with a goal of sponsoring existing triathlon clubs. “But we soon realized that there were many more triathletes than clubs,” said Nick Sullivan. They kept fielding requests about whether the store organized group rides, runs and similar events. As a result, they decided to create a team community to help people enjoy triathlon more.
The team has five key requirements for members, including the expectations to volunteer at one or more events each year and to “maintain a fun, positive attitude” because “fun is what it’s really about!”
However, all this focus on fun doesn’t mean the group doesn’t get competitive. Last year, they sent a team to the 24 Hours of Triathlon—an event in which competitors do as many loops of a short course triathlon as they can in 24 hours—and won the relay division for open teams with four or more members. They completed 23 full triathlons—consisting of a 0.24 mile swim, 11.2 mile bike and 2.6 mile run—plus an additional swim in 23 hours 59 minutes and 1 second.
Just as rewarding as coming away with the victory was the unofficial award they received for being the loudest and most enthusiastic team. Despite the sleep deprived atmosphere, team members who weren’t currently swimming, biking or running were often out on the course cheering on their own racer as well as competitors on other teams throughout the night and day of the 24-hour event.
Team 3xFast plans to compete again in the next 24 Hours of Triathlon to be held in the Midwest in 2011. And three members—Andy Maples, Lindsey Higerd and Nick Sullivan—are planning to compete in Ironman Coeur d’Alene next year. In 2010, beyond the many regional races in Colorado they will be doing, the team will send four athletes to Ironman Arizona and twelve athletes to the USAT Club National Championship in South Carolina.
The welcoming atmosphere of the team encourages athletes with a variety of abilities. As Crisson put it, “The average Joe can be as involved as the Ironman athletes.” In the individual sport that is triathlon, Team 3xFast has found a way to employ Chiplin’s method of “sheep-dogging” to create a true team environment.