June 9, 2001 – Fort Morgan, Colorado
By A.J. Johnson
ISSUE #12, August/September 2001- On June 9th, 2001, athletes showed up to test their fitness in the Fort Morgan Tinman and Half Ironman Triathlons. Located just a few hours drive from Denver, Boulder, or Greeley, Fort Morgan was well located to attract some of Colorado’s best triathletes. Despite the cancellation of last year’s race, this year race officials were able to offer the Half Ironman distance for the first time, in addition to the 1k swim, 50k bike and 10k run Tinman.
The race was cancelled last year due to a conflict between an irrigation company and the state of Colorado. The two sides could not come to an agreement about the lake, and that dispute resulted in race officials not receiving a date until it was too late. Officials felt that they could not do all the necessary work to promote and hold a strong race.
This year, however, race director Larry Worth was given a date early enough to get the race going, and even expand the race.
“It’s about the best we’ve had in a couple of years,” Worth commented on this years event.
As with many races, the start was delayed. With Half Ironman contestants leaving first in two separate waves, things finally got started after an initial thirty minute delay. Unfortunately, successive waves were delayed even longer. At the last minute, swim course safety officials decided that it was unsafe to start the next wave until the last swimmer from the previous wave had reached the halfway point. This proved to be a real problem for the middle to final waves. Some of those waves ran up to an hour late. Considering that pre race nutrition can often make or break your day, this was truly problematic.
Adding to the swim debacle was the difficulty in navigating the course. While buoys were set up, they were hardly visible in the early morning glare. The only instructions swimmers received were to keep the buoys on your right and to take a right at ” that buoy out there.” The markers in the water were a little more than three feet wide and placed very far apart making for a tough first leg.
As Paul Fritzsche, second overall in the Tinman put it, ” A combination of sun glare and drifted buoys made the course difficult to follow.”
Additionally, the length of the course had to be questioned. The Half Ironman distance saw a top time of 34:37, while the Tinman had a top time of 21:07. Given these times, one can only assume that both courses were long.
After completing the challenge of the swim, it was on to a fair bike course. With no real hills to speak of there was really no place to make a big move. However, the constant rolling terrain would prove the course to be deceptively difficult.
The course was a point to point affair starting from Jackson Lake and ending in Fort Morgan. Tinman athletes raced for 31 miles while the Half Ironman competitors raced the standard 56 miles. With no real shade to speak of and water stations few and far between, hydration became an issue.
Half Iron racers had only three stations to pick up fluids. The aid stations consisted of three to four people handing out water bottles. If you didn’t get the water bottle hand off perfectly, it was entirely possible to go right on through without any fluids. Additionally the aid stations had only water, no sports drink, gels or bars. With Allsport drinks as a sponsor it was hard to believe it was not available to any athlete on the course.
The bike course was at times difficult to follow, but in general was decently marked. The real problem was determining who your competitors were. With two different races happening on the same course you had to ask which event a person was competing in. Determining who you had to chase and who you could let go was impossible without asking. Some marking on the calf to indicate which event the person was competing in would have made a world of difference.
Fortunately, congestion was not an issue. Most athletes I spoke with had no problems getting around other athletes. Most likely, this was due to the large time gaps between start times.
Things were tough from the start on the run course. Being a point to point bike, racers had to leave their run gear in a bag to be taken to Fort Morgan, where the bike course ended. The logistics of first getting the gear to the site and then handing the correct bag to the correct athlete were difficult. During the pre race meeting any explanation of how T2 would work immediately inspired more questions and confusion. Athletes did not know if they had to call out numbers, if they would have to search for their bags or ultimately would their bag even be there? Despite all of the confusion on the athlete’s part, most transitions went smoothly. While some had bags waiting for them, others did have to quickly search for the right gear. Fortunately no one had to run barefoot.
The course itself was simple but brutal. A simple out and back 10K for the Tinmen and Tinwomen and 13.1 miles for Half Iron competitors that ended where the bike began. The course was mostly flat, with no shade. Again, it was the lack of aid stations that hurt the course’s quality. The stations were too far apart, only one had Allsport, there was no food, and the cups were the size of those you get at the dentist. One had to grab two cups to get any decent amount of water and most had to stop at the stations to get adequate liquids.
Also, due to the fact that Half Iron competitors had a further turn around point, some of the final stations were close to bare by the time they reached them. This was also a problem for some of the elite racers because they had started so far behind other racers.
“I was disappointed to discover that the water stations were too sparse and barley had anything left by the time we passed by them,” said Paul Fritzsche.
Poor aid stations are tough enough, but add in heat and a lack of shade and the final leg can become extremely difficult.
Upon crossing the finish line, racers ironically got the food and drink they were looking for on the course. There was plenty of fruit and Allsport to be had, apparently organizers had saved it all for the end. The award ceremony was complicated by a number of mis-timings. At one point a woman was recorded as running a sub 18 minute 10k, while one man had run a 45 minute half marathon. By the time it was all cleared up, most athletes had left. Choosing to go home rather than wait to accept their award. The awards were actually very nice. The top three in each category received an engraved silver traveling mug. Also on the bright side, all athletes did get their swim gear back as it had to be transported from the swim start to the finish line.
So what do athletes take away from this race? It was a tough, solid race that has great potential. With it’s proximity and challenging course it has the ability to attract many athletes from around the state. However, to capitalize on that potential, some improvements have to happen. Obviously aid stations need to be more abundant and have better items available, detailed maps of the course need to be available to every athlete in their race pack, and organization of the pre and post race activities needs to be improved. This was the first time that both a half iron distance and a shorter distance race had been run together for this event. By making some simple changes race directors could turn this race into a Colorado favorite.